Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace by Paul B. Stares

Monday, December 4, 2017

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


President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order

Paul Stares discusses his new book, Preventive Engagement: How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace. Stares proposes a comprehensive new strategy for how the United States can manage an increasingly turbulent world and reduce the risk of costly military commitments.

HAASS: Well, if everybody would take their seat—I promise there will be more chips and hamburgers afterwards. (Laughter.) That’s not the principal reason we are here.

The principal reason we are here is to hear from—and also celebrate—Paul Stares and his new book, “Preventive Engagement,” with the subtitle, “How America Can Avoid War, Stay Strong, and Keep the Peace.” And we will talk about it for a few minutes between ourselves, then we’ll open it up to you all.

Paul has one—I think one of the cooler titles—(laughter)—here at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the General John W. Vessey Senior Fellow for Conflict Prevention and he directs our Center for Preventive Action. He is the author-editor of nine books now, soon to hit double figures. This is his most recent, just published by Columbia University Press, for sale at a reasonable price by that gentleman in the back of the room. Christmas is coming up, Hanukkah—this is the ultimate stocking stuffer. (Laughter.) This is perfect, so—you know, what do you get for your loved ones? Well, you’re—this is the answer. (Laughter.) So this is a stress-reducing book. (Laughter.) As a—

STARES: It’s uplifting!

HAASS: —as a result, yeah—we specialize in uplifting books, he and I. (Laughter.)

He is an experienced hand in this field, working and thinking and writing about it literally for four decades now. So—and the—on my speaking biography here—speaker biography it says, “he provides a comprehensive blueprint for how the United States can manage a more turbulent and dangerous world.” That is good because it is one.

So welcome, congratulations.

STARES: Thank you.

HAASS: The title of your book is “Preventive Engagement.” Now I grew up in a world where PE meant physical education. What does preventive engagement mean for those who are not aficionados?

STARES: It’s—well, thank you for that, Richard, and thank you all for being here today. So preventive engagement is, as you say, a comprehensive, forward-looking strategy which I propose for the U.S. to deal with a more turbulent and risky world for the U.S. It really grew out of the concern that the 21st century was not evolving in the way we had expected at the end of the 20th century. I think the conventional wisdom then was that the world would grow more peaceful and orderly, globalization, democratization would essentially bring about a more, as I say peaceful world –

HAASS: How’s that—how’s that working? (Laughter.)

STARES: Well, by around 2011, things didn’t look so hot. We got greater friction among the great powers, a lot of reversal of the conflict trends, non-state actors, and then there’s this looming problem with climate change and what would happen.

My concern was that the U.S. might repeat the errors that the Brits had in the 20th century, so essentially lurching from crisis to crisis, diminishing its power, undermining its global position, and the U.S would do the same thing. It would blunder into conflicts, very expensive ones, and erode its global influence as a consequence. So this is really a strategy for trying to manage this more turbulent, conflict-prone, threatening world in a way that doesn’t undermine U.S. power and diminish its long-term influence in the world, and preserves this thing we call the liberal international order to boot.

HAASS: OK, so let me drill down a little bit. What then is the difference between preventive engagement and either foreign policy or diplomacy? What is unique about what it is you are putting forward?

STARES: So this very much—this approach is very much informed and inspired, frankly, by the approach that we use for many other challenges—public policy challenges, whether it’s infectious disease, violent crime, environmental degradation, drug abuse, and it basically is a multi-layered approach that we use for addressing those concerns. It’s about, in the first instance, reducing the underlying risks associated with the problem, doing things that lessen the likelihood that there will be—that the problem will arise. It’s about looking ahead to trying to address the most serious problems that could overwhelm you in terms of how you can respond and manage those threats. And finally, it’s about managing the present. So there are elements here that are very much about things that we do and have done for many decades. It’s about doing it in a more systematic, rigorous fashion. It’s about looking a little bit over the horizon. We tend to be very reactive, we tend to be very ad hoc and improvised in the way we manage world affairs, and it’s just being about—a little more systematic, rigorous, and trying to, as I say, shape the future and not be hostage to it.

HAASS: What are the principal tools of preventive engagement and—perhaps in a way that’s not immediately obvious—to what extent can military force be one of those tools?

STARES: So it’s about orchestrating all elements of national power, not just diplomatic power and not just military power. So let me give you some examples of sort of the long—the long game I call it in the book. What are the things that we can do over the long term to lessen the risk of global conflict, and I lay out five or six.

First, it’s about reassuring other major powers about the viability of their strategic deterrent so that they don’t feel as if they are threatened by other major powers, and this has been a central element of trying to manage major power relations: ensuring that you are not undermining strategic stability. It’s about bolstering global norms and institutions that we have seen to be helpful for maintaining long-term or promoting long-term peace and security over the years. It’s about enhancing international trade, particularly interregional trade, which actually has a very strong effect in bringing about—promoting peace at the international level and in the regional level. It’s about promoting good governance and the rule of law—again, strong correlation between that and peaceful interstate relations. And it’s also about institution building, state capacity building. When states reach a certain threshold, around $5,000 per capita GDP, the risk of civil conflict almost disappears, so just in terms of lessening the long-term risk of conflict, if you can improve the level of development in states, you’re doing a lot to reduce the threat of conflict.

And then there’s finally climate change and so on.

HAASS: OK, so let me go through your list of five or six features there. Let’s put aside the GDP one. How do I put this graciously? Your influence over the current American administration seems finite. (Laughter.)

STARES: Well, so on the face of it you would think, well, why would President Trump look at this and say this is—this is what we need to do? But in fact, if you parse what he has said, many of things here are things that would resonate with him, frankly. He wants to focus on domestic agenda. He doesn’t want to get ensnared in expensive foreign conflicts. He wants to ensure that others do their fair share, and I have a whole section here about how to enhance the role of others and—so that they do their fair share in terms of managing international security. And I don’t think he wants to be, you know, lurching from one crisis to the next.


HAASS: That’s all fair enough, but he’s not too big on embracing trade, he’s not too big on embracing institutional frameworks, and so forth, so he may agree—

STARES: Right.

HAASS: —on those goals, but what you are suggesting is the cookbook for how to get from here to there. He’s clearly not following your recipe.

STARES: Well, I’m hoping that people around him will see the logic of this, and I think the fact that many of them have a military background I think is really important because most military people value the need to look ahead, they need—they value the need to try to shape the battlefield, they call it, or the environment. They value preparation and preparing for the worst, planning—these are all things that—I’m hopeful that those around him will see the value of this book.

HAASS: And by definition, previous American administrations in the modern era, say beginning with Truman’s, could not have read your book. Which one, though, intuited and basically practiced the best of these ideas when you look at—from Truman through Obama?

STARES: I think there’s been elements in all of them, frankly, from—as you say, from Truman; Eisenhower, to some extent in how he envisaged the relationship with the Soviet Union; to some extent, Kennedy, too; your good friend, George H.W. Bush in terms of practicing some of the, I think, really successful cases of preventive diplomacy. How the end of the Cold War was managed, in particular, I think was a—just a masterful exercise in diplomacy and great power management. And there have been elements since with—even with Clinton and Obama. So I think, in all their own ways, every president has, frankly, actually done some good things in this sphere.

HAASS: OK, so let’s look at two specific cases. One is on North Korea. Lindsay Graham yesterday, on one of the Sunday shows, basically was calling for all American dependents to begin to be taken out of, I think, South Korea—possibly Japan as well; I can’t recall. H.R McMaster, the national security adviser, this week basically said the window of any sort of—for any diplomatic settlement is fast closing. The president regularly says we are, quote/unquote, “going to handle” this problem.

Is it too late? Imagine your book was delivered en masse to the Cabinet tomorrow. Is it too late for your ideas to be put into practice with North Korea? If not, what would the policy look like?

STARES: I’m glad we’re starting with the easy problem first. (Laughter.)

HAASS: Well, yeah, we’re time limited here, you know. (Laughter.) We’ll go to Syria and Yemen afterwards, so not to worry.

STARES: So actually there—I make quite specific recommendations, and I think the first thing is to prevent this already serious problem getting worse. And I’m concerned that an incident, or some misunderstanding, or miscalculation on the fringes of North Korea could escalate and that our ability to manage that crisis is extremely limited. We have very few channels to actually communicate with North Korea in a crisis and manage an incident that might prove to be very dangerous. Essentially, it’s—we’re down to the so-called New York channel, communicating through the North Korean ambassador to the U.N.

HAASS: Which probably wouldn’t be great in a crisis.

STARES: Right. So you can imagine—so how are we actually going to manage a crisis? Remember you were dealing with something the other side of the world, so it could be in the middle of the night here, daytime there, and so we have to, I think, open up, I think, a discreet channel of communication with the leadership and to develop some basic ground rules of how we manage a crisis.

Ultimately this will only be, I think, managed or resolved in the short term if we can convince the North Koreans to desist from further testing that is clearly adding fuel to the fire, and it doesn’t help, frankly, that the president is also saying very personal things about the leadership there. This is just very incendiary.

But what I worry about is that our efforts to apply coercive diplomacy—which is as much directed at the Chinese, frankly, as it is the North Koreans—could backfire and we are—we are off to the races in a very serious crisis, and we won’t be able to manage it.

HAASS: Well, just say we can’t prevent it because part of your argument is you want to do your best to prevent things, but it’s not a black or white choice. Even if you can’t prevent something, there’s still—

STARES: Right.

HAASS: —degrees of intensity, of crisis or conflict. So just say the United States were—either as the result of an incident or just as a result of, say, a preventive or preemptive attack—to use force against North Korea, could your ideas still be introduced? For example, you would tell North Korea, if you didn’t react in certain ways, we would not escalate, but if you were to react in certain ways, then we would. I mean—

STARES: Yeah, there are ways, I think, to communicate reciprocated restraint in this situation, and it does require good communication channels. The notion that we would take preventive or preemptive military attacks—certainly preventive attack fills me with great dread in terms of the unpredictability of what might happen. You know, there’s that famous line that Bismarck used about preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death. And it’s—you know, we just don’t know, basically, what would happen if we did that. We might think we could contain it, but we can’t be sure. And we’re playing with the lives of many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.

HAASS: When you apply your ideas to terrorism, it seems to me something that has that—how would I—to put it differently, it seems to me your ideas are already being applied to terrorism, that whether you’re trying to discourage young men in particular from making this career choice, you’re trying to make yourself less vulnerable, you’re trying to interrupt attacks before they happen. If you have to kill people on occasion, you do that. You build resilience into your society. It seems to me that’s probably a—am I wrong, or is that not a case study?

STARES: No, no, actually, not to look too—I don’t know, genuflect too much, but—

HAASS: Oh, it’s all right. (Laughter.) And that part of the meeting is definitely on the record. (Laughter.)

STARES: But you wrote a great speech or delivered a great speech when you were head of SP policy planning which likened terrorism to infectious disease, and more or less drew the parallels about preventive action, cutting down on the infectious nature of ideology, the transmission belts, the recruitment, and essentially containing the problems without necessarily thinking you were going to completely eradicate it. And I thought that was, frankly, a great way to do it, and I actually developed it later in other work I did. But you very much inspired me on that.

HAASS: Thank you.

Is Syria an example of the failure of preventive engagement, because we did too little?

STARES: I think so, yes. A lot of people focus on the infamous red line, our failure to follow through on using military force to punish the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons, and I think that was an error. I think the original sin, frankly, goes back to an earlier period, when we called for the end of the Assad regime but we had nothing—we didn’t follow it up with any kind of coherent strategy for doing that. It was basically an aspirational declaration: he must go, therefore he’s going to go. But, you know, it doesn’t work that way.

And so I think there were ways that we could have worked with the Russians and certainly the Iranians earlier on to reduce the escalation of the conflict. I think we could have done more on the humanitarian space. We’re now in the endgame, essentially, in Syria. I think while we may have, quote/unquote, “lost the war,” we can still win the peace there. We still have leverage over the future of Syria in terms of the reconstruction funds that we can offer, or withhold, frankly. We also—we and our partners control parts of Syria. And so we can become a spoiler, in many respects, in the endgame, and so we have leverage. We somehow think that we don’t, but we do. And it requires adept diplomacy. It requires having to work with the Russians and the Iranians, who probably want to get out. They don’t want to foot the bill for having to reconstruct Syria. And so it’s very important we not kind of take our eyes off the ball here, we stay engaged, and we try to bring this horrific war to an end.

HAASS: Well, you just mentioned some other countries. To what extent—because you mentioned also in your introduction that this is—this is useful for American foreign policy. Is there any reason that this is limited to the United States? Could Her Majesty’s government or the French government, or conceivably even the Chinese or Russian government if they were so inclined, is there any reason they couldn’t accept this as advice?

STARES: Oh, I think that this is something—this is an imperative that should not be purely a U.S. one. We should not be the ones doing it ourselves. There are others who are equally invested in a more peaceful future, in some respects more invested.

And so the book is—one part of it is about how we not only harness the capacities of other actors—both major powers, international institutions, regional powers—but also try to increase their or enhance their capacity to actually do things that may not be front and center of our national interest, but over the long term is still desirable to do. So it’s very much about building up sort of the international group of or coalition of preventive partners, to coin a phrase.

HAASS: Coalition of—the COP. (Laughter.) That’s pretty good, the COP on the beat. Not bad.

STARES: There you go.

HAASS: So let’s turn to the prescriptive part at the end. We’ll start with the U.S. Two sets of questions. One is institutionally, and you write a little bit about this towards the end of the book.

STARES: Right.

HAASS: Say something about what we might want to do to change our institutional or procedural, so to enhance our capacity to put this into play.

STARES: Well, without a strong demand signal from the White House, it’s very difficult for the rest of the bureaucracy to be a little more forward-looking, to do planning, to prepare for things. As I say, we tend to be very shortsighted, very ad hoc. So it does require a strong demand signal to the intelligence community, to the State Department, to the NSC to adopt this kind of approach.

It does not require wholesale reform of the national security machinery. That ain’t going to happen, short of a major national crisis. It’s just going to be at the margins.

But we can do good things. The intelligence community tends to be very short-term in its orientation. It really is about supporting the military in the field and supporting the president with its—with his daily presidential daily brief. It can do a lot more to look a little bit over the horizon. I call it the 12- to 18-month time horizon as being the goldilocks time horizon—it’s not too far, but things seem implausible or can be dismissed as unlikely to happen; but it’s not too soon that you can’t do something to shape it. So the intelligence community can do a lot more to try to anticipate what is—could happen in that time horizon, particularly drawing in the U.S. in places where we’re likely to respond with military force.

State Department, you know, I have some sympathy, frankly, with what Mr. Tillerson was trying to do. I think it’s an institution that does actually need some reform. It’s proliferated the number of special envoys. There’s a—there’s parts of the building, frankly, that really don’t play a useful role, and they should be, I think, reformed in significant ways. That doesn’t mean gutting it, as we seem to be doing at the moment.

It also, frankly, requires building up the actual professional competence of many of the people serving there, and this actually applies across the whole of the interagency process. You know, political appointees, they receive no training whatsoever when they go into government. It’s extraordinary. Foreign Service officers, they get their initial training, the A-100, which lasts a couple of weeks, and a little bit of mid-career training. It’s absolutely extraordinary. You know, you would not expect the guy flying your plane or the operating—you know, taking out your appendix to have that level of—

HAASS: I’ve got an anecdote on that. It was during the transition when W. became president. And Colin Powell had already been tapped to be secretary of state, and he was meeting with Marc Grossman, who was then the director general, which is the person who runs the State Department personnel system, and they were looking back at their careers. And at one point Marc asked Colin, well, how much training have you had? Powell added it all up. It came to something like seven years. And he said, well, what about you, Marc? Three weeks. (Laughter.) And so what Paul is saying is literally no exaggeration.

STARES: So I think, you know, just to finish, you know, the NSC—a lot of people have advocated building up the planning part of the NSC. And I used to subscribe to that, but I actually, in writing the book, came away thinking that this is something that actually the real pros to doing it reside in the bureaucracy, and it’s the role of the NSC really to direct and coordinate that. But what the NSC needs to do more of is what I call strategic assessment. It’s about marrying the information from the intelligence community, who are sort of constitutionally reluctant to make assessments about the significance of events through the lens of U.S. interests because it somehow corrupts—they feel that this corrupts their independence and objectivity, but marry that with really policy analysis from sort of permanent senior civil servants. Kind of what the Brits do with the Joint Intelligence Committee in London, as well as the Australians, too, with the Office of National Assessments. This is about marrying up an assessment of national interests with the intelligence information, which is not always done very well.

HAASS: Last question: What would you have the U.N. do or be differently than it is?

STARES: Well, the U.N., you know, if it didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. It’s a—

HAASS: In its present form or something very different?

STARES: No, no, clearly it reflects the power distribution at the end of World War II. The Security Council is in obvious need of reform. A state like India, it’s just ridiculous that India isn’t on the national security—excuse me, the—one of the permanent members of the Security Council. It’s going to be very difficult to do that, but I think the U.N. can reform the rules in which vetoes are used under certain situations, and that would be useful for it to do.

The Department of Political Affairs, you know, we rarely hear about this, but it does fabulous work in places all around the world in terms of on-the-ground diplomacy, preventive action. It gets a pittance in terms of budgetary support, and that’s also a terrific—mediation, all these things we can—we can bolster at the U.N.

HAASS: OK. I’ve gone on long enough. Paul, however, has lots of gas left in his tank. (Laughter.) So let’s open it up. Let us—raise your hand, let us know who you are, keep it short, and we’ll get as many as we can.


Q: Bill Drozdiak, McLarty Associates.

Just to pick up on a theme that Richard was addressing, how do you deal with an administration that’s cutting 30 percent of the budget out of the State Department and giving these massive resources to the military, and where the president is surrounded by people who have had nothing but military careers? It seems like the militarization of American foreign policy is inevitable. And while the president occasionally says he doesn’t want to get dragged into conflicts, when you have, you know, a hammer and nothing else, everything looks like a nail.

STARES: Well, hopefully Congress will save the day in terms of the budget cuts with the State Department. So far they’ve been resisting that, and I think that will—that will take place.

But you’re pointing to a larger problem with this huge imbalance in terms of resources devoted to the military and State Department. The State Department is, what, 50 billion (dollars)? The military is over 600 billion (dollars).

When Robert Gates was secretary of defense, he made, I think, a terrific proposal, which was to more or less take out a significant amount of money from the DOD budget and essentially offer it to State to do some of the things that they were doing in terms of what they called phase zero operations, about building up the capacities of weak states, training and assist programs around the world, things that the State Department should really be doing. And the Brits kind of do this, too. They pool resources for dealing with what they believe are the principal priorities, so that there’s a shared understanding of where to focus effort.

And so there has to be a rebalancing of resources here. It’s just ridiculous that there is this distortion, and for some reason the State Department is just, you know, getting cut back this way. But, you know—and it requires, frankly, General Mattis to be supportive of Mr. Tillerson and whoever replaces him in that respect. And it really—it needs him to say, look, we need an effective State Department, as to say nothing of USAID too.

HAASS: Well, I got all sorts of hands over here. Robert, you had your hand up.

Q: Yeah.

HAASS: Why don’t you wait for the microphone, though.

Q: OK. So I’m the father of a term member.

The question I have is it seemed like the previous administrations have been informed and, you know, positively thus, by the brains represented on the stage and others here. What strategy is there for getting the attention of this administration?

STARES: Well, we have a—you know, a deliberate outreach strategy to reach out to not only senior officials, I’ve already started briefing mid-level career officials. I was at the Office of Net Assessment last week at the Pentagon. They were very receptive to it. I spoke at a conference of Navy SEALs last week—two weeks ago in San Diego, and they were very receptive to this. They’re frankly, I think, groaning under the weight of now double-digit tours.

And so whenever we produce a book, we don’t just sort of throw it out there and hope someone notices. We go through a deliberate effort to reach into the administration and hopefully get attention.

HAASS: And just to sort of say, for all outsiders, we don’t have power. At most, we have influence. So we can produce good things, we can connect them with individuals, we cannot insist that they follow our guidance. Ultimately, it is the difference between influence and power.

Sure, right there.

Q: Alan Raul, Sidley Austin.

The president often talks about how the United States has had its lunch eaten by the extremely cunning negotiators of other countries and that we’ve been represented by hacks. How would you compare the preventive engagement or other systematic or rigorous foreign policy and diplomacy efforts of the United States, let’s say, compared to what China is doing and the way it’s propagating soft power throughout the world? So are we having our lunch eaten, or how do we look?

STARES: I think, you know, what’s the Woody Allen line, 90 percent of life is showing up—

HAASS: Eighty percent.

STARES: Eighty percent. And so I think we’re essentially absent in many places, and it has to do with—well, someone mentioned it, the fact that we haven’t filled out many of our ambassadorial positions, we’re not showing up at some international conferences because we feel that somehow this diminishes our sovereignty.

HAASS: Including the one this weekend in Mexico City on migration.

STARES: Absolutely. It’s just—it’s just mindless, frankly. And it’s about, you know, having a backing of economic resources to offer investment and being able to direct resources in places that need.

And the Chinese, you mentioned, you know, they’re showing up, they’re not offering so many conditions on many of the aid that they’re offering or the investment. But, you know, we are ceding the ground, unfortunately, in too many places. And it’s unfortunate, and it will play out over the long term.

HAASS: Following up on that, how much more would it cost us, if at all, if we were to do the kinds of things you want? Is this a modest price? Is this an ounce of prevention worth a pound? Is it cheap what you’re talking about?

STARES: Yeah, I think it’s budget neutral, frankly. It’s, you know—I mention about redistributing some of the funds that we spend on our military preparedness. Frankly, I think there’s a lot of waste there, which could be applied.

It’s about making better use of some of the resources that we have at the State Department. There’s a lot of duplication. So I don’t see that this requires some massive infusion of new budgetary authority. And frankly, again, if we are wise and skillful in how we leverage others, frankly that will also help, too. We don’t have to spend vast amounts of money in enacting this approach.

HAASS: Lukas. Lukas? Don’t look at Jeff.

Q: Lukas Haynes with the David Rockefeller Fund.

So, building on Bill’s question, the Pentagon has been quite an advocate for more diplomatic development tools, but it has its own cooperative security tools.

STARES: Right.

Q: Do you get into how the regional combatant commanders, the role that they can play in confidence building?

STARES: We do. And they, in many respects, they are filling this vacuum.

HAASS: Why don’t you explain a little bit what we’re talking about.

STARES: So every major combatant command around the world, they carry out security assistance programs. It’s assisting states’ build up the capacity of their armed forces, helping them train and equip, and it’s all seen as beneficial to stabilizing those countries, making them less vulnerable to crises and other shocks.

And we actually organized an event at the Council and we brought in the people who were responsible for designing these programs. And this is a lot of money, 60 billion (dollars), I think, overall. So this is a huge amount of money. I meant 60 countries, sorry, where they’re doing this. I forgot, I think it’s, like, 23 billion (dollars).

And we—I asked them, I said, so, what’s the theory behind this? Are you driven by some kind of coherent idea of how money is to be spent, where you prioritize? And they had to admit that they were just getting the money out the door, it really wasn’t driven by some coherent strategy.

HAASS: Jeff, then Kimberly.

Q: Jeff Laurenti.

STARES: Hi, Jeff.

Q: Paul, hi.

Paul, for the better part of two decades, American policymakers made the promotion of democracy often exhaled in the same phrase as democracy and free trade, a cardinal principle of American foreign policy. And since the Arab uprisings have kind of not turned out so well, there’s a certain skepticism growing about whether it really works and indeed whether it may have created more pushback, not only in the Arab world, but in the ex-Soviet zone where Vladimir Putin saw U.S. involvement as something that needed to be paid back because it was destabilizing. Do you see democracy and its promotion as part of preventive engagement, or is it—

STARES: Absolutely.

Q: And in what way does it contribute to the greater—

STARES: Well, there’s the so-called democracy peace theory in which democratic states don’t go to war with each other.

HAASS: Mature democratic states do not, yeah.

STARES: Democratic states are less likely to experience major civil war. There’s often a period of vulnerability when they transition from an authoritarian. But overall, all things being equal, democratic states are more peaceful than the others, so promoting good governance and rule of law is seen as a long-term, preventive engagement strategy. It has to be part of the solution.

We tend to—we look around the world today and we think there’s a sort of democratic recession. And sure enough, yes, some countries have slipped back. But others have actually gone in the democratic column. We forget, we don’t pay so much attention to those. So I don’t see the outlook quite so bleak as many portray it to be, but it’s absolutely central to this effort over the long term.

HAASS: Professor Marten.

Q: Hi, Kimberly Marten from Barnard College at Columbia.

Paul, I’m actually—I was going to ask a very similar thing, and I’m going to challenge you on this and follow up on what Richard said.


Q: Because there’s an awful lot of evidence that democratizing countries are very much prone to conflict. And anybody who becomes a stable democracy, who isn’t already one, has to go through that democratization process. And you could actually make the argument that China, by its outreach, is contributing to conflict prevention because it’s keeping authoritarian states in power and giving them lots of funding so that they can put down anybody who might be challenging them and, therefore, prevent lots of wars.

And so I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit more about what is really sort of not necessarily two goals that go together—preventing war on the one hand, preventing conflict and death—

STARES: Right.

Q: —and aiding human development in other ways.

STARES: Well, you—you know, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to democracy promotion. That’s a standard thing that people say. And sometimes it can be encouraged, sort of the top down; sometimes it can be nurtured from below and take many years to do.

It’s true that the states transitioning from an autocratic or authoritarian regime can sink back and/or replicate themselves. But I think, you know, over time, it’s generally been proven that democratic states are more peaceful toward one another and are more stable. I think the empirical evidence for that is clear.

Now, it’s clear also that when states re going through this transition, you have to manage it and support them. You know, Tunisia has, for instance. But we have given very little, frankly, support to Tunisia, but initiated the Arab Spring in terms of helping it get through this very sensitive period. So, to me, we have to do better at not just assuming that, well, they’ve had an open election; therefore, they’re already on the way to becoming a mature democracy. They need support in that period.

HAASS: Sure. Hurry, front row. We’ve got time for maybe one or two more. Then I’ll—

Q: Hi. Kurt Karawana (ph).

And I was wondering if you think the—the real problem seems to be there’s not a constituency in the U.S. to do the types of things that you’re advocating. And the problem maybe even with Trump, it’s more, you know, we got what we asked for, no one’s out on the streets protesting the State Department being gutted. So how do we, you know—how do elected politicians build a constituency then for the type of forward engagement you’re advocating?

STARES: Well, I think it needs champions in Congress who recognize the logic here and the imperative here, that if we continue to sort of lurch from crisis to crisis, we’re just going to stumble into something. As I say, I likened it to what happened to Britain through the 20th century. And if—I think this has to be solved, frankly, as a conservative—with a small C—strategy. It’s about conserving U.S. power for the long haul.

The thing with the Brits is that they had America to hand off the mantle of global leadership to. Who are we going to hand off to, right? Who is the person that’s going to, you know, come help us out when things falter, or if there isn’t? So it’s up to us. And this is about, as I say, conserving American power, not doing stupid things, trying to shape the future in a way that lessens the risk. It doesn’t preclude us making mistakes, it doesn’t preclude us using force.

And I want to be—you know, you asked—actually, Richard, I never really addressed it. You know, using force is part of preventive engagement because there will be cases where it’s legitimate to do so. And the real challenge is those instances that require you breaching national sovereignty. And that’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face.

But I think if it’s sold as essentially a conservative strategy, it’s about maintaining American power and influence in the world, then I think you can get that support.

HAASS: Michael.

Q: Michael Greco, I’m past president of the American Bar Association. And sitting near me is another former ABA president and one of your members, Jim Silkenat.

My question has to do with the relationship between the United States and the International Criminal Court. This week and next, the ICC nations that support the court and have submitted to the jurisdiction of the court, 123 nations—and the three not members are the U.S., Russia, and China—the prosecutor who is here in town, and we saw her earlier today, has asked for authorization from a pretrial judicial panel at the ICC to open a formal investigation on the atrocities committed in Afghanistan by countries, including the U.S., Britain, and others, torturing and so forth.

And parenthetically, one of your term members, Kip Hale, who’s sitting next to me, published in the Forum about two weeks ago a very thoughtful article. If you haven’t read it, I hope you do.

So the question is, if the—if the court authorizes the prosecutor to open an investigation, how should the United States respond to that, under your premises?

HAASS: I can tell you how we will respond to that. (Laughter.)

STARES: Yeah, we—Richard’s right, we won’t be pleased, and we won’t embrace that approach. I don’t know the specifics of this, so it’s hard for me to comment.

I think institutions like the ICC are, on balance, in the U.S. interest, and we should embrace them as ways to make the international system, quote/unquote, “less anarchic.” And it’s about regulating state behavior and particularly toward their own citizens. And, you know, these institutions are never going to be perfect. But, again, in the grand scheme of things, they are mechanisms that we should support, because for every case, I think, where it may run against us, there are probably half-a-dozen where it will be generally in the U.S. interests.

And if we—if we signal that we, frankly, we will pick and choose and, you know, it’s multilateralism ala carte kind of thing, then that undermines our moral standing and the legitimacy of other actions. And we—you know, it’s an imperfect world, but I think we should encourage these kinds of initiatives overall.

HAASS: As the one who coined the phrase “multilateralism ala carte” I disagree with that, but that’s all right. (Laughter.)

We’ve got time for one last, short question. Yes, ma’am. We’ll do a short one and a short answer, and then we’ll let you return to the burgers and fries.

Q: My name is Bhakti Mirchandani. I work at One William Street.

I had a question about corruption within the framework of preventative engagement.


Q: So preventing corruption is a good thing because people have more confidence in the government and that should lead to greater stability. But at the same time, in Saudi Arabia or in China, perhaps cracking down on corruption is consolidating power. So what would you recommend the U.S. do in those instances?

STARES: So I think in lieu of efforts to promote democracy and rule of law in some of these places, trying to improve good governance, which is cracking down on corrupt practices, is good. To me, in the tough cases, it’s a substitute for more active democracy promotion.

So, you know, these are initiatives essentially for the national governments to pursue, but there are international conventions and other practices designed to reduce corrupt practices and maintain a level playing field when we’re dealing with investment and other trade and so on. So all these things are good, and I would be—I don’t talk about it specifically here, but I think anything that improves the performance of national governments and, moreover, broad, global regulation on these things is good.

HAASS: What you have here is an individual who is of great range, who has produced a book that’s truly thoughtful. And having—you just heard him, so you shouldn’t be surprised by that. So go out and read it, recommend it, and hopefully some people will follow it.

Paul, congratulations.

STARES: Thank you. (Applause.)


Top Stories on CFR


Palestinian Territories

The leading UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees is engulfed in allegations that twelve of its employees were involved in the Hamas attacks on southern Israel. The agency faces severe funding cutbacks, with huge consequences for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. 

United States

New U.S. Census Bureau data shows the United States importing more goods from Mexico than from China. Will the shift change the global trading landscape?