Ditchley Foundation Annual Lecture XLIII
6 July 2007
The challenges of a dynamically changing world
The Hon Brent Scowcroft
President and Founder of the Scowcroft Group, providing advice and assistance on international affairs. Following his 29-year military career with the Air Force in a succession of strategic positions, he was National Security Adviser to Presidents Ford and George H W Bush. From 1982 to 1989 he was Vice Chairman of Kissinger Associates Inc. Under President George W Bush he was Chairman of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2005 and has served on a number of policy advisory councils.
I want to say thank you, Mr Prime Minister, because, John, you are always my Prime Minister. Thank you for those very flattering and generous remarks. After listening to you I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say.
Good evening to all of you. It’s been wonderful seeing so many old friends and meeting many new ones. This is such a distinguished gathering and there are so many good friends here I can’t possibly single you all out. But I do want to pay homage to Lady Wills and to Catherine and to their wonderful husband and father, without whom all this would not be possible. I am deeply touched this evening.
A number of great things have happened to me over the years but there has been no greater honour, and I am serious about this, than you have accorded me today. Because, to me, Ditchley, with its beautiful mansion, idyllic countryside, is a temple of intellectual inquiry and discourse so badly needed in the world today, and I feel very humble standing before you to give the Annual Lecture. How to be equal to the occasion?
First of all, this is a time of great turmoil and angst in the world. We are so consumed by events that it is sometimes hard to put them in perspective. And that’s what I want to try to do this evening: to step back and to look at the world in which we now live and at the forces that are moving that world and creating the problems we have now.
Let me begin with the end of the Cold War. Why? Because I think that that period, almost a dot in historical terms, marked a historical discontinuity in the structures and processes of the world environment. The world of the Cold War and that which followed so quickly its demise were the virtual polar opposites of each other. The Cold War was marked by an apocalyptic threat to us all: if we made a serious mistake we could literally blow up the world. But it was also, in part perhaps because of that, a relatively tidy world. We knew who the enemy was. We knew what the problems were. It was sometimes difficult to mobilise ourselves to do what needed to be done. But it was an orderly world and both sides knew that any wild adventure could get out of control. So, we knew what the problem was and we knew how to go about dealing with it.
Suddenly that world was gone, and in its place was a world without the nuclear threat hanging over us, but with a hundred, a thousand little problems. Not huge problems but little problems. Vexatious problems. Coming out of nowhere. Who would have thought, for example, that the origin of an attack on the United States would be from Afghanistan? Almost incomprehensible. This is a major adjustment we have had to make. But that’s not all. The end of the Cold War, in my judgment, also marked the end of World War I. Not World War II but World War I. The world of 1914 was marked by great optimism, scientific enquiry; man had become more rational, wars are absurd, we won’t have any more. Then came the horror of World War I, and out of World War I came many of the problems which have vexed us ever since, including the growth of ideologies designed to order mankind - whether Fascism, Nazism, Communism. All of these boiled up and immensely preoccupied us. And, with the end of the Cold War, the last of them, Communism, was given a quiet burial and nobody worries about them any more.
This period also marked the collapse of the last of the world’s great empires. That is another thing we tend to forget. Note that one of the areas of greatest instability in the world stretches from the Balkans down through the Middle East and into central Asia. The last of the world’s empires were the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East and the Russian or Soviet Empire in central Asia. The people now freed from those empires are still trying to figure out who they are, who they belong to, what is the right way to organise; and they are still in turmoil. Of course, many of these changes didn’t happen because of the end of the Cold War. It was a curious conjunction of many forces, and many of those I have described were very gradual in coming, simply becoming apparent after the threat of the Soviet Union disappeared. We are living in a world undergoing fundamental readjustment, beset by the forces that I have described as well as other equally fundamental forces or changes in the environment which are at work.
What are some of these additional forces? There are a large number, but let me mention just three that I consider most basic.
The first is the nature of war. Prior to this certainly the last century, when one said ‘war’ the term generally was understood to mean conflict between states or conflict among groups of states. That form of conflict may be, at least for a generation or so, passé. Now when one talks about war, it mostly relates to conflict inside states, in civil war, or between state and non-state actors. That is a very different kind of conflict. And this change is occurring at the very time when we, at least in the United States, are priding ourselves on transforming our military establishment into the most efficient machine we have ever had: to fight a World War II-type conflict. Instead we find ourselves fighting house to house in the grubbiest, dirtiest, most fundamental kind of conflict.
That is one of the real problems we face. Further, I think the use of the term ‘war’ as in ‘war on terror’ may put in our minds inappropriate mental frameworks for thinking about the present threat that we face from terrorism.
The second one of these forces I want to talk about is the distribution of power in the world. Perhaps not since the Roman Empire has any one state had the military and economic power possessed by the United States at the end of the Cold War. This really occurred in 1945, not in 1990, with the defeat of the axis powers, the exhaustion of Great Britain, etc.. But all of this was masked by the Cold War and the temporary great power status and nominal equality with the United States held by the Soviet Union. The United States is not used to being in this position. For most of our 200-year history, we were not leaders in the formulation of policy in the world. Secure behind our two oceans, we ordinarily sat back and waited until the great powers of Europe had set the stage and entered into whatever arrangement they developed, then we would decide whether or not we wanted to join or stand aside. But we weren’t the framers, we weren’t the formulators, we were the followers. Now, all of a sudden, we are on centre stage by ourselves. We really are still trying to figure out what it means to try to formulate what it is you want the world to be like.
Not only are we not used to it but the rest of the world is not used to it. There are a couple of things at work here. The first is that there is a natural hostility to the “big guy on the block.” It is natural to want to see him taken down a peg, humbled. That’s a kind of human reaction, but, in addition to that, and I think partly because of our behaviour -- which I’ll get to in a moment -- the United States is no longer getting the benefit of the doubt. My sense is that the rest of the world used to think that the US messed up all the time in foreign policy; but we meant well. Well, most of the world no longer thinks we mean well and that’s a terrible loss of an advantage -- which has to be recovered somehow -- and as I say I’ll return to that in a moment.
The third is that much overworked term – globalisation. It is a fundamental force in the world today, and it affects us in ways we don’t even realize. National borders are eroding. Capital flows dwarf the ability to control them. Health can no longer be dealt with by the nation state itself. It goes across borders. You can have a world epidemic in 24 hours, given our transportation system. The environment: no country can hope to deal with environmental problems by itself. Commerce is worldwide now in a way that it never was, and I’ll come back to that. But most fundamental of all is the impact of information technology. The people of the world are now politicized. For most of man’s history the average person knew what was happening in his own village and maybe the neighbouring village but not much else. And he didn’t care. That was his world, and he wasn’t engaged by the great events going on outside. He just went about his business. But now, almost everyone in the world is within reach of a television set and so they know what’s going on the moment it happens. And they react. They react with envy, love, happiness, hate, anger, resentment. You name it. I’m not saying that is the cause of the kind of terrorism we have now. But it certainly exacerbates it. So we’re dealing with a different kind of world population.
In commerce, for example, the international corporation until a few years ago tended to be vertically oriented. The corporation did everything that had to be done in order to produce the products that it made. Now the world corporation tends to be horizontally organised. It reaches here for this sub-assembly, it reaches there for services and so that corporation is really an assembler and marketer and the world produces the product. That is much a more efficient method of production, and it is adding to the world’s wealth. But it produces great disparities inside nations’ borders, and the United States is facing that right now. Corporate balance sheets are great but the workers, the hourly workers, are not getting “their share.” So what’s the answer? Tariffs, of course, which is a luddite solution to the problem.
Those are the kinds of things that we are trying to grapple with. Globalisation also makes the governance of small states more difficult than previously, because weak states are less able to cope with these forces that tend to overwhelm them. That leads, for example, to political atomisation. One of the best examples is Yugoslavia: previously a small state in the Balkans, which is now six tiny states. That makes no sense in the world today; but these globalisation forces are bringing the world together and at the same time leading to political atomisation. It encourages drug cartels, which have a free rein in states unable to control their borders and the communications and money flows and so on which are consequent from them. And also, of course, terrorism. To me globalisation is analogous to industrialisation 200 years ago. When industrialisation came along it really built the modern nation state, because the state grew in order to control this great industrial behemoth -- labour unions, capital flows, all the kinds of things that created the federal regulatory state. And now globalisation is having the same effect, but in the opposite direction. The nation state can no longer do these things. What’s the answer? The answer is increased international cooperation, and that leads us to international organisations. I’ll get to that in a moment, too.
All of this results in a very chaotic world; difficult to predict, difficult to manage. It is almost as if somebody took the lid off the world at the end of the Cold War and inside is this boiling stew. Furthermore, we are trying to cope with this world with habits of mind and institutions which were formed for the Cold War. The Cold War was all-consuming for most of us. It pervaded our lives. We built our institutions to cope with it. We built our processes to cope with it. Now it’s gone, but not the structures and thought processes. Within the United States a number of these are obvious. I mentioned that our Defense Department built a great military machine just at the time that machine is no longer applicable to the most frequent conflict today. Our intelligence community was developed in 1947 and with it we formed the CIA and the FBI. Well, we already had the FBI but we formed a community. The CIA was to do intelligence work overseas and the FBI domestically, and they were not to overlap. That didn’t matter during the Cold War, because our intelligence problems were overseas. With terrorism, national borders tend to evaporate, and it matters greatly. And passing information between two organisations, those of you from government know, is difficult in any event, especially when they don’t like each other and when their methods of operation are diametrically opposed to each other. That’s what we are trying to cope with now. And all of our intelligence communities are trying to make the change from focusing on a single target, the Soviet Union; about which we knew a great deal, to a hundred targets, some of which we don’t even know are targets until something bad happens. That is not a simple task.
NATO is another such organization. NATO is a marvellous military instrument. It is the first alliance really able to fight together usefully. But what’s it for now? The purpose for which it was founded is likely never to occur. So what can we do with this great military instrument in the world today that is useful? I’ll mention that again in a minute.
A final example is the UN. It should be the beneficiary of globalisation. But the UN was built in 1945. It had 51 members and they were all sort of the same kind of countries. They all had traditions, independence, and a sense of self. In a sense it was a club, a community. Now there are 192 members and the bulk of those new members were not states in 1945. Many of them were colonies of the 51 founders and they have very different views about the world, what the world community ought to look like and how it ought to be run. The result is a very different organisation. The Security Council was set up to solve the problems of the League of Nations, where there was no serious executive authority. The permanent members were the great powers of the world in 1945 -- and remarkably they’re still considerable powers -- but they don’t represent the community of great powers in the world today that need to get together to deal with world problems.
There is another problem with the United Nations, and that is that it was built on the sovereign independence of its members. Article 2 says basically that nothing within the charter shall give the UN the right to interfere in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of member states. Since that was written we have adopted genocide conventions and other kinds of human rights conventions, and there is a generally understood “responsibility to protect” on the part of the UN. That is, when a state either cannot or will not provide protection to major elements of its own population, it is the duty of the United Nations to intervene. Those two principles are in direct conflict with each other and one of the current examples results of that is Darfur. Whether it is genocide or not, there are horrible things going on in Darfur, but Sudan says ‘No you can’t come in’ and certain members of the Security Council say ”we can’t go in unless they ask us in.” How do we resolve this? I’ll come back to the UN in a moment too. I have got a lot of things to come back to.
Now let me spend just a couple of minutes talking about how the United States, in particular, has reacted to this world. The first reaction to the end of the Cold War was one of relief, relaxation and a certain amount of drift. There was no longer this existential threat that put us on edge all the time and made us concerned that we might do something which could precipitate a conflict. As a result, we thought there was no need for strategic direction - which would have been a difficult task in any case, given the dramatically changing world. It was not that we were indifferent. It was a lack of apparent threat and accompanying imperative to action. Then came 9/11. 9/11 was a profound shock to the United States because, unlike for most of you in this audience, indeed unlike most of the world, enemy attacks don’t happen in the United States. We haven’t had warfare in the United States really since the Civil War. There was Pearl Harbour but that was 2,000 miles out in the Pacific. And to have it happen in the heart of New York was a profound shock. It also awakened us to the fact that things were going on in the world which were really serious and we needed to focus on them.
The trends suddenly appeared sharply negative, and the result was the stimulation of a philosophical division in attitudes towards US foreign policy, already long present but now in a new guise. For its first hundred years or so, the United States characterised itself principally as an example: the shining city on the hill, an example of man’s ability (a certain amount of arrogance to this) to live in peace and harmony with his fellow men -- which we learned from all of you but claimed as our own, of course. That philosophy was enunciated both by Washington and John Quincy Adams. Adams probably said it best. Paraphrasing, he said ‘anywhere the flag of freedom and democracy is raised, there will be our hearts, but we go not in search of monsters to destroy. We are the well-wishers of all who seek freedom but we are the guarantors only of our own.’ That was our practical philosophy. Soon after our war of independence, the French Revolution began and the French emissary, Citizen Genet, came to us and said ‘we helped you in your revolution, now you help us. Our response: ‘good luck’. During the Hungarian revolution of 1848, the Hungarian rebels raised a statue of liberty, cited the Declaration of Independence and so on and asked for help. Our response: ”we wish you well’. That was our general attitude until Woodrow Wilson. Wilson said that was not enough -- we need to be the evangelisers of democracy. It’s not sufficient simply to hold up the torch of freedom -- we need to export it.
Since that time there has been a debate in American foreign policy; should we accept other countries as they are or should we seek to change them? But after 9/11 this debate took on a new guise. I would call the current positions -- and these are my terms -- the traditionalists versus the transformationalists. The traditionalists say we ought to go about our business in the world in company with our friends, our allies and international organisations. After all that is who we are. We are the ones who really were the driving force for NATO. We were the idea for the League of Nations. We were the idea for the UN. This is the way we do business. The transformationalists said no, no, the world is going bad and it’s going bad very fast. We don’t have time for traditional measures. We have all this power and while we have it we need to use it to transform the world. We can start that transformation by implanting democracy with the sword. Wilsonianism by the sword -- that is the crucial difference from the Wilson tradition. This transformational approach -- though well-meaning -- led us directly into Iraq: in order to use the great power that we had to begin the process of democratisation in the most turbulent region of the world and, incidentally, to demonstrate the awesomeness of US power so that no-one would challenge us. Iraq has turned out, I think predictably, to be nothing like the transformationalists hoped. The stability in the Middle East, so decried by the transformationalists as stagnation and coddling dictators, has indeed been ended, but it has been replaced by chaos rather than democracy. And all the many separate problems of that difficult region: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine and terror, have been driven together and exacerbated. We, in the United States, are now in a process of re-thinking our approach to this world, and it can be seen it tentatively in many of the current elements of US foreign policy. Unfortunately, this process is now being caught up in an unusually extended election cycle, which tends to skew it.
What should be some of our common principles, now that the U.S. has had its venture in Iraq? Principles on how we should move forward, given this world that we have. To me, first and primary, is a reinvigoration of the Atlantic community. In this world of uncharted currents and uncertainty, to me, it is critical that those of us who have a common view of man and his relationship to society and the state should band together. We have drifted apart, both because of the disappearance of the glue of the Cold War and because of the friction engendered by the US and its new departures in foreign policy. It is time that we start to focus together on the problems of this world.
Among them, for example, is NATO. I have described how valuable NATO is, but what is it for? Can we turn it to good use for the world we now face? I think the answer is yes. Yes, but we are engaged in a critical struggle in Afghanistan, and if we fail in Afghanistan, NATO is very likely not to survive in any meaningful form. I think we can prevail in Afghanistan. Militarily we are doing reasonably well, but NATO is not fighting at its highest efficiency. The various national troops have restrictions on their use which make it extremely difficult for the commander of the forces there to use those troops most effectively. And overall in Afghanistan there is nobody in charge of development. I believe, for example, the United States is in charge of the army, the Italians are in charge of the judiciary, the Germans are in charge of the police and so on. But there’s no one in charge of Afghanistan. And most foreign organizations report, not to somebody in Afghanistan -- who can say “don’t do it that way, do it this way, and this has to be coordinated with that” -- but they report back to their own governments. So I think we are at a critical juncture in NATO.
The United Nations. As I said, the United Nations is a natural haven in a globalised world, but it is a UN built for a different world -- and I would suggest that if we didn’t already have a UN we could not build one in the world as it is today. We could not do now what we did in 1945. So we need to take what we have and develop it to be more useful. It’s a very imperfect instrument. Secretary General Kofi Annan about three years ago launched a major reform effort, which largely failed. It largely failed, and one of the chief perpetrators of that failure, I’m afraid, was the United States. We have had a very mixed view of the UN. Many Americans love the UN. It has also been useful because we can blame it for our own foreign policy mistakes. On the other hand there is a kind of irrational fear by some that it is about to take over the world and destroy the nation-state system. In any event, Kofi Annan submitted reforms to the General Assembly, and only a few days before they were due to be debated by the General Assembly, the United States introduced over 700 amendments. Need I say more? We need to fix the UN. It badly needs reform. But there is an additional problem which has developed. That is the sense on the part of the developing world that the UN -- partly because of the structure of the Security Council and its permanent members -- is dominated by the West. The developing world, by its numbers, controls the General Assembly and therefore the budget and personnel, and is increasingly inclined to use that control to assert itself. This problem is a major impediment to significant change. It is not beyond the will of all of us if we actually care to make useful changes, but we have a long way to go. In addition, the specialised agencies, the IMF and the World Bank, are sadly out of step. Neither the IMF nor the World Bank is acting pursuant to their charters. They need to be brought up to date. Not to mention the UN resolving the contradiction between sovereign independence and the responsibility to protect -- again, not an impossible job, but it will take careful, thoughtful strategy and diplomacy.
Finally, the Atlantic community needs a common strategy to encourage Russia toward the West. I think Russia is searching for its soul, and that could take a generation to resolve. Russians need to decide how they want to govern themselves. We need to be patient, encourage them, and end up with Russia as a member of the West. We also need to act to encourage China to become, in the words of Bob Zoellick (the new chairman of the World Bank), a responsible stakeholder in the world. We have a good chance of doing that because China seems intent, not on overturning the current world order but on profiting from it. They are now heavily dependent on the world for raw materials, especially energy, and on markets for the goods they produce in such profusion. This gives them a stake in world stability. And, to the extent that there is one, the West is the guarantor of that stability. Lastly, I think we need to figure out how usefully to incorporate the Indias, the Brazils, and the like into the world power structure.
I have focused mostly on the problems of this difficult world. But we also must remember that, troubling as it is, this world does not face the mortal perils of the last century. I think, if we behave wisely, prudently and in close strategic cooperation with each other, the 21st century could be the best yet in the rather dismal history of mankind.
Thank you very much for your attention.
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