Anförande vid Royal Institute for International Affairs konferens om Europa and America: A New Strategic Relationship
Most of our discussions today have been about the tools necessary in order to win wars, and the disparity in resources across the Atlantic in this important respect.
Now, our focus is on the much more difficult, and ultimately decisive, tasks of winning also the peace.
The military tools are there to deter, destabilize, defeat or destroy an adversary.
This is what we saw demonstrated under new circumstances in the counter-attack in Afghanistan.
It was certainly not a classical war or victory. Under the most primitive of circumstances, against the most primitive of adversaries, it was a war won by bandwidth more than by firepower.
But waging and winning wars of this sort is only a part of the story. If you win the war, but lose the peace, at the end of the day you might have gained very little. And winning peace is, as we should have learnt by now, a far more complex and costly undertaking than just winning war.
During the long decades of the cold war, we built military forces to deter aggression by demonstrating their capability to conduct large-scale nuclear or conventional operations against the militarized and evil Soviet empire.
Since then, the threats we have been confronted with have been very different. Ethnic and national strife have produced new confrontations and conflict. Failed states have turned into both humanitarian disasters and breeding grounds for terrorism.
And we have seen both the necessity of military power and the limits of those particular powers.
A decade of massive international efforts in South-eastern Europe has illustrated this.
As communism disappeared, and nationalism come back as a political force, we were once more confronted with the problems of the political order of the area which the international community – the Concert of Europe in the 19th century as much as the Contact Group of more recent vintage – had been struggling with for a long time.
A decade ago, Yugoslavia ceased to exist, and if there were those who believed that a velvet divorce was possible, they were soon proved wrong. A series of wars, starting in earnest in Croatia in 1991, entering Bosnia in 1992, exploding in Kosovo in 1999, and flaring up in Macedonia last year, devastated the region, drove millions from their homes, caused many thousands of deaths and resulted in a massive international military and civilian presence in order to contain the conflicts and try to build some sort of self-sustaining peace.
Clearly, we are not there yet.
We could use military force to deliver humanitarian aid during the years of the war in Bosnia, and even more force to separate the fighting forces after the Dayton peace agreement in late 1995. But while military force can separate armies, it can’t unite nations and build states. More than six years after the agreement that ended the war, we are still struggling with fragile state structures.
In 1999, political efforts failed to secure a peace agreement in Kosovo, instead we got a war, replaced Serb power in Kosovo with UN and NATO powers, but miserably failed to secure ethnic diversity and tolerance, and are so far from a peace agreement over Kosovo that we even shun discussing the very subject.
Today, we still have a massive international presence in the Balkans, centred on the protectorate in Kosovo and the semi-protectorate in Bosnia, with the fragile situation in Macedonia likely to be more demanding further on.
We have learnt, that while there might be quick wars, there is no such thing as an instant peace. After the war always comes the painful, difficult and often immensely resource-consuming process that over time might produce a political situation and state structures that can preserve peace and stability on their own.
While the conduct of war is an exercise in power, the building of peace is much more of an exercise in patience. And while our media, as well as our political systems, might like basking in the glory of the former, they often go away and lose interest when it comes to the later.
This is part of the background to the scepticism that is there towards the concept of what is often referred as nation building. It’s simply to difficult, to expensive and to uncertain.
Somalia remains the classical case where there was massive international intervention, massive problems to tackle, but where the setbacks and frustrations lead to a complete U-turn, and where everyone just walked away from the country, effectively hoping that it would disappear.
Since then there has been a double Mogadishu line that policymakers have been reluctant to cross. A reluctance to use armed force on the ground – in contrast to in the air - in a robust way in the pursuit of defined policy objectives. A reluctance to get involved in parallel political and civilian activities that could be described as “nation building”.
Today, Somalia is back on the international agenda as one of the possible havens of international terrorism. And we have found that there is no true global security for anyone if we do not have the will and the instruments to, on a strictly selective basis, cross those Mogadishu lines.
In a sense, 1999 marked the beginning of a change. Suddenly, the UN was asked to take over the running of both Kosovo and East Timor, with an open-ended task in the former case and the task of setting up an independent state – the ultimate exercise in state- or nation building – in the later.
And now, Afghanistan is on the top of the international agenda. Having won the war, we have to secure a peace. But the more different capitals are looking down that abyss, the less keen on the exercise do they seem
Again, policy is paramount. As in the Balkans, we must decide where we are heading, and which our goals are.
If we just want to see Afghanistan as a hunting ground for suspected terrorists, to be catched and flown to somewhere else, then we can clearly limit our commitment. If we want to build some sort of state that can also tackle, at a minimum, the threat to our societies represented by the massive heroin production, it immediately becomes a much more demanding task.
And if we should help doing what everyone is now talking about – democratic elections, rule of the law and reconstruction towards some sort of decent growing economy - we are once again in a completely different ballpark in terms of commitment.
Security remains the Alpha and Omega for everything. If there is not basic security, there will be nothing else. We are now talking about conducting a census all over the country in order to prepare an election that will set up a truly representative government of Afghanistan. There is simply no way a census can be made, and an election be held, if there is not basic security in the country.
The war over Afghanistan has clearly demonstrated a disparity in military means for high-tech expeditionary war across the Atlantic. But important as this is, I am more concerned by the disparity in resources and commitment towards peace building that the aftermath demonstrates.
With the Americans winning the wars, and the Europeans supposed to police and pay for the peace, I believe we are in the risk of repeating some of the worst mistakes of the Balkans during the 1990’s.
Not only are the peace-winning tasks often more complicated than the war-winning ones, but over time they also tend to be the more expensive. In Bosnia and Kosovo, the costs for peace operations have been far higher than the cost for the wars. When we talk about burden sharing and a disparity of resources on the two sides of the Atlantic, we have as much reason to be concerned with the imbalance in peace-winning resources as the imbalance in war-winning ones.
Clearly, we need to have international instruments available for these types of tasks. In its effort to look at the state of the world until 2015, the US National Intelligence Council in a public report last year – “Global Trends 2015” - had this to say:
“Internal conflicts, stemming from religious, ethnic, economic or political disputes will remain at current levels or even increase in number. The United Nations and regional organisations will be called upon to manage such conflicts because major states – stressed by domestic concerns, perceived risk of failure, lack of political will, or tight resources – will minimize their direct involvement.”
I certainly share this assessment. But if it’s generally seen as correct, we have every reason to strengthen the ability of the UN system to handle situations like this. The so called Brahimi report tried to address some of the most acute short-comings of the system, but all its recommendations have not been accepted, and the UN system overall continues to suffer from an under funding that over time will degrade its effectiveness even further.
Regional organisations have useful roles to play. In Europe, NATO has shown its ability to manage peace-keeping operations, with the difference with the UN more being the amount of resources than anything else, while it is clearly not a body with ambitions in the broader policy areas necessary for any peace- or state-building. The EU is slowly building both military and policy resources, and has substantial economic resources, but it will take time until the EU would have either the will or the ability to deploy these in more ambitious and far-away missions.
For better or worse, and for large parts of the world, we are thus likely to be left with the United Nations as the default option for civilian peace-winning efforts after the wars and the conflicts ahead of us. We – the Europeans rather than the Americans – might supply the security forces, but the civilian efforts at creating peace are more likely than not to be channelled through the UN system.
The tasks ahead are should not be underestimated.
Prime Minister Blair has for example laid out an ambitious and important agenda for Africa.
We might see a settlement in Sudan that will require a substantial international involvement. The conflicts around the Great Lakes area remain open. Somalia is back on the agenda. In Sierra Leone, UN continues to struggle with the problems. The divisions and the despair of Angola have hardly gotten any better. And if President Mugabe of Zimbabwe tries to steal an election he risks losing, there is the very real risk of an open meltdown with serious consequences in that region of Africa.
And to this should be added all the issues of the Greater Middle East between the Nile and the Indus. If we are to defeat evil here, and advance the cause of good, some of the immediate issues might be military, but the basic issues will remain profoundly political as well as increasingly economic. Demography drives larger and larger parts of this region into despair.
There is no denying that we are living in a more demanding international environment. During the optimism after the fall of the Soviet empire and the advance of democracy and open economies of the 1990’s, the Balkans was often seen as an exception to the rule. Now, we are waking up to the realisation that it was the rule rather than the exception, and that we have better adapt our policies.
This will require increased resources. For homeland defence and capabilities for expeditionary warfare. But certainly not less for diplomacy and conflict prevention. And most certainly more for all the instruments, not least the United Nations, necessary in order to create stability and order, and make certain that we don’t end up winning the war, but losing the peace.