"Interesting Times: Meeting the Next Generation of Global Security Challenges"
Address by Gareth Evans to the Asia Pacific Security Conference, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore.
When it comes to conducting international affairs, there’s much to be said for being a congenital optimist. If you believe instinctively that all problems have solutions, it encourages you to go out and find them. If you believe that the world is not necessarily condemned to go on repeating the mistakes of the past, it encourages you to find better ways of doing things. And if you believe that human nature is, if not perfectible, at least improvable , it encourages you to not rule out dealing with those whose past behaviour has been indefensible.
This kind of optimism - much fuelled by the end of the Cold War and the new era of international cooperation it seemed to herald - certainly sustained me for most of the years I was Australia’s Foreign Minister, from 1988 to 1996. It was very much what lay behind our peace plan for Cambodia, our initiation of APEC, our role in the creation of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), our bridge-building with Indonesia to the point even of signing a joint security agreement, our initiation of the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, our successful efforts to bring the Chemical Weapons Convention to conclusion and our (rather less successful) efforts to strengthen and reshape and the peace and security role of the United Nations.
These were just some of the adventures on which I don’t think we would have even embarked had we been over-impressed by the fallibility of human nature or the inevitability of Murphy’s Law – and O’Toole’s less well known corollary (“If you’re feeling good, don’t worry: you’ll get over it”).
But that was a few years ago. I have to say that these days, with the excitement of the early post-Cold War years long evaporated, and the horror of September 11 firmly etched in all our minds, it’s much harder to be an optimist. Confrontation is as much as cooperation. Nuanced multilateral diplomacy has few supporters left in Washington, and few effective practitioners in Europe. Arms control and disarmament regimes are, with few exceptions, heading backwards. The Middle East is aflame, Africa still desolate, Latin America stumbling and many parts of Asia fragile. APEC seems marginalised, and ARF not much further advanced than it was in the mid-90s. And in my own former patch, the current Government of Australia has done its best to demonstrate that not only does it not want to be part of Asia, but it really feels quite comfortable being not part of the rest of the world either…
As we enter the 21st century, the kind of security challenges we face in this environment, and seem likely to go on facing for a long while yet, fall essentially into five categories.
First, there continues to be every reason to remain anxious about internal conflicts, the most characteristic form of serious violence since the end of the Cold War. Of the 56 major armed conflicts which occurred between 1990 and 2000, those involving more than 1000 battle deaths in one year, 53 of them were interstate in character [SIPRI figures]. Millions of human beings around the world remain at the mercy of civil wars, insurgencies, and state collapse. While most of these conflicts and crises have occurred in the developing South, far away from the centres of Western authority and culture, the hard lesson is being learned that their effects can and do reach all the way into the Northern heartland – in the form of terrorism, refugee outflows, narcotics trafficking, organised crime, health pandemics and sometimes environmental impacts as well.
The international response to internal conflict - and in particular the issue of so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’, or military intervention for human protection purposes - has been intensely controversial throughout the last decade. In Rwanda the world stood by as 800,000 people were killed in a genocidal onslaught. When interventions did occur with Security Council approval, as in Somalia and Bosnia, they were usually too little too late, misconceived, poorly resourced, poorly executed, or all of the above. And where intervention occurred without Security Council approval, as in Kosovo, it generated a major international backlash.
While since September 11 the spotlight has shifted away from these situations, nothing, unhappily, is more certain than that sooner or later reports will emerge again – from Asia, Africa, the Balkans or somewhere – of massacres or mass starvation, or rape or ethnic cleansing, happening or about to happen. Then the question will arise all over again in the Security Council and in political capitals and in the media – what do we do? And this time round we must have the answers. Few things have done more harm to our shared ideal that we are all equal in worth and dignity, and that the earth is our common home, than the inability of the community of states to prevent and respond effectively to genocide, massacre and ethnic cleansing.
One set of answers has been suggested recently. The Canadian sponsored International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which I co-chaired with Mohamed Sahnoun of Algeria, has just presented to the Secretary General of the UN a major report in which we argue for a complete reconceptualisation of the whole intervention debate, in which the focus becomes not the ‘right’ of anyone to intervene, but the ‘responsibility’ of everyone to protect. Drawing on evolving law and practice in international human rights recognition, and the emerging emphasis on human security rather than just state security, we argue that the responsibility to protect is owed in the first instance by sovereign states, but when they are unable or unwilling to protect their own citizens from large scale loss of life or ethnic cleansing, the responsibility to protect shifts to the international community of states. The responsibility to protect, as we conceive it, has not just one but three dimensions – a responsibility to prevent, a responsibility to react if prevention fails, and a post-intervention responsibility to rebuild.
My Commission argues further that military intervention is appropriate, and indeed make a forceful call for it, if certain conditions are satisfied. Those conditions are a ‘just cause’, in the sense that the harm occurring or apprehended must be of a defined degree of gravity; ‘right intention’, a requirement best assured by multilateral operations; ‘last resort’, in the sense that non-military options must have been properly explored; ‘proportional means’, in the sense of the minimum necessary force to meet the objective being applied; and finally, ‘right authority’, which we identify squarely as the Security Council, or failing that the General Assembly of the UN.
In the event that the Security Council does not authorise appropriate enforcement action in a conscience-shocking situation clearly crying out for it – as was the case with Rwanda, and I would certainly argue, Kosovo – then my Commission makes the point that in those circumstances other concerned states may well take action unilaterally to meet the gravity and urgency of the situation. But there are downside risks in their doing so, not least that if the intervention is successful, the Security Council’s failure to act will call into question the stature and credibility of the whole UN system. We argued, and I hope very much this is accepted by the community of states in the future, that the task was not to find alternatives to the Security Council as a source of authority, but to make the Security Council work better than it has.
Conflict Between States
This approach is highly relevant to the second security challege the global community faces in the years ahead, conflict between states. Until very recently, it has been possible to argue that interstate conflict is, these days, a much less real threat than internal conflict. Wars between states had become rare and seemed likely to go on being improbable, for a number of good reasons, including the virtual disappearance in advanced countries of bellicisme, the ideology that saw virtue and nobility in war, and the impact of globalisation, with the interdependence and opportunity it involved making borders ever less important than they had traditionally been.
Again, the massively united international response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait laid down a very clear additional marker that, in the post-Cold War era, territorial aggression, for economic or any other reasons, was not likely to be very cost effective. In this environment, the bloody war that did erupt between Eritrea and Ethiopia seemed an almost incomprehensible aberration, a function of egos out of control rather than any kind of rational calculation.
But recent events have made it impossible to be so optimistic. Just a few weeks ago India and Pakistan were much closer to the brink of all out war, over Kashmir and related issues, than has generally been recognised: any one of a number of small mishaps or miscalculations could have triggered a major catastrophe, with the use of nuclear weapons by either side not out of the question. The Israel-Palestinian conflict – which is far more of an interstate than intrastate character – continues to hover on the precipice of all out war, and will continue to do so as long as the resumption of serious political negotiations is made hostage to the last extremist on either side, as they are under the present formula of ‘peace first - then talks’. And there are a number of other situations which, while not for the moment so volatile, do remain hostage to the retention of very cool heads on both sides - among them, in this region, China-Taiwan, the South China Sea and the Korean peninsula.
We also have the post September 11 phenomenon of war between states being waged for self-defence purposes, as permitted under Article 51 of the UN Charter in response to armed attack. America’s short and devastating campaign against Afghanistan – as the state protecting and harbouring the Al Qaeda leaders believed responsible for orchestrating 911 - was totally justifiable in this context. It was not seriously controversial in the international community. But what, however, is extremely controversial is any possible extension of that self-defence reasoning to justify war being waged unilaterally (ie. without Security Council approval, based in turn on there being a threat to “international peace and security”), against other countries perceived to be a threat to the United States or its allies.
That spectre has of course been raised by President Bush’s State of the Union Address on 29 January, in which he described Iraq, Iran and North Korea as constituting “an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world”, spelt out his Administration’s goal as being “to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction” and stated that the U.S. “will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons”. So we now have yoked together as immediate potential targets three regimes which, however unlovely, are not alone in proliferating or sponsoring terrorism; are not a united axis in any obvious sense; are not equally culpable in their past actions; are not equally uncooperative in their present behaviour; and are not on the face of it requiring anything like the same un-nuanced strategy to get them to behave consistently better in the future.
Immediately following this address came a Presidential budget request for a defence spending increase of $48 billion (larger than the total military budget of any other country in the world, and bringing US military spending to 40 per cent of the global total – double its global share of GDP), a breathtaking but not illogical product of the new US doctrine which assesses defence needs in terms of others’ capability, not the actual threat they pose. Given all this, it is not surprising that the international, and even domestic, applause for the new US doctrine has been a little less than tumultuous. Nor is it surprising that there has been something of a scramble subsequently, not least in the context of the President’s recent Asian trip, to disentangle the three countries and to make it clear that it is only really Iraq that is in the gunsights in the reasonably foreseeable future: for the others, it seems, Churchill’s maxim that “jaw jaw is preferable to war war” is, for the time being anyway, to prevail.
Nonetheless in the case of Iraq the prospect of major military action is very real indeed, and the issues raised by this are ones the international community will have to grapple with very soon: it’s a test case for a kind of security issue that may recur in the years ahead, so long as the US enjoys its present exceedingly asymmetrical power, and other countries from time to time pose real or perceived threats to it, or its friends and allies.
It is certainly not unreasonable to paint Iraq as a potentially major threat to international peace and security, given its established track record in the production and use of weapons of mass destruction, its known capability and its suspected intentions. And it is not at all unreasonable to propose that some major new pressure be placed upon it. But the way to deal with the whole issue should be through the UN Security Council, which exists, and is fully mandated, to deal with precisely such threats. The most obvious way of addressing the issue is for the Security Council to deliver a major ultimatum demanding the return of fully empowered weapons inspectors, and indeed the US does appear at the moment to be working toward that end.
The real question will arise if the other members of the Security Council are not prepared to go along with issuing such a demand; or, if that demand is made and not answered, if they then retreat from taking appropriate enforcement action – including ultimately military action; or if events unfold in some other way requiring forceful follow- through action.
It is at these points that those powers who say they are committed to multilateral processes, and who find deeply distasteful the US tendency to unilateralism – an understandable iewpoint - may have to put their money where their mouths are. If the evidence for strong Security Council action is compelling (and that is a big ‘if’, and a precondition for anything else); and if credible enforcement action can be identified, which will in fact improve rather than worsen the overall security environment (and that is another very big ‘if’) – then that evidence should be acted upon, without the luxury of applying double standards of the kind that the US is so often accused of.
In the context of Iraq, this won’t be easy for at least three of the Permanent Five: Russia, China and France. But if the credibility of the cooperative security system of the UN is to be maintained, that’s the kind of decision that comes with P5 territory. If some major powers are not prepared to make the hard calls, then they will have to accept that others may make them unilaterally. And, just as I suggested was the case with the question of internal intervention for human protection purposes, for that to happen, in a case clearly justifying action, would certainly put at risk the stature and credibility of the UN. So it is very much to be hoped that common ground will be found among the major players.
Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction
The third big global security problem we face in this new century, exemplified by the case of Iraq and its alleged cohorts, is proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. The problem is immense, and immensely real. In the case of chemical weapons, where there is a widely supported banning treaty in place, some kind of international consensus is holding together, but financial support is waning for the kind of rigorous inspection regime that would give maximum confidence in the treaty’s effectiveness. In the case of biological weapons, the existing treaty regime is faltering, with failed recent attempts to introduce a workable inspection system.
In the case of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty are both faltering, with less than universal support, and less than total commitment to their terms from the countries that matter; weapons-grade fissile material continues to be produced; and controls over trade in materials, technology and information remain extremely inadequate. And in the case of delivery systems, the ABM – for so long an effective strategic stabiliser – is all but dead as the US continues to pursue its $150 billion faith-based missile defence program.
The recent entry of India and Pakistan to the nuclear weapons state 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. And the notion that you need a nuclear or CBW armoury to deal with terrorist groups or individuals producing home-made weapons of this kind is simply ludicrous.
Containing the spread, and stopping the use, of weapons of mass disruption is quintessentially a task for international cooperation, through agreed treaty regimes and committed follow up verification and other supporting action. Here, more than anywhere else, unilateral action is absolutely useless and absolutely counterproductive.
Terrorism, carried out by whatever means, is – as we have become all too acutely conscious since 11 September 2001 - the next big global security challenge we will continue to confront in the years ahead. Before 911 terrorism was seen as indefensible and unacceptable means of waging war, or pursuing political objectives, but not itself as something to wage war against in the traditional military sense. Since 911 all that has changed. For the first time in history non-state actors showed themselves to be capable of waging as much destruction as state actors. Terrorists have become first order global enemies, with countries knowingly harbouring them subject to full-scale military attack. The shift of focus is understandable enough, from a global as well as well as just a US perspective, when one considers that on 11 September 2001 more lives were lost to terrorist activity in a single morning than in Israel and Ireland combined over the last 50 years.
And that was with zero technology, raising the obvious anxiety that if that’s what twenty hijackers willing to commit suicide can do when armed only with box-cutters (albeit also armed with the imagination to leverage those weapons up to the scale of fuel-laden jetliners), how much more havoc could be caused by twenty terrorist armed with brief cases full of nerve gas, or suitcase-sized or delivery-van sized nuclear devices? The problem is not one for the US alone – though it no doubt will remain a preferred target – but for every major country and every major city in the world.
The challenge posed by terrorism operates at three levels. One is to hunt down and bring to justice, or at least to their just deserts, the perpetrators of terrorist crimes and those who harbour them. The second is homeland security, to build better internal defences against future terrorist activity. The third, and in many ways most important, dimension of the challenge – and the one on which I want to focus here - is to build sustainable international defences against future terrorist activity. The first line of such international defence must be the frontline states and authorities, the countries of origin of the terrorists themselves. Nobody can do the job required better than they can - internal crackdown, combined with strong external cooperation in supplying intelligence, breaking financial supply lines and offering logistic support.
Given the primacy of the role of the frontline countries, the key to strengthening international defences is thus to build the capacity and above all the will for them to act, bearing in mind that the governments in question may not have much physical capacity – and will need a great deal of financial and technical assistance to develop it - and that their will may be limited by the political realities they confront domestically. If we want, as we must, strong local action and strong local cooperation with intenational authorities, we have to go all out to create environments in the countries in question in which there is more community support for cracking down on terrorism, and in which insecure governments and authorities will feel more confident in doing so.
And that in turn means that it is important to adopt, as at least part of the repertoire of responses to terror, ‘root cause’ strategies, designed to address the problem at source – addressing the policy issues that we know generate grievance, and the social and economic conditions that we know generate despair. It is in this context (building the capacity and will of the frontline states), that US and other major Western powers should be making a major effort to address some of the unresolved conflicts and policy issues – the Israel/Palestine conflict preeminent among them – which have been creating the environment in which terrorist leaders, whatever their own motives, can find recruits and mass support.
And it is in this context too – building the capacity and will of frontline states – that it is important to address some of the economic and social conditions in which grievance flourishes : by making a sustained effort to improve social conditions, reduce disparities of wealth, create more and more economic opportunity, to create more and more educational opportunity, andn to create more responsive governance. To do all this is not to ‘reward’ terrorist behaviour: it’s to answer it.
Weapons of Mass Disruption
The last of the five global challenges to which I want to refer is the emergence of a quite new kind of risk, posed by what have been called weapons of mass disruption. It is becoming increasingly recognised that terrorists and other enemies of the state, internal and external, don’t necessarily have to employ traditional violent means, or engage in any kind of direct bloodshed at all, in order to advance their objectives. Huge economic loss, catastrophic breakdowns in social order and the collapse of effective governance are all within the realm of the achievable.
One way in is through cyberspace, with modern communications networks being extraordinarily vulnerable to well-designed attack. The software is already available through which there could be distributed through the Internet millions of “sleeper” viruses programmed to attack specific machines or networks at a predetermined date.
At a more prosaic, low-tech level, there is for example the scenario painted in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, whereby a number of small groups positioned outside key electrical substations and alongside key power transmission lines in a number of key regions, on a hot summer’s night with all sytems overloaded, could simultaneously fire off over the substations home-made mortars full of aluminium chaff, and float helium balloons with long tails into the power lines. The results would be spectacular: the national electrical system short-circuited, causing a cascade of power failures across the country. Communications systems break down; traffic lights shut down; water and sewerage systems are disabled. The financial system – and the national economy – come to a grinding halt.
Of all the security threats I have identified, that from ‘weapons of mass disruption’ is perhaps the hardest of all to guard against, both conceptually and practically. Some creative thinking is obviously called for, mainly involving loosening and decoupling some of the interconnections that are now so comprehensive in information and energy and other service systems; developing circuit breakers of different kinds to limit the spread of damage when it does occur; and developing emergency response systems to a much greater pitch of efficiency. Beyond that, it is just a matter, as always, of improving prevention – in these cases mainly through better intelligence, and in particular better and more confident international intelligence exchanges.
There are no simple answers to any of the classes of security threat I have identified as problems for the global community in the years ahead. With the prospect of more internal conflict, conflict between states, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and the problem of weapons of mass disruption, there doesn’t seem much chance of any of us avoiding the old Chinese curse that we live in “interesting times”.
But if there are no simple answers, there are some simple messages which run through all the kinds of responses to these threats that I have suggested as appropriate. The first is cooperate: countries should act together rather than in splendid isolation in addressing these various threats, both because that is what for the most part is required by the UN Charter – the only dominant system of security law that we have, which we would have to invent if it didn’t exist – and because in the real contemporary world, however big you are, most international problems are only solvable with the help of others. The second message is be comprehensive: address security problems in a way that recognises they are not one-dimensional, and that social, economic and cultural factors can be at least as important as political and military ones in explaining why people and governments act as they do, and in persuading them to act otherwise.
The third message is be creative: always be willing as policy makers to push out the envelope, to explore new ways of addressing and solving not only new problems – like weapons of mass disruption – but old ones like inter and intra-state conflict.
And the fourth is give priority to prevention: whatever else you do, always remember that it’s far more cost effective in terms of money, lives, pain, suffering and property damage to address and resolve problems at source, before they explode into violent conflict. There are plenty of preventive tools available – political and diplomatic, legal, economic and military – and plenty of institutional ways of mobilising them, including through regional organisations: the problem as always is to mobilise the political will to take preventive action at the time it would actually be useful. This is the cause to which my organisation, the International Crisis Group, is dedicated, and the one to which I have dedicated my own professional life since leaving politics and government three years ago.
ICG is now a multi-million dollar organisation, employing over 70 analysts in more than twenty crisis locations across four continents, and a lot of policy makers and those who influence them are now taking our reports and recommendations seriously. Prevention is not a very glamorous business - how could it be when the whole logic of your position is that you succeed when nothing happens, and nobody takes any notice? Your triumphs, almost by definition, go unnoticed. But the sense that, just every now and again, what you and your organisation has done has made some difference, and that you may just have helped to save some lives that would otherwise have been destroyed, is what keeps us all going.
There may not be much of a place any more for congenital optimists in this world of ours, as experience keeps triumphing over hope, and expectations are disappointed more often than they are ever met. But there’s certainly a place, and a very honoured place, for policy makers and analysts and writers and thinkers – whether military or civilian or non-government – who try not only to understand what’s going on and to prepare for the worst, but who are actively committed to making things better. I am sure that is the spirit in which the overwhelming majority of those present here today are attending this conference, and I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to talk to you about these issues.