"Confronting the Challenge of Terrorism: International Relations after 911"
Cohen Lecture in International Relations, by Gareth Evans. Lehigh University, Pennsylvania
Looking out at the world from this splendid institution in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is a little like, I suspect, looking out at it when you’re an Australian Foreign Minister, or the head of an international non-governmental organisation, or someone living, as I now do, in Europe. In each case we’re reasonably close to the action - and perfectly capable of running the world if only the world would let us - but we’re not, we have to acknowledge frankly, quite at the centre of the action. The compensation, I guess, is that not being a member of the P5 or G8, or not working in the White House or State Department, or not living within the beltway or right alongside the UN community in New York, is really not a bad place to be: it gives you just that little bit of detachment and perspective that, by definition, are denied to those whose hands are right on the levers, or hovering around them.
Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. And the empathy I obviously have with my fellow detached-and-perspective-laden Lehigh University makes me particularly delighted to join you this evening. The annual Cohen lecture is a significant event, and the list of previous Cohen lecturers is a highly distinguished one. I am both very deeply honoured and more than a little over-awed to join the likes of Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel and Wole Soyinka, and I thank you very much for inviting me.
What has Changed since 911
Whether the world changed quite as much on September 11 last year as most of us thought and said at the time is something I want to explore in this lecture. But there is absolutely no doubt that some things changed.
The first is that we all have a horrifying new sense of vulnerability. If this is the kind of damage that could be done by a handful of people willing to suicide, employing creative imagination but zero primary technology, what would be the impact of a really full-scale attack going chemical, biological or even nuclear? The concept of “asymmetric” security threats moved in an instant from abstraction to alarming reality. In America the shock of losing both the physical and psychological protection of the two-ocean cocoon has been particularly acute, but the shock of 911 has been felt everywhere around the world. We’ve never known in peace – and rarely known in war – a sense of insecurity now as pervasive as this, and that is certainly affecting the way governments are behaving toward each other.
Secondly, we all understand much more about the interconnectedness of the world: for the first time for many people “globalisation” moved from abstraction to reality. Nine-eleven made abundantly clear that no country can immunise or isolate itself entirely from external events: grievances bred elsewhere can have catastrophic consequences half a world away, and the ease of transport, international communications and personal movement in and out of countries have made it easier than ever before in history not only to plot evil but to deliver it. People in developing countries have long had the sense that their future was in the hands of those in other continents, but it’s come as a shock to the citizens of New York and London and Brussels that decisions directly and immediately affecting their own security can be made in the Hindu Kush. We may not have seen the end of unilateralism in US foreign policy, but we can wave goodbye to isolationism.
Thirdly, we know that we can no longer treat with erratic neglect the problems of the Arab and Islamic world, with its democratic vacuum from Morocco to Pakistan, ignoring those problems except when oil supplies appear threatened. The 911 terrorists weren’t themselves poor, but they were supported by millions of people who are – those who resent perceived U.S. support for their own corrupt and insensitive regimes, resent perceived U.S. indifference to their own concerns for political and social justice (including for Palestinians), want more economic opportunity and a bigger slice of the pie and resent those who seem so effortlessly to have so much of it already and to be so unwilling to share it.
Part of the resentment is obviously also fuelled by a distaste for modernity, not least Western cultural currents encouraging greater freedom and opportunity for women. But hostility to the West is not a matter of anything inherent in Islamic civilisation: living alongside Indonesia for so long, as I did – by far the biggest Islamic country in the world, modern in its aspirations and now struggling hard to consolidate its democracy – Professor Huntington’s thesis is much too crude for my explanatory taste.
The debate as to how to respond to these Arab-world problems is still very confused, particularly in the U.S., when any call to address not just the symptoms of terrorism but also some of the underlying political, economic and social factors that breed and sustain it tends to be greeted with cries of “You’re rewarding them!”. But there is a huge difference between rewarding terrorists and addressing the problem they present, and policy makers ignore that difference at their peril.
The fourth impact of 911 is that it does seem to have made some old problems easier to solve, and some difficult relationships easier to manage. Whatever the cynicism that might have contributed to the warming of hearts in Moscow and Beijing – with Chechnya and Xinjiang turned into even more open free fire zones - there is no doubt that relations between the U.S. and Russia and China are on a more stable and substantial basis since 911 than they have been for some time, and that is very much a positive for global security.
In Sudan, the new obligation to demonstrate good international anti-terrorist behaviour has concentrated the government’s mind on the virtues of a settlement more than at any time in the two-decade history of this horrible conflict: with some focused leadership from the U.S. and others there’s a big window of opportunity to now climb through. Again in Sri Lanka, a terrorist leadership has been having second thoughts about its sustainable future, and peace as a result of that – combined with a new government and some effective Norwegian mediation - is closer at hand than for years. For a time it seemed that even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could benefit from the new atmosphere, with the Palestinian leadership being very quick to ally itself with the anti-terrorist cause, but with Ariel Sharon having a very different view of the opportunities presented by 911, the peace opening all too rapidly closed.
Finally, and conversely, 911 may have made a number of old problems harder to solve. The certain diversion of attention and the likely diversion of resources away from the job that remains to be done in the Balkans is causing a good deal of anxiety: certainly the drawdown of remaining American troops from Bosnia and Kosovo would be a particularly unhappy and destabilising development. The diversion of diplomatic resources into the all encompassing war on terror is, again, of real concern across sub-Saharan Africa, where there are a legion of problems – from Liberia to the Congo and Zimbabwe and beyond – where strong American leadership (of the kind that was beginning to be foreshadowed by Secretary Powell before the 911 balloon went up) would be enormously helpful.
There are, moreover, some other problems that are in danger of reigniting in the new post-911 atmosphere. To the bemusement of most of the world outside Washington, North Korea and Iran have been lumped in with Iraq as co-axial evildoers, causing concern that this will only make things harder for the faltering moderate cause in Tehran, and prejudice the steady, albeit painfully slow, progress that was being made to bring Pyongyang back to planet Earth.
In the case of Iraq, it is widely acknowledged that this is a problem where urgent international attention through the U.N. is required, and that eventual reignition may not be able to be avoided, given that Saddam Hussein is not only reasonably suspected of rapidly acquiring new weapons of mass destruction, but also has an established track record of using them, and of outlaw behaviour generally. But that does not translate into any support at all in the rest of the world for the emerging new doctrine in the U.S. that it is entitled to act pre-emptively, and if necessary unilaterally, to deal with states emerging as possessors of weapons of mass destruction, because of the temptations to which they might succumb to deliver such weapons to terrorists. If 911 results eventually in the accepted rules of international behaviour being turned inside out and upside down to this extent, its impact will indeed have been world changing.
What is perhaps most disconcerting about these post-911, and in particular post-Axis-of-Evil, developments is the way in which they seem to be translating into a growing estrangement between the U.S. and its NATO allies in Europe, with even Britain being much more cautious about military adventurism in Iraq than a casual reading of Tony Blair’s one-liners might suggest. Hard-line Americans (although being given some pause, both chronologically and in policy terms, by the disastrous impact of West Bank events on what might otherwise have been tacit moderate Arab support) argue that a war against Iraq is the logical next step in the war against terror, that it is winnable with or without allies in Europe and even the region, and that victory over Saddam will unlock things elsewhere – making clear that nothing is to be gained by supporting terrorism, extremism or authoritarianism. The Europeans argue, simply and I think plausibly, that all this wildly understates the risks and overstates the potential benefits of such action. These disagreements are the most important and serious to have emerged since NATO began, and it may not be farfetched to suggest they may ultimately put the very existence of the organisation at risk.
What has Not Changed since 911
All that said, if one stands back a little, there is a lot that has not changed at all in the world as we find it after 911.
One is the endless capacity of individual leaders to create havoc, miss opportunities and generally undermine, I fear I have to say, the best-laid theories of academics as to how the world works. In all my years of international public life, I have never ceased to be amazed at the capacity of individuals to make a difference, for better or for worse. So much seems to depend just on the luck of the draw: whether at a time of fragility and transition you get a Mandela or a Milosevic, a Rabin or a Sharon, an Arafat or an Ataturk, an Obasanjo or a Mugabe. That has always been so, and I suspect it will always remain so.
A second thing that hasn’t changed since 911 is the underlying reality of the distribution of power in the world. The U.S. was neither more nor less a hyperpower, compared with everyone else, when 12 November dawned, although the further increase in defence expenditure which has been at least partly prompted by 911 makes the disparities even starker: the increase of $48 billion requested by the President is itself larger than the total military budget of any other country in the world, and will bring U.S. military spending to 40 per cent of the global total, double its share of global GDP, and eight times its share of global population.
Elsewhere the rise of China and decline of Japan continues apace; India and Pakistan continue to maintain the world’s most fragile, and because of their nuclear armouries, dangerous relationship – one much affected by terrorist activity, but not especially changed by 911; and Europe’s struggle to build a coherent common foreign and security policy, capable of reflecting its economic weight in the world, continues to limp along more or less unaffected by the travails of 911. Intergovernmental institutions like the United Nations continue to have no more and no less power to change the world than their member states will allow, with the member states being overwhelmingly driven, in turn, by the same old perceptions of national interest and the same old power relativities.
Thirdly, the security fundamentals have not changed. Most of the security problems with which the world will have to deal in the years ahead are exactly the kinds of problems it has to deal with in the past – some involving conflicts or potential conflicts or unresolved grievances between states, but rather more involving conflicts within states, the product of greed or grievance or state failure or all of the above. Each has its own dynamic and each requires to be tackled on its own terms. Some cross border conflicts will require full scale international action of the kind clearly mandated by the U.N. Charter and set in train and set in train against Iraq a decade ago; some internal crises will involve such catastrophic human suffering, and such government incapacity or abdication of responsibility, as to cry out for international military intervention. All of them will require more intelligent and committed preventive action than the international community has so far been able or willing to provide.
With all the understandable post-911 preoccupation with terrorism, it is worth reminding ourselves how little the fundamentals of conflict have actually changed. The great dangers come from political problems – some of them with underlying economic and social causes – that are unresolved, unaddressed, incompetently addressed or deliberately left to fester, until they become so acute they explode. Part of the fall-out of such explosions can be terrorism, including international terrorism, but terrorism 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 in particular 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 911 has shown the way, there is more risk today that those in serious dispute with Washington will use terror as a tactic to compensate for that weakness. But the core problems go back to political issues. 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 politically with those core problems.
Part of the problem of characterising the global security task ahead in President Bush’s favoured language of a “war on terrorism” or a “war on evil” is that it conceals the complexity of the issues, and the necessity to accompany grand principles with detailed case-by-case strategies and tactics for dealing with each situation on its own merits. As others have pointed out, a war against evil is, almost by definition, 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 – like many in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Balkans – which are not easily subsumed under the mantle of a war against terror, and perhaps even bigger risks in wrapping in that mantle security problems – like those in Iraq, Iran and North Korea – which are at best only marginally connected to it.
Fourth and finally under this heading, if the character of most of the world’s security problems hasn’t much changed since 911, the economic, social and equity problem fundamentals have not changed either. Secretary General Kofi Annan made the point succinctly in his end of year press conference last December:
For many people in the world 2001 was not different from 2000 or 1999. It was just another year of living with HIV/AIDS, or in a refugee camp, or under repressive rule, or with crushing poverty.
The developed world is slowly beginning to show signs of having understood how comprehensively it has abdicated its responsibility, in terms of development assistance, to redress the fearful deprivation - starting with basic health, housing and education – that exists in so much of the developing world. But the recent Monterrey Conference on Finance for Development hardly changed anything in terms of serious commitments made. And even with the very welcome announcement by the Bush Administration of a very significant increase in the US aid commitment, it won’t do much to lift the U.S. out of the cellar division internationally: the 1 cent in every $10 of GDP going to Official Development Assistance will become just 1 ½ cents, still a long way from the 7 cents set years ago as the appropriate international standard.
Responding to Terrorism and the World as we now Find It
How then should policy makers be responding to terrorism and the other security problems of the world as we now find them after 911? My short answer is that we should be responding comprehensively, cooperatively, decently and above all intelligently.
Acting comprehensively means addressing 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.
Acting cooperatively means recognising that in the real contemporary world, however big you are, most international problems are only solvable with the help of others, and that acting together rather than in splendid isolation in addressing security threats is what for the most part is required by the UN Charter – the only dominant system of security law that we have, and which we would have to invent if it didn’t exist.
Acting decently is something that should, on the face of it, come naturally to those of us who spend so much of our time telling others how indecently they are behaving when it comes to democracy, fairness, openness and respect for human rights. But our performance hasn’t always lived up to our rhetoric, and I’m referring not just to the policy problems the U.S. keeps on experiencing with almost any kind of treaty commitment – the International Criminal Court being just the most recent example – which might limit its own absolute freedom of action.
During the Cold War years there were all too many examples – acceptance of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia pre-eminent among them – when the West’s worldwide struggle against Soviet-led communism created extraordinary bedfellows and led to a distortion of the values which the West itself claimed to be defending. But the double standards didn’t stop with the end of the Cold War. Perhaps the most chilling of all recent examples is what happened not so long ago in Rwanda. In the words of Samantha Power, in her just-published A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide:
In 1994 Rwanda, a country of just eight million, experienced the numerical equivalent of more than two World Trade Center attacks every single day for one hundred days. On an American scale this would mean 23 million people murdered in three months. When on September 12 2001 the United States turned for help to its friends around the world, Americans were gratified by the overwhelming response. When the Tutsi cried out, by contrast, every country in the world turned away.
Maybe it’s offensive to prevailing realist norms to ask that governments behave decently, but it can hardly be inappropriate to urge them to behave intelligently – and at the end of the day that’s the most important of my set of adjectives, not least because in fact it subsumes so many of the others. Behaving intelligently will usually mean acting comprehensively, because that’s the only way to get at the roots of a problem and solve it with any hope of permanence. Behaving intelligently will usually also mean behaving cooperatively and decently, because it will involve recognising that states’ national interests – the only currency in which realists ever trade – are not exhausted by listing security interests and economic interests.
Intelligent states recognise – at least I, for one, have long argued – that they have a third national interest: their interest in being, and being seen to be, good international citizens. In a world where multiple problems are beyond the capacity of any government by itself to fix – terrorism, unregulated population flow, health pandemics, narcotics and other organised crime, certain environmental catastrophes – it just makes hard common sense to make, and to be seen to make, common cause with others: I’ll help you with your consuming problem today, you help me with mine tomorrow.
But behaving intelligently means some other things as well. It means acting preventively – before rather than after the event, when the costs in lives, money, property and human misery are bound to have grown dramatically. It means following through: recognising that the job in Afghanistan, for example, is only half done if you don’t make a commitment to providing the military security necessary for any kind of serious institution-building to occur (the unwillingness to extend the role and reach of the international protective force ISAF beyond Kabul is almost incomprehensible in this respect) and if you don’t make a serious and generous commitment to massive reconstruction assistance (despite the orgy of self-congratulation at the Tokyo Donors’ Conference last January, less than half was pledged of the amount identified as necessary by the World Bank and UNDP). Acting both preventively and effectively after conflict involves an unequivocal commitment to nation-building, and it is gratifying that the Bush Administration has now, at least in principle, recognised the force of that argument: reference to the Marshall Plan may have become something of a cliché in international discourse, but it was music to a great many ears around the world to hear President Bush invoke so warmly, as he did last week, the shade of the great General.
There’s one more important dimension to acting intelligently that needs to be mentioned, and that is the need to act productively and not counter-productively. A constant theme of the International Crisis Group’s reporting on Central Asia has been the risk of buying support for the anti-al Qaeda and Taliban operation at too high a price, in the sense of encouraging, or at least allowing, repressive leaders to go on being so repressive that they turn opposing moderates into extremists – and with the door of the mosque often the last one left open, Islamist extremists at that.
It is unhappily the case that signing up for the fight against terrorism has allowed authoritarian leaders to cleanse themselves of past sins, with Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan lauded in Washington for his help and given new funds; with Askar Akaev of Kyrgyzstan feeling more free to jail opposition members and curb press; and with Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan also free of pressure on opening up politics and dealing with corruption. We have moreover seen in Pakistan Pervez Musharraf not just rehabilitated but lauded, with his undercutting of institutions and democracy in Pakistan not just being ignored but encouraged, ignoring the history of military rulers and their nurturing of extremism. And, particularly galling if not as significant in regional security terms, we have seen Dr Mahathir welcomed in Washington for the first time since 1994 while using the spectre of ‘terrorism’ to undercut the remaining opposition to his rule from PAS and the supporters of his disgracefully jailed former deputy, Anwar Ibrahim.
How does all this translate into prescriptions for the kind of policy the U.S. and wider international community should be following in response to 911 itself, the particular problem of Iraq, and the disastrously escalated Israeli-Palestinian conflict – all of which have now become almost inextricably entangled?
Responding to the Attacks of 911
In relation to the attacks of 911, I would argue that there are five separate objectives which have to be simultaneously pursued if the response is to be adequate, if short term objectives are not to work against longer term one, and if the tightrope between over-reaction (in the sense of counter-productive action) and under-reaction is to be walked.
- The first is strengthening internal security, essentially a domestic matter, but one involving big issues of principle about how much liberty can you sacrifice in the name of security without losing the very identity and character of the nation that the attackers have set out to destroy. There is also an external dimension in the sense that policymakers have to remember, as to their credit those in Washington overwhelmingly have, that any war going on is one against deeds, not beliefs and that there are huge downside risks, in terms of winning the sustained cooperation of other countries, in engaging in any form of negative religious or racial profiling.
- The second is bringing the perpetrators to justice. There can be no doubt about America’s moral and legal right to take robust action, as it has, against those responsible for the 11 September crimes, and those who aiding or harbouring them: in international law, the self-defence provision in Article 51 of the UN Charter is itself sufficient justification. But as a matter not only of law and morality, but of hard-headed national self interest, there are several constraints which should nonetheless continue to apply to such action:
+ There should be a strong evidentiary foundation for it, without which the support of friends and allies will fall away: this condition was pretty well satisfied in Afghanistan, but the jury is still out on the significance of al Quaeda links when it comes to Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and Indonesia.
+ The killing and maiming of the innocent has to be avoided at almost all costs: if that happens, you just create a whole new generation of people fearing and hating the West and everything it stands for, a new breeding ground for a whole new generation of fanatics.
+ You have to follow through punitive action in a principled way, in the processes for detention, trial and punishment of those apprehended - all of which continue to be controversial in the present case.
+ And you have to make a commitment to fully rebuilding the countries in question, and not make the mistake of Afghanistan last time round of walking away when the immediate problem was resolved: as I have already mentioned above there is growing concern about whether that commitment in Afghanistan this time will genuinely last.
- The third objective must be building front line defences against future attacks, in the countries of origin of the terrorists themselves. The CIA, FBI and US military can never have been as good as the Taliban, should it have chosen to be, or Saudi Arabia or Sudan before them, in dealing with Osama bin Laden; just as neither the Indians or anyone else could possibly be as good as the Pakistani government and military in curbing, if it chose to do, the terrorist fanaticism that continues to tear apart Kashmir. To strengthen these international defences you have to build the capacity and above all the will for these countries and authorities to act, both internally and in close cooperation with the wider international community. Intelligence has to be supplied, financial supply lines broken, logistic support offered and common strategies systematically pursued over time.
Building capacity means in the first instance building basic physical capacity – once again a question of generous development support. Building the will means essentially building political support, but there are two important constraints to bear in mind here. The first is that – as I have already mentioned - such support not be bought at too counterproductively high a price. The second is that it must be recognized that, whatever the will, political support is impossible without the capacity to deliver that support. If we want, as we must, strong local action against terrorism, 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 will feel more confident in doing so. And that in turn leads to the forth and fifth objectives I want to mention.
- The fourth objective is addressing the conflicts and policy issues that generate grievance. I have already made clear my view that to drain some of these swamps, as the approved metaphor would have it, is not to reward terrorism but to address it. Maybe my judgment here is a little affected by my role as head of the International Crisis Group, an organisation dedicated to preventing and containing deadly conflict. But our strong belief is that the task of fighting terrorism cannot be separated from the task of preventing, containing and ending conflict. All too often the places that generate terrorism – along with drug trafficking, and health pandemics, and refugee outflows, and international environmental disasters – are shattered societies where grievance, greed, repression, poverty and prejudice have, in various combinations, fed violence, utter despair and extremism. Think not only of the Middle East and Central Asia, but of Northern Ireland, the Sudan, Colombia, the Caucasus. In none of these conflicts, or a dozen others, has the conflict stayed local.
- The fifth objective must be the companion one of addressing the underlying social, economic and cultural issues that generate grievance. Any comprehensive response to terrorism has to address the reality that not all the festering grievances that breed it have a rational, or semi-rational, foundation in unresolved or badly-resolved conflicts, or other policy issues of this kind. The unhappy reality is that the US is the natural international target for the resentment of those who feel themselves deprived. This country’s role in the global economy, its perceived political influence – and above all its perceived cultural influence everywhere – mean that trouble is bound to follow it, through whatever walls its citizens may be tempted to build around themselves.
There are no easy answers to this, but part of the response must be to try to gradually diminish the envy and sense of both absolute and comparative economic disadvantage that are significant parts of the problem – to make a sustained effort to improve social conditions, reduce disparities of wealth, create more and more economic opportunity, and above all to create more and more educational opportunity. The madrassas of Pakistan continue to flourish because they offer low cost education which millions of poor families simply cannot obtain for their children in any other way. There is no iron law that wealth or education will diminish fanaticism or hatred of the West – Osama bin Laden is himself living proof of that – but there is every reason to believe it must help, as must efforts both internal and external to improve the quality, and responsiveness to its people, of national governance.
The Challenge of Iraq
On Iraq I have already made clear my own concern, which I shall not repeat, about some of the ways this issue is being handled in the U.S., with a certain indifference to international process, a certain over-confidence about the ease with which Saddam might be overthrown, and a certain overestimation of the positive regional benefits that would flow from that happening.
However much Iraq is detested by its Arab neighbours and Iran, it still has an extraordinary capacity to win support if it can paint itself as oppressed, as we have seen in the playing out of the sanctions issue. And the recent developments on the West Bank have consolidated that support as nothing else could. Moreover, so far as the West is concerned, it cannot be assumed that even with active or tacit Arab-neighbour support, any military victory would be easily won. The assumption of a Shiite revolutionary south, a Kurdish revolutionary north tolerated by Turkey, and a Sunni middle sending out the revolutionary guard to be decimated by American firepower while the population waits enthusiastically for the liberators to arrive is, to say the least, a little simplistic. So too is the notion that all this would result not only in the collapse of the Saddam regime, but of anyone likely to be as bad, and would be sustainable without massive and highly risky ongoing military occupation.
All that said, it is high time to be demanding some better behaviour of Iraq. But the way to deal with the whole issue is through the UN Security Council, which exists and is fully mandated to respond to precisely the threat that Iraq represents. A big responsibility lies in this respect with those Security Council members who say they are committed to multilateral processes and find deeply distasteful, understandably enough, the U.S. tendency toward unilateralism. They need to put their money where their mouths are, be prepared to support an ultimatum demanding the return of fully-empowered weapons inspectors, and be prepared to follow that through. If some major powers are not prepared to make such hard calls, they will have to accept that others may make them unilaterally.
The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis
One of the most depressing features of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that it seems to have been driven less by the merits than by a combination of, on the one hand, domestic political pressures and, on the other, a desire to clear the ground for an assault on Iraq. Hearing multiple voices, the Administration has wobbled backward and forward, in recent days and weeks, between unequivocal support for Ariel Sharon and distaste for his excesses; support for and condemnation of Yasser Arafat; pressure and no-pressure on Israel; and support for an incremental security-first approach and support for a substantial up-front political initiative.
The truth of the matter is that violence – however ugly, however extreme and however protracted - cannot itself secure victory for either side; that Sharon’s vision of a Palestinian state divided into impotent and cowed shreds and patches is totally illusory; and that the only possible way out of the present morass is to rebuild the political center on both sides, and find a way of offering both sides simultaneously – because they are not likely now to be able to negotiate it themselves - a final political settlement which is just and fair and balanced enough to give each of them something to believe in, something to argue for and something to justify restraint. Just as the issue of Iraq ought to be approached coolly and objectively on its own merits, and not in any crusading spirit, so must the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
One of the most unforgettable conversations I ever had as Australian Foreign Minister was with Yitzhak Rabin, just three months before his assassination in 1995 by an Israeli extremist. Making a pitch on a particular issue to do with the peace process, I finished a little mischievously by saying “Of course I know I’m preaching to the converted”. Rabin looked at me with a little half-smile, paused and replied: “To the committed, not the converted”.
One of the many tragedies of the present situation is that one just can’t imagine Ariel Sharon uttering any such words. And yet it’s exactly that capacity to make choices from the head rather than the heart which is the key to salvaging something from the present appalling wreckage. On any rational analysis, the violence now being perpetrated by both sides is going to breed nothing but further hatred and killing. With neither absolute victory nor absolute defeat conceivable for either, sooner or later a settlement will have to be reached. The only questions are when, and with how much more misery.
How can you negotiate with those you know, or whom you believe, have committed appalling atrocities? The answer is, in the same way peacemakers always have when further suffering becomes intolerable. How else could peace have had a chance in Sri Lanka today, or Bosnia in the mid-90s, or in Cambodia a decade ago? It was chilling beyond description to sit across tables for meeting after meeting with Pol Pot’s right hand men. I shudder still to recall it. But we did it because all the other options were worse.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians have been let down by their leaders. At Camp David in 2000, and much more so in Taba in early 2001, a just settlement was almost there for the taking. As published insider accounts now make depressingly clear, peace became a victim not of any congenital incapacity on either side to be a partner, but a deeply depressing series of misperceptions, miscalculations and misjudgements, not only by Arafat but by Barak and to some extent Clinton as well. The only way to get out of the present mess is to turn the old incrementalism on its head, and for the international community, led by the U.S. to show the way. What used to be thought of as the political endgame, built on foundations of security and growing trust, has to be brought back to the beginning. There will be no incentive or capacity to end violence and terror until majorities on both sides see within reach a settlement that fairly addresses all the issues. But, given all that’s now happened, it won’t be drafted by the parties themselves anytime soon.
To kickstart the process a coherent, comprehensive and credible plan has to be drafted, in consultation with cool heads on both sides – there are some still around - and put on the table by the so-called “Quartet” group (US, EU, Russia, UN) together with the three key Arab countries (Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan). It can be done, but the only country with the clout to pull the process together is the U.S. If it continues to shy away from the necessary leadership role – with Colin Powell counting for less in Washington than Ariel Sharon – all the horrors so far will pall beside those yet to come.
In all this swirl of event in the world as we find it after 911, it is not easy for anyone to keep their bearings. The temptation is great to respond in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion, taking each separate problem as it comes and not worrying too much about the connections between them. If the alternative is to subsume everything into some single conceptual or ideological straitjacket – as part of the war on terror or the war on evil – maybe a piecemeal approach is no bad thing. But in international relations, as in life itself, there are principles that give coherence and meaning to the individual decisions we make. What is ultimately required is a decent approach and an intelligent approach, which I have argued to be essentially the same thing.
Conducted without intelligence or decency, foreign policy is something to be embarrassed about. Conducted with intelligence and decency, it offers more scope for doing good than almost any other area of governmental activity. That’s why, despite all the frustrations and the paucity of material rewards, it is so important that good people continue to be prepared to devote their professional lives to the service of their country and to the service of international institutions. And that’s why it is so important that institutions of learning like this one continue to devote high-level resources to thinking and learning and teaching and discussing international relations. I feel privileged to have been part of that ongoing discussion tonight, and thank you again for the honour you have done me in inviting me to deliver this lecture.