Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers
Whenever former Foreign Ministers get together to relive what they like to think of as their glory days – as, being a clubbable bunch, they do from time to time – some themes invariably recur in the conversations. One is the constraint imposed on intelligent foreign policy making by the pressures and vagaries of domestic politics. And another, not unrelated, is the frustration created for intelligent foreign ministers by their less than scintillatingly brilliant bosses – prime ministers or presidents as the case may be.
What makes me a little distinctive in these gatherings is that, in relation to my own bosses, I have trouble finding something to grumble about. I had the pleasure of being foreign minister for nearly eight years under two prime ministers who both – despite their totally different, to put it gently, managerial and personal styles – had a tremendous instinct for the process of foreign relations; a great sense of what could and should be done; a great willingness to lead the public rather than being constantly riven by anxiety as to what the existing domestic ideas market could bear; and an absolute intolerance of any appeal to lowest common denominator community prejudices for political gain.
And better still, while very much wanting to be involved in designing and selling the big picture, they were willing, by and large, to leave the brushwork to me.
My years as Bob Hawke’s Foreign Minister, from 1988 to 1991, coincided with the end of the Cold War, the remaking of much of the architecture of international relations, and a sense of real hope internationally that through newly possible cooperative strategies the world could be made a better and more peaceful place. Those few years were, quite simply, the most stimulating and productive of my professional life, and they were made so by the wonderfully strong and supportive relationship I had with Bob Hawke.
These were the years in which saw, among much else (including the first Gulf War), the initiation of the successful peace plan for Cambodia; the creation of APEC and the ASEAN Regional Forum as major Asia Pacific economic and security policy dialogue bodies; the completion, in which Australia played a critical role, of the Chemical Weapons Convention; the emergence of Australia as a leading voice on UN reform issues, and a leading campaigner, through the Commonwealth and beyond, on financial sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime.
There was also the achievement of a ban on mining and oil drilling in the Antarctic, which in this case I have to acknowledge, although it happened on my watch, owes just about everything to Bob Hawke and practically nothing at all to me, not only because he personally conducted most of the diplomacy, but since I told him at the outset it seemed like a lost cause - something of which he has been reminding me ever since!
All heads of government have particular initiatives or positions they want to stamp indelibly as their own, and foreign ministers – like their domestic counterparts – have to know their place when these come along. But the trick is to accommodate this within a relationship which is not subservient, but one of confident give and take, in which there is strong mutual respect between leader and minister, and a willingness by each to temper one’s more exuberant enthusiasms – at least sometimes - in the light of advice by the other.
Above all it is crucial that there be totally open and regular communication, not only on particular issues or crises as they unfolded, but on larger strategy issues, to ensure that each knows the other’s thinking, and to ensure that – most of the time, anyway – neither springs surprises on the other.
I had exactly that kind of relationship with Bob Hawke, and I will be forever grateful to him for it. He was a brilliant prime minister, in foreign policy as in so much else, and I am delighted to have been invited to deliver this Annual Hawke Lecture in his honour.
A World at Risk
Looking around the world more than a decade later, it’s a more frightening place than it seemed then – and in fact more frightening than it has been for as long as I can remember.
This is not because the number of conflicts, between and within states, is increasing: in fact, looking at year by year trends, the converse is the case.
Nor is it because the number of terrorist incidents is increasing: on the contrary, it is declining.
Nor is it because the overall number of people being killed in battle or by terrorist incidents is increasing: although it may not, again, feel like it, that figure too is in trend decline. As bad as conflict and mass violence continues to be, it is significantly less bad than it was a decade ago.
Nor is it because there are no grounds for hope that new conflicts can be prevented or old ones resolved. On the contrary, the overall figures speak for themselves, and I am confident that the work we do across five continents in this respect at the International Crisis Group really does make a difference.
The problem is, rather, that the security problems we have left are very big ones indeed; that they are, if anything, growing; and that our capacity to deal with them is, if anything, diminishing. There are some big things going wrong, both in terms of risks on the ground and in the way in which we as a global community are dealing with them.
In terms of risks, there are three generic ones that are alarming most people. The first is the growth of international terrorist networks with deeply frightening agendas, and deeply frightening capacity - with the risk extending not only to the home territory of the major Western powers and their allies, but to soft Western targets in non-Western locations, as Australians hardly need to be reminded after Bali.
The second is the deterioration of the effectiveness of the treaty regimes trying to achieve the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, none more important or effective until now than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which confounded the predictions of the 1960s that there would be by now 20-30 nuclear weapons states - but which is looking now desperately fragile.
And the third is the continuing existence, and emergence, right across the arc of instability from West Africa to East Asia of too many fragile, collapsed and internally warring states, where as a result of government action, inaction, incapacity or huge internal division there is a major threat to the country’s own people - or a threat to others through the export from these countries of terrorism, drugs, other crime, fleeing refugees, health pandemics or environmental catastrophe.
In terms of the way in which we as a global community are dealing with these various risks, there are also three big things going wrong. There’s a weakening of confidence in the rules that are supposed to govern the use of force.
There’s a weakening of confidence in the institutions making such rules as there are and trying to enforce them.
And there is little or no consensus about the strategies that are needed to deal with the great risks of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, and the threats - both internal and external - posed by fragile, collapsed and warring states.
How each of these problems, particularly the first, should be addressed by the global community will be my central theme in this lecture, and I will conclude by drawing out some of the implications, as I see them, for Australian foreign policy.
I am well aware that any single one of these issues would take an evening in itself to begin to seriously explore. I’m also aware that you’re aware that I have a certain tendency to, shall we say, thoroughness on these occasions. So will you no doubt be relieved to hear that I’m only proposing to offer you a platter of hors d’oeuvres on these matters, not la grande bouffe.
A Lopsided World
By way of setting the table, it’s worth saying at the outset that all the problems I want to address are affected one way or another by the particular global context in which they arise, which is, in short, the most lopsided global power balance that the world has ever known.
The military budget numbers alone make the point. Before even getting to Iraq – which continues to cost the Pentagon nearly $US 1 billion a week – U.S. defence expenditure will come in this year this year at nearly $400 billion, just about as much as the whole rest of the world together. In percentage terms, this is over 40 per cent of global defence expenditure, and eight times the U.S. share of global population. And in dollar terms, this is higher than the combined total of Britain, France, Germany and the entire European Union; and China; and Russia – with the seven ‘rogue states’ identified by the Pentagon as its most likely adversaries (including Iran and North Korea) thrown in as well.
The United States is, quite simply – militarily, economically, and culturally as well – the biggest dog that has ever turned up on the global block. And its behaviour as such - actual, perceived, anticipated, feared or imagined – is the catalyst in turn for a great many reactions by other countries and peoples, both rational and some irrational, that bear upon global, regional and national security.
At one end of the spectrum U.S. dominance is the catalyst for rage and hatred. This may not be all that different to the hostility which has always been expressed toward the top dog of the day, from the Romans to the Ottomans to the Imperial British, but no less real for that.
At the other end of the spectrum it’s the catalyst for what might be called, under present management, the Australian crawl: responding to the new power imbalance with uncritical devotion to its source, passing up no opportunity along the way to earn, as Phillip Adams was the first to wickedly put it, Frequent Fighter Points.
And somewhere in the middle it’s the catalyst for efforts to create ‘counterweights’ to US power. But even on the most favourable assumptions, it would take decades for either China or the EU to catch up economically, let alone militarily, with the US. In the meantime France’s aspirations to play that role by itself alone have about as much persuasive power as the Black Knight in Monty Python - bellowing, you will recall, “I’ll do you for that!” as each of his limbs is successively hacked away.
Much of the hostility expressed toward U.S. is obviously just inherent in the country’s size and clout, and the disappearance of the Soviet Union as a power balancer. Some of it has to do with routine policy disagreements. But some of it also has had to do with certain other behaviour patterns, real or perceived, and not just under this administration, which have often made the U.S., even to those who love it most, a rather irritating brand of hegemon.
Part of the charge sheet here is good old-fashioned hypocrisy – or, as I’ve recently heard it put more elegantly – ‘talking like Athens, but behaving like Sparta’. More prosaically, there’s the suggestion one hears of a national problem with Attention Deficit Disorder (with one Korean official recently describing Washington as like an excitable surgeon who leaps around the theatre slicing open the next patient before he’s sewn up the first, while at the same time gazing enthusiastically at the next emergency room arrival).
Other unkind variations I hear on this theme are various sorts of Amnesia (particularly in remembering which current enemies used to be friends), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (a certain recurring tiredness when it comes to post-war peacebuilding, or responding to mass killing in small countries far away), and even Narcissistic Personality Disorder (a condition which involves, among other unmentionable things, the subject being not quite as strongly blessed with the gift of empathy as he expects others to be).
All unfair, no doubt, but all part of the backdrop to some very big controversies about some very serious issues indeed.
Restoring Confidence in Rules
In terms of the way in which we are handling the world’s security challenges, the first of the major problems I described, and the one on which I want to spend most time, is a weakening of confidence in the rules governing the use of force - a growth of cynicism and scepticism about those rules. The problem is, in short, that states – under the guise of acting to meet threats of one kind or another – are making up rules as they go along, going to war when they should not be, and not going to war when they should.
There are three different situations here we have to distentangle: the right to take military action against another state in self-defence; the right to take such action against a state posing a threat to any other states or individuals outside its borders; and the right to intervene against a state when the only threat involved is to those within it.
Self Defence. On self defence, Article 51 of the UN Charter clearly acknowledges that there is an ‘inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations’ – which can be exercised without prior UN Security Council authorisation (as it was by the US, without much argument from anyone, in Afghanistan after 9/11).
It is well accepted in international practice that this right extends beyond an actual attack to a threatened one, at least where the threatened attack is ‘imminent’. What is very much challenged is the US notion, asserted in relation to Iraq in 2003, that the right to react in self-defence extends without check to situations where the threatened attack is neither actual nor imminent – and where the state reacting (here the U.S.) is, in effect, the sole judge of whether there is a real threat at all.
The problem is not so much with the notion of pre-emption as such. Countries have never been expected to wait until an imminently threatened attack became actual, and it is perfectly possible to imagine threats, including the nightmare scenario combining rogue states, WMD and terrorists, which are very real indeed, albeit not imminent. But international unease has to be expected when, as Sandy Berger has put it, this Administration has ‘elevated pre-emption from an option every President has preserved to a defining doctrine of American strategy’.
Ultimately the question boils down to credible evidence, and whether – assuming there is time to consider alternatives - the military attack response is the only reasonable one in all the circumstances. This is why there continues to be so much focus on the issue of whether credible and compelling intelligence was indeed available to support the war in Iraq. It is difficult to argue with the proposition that, if the whole international security system is not to descend into anarchy, the less imminent a threat and the weaker the evidence of its reality – as clearly was the case in Iraq 2003 - the greater the need to win Security Council support for the proposed response.
External Threats Generally. Moving beyond self-defence cases to response to external threats generally, Chapter VII of the UN Charter clearly empowers the Security Council to take any action ‘necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security’. The Council can, and does at its complete discretion from time to time, authorise or endorse the use of force by blue helmets, Multinational Forces, ‘coalitions of the willing’ or individual states, as well as endorsing (sometimes after the event) military action by regional organisations operating under Ch VIII – e.g. ECOWAS in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
The Iraq situation has rung all the changes on this theme. The Security Council gave such an authorisation for the attack on Iraq in 1991, after its invasion of Kuwait; but didn’t, of course, in 2003, though I remain persuaded that it probably would have done so if more time had been available to test Iraq’s apparent failure to cooperate with the international inspectors.
Internal Threats. For wholly internal threats, raising the issue of so called humanitarian intervention, the UN Charter is conspicuously unhelpful. Article 2.7 expressly prohibits intervention “in matters which are essentially within the jurisdiction of any state” although this is in tension with language elsewhere acknowledging individual human rights, and a mass of law and practice over the last few decades which have set real conceptual limits claims of untrammeled state sovereignty, not least the Genocide Convention.
The Security Council can always authorise Chapter VII military action against a state if it is prepared to declare that the situation, however apparently internal in character, does in fact amount to a ‘threat to international peace and security’ – as it did for example in Somalia, and eventually Bosnia, in the early 1990s.
But more often than not, even in conscience shocking situations like Rwanda in 1994, it has declined to initiate or authorise any enforcement action at all. Most people accept that the Security Council should continue to be the first port of call in these situations; the question is whether it should be the last. This is the issue that was brought to a head by NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999, bypassing the Security Council. And it has been brought to a head again in Iraq 2003, with the emergence of the argument – as other rationales in terms of bombs and terrorists drop away – that it was Saddam’s murderous tyrannizing of his own people that made him a suitable case for humanitarian intervention treatment.
The Search for Guidance. Faced with all this tumult, and the way in which the Security Council has been used, misused and bypassed over the last decade, some voices – the most strident of them Professor Michael Glennon, writing in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs – are going so far as to claim that there are just no rules any more, that the whole UN Charter ‘edifice [has come] crashing down’, that the reality of US power and the failure of the Security Council structure to reflect it should be frankly recognised and that, in any attempt in the future to recreate a body of international law governing the use of force in all its manifestations, ‘what the design should look like must be a function of what it can look like’.
This is deeply alarming talk, classic unprincipled might-is-right realism dressed up as international law analysis. It should be rejected not just by those of us with progressive political values but by anyone who values decency in the conduct of international relations. The search for an orderly, principled system of international law and practice on conflict is as old as conflict itself. There is always a choice, when confronted with the unhappy reality that governments don’t always behave as we hope they might, of raising your sights or lowering them: the tragedy of intellectualising failure in the way that those like Glennon do, is that it encourages so many to lower sights when the acute need is to raise them.
Putting all that together, the most urgent need in the international security debate, from whatever point in the ideological spectrum one approaches it, is to try to re-establish consensus about what the basic rules, or principles, governing the use of force should be, and how they should be applied in practice. I want to suggest that in all cases there is a basic over-arching checklist of six principles, or criteria, that must be worked through in determining whether it’s right to fight - applicable whether the threat is external or internal; or whether the threat is constituted by armies marching, by WMD acquisition, by terrorism, or by tribal machetes.
When it’s Right to Fight: Six Criteria. These six criteria – a threshold test of seriousness, four prudential criteria and a legal test - were essentially those agreed by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty which I co-chaired with my Algerian colleague Mohamed Sahnoun. The ICISS commission, as it has become known (Mohamed and I are still waiting wistfully for someone to call it the ‘Evans-Sahnoun Commission’) , published its report ‘The Responsibility to Protect’, setting out these principles, in December 2001. The formulation of the criteria, as will be clear in a moment when I spell them out, owes much to traditional Christian ‘just war’ theory. For some that may be a turn-off. But these principles owe their force much more to their intuitive acceptability than to any theological doctrine. And they are certainly intended to reflect universal, not just Western, values. They are as follows:
(1) Just Cause: is the harm being experienced or threatened sufficiently clear and serious to justify going to war? For external threats to others, as with self defence, everything depends on the quality of the evidence. Actual behaviour is one thing, merely threatened behaviour is something else: to establish a threat, plausible evidence of both capability and intent to cause harm is required.
For internal threats, the threshold criteria to justify coercive intervention need to be tough. Unless the bar is set very high and tight, excluding less than catastrophic forms of human rights abuse, prima facie cases for the use of military force could be made across half the world: the only rule book would be the whim of the potential enforcer, and any prospect of mobilising consensus for international action in the cases most deserving it – e.g. another Rwanda – would fly out the window.
It was these kinds of considerations that led my ICISS commission to propose that the ‘just cause’ for intervention in these internal cases should be narrowly confined to two kinds of situation: large scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act, or a failed state situation; or large scale ‘ethnic cleansing’, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.
For Iraq 2003 this threshold test cuts both ways. It would certainly have been satisfied a decade and more ago (when the West could not have cared less), but probably not in more recent years, as tyrannical as Saddam’s regime continued to be in other ways. I find it difficult personally to accept as a trigger for war a ‘humanitarian intervention’ ground which is only seriously advanced as other grounds for military action retrospectively evaporate. But on the other hand I acknowledge my ICISS commission colleague Michael Ignatieff’s point that it is hard to denounce Saddam’s murderous behaviour for twenty years, as many of us have done, then object, at least on this ground, when someone finally proposes to do something about him. Call honours even on this one.
(2) Right Intention: is the primary purpose of the proposed military action to halt or avert the external or internal threat in question, even if there are some other motives in play as well?
For Iraq 2003, in the case of the UK, the judgment of history may be that the decision to go to war was wrong-headed, but at least palpably sincere.
For the US, however, the jury on intention may well be out a good deal longer, given most observers’ experience that the only common motivation was regime change, for reasons not having an awful lot to do with Saddam’s bastardry towards his own people. There may have been a genuine fear of physical attack with WMD by Saddam or those he might assist. But a variety of other considerations, each coming down to a regime change bottom line, all seemed to rank higher in the motivation table – if not a hand in Iraqi oil production, then certainly considerations like bestowing the values of American democracy on the Arab world; or asserting absolute U.S. military authority for its demonstration effect; or just being seen to be doing something (and never underestimate that as a motivation for any government) to keep up the momentum of response post 911.
For Australia, if there was any other motive than following the leader, I have yet to hear it credibly argued - but being out of the country, I may have missed something.
(3) Last Resort: has every non-military option for the prevention or peaceful resolution of the crisis been explored, with reasonable grounds for believing lesser measures will not succeed?
In the case of Iraq, it continues to be strongly argued by opponents of the war – with more and more credibility in retrospect - that there was ample time for the inspection process to have been carried through, and that resort to military action in March 2003 was at the very least premature. That kind of response doesn’t go to an argument based on Saddam’s past treatment of his own people, but it is a pretty good answer to the other rationales for war.
(4) Proportional Means: is the scale, duration and intensity of the planned military action the minimum necessary to secure the defined human protection objective? In the case of Iraq, the question has to be asked whether some 5,000 civilian deaths and 10,000 military deaths – assuming that those guesstimates are at least roughly accurate – were an appropriate trade, from an Iraqi perspective, for the end of Saddam Hussein’s capacity to persecute his people
(5)Reasonable Prospects: is there a reasonable chance of the military action being successful in meeting the external or internal threat in question, with the consequences of action not likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction? Military action can only be justified if it stands a reasonable chance of success, and will not risk triggering a greater conflagration or a greater peril.
This has to be called at the outset, not with the benefit of hindsight, but it has been from the beginning, and certainly remains now, a tough one for proponents of war in Iraq. We cannot finally assess the balance of consequences until we know how long Iraq’s post-war misery will last, whether it is going to become a democracy or a theocracy, whether the war has indeed concentrated the minds of other dictators, and whether al-Qaeda and like networks will indeed find it easier to recruit. But the outlook on most of these fronts was not very encouraging before the war, and it is getting worse, not better, now
(6) Right Authority: is the military action lawful? As international law now stands, if the Security Council says no that means no. But should the absence of Security Council endorsement be the end of the intervention story? Is legality the whole story or, as many have argued, are there not wider questions of legitimacy as well? What if the Security Council fails to approve military action in another Rwanda-type, utterly conscience-shocking situation that just about everyone else thinks cries out for action? A real question arises as to which of two evils is the worse: the damage to international order if the Security Council is bypassed, or in the damage to that order if human beings are slaughtered while the Security Council stands by.
The ICISS Commission’s response to this dilemma was to give a clear political message: if an individual state or ad hoc coalition does step in, fully observe and respect all the necessary threshold and precautionary criteria, intervene successfully, and ends up being seen to have so acted by world public opinion, then this is likely to have damaging consequences for the stature and credibility of the UN itself. That is pretty much what happened with the U.S. and NATO intervention in Kosovo: the UN cannot afford to drop the ball too many times on that scale.
On the other hand, in Iraq 2003, the contrary argument has been put with some force – that compliance with the six criteria was on balance so weak, particularly on the issues of last resort and reasonable prospects – that the Security Council would have lost global credibility had it supported military action.
Implementing the Criteria. It will be a long haul to gain general acceptance in principle of the relevance and utility of all six criteria , and an even longer haul to have them systematically applied in practice in every case – and when they are applied it won’t mean the end of argument about particular cases, as we have just seen. The alternative to making a serious effort to enforce the international rules we have, and to supplement them with further principled guidelines and criteria of the kind here proposed in the areas where there are gaps is to abandon the field to those who are more comfortable with the ad hoc exercise of power - who don’t really want to be limited by rules and principles, who feel constrained by international process, who see multilateral cooperation in very narrowly self-interested terms.
But a world that appeals to people like this is not one in which most people in the world want to live. And it’s simply not an option for those of us whose hearts and minds remain firmly on the progressive side of politics.
Restoring Confidence in Institutions
The effectiveness of the international security system depends not only on the rules in place but the credibility of the institutions making and enforcing them. There are multiple problems in this respect at the global, regional and national level which need to be addressed.
United Nations. Secretary General Kofi Annan last week added his very explicit voice to those arguing that UN institutional architecture is badly out of date and desperately needs reform – designed as it was for its original membership of 51 states, not its current 191, and reflecting in the composition and powers of the Security Council the power balances of 1945, not the world of 2003. The decisions of the Security Council, he said, ‘increasingly…lack legitimacy in the eyes of the developing world, which feels that its views and interests are insufficiently represented among the decision-takers.’
Amen to all that. But the question is whether those big five with the power, whose veto can block any Charter change, will ever be in the mood to relinquish that power, or share it with the likes of India and Brazil and Nigeria. Will Britain and France, for a start, ever be prepared to subsume their identity in a single EU seat? Will a legion of developing countries in the General Assembly ever be prepared to abandon the old-think which has blocked any talk, for example, of a new role for the old Trusteeship Council in managing non-colonial states in distress?
Will they ever be prepared to support even the establishment of a serious conflict assessment and analysis capability within the Secretariat? And will any country, developed or developing, ever be seriously prepared to vest the necessary authority and resources to create a standing military rapid reaction force to do the Security Council’s bidding when emergencies demand it?
I worked all these issues for several years around the UN corridors as foreign minister - back in the days when Australia was widely seen as a credible broker – and achieved for my pains not very much. Our efforts were followed by the establishment in 1993 of the 'Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council', which I am now told enjoys the distinction of being ‘the entity with the lengthiest name in the history of multilateral negotiations’ and as holding (although there are some competitors emerging for this, including the Geneva Conference on Disarmament ) the ‘record for continuing to go nowhere for the longest period of time.’
Everybody acknowledges that the UN has its uses, and may even be indispensable as a source of legitimacy and a vehicle for global burden sharing. Even the U.S. is now going through one of its periodic learning experiences in this respect. But continued UN credibility and the maintenance in perpetuity of present Permanent Five privileges simply don’t mix: sooner or later one will have to go.
A good start, quite a gentle one, would be for the Permanent Five to reach a gentleman’s agreement (actually proposed once by the French), in which they would undertake to each other, in the absence of their own vital interests being involved, not to exercise the veto to obstruct humanitarian intervention missions for which there was otherwise majority support on the Council. But when, as co-chair of the ICISS commission, I was given the opportunity by Kofi Annan last year to put this among other proposals to the Security Council, I discovered yet again the force of Prime Minister Ben Chifley’s immortal line: “The trouble with gentleman’s agreements is that there are not enough bloody gentlemen.”
Others. So UN reform is a dispiriting business. But these are all issues on which we must, in a spirit of optimism, persist. Just as we must continue to work away to try to strengthen the security role of regional organisations - with NATO a potentially important new recruit to the role of UN enforcer not only in Europe but out of area; with the Asia Pacific countries, among others, potentially playing a much more important role; and with the African organisations absolutely crucial.
So too must we continue to urge individual countries, in Europe and elsewhere, to strengthen their own defence capability, building greater self reliance in strategic lift and other areas of conspicuous shortfall. As Washington not unreasonably comments from time to time, complaints about U.S.military dominance would carry a little more weight if more countries did a little bit more to pull their weight: part of the answer is providing the soft power (development funds and the like) while the U.S. provides the hard power, but it is not the whole answer.
One of the biggest problems being confronted every time there is a call for manpower to perform UN mandated peace enforcement and peace keeping tasks is to find countries willing to supply troops, or supply them at the necessary level of competence and experience: not least in Africa, where among other problems HIV/AIDS is cutting a particularly devastating swathe. Thus the growing talk, in very hushed tones, about the possible employment of, as the preferred euphemism would have it, ‘private military companies’. The UK Government produced at the House of Commons’ request an intriguing Green Paper last year on the regulatory issues involved, and – discomfiting as it may be to all of us to contemplate the triumph of Thatcherism in yet another quintessentially public sector area – this may be, simply for want of a better alternative, an idea whose time is about to come.
Developing Confidence in Strategies
In the conduct of international relations, on issues of war and peace as elsewhere, rules and institutions are only as good as the intelligence with which they are applied. The big problems I identified at the outset – global terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation and coping with fragile, collapsed and divided states – all need sensible response strategies. How well have we been doing in developing them?
Terrorism. The global war on terror that has been waged since 9/11 is not going brilliantly well, producing not a lot more than more war and more terror. Osama bin Laden is still alive, and Al Qaeda is down but not out. Its offshoots and affiliates in South East Asia and elsewhere are damaged but certainly not destroyed. In Iraq, where the terrorist connection was the least plausible of all the reasons for going to war, terrorist violence has now become the most harrowing of all its consequences. In Israel, with the collapse of the roadmap process, the suicide bombers are back with a vengeance. Nobody anywhere is confident that the ‘big one’ can’t or won’t happen – an attack bringing together the sophistication and ruthlessness of the attack on the twin towers with the use of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. There are at least two general lessons we can learn from what has happened so far. One is that to wrap everything up in the language of a “war on terrorism” or a “war on evil” doesn’t contribute much to clear operational thinking. A war against evil is, almost by definition as many have said, unlimited and interminable. The concept doesn’t help us much in identifying points of entry, and there is certainly no obvious exit strategy.
In terms of Isaiah Berlin’s famous dichotomy, there’s a place for ‘hedgehogs’ – those consumed by one big idea – when it comes to global security issues, but most of the time the most productive work is done by ‘foxes’: those who know many things, and who understand the need for endlessly varied approaches to solve endlessly variable problems. There are big risks in ignoring those problems which are not easily subsumed under the mantle of a war against terror. And perhaps there are even bigger risks in wrapping in that mantle security problems – like those in Iraq, Iran and North Korea – which at most are only marginally connected to terrorism.
The second lesson is how little the fundamentals of conflict have actually changed since 9/11. The great dangers come from political problems – some of them with underlying economic and social causes – that are unresolved, unaddressed, incompetently or counter-productively addressed or deliberately left to fester, until they become so acute they explode. Part of the fall-out of such explosions can be terrorism, but this is not in and of itself a self-driving concept, or in and of itself an “enemy”. It is not even an ideology, as anarchism was in the 19th century. Rather it is a tool or a tactic, resorted to almost invariably by the weak against the strong – weak individuals, weak groups, weak states.
Since power relativities have changed to the point where virtually everybody is weak in comparison to the U.S., and since 9/11 has shown the way, there is considerably more risk today that those in serious dispute with Washington, and by extension its allies, will use terror as a tactic to compensate for that weakness. But the core problems go back to political issues, broadly defined. Military force is part of the answer, and was wholly legitimately used in Afghanistan for punitive, retaliatory and in effect self-defence purposes. But – whether in the hands of the U.S., Israel or anyone else – it can never be an effective substitute for the traditional hard work of dealing with those core problems.
The right strategy for dealing with global terrorism involves operating at five different levels simultaneously: first, homeland defence; secondly, pursuit and punishment of known perpetrators; thirdly, and most crucially, building frontline defences in the countries of origin of the terrorists themselves, by building in turn the capacity and will of those countries to act both internally and cooperatively with the wider international community; fourthly, addressing the political issues that generate grievance; and fifthly, addressing the underlying social, economic and cultural issues that generate grievance. The real point of addressing the so-called underlying political and economic causes of terrorism is not to try to destroy the motivation of every individual terrorist: we all know that most of the 9/11 perpetrators were not poor and cared little about the Palestinians. Rather it is to neutralise support for terrorists in the communities in which they live, and above all to generate the will to act against them and the capacity to act against them by the relevant governments and authorities. And it’s that job that we are not now doing very well.
This is not the occasion for any detailed discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but it is perhaps here that the international community is doing least well of all, with this week’s Security Council vote on the Arafat removal issue constituting further evidence, if we needed it, of how far off the road to peace we have now stumbled. There is a peaceful two-state solution, which has been outlined by many and mapped in great detail by ICG , which is perfectly well known to the leaderships of both sides, which will both meet the aspirations of the Palestinians and guarantee Israel’s security as a Jewish state, and which big majorities of ordinary Israelis and Palestinians would accept - but which their leaders, left to themselves, have proved utterly incapable of delivering. They can get there, but only with the U.S.-led Quartet – playing it straight down the middle – assisting, monitoring, militarily supervising, and above all leading, the process every inch of the way. To abdicate responsibility to address the real and resolvable political grievances that lie at the heart of the terrorist violence yet again being perpetrated, to do nothing to give moderate Palestinian leaders the capacity to deal with the extremists in their midst or Palestinians as a whole the will to oppose them, is to condemn both Israelis and Palestinians to ever more killings, to endless further tragedy.
Weapons of Mass Destruction. International legal regimes generally, and arms control treaties in particular, play a critical stabilising role in the international community. But here it has to be acknowledged that the present U.S. administration has been leading by example in the worst possible way, and not just in relation to Kyoto and the International Criminal Court. After playing an important leadership role a decade ago in securing a tough international inspection regime for chemical weapons, the most recent contributions of the US have been to scuttle a draft protocol seeking a similar enforcement mechanism for biological weapons, withdraw unilaterally from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty (which continues to have implications for long term strategic stability in North East Asia in particular), and to assert the US right to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the so called bunker-busters.
With the Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaties both faltering, the risk is now more real than it has been for years of the few nuclear weapons states becoming many. The recent entry of India and Pakistan to the club – joining the five original declared nuclear powers and Israel – should remind us once again of the simple but powerful conclusions of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons a few years ago: that so long as any state retains nuclear weapons, others will want them; that so long as any state has them, they are bound one day to be used, if not by design then by accident; and that any such use will be catastrophic for humankind.
The compelling force of these conclusions continue, unfortunately, to leave the relevant policy makers unmoved, for reasons that are never very compellingly explained. Why, in the post Cold War World, it is necessary to ultimately retain, after a series of progressive reductions, any nuclear weapons at all for balance of terror reasons is not at all clear.
Why you need nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to deter rogue states producing or using them, when current generation conventional weapons give you all the deterrent or retaliatory muscle you could ever need, is never explained. Why you could need a nuclear or CBW armoury to deal with terrorist groups or individuals producing home-made weapons of this kind is simply impossible to explain.
As we know from ordinary life, saying ‘do as I say but not as I do’ cuts no ice with anyone. And it certainly cuts no ice internationally for major countries with pride and dignity and aspirations of their own.
Peacebuilding. The third big area in which there needs to be a refocus on basic strategy by all the major international players is peacebuilding – building the conditions for sustainable peace in societies that are fragile, collapsed or divided, prone to war or already broken by it. If conflict or mass violence is ever to be stopped from occurring in the first place, there are a myriad of structural and governance-improving measures that can usefully be applied. And if, after war, conflict and mass violence are to be stopped from recurring – with the whole cycle beginning over again – there are a myriad of such measures that must be so applied.
If there is any single lesson we imbibed with our mother’s milk during the whole long debate on conflict prevention through the 1990s, that was it. The need to effectively address not only immediate security needs, but economic and social needs, governance and participation needs, and justice and reconciliation needs as well has been the central conclusion of every peacekeeping mission, successful and unsuccessful, of the last decade. It has been a major theme of every major independent report on the subject, including that of the ICISS commission.
In these circumstances it almost beggars imagination that so little was done to prepare adequately for the post-war peacebuilding task in Iraq, or that the commitment to Afghanistan’s reconstruction remains so incomplete and fragile. Every situation has its own distinct combination of needs, and it is difficult to usefully generalise about the strategies required in each case. But there are at least two general propositions that stick out from all my and the International Crisis Group’s experience over the last decade.
The first is that too much attention tends to be focused on democratic elections as the critical exit signpost, and not enough on the establishment of a viable justice system and something approximating the rule of law. It’s not just a matter of consolidating a sense of personal security; it’s a matter of creating the minimum conditions for serious economic activity and foreign investment, for which the most generous aid in the world is no substitute if a broken country is ever to get back on its feet.
Secondly, it is critical to have a close understanding of both the cultural norms and the internal political dynamics of the society that one is trying to reconstruct. As ICG first warned in Bosnia in 1996, while the urge to get legitimate local leadership in place is wholly understandable, early elections can be disastrously counterproductive if they only consolidate existing ethnic or other divisions: concentrating on first building civil society institutions can often make much more sense.
In Iraq we are now warning, similarly, of the huge downside risks in what looks at first sight the very clever arithmetical weighting of the appointed Iraqi Interim Governing Council, and the new cabinet it has just selected, to precisely reflect Shiite and Sunni, and Arab and non-Arab proportions of the population. The trouble with this is that for the first time in the country’s modern history, sectarian and ethnic identity has been elevated to the rank of primary organizing political principle. People are now more likely to join political parties built on these lines, and secular Iraqis are feeling weakened. The irony is that the U.S., which for so long has feared Shiite activism in Iran and Lebanon, is now effectively promoting it in Iraq.
Lessons for Australian Foreign Policy
What are the lessons of all of this for the conduct of Australian foreign policy? There are just three basic points I want to make –about our relations with the rest of the world generally, our neighbours and the US -and I can make them pretty briskly. I don’t want to be too preachy, and I don’t want to be any more partisan than the occasion demands: I’ve been out of the country too long, and out of politics too long.
I’m really speaking just as an Australian with a sense of what has been, what should be, and what can be again - given the state of the contemporary world, our place in it and how I know we are perceived
First, Australia’s interests, as a medium size country, are unequivocally bound up with a rule-driven international system based on multilateral cooperation. We are never going to be big enough or strong enough to make our own rules, and there are a great many contemporary problems – from terrorism, to drugs, to refugees, to SARS – which can only be solved by making common cause with others.
Nor can any single bilateral relationship take us as far as we need to go. Not even a country as mighty as the United States can have its way on everything in today’s interdependent globalised world, with so much movement of people, capital, goods and information – controlled and uncontrolled, honest and dishonest, innocent and evil.
As Australia has effectively disappeared from the lists of important players in multilateral decision making, so too has there disappeared from this government’s policy white papers the terminology of ‘good international citizenship’ (which under the Labor governments ranked as a national interest in its own right, alongside traditional economic and physical security concerns). It’s time to think about restoring the language and, more importantly, acting it out. We have nothing to lose but our irrelevance.
Secondly, Australia’s interests are unequivocally bound up with the region in which we live. We will be judged not only by our neighbours themselves, but by the rest of the world, by how efficiently and sensitively we handle our relationships from the South Pacific to South and North East Asia and across the Indian Ocean. We are doing better now – especially with our post-Bali cooperation with Indonesia, and our belated willingess to take on the difficult neighbourhood policing task requested of us by the Solomons - but only after a period in which we could hardly have done worse.
While our actions will always speak louder than our words, one of the ways we can most help ourselves is in fact by adjusting our words: talking much less about projecting ‘Australian values’, as our government leaders and our policy white papers now incessantly do (in pale imitation of the linguistic solipsism of our most powerful friend) and much more about our commitment to universal values. We don’t lose anything in substance that way, but we do gain a lot in credibility.
Freedom and dignity, economic and family wellbeing, the right to participate in choosing those who govern us, are values overwhelmingly shared and sought by everyone. Our neighbours don’t talk about ‘Asian’ values very much these days, and we should reciprocate the analysis by laying off talking about ours.
Thirdly, our relationship with the United States – as hugely valuable as it undoubtedly is – should not be the prism through which we view our relationship with everyone else. At the end of the day U.S. economic and political and security interests are not always going to be identical with Australia’s, and it is no help to Australia to have the rest of the world perceiving us as if they are. We have interests of our own and should have views of our own on all the issues I have been discussing – from rules about force, to institutional reform to the right approach to dealing with terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and peacebuilding.
The key point in all this is one that struck me with acute force when I was foreign minister. If Australia does approach its relationship with the U.S. in a spirit of lively independence, having disagreements from time to time on issues of policy and not being afraid to air them publicly if the occasion demands, our support – when it is asked for and given on something really important – is that much more valuable to the U.S., because it is considered, not reflexive, and that much more appreciated.
In our period in office we had many big arguments with Washington, not just in the case of hoary setpieces like farm access, but gut issues like nuclear disarmament, missile tests, multilateral security arrangements in Asia, US-China policy: we just weren’t very good at the old four-paws-waving-pink-tummy-exposed-puppy-dog routine. But when we were needed, on the big issues, we were always there.
More than that, we were able to carry heavy water for the US a number of times on some very sensitive issues – for example the Chemical Weapons Convention negotiations, embracing the global chemical industry – where the U.S. was seen as too self-interested to be effective, where we were seen as having a mind of our own, but where we shared absolutely identical objectives. And so we led the treaty finalisation process, to great positive effect and great mutual benefit.
By contrast, while the US unquestionably appreciated Australia’s military support in the recent Iraq War - and John Howard has had his Crawford visit to prove it - it is not clear to me that Australia’s involvement made more than a tiny difference to the US capacity to wage the war or meet its other policy objectives. Nor, I’m afraid to say – and I spend a week every month in the U.S. – did it win us any attention or plaudits among more than a handful of US policy makers or the wider American population.
On the great issues of waging war and making peace Australia is never going to be a dominant global player. But whatever the prevailing power balances, and the prevailing mood in Washington, we can always be a significant player, and a lot more significant player than we are now. The critical thing is to stay focused, stay engaged, and look for the opportunities to make a difference, not just be there to give applause or be a helpless bystander.
Nor is it very sensible – though it’s sometimes a temptation on our side of politics – to just retreat into a shell of grumbling self-righteousness when we are unhappy with the course of events. Just as the U.S. has to guard against what Fulbright called the ‘arrogance of power’, so too do the rest of us have to avoid succumbing to what Australia’s best known international relations scholar Hedley Bull called the ‘arrogance of impotence’.
Individual Australians in positions of prominence and influence, have demonstrated over many decades that we do have the capacity, energy, creativity, willpower, persuasiveness, and sheer staying power, to really make a difference in the world on matters of life and death, of high policy and the most basic humanity. We can be very proud of what we achieved as a country.
And we can be very proud of the Labor Governments that have led the way, most of them well led, but none of them better led than those of Bob Hawke, under whom I was proud to serve, and whom I am proud again to have been given this opportunity to honour tonight.
2003 Annual Hawke Lecture, Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, University of South Australia, 18 September 2003
Gareth Evans is President of International Crisis Group and was Australian Foreign Minister on 1988-1996.