In the opening session of CFR's Risk and Strategy for the Changing World symposium, CFR President Richard N. Haass and Lawrence D. Freedman of King's College London discuss the changing perceptions of strategic risk in the post-Cold War era with Walter Russell Mead of Bard College. The dissolution of the Soviet Union marked the end of a relatively stable international system characterized by a balance between two great powers. In its place, a new landscape populated by rising regional powers, weak states, failing states, and non-state actors has profoundly changed traditional understandings of vital sovereign interests and strategic risk. The panelists highlight the crisis in Ukraine and China's maritime claims as two potential hotspots where the risk of conflict is particularly high.
This session is part of the CFR symposium Risk and Strategy for the Changing World, which was made possible by the generous support of Rita E. Hauser, and organized in cooperation with King's College London.
HAUSER: Good evening, one and all. I'm Rita Hauser, and it's my pleasure to welcome you this evening to a wonderful symposium, which opens now and continues through tomorrow. Every year, our foundation has been interested to sponsor a symposium in which we take on a good partner, a partner in great standing so that we can get broader perspective of the issues. And we have had the IISS. We have had the All Souls at Oxford.
And tonight we have the pleasure, really, of hosting Kings College London, one of Britain's oldest universities, in the presence of a good friend of many of ours, Sir Lawry Freedman. We said we'd say "Sir" only once. And Lawry is a very, very distinguished historian. He's been 30 years professor of war studies at King's College. And he is the vice principal—or we call him vice chancellor—of King's College since 2003.
Lawry always gets to be official historian, because of his singular way of researching and writing. He was the official historian of the Falklands war. And since 2009, he's been on the official U.K. inquiry into the Iraq war, which he tells me must wind up and be published by the end of this year. He's a prolific writer, and I get all his books, which he kindly sends me and I kindly read them. And I did plow through this book on strategy, which I strongly recommend to all of you. It's 750 pages, but worth every page.
So I now turn over the forum to Walter Mead.
MEAD: Hi, thank you. And thanks to the Hauser Foundation and to King's College for helping with this—with this symposium. I'm going to start with a conversation between Lawry Freedman and Richard Haass about strategy. Interestingly, they began their careers together, more or less, 40 years ago at Oxford studying strategy, war, and all the—whatever people studied 40 long years ago.
And one of the things I wanted to ask them to get us started tonight was, the world has changed so much in the last 40 years, how has it—what changes that have taken place in the world have changed the way you think about strategy and the priorities of international strategy today.
Lawry, would you like to start?
FREEDMAN: Yeah. First, let me just say thank you to Rita, who's a good friend to many of us and does wonderful work, and it's a real pleasure to see her here tonight, and to the Council for hosting us at King, hosting my colleagues from King's.
So when Richard and I first met in Oxford in the early '70s, I was getting into a PhD on U.S. intelligence in which you really had to dig for information—you couldn't rely on somebody just releasing it all for you—and the nuclear issue. So most of my initial work was on nuclear strategy.
And, really, until the early '80s—I mean, I did other stuff, but basically a lot of it was on nuclear strategy—so we spent our time worrying about a war that we hoped would never come, because if it did, there wouldn't be many of us around to talk about it afterwards. And so it was a series of issues about deterrence and theoretical possibilities of how a nuclear war would be conducted.
And I know exactly the moment when I wondered whether this was a sensible way to spend all of my life was when—not the end of the Cold War, but the 2nd of April, 1982, because on the 1st of April, 1982, I became a professor of war studies, and on the 2nd of April, 1982, I had a war, which was the Falklands.
And I suddenly realized, as this war progressed, when real fighting was going on, that despite my title, I knew nothing about it. If it had been a nuclear war, I would have been fine.
I could have explained everything, you know, the missiles, their yields, the circular error probable, how they should have been constrained by—everything could have been explained. But when you got to a real nitty-gritty war, I knew nothing.
And at the time, I remember thinking that in many of its elements—although it seems—still seems a rather strange episode—in terms of the importance of the U.N., in terms of conditions on the ground really being quite important, on the complex relationship between international negotiations and military action, this actually was a forerunner of things to come. And I think that that was the point where I started to get—you know, personally, you know, rather autobiographical—started to change.
And, of course—but, of course, the nuclear issue hasn't gone away, as a Russia rather kindly reminded us the other day. So the issue—those issues are still around. And the concepts that were developed are still sort of important, but the political context has changed dramatically. And I think that's really what I would say is the biggest change. It's not—I mean, obviously, the weaponry and the way we think about it has changed a lot, but the most important thing is just we're in a completely different political context.
HAASS: I would largely agree. What you have here, basically, are two overeducated young Oxford boys 40 years later. We both had the good luck to work with people like Michael Howard and Alistair Bocken (ph). Headley Bowle (ph) was there when we were there. It was, if you will, the golden era of international relations at Oxford.
And strategically, it was a time of tremendous structure and predictability. You had the Cold War. As Lawry said, the big issues were either, you know, nuclear weapons or conventional war leading to some kind of escalation. You had, if you will, the challenge of strong states. And the whole goal—a lot of what we spent our lives doing was the articulation of rules and arrangements to decrease the chance of either conflict or escalation.
But it was all a very structured, predictable—so much so—I won't speak for him—but it never occurred to me that my career would at some point be involved in a post-Cold War world. It was so—it was such a given that I didn't have the imagination to think about it.
The one area where—for him it was the Falklands in the early '80s, by which point I was in the State Department, but when I did my doctorate, I did it on something, though, which was something a harbinger of the future, which was on the American reaction to the British East of Suez withdrawal. And the reason it was something of a harbinger is, if you think about it, many of the things that we're dealing with in the post-Cold War world were in some ways anticipated by that, where you had, if you will, the local great power largely withdraw from positions of domination or primacy. You then had many weak states. You had the attempt to promote order indirectly in many cases, whether it was through arms sales, different types of relationships, and so forth, and it was largely unstructured.
And in some ways, it suggested a much messier world, and it coexisted alongside the Cold War. But in many ways, it is—it's now become a much more—if this—this has become the new normal in many ways, because what we're seeing are, if you will, transitional arrangements where either great powers have largely lost their sway or even where governments have lost their sway.
And, indeed, one of the things—I think the other area where the structure is so much different now as opposed to 40 years ago is the salience of weak states as opposed to strong states, the prominence and proliferation of non-state actors of real significance.
And in many ways, it's become a—not just more difficult to manage, but intellectually, I believe, a much more challenging era of international relations, where we're actually back to many first-order questions, rather than dealing with second- and third-order issues.
MEAD: You know, in the post-Cold War period, I think that the initial impression of a lot of thinkers was that the risks were less, that—I think it's partly, you know, what you guys are reflecting, that risk and strategy was often tied to the nuclear competition between the U.S. and the USSR. So now that that was off the table, of course, we must live in a safer, less risky world.
History, perhaps, since has been of unlearning that, that we underestimated financial risk, certainly, in a post-Cold War world, as we discovered about five years ago. We underestimated the risk of non-state actors, as we found with Al Qaida, but also, again, I think maybe possibly this week in Ukraine, we've been discovering we have, perhaps, underestimated risks of conflict or confrontation between great powers in a post-Cold War world.
I wonder if you have any thoughts on that.
FREEDMAN: Well, I think the last point is the crucial one, because all the other risks you mentioned are far less than a great power war. You know, we've coped and adjusted and managed despite mistakes and errors along the way with a lot of the other stuff.
But I think this past year and a bit is seen for the first time people starting really to take seriously the possibility that you could have a great power war again, not necessarily starting where they always used to start, in Europe, or possibly you could argue starting again where they did start in the '30s in Asia because Japan and China, which I still think is one of the most serious concerns of the moment. And then, of course, you've had the events of the last couple of weeks, which I don't think will lead to a great power war, but, you know, you can see the potential dynamic.
Going back to what Richard was talking about, I think what people can forget is that at the same time as the Cold War, you have a period of decolonization. And they both sort of ended in the same way, because arguably the last great decolonization was that of the Soviet Union itself. And clearly, you know, what President Putin is experiencing is some post-colonial angst at the moment. I mean, you know, Britain went through all of that, as well, but it was slightly more gradual a process for us.
And that created all these week states, feeble states in some cases, conflicted states that have given us a whole load of problems. It seems to me, side by side with this question of whether great power war is coming back is also a question of how much we see these now-independent states as our responsibility.
I think one of the things that happened after the Cold War was that we thought it was too great a risk to let these states fail, to let them have civil wars, and so on, and we got involved. And one of the questions that's moot at the moment, I think, is this question of whether we are as prepared to accept the risks of intervention as we were in the past. So I think we've got these two things going side by side.
MEAD: Yeah. Richard?
HAASS: What to me is striking about the Cold War in retrospect—even though there are moments it didn't seem so stable—thinking back to the early '60s and the like—was how articulated it was. In terms of, if you will, the informal rules of the road—I mean, the formal attempt to codify the rules of the road—and I think it was '73—didn't work, the idea that neither side would seek unilateral advantage and so forth. That obviously didn't work.
But the—but the informal understandings were actually quite profound, as well as some of, then, the formal understandings in the realm, say, of arms control. And building on something that Lawry said, what to me is worrisome about this era is the lack of clearly understood or articulated understandings.
And just take two of the most obvious. One is Russia now. I don't think of Russia as a great power on a global scale, and I don't much like the analogies to a new Cold War. I don't see Russia as in the position to mount such a threat.
But what I find worrisome about this scenario is that, in a funny sort of way, the heavily articulated, understood arrangements between the United States and the Soviet Union, the West and the Warsaw Pact, haven't necessarily carried over. And I think particularly with Mr. Putin, one of the things about the last few weeks that has been so—I guess you could say in a detached way—interesting, but in an undetached way, really worrisome—is how poor a sense we have of his calculations.
And the fundamental debate about, is he satisfied with Crimea? Does he want more? The speech he gave the other day was quite a venting. When you look at sort of, you know, this cataloging of resentments and the whole anger with the—if you will, a quarter-century of humiliation about how Russia had been wronged, this was not the considered statement of someone who is essentially embracing the status quo. This was anything but.
And what's so worrisome about the U.S.-Russia relationship now I find is, it's very hard to say with confidence if we do X or Y, we have a high likelihood of confidence that he will then respond in this way. Maybe. But I actually find it not as high as it would be.
Or you take Japan and China, the two major powers in Asia who it's most easy to see a major problem with. The thinness of that relationship, it's not—again, the thinness, if you will, of the diplomatic and political military arrangement, they can't even agree to talks on confidence-building measures. You know, they can't even agree to that.
"I think one of the things that happened after the Cold War was that we thought it was too great a risk to let these states fail, to let them have civil wars, and so on, and we got involved."
Against the rawness of the nationalism and the baggage—again, it's—even at some of the low points in the Cold War, it seemed like a more structured environment than we're now seeing there. So, yeah, I actually—I look at these two sets of major power relationships, not to mention all the—you know, the India-Pakistan one, the North Korea one, the essential breakdown of the Middle East, and it seems to me, if one were going to measure—if there was something called risk and it was—whatever the measurement was, it'd be a hell of a lot higher now, I would think. Maybe the results wouldn't be as catastrophic. There's nothing as bad as a global nuclear exchange. But the chances of significant instability or conflict, it seems to me, are considerably higher today than they ever were during the Cold War.
FREEDMAN: Just to—in case we look like we're going to agree with each other too much, I think there's—you know, I remember—and so you do, Richard—after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we had exactly the same sort of conversations about whether this was a really clever strategic move that had been planned with an eye on getting access to the gulf and the oil and so on or whether it was essentially reactive to a situation that seemed to—Moscow to be getting out of control. And you could see a lot of parallels between the current debate we're having and that debate.
And we didn't really fully understand that well Soviet decision-making. And we also have the tendency—which I think you're seeing at the moment—to project our own domestic debates onto an international situation so that, you know, speaking as an outsider, an awful lot of the American debate on what's happened over the last few weeks has been like a debate on Obama's foreign policy, rather than Putin's.
"With Mr. Putin, one of the things about the last few weeks that has been so worrisome is how poor a sense we have of his calculations. And the fundamental debate about, is he satisfied with Crimea? Does he want more?"
HAASS: I thought the one thing I—maybe there's a disagreement on—now we get the Nuffield-St. Anthony's thing—is that Soviet decision-making had a bureaucratic, institutional dimension. I get—I forget my Graham Allison model, one, two or three—but there was...
FREEDMAN: Two, I think.
HAASS: Two, I think it is, yes. It had a—if anything, part of the sclerotic character of—particularly of latter-day Soviet Union was just that. One of the things that's worrisome about contemporary Russia is the absence of that. One does not feel—I can—I don't have the confidence—look, I don't claim to be the world's, you know, a Russian expert, but I am not confident, as I look at Russia, that I see institutional constraints that are significantly there against Mr. Putin, and I never felt that in thinking about the Soviet Union, whether it was the Brezhnevs, the Kosygins, and others. You sensed, if anything, a heavy bureaucratic institutional overlay. I don't sense that now, which worries me a bit.
FREEDMAN: Yeah, and I think I agree with that, but the—and Putin's speech was extraordinary. You know, it was more therapy than...
HAASS: No, it was a venting. It was strategic venting.
FREEDMAN: And it's not the sort of—and the problem with it is that if you had a bureaucracy, somebody would have pointed out that what you're doing is scaring every country in the region that's got a Russian population in their midst. So it wasn't—it wasn't great strategic sense. And that is now having consequences all of its own, because if its objective was to contain the crisis, it failed spectacularly in that.
My concern, of course, is just that there's a danger now in looking back to the Cold War, and it seems sort of more controlled and structured than it necessarily felt at the time. And more sort of a great lump of history that had a lot of continuity in it, whereas, in fact, it went through enormous twists and turns, and a lot of the debates that were sort of current when I first came into it were actually about the relationship between the Cold War and these developing conflicts in the third—what was then called the third world.
MEAD: It's interesting. We've been contrasting a little bit Putin's more—I don't—personalistic style of governance or whatever with the Soviet bureaucracy, but I look at Japan and China, which are two of the countries that we would say have very well-developed bureaucratic cultures and structures, and yet these countries at this point are also acting in some—in some very strange ways, and you're hearing a lot of strategic venting, if that's the phrase we want to use, in both those countries.
How do we think about that? What is—I would agree with both of you—seems to be the most serious risk along these lines right now.
FREEDMAN: I mean, there's two reasons why it's a big risk. One is they never had a resolution to the Second World War. And there are some interesting work—somebody at Columbia, whose name now escapes me—but she did some really interesting work—the fact that MacArthur called it the Pacific war that started in 1941 gave it a focus that missed the point of what has happened beforehand.
And we—and the Japanese to some extent were let off the hook, as well as letting themselves off the hook, so you've got that—first, that general problem of no proper resolution in the way that we have had, I mean, remarkably so in Europe between Germany and France and the U.K. and so on, that we can talk sensibly with each other about the war and so on.
Then you combine the fact that you've got a real territorial dispute, I mean, which is tangible and—you know, again, I'd go back to the Falklands, because people are going back to 1914. You know, we went to war over islands that were memorably—it was memorably described as like two bald men arguing over a comb. You know, there were no assets of any particular note there. It was sovereign territory that most irritatingly was an island. And there's a story of Jim Callahan, who was prime minister before Margaret Thatcher, appointing somebody to be minister for islands, essentially, because he'd been so bruised by Cyprus that he decided that most of the world's problems came from islands.
And here you've got islands. And, you know, if we...
MEAD: Had he reflected on the status of Britain as an island at this point?
FREEDMAN: It was our saving grace that it wasn't in dispute. And the problem of islands—well, we've had islands in dispute. We had enough trouble with that. It is a real problem, and if we can get through this next year or so without there being an incident at sea, either in the East Asia Sea or the South Asia Sea, we'll have done pretty well, it seems to me, because there are just that potential for clash.
And actually even with Ukraine, what we're thinking about now is the incident, the thing that nobody really intended to happen that will just highlight all the issues of principle and conflicts of interest that are behind the dispute and make it hard for both sides to back down. That's why I think it is still the most worrisome thing around.
HAASS: I agree. And the only good news I can find in it is that—I actually think at some point there will be an incident. And so the principal challenge isn't to try to prevent an incident. It's obviously to manage one if one were to happen.
And a lot of this could befall to the United States for all sorts of reasons. And the thing I would say here is there's lots we could do, both diplomatically, but also militarily, conceivably, to helping them out, and that's well within our toolbox, because we're talking about using diplomacy or conceivably air and naval presence to influence the behavior of, say, Japan or China or other countries, depending upon whether it's in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, or what have you.
And this is the sort of stuff, if you will, that's more classic. I actually think the sorts of challenges we're facing in the Middle East are much tougher, because they don't lend themselves as much to being influenced by the sorts of tools the United States traditionally has to bring to bear, in part because we're not dealing so much with the external behavior with states. We're dealing with their collapse or disintegration from within.
And I would think—thinking about, you know, what happens in Ukraine, it gets, again, messier potentially. And the sorts of scenarios, you know, that are probably the most worrisome are not classic scenarios. Though those are worrisome enough. It's actually much more the problems of a viable Ukraine emerging and being sustained.
And I would—it's one of the reasons that I'm concerned that that side of the conversation never seems to get quite enough attention. Everyone's spending all their time talking about sanctioning or other reactions, which is an important element of it, but I would think bolstering stability there to prevent collapse or disintegration from within is probably the single-most important thing for the next few months.
FREEDMAN: I mean, I'd put it even more positively than that. I agree entirely with you. The economic dimensions of Ukraine over time are much more important.
And actually, that's what the conflict was about in the first place. It was the governance and economic direction of Ukraine. And given the fact that by taking Crimea, Putin has almost released Ukraine to look for alternatives now, and given that we couldn't have done any sensible deals with Yanukovych while he was there, because they would have all gone into galleons in his lake and so on, it's a real opportunity. I mean, it should be—I think it should be presented very—as positively as we can for the E.U.
You know, and the logic of that would be to interfere in the internal affairs of the United States, for Congress to get a move on, on the IMF and to—because these are the instruments that are going to be really critical, if we're going to give Putin a defeat on this issue.
HAASS: Yeah, because ultimately, his ability to have influence inside Ukraine may depend less on the 20,000 troops parked outside than on all the economic and political mischief he can foment from the inside. And the real question is how much opportunity he has. And that's where, again, I think, I agree with you, a fairly generous, shall we say, U.S.-E.U. aid package, U.S. signing up to the IMF, you know, the reform of the IMF, the larger quotas and so forth, it would increase the amount Ukraine can borrow by, what, is it $600 million immediately? So it would be significant.
MEAD: Wouldn't Gazprom just raise the oil bill $600 million? I mean, I guess I would play devil's advocate here, but every government in Ukraine since 1990 essentially ended in failure. And, you know—and not so much about Russian Eastern-Western conflict, but they—the—there was no Putin in Ukraine to subject the oligarchs to the state. You've got a weak state, a flawed economic model. Can we fix that anymore than we can fix Egypt or...
FREEDMAN: Well, yeah, more than Egypt. But it's—you're right. And that's why we couldn't get into a bidding war with Russia at the end of last year...
MEAD: Because Yanukovych seemed to be for sale.
FREEDMAN: Because it would have just got into—and, I mean, if you look at the corruption in Ukraine, it's—however you view these things, it's at the top or the bottom of the league tables. It's terrible. So the only way you can say, well, maybe there's a chance there now is because you do have a new government coming in, a population that is properly appalled by what it sees, and so you—you know, you've got to hope against hope, because as with Egypt and the Arab spring, you keep on getting these hopes dashed, that actually this is a viable economy, especially with its agricultural history and so on, is a viable economy, that if you can get the governance arrangements in place, which is going to be very painful and take a long time—it's not a—there's no quick fix—then you—then there's a possibility.
But if you don't do that, if you don't do that, you can absolutely be sure that you have more chaos, more excuses for more movement. And then, you know, we get back to a geopolitical conversation instead of a geo-economic conversation.
MEAD: Well, this—I think in your work, you've often stressed the connections of ends and means and strategy and interactively relating the two. You're suggesting some very ambitious ends in Ukraine, the reconstruction of the—of the state and of the economy.
FREEDMAN: Yeah, I mean, in my book, I—I mean, I argue it's dangerous—well, not dangerous—but just difficult to set objectives and just have a plan to reach objectives, because you rarely get there, because your first move changes the environment in which you're operating.
But actually a first move changing the environment in Ukraine could be quite significant, so I think we have to distinguish between those moves that would give people hope, get things working, stabilize the situation, and those things that would really transform Ukraine.
I mean, I—the most staggering statistic I found was one where—which compared Poland and Ukraine. In 1990, Poland's GDP was about $65 billion or something and Ukraine's was about $90 billion. Poland's is now about $460 billion, and Ukraine is about $170 billion. And that just tells you what—that economies can be changed and can make the moves, and they've got to start somewhere.
HAASS: Can I say one thing about means and ends? Where that strikes me is less here, though, promoting a stable Ukraine is obviously plenty ambitious than in the Middle East, which is an area where I think the United States has succeeded in increasing risk dramatically. And one of the ways we've done it is by a tremendous disconnect between our means and our ends, where we have extraordinarily ambitious goals. Assad must go, Gadhafi must go, Mubarak must go. And then in the aftermath of recent experiences, shall we say, in Iraq and elsewhere, our means have been modest. But, no, we're not going to put boots on the ground or we're not going to help the opposition or do what have you.
And that's not necessarily—don't get me wrong. I'm not sitting here making the argument that we necessarily ought to increase our means, but this—indeed, in many cases, I think we ought to dramatically decrease our ambitions. And I think that would be a better way to moderate risk.
But any time, though, you have such a disconnect, which we have not just allowed to grow up, but we have essentially generated, I think you're asking for heightened risk.
MEAD: No, that—I think that creates kind of a strategic liability, where there's that kind of a gap. I think that's the sort of thing Putin might have seen in Ukraine, where we had overcommitted and underinvested, in a sense.
FREEDMAN: Well, I want to come back to that one. What's striking about what Putin said was—he wasn't talking about a soft NATO. He was talking about a really threatening NATO. I mean, here we—we've been sitting around thinking we've become little pussycats, and, you know, soft, and really soft power, almost decadent, and there's Putin panning as really threatening and, you know, having our last great drive so that we move the alliance to the historic part of Russia. And it's an important reminder that how we see ourselves isn't necessarily how others might see us.
I think on—on Richard's point on the—I mean, he's obviously right on—we've got—completely disconnect. The difficulty, I think, comes down to two parts.
The things you describe are quite—we could do. We could get rid of—help get rid of Mubarak. We could help get rid of Saddam. We could help get rid of Gadhafi. We could do regime toppling, but we couldn't do regime change.
HAASS: Yeah, regime replacing is much more difficult.
FREEDMAN: Replacing—and we never really had clear ideas about how that could be done. But it's very difficult when we're talking about the Middle East to talk about it except in trying to describe a Middle East that doesn't now exist, but one that we would all like to exist. And that I think is—so you can't say, well, we're going to be really pleased if, in place of Gadhafi, some warlords get together and institute—find a new strongman from amongst their number and impose a degree of order. We have to talk in terms of democracy and...
HAASS: Or we could have basically said, as bad as Gadhafi was in many ways, it was the least realistically available option. Particularly after he had gotten rid of his nuclear weapons, we might have said the price of removing him would send a bad set of messages which could increase risk throughout the region and the world. And unless we were prepared to see it through—and, by the way, even if we were, as we learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, tremendous investments don't necessarily yield, shall we say, commensurate results. It would have argued for much more modesty.
I mean, it's a little bit like in medicine—I find one of the most important ideas in medicine is the idea of iatrogenic illness, about treatment-induced illness, and I think in foreign policy, it's an idea that's often overlooked. We've got to look at the effect, if you will, of foreign policy treatments, what impact they have on, if you will, on the political health of a country or region. And in many cases, I would argue, since the subject of the night is risk, that when we don't think it through, we can actually increase risk.
MEAD: OK. Well, on that note, let's turn to the members and their guests. And if you have questions, please raise your hand. We've got people with microphones, so wait until someone with a microphone comes. And when you do stand up to ask your question, please tell us who you are. And also remember, questions are usually short and end on a sort of rising tone.
So are there any questions for our speakers tonight? Yes.
QUESTION: Is it on? Ronald Deener (ph), Yale University. I wonder if you both could talk about credibility. If credibility—I'm sorry, about deterrence, which is based on credibility, as well as capability. We have the capability. It seems that we don't have the credibility. From using drones to sanctioning, a threat, 11 Russians, I mean, it doesn't seem like we're willing to kind of, you know, impose consequences. And so how does that affect deterrence going forward?
HAASS: Well, I mean, the way you set it up is essentially, right, deterrence is, if you will, based upon various factors, including capability and your willingness to do things. Talking about the issue we've been talking most about, we obviously have capabilities. On the other hand, our credibility in terms of Ukraine was low, and for good reason, because we didn't have an—we don't have an alliance commitment there.
So to sort of pursue a foreign policy as if we had an alliance commitment would be deeply flawed. It wouldn't have been credible to them, and it wouldn't have been credible to us.
Now, I think, you know, where we have alliance relations, you know, I think our credibility is—is far higher. And my hunch is Mr. Putin in Europe is not going to challenge places where the United States has alliance commitments, because there our capability and our credibility, to use your structure, are robust.
So what's interesting about Ukraine is it's, if you will, something of a gray area. And on top of that, there's also the uniqueness of the demographics and the history and so forth.
I think it's a danger in extrapolating too much from it. And I've been asked by all sorts of people, what does it mean for Europe? What does it mean for Asia and all that? I would be uneasy about extrapolating too much.
I think where the United States has done some serious damage to its ability to deter and to its credibility is over Syria, and not over the fundamental question of full-throttle participation in Syria's civil war, which I think would have been strategically a flawed option, but rather, after we establish certain tests for ourselves and red lines, not essentially making good on them, I think that was a strategically costly area.
One last point—and Lawry will know this better than I am, so it's a good place to hand it off to him—is that enormous literature on credibility. And magazines like International Security write on it at great length and even greater frequency and about the question of how what you do somewhere, how much does it affect what you do everywhere?
I would just say that I think a lot of people exaggerate the consequences of individual events and project out the consequences way too long. So my own hunch—and this is not an argument for the United States acting erratically or anything like it—but I do think some of the proponents of the credibility argument are a little bit—what's the word—paint with too broad of brush. And I do think local realities matter.
FREEDMAN: Yeah, first, to me, alliance is deterrence. That's why you form alliances. And we should be very grateful that we have alliances at the moment in place, because this would be the worst time to be trying to put them together.
The great advantage of a peacetime alliance is it does produce a sort of clarity about what really matters and what doesn't matter. So you've established straight away your core—the core of your foreign policy. And I think we will have to do things to reassure allies that it is important and that we mean what we say. And that goes for the major European countries, as well as the United States.
So it is going to change the field of European politics and European security debates for some time, but it's because of the importance of alliance. You know, you just have to imagine what would be going on at the moment if we're trying to work out what—who to support and who not to support and what test we would have and how to establish the conversations.
And, of course, this is why it's not a second Cold War. In the first Cold War, there were a whole bunch of countries aligned to the Soviet Union called the Warsaw Pact. They've now all joined NATO. And that's why Mr. Putin is feeling a little beleaguered.
I mean, it's been a dramatic shift away from Moscow. And his actual options, his range is far more limited than before. Plus, the fact that it's not a rising power. It's got a lot of deep, structural problems. So I think you need to keep that in perspective, as well.
Just on a—on a final point on sort of establishing deterrence, it's very difficult to establish deterrence in the middle of a crisis. It's by and large best done beforehand. And the way deterrence had come to work by—you know, through the Cold War was what we were talking about earlier, which is the sheer familiarity. You just put it out of your mind that it was even worth thinking about doing certain things because you had a pretty keen idea of the reaction it would cause.
The challenge when you get into a crisis like this is you haven't got the sort of clarity about interests or clarity about what the other side is up to that allows you to establish it in that way. And so it's actually quite difficult to establish deterrence in the middle of a crisis. As it settles down, then people will come away with lessons and views.
But, remember, also, we just went—we went through this before in 2008 with Georgia, very similar set of issues, different country, but similar sorts of issues. Neither of them were part of NATO. Both of them the idea had been mooted. So there are still—there are lessons you might learn from one crisis to the next.
MEAD: Yes? Microphone is coming.
"[A]lliance is deterrence. That's why you form alliances. And we should be very grateful that we have alliances at the moment in place, because this would be the worst time to be trying to put them together."
QUESTION: I'm sure the—my name is Christian Mather (ph) with the Aspen Institute. I'm sure the speakers are aware of the decision today by the G-7 to eject Russia from the group. And I would like to ask the speakers that if the principal challenge of diplomacy is to manage international incidents, is this action enhancing diplomacy? Or is this another way of strategic venting by the West?
HAASS: Well, I'll take a first stab at it, and then you can contradict me. I would not exaggerate the significance of the G-8. So either the signal it sends to Mr. Putin or the loss in diplomacy by our not participating in it, it's not—indeed, it's because of the inadequacies of the G-8 that the G-20 was essentially created not long ago.
That said, I think there's a legitimate debate to be had, which is whether the West is wiser—what sends the stronger signal? Is it to do what they've done, essentially, turn the G-8 for however long into a G-7? Or would it have been for the seven to go to the eight and present a united front of criticism? And you could argue that one round; you can argue that one flat.
But at the end of the day, whichever path or argument you take, I would not exaggerate the significance and its impact on Mr. Putin. If anything, it will reinforce his narrative of Russia standing alone against the unfair outside world. And, on the other hand, if the Russians decide tomorrow they want diplomacy to work, Mr. Lavrov could adopt a slightly more easy-going demeanor, and diplomacy could, indeed, prosper in whatever setting. There's nothing magic about how many people are sitting around the table or where the table—in what room in the house the table is located.
FREEDMAN: And, of course, there was a particular problem with the next meeting of the G-8, which was going to be in Sochi. There was going to be, you know, a Putin jamboree. And it wasn't—just wasn't going to be appropriate.
So now, of course, you've got two holiday resorts in competition with each other, with Crimea and Sochi, so—so, I mean, I think—I think it would have been very hard to go along with that meeting. And I don't think anybody I've spoken to felt over the last 10 years or so that the addition of Russia had been a net gain for international diplomacy in this meeting, in which—you know, we have to remember the G-7 started as an informal gathering of world leaders so they could talk largely about economic issues without great expectations, just to trade ideas. And, you know, it just got turned into something different.
HAASS: But they did fulfill the first part of that.
FREEDMAN: They—yes, they—what is important is that the conversations continue and the communications continue. That's certainly important. And, you know, in that sense, I don't think-- the West has handled it fine. I mean, there's been no shortage of communications between Western leaders and Putin or—or with Mr. Lavrov, whose freedom of maneuver doesn't seem to be that great.
So I don't think—I'm not sure what they've achieved, but there's been plenty of communications with Putin. They will be important. You've got to keep on talking. I'm a great believer in the conversation, but the G-8 doesn't strike me as being a net loss.
MEAD: Rita? Here we go.
HAUSER: Lawry, you said it's much better to have deterrence in place before the crisis than after, but for those who haven't read your great book, it opens with a comment by that marvelous philosopher, the boxer Mike Tyson, who says, "Everybody has a plan until you get punched in the nose." So what happens with the deterrence and the plan and then suddenly you get punched in the nose in a way that you didn't anticipate?
FREEDMAN: Well, the point of the book is to some extent that strategy is very difficult, because you set yourself an objective and a sequence of steps to achieve it, but with your first step, you change the environment. And after that, certain things are closed off, certain things open up, but you're improvising. And that's what happened to Putin, I think. I think he had a first step, he had an idea of where it might lead. I don't think it's led to exactly the place he thought it would lead, because I think he thought he would get more of a reaction from Ukraine and probably more chaos in Ukraine. So he's now having to develop a different strategy. And that's what happens. It happens to us all.
So—and that's why deterrence is quite difficult, because the point about deterrence is not the signals you think you're sending, but what the other side has understood and how they perceive things. It's in the eyes of the beholder. And you don't really know. I mean, and that was why—I mean, we sort of knew that Russia was cross, that this was a tantrum, you know, from Putin.
And so, you know—you know, who knew that the—all the sort of—all the time we're having pleasant smiles and joint press conferences, he's been seething away. And so until you understand how they perceive things, it's quite hard. I mean, the reason deterrence works as often as not is not because of things we've said. It's calculations somebody's made that, if we do that, they will probably respond. We may have said nothing about it, but that's why, you know, the alliance thing is important.
We have deterrence through alliance, so Putin attacks Georgia, attacks Ukraine, but not Estonia, where the argument would be as strong, if not stronger, in some ways. So that's how it works, because he's internalized something, hopefully what we've been trying to tell him. And that takes time. That's why I think it—but it—what it doesn't do is give you the sort of controlled environment in which you can be pretty sure, if we take step one, he will then take his step and then—and then off you go.
HAASS: I also think where the strategy to reinforce your argument makes a difference is the reactions to a Russian attack, say, on—in most circumstances on a NATO member. The debate we would have would be a narrower debate, if you will, given the nature of an alliance commitment, than it is on Georgia or Ukraine. The lack of specificity, the lack, if you will, of a strategy in place for dealing with certain of these countries that are on the periphery of NATO, it seems to me, makes your argument, that where you have a strategy in place, at least some of the first order questions are pretty well determined, yeah, there's always details, but it's a narrower set of debates on our side. In that sense, it's less difficult and less time-consuming.
QUESTION: Stephen Blank. I'd like to go back to Richard's first comments about the parallels with British withdrawal from the Far East. In the last couple of years, we began to see that U.S. defining certain areas, Syria, Egypt now, as can't, won't, maybe can but won't and probably can't, in a world—in a world in which we are now saying increasingly or defining what we won't do, what we can't do, how do we develop—how does the U.S. develop a global strategy in that—in that increasingly—and different environment than we've had since the end of World War II, when it was always what we could do, what we would do? Now we're thinking what we can't do, what we won't do.
HAASS: Well, even during a lot of the Cold War era, and initial post-Cold War era, there were still large areas of discretion outside of the basic—you know, East-West dynamic. So it's a little bit Lawry's point. You know, nostalgia is never what it used to—it seems. You know, the Cold War wasn't quite as black-and-white. And look at the biggest debates in the United States, the Vietnams and others, where sort of the application of the strategic doctrine was anything but clear.
I think now, though, the administration has articulated something of a strategic guide. And the greater emphasis has been on the Asia Pacific, at least in words, not in policy, and I think the implicit argument is that's where the more major powers are to be found, it's where greater interests are to be found, where the tools of American foreign policy are more applicable, and there is a greater—and you've got alliance relationships, and I think there is an understanding that this is an area where the United States retains major commitments going on into the future.
I think what the crisis of the last few weeks has reminded people that we also retain those kinds of obligations in Europe, which still is the other big theater of major power presence. Where we were wrong in maybe it was thinking it was largely settled. So now it's quite unsettled, at least for the foreseeable future.
And I think what the administration has also done is largely define the Middle East as a place where ambitious military undertakings, particularly with ground forces, we're not going to do that anymore. We might do other things, like counterterrorism or possibly some air and naval—air thing against—and certain types of narrow Iranian scenarios, but by and large, you know, Iraq is—to put it bluntly—is not a template for the future and areas like Latin America and Africa are seen as different. The interests are more modest and the kinds of threats arrayed to them are more modest.
So I actually think there is an element of a strategic architecture in that intellectually and perhaps verbally. The problem is the mismatch, where at times we're both either articulating in certain places more than we should—I say the Middle East—and other places we're arguably doing less than we should.
So I think there's—you know, Woody Allen's old line about life, you know, 80 percent of life is showing up? Same—about the same percentage applies to foreign policy. And the problem to me is less the articulation of a strategic concept, which arguably is there with the rebalance, than it is with the implementation of it.
FREEDMAN: You know, of course, although the rebalance shows the difficulty that as soon as you rebalance, that you've rebalanced from suddenly has a crisis. And so you have—well, we weren't rebalancing that much.
HAASS: But just to be clear. There was less a rebalancing from Europe—it really was a rebalancing from the Middle East.
FREEDMAN: Yeah, but it's not how it appeared in Europe. I think the—just an historical basis, the U.S. established remarkably a post-war order which has lasted incredibly well. And it did so almost inadvertently on the basis of a series of alliances that were established in the 1950s because of a particular view of what was going on, but have actually worked pretty well. And that seems to be the call. Whatever else you're doing, that's what you need to look after.
Beyond that, there is bound to be discretion. And, you know, we watched Hungary and Czechoslovakia be overrun, Poland do it to itself during the Cold War, and everybody accepted, this is an awful thing to happen, but there's not a lot we can do. In 1961, when the Berlin Wall came down, it resolved the crisis, but it trapped a whole load of East Germans.
So, you know, we made those sort of hard decisions...
HAASS: The wall went up in '61.
FREEDMAN: Yeah, went up in '61, went down in '89. Age. We made—we made those decisions out of a recognition of the limits of our power. And it just seemed to me good strategy understands limits and restraints. And I think it's been—you know, just as an afterthought with China, which is a rising power and sees itself as a rising power, one of the difficulties with a rising power is to understand limits and restraints. And that, I think, is where the conversations become important, hopefully in a non-patronizing way, but it's what the Chinese need to understand. But the U.S. did come to understand it, and they've been forced to relearn that. And I'd just say, going back to the absolute core of postwar American foreign policy doesn't do you too badly.
HAASS: Look, Walter, can I take Lawry's last point and point it back to you?
HAASS: The idea about—his argument that one element of a good strategy is recognizing limits. How good do you think American democracy is at recognizing limits when it comes to foreign policy? Is that sustainable, from your point of view?
MEAD: Well, one problem is, when you talk about a democratic society—and especially the American society—our foreign policy ends up not really being made by a self-contained elite in an ivory tower that can sort of insulate itself from public pressure, but public pressure reaches inside.
And you've got people in the United States who take lots of different views about what our limits are, what they should be, what our priorities should be, and so you don't get so much a coherent single view as you get a loud, continuing national conversation, sometimes a dialogue (inaudible) and so it—you know, I think one of the most difficult things for the American political system to do is to make smart decisions in the short term that involve sort of, you know, things that might either look weak or run risks. We're bad at that.
And we don't tend to have political leaders who are strong enough to be able to impose their preferences. We're better in the long term about adjusting to change and aligning American policy with the movement of things, but in the short term, we're often fooled.
Let's see. In the back? Yes, back there?
QUESTION: George Baumgarten, U.N. correspondent for Jewish newspapers and East Africa newspapers. I'd like to—I'd like to ask Mr. Haass, if I may, you mention your involvement with American reaction to the British East of Suez policy. There are those who have now asserted that the U.S. is becoming the new hegemon. How do you see that? Do you think we should be? Do you think anyone should be? And—or what do you see? Do you see a world without any hegemons?
And to Professor Freedman, if I may, you alluded to something in the Caucasus. What, if anything, is the solution to Georgia? And if there's a solution to Georgia, that is to the occupation of South Ossetia, is there also a solution for Abkhazia?
MEAD: All right, so world hegemony and South Ossetia.
FREEDMAN: It's from sublime to the ridiculous, isn't it? So the point about Georgia—I mean, there isn't—you know, again, it comes back to discretion and limits and power, except, you know, look at Georgia, which is not doing too badly economically, and look at South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and they're completely in the doldrums. I mean, nothing's happened. Russia hasn't done anything for these people.
Transnistria, which is a place I sort of vaguely understood about 1993, and then I have to say I forgot about, and is now back in the news, I thought as somebody in the British Foreign Office who was one of the few people who've ever actually been there who didn't describe it, again, as the greatest asset which a great power may seek to acquire, and is basically run by crooks.
So, you know, given that we're talking a lot of the time—as we were during the Cold War, as it became clear in the end about comparative economic—socioeconomic political systems, in the end—it's always back to the point that was made—Walter was addressing—we've got to have confidence in our own system that actually—that the way we do things, for all its irritations and faults, doesn't—can provide some pretty good answers.
And I think, you know, what's happened with the expansion of the E.U. demonstrates that. There are some big problems still in the E.U., and there's big problems with Hungary, and so we know that. But by and large, it's far better than it would have been without. And so we need confidence in that.
And to intrude a little bit into Richard's question, if you're talking about hegemony in classic great power terms, nobody can do it. But I still think we're in there in the battle of ideas. And, you know, we certainly haven't won, but it's an unavoidable—it's an unavoidable struggle which we need to be a little bit more confident in what we can do and actually how well it's done for those who followed our model, rather than alternative.
HAASS: Now, I haven't heard a lot of talk about American hegemony for about 20, 25 years. It was all the rage after the wall came down a quarter-century ago now. And, you know, people—Charles Krauthammer wrote that well-known famous or infamous, depending upon your perspective, on the unipolar moment and so forth.
After 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, and any number of other experiences, one—I would expect if you did a Google search for the word hegemony, you'd probably find it occurring with less frequency. Indeed, the bigger conversation now is a world in which the United States, either because of domestic problems, political disagreement, the fatigue, if you will, that's come after Iraq, Afghanistan and the like is of an America that's doing too little, rather than too much.
And there's growing debate around the world and here in this country about, you know—since—about that. It's almost a Goldilocks things. How do we avoid—how do we get it just right and avoid doing too much or too little?
I would just say, I hope we get it right, and because I don't think there's a place for a hegemon. I agree with Lawry. Structurally, that world doesn't exist. But there still is a dramatic need for leadership, and I don't see any other candidates to provide it.
So I actually think we either have a world in which the United States leads and works—and I don't—leadership is not a euphemism for unilateralism. Leadership implies partnership and followership and the like.
But either it's a world of U.S. leadership or it's an extraordinarily messy world, which is bad for everybody else and bad for us. So I would think that the—the stakes that we get this right are dramatic. So the goal is not to try to establish a hegemony that is unestablishable, but it is to figure out a level and a quality of leadership that—that is sustainable.
Because, again, you know, it ain't Adam Smith out there. There's no invisible hand in the geopolitical marketplace that's going to sort it out and maximize profit. It's just not going to happen.
MEAD: All right. Well, I think in keeping with time-honored Council tradition, it's time for us to bring this session to a close. Tomorrow at 8 o'clock, 8 a.m., we begin with the first session of this symposium on risk and intelligence. So I hope many of you will be back.