The 8th IISS Global Strategic Review in Geneva - an emerging new world order?

Posted in Other | 14-Sep-10 | Author: Dieter Farwick and Philipp Hauenstein

The annual IISS conference in Geneva from September 10-12 2010 focused on "Global Security Governance and the Emerging Distribution of Power". The Global Strategic Review lay in the context of some established powers displaying signs of relative decline, and emerging powers seeking a larger role on the world stage. During shifts of relative power, the stewardship and coherence of the international security system comes under discussion. At a time when many challenges are transnational, requiring alignment of multiple powers and other actors on policies and mitigating problems, these interwoven and sensitive security issues were approached from various angles by speakers, panellists and participants.

Dr. Henry Kissinger: "The centre of gravity of world affairs has left the Atlantic and moved to the Pacific and…
Dr. Henry Kissinger: "The centre of gravity of world affairs has left the Atlantic and moved to the Pacific and Indian Oceans"
Keynote address by Dr. Henry Kissinger

The keynote address from Dr. Henry Kissinger, the "grand old man" of worldwide security politics - was the highlight of the conference. In his view, the most important topic linked to worldwide peace, stability and security is relations between China and the U.S. He said:

"How America and China manage their relationship is the key to many of the issues (...) Whether it is confrontational or adversarial; whether it is based on mutual containment, or some concept of cooperation that may not have been invented yet (...) I have an impression that some of the discussions that have taken place this week in Beijing between the American delegation and the Chinese leaders indicate that both sides realise that in this period, on a global basis, we cannot afford a confrontational set of arrangements, and that we need, and will make a big effort, to achieve a cooperative set of solutions."

He believes cooperation between both superpowers is not a choice but a necessity because of their mutual dependence. Striving for cooperation does not mean however that there will be no tensions between the superpowers.

Another important security issue is nuclear proliferation. Dr. Kissinger commented:

"If we take [North] Korea and Iran as the major proliferating countries at this moment, their neighbours have a more political or geostrategic perspective. They almost certainly share the view (...) of the importance of preventing nuclear proliferation.

China cannot possibly want a nuclear [North] Korea - or Vietnam for this matter - on its borders, or a nuclear Japan; nor can Russia welcome nuclear-armed Islamic border states, all of which are likely consequences of the failure of non-proliferation policy (...) Collective security begins to undermine itself. A decade of United Nations-backed negotiations on [North] Korea and Iran has produced no significant results (...) It becomes a method used by proliferators to gain time (...) The passage of a resolution is treated as an achievement, not its impact on the problem it is trying to resolve. Time is not neutral. The drift will, within a measurable time, oblige the international system to choose one of two courses: whether to take decisive measures, defined as measures that have an impact in a finite time on the resolution of the problem; or how to live in a proliferated world."

Dr. Kissinger made clear that a more proliferated world would be a new world, and a more dangerous one. Another topic he raised was the U.S.'s future role - a topic we will address later in this newsletter:

"The United States remains the strongest single power in the world; constrained in its unilateral capacities, it is still the indispensable component of any collective security system (...) However, it is no longer in a position to be the sole dominant country. It must henceforth practise the art of leadership, not as a sole leader, but as part of a complex world. The USA will have to share the responsibility for global order with emerging power centres."

He remarked on a multipolar world:

"Some observers forecast a multipolar world, with regional heavyweights like China, Russia, India, Brazil, or even Turkey grouping their smaller neighbors and building power blocs (...) I do not believe that it is possible to compartmentalise the international order into system of regional hegemons. The United States is a Pacific country; it cannot be excluded from East Asia. China cannot be excluded from the Middle East and other resource-rich regions. Issues like energy and environment cannot be regionalised at all (...) What we need is a functional approach to the issue of world order, something between a globalised approach and a regional approach."

Dr. Henry Kissinger addressed the war in Afghanistan and emphasized that other nations beyond the USA can be seen as stakeholders:

"There are many countries in the world that have a more immediate national security interest in the future of Afghanistan than the United States; not an abstract interest in prevailing against aggression, but a specific national security interest. The presence of a terrorist-producing state in that geographic location will affect every country. For Pakistan, it will undermine whatever order exists today. Even Iran, as a Shiite country, (...) can have no interest in a fundamentalist regime in Kabul. In many respects India will be the most affected country if a jihadist Islamism gains impetus in Afghanistan. Even China, with its problems in Sinkiang, cannot be indifferent. All these countries have more vital interests in a stable and coherent Afghan state than does the United States (...) The key issue is that while America is so engaged, there may be many countries that believe that they can wait with this (common) effort. I would argue that starting this effort soon is the best way and maybe the only way to bring this to a conclusion."

We at WSN welcome this broader regional approach, having repeatedly advocated moving beyond the narrow "AfPak" approach and bringing stakeholders to the table before it is too late.

Another message from the "grand old man" was not very positive for European ears:

"The centre of gravity of world affairs has left the Atlantic and moved to the Pacific and Indian Oceans".

Later in the conference Dr. Javier Solana, former Secretary General of NATO and the Former European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, called Europe a 'permanent power' - in contrast with 'emerging' powers. But he fought on lost ground. Both the EU and Russia played minor roles during the conference.

Dr. Kissinger's thesis of the power shift away from the Atlantic and Europe was widely accepted. Many following speakers, panellists and participants referred positively to the key note speech in their contribution. (If you want to read the complete speech given by Dr. Henry Kissinger, please, click here)

The United States: present and future role

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg: "For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an…
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg: "For the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalled opportunity."
Many contributions addressed this topic. There was a common understanding that the United States must acknowledge and accept a decline in its relative power and influence, but also that the USA has the political willpower and resolve to play a significant role on the world stage. Participants discussed whether the U.S. still has the economic and financial capacity to play that role. The official American view was presented by James B. Steinberg, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, in his speech "The United States: Visions of Global Order". Here his statement on American leadership:

"Ultimately, the decision to reinvigorate global cooperation is not ours alone. But America's actions can powerfully shape the choices that others face. In other words, leadership from America or allies may not be sufficient, but it remains as necessary as ever. As Secretary Clinton said: for the United States, global leadership is both a responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity."

He left no doubt that America has to leave behind unilateral action and instead strive for multilateral cooperation with emerging powers and international institutions like the UN, the IMF and the World Bank:

"Secretary Clinton's remarks build on two central strategic premises that have animated our administration since the outset. The first premise is that the extraordinary changes that have taken place over the past two decades - political, economic, social, cultural and technological - have dramatically increased the importance of mobilising international cooperation to seize the opportunities and respond to the increasingly shared threats of our time. The second premise is that while no one state, no matter how powerful, can meet these challenges acting alone, without strong U.S. engagement and leadership there is little prospect of achieving the necessary degree of international cooperation."

Steinberg further elaborated on the existing partnerships and cooperation with friends and allies in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, where America is "a resident power". It was interesting that he addressed a relatively new security issue: the Arctic, indicating new risks and opportunities for cooperation between the countries bordering the Arctic.

Yet more interesting, however, was what Steinberg did not mention in his speech: America's relations with the Islamic and Arab world, America's future role in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan. He did not mention the problems setting a timeline for U.S. withdrawal in 2011, something President Obama has already announced; nor did he discuss criteria for measuring progress in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for any withdrawal. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not touched upon.

(If you want to read the complete text of the speech given by James B. Steinberg, please, click here)

The question "Can U.S. global leadership be sustained?" was controversial in break-out groups. There was general agreement that the Obama administration has the resolve to lead - though there was no commonly accepted definition of 'leadership' and some questions were left unanswered. How can leadership be measured? Can leadership be imposed, and does it have to be accepted by other countries? Is there a correlation between economic performance and global influence? There is obviously a mismatch between global ambitions and the necessary means and tools.

U.S. leadership is constrained by the ongoing economic and financial crisis, their public debt, their ageing population, their costly commitment in Iraq and in Afghanistan, the consequences of climate change, problems of energy security and high costs of improving their run-down infrastructure.

In addition, American society is divided and American politics lacks bipartisan initiatives. Their political institutions are not in top shape. The American media do not help, forming a bleak picture. Yet participants were still convinced that American strength still emanates from the innovation, creativity and dynamism of the American people. Finally, a pragmatic argument: America will play a leading role for the foreseeable future, because no other country wants to or can do the job.

Emerging powers

Emerging powers were well represented, with speakers, panellists and participants from Brazil and India showing healthy self-confidence. As members of the G20 they will play an active role on the world stage alongside Australia , Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam and South Korea to name but a few. Based upon the demographic development and their economic performance, the political clout and the global influence of all these emerging countries will increase at the cost of the European interests. The world will become more "Southern" and more "Asian". A tripolar world with America, China and India will evolve with a second layer below formed by Brazil, Indonesia and others not far behind. It is hard to foresee where Russia will sit.

Cyber warfare and cyber crime

Presentations on "Cyber Power and Strategy" left no illusions about the security, or rather insecurity, of modern communications. Cyber war, crime and espionage tend to find open doors. Data can be stolen and communications can be disrupted, for example the electricity supply. Deterrence does not work because intelligent offenders rarely leave traces: they use thousands of computers owned by others who never know their computers are being misused. Cyber weapons cannot be outlawed: they are cheap and easily available. There is little or no military defence. The attackers benefit from this technical asymmetry and their anonymity.

An Estonian woman confirmed the reality of such cyber threats by reporting on the massive cyber attack Estonia suffered in 2007. This attack lasted three weeks, emerging from all over the world against thousands of targets in Estonia. Estonia proved to be well-selected target: it is a world leader in internet penetration. Servers went down and stopped much online business - including online banking.

There was another cyber attack in 2008 against Georgia's government during the war with Russia. Russia was not mentioned as source of the attacks against Estonia, but the political tension between Russia and Estonia could have triggered them.

The questions of how to prevent and how to defend against cyber attack have only frustrating answers. Effective counter measures are not yet ready. Yet there is an urgent need to improve cyber defence through international cooperation.

Iran, the U.S. and the future of the Middle East

Iran has the key to defusing the explosive situation in the Middle East. After years of negotiations without any major progress, and after the latest UN sanctions, Iran must decide the Middle East's development path. The best decision for peace, stability and security in the Middle East would be to stop the development of nuclear weapons and accept offers from Brazil, Russia, Turkey and others to guarantee a supply of enriched uranium from outside Iran for the development of civilian nuclear energy.

The alternative would be continuing towards becoming a "virtual" or a "real" nuclear power. This possibility concerns Iran's neighbours, especially in the Gulf region. A nuclear arms race in the region might follow. A conventional arms race is already underway: see the $60 billion arms deal between Saudi Arabia and the USA.

The most important question is whether military strikes or even invasion can destroy crucial assets and win time for future solutions. There are credible military options for a limited attack from Israel - with or without support by the USA and other partners. Participants of conferences in the Middle East and outside the region report growing political and moral support from people of the Gulf States.

What about living with an Iranian nuclear weapon? To avoid a war with unpredictable consequences, many people would prefer this result. But an Iranian nuclear weapon will have unpredictable consequences too. Hamas and Hezbollah might attack Israel under Iran's nuclear umbrella. How would Israel react if Hamas or Hezbollah attacked with modern weapons from within Iran? Would Israel strike Iran first with nuclear weapons?

What about regime change? The unrest in Iran after the 2009 elections might offer hope for a regime change in Tehran. Is this realistic or just wishful thinking to postpone hard decisions? The economic and social situation in Iran is worsening. Tehran is increasingly diplomatically isolated. Can Iran afford a leader like Ahmadinejad? What do the real, religious leaders think? Is there a face saving option for Iran's leaders? Iran might open Pandora's box or keep it closed. The world should pray for the latter.

Does India have a grand strategy?

India will probably expand its strategic space: some detect movement beyond the present neighbourhood policy. India is pursuing its interests on the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Hormuz, the Straits of Malacca, the Red Sea and the Chinese Sea. India aims to show its increasing strategic independence founded upon its evolving naval capacity.

A grand strategy would also include long term social and economic goals. India wants to help its people out of poverty, to improve links with the U.S. and China, and to stimulate both exports and imports.

There is no clear defence grand strategy or 'White Paper', especially regarding Pakistan. The following points could be included: homeland security including control of the Pakistan border and keeping close watch on terrorist movements; preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; paying attention to rising Chinese power; maintaining a good relationship with the U.S.; and doing everything necessary to improve energy security.

One more terrorist attack like those in Mumbai, with proven links to Pakistani Taliban/Al-Qaeda, would result in enormous pressure on the government of India to use force against Pakistan. The outcome of a military response is hard to predict. India may however do nothing, aware of potential global reaction. India could also wait until Pakistan's internal problems offer new strategic opportunities.

Has Turkey rejoined the Middle East?

Turkey never really left the Middle East, so we should rewrite the title of this working group to ask whether the role of Turkey today has changed. From a foreign policy perspective, Turkey has rediscovered the Middle East's new markets, for example Iran with its visa free borders, investor-friendly environment and large energy resources.

This may explain why Turkey differs from its Western allies in attitude towards sanctions on Iran. Although Turkey knows Iran is an Islamic theocracy with unpredictable actions, Ankara is prioritizing its own interests and does not desire to be the West's servant. But what is the role of Ankara in the Middle East, especially since its shift in its political attitude towards Israel? Has Turkey become a new leader in the Middle East?

Analyzing the Middle East looking for a new leader provides no contenders. Neither Iran nor Russia, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Turkey can claim that title. But how to interpret Turkey's regional relations? Turkey is part of NATO and has good relations with the U.S. and the EU. This makes Turkey a good partner for negotiations in the Middle East. Turkey has also rejoined the Middle East in cultural and religious terms since the AK party was elected and Erdogan became president.

But despite this, Turkey remains with, not against, the West. Since President Obama's election the prime minister of Turkey has visited him 18 times. Turkey benefits very much from its Western relationships and knows it is worth keeping them, rather than moving deeper into the Middle East. The U.S. however don't have a policy towards Turkey; the US has a Turkey-Iraq, a Turkey-Iran and a Turkey-Armenia policy but nothing directly related to Turkey as such. So in the end it will be up to Turkey itself to decide what regional role they want to play.

At the moment Turkey has to decide how to deal with the Kurds in northern Iraq. The tensions between Turks and Kurds are higher than ever because Kurds view the creation of a Kurdish state as more than just a proposal. In parallel, the Turkish referendum on constitutional amendments could have not only an impact on democracy, but could also boost Kurdish moves towards a state. There are two sides of this referendum and the next question will be how Turkey and AKP will deal with its result.

Last but not least - Afghanistan

UK Secretary of State for Defence Dr. Liam Fox: "If we were to leave Afghanistan before 2015 it would be…
UK Secretary of State for Defence Dr. Liam Fox: "If we were to leave Afghanistan before 2015 it would be a shot in the arm to violant jihadists everywhere."
It was the UK Secretary of State for Defence, Dr. Liam Fox, who presented his view on "The Strategy for Afghanistan":

"In Afghanistan today, the operations of NATO and other Coalition allies are a direct consequence of 9/11. It was there that the Taliban rulers gave Al-Qaeda sanctuary, allowed them to run terrorist training camps and made it a base for terrorist attacks across the world. And it is why Al-Qaeda was forced to flee to the border areas of Pakistan. Although reduced and under considerable pressure, they are still there and continue to pose a real threat to us."

But why is the situation so bad in Afghanistan and Pakistan after nine years of war? Frustrating and almost unbelievable answers to that question can be found in Ahmed Rashid's book "Descent into chaos", a must for all people talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan, and especially for political and military decision makers).

Liam Fox offered some lessons learned:

"It would be a reasonable critique to say that in 2002/2003 the international community's plan to grow security and governance in Afghanistan was optimistic and unrealistic when set against the Taliban's ability to regenerate and adapt. It would be also a reasonable critique that since that time, and up to the reinvigoration of strategy and the military and political surge of the last year, our collective ambition was not complemented by a collective willingness to commit the necessary political and military efforts to achieve our aims."

This is a bitter truth. The 'coalition of the willing' has paid a high human, political and military price for the common failure of involved governments.

What are the lessons for the future?

"First, that the threats to international security and our national interests from transnational terrorists, who have access to all tools of our networked and globalised world, are less susceptible to traditional responses and strategies (...) To terrorists who seek martyrdom and do not value their own lives, or the lives of civilians, the threat or use of force may not be a deterrent (...) Second, that when the international community chooses intervention over deterrence or containment, we must match our aims and ambitions with the political, military and civilian resources commensurate with the task. And third, when intervention becomes necessary, it is not enough for our armed forces to provide externally mediated security (...) Our focus must also be on building the legitimacy and capacity of indigenous governance - and specifically to build local and culturally acceptable follow-on forces to provide the foundation of lasting security."

He continued:

"The Government of Afghanistan is not yet capable of securing its own territory. Without the presence of ISAF, Al-Qaeda could return to Afghanistan and the threat would rise again (...) If we were to leave before 2015, a point at which on current progress we expect to have achieved our aims it would be shot in the arm to violent jihadists everywhere, re-energising violent and extreme Islamism."

This date, 2015, contradicts dates set by other members of the Coalition, specifically the United States of America. President Obama has declared that he will start to withdraw in 2011 but his top commander in Afghanistan, General David H. Petraeus, does not buy this early date. There is another date set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai - he believes that 2014 should be the date for the Afghan government to take over the responsibility for its country. The coalition of the willing should harmonise their timelines and define clear criteria for success and progress as a yardstick for their achievement. They should stop discussing exit strategies in which "exit" is more important than "strategy".

(If you want to read the complete text of the statement issued by Liam Fox, please, click here.)


The international strategic community should not, and cannot, look for final solutions. The world comprises gradually evolving risks and opportunities. There will be ups and downs for countries and regions. The world has become a web of interrelated systems requiring simultaneous policies and diplomacy. The world needs decision makers who understand our complex world. Leadership by statesmen and great powers is in demand.

(To underline continuity and changes we add our newsletter dealing with the IISS conference in 2009)