Academic Conference Call: Conflict Prevention and Mitigation

Conflict Prevention and Mitigation

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Paul B. Stares, CFR’s General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventive Action, discusses how the United States can adopt a forward-looking preventive strategy to manage the risks of an increasingly turbulent world without becoming entangled in costly new military commitments.

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Paul B. Stares

General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and Director of the Center for Preventive Action, Council on Foreign Relations


Maria Casa

Director, National Program & Outreach Administration, Council on Foreign Relations

CASA: Good afternoon from New York, and welcome to the CFR Academic Conference Call Series. I’m Maria Casa, director for the national program and outreach here at CFR. Thank you all for joining us today. This call is on the record, and the audio file and transcript will be available on our website,, within the next few days should you wish to share it with your colleagues or classmates.


We are delighted to have Paul Stares with us today. Our discussion will focus on forward-looking preventative strategies to help the United States manage risks and avoid becoming entangled in costly new military commitments. Dr. Stares is CFR’s General John W. Vessey senior fellow for conflict prevention and director of the Center for Preventative Action. An expert on conflict prevention and a regular commentator on current affairs, he is the author or editor of nine books on U.S. security policy and international relations. His forthcoming book, “Preventative Engagement: How American Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace,” provides a blueprint for how the United States can manage a more turbulent and dangerous world.


Prior to joining CFR, Dr. Stares was vice president and director of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States Institute for Peace. He has been an associate director and senior research scholar at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Cooperation, senior research fellow at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, director of studies at the Japan Center for International Exchange, research associate and then senior fellow in the foreign policy studies program at the Brookings Institution and a NATO fellow and a scholar in residence at the MacArthur Foundation's Moscow office. He tweets at @PaulDStares.


Welcome, Paul. Thank you very much for being with us today.


STARES: Thank you, Maria. It’s a great pleasure to be here. And thank you all for joining the call.


CASA: Could you start us of by talking a little about the premise of your book, “Preventive Engagement,” and providing a couple of examples of how the United states can think and act ahead to shape the future and reduce dangers?


STARES: Sure, I’d be happy to. So the basic premise is the post-Cold War order that has more or less prevailed since the end of the Cold War is coming to an end, and that there are emerging challenges that threaten security—not only our own, but the broad sort of global international order that has been in existence for many decades now, and that we’re seeing this in terms of greater friction among the major powers, greater rivalry and even some sort of hedging behavior in terms of the future between the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Russia. We’re seeing also greater regional instability and conflict, particularly in the Middle East, to some extent South Asia and Northeast Asia, obviously, with the current crisis with North Korea. We’re also seeing a greater prevalence of non-state actors and the threat they pose, whether it’s sort of conventional terrorist organizations, cyberhackers, and others that can play a kind of disruptive role in the international system.


And in looking at how the U.S. should try to address and manage these various challenges, I was frustrated with the normal—or, with the standard approaches that are offered. And I—they typically revolve around whether the U.S. should have more or less engagement in the world, particularly military engagement. And I characterize these as supply-side strategies. It’s about whether the U.S. should increase its military power and engagement and play a more active role, or, alternatively, pull back and be more disengaged from this to reduce its risk. And these struck me as strategies that had major limitations. And so I was drawn to a different approach, which I call a demand-reduction approach—a demand-side strategy, which is about reducing the demand for U.S. power.


As many of our listeners will know, the U.S. as the principal guarantor of global peace and security, has made an extraordinary range of commitments around the world—whether it’s our alliance commitments or maintaining open oceans and outer space and so on. And each of these carry an implicit commitment to even use force if challenged. And so what I decided to do was write a book really about how can we reduce the likelihood that the U.S. would be confronted with situations in which it might actually have to use force and, as a result, be drawn into potentially quite costly conflicts that undermine its power, or at least diminish its commitment to play an active role in the world.


And what I did was adapt to a framework or a strategy that has been used in other areas of public policy, particularly public health and public safety, which is essentially a multilayered preventive strategy that tries to initially lessen the risk factors or reduce the risk factors around international and intrastate conflict. Secondly, to be more proactive in looking ahead and thinking ahead about particular crises that might emerge just over the horizon, and taking deliberate measures to lessen the likelihood of those conflicts, particularly the ones that are most likely to draw the U.S. into conflict. And thirdly, dealing with ongoing conflicts that have the potential to escalate and, again, drag the U.S. into becoming militarily engaged, potentially at great cost.


So what I do in the book is first talk about the—almost the theory and practice of this approach, in the first half. And then in the second half, I look at individual elements of the strategy. Both the long game of risk reduction, which entails upholding these global institutions and rules of behavior that are so important to international order; promoting good governance, democratic governance in particular, which I think has been empirically proven to lessen the risk of both interstate and intrastate conflict; promoting economic independence through trade and investment, again strongly correlated with lowering the likelihood of conflict; continuing to ensure that our defense alliances are effective and vital. They play a major role not just in deterring adversaries, but reassuring countries in certain regions about their security. I think a new one I think that I also say is probably going to be increasingly important in the future is ensuring that global warming does not become a major source of international conflict.


So there are some of the broad sort of risk reductions. I then looked at more specific measures associated with individual conflicts, whether it’s over North Korea or growing tensions with Iran, looking at potential flashpoints in Eastern Europe with Russia. And in each case, I tried to prioritize which of these potential flashpoints are the ones that the U.S. should pay more attention to. And I have a fairly basic methodology for making those kinds of calls in terms of relative priority, which helps decisionmakers focus their attention so they’re not completely hostage to the inboxes, as they often can become. The same is also applied to the short game, as I call it, the ongoing conflicts where the U.S. is already involved. We’re talking here obviously in Syria and with—in Korea, and how the U.S. can, either through coercive means or consensual means or a combination of the both, help to mitigate these ongoing conflicts and even bring them to an early end.


Now, some people may feel this is a very ambitious strategy, and one that really doesn’t have much grounding in success from earlier eras. But there are ample cases where the U.S., I think, has been very effective in these areas. It just doesn’t, frankly, do it in a rigorous, systematic, and regularized fashion. And so the final part of the book is offering some recommendations for how the U.S. can implement preventive engagement, as the strategy is called, to ensure that it does a better job of not being surprised or blindsided by foreign events and crises to make it more effective in how it uses all elements of national power to diminish the risk and avoid conflict. And this entails changes in how the intelligence community relates to policymakers, what the State Department does and how it’s organized, professional training—all elements here that could actually just make us much better at avoiding conflict so that we’re not, as I say, dragged into areas of instability that could lead to very costly conflicts down the road.


So that’s a kind of broad overview of the book. And it’s very much—it very much draws on what we understand to be some of the most effective ways in which we can reduce violence conflict in the world. So I call on a lot of empirical work that has been done both on interstate and intrastate conflict to inform the overall strategy. Anyway, with that I will leave it for others to ask me any questions.


CASA: Thanks very much for that overview. Let’s open it up to questions from students on the call.


OPERATOR: Yes, ma’am.

(Gives queuing instructions.)

We are currently holding for the questions.

Our first question comes from Robert Strong of Washington and Lee University.


Q: Hello?


STARES: You’re on.


Q: OK. So, Dr. Bandy Lee from Yale University, along with a lot of other mental health professionals, have expressed very strong concerns about President Trump’s mental health. And if their concerns are substantiated, how would that force us to reevaluate our evaluations of risk in terms of conflict around the world?


STARES: Sorry, I didn’t get the—you trailed off at the end. Are you saying something about President Trump’s mental capacity, how does that affect conflict in the world? I’m sorry, could you—


Q: Yes, how does that affect—go ahead.


STARES: Could you restate that? You seem to be on speakerphone, rather than on—


Q: Yes. I’m sorry. So, if these concerns about President Trump’s mental health are substantiated, how would that force us to reevaluate how we assess risk of global conflict? In other words, does this mean—does this spell higher risk of conflict, lower risk of conflict? And in which ways?


STARES: Well, I think—you know, I’m not, obviously, qualified to judge his mental capacity. I know some people have questioned that. I think you raise a more general question about if the U.S. is a risk factor in conflict. And it’s interesting that this year’s global trends report by the National Intelligence Council actually, I think for the first time, has the U.S. as a variable in its risk assessment of conflict and stability around the world, and rather than sort of holding us constant when we surveil the rest of the world. Obviously, what we do has an enormous bearing on stability in the rest of the world. So, yes, you know, what you suggest, you know, could be a factor. If there are issues around the president’s mental health, that will have an obvious bearing on potential conflict and how it’s managed.


Q: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Brian Greenshields with Naval Postgraduate School.


Q: Hi. Naval Postgraduate School here.


In terms of conflict prevention and/or mitigation, we’re looking at a winding down of the campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but it seems that this could be a flashpoint for two new conflicts. One in the Euphrates Valley where, let’s assume, Damascus wants to reassert territorial control of those areas where Iraq, Kurdish and American forces are at the moment. And then there’s the question of the Kurds themselves, who have tension with their own government and with the Turks. And so how do we anticipate the possibility of these new conflicts and reduce those tensions? Thank you.


STARES: Yeah, a good—great question. I do address some of this in the new book. And the—you point to two main concerns. One is the vacuum left by ISIS and the re-imposition of, in the case of Mosul, Iraqi central control. But you also point to the situation in Syria too. And in terms of the risk, I think that there is a significant risk that we could see the endgame in Syria deteriorating further. And I think that requires us to reinvigorate the diplomatic effort to bring an end to that conflict. That probably requires the U.S. to reach some understanding with both Russia and Iran to bring about some transitional authority. Maybe some areas of Syria may have to come under some kind of interim U.N. peacekeeping force.


But it’s an extremely messy situation. And, you know, I think it’s fairly clear now that Assad will not leave the scene anytime soon. And our goal should be to maintain the unity of Syria as a—as a state, sovereign state, and bring an end to the conflict through some kind of arrangement that minimizes recrimination and so on in those areas under either rebel or government control. So there hasn’t been a lot of diplomatic effort recently to do that, and those efforts, I think, need to be reinvigorated.


You mention the Kurds. As you—I’m sure you know, there was the recent referendum, which—in which the Kurdish region of Iraq voted to secede from Baghdad. And, you know, I think this is an extremely volatile situation, one which needs to be handled again diplomatically with interested parties. That includes not just the U.S. but also Iran and Turkey and, to some extent, Syria, to the extent they can play a diplomatic role, because that clearly could escalate in an extremely undesirable way, given the fact that Kurdish areas cross many different borders.


Here, again, I think the U.S. should be trying to exert whatever influence it has on Erbil to not move forward with secession. And similarly, on Baghdad, to not use coercive means at this time to try to resolve the situation. I think that will just inflame Kurdish sentiments even further and not produce a productive solution here. So ultimately I think the Kurds have to be probably given greater autonomy and that if secession looks like it has—you know, it’s something that’s just unavoidable, then it clearly has to be managed properly rather than in a very hasty and potentially dangerous fashion. But you’re right. You pointed to two very pressing flashpoints that exist at the moment in the Middle East.


CASA: Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Christopher Ankersen with the New York University Center for Global Affairs.


Q: Hi. I’m going to turn the phone over to a student who’s got a question.


Q: Hi. Thank you so much for speak with us today. My question—


STARES: You’re welcome.


Q: Thank you. There’s a large amount of research showing that efforts in sustainable development, peacebuilding, and protection for both political rights and positive rights is enormously effective in reducing conflict. And the U.S. has participated in these efforts to a large degree. But the U.S. has also been an exporter of exploitation around the world, which has cause some resentment that has real, legitimate roots. So what does it mean to have a foreign policy approach that is truly multilateral and responsive to the actual needs in communities around the world, as well as the needs in the U.S.? And how do we shift our foreign policy across the board so that we’re not, in a sense, working for peace in one area and against peace in another?


STARES: Great question. A lot of sub-elements to that question. So let me start out by saying that your general observation that economic development and state building, institution building in states is mostly a positive development in building peace within states and between states, that countries that have effective economies and are ruled in a reasonably fair and democratic way tend to be more stable and responsible and more mindful of their citizens’ needs. And I think the evidence of that is extremely strong. Sometimes when states transition from an autocratic to a democratic system of governance, there can be some instability. But these are transitions that can be managed in an effective way.


You point to sort of inconsistencies between how we carry out this kind of—these kinds of efforts. And sometimes the investments that are made by corporations can be destabilizing, they can breed resentment in countries. I think on the balance the U.S. tends to be better at how it does this, just because of various conventions that have been agreed and international—and domestic laws having to do with corruption and so on about how we manage these investments. Often it’s other state actors or corporations not beholden to these rules that can be the more destabilizing actors in some of these regions.


So I think the best approach is to ensure that, you know, as much transparency and accountability in how we go about providing aid and how corporations—U.S. corporations carry out their business in these various areas is probably the best that can be done. And I’m not sure what else, frankly, we can do there. There are various international agreements, again, to sort of lessen the likelihood of corruption and exploitation of local communities. And I think this is where NGOs and various advocacy organizations can play a vital role in ensuring that we, you know, stay honest to our commitments to various international agreements.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question—


STARES: Have I answered your question?


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mai Lanahan (ph) with Miami-Dade College.


Q: Yes. I’d like to turn this over to Richard Tapia.


Q: Yes, good afternoon. Real quick, my question is related to early warning prevention systems. There’s been research by Harvard University, by Joe and Doug Bond at Harvard to examine whether or not early warning systems in the African region is more or less effective in trying to prevent conflicts from being able to escalate or preventing mass murder or, in the cases of genocide. Did you—did you find in your research that any particular type of early warning system was more or less effective? Or were there any set of factors that should have been incorporated into early warning systems?


STARES: Again, another great question. So I actually have a large part—a lot of sections devoted to the limitations of early warning systems for prevention. And as I explain, when you—there are so many impediments that can undermine the effectiveness of conflict early warning systems, not just in detecting areas of conflict and instability but conveying that information to decisionmakers. And then, for policymakers to actually respond, I actually ended up saying that we should move away from this sort of classic approach to conflict prevention of relying on early warning systems because both the providers of warning and the recipients of warning, they more or less will not actually do their part until they are absolutely certain that something bad is going to happen or the threat will occur.


And that’s just too late. And, because only when things are really deteriorating will the warning bell be sounded. And similarly, only when the bad stuff that people are warning about is happening will the policymakers respond. So, because of that, I say we should shift to more of a risk assessment approach in which we assess the risk of instability and conflict, and that we try to be more sensitive to the presence of risk factors, their potential interaction and evolution, and that by doing so it provides us with the time and space to actually address a deteriorating situation rather than being constantly reacting to it.


And most of the early warning systems—and you refer to Africa—will only really work when the situation is deteriorating. And by that time, it’s arguably too late to really take effective preventive action. It’s not that all early warning systems of worthless or useless. I think in some cases very discrete types of threats where, you know, it’s useful to have very specific and carefully tailored warning indicators. And they can play a role. But in terms of over the horizon early warning or conflict prevention, then I’m less—or, rather, I’m more interested in trying to get early detection of these risk factors to really drive preventive action.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Laura Seay with Colby College.


Q: Given the current administration’s changes to the State Department, and seeming favor of military intervention over diplomatic approaches, how feasible do you think a preventative strategy really is? And if the strategy were to shift to this preventative approach, how would the economics be affected, given broader reaches and engaging with even more situations than we currently are?


STARES: So if I understand your question, you’re asking how effective can a preventive strategy be when this administration seems to be favoring military measures and downgrading the role of the State Department. Is that—is that the broad question?


Q: Yes.


STARES: Yeah. So, yeah, I think you’re right in raising that as a concern. The State Department is still only filling many of its senior positions. The secretary of state, Mr. Rex Tillerson, has indicated his willingness to see the budget reduced considerably, although that has been resisted by Congress. So for now, at least, the State Department’s budget has not been drastically reduced. But I think we should all be concerned that diplomatic approaches have not received the priority and the support that we would like to see, and certainly is necessary for a preventive strategy to work. And that is very unfortunate. And I think it does sort of raise questions about how engaged the U.S. can be globally when so many people are just not in the right places and the resources are just not there for the long term. And there’s great uncertain about the U.S. commitment globally.


So the only way, I think, to address this is for Congress to continue to insist that the White House pays proper attention to diplomatic solutions and to fully resourcing the State Department, and also the U.S.—USAID too, the agency responsible for foreign assistance. That too is also a vital part of a preventive engagement strategy.


CASA: Next question please.


OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)


Next question, Todd Barry with University of Southern Mississippi.


Q: Yes. So in terms of being proactive, would you say that there’s a new Cold War with Russia in the sense that before the U.S. or the West takes any action we have to proactively ask ourselves, what will the Russian response be?


STARES: There’s a lot of people that have been concerned about the deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations, and even before the reports of Russian interference in the 2016 elections here there was obviously rising concern about Russian assertiveness in Eastern Europe, in Georgia, Ukraine, and Balkans. And since then, we’ve seen it in Syria too, and even to some extent in Afghanistan, and essentially even in North Korea too. And so the relationship is, I would say, very poor at the moment. And there are clearly some flashpoints that exist where U.S. and Russian forces could come into direct confrontation with one another. And I think we need to, at a basic level, reestablish sort of rules of the road to manage this period so that things don’t escalate out of control in any given situation.


That requires, I think, having a candid conversation about nuclear developments and things that we do and they do that could undermine strategic stability at the highest levels. That also includes cyber interference too. I think there should be a conversation about how the U.S. and Russia sees the evolution of global roles and norms and institutions. I don’t think it’s in either interest for some of these global regimes that control nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, as well as maintain the United Nations as an effective institution—I don’t think it’s in either interest to see those regimes start to unravel. And we need to have a really—a good conversation with the Russians about this, because—to prevent things from deteriorating further.


The same is also true, I think, with the Chinese. And the president is in China at the moment, as I’m sure we all know. And I think it’s, again, reaching this basic understanding about not only specific flashpoints but some of these larger questions about the future of global order and the roles and institutions necessary to maintain international peace and security.


Q: Thank you.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Arthur Clark (sp) with Norwich University.


Q: Yes. Good afternoon, Dr. Stares. Thank you for speaking with us today.


With respect to a more proactive and thinking ahead, what would you recommend for us in order to be less transactional, more transformational, understanding that our funding methods are normally very short term and that we are hostage to the inbox, which limits our ability to pursue a much longer game?


STARES: So I think you’ve sort of touched on some of the problems that it would take or that would need to be overcome to have a more sort of longer-term approach to managing various global challenges. And you pointed to our funding cycle. And it’s just difficult to say—to have a sort of long-range vision when we are on such short-term budget cycles. I think there are various things we can—we can do to improve matters.


Firstly, the intelligence community tends to be very short-sighted and operational in supporting both military operations around the world as well as supporting the president’s daily brief. And there isn’t a great deal of demand from the White House to the intelligence community to sort of look over the horizon and assess emerging threats that might pose a real security risk to the United States. And so I think we can just be a lot more systematic about how we assess medium and longer-term threats, and elevate the importance of those assessments in our—in policymaking.


Secondly, we don’t do a very good job of planning around these risks. We do a great job of doing contingency plans, particularly in the Defense Department, around potential conflicts. You know, there are numerous war plans drawn up and other contingency plans for various crises. But they are all essentially reactive. They’re all about responding to a specific crisis or conflict. There is very little inter-agency preventive planning in which we focus on emerging risks. We do it when the problem has become—or, has already emerged and evolved to a threatening level, and then we will do those kinds of plans. But we won’t do it in advance of something emerging in the future. And we’re not very good at that. So I think we can do a much better job at that.


Similarly, having more flexible funding streams. Congress is reluctant to create contingency funds for specific—for, you know, crises that may emerge. They feel that they can just become slush funds for general use. But at the same time, for the reasons you alluded to at the outset, it’s very difficult, if a conflict breaks out in, you know, pick a place on the planet, for U.S. diplomats and the military to engage in sort of intensive diplomacy or to provide assistance to a particular ally or partner, and so we have to have much more flexible funding streams or pools of resources that can be drawn on in a particular crisis. And so that would be a third recommendation I’d make.


OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)


We have no further questions in the queue at this time.


CASA: Well, Paul, if I may jump in right now, could you speak a little bit about what U.S. intelligence agencies might do to best prepare for either international or domestic terrorist attacks?


STARES: This is a really tough challenge. And we spend a huge amount of money on assessing terrorist threats, both from foreign sources and obviously within the United States. And obviously the challenge is, you know, these organizations and individuals that want to carry out terrorist attacks, they clearly operate in a covert fashion. And they’ve learned to mask their activities in various ways. And, you know, given the—you know, the number of people traveling across our borders and international trade, it’s just really a tough challenge. And it’s frankly quite remarkable that we’ve managed to prevent, you know, a major 9/11 type attack for the last 16, 17 years. And that comes through our various surveillance programs, through law enforcement, and obviously some of our military operations in degrading terrorist groups that we can—we know to be threats to the U.S.


Trying to figure out where, you know, any of these organizations, terrorist groups, what they might do next is obviously a constant challenge, just because we can try to use our imagination as much as possible to anticipate how they might try to attack us. But you know, there are just so many potential ways they can do that. And so it’s a—we’re always looking for tell-tale signs and trying to minimize the threat. So, you know, I can’t see any chance in the near future that the amount of attention we give to this problem will diminish. It’s going to eat up a lot of resources, both financial and human, for the foreseeable future. I just don’t see any way around it. You know, the public demands it, and politicians don’t want to be the one that, you know, missed the signal or failed to respond to it.


And so, in terms of other sort of institutional things that we do, you know, it’s hard for me to point to anything in particular. There’s just been a lot more effort given to sharing information amongst the various intelligence agencies and speeding up the transmission of warning information to senior policymakers, as well as obviously improving our collection efforts all around the world. So this, as I said, it’s a huge undertaking. And I can’t really point to specific things that we could do in the intelligence area that would significantly improve matters.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: We have a question from Robert Strong with Washington and Lee University.


Q: My name is actually Olivia Elusio (sp), and I’m a student at Washington and Lee.


Assuming that the United States does not militarily respond to North Korea’s action in developing ICBMs, and assuming that we do not instigate economic sanctions against North Korea—since most of their trade’s with China and the sanctions would likely be ineffective—what are our other options in pursuing the deterrence of North Korea’s nuclear power?


STARES: Well, that—you’re obviously talking about the issue of the moment. And the president gave an address to the National Assembly in Seoul last night, or today in South Korea. And he sort of laid out what the U.S.—formal U.S. position is, which is deterring any efforts by North Korea to threaten us and calling on them to denuclearize their various programs—ICBMs, you mentioned, and nuclear. Now, I frankly don’t see, for the reasons you alluded to, that North Korea is going to give up its nuclear arsenal anytime soon. The amount of economic pressure that we can bring to bear on North Korea is only as much as, frankly, China is prepared to apply. As they, as you say, are the major trading partners with North Korea. And they want to do enough to induce North Korea to negotiate but not destabilize that country in a way that could be particularly harmful to Chinese interests.


So I think what we have to do is ensure that the situation doesn’t get worse, and as a result of miscalculation or misperception of intentions, that a localized incident doesn’t escalate in a dangerous way. And I think it would be important if we—or useful if we can get some discussions between U.S. and North Korean officials about managing any kind of incident. At the moment, there are very few formal channels of communication between the United States and North Korea. The only formal channel is through the North Korean ambassador in New York. And many of the communication leaks across the DMZ in Korea have been cut. So it’s—managing a potential crisis could be really challenging. And so I think at a very minimum it will be helpful if there could be some general understanding about managing a crisis, if one were to arise.


Beyond that, we can continue to offer our—or show interest in more limited agreements that freeze their missile or nuclear weapons program. We might be able to offer something similar in terms of our military exercises on the peninsula, which the North Koreans view as threatening. And beyond that, though, it’s really about deterring their actions. I think anything that looks—anything that suggests we might take preemptive action, at least up until we are absolutely sure that they are about to strike one of our allies or the U.S.—I think preemptive action would be extremely dangerous, and would ignite a larger war on the peninsula. So if there’s a way we can work with China and Russia, Japan, South Korea to deescalate the situation, to slow things down, to avoid situations that could lead to further escalation or could be the source of misunderstanding, that’s all about the best I think we can do at this point.


CASA: Thank you. Next question, please.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Damon Coletta with the Air Force Academy.


Q: Hello, Paul. I wanted to get your reaction to what I view as a friendly suggestion to implement your program on conflict prevention and mitigation. It seems like in our conversation today you’re getting drawn back into current crises that are pretty far along. But your book is really about getting what the Air Force would say to the left of the boom, trying to get there early to reduce the demand for crisis response. And I was thinking about a class that we have here on global governance, and the fact that we don’t have yet a world government with that kind of capacity, and that the first step toward dealing with some of the problems that you talk about at an early stage is building up knowledge.


And where that knowledge could be built up, and maybe not in government where the inbox is very full, but in the universities and organizations like Council on Foreign Relations, that support government. Also thinking about the analogy of the medical profession, where you have doctors. And they want to be prepared for when disease hits. So what do they do? They create libraries. They create studies. They create knowledge that is accessible to the doctors on the frontlines. So the friendly suggestion is that what you’re really—what you really have here with your book is a call to action for the researchers and an agenda for them to start producing the kind of studies that could be useful for that time in the future when the storm hits.


STARES: Yeah, I couldn’t—I couldn’t agree more with you. And perhaps I didn’t emphasize enough the need for further research and understanding about what works and what hasn’t in certain areas. And certainly when it comes to risk reduction, just lessening the sources of instability and conflict in the world, there’s still a lot of research to be done. And it’s important that we promote that research and encourage it so that we made decisions based on rigorous, empirically founded work. And there’s clearly lots more than can be done. In the same vein, you know, I’m always amazed that, you know, we have volumes of manuals—and I’m sure out in the academy you’ve seen them—about how to manage military operations, to fight conflicts of different kinds. Yet there is not really, you know, established set of operational guidance for diplomats and others, civilian officials, to prevent conflicts and to manage crises.


And I get a sense of this in the series of what we call contingency planning memos that we do regularly here at the Council. And we often reach out to former diplomats or policymakers to make recommendations about preventing specific contingencies that we’ve identified as posing a risk to the U.S. And in each case they’re often struggling to come up with preventive measures that could make a difference. And I almost have to pump them each time about the range of possibilities or options that could be used. And to me, it speaks to a lack of real professional training at various levels, particularly at the State Department, but also amongst those who go into government as political appointees.


You know, there is no training when you are appointed assistant secretary somewhere or senior director at the NSC. You don’t receive a crash course in international mediation or, you know, sanctions 101 or whatever. It’s very much based on received wisdom from colleagues and others. And so I think there’s a lot more that can be done here. And also, at the State Department—if you go on the Foreign Service Institute website, it’s very hard to find courses in, you know, the theory and practice of conflict prevention or even sub areas of that. People received very little training in some of these very specific areas of diplomacy that are relevant to conflict prevention. So, yes, I could agree more. And I would hope that one of the things that could come out of this book is that we will give a lot more attention to both looking at the challenges in a more rigorous, as I say, empirically drive way, and also take the profession of conflict prevention more seriously, and really build up our competence in certain areas so that diplomats and others can really, you know, address certain issues in a rigorous and fully cognizant fashion, I guess, of all the various options.


CASA: Thank you. I think we have time for one more question.


OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Mai Lanahan (ph) with Miami-Dade College.


Q: Thank you. And thank you very much for that great suggestion from our distinguished colleagues at the U.S. Air Force Academy.


In reference to three points made by the last interlocutor, I would like to make a friendly suggestion also. With regard to the methodologies engaged in systematically looking not only over the horizon but embracing the elements in that, the methodologies of the Institute for Alternative Futures, located in Alexandria, Virginia, which has been systematically engaged to create a culture of health to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and other leaders in medical education, does have implications for the subject we’re dealing with. And that thought was provoked by my friend at the Air Force Academy.


Secondly, the Council on Foreign Relations, as an intermediating institution, is an incredible one, but could also benefit from a focus on a methodology originated by the former—well, recently deceased Ambassador Saunders, who’s Institute for Sustained Dialogue operated on the principle that you never quit talking to each other, even under the worst conditions, as that dialogue, which has been maintained at, at believe, Dartmouth University, between Russia and the United States, and then also with regard to China.


And then finally, the folks who do look systematically at the future, who are at least equipped to do it, are those who are most reactionary within the U.S. Congress. But the institution of the clearinghouse on the future, of the United States Congress, was created some nearly three decades ago, but is one of the least-engaged institutes within a primarily reactionary body. But I think, as I deliciously anticipate a full reading of your latest work, I’m also happy for the stirring it does on the creative edges among those of us who believe your work needs to succeed in the long run, and for those who’d like to look at anticipatory futures instead of reactionary futures. Thank you.


STARES: Thank you for that. Yes, I’m a big fan of some of the futures-related research that various institutions do. And I apply some of the techniques that they have perfected to trying to look certainly at the long-term futures. And one of my chapters actually goes into these alternate futures. And I’m also a big fan, and was sorry that Hal Saunders passed. And he and others have just done a fabulous job in promoting these track two dialogues not just with the Russians, but with Iran, and between India and Pakistan. And these things are all extremely important to continue. And I salute those who do it.


So conflict prevention is not just the preserve of officials. There are many other actors, non-state actors, nongovernmental organizations, advocacy groups that can all play a role, as well as business interests. And one of the questions earlier raised that. So there are a lot of people that can make a positive difference here.


CASA: Thank you. I think we will close with that. Again, Paul Stares’ forthcoming book is, “Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace.” It’s published at Columbia University Press and will be available later this month. Please keep your eye out for it.


Paul, thank you very much for this informative discussion, and thanks to all of you across the country and abroad for your excellent questions and comments. Our next call will take place on Wednesday November 15th at 12:00 p.m. Jack Goldstone, Virginia E. and John T. Hazel professor public policy at George Mason University and global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars will lead a conversation on revolutionary movements and international relations.


In the meantime, I encourage you to follow CFR Campus on Twitter at @CFR_Campus for information on new CFR resources and upcoming events.


Thank you again for joining us today. We look forward to your continued participation this fall.



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