IISS conference on changing trends in global power and conflict resolution
The 6th Global Strategic Review of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) held in Geneva from September 12-14, 2008, covered some of the major issues of international security including insurgency, proliferation, terrorism, conflict management and major power relations. In addition, it also was another event marking the 50th anniversary of one of the world’s most influential think-thanks on security affairs.
As Prof. Sir Michael Howard, the Institute’s charismatic President-Emeritus and Founder remarked, from a small Anglo-Saxon group of academics IISS has grown into an organization as international as the issues it addresses. Over 400 participants from 50 countries took the opportunity to discuss changing trends in global power and conflict resolution in plenary sessions, working groups and private talks.
Of the many topics addressed at the conference, WSN wants to highlight a selected few in this newsletter paired with a choice of video statements by participants. Further exclusive WSN TV interviews from the conference will be posted on our web site over the next few days.
Robert Zoellick, the 11th President of the World Bank, set the stage for the conference with his keynote address “Fragile States: Securing Development” by espousing a wider notion of security that sees that sees economic, social and political measures as integral parts of any strategy for promoting peace and stability. He emphasised the need for a comprehensive strategy – a smart policy, combining financial and economic measures with security efforts in an early stage of any crisis management.
With the proliferation of fragile states and post-conflict situations in the post-cold war setting, such broader approach has become ever more vital, and its lack or deficiency itself a threat to stability.
“Militaries have made advances in counterinsurgency strategies, operations and training. Yet the military arm is but one tool which must be integrated with political and economic capabilities to be successful. Ultimately, the most important element in fragile or post-conflict states is the people of those countries. And those who made war need to make peace.”
Sir Reginald Cohen of The Portland Trust provided a hands-on example how economic development efforts – especially if focused on the private sector and the energy of small entrepreneurs – can make a significant contribution to moderation and set incentives for peace even in one of the most protracted conflicts: Israel – Palestine.
It came as no surprise that the conflict in and around Georgia played a dominant role during the deliberations. There was a common understanding that Georgia made a big mistake falling for the provocations in the break-away province South Ossetia with the military attack on August 8.
But, there was also agreement that Russia overreacted dramatically by invading Abkhazia and South Ossetia with massive land, air and maritime forces, and attacking targets throughout Georgia. This obvious infraction of the principle of proportionality made it hard even for her associates to stand by Russia in this conflict.
The recognition of the independence of both Georgian provinces by Russia was assessed as a breach of Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and a further escalation.
A question of intense debate at the conference was therefore: What will Russia do next?
Will she pursue a path of confrontation, which some believe the former President Vladimir Putin initiated with his speech given at the Munich Security Conference in February 2007 followed by the unilateral suspension of the CSE arms control treaty and the conversion of oil and gas supply into strategic weapons? So far, this exemplary show of force which finds its continuation in the resumption of strategic bomber flights near Western Europe and the proposed naval and air exercises in the Caribbean, does not seem to have earned Russia much respect but rather have consolidated a front of opposition and lingering fears amongst its neighbors.
Such politics may please patriotic and national emotions as they show that Russia is back on the world stage. However, in the longer term, the politics of confrontation is seen by Vladimir Baranovsky, Deputy Director at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and many other attendants as violating vital Russian interests.
Or will Russia chose to come back to politics of cooperation with the West realising the growing interdependence? Russia needs Western support to advance its own social and economic development especially for the time after the present resource bonanza, as Igor Yurgens, Chairman of Moscow’s Institute of Contemporary Development highlighted, just as well as Western countries require Russian oil and gas in the foreseeable future.
The discussion on the Gulf States made clear that these states play an increasingly important role in the region and beyond especially regarding Iran’s rise and its ambitions to assert itself as a regional power. In parallel, Saudi Arabia has been seen to make renewed efforts as arbiter of the tensions and conflicts that beset the region, anxious to counterbalance the rise of what lately some analysts claim to constitute a Shiite Crescent.
Sitting at the heart of the region, Iraq had commanded the headlines of the media and the discussions at security conferences for the past years. However, this year, it was evident that the country no longer is the only “hot topic”. The Iraqi minister for foreign affairs, Hoshyar Zebari, welcomed this reduced interest as a positive sign reflecting the progress his country had made in stepping back from the brink of sectarian violence and civil war over which many analysts not too long ago were sure it would fall.
He stressed the many positive developments in the relations of Iraq to its neighbours, and appreciates their growing commitment in Iraq. In return, he underlined the positive role that Iraq could play in bringing the US and Iran to the table if they were genuinely willing to engage in negotiations. To maintain such role as a force for regional stability and a honest broker, Iraq would be determined to ensure that neither its neighbours intervene in its internal affairs nor that Iraq would be used as a staging ground for any armed intervention against any of its neighbours.
This last point is of particular relevance to the US forces stationed in Iraq. To clarify such thorny issues as well as to address the controversy their continued presence is causing in some parts of the Iraqi society and political scene, the ongoing negotiation of a “Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)” is crucial.
Minister Zebari made clear that the SOFA will not give any precise time table for the reduction or withdrawal of American military forces. The reduction of the multinational force presence will be linked to progress in the security on the ground and the capabilities of the Iraqi forces.
With a stream of recent news that is all but encouraging, Afghanistan was another central topic at the conference. The assessment of EU Special Representative to Afghanistan, Ambassador Francesc Vendrell, and of many other participants was scathing: there is no coherent strategy, no unity of command and purpose, too little coordination, and an inability to effectively counter the strategic advances of the Taliban. It became obvious that any significant progress in Afghanistan is interlinked with the future development in Pakistan – especially in the Federal Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) – a fact addressed by the recent WSN conference devoted to the stabilization of this crucial region.
In all discussions concerning the “Broader Middle East” there was the shadow of Iran. Iran is seen as the winner of the war in Iraq. Iran is regional power. Some observers see Iran playing a stabilising role in the region, others stress a more de-stabilising impact of Iran not least by its suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons. There was tangible fear that if Tehran decides to get nuclear weapons a nuclear arms race would ensue in the region.
However, the negotiations with North Korea, a regime hard to outdo in erratic behaviour, have provided a precedent that with the resolve of all relevant regional powers and an integrated approach to negotiations, progress – though cumbersome – can be achieved.
The conference’s schedule in the width of topics it covered – from military transformation to de-radicalisation policies – reflected well on a point emphasised by Prof. Sir Michael Howard in his speech. While at the foundation of IISS, and for most of the time during the Cold War, it was the sole issue of nuclear deterrence that commanded the attention of its members, we now face a highly complex web of problems that are relevant to the discussion of global security issues and can only be neglected at the peril of dooming any policy reaction.
Indeed, this was the overarching theme of this year’s IISS Global Strategic Review: security is a complex set of topics that requires comprehensive approach which looks beyond traditional conceptions of “hard power” that takes so-called “new threats” like climate change and economic development into account.