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The Sinews of Power: Rediscovering the Foundations of National Strength

Speaker: Paul Kennedy, Director, International Security Studies and Dilworth Professor of History, Yale University
Presider: Richard N. Haass, President, Council on Foreign Relations
December 14, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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RICHARD HAASS: Are the microphones on? They are. Even better. Then we will begin. Welcome, one and all, to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Richard Haass, and tonight is our fifth meeting in this series, hosted with the National History Center. And the idea is to welcome distinguished historians to the Council on Foreign Relations for discussions of issues, not simply with a past but with particular relevance and resonance to some of the challenges being faced today.

The individual who will be imparting his wisdom -- and I do not use that phrase lightly in this case -- tonight is Paul Kennedy, who directs the International Security Studies Project at Yale University and is also the Dilworth Professor there. And he's the author and editor of 19 books, a depressing number -- (laughter) -- including the classic, "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers."

He is not just a scholar but he's also a gentleman, because one of the many callow things I did in my callow youth was to write an ungenerous review of "The Rise and Fall" -- (laughter) -- "of the Great Powers." So either Professor Kennedy has forgotten that or chosen to overlook it. Either way, he is a gentleman.

Tonight's topic is important for many reasons, but one of them is that, to the best of my knowledge, it's the first time we've ever had the word "sinews" in the title -- (laughter) of a council event. And in this case -- I'm not sure it's a word I've ever used publicly before, but tonight's event is on the "Sinews of" -- is that pronounced correctly? Yeah, it's close enough, close enough -- "of Power: Rediscovering the Foundations of National Security.

And the way we're going to work it is Professor Kennedy is going to make a few remarks and then he and I will talk for a few minutes and then we'll open it up to you, our members. Let me just make the traditional request that you turn off your electronic devices, particularly your cell phones, several of which went off this morning at an event. Let me just say that tonight's meeting is on the record. I'm not sure how journalistically capturable it will be, but we'll see.

After this we have a special reception. And one of the reasons this evening is special is that we do it in tandem -- we, the Council on Foreign Relations, do it in tandem with the National History Center, and its director, Roger Louis, is also the Kerr Professor of English History and Culture at the University of Texas. He's here with us. But, at least as important, this series would not have happened without Roger's inspiration and guidance.

Now, there is a unique, also, other factor about tonight. Professor Kennedy, myself and Professor Louis all attended the same college at the same university, which is St. Anthony's College at Oxford University, but only one of us this evening, our speaker, had the foresight to wear the college tie -- (laughter) -- which the rest of us are sitting here in tremendous envy.

As I said, Professor Kennedy is going to start with a few comments and then he and I will have a conversation, and then we will open it up to you all to correct what each of us has said.

So with that, Paul, over to you, sir. And, again, thank you so much. Let me say thank you not just for coming here tonight, but thank you for the way you have informed and enriched the dialogue in this country and the dialogue more broadly about our history for all of us. So thank you.

PAUL KENNEDY: Richard, thank you. And, Roger, thank you for initiating this series. I think the reason, Richard, that I forgave you for that review of "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" was that it was in no way as heavily damaging as many of the other reviews -- (laughter) -- which salvoed against the book and put it into the best-seller list. (Laughter.)

Now, there was one crazy morning in February 1988 where my wonderful publisher, Jason Epstein, called and said, have you seen -- Norman Podhoretz had a big article, a big op-ed in the Washington Post and the article is entitled, "Why I So Dislike Kennedy's Book." (Laughter.) And Jason said, I've ordered another 25,000 copies to be printed immediately because so many people dislike Norman Podhoretz. (Laughter.)

And thank you all for coming. I see a number of friends, younger and older, and I'm grateful that you would turn out for this. The topic, as I understand it, is to talk about something historical but let the contemporary implications sink in. I'll be very brief. I want to make three remarks and then Richard will go into a discourse with me.

The first remark is this: I grew up in a world full of deafening, crashing sounds. That's because I grew up next to shipyard -- Swan Hunter and Wigam Richardson, the great builder of battleships like the Nelson and the Anderson, the original constructor of the Mauritania.

My father and all my uncles were boilermakers or riveters, and the row houses of the working-class men and their families were right outside the shipyard. So I would see -- we got, actually, a morning off school when a large warship or large ocean liner for Cunard Line was launched. We could go and see what our parents had created.

So the physical sinews of power -- the steel, the electrical wiring, the 15-inch guns -- were there right before our eyes. It was to be a little while later when I was in Cuthbert's Grammar School, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, all boys, all Catholic grammar school, which did not spare the rod, that I learned of another dimension of the sinews of power, which was taking an advanced-level course on British economic history in the 18th and 19th century.

And I learned not just about industry and the agricultural revolution, but I learned about sound finance, the role of the Bank of England, the role of the stock exchange, the extraordinary high principles of the British Parliament in the 18th century that if you, the "Elder" Pitt -- Richard imagined him as the "Elder" Pitt -- came to the parliament to ask for 20 additional frigates to be built because you're worried about the very strong likelihood of hostilities with Spain and France, the Parliament would grant you, Richard, the funds for the 20 additional frigates, but it would ask you to name which additional taxes you were levying to pay for the cost of frigates.

This is why the British government, through all the period against a much superior France, could out-finance France and out-fight it. This is why French bankers went to Switzerland and invested in British government bonds -- (laughter) -- when they were in the middle of the Seven Years' War.

Sound finance, Parliamentary rectitude, and a Bank of England that was independent -- you now see where I'm coming to -- was at the heart of the rise of that small island to a fantastic position. It wasn't until I went to Oxford, to St. Anthony's College following Roger Louis, studying with that great historian of imperialism, Jack Gallagher, that I learned something else; that a really great, long-lasting power is strategic. It has to be strategic; it has to pick its battles. It cannot be charging all over the world everywhere. It sometimes cuts its losses.

Even the Roman Empire decided it wasn't going anymore into the German forests or across the Danube into Dacia. You just put up the boundaries. In other words, it sometime retreated a bit to preserve its greatness.

So, three points I made to Richard: the importance of manufacturing technology and a vibrant, productive base; the importance of sound finance and institutions which guarantee their soundness; and the importance of calibrated, prioritized overseas engagement. You put those three together, you get what John Brewer, in his wonderful work on the rise of the British state in the 17th and 18th century called "The Sinews of Power." Thank you. (Applause.)

HAASS: I should show more restraint but I can't. Referring to Mr. Brewer's book, which is two decades old since it came out, when you wrote me about it you mentioned there things that were -- essentially restating what you just said about the sinews of British power, that they were, one, a flourishing manufacturing base, which woke you up in the morning; secondly, balanced finances; and, thirdly, reasonably effective governance.

As I look at the United States today, and if I looked at a flourishing manufacturing base -- no, because we have a diminishing, shrinking manufacturing base; balanced finances -- we have many things in this country, balanced finances are not one of them; and, thirdly, effective governance -- again, questionable. Does this, by definition, mean that the sinews of American power are headed down?

KENNEDY: They're thinner, they're weaker than they were, and they're thinner and weaker than they should be. The middle one is of particular interest to me. I do not believe my economics colleagues at Yale or Chicago or anywhere else who think that deficit spending on this scale and with congressional budget projections into the future is anywhere healthy for the foundations of American power across the globe.

And, therefore, if -- you know, I could have obviously come and shaken "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" across -- but if the argument there was that the way you stay at the top is by balancing your capabilities with your obligations, and that you can either overextend your obligations, and that tilts the rocking horse, or you can weaken your capabilities, then it's the fiscal weakening and the erosion of the manufacturing strength which gets me worried. And, clearly, from the markets and the spot future of the dollar and other things like that, they too are worried.

HAASS: It's interesting because the three things you mention -- the manufacturing base, the budget and governance -- none of those is, in and of itself, to do with one of the major themes, or if not the major theme of "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers." This is what you call "imperial overstretch." So all three of these are really looking at the domestic or internal foundations, if you will, of the country, even more than when it does overseas.

KENNEDY: Well, that's not strictly true because the other argument in -- if I have to go and defend "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" against Richard 21 years later -- (laughter) --

HAASS: Maybe sell some more books. (Laughter.)

KENNEDY: Oh, the eight years of the Bush administration has been fantastic for -- (laughter). It was on -- I argued it is on those sound foundations that you can pursue an India policy, that you can pursue a North American policy, that you can pursue a Middle East policy or a naval base development policy. But if the foundations are not there, then you start looking increasingly like Philip II of Spain and a regime which lived on credit and ever-weaker manufacturing base but did not -- could not believe that it could retreat from anywhere.

HAASS: Does that fact that so much of our financing is available but from abroad -- does that in any way affect calculations?

KENNEDY: It does to be because, as you can see, I -- simply by waking up listening to the hammer of the riveters I am sort of inherently a domestic strength and national core -- national -- not protectionist but believe in the need to have most of the sources of your productivity, your strength coming from within.

Now, it is true that, as Brewer does very well and as Riley does in his book on the Amsterdam capital markets, that if you had such sound finances as Britain did in the 18th century, it could attract a large amount of foreign capital flows because that was a safe place to put your money.

What we're looking at -- and I'd be interested, when we open this up to the audience, if there are bankers and financiers here as well -- what struck me as interesting right now, Richard, is the zigzag effect of -- the zigzag course of the dollar in the international markets. And it's a conundrum.

It goes something like this: If things are reasonably okay on the international security domain, or there isn't some big crisis, then the dollar's value is traded down because people are looking at the size of those enormous deficits. If there's something awful happening out there, the dollar's value goes up because it's a slide to security. But neither of those are really rather good scenarios. The dollar is stronger when the world is lousier. When the world is more stable, the dollar is weaker.

How long can that go on? Well, you know, the Ottoman Empire went on for 275 years with that zigzag thing, so we might have a lot of -- you know, it might be nothing for us to worry about. "In the long run," said Keynes, "we're all dead." (Laughter.)

HAASS: And a Merry Christmas to you. (Laughter.)

You basically used the word "strategic" in your opening remarks, Paul, essentially saying what's inherent or implicit in a strategy is the willingness and ability to choose, that you can't do everything everywhere and you've got to choose, lest you spin yourself into failure.

How does the fact that we live in a more global world affect that? If the argument is that what happens anywhere won't just stay -- the world is not Las Vegas, and what happens there, be the "there" Pakistan or Afghanistan of anywhere else, can and will affect the quality of life here. Is our ability to choose circumscribed by the fact that we live in a more global world?

Oh, I think so. It's not only that we live in a more global world and that threats are harder to detect and -- you know, the transnational mayhem has a greater capacity to affect our interests than 50, 60, 80 years ago. It's because we also have large numbers of citizens in this country who are interested in many more parts of the world than would have been the case in the age of Herbert Hoover.

You may remember that I and a couple of my Russia graduate students offered Foreign Affairs an article on pivotal states in American grand strategy in which we -- the argument was, well, we've got solid alliances with Japan, with Saudi Arabia, Israel, NATO alliance; we've got some rogue states out there who we have to keep an eye on, and we've got this dangerous relationship with Russia and a relationship we don't understand with China and Japan, but put them all together and there are only about 24 nations of 192 members, and we cannot concentrate on the other 170-odd in equal measure of care and attention.

So we put out some tethered goats which we called the pivotal states -- South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, India, Pakistan -- the duality -- Turkey, Egypt -- and we said, you know, the State Department, the Treasury, the Commerce Department and everyone else should focus on those ones because whether they went up or down would affect their particular region.

And the astonishing number of vitriolic messages we got because I hadn't named this person's country a pivotal state, or, were you proposing that the United States abandon Sri Lanka? It went on and on and on. And there were lots of people in this country with roots to -- with ethnic roots and ties to different parts of the globe who were furious at the notion.

HAASS: What you should have done, by the way, was say you had them in your original draft but the editor of Foreign Affairs took them out. (Laughter.)

KENNEDY: Well -- "strategic" is abused. I mean, you get people in finance houses called the -- you know, they're investment strategists, et cetera.

What I cling to is the notion that it's something holistic, it's longer-term rather than immediate, and it involves a rather critical self-analysis of what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses, and in many cases, I think in this debate on the concerns facing the U.S. and the worry about Afghanistan and everything else, and the worry about the rise of China, there are some of the massive latent strengths of the United States just totally forgotten about.

And a grand strategist, or someone who wanted to sit down and try to describe the U.S. and the world in the early 21st century would start by almost imagining that you were a Martian who came in and looked around the globe and sent the report back to imperial general headquarters on Mars and you described what this American thing was. And I challenge my students to try to step out of their culture and to try to describe America to somebody who wasn't even on the globe.

And I give them -- David Hermann (sp) over here will recognize the quote -- I give them the opening paragraphs of a great memorandum by the British Foreign Office official Sir Eyre Crowe of January 1907 when he was asked why Britain, which had been so friendly to Germany, so dynastically inclined to Germany, was moving away from Germany and moving toward the entente with France. It's Eyre Crowe's classic memorandum on relations with France and Germany.

And Crowe begins by describing what Britain is -- and challenging my Yale students to begin like that, because Crowe begins by saying, "Great Britain is a cluster of islands located in a temperate zone of the northwest coast of Europe with links but not territorial attachment to the Continent of Europe and with a worldwide empire across the globe."

And then from there Crowe started to pull out the strands of logic -- what did that mean? And I challenge my Yale students and other students when I teach at the LOC (ph) to try that; try it on any country. Try it on Russia.

Russia is an enormous territorial expanse 11 time zones long, chiefly under permafrost, with a dwindling population and a massive list of environmental and health-care concerns, which has no less than 14 dodgy neighbors. That's your first paragraph for Russia, right? (Laughter.) And then you start teasing it out like that. So I sometimes thing that being strategic about the U.S. might start by such a paragraph about the U.S.

HAASS: If I was going to look around the world, is there any country that you think has the sinews of 21st century great-powerness, other than obviously the United States if we make certain adjustments? But is there any other country out there that you say there's the ingredients there?

KENNEDY: I think many of them are more -- have many more deficiencies. I'm more struck by their weaknesses than their strengths. If I was a gambling man -- and Roger Louis might remember that I advised Bursov (ph), St. Anthony's College, on his investments at Newbury and Ascot because I'd worked in a bookie's office in the northeast of England. (Laughter.)

If I was a gambling man I'd like to place a little bit of money on Brazil, not on the sinews of power but as a country which has a mix of demographics and national resources and the middle class, which make a lot of sense; it has a lot of coherence. So, for Brazil, the question for me would be the governance thing rather than anything else. Russia, no. China, we can go into that in the questions but I'm less impressed. I think the weaknesses there are massive and inherent, difficult to get away from.

But here is a thought -- I've been asked this the past 21 years, ever since "The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers" came out -- who is the next number-one, right? And I keep trying to say -- you know, as a historian of 500 years of the international system, you have to realize that it's rather rare when there is a clear number one. What is more likely is that there are about three or four or five contenders, usually stronger in some area like the British in sea power and the Russians in land power, the Germans in industrial power.

And, therefore, trying to -- you know, that Christmas game where I get all my grandchildren now to play where they're blindfolded and have to pin the tail on the donkey, like -- trying to find the next number one is not unlike pinning the tail on the donkey.

I think where -- I think -- and I admire him for this now even though I've always disagreed with him -- I think Krauthammer's 1991 article on the "unipolar moment" said something very profound. It actually was not triumphalist; it was almost like, enjoy it while it's there because the world turns and changes.

HAASS: And is it necessary that it's replaced by a number one or two or three or four, or is it possible that the 21st century will be characterized not, if you will, by 19th century or even 20th century patterns but a much more dispersed or distributed power, so we might have -- number 19 might be very close to number six? I mean, it might be, in that sense, a much more flat, not in the Tom Friedman sense but in the power sense.

KENNEDY: I think that there is a dispersion of power going on in the various levels of power. Clearly, in terms of economic strength, productivity, foreign exchange reserves, balances, we're -- (inaudible) -- a multipolar world right now. In terms of sheer military heft, firepower and carry power, there is one country which is bigger, much bigger than anybody else.

It's interesting to know that what the others are doing is not a straightforward challenge in undermining, but the development of asymmetrical weapons systems in China and India and elsewhere, which we're now finding great difficulty in understanding how we can handle.

And in terms of Joe Nye's fabled "soft power" in his various books of the early 1990s, I think one could say that while there is an undoubted attractiveness in elements of American culture, and the benefit of the English language and various other things, there are alternative attractive models for other people on the globe to follow rather than the American model.

HAASS: Last question and then we'll open it up.

You talked about sometimes -- when you were talking about strategic -- the idea of cutting one's losses. One of the arguments often against cutting losses is the prestige argument, that because we've invested in the place -- in addition to whatever the local interests are, because we've invested our prestige, our credibility and the rest, to simply walk away and so forth would have consequences that would transcend the immediate.

Is it your -- just to make sure I understood you -- is it your sense that that's often exaggerated, or is it your sense that it isn't exaggerated but you still have to do it in order to keep things, if you will, in alignment?

KENNEDY: Well, Richard, I would say, first of all, it's much more difficult to follow the Kennedy cut-your-losses approach when you're in a vibrant and contentious democracy. It was okay for British statesmen in the 18th century to say, ah, okay, just supporting pressure now for the balance of power is not worth it, so bye-bye pressure.

This is where the notion of Perfidious Albion comes. You can cut your losses on the third -- the first, second and third Afghan war because you're not going to get much question about it from a limited democracy back in Britain and from a number of people who thought that we shouldn't be there in the first place.

And so, saying it now with the international terror and the idea of a 24-hour-a-day world crashing and jarring is a much harder thing to sell to a president who is also thinking of, you know, mid-term polls. So it does -- here is my inherent worry about the Afghanistan thing -- let's see if I get anybody else coming in against me or for me.

It does seem to me that on certain occasions, even the greatest of the great powers of the time said, we're going that far and no further, or we've tried this and it doesn't work. You know, when Augustus lost three legions in the Teutoburger Wald, he, I suppose, could have sent another 29 legions into those muddy forests, and he decided, no, we're just going to have strong defenses on Cologne and along the Rhine.

When the British army generals get to 1781-'82, it's not just the defeat of Yorktown; it's that they were reporting back to Whitehall, you have no idea how big this goddamn country is -- (laughter) -- and those things called Appalachian Mountains, which seem to go, you know, for thousands of miles, and there's no way we can go against people who hide in trees and shoot at us with rifles. So we're not doing it. On the other hand, we can swing to the east, as Harlow (sp) argued, and we can get empire on the plains of India but we can't get it up the Hudson Valley.

So I think there's a question here about whether -- how, in a democracy, do you convey the sense that the purpose of the military venture, however well justified on moral, on anti-terrorist, on stabilizing of frontier grounds just is not going to work. And I've just been down to Quantico for two days with the Marines and asked them that question. And these are people who have had two or three, you know, rounds in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And one of the more experienced lieutenant colonels said, you know, when I left last week, he said, the joke going around among the Pushtuns was the Americans have the watches but we have the time. And this is a well-trained, utterly competent -- I hate to say -- Princeton-trained Marine, and he was shaken by this.

HAASS: Let me open it up to our members. Just let me know; I'll try to call on you. Wait for a microphone, state your name, and keep yourself to one short question, and we'll get as many in as we can.

Sir, I see a -- somewhere I see a hand over there but I can't see who it is because you're hidden.

KENNEDY: Fritz Stern.

HAASS: Oh, Fritz -- Professor Stern. I'm sorry.

QUESTIONER: Fritz Stern --

HAASS: Who also spoke in this series, I should say.

QUESTIONER: -- Columbia. Paul, I share your admiration for the Crowe Memorandum tremendously. It's a great piece of diplomatic and political analysis. And I have two questions connected to that Crowe Memorandum. One, how did the Brits learn to do this? They didn't have think-tanks. (Laughter.) That may be an answer. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Ouch.

QUESTIONER: But how -- it's obviously the fact that the were very, very good political analysts for a long time, and Crowe happened to want to instruct the new government in what he also perceived to be a sudden new threat, which was that of Germany and the High Seas Fleet.

And my question, in a sense is -- A, the first one is, how did they know? How were they trained to understand all this? And, second, if, as you said -- and I did the same with my students -- if one gives it to one's student and says, do as well as Crowe did for present analysis, an American student now -- it's not a German danger -- what danger is it that he should address -- he or she should address?

KENNEDY: Well, Crowe was trained all right. His father was -- he actually was born in Frankfurt. His father was Joseph Archer Crowe, the great commercial attache' and consul general for many years, and so he was regarded as the German expert as well as a general European expert -- many years of being in the service and watching a lot of administrations come and go but seeing what the regularities, or what the patents or what is something new.

It's very hard to substitute for long-standing training. My colleague at Yale, Charles Hill -- very, very senior former diplomat -- gets quite pained at much of the way in which we often change our Foreign Service personnel, our directors, our, you know, two years in Hong Kong and then you go for three years in Lima. So there's something in Crowe's training which -- an analytical mind and an analytical family.

I would be reluctant to encourage my students to write essays on what is the next threat to the United States. I might rephrase it like, what are the challenges, or I might ask them to discuss the different sort of relationships we have with China as opposed to the relationships we have with Russia and then see how well they can handle that double whammy and understand that there are differences, because our president and our benighted Congress should understand there are differences between how we relate to China and how we relate to Russia.

But, I mean, Richard was onto something a bit earlier that -- I'm going to come back in support of him. It may well be that Crowe's ability to sit detached on his, you know, insular base with the powerful Royal Navy, which nobody could -- there was no real way of attack. Those small anarchist threats of the 1880s had gone.

It meant that you could be detached in a way that the U.S. today would find it much, much more difficult to do. I mean, you just -- imagine our saying, well, our big problems are Middle East, terrorism, and the rise of China. They're three headaches all right. So let's just forget about Africa or Latin America. You can imagine the cacophony of shouts that would come up if a Crowe Memorandum saying let's forget about Africa or Latin America got circulated.

HAASS: What we actually do is forget about Latin America and Africa without the memorandum. (Laughter.)

Sir. Dr. Knapp, wait for the microphone. It's right there.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Richard. Professor, I have a question for you. Great leaders and important moments are fleeting, an example being William Pitt the Elder and the Seven Years' War when Frederick the Great said, England has long been in labor but at last has brought forth a man.

My question is, if the United States were to -- (inaudible) -- a man or a woman who were president, what will you, as a great describer of the last 500 years, tell them and advise them to get us out of this muddle?

KENNEDY: I hope I'm never in that position, and my security clearance is so low, darn, I don't think I ever will be. (Laughter.)

I would start with one or two things which sound homey and obvious: Try to do a list of your nation's strengths and weaknesses, challenges or what you call them. Try to do a balance sheet, first of all. Try to recall that in that balance sheet, as was done by Andy Marshall's fabulous Office of Net Assessment, you assessed other folks' weaknesses and strengths in comparison to your own.

Secondly, distinguish, as I think this administration is trying to do, between the things that have to be immediately handled and the things that are mid-term for a solution, if you can get one, and the longer term, but the longer term might be the broader and the biggest, but still, a president has got to live from day to day and from week to week.

Thirdly, try to get some -- try to make sure that you've got some wise owls giving you advice who are not now in office or don't have a commercial interest or can just be -- you know, could be, if necessary, brutally frank to you. I mean, it's kind of interesting to me that in addition to all of the other advice and advisors Obama is getting, he's asked David Boren and Chuck Hagel just to think about the dimensions of the problems, which are the most important, talk quietly to people, and give me an independent voice.

At the end of the day, the buck stops there, of course, but I wouldn't -- I mean, you may have seen -- I wrote a piece -- my monthly op-ed for Tribune Media Services a few months ago was -- it was called "In Praise of Presidential Caution." And it suggested that this president and others should not be rushed into knee-jerk actions and should take a lot of advice. It looks as if, in this Afghan surge, that he asked an awful lot of people and thought an awful lot about it.

I like that. I like the temperament of mind, the sort of, like, as Roger Louis would know better than myself, a kind of Lord Salisbury; let's just -- let's just look at this problem from three or four different directions before we start doing anything decisive. It doesn't mean vacillation; it means study.

HAASS: Sir?

QUESTIONER: Joel Motley. My question is, to the extent these threats that you identify are asymmetric, does that change the equation because they're low-cost? Maybe addressing them is not really so much a matter of big expense but being smarter about it.

KENNEDY: Thank you for that question about asymmetric threats. When I go to Newport or National Defense University, I see the officers there and the professors of strategy using asymmetrical in two different ways. One is asymmetrical attacks by non-state actors -- the terrorists releasing germs or, you know, bioterror agents in the Tokyo subway. And that gives us a puzzle because we don't know how to handle something as difficult to spot and difficult to anticipate and difficult to respond to as that.

The other folks who are thinking about asymmetrical are looking at the way in which countries which know they cannot stand up to the U.S. toe to toe like the Japanese carriers versus the American carriers at Midway are looking for weapons systems which are asymmetrical but which give them an advantage and which are cheaper.

It's interesting to look at the panoply of new weapons systems which China is building. Now, I hate to go back to Eyre Crowe, but when Eyre Crowe referred to the buildup of the Kaiser's navy, he said, it either could be for purely defensive purely defensive purposes or it could be to do something damaging to us, and the fact is we have to be concerned about the latter possibility.

But what do you say when you get photographs of now two gigantic ballistic missiles, submarines, photographed in their shipyard in northern China, which have missile capacities of 8,000 kilometers? What do you say when you've got this deliberate heavy investment and low -- sort of sea-skimming, low-flying, medium-range missiles, which go well below our radar screen? We just can't pick them up.

What do you say when you learn that the latest Chinese ultra-quiet diesel submarines -- we don't like diesel submarines because they're inexpensive and they're not sexy, so we always have the big boomers -- the ultra-quiet Chinese diesel submarines, one of which popped up, you may remember, two years ago in the middle of a U.S.-Japanese navy fleet exercise off Yokohama without being spotted until it popped up -- have now acquired from a German shipyard the stealth coating that we have on our stealth fighters and stealth bombers so they're pretty well non-detectable underwater by sonar.

You then begin to think, well, maybe we're putting a lot of our money into weapons systems which are not right for these asymmetrical weapons. And it's not just terrorists; it's -- you know -- so, one more anecdote here because I'm not, you know, imagining this. This is not one of those war scare stories of Edwardian Britain.

If you go up to the Naval War College and go into Mahan Hall, you used to be shown the -- on one wall, the enormous map of the Pacific, which is where the U.S. Navy planners war-gamed so-called War Plan Orange," the war plan against the Japanese navy should a war break out in the Far East. And it used to be a relic and then they put it behind a large curtain. It was forgotten about.

Last November -- November of last year, the Naval War College has now created a China Maritime Studies Center and it has taken off the curtains and it has -- their folks spend a lot of time looking at this big map of the Pacific. And they haven't color-coded it yet, but you have to shake your head when you see what they are thinking about. That's their job, so I don't criticize them for that, but it does mean they're thinking, can these folks do things to us which we are not ready to handle?

And my colleague at Yale, Paul Brackenwaithe (ph), who did his book on rising Asia a few years ago, says what they're up to is a strategy not of a high-seas fleet; it's a strategy of sea denial. They're just going to push us further and further away from the littoral of Asia because no admiral wants to lose a really big Nimitz-class carrier.

HAASS: When you talked about China earlier you said you were as impressed by its weaknesses as you were by its strengths. Is that not somewhat inconsistent with that?

KENNEDY: No, a country like the Soviet Union under Brezhnev was scaring the trousers off us because of the number of rocket heads.

HAASS: "Burundi with missiles" I think it was described as. (Laughter.)

KENNEDY: But there were no other indications that the weaknesses were beginning to overwhelm the strengths, so I think the Chinese learned a lot of lessons from that and I think they are in a much superior learning mentality than the latter stages of the USSR. I think they're probably going to surprise us on environmental reforms and breakthroughs in a very significant way in the next 10 years as well.

Clearly, when Western analysts talk about the environment or the lack of water supply as being China's Achilles heel, which the lack of water supply definitely is. They can't get enough water for their industrial expansion unless they do a different sort of industrial expansion.

But when Western analysts talk about water as being one of your Achilles' heels, then the Chinese read that and they say, well, how do we fix it? How do we -- if it's true that, you know, silicon chips demand colossal amounts of water for production, or a cement factory takes catastrophically large amounts of water, then we're going to have to figure out how to make cement without that much water.

So I do see it's got massive weaknesses; I'm impressed by their not just huffing and puffing and dismissing it but saying, well, we're going to have to think about this.

HAASS: In the back.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible) -- Weekly. You have given us an assessment of China, but can you go and give us an assessment about strengths and weaknesses of Iran, India, Japan? And is this war on terror -- (inaudible) -- we should make of? Can you give us a description?

HAASS: There are four questions in there so you can choose what you'd -- any country beginning with the letter "I" you can give an analysis of. (Laughter.)

KENNEDY: I will try to get a reply. I should say that -- I want to move from the last remark I made to this one. There is a link. There's a segue.

About, I don't know, eight or 10 months ago I did a piece in the National Herald Tribune called "Land and Power." And what I did was to take the eight or nine largest territorial units on the globe -- I didn't have Japan in here -- Russia, China, India, Australia, Canada, U.S., Brazil, and I put the E.C. in with a question mark. Then I -- the second vertical column was their current population and the third and fourth were their projected populations for 2025 and 2050.

The next one was their available productive agricultural acreage -- productive agricultural acreage because Australia hardly has any left now after the drought. And the next one was total fresh water supplies in that entity, and accessibility to them because, as you know, most of the Russian rivers go north to the Arctic.

And I then did a ratio of number of people to acres of agricultural supply and water resources. And in that event, a number of countries, which you have been thinking of, among the BRICs, for example, as being really impressively rising, then look as if they're going to have pretty big problems over the next 10, 20 or 30 years.

In the case of India, I see it -- I had it confronting fewer problems than China, believe it or not, even though the Indian population pressures are far greater than those in China, because I also tried to think about governance as well.

And so I think India is an emerging great power, definitely, with regional presence, a very high capital base and a very high tech infrastructural base. There's many, many weaknesses in India as well, and if you go to Bangalore only you'll just be fooled.

But I do see India as a bright prospect, not as bright as Brazil because if you start doing my equations on the raw materials resources, demographics, water supply, agricultural resources, then Brazil comes in very strong, second only to the U.S.

Iran -- it's very difficult for me to comment in any comparative way like that. I didn't do it in this sort of Mackinder-like materialist comparison of acreage and population, and I think the issue for Iran is the form of governance it's going to have. It has also enormous educational talent and probably very significant resources. I didn't look at the water supply situation there, or agricultural, but I think it's probably okay.

The question most of us have about Iran is can it ever get out of the mental box it's in and turn itself around to being one of the significant pivotal states in the Middle East again?

HAASS: David?

QUESTIONER: Two questions. What do you regard as the single greatest decision made by the U.S. government, president or Congress over the last 100 years, and what do you regard as the single worst decision made?

And, second question, are the students today any better than they were when you started? Are they worse? Or how are they different than when you first started? (Laughter.)

HAASS: You'll have to grade your students.

KENNEDY: I'm sure the Yale admissions office would wish me to say that the quality of the incoming class every year rises again and again and again. They're different all right because of the way in which a number of institutions, not just ours and not just the Ivy's, have internationalized their student body.

So I'm teaching an undergraduate class of 60 students an introduction to international affairs and organizations, and I would say 40 of them are not American students. This is undergraduate level. The American students are all -- 700 of them are taking John Gaddis's Cold War History. (Laughter.)

HAASS: We won that one.

KENNEDY: But you won that one. (Laughter.) And the language capacity is rising impressively. We are a select institution. We selected 7 percent out of last year's total of applications. Every one of my colleagues, if they're honest, would agree that if we applied now to get into Yale we wouldn't have a dog's chance. (Laughter.)

Your question, you know, what was the worst decision, what was the best decision in the past hundred years is really unfair. That's just what I am allowed to ask undergraduates. You're not allowed -- (laughter).

I don't know; everybody has their period. Worst, I'd be hard put to think of that. I mean, the fact is that because of geography, because we have 3,000 miles of ocean one way, 6,000 the other, Canada on top of us, Mexico underneath us, it's very hard for us to make a worst decision like, say, Hitler attacking the Soviet Union in June 1941.

We can make some really bad blunders and mistakes but worst, in a European context, has got to be something much, much more serious than losing in Vietnam or, indeed, pulling out of Afghanistan if we have to.

And best would be -- again, would depend on your era and your perspective. You know, I admire American grand strategy during the Second World War. I think it had a wonderful set of judicious balances between ends and means and regions, and I particularly admire Marshall, but the fact was that the U.S. was dragged kicking and screaming into the war by a sly attack on December the 7th.

So you would -- I think, you know, this is something where I would send my students off and they would have a full weekend to answer. (Laughter.)

HAASS: We have time for one more. And I apologize in advance, but the good news is there's a longer-than-usual reception tonight and we have a more generous and wiser than usual speaker here. So --

KENNEDY: Oh dear.

HAASS: -- we're in good hands.

QUESTIONER: I'm Jim Sutterlin and I have a question. President Obama, in talking about "just war" the other night, put some importance on humanitarianism, and that fits with the current popular concept of their responsibility to protect.

My question really is, to what extend does the expenditure of substantial resources by a country, essentially humanitarian purposes in the sense of protecting people from their own governments and so forth -- to what extent does this constitute an essential element in greatness, in great power, or to what extent is this likely, in the end, to amount to a deterioration of the power of a state?

KENNEDY: Oh dear, Jim. Any leadership with thought and intelligence in today's world is going to go round and round that particular hard question.

Gladstone, who opposed all of Disraeli's interventionisms, said, "Great powers have great responsibilities, and the greater the power, the greater their responsibility." And as you well know from our joint work on trying to reform the United Nations, the reason why the veto was given to five big powers -- apart from the fact that you could only get Moscow and Washington in if you gave them a veto -- was that you thought these big powers were going to carry the heavy lifting for any future aggressions or wars or collapses or stuff like that.

It was only those who had the wherewithal who could be then turned to with the moral duty to discharge what was in the U.N. Charter. We've talked about this before but something that gets me very disgusted is when we get a report that there has been, you know, five new members in the U.S. Security Council -- in the U.N. Security Council because of a two-year rotation.

And the General Assembly nowadays pays absolutely no attention to the critical clause in the charter which says that the qualification for rotating members is, first of all, their capacity to contribute to the general maintenance of peace. So we should not be having -- with respect to anybody here -- from the Tonga Islands or Barbados, we should not be having them in the Security Council because they vote on war and peace.

But I'm getting away from the Gladstonian point, which big powers and great powers have a big responsibility because they have the lift; they have the capacity. And the answer to that is that if you keep interpreting it from your own moral perspective, A, you're likely to get overstretch, and, B, a large number of other countries in the world will say, well, I mean, what gives you the right to decide it's time to intervene or not to intervene?

This is indeed why we try to create an international organization which might make that decision about intervention in, if necessary, protect -- the right to protection, if necessary -- if the Security Council voted it, if necessary, a peacekeeping or peace enforcement operation.

So I'm in this wobbly middle ground between Pat Buchanan, who sends me about a weekly letter of congratulations on the validity of the imperial overstretched thesis -- (laughter) -- on the one hand, and the "intervene everywhere for good moral purposes" on the other hand. But I guess that on that issue it's the people in the middle who look ineffectual because they're dancing around Richard's notion of necessary or unnecessary wars and -- wars of necessity and wars of choice.

And I just guess there's no end to that. That is, there is a permanent political moral dilemma, and in some cases you could strive like angels -- my final sentence, Richard -- strive like angels to try to avoid war and then realize that you couldn't.

I once brought A.J.P. Taylor up to talk at the University of East Anglia, where I was teaching. I drove him up and I asked him, was he going to explain to my students why the British government, after doing nothing about Manchuria, nothing about Abyssinia, very little about the Rhineland, nothing about the Anschluss, handing over Sudetenland at Munich, nothing about the takeover of Prague in 1939, why did it then decide it had to go to war?

And Taylor said, well, there's two things. First of all, even a pacifist -- and there were many in 1930s Britain -- realized that this was just -- you just had to abandon that pacifism because the greater evil was not doing anything than doing anything. And he said, secondly, the older diehard isolationists like the Daily Telegraph said, we have been -- you know, you can only go so far pushing a big power in the chest, and right now, after Prague, he's pushed us enough.

So the right-wing imperialists said we had to come in and the moralists and idealists said you had to come in, and Chamberlain's government was just swept aside by Amory and others in the House of Commons because there comes a time when what looked like the very sensible, most coherent, rational policy can be undermined by something happening outside your control.

HAASS: I don't know if the students at Yale are any better, but I certainly know they are fortunate -- (laughter) -- and I am envious of them. Thank you so much. (Applause.)

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Transcript

The Origins of the Cold War

Speakers: Frank Costigliola, Melvyn P. Leffler, and Philip D. Zelikow
Introductory Speaker: Richard N. Haass
Presider: Andrew Nagorski

Frank Costigliola of the University of Connecticut, Melvyn P. Leffler of the University of Virginia, and Philip D. Zelikow of the University...