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RecStay Inglesagil A&F Amazon Adventure: May 14, 2005

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Lessons of Iraq

May 2005

This subject is the natural one, and perhaps truly the most important one, to address in any presentation about international security at the present time: but we must be careful at the outset not to accept some over-optimistic assumptions that might be hidden in the language. First, it might lead us into talking as if the Iraqi episode (or at least the Iraqi 'crisis') is already over, when of course it is far from that. Not only is Iraqi's internal stability and its very shape and identity as a nation-state still far from certain, but the many bad and surprising scenarios which could still occur on that front would have power to disrupt both neighbouring and far-away countries' policies and relationships, in a way that I do not think would be true of similar setbacks in Afghanistan, or Sudan or even Kosovo. Secondly, most people's and countries' view of strategic realities is quite subjective to begin with and the lessons they learn from real events are often doubly subjective, since to some extent they look for the lessons that they want to learn or at least, the lessons they think they can live with. It is clear that even in the short two years since the invasion of Iraq, some quite different lessons have been drawn e.g. by Americans and Europeans, by Western States and Arab States, or by Libya and by North Korea. In this talk I can only offer you the lessons that I myself see, fully admitting that they will be subjective as well. They will also have to be selective, for reasons of time, and in fact I am just going to cover four issues or clusters of issues: (a) US policy and power, (b) the consequences of conflict and challenge of peace-building, (c) perceptions of the threat hierarchy and (d) the link between all these things and democracy.(a) The Sole Superpower: “bloodied but unbowed”?The SIPRI Yearbook whose Chinese version we are launching today was first published in 2004 and was written under the influence of events up to that Spring. The analytical lessons that we brought forward then were about the way Iraq had demonstrated the limitations of US power, at least at four levels:
military power could overthrow Saddam but not keep the peace or guarantee the building of a stable and democratic Iraq afterwards;
the USA, having gone into Iraq against the will of most international organizations, rather quickly had to call in their help to provide a legal framework and contribute practical expertise for re-building;
the concerns which the Iraq episode stirred up among other countries regarding the excessive or wrongly directed use of American power led to a number of counter-measures or at least balancing measures, notably the attempt to strengthen the strategic role and unity of the European Union and other regional cooperation groups;
the USA's own resources have become badly overstretched in terms both of military manpower, and of finance, resulting in abnormally large US budget and trade deficits which in their own way, again, make the US more dependent on the behaviour and cooperation of other world players.
I still believe that these observations were and are true observations and that they did and do set limits, not so much to US power itself, as to the possibilities of using it successfully and of actually producing the desired result in the given world environment. However, this is where the subjectivity of lessons learned comes in: because if you asked the leaders of the USA's own Administration (and their advisers) today what the most important results of the Iraq intervention have been you would obviously get quite a different set of answers. Despite all the problems mentioned and many more; despite the exposure of the hollowness or inaccuracy of the reasons given by the USA and its partners for invading Iraq in the first place; the USA believes it is doing a good and necessary job in Iraq and is not talking about leaving any time soon, and indeed is refusing to rule out similar military action in future in other cases such as that of Iran. The very fact that the Administration of George W. Bush has won a second term in office-even if many voters were guided by issues and beliefs not directly related to Iraq-suggests that there is no clear majority of Americans that would see the Iraq campaign either as a wrong action or as a failure. Perhaps it is just one further proof of the USA's unique strength today that it can keep on going down the same path even when loaded with so many costs and burdens (including costs and burdens of a political and moral kind), just as a tiger hunted by dogs may be able to survive and to keep on running for a while even with several dogs hanging on to it, and even if their teeth are in its throat. I want to stress this last point because, so long as the US does manage to keep on going with its present policy line based directly on military power and on freedom to use that power, other nations may at any time still be tempted to copy its approach. I would say to anyone who is thinking that way that they need to ask themselves, not just if they might also succeed in the way that the USA succeeded, but also whether they would be able to survive and keep going after the degree of failure that the US has experienced-and this is even leaving aside the question of how much longer the USA will keep going!Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that the US itself has had no 'second thoughts' or that there have not been any adjustments in the policies of the second George W. Bush Administration compared with the first. I will only touch briefly at this point on some of the key aspects to consider here, because most of them will come back later in my presentation. First of all I would draw attention to the President's inaugural address for his second term, which alarmed some people because he mentioned a larger number of problem states and introduced the rather vague standard of democracy for judging who was 'good' or 'bad' in this context. Just as interesting for me, however, was the fact that this speech, and other early statements by leaders in the Administration, moved away from focussing exclusively on the so-called 'new threats' of terrorism and the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to accept the seriousness also of national and regional problems involving conflict, failures of development or internal oppression. Widening the agenda in this way may seem to be also widening the range of pretexts for US intervention, but to my mind it also implies that the US is not obliged to intervene always and as a matter of priority in cases that involve terrorism and/or WMD, because they are so to speak not the only game in town. It also means widening the USA's security priorities to cover other challenges which very clearly cannot be solved by military force alone or even by military methods primarily, and for which there is no prospect of an early or complete 'victory'. Indeed, even on terrorism one more often hears Americans talking now about controlling and minimizing the problem rather than expecting to be able to eliminate it. I believe it is too early to interpret these signs as signs of greater realism in US official policies: but I do think they have been designed (among other things) to give US policy-makers more flexibility in their security choices, perhaps especially at the tactical and presentational level.Turning to presentation, it has been noted that in the Administration's first months several individuals known as hard-liners left Washington for various reasons (John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith) and that one of the dominant figures of the new team, Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice, has been trying to present a more friendly and cooperative image of United States diplomacy. [Reference to US decision to cooperate in EU Iran policy, or other up-to-date example(s).] It is also fair to say that while the apparent change of style has been welcomed especially by the USA's traditional friends, it has also been interpreted everywhere with a certain amount of caution. I would also share this prudent view, and for at least three reasons:
some of the practical effects of the Iraq crisis for trans-Atlantic relations can never be reversed, no matter how nicely the US behaves: foremost among these I would put the weakening of NATO as a forum for managing the US-European relationship, or more precisely its reduction to the role essentially of a military executive instrument;
other key features of the policy line linked with George W. Bush have not been changed and still have very serious consequences for the interests of the global community, notably the US's general antagonism to treaties and other international-legal restraints or at least, its preference to use them only instrumentally (where they can be seen as an extension of its own policy and jurisdiction);
as the US pulls back from an excessive focus on terrorism, there have been potentially negative consequences for the general tone of its relations with the other large powers Russia and China. To the extent that the value of their solidarity against terrorism is now set relatively lower by Washington, US policy is increasingly free to move back towards what might be called its default mode under Republican leadership: i.e. seeing these countries more as strategic rivals, as threats to various US strategic protégés, and also as problematic in doctrinal or governance terms.
I realise that this is a very hasty and inadequate sketch of an enormous subject, and before moving on I can only point even more briefly to a further set of questions about the impact of US policies on other countries and organizations. I myself am particularly interested in the evolution of the European Union; and here there can be no doubt that the main historical impact of the Iraq crisis has been to make Europe more aware of its underlying differences in security priorities and even values from the United States, and of the importance of trying to maintain a European united front for the sake of its own prestige and efficiency, whether it wants actually to work with the United States or to develop an alternative European position. One can see rather similar reactions and ambitions among the leading states of some other groups trying to pursue regional integration, for instance in Africa or Central and Southern America. However, the next couple of years will in my view be testing ones for Europe's new-found unity and for its still limited strategic maturity. Some possible US actions, such as a military attack on Iran, could still have the power to cause new splits among Europeans; but conversely, when the US takes a more friendly approach it may be difficult for the Europeans to keep a clear view of their specific interests and to ensure that they strike a bargain with Washington on fair and balanced terms. At the same time there is the risk that Europe could be torn apart from inside if one or more of its states fail to ratify the new European Constitutional Treaty. Not only would this risk losing the important reforms that the Constitution would bring in external affairs such as the creation of a single European Foreign Minister; but it could throw the EU into a perhaps lengthy crisis that diverts its energies inwards, delays further enlargement, and creates a gap in the strategic role that the EU should be playing towards other international forces both on its West and its East.In my view this would be bad not just for Europe but for the longer-term health of the US-Europe relationship. One of the changes in language of the second Bush Administration is that it now rejects the extreme neo-conservative view of a united Europe as a threat to US interests, preferring instead to bid for a positive partnership or at least complementarity with a Europe that knows its own mind and its own strength: and it seems to me objectively that the changes in content of the comprehensive security agenda and the reduction of NATO's role are both throwing more of the weight of managing the whole US/European relationship on to the (so far not very well developed) US/EU axis as such. Just as one last remark: if the US (even under a hard-line President) could find a way of doing business with the new-style multilateral entity represented by the EU, that ought to have implications also for its understanding of and ability to work with other regional organizations, including in parts of the world where current American policy may still be too much slanted in the direction of zero-sum approaches and bilateralism.(b) Conflict and Peace Building (including the role of the UN)I shall speak only briefly about conflicts and crisis management because I believe that the High Level Panel of experts which reported to the United Nations Security-General last December on challenges to international security has rightly identified the two most important lessons that are to be drawn from Iraq in this field. The first is that the unilateral use of force, even in what is claimed to be a good cause and even leaving aside the questions of legal justification, risks being less effective than an organized multilateral intervention and not simpler and more effective as many Americans seem to have believed. A nation acting on its own or with a just a few friends is not likely to have the most correct and carefully analysed intelligence, the best knowledge of the environment for action, the most balanced and objective judgement on exactly how much force to use, or the full range of skills and resources needed to handle the human consequences of the conflict itself and to re-build a stable peace and a safe and prosperous environment afterwards. Unilateral intervention makes burden-sharing more difficult, as we have seen from the gradual crumbling of even that limited coalition which supported the USA in Iraq; and this in turn increases the risk of an exit strategy being dictated by the limited capacity or failing will of the intervener rather than by the needs of the still suffering local community and of its region. For all these reasons, I believe the High Level Panel were right to say that any future military actions going beyond a quite strict and traditional definition of self-defence should be undertaken under an internationally negotiated United Nations mandate, and should be governed in substance by a set of permanent principles combining legal concerns like sufficient cause and proportionality with the practical question of whether a better outcome can be guaranteed. It is all the more important to get such principles worked out and accepted by all leading states at this time in history because the number of countries with surplus military capacity for intervention is growing and will probably grow further, and the number of possible excuses for action could also grow as countries come to see an ever wider range of potential threats as affecting their vital interests. If the international community does not take control in this area, our future security environment could be dictated by those who are not only most powerful but most paranoid and willing to take the most extreme risks. Secondly, more attention must be given to the challenge of what the High Level Panel called peace-building-a task for which they proposed setting up a new permanent UN Commission. Peace-building should not be thought of purely as a post-conflict operation. If properly done it can prevent a problem state or region from falling back into conflict, or it might even help to avoid violence breaking out in the first place. It involves much more than the traditional role of peacekeeping forces, because it addresses all aspects of the viability and good functioning of a community from political structures and the maintenance of law and order through to questions of the economy and employment, education and health, culture and gender and other individual rights and opportunities. It should also pay attention-and perhaps the UN report should have stressed this more-to the role the recovering state should play outside its own borders as a good neighbour and international actor, which might actually mean building up its military power again to let it help in peace operations, but in any case should mean making sure that it respects all arms control and other relevant international legal obligations. It is very clear that such a task demands the coordination of inputs from a wider range of international organizations, of individual nations and of types of experts than we have ever attempted in the context of peace operations before. To give just one of the most important examples, we can no longer see the rebuilding of a problem country's economy and the promotion of its sustainable development as a separate matter from curing whatever was wrong in its defence and security systems and helping it build new ones as appropriate. Defence specialists are going to have to work with more different kinds of civilians than ever before and the civilians will have a hard enough job to coordinate with each other. While tackling the many bureaucratic and financial problems that this is bound to bring, however, we should not forget that the expression 'peace building' has some larger philosophical implications that embody the lessons of earlier failures as well as successes in international intervention. It underlines that recovery and normalization are long-term processes and that the outside world cannot just declare success and withdraw when some essentially artificial point like the holding of an election is reached. It should also remind us that peace is built on the ground of a former conflict and by the people there, not in the institutional HQ's of Brussels or New York. Any peace building strategy must also be a localization strategy: in other words it must enlist local actors from the start and aim to return as much responsibility to their hands as early as possible, to let them build their own good habits for the longer future and sometimes also to make their own mistakes so that they can learn their own lessons. I shall have more to say on this right at the end of my talk. (c) WMD as part of the Threat SpectrumI have already mentioned the tendency I see in official US policy to move away both from terrorism and from WMD possession or acquisition as the only indicators of first order threats. Increasingly, the logic seems to be that the most important international challenges to deal with are those where a WMD factor joins with a risk of support to terrorism and with other abnormal régime behaviour that endangers security, both internally and externally. This is helpful in one way because it brings US policy more in line with actual US behaviour: explaining on the one hand why Washington still claims it was worth overthrowing Saddam Hussein even though he didn't have WMD; and on the other, why the US has not (for example) seen Pakistan as an enemy to be tackled with military action but on the contrary, has offered new political and military support to Pakistan in the hope of consolidating what Washington sees as the currently more responsible behaviour of President Musharraf's régime. Also, an approach which looks at several aspects of a nation's 'threat profile' is also objectively more appropriate because it helps us understand that the reasons for what we see as bad behaviour are also very complex, and that equally complex approaches are needed to resolve the problem. The cases of countries who have given up WMD or stopped trying to get them in the past, such as Ukraine, South Africa or Brazil, suggest that the most effective solutions have nothing directly to do with the weapons themselves but include internal reforms, improved regional cooperation and security, and supportive behaviour by the large powers including sometimes explicit security guarantees. At the moment, the USA and the Europeans and other important powers all seem interested in looking for possible solutions on those kinds of 'package' lines for the two outstanding challenges of Iran and the People's Democratic Republic of Korea, and myself I would see this as a good thing and a sign that we have actually learned some shared lessons from Iraq.However, you will not be surprised if I say that I do not think we have learned all the necessary lessons or learned them perfectly; and here I want to make two points, one about WMD policy as such and one about our general approach to threats and risks. First of all, I do not think the international community is yet applying the 'package' approach to solving WMD-related problems very skilfully: partly because we have still not studied the causes and motivations of so-called problem states in a sufficiently deep and objective way, preferring often to cling to our own traditional Feindbilder ('enemy pictures'); partly because the states trying to cooperate in a solution can have significantly different threat perceptions and underlying interests and intentions of their own; and partly because solving the non-state aspects of proliferation such as possible terrorist use of WMD and criminal trafficking in WMD materials and expertise requires a quite different 'package' of measures which the world has barely started to experiment with. Secondly, there is clearly no common view among the USA and its allies on what should be done if the effort to stop Iranian proliferation fails, or among China and its partners on the same question if North Korean proliferation cannot be stopped and reversed. Thirdly, I would argue that the strong international focus on proliferation since September 2001 has distracted our attention from a still relevant set of problems and risks arising from the five recognized nuclear powers-such as the destabilizing effect of the USA's missile defence programme or Russia's growing strategic reliance on nuclear forces or the modernization of China's arsenal-and from the three de facto nuclear powers, such as the risks of renewed tension and conflict between India and Pakistan if one of them has a régime change and/or if their current efforts for détente should collapse. Last but not least, the particular way that the USA still views the challenge to itself from WMD and other so-called asymmetrical 'threats' has maintained elements of what I could call a 'war mentality' in Washington, and this in turn is making US leaders still rather hostile to the idea of international treaties as part of the solution. Speaking for myself but also for SIPRI, I would say that the real lesson of the last couple of years should have been that we desperately need to preserve such instruments as the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and strengthen them, and make their membership more universal if possible-which means bringing the USA itself back into structures like the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Only such Treaties can tell us what the right standard of behaviour is and thus define the nature of offences. Only Treaty-based communities have a really firm basis, political as well as legal, for making common judgements on individual cases of concern and undertaking common sanctions or other effective action. And only an international-legal system can provide the right basis for catching non-state actors of all kinds, because they have to be caught by the application of good laws and regulations within states, and this will only work if the maximum number of states have agreed on what needs to be done and on common aims or standards. Another obvious but often neglected point is that Treaties and other international institutions are what guarantee the good behaviour of the very great majority of well behaving states in the world, and guarantee to these states that they are not losing anything or making fools of themselves by remaining good. In saying all this I am not overlooking the very real faults and weaknesses of present international instruments relating to WMD, and indeed to other aspects of arms control and disarmament. I am saying that we need to keep the correction of those weaknesses at the top of our agenda, and that if we allow instruments like the NPT or CTBT or the Biological Weapons Convention (BTWC) to collapse or become discredited in this first decade of the 21st century, it will not be a matter of decades of even of many years before we start paying a very high price for the mistake.My second main point I can make very shortly: namely, that I think 9/11 and the Iraq story have left us still giving too high overall priority in our security thinking to a particular set of human threats involving WMD or (a really very small number of) 'problem states' or both. For a balanced threat spectrum-which is the only basis for a balanced security policy-we should be paying more attention on the one hand to traditional risks of inter-state tension and conflict, of the sort which I earlier suggested might be surfacing again between the USA and Russia and China but also in various other regions; and we should be reaching back to more traditional tools of dialogue and confidence building and mutual restraint to try to keep them under control. On the other hand and at the other end of the spectrum, it should be clear that we still need to give much more serious attention, and devote more resources both to prevention and emergency control, for threats of non-human origin ranging from tsunamis to the next influenza epidemic or to accelerating climate change and the degradation and loss of natural resources, combined with unequal and still excessive world population growth. All these could cause deaths and human misery on a scale that would far outweigh even a terrorist attack with WMD; and they hit all types of states and societies equally hard from the richest to the poorest, as the tsunami also showed. One-sided and self-interested threat agendas, competitive and over-bilateralized approaches to inter-state relations, and excessive spending on armaments which are almost completely irrelevant to such challenges all stand in the way of the truly global common approaches and major redirection of resources that these threats to our common human security demand. It is for this reason that I believe the recommendations of the UN High Level Panel on security challenges (referred to above) are not the only important wake-up call that has issued from New York this year. It is just as important for us all to heed the Secretary-General's appeal to renew our efforts to reach the Millennium Goals for human development first set out in the year 2000. And since complete success on this front cannot be guaranteed by governments alone, we must also find ways-this is actually such as important point that it would deserve a whole speech on its own!-to bring non-state actors like private business, social organizations and NGOs into the process not just as objects of policy but as active and constructive partners.(d) Democracy: more than a slogan?The latest studies on the concept of 'human security' have, however, stressed that it is not just life but the quality of existence that we are trying to preserve: and this brings me back to my final theme of democracy. Let me start frankly by noting that the way the US Administration has recently been pushing thus objective has raised suspicions in some people's minds that it may be being used for purposes that are just as one-sided or self-serving as the earlier over-emphasis on WMD and terrorism. If so it would be a pity because the real meaning of democracy is a delicate and complicated matter and no single state or culture should claim the exclusive ownership of it. Moreover, from the point of security analysis it should be clear that democracy is very far from being a universal cure to apply to all problems. If the freedoms and dynamics of democracy are suddenly introduced into a country that is full of religious or ethnic or other divisions and/or a society which has an extremely unequal division of resources, it is likely either that one group will exploit the opportunity to dominate others and enrich themselves, or that there will be an open and even violent struggle for power in which many innocents will suffer. At the international level, I believe we also know too much now to be able to say that democracies never go to war with each other. It is particularly difficult to build a stable and peaceful 'democracy in one country' in the middle of a hostile and unstable region, and it is difficult for neighbouring democratic countries to stay at peace with each other if their populations have highly hostile feelings towards each other which democracy only helps to bring out into the open. By observing the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan, and also earlier international experiments as in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo, we can see that all these problems are likely to be worse if the democratic form of existence is imposed from the outside, in a top-down manner and with excessive concentration on a few symbolic steps such as holding elections: without enough deep understanding of local conditions and without enough attention being paid both to local wishes and to local capabilities. In the extreme case where a democratic country attacks a non-democratic one with the specific purpose of enforcing democratic change, the problems caused for international security might be far out of proportion to the justification of the cause.Should we say, then, that a prudent policy would put security before democracy or development before democracy or both? I could not personally agree with that and I don't believe my Institute would either. All the experience of modern times suggests that keeping a population physically safe and meeting their minimum or even more than the minimum economic needs will not assure stability in the long run, either in a country or a whole region, if the method of government is alien to the people's own wishes and does not allow them to play a role of their own as responsible political beings. The more the conditions of existence improve, the more the lack of political freedom and maturity in a given régime will stand out by contrast. Moreover, once a certain level of frustration has been reached-a frustration which in modern conditions can also be fed by knowledge of better ways of existence abroad-quite ordinary people seem to be ready to risk their personal safety and their property in the struggle for political change. This is the lesson we should learn from the people who went out to vote through the dangerous streets of the Palestinian territories and Iraq, but it is also the lesson of what happened recently in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan with relatively little international pressure, assistance or control.Here I have offered two apparently contradictory sets of arguments, and I do not have any simple formula to help resolve them. In purely logical terms one might conclude that democracy, peace and security are interdependent and complementary and that a good policy ought to aim at raising all these things to a higher level simultaneously; but this is much easier to say than to work out in practice. At any rate, it seems clear that in purely practical terms a prudent policy for security cannot afford to ignore or try to suppress democracy, and in both practical and moral terms a pro-democracy policy cannot ignore the other important rights of human beings to physical security, law and order, equal treatment and the pursuit of their own culture and beliefs. There are just three more general ideas that I can offer in closing to help us ensure that the good things achieved in Iraq can be achieved in other cases in future at less human, financial, moral and legal cost. First, the short-term balance sheet but also the chances of long-term progress will always be better when democratic change can be achieved in a non-violent manner, both within a given state or society and at the international level. Secondly, it is much easier for national democracies to grow in a peaceful and stable manner if they are set within a system of regional and international cooperation that is also conducted along democratic principles, without coercion or oppression or unfair advantages among states. Thirdly and perhaps most important of all, the people of any nation and culture must ultimately build their own democracy from the inside and from the bottom up, because only they can understand the complexities of their own environment and make the carefully balanced judgements that are needed on reconciling freedom with respect for life and property and with the national and international order at each stage. The more truly free and independent the people of Iraq become, the better the chances are of their finding the right solutions to deal with their internal religious and ethnic diversity, the right ways to use their national economic resources, and the best ways to live in peace and mutually profitable cooperation with their neighbours. We must hope for their sake and ours that they can find, and are allowed to find, answers to these challenges that are compatible with international security as well.

© 2005 - Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

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