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Michael Ancram: Challenges in a changing world

Speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies

"Politicians always talk about 'a changing world' and the challenges that flow from it. Even in the high days of the Cold War world leaders claimed that the times they were a'changing. To an extent they were, but nothing like the changes of the last few years.

In international rather than social terms the second half of the twentieth century was in fact marked by a strange 'balance'. The USA and USSR, with their attendant cohorts of allies and satellite states formed the 'bloc system' which established an uneasy but enduring equilibrium.

Uneasy in that it was based on the competitive possession and development of large nuclear arsenals that in turn gave rise to the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction.

While this prospect deterred both the use of nuclear weapons and direct military conflict between the two leading powers, what it did not do was to prevent proxy wars and vicarious brinkmanship.

Learning from these proxy wars, containment and deterrence increasingly became the strategic doctrine of the day. The Western aim was to deter and contain the Eastern threat until external resolve and the weight of its own internal contradictions brought the Communist world crashing down. And in the end it worked. It also brought about the end of the Cold War.

Which along with the break-up of the Soviet Union changed the whole picture in a fundamental way.

The uneasy "balance" ended. On the one side creating a void and on the other a 'hyperpower'.

Instead of the old understood and quantifiable threats, we are today faced with new and more dangerous ones.

These new threats are asymmetrical. They revolve around WMD, terrorism, and the impact of failed states; all leading to far greater instability than has been seen in international relations for decades.

These new threats, and the need for a new mindset to meet them is summed up by Philip Bobbitt:

"We are at a moment in world affairs when the essential ideas that govern statecraft must change. For five centuries it has taken the resources of a state to destroy another state: only states could muster the huge revenues, conscript the vast armies, and equip the divisions required to threaten the survival of other states. Indeed posing such threats, and meeting them, created the modern state. In such a world every state knew that its enemy would be drawn from a small class of potential adversaries. This is no longer true, owing to advances in international telecommunications, rapid computation, and weapons of mass destruction. The change in statecraft that will accompany these developments will be as profound as any that the State has thus far undergone".

The central reality of this new geopolitical landscape is the position of the United States of America.

Current US power is unmatched and unparalleled by any other country. The USA has unsurpassed military, economic, technological and cultural power, an unchallenged lead in both hard and soft power terms. The US National Security Strategy document of 2002 explicitly referred to America's fundamental belief in pre-emptive action when necessary and its commitment to preserving the American 'lead' in hard and soft power. That today is the reality, which it would be foolish to ignore.

In Afghanistan America put this doctrine to work, adopting a far more pro-active approach to future, or existing threats than had occurred in the past.

In Iraq they and we went further. So what does the recent conflict in Iraq mean for international relations?

There is an ongoing debate here on the Prime Minister's reasons for taking military action against Iraq.

I believe that it was the right thing to do in the face of the perceived threat. Saddam Hussein posed a threat to international peace and security. Over ten years the United Nations had said so. The imminence and the nature of the threat may still be arguable. But I believe that postponing action to deal with the threat last year would have been even more costly and more deadly in the years to come.

Secondly, and importantly from a longer-term geopolitical perspective, I believe that it was in our strategic interests to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States at what was "crunch time". It rightly gave new life to the 'special relationship'.

Throughout the twentieth century the Anglo-American relationship has been of crucial importance to our security, and indeed to that of Europe. We have benefited from the positive engagement of the USA in international relations, and suffered when she has withdrawn in to an isolationist pose. My party is strongly Atlanticist.

Nevertheless the impact of America's and Britain's decision to resort to military force against Iraq has undoubtedly had a profound impact on the conventional 'consensual' multilateral system of international relations.

It is arguable whether a truly multilateral or consensual system ever existed. Certainly the uneasy balance between the USA and USSR made a degree of multilateralism essential. In the absence of such a balance it is at least debatable whether it is now just as an optional extra, with a 'conviction-based' outlook in international relations taking its place.

The impact of the Iraq war has been felt in the wider Middle East as well.

The most tangible change at the time was the fresh impetus given to the Middle East Peace Process through the Roadmap by President Bush. The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime removed a malevolent force poised in the background against Israel and against the concept of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It is therefore particularly regrettable that the sustained US involvement so vital to success appears of late to have become less enthusiastic, with the concomitant decision by Israel to adopt its own separation strategy.

Where then does this leave the UN?

The USA's willingness to act against regimes it perceives as threats, or of harbouring terrorists or WMD ambitions has also had a wide impact. On Iran with moves to a more open policy towards the IAEA. With Libya's recent declarations on its WMD programme. With Syria's edging ever more clearly towards reform and change. These countries have realised that the US is serious about using force -unilaterally where necessary - where it believes there to be a need. The "pour encourager les autres" influence has already begun to produce positive changes. As one central key to international security is the elimination of WMD, this knock on effect is to be welcomed.

A key question today is how the world should deal with the potentially unipolar power of the USA in a preferably multilateral world.

The EU is faced with two options. It can defy history and commonsense and try to become a counterweight bloc in rivalry with America, a centralised supranational institution with a single foreign policy, a single economic policy and all the outward attributes of a single state.

Or it can attempt to reform itself to become less centralised and more flexible, more in empathy with the aspirations of its people, an organisation that can deliver them economic prosperity, and can work with the US as a genuine partnership of sovereign nations.

I favour the latter. We in the UK can work with both the USA and the EU. To say that we must choose between them is to pose a false, and dangerous, choice. Sadly some in the EU, although crucially not many of the new accession countries, appeared to view the Iraq crisis in these terms.

I believe that there should be strong, voluntary, foreign policy co-operation among EU countries, but such co-operation must be within a flexible framework rather than within a rigid, conformist, structure that fails to take in to account the diversity of national interests - and which in practice forces a wedge between the US and EU.

The UN has never been the impartial arbiter of international affairs that some would wish to see it. Big play politics and the realities of international power have shaped its decision-making. It remains to all intents and purposes the product of an era in which the world was dominated by two, rather than one, power. Its procedures and modus operandi came under sharp scrutiny before the Iraq conflict when it grid locked and failed.

Two different views of the UN have emerged. The US had a very strong belief that what it was doing was right, that the previous 17 UN Resolutions had shown acceptance of the threat Iraq posed to international peace and security, and that failure to enforce those Resolutions would render the UN irrelevant and incapable of following through on its own decisions.

On the other hand the French and Germans felt that for the UN simply to acquiesce in US demands, whether or not they were fully in agreement with them, would send the message that America had the power to act unilaterally if she wished. They feared that the UN would no longer have a role in expressing international approval or not - merely to act as a rubber stamp for the US thereby rendering it irrelevant. They engineered the gridlocking of the Security Council. Ironically what they achieved, was the establishment of an 'atlanticist' coalition in Europe.

The reality however is that the UN must change. It must adapt to the fact that the US will, in some circumstances, act alone. It should not give up its right to give an opinion on such action. Neither should it permit "unreasonable vetoes" which in any case need urgently to be defined. It should build on the fact that international public opinion still views the UN as the ultimate authority for granting legitimacy to a state's actions. This has important implications for the way democratic governments should act. A UN, trusted by world 'public opinion', cannot be ignored by the US or indeed any other emerging power.

In this post-Cold War age, while the two superpowers have given way to one hyper-power, there are other important powers, some established, some emerging, some still sleeping who will in short order have significant roles to play. We ignore their views and aspirations at our peril.

China is the awakening giant whose emergence as an active player on the international stage has the potential to alter the whole balance of power in the world. China is the country that eventually will emerge as the counter-weight to the United States. Economic growth is key for China, as is a desire to avoid international confrontation and to maintain a nuclear free Korean peninsula. There are many areas where the aspirations and interests of our two countries coincide. It is vital that we engage China in a critical, but constructive dialogue, not least on the fights against nuclear proliferation and international terrorism. Furthermore the investment potential for us, currently underplayed, is enormous.

Indeed India like China has the potential to become a significant global as well as regional power in the future.

Russia is another complex yet significant player. I support good relations with Russia, I approve of the new Nato arrangements in regard to Russia, and I am all for having Russia as an ally. But a degree of healthy scepticism is necessary. Security and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as the Russians perceive it, drive Russian foreign policy, coupled with a desire to strengthen economically and thus regain their lost place in the world. This latter aspiration is already fuelling suspicions in the former satellite countries that Russia will somehow try to regain hegemony over the former territories of the USSR.

India and Pakistan are, understandably, both very absorbed with Kashmir at present, and there are at last some grounds for optimism that a settlement may eventually be achieved. Given their possession of nuclear weapons and the absence of a nuclear doctrine let alone that of MAD it is vital that progress continues to be encouraged and achieved.

There are others too. Japan is still an economic force. The re-emerging tiger economies of South East Asia and the Pacific rim will once again present challenges as well as opportunities which we need to be engaged in. One day I believe that South America will find a way out of its current problems and will become a continental force to be reckoned with.

I have also argued in the past that there is a case within the Commonwealth for combining the six or seven major players in that unique organisation in some more structured alliance to create a new multicultural centre of international influence.

There are therefore already other powers extant, emerging or nascent. The United States already realises that it cannot do everything alone, that it cannot ignore world opinion, that it does need friends. As we have recently seen in the aftermath of the conflict in Iraq, America cannot rebuild the country's infrastructure and government without international help, as President Bush acknowledged in moving to obtain UN backing for the reconstruction effort.

In his recent book, "The Paradox of American Power", Joseph Nye sets out to explore this area. His conclusion, understandably, is that if America is to be successful in its long-term endeavours it must rely not only upon its military 'hard power', but equally, if not more so, on its 'soft power' to win economic arguments, and to win over hearts and minds to its point of view.

As Edmund Burke wrote: "The use of force alone is but temporary………..and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered". Translate this in to America's geopolitical situation and what it means is that for America to achieve its aims it must obtain consent for them. The battle of ideas must be entered in to, with a genuine attempt at persuasion.

Recent reactions to US policy and actions suggest that it has so far been unsuccessful in winning the argument on this level.

To take the example of the Middle East. Many in the region fear what has been called "westoxification".

The fear of "westoxification" is the fear that another culture, in this case that of "the West", can insidiously seduce followers of other cultures or ways of life, in this case followers of Islam, away from their Faith and the way of life which goes with it. "Westoxification" is a particularly apposite term for it is in the eyes of those who fear it both addictive and seductive, and toxic.

Viewed through this prism, America does still have a considerable way to go in persuading other cultures that their fears are unfounded and that all cultures can learn from the other and benefit from greater understanding. Where exporting human values may be acceptable and workable and right, exporting cultural values often is not. Exporting democracy is a laudable concept so long as democracy is understood more to mean representative government rather than some single psephologically pure model.

We, as the member of a number of 'concentric circles' in geopolitical terms - the EU, NATO, the Commonwealth, the 'special relationship' with America - can have a unique role to play in acting as a bridge between all these groups, in encouraging new and agile international partnerships and in promoting constructive dialogue as an alternative to force.

We must strive to meet emerging threats before they reach a stage at which they can threaten us or the stability of their regions. That in simple terms is the doctrine of pre-emption. Dialogue is one form of pre-emption. There are however many different types of pre-emption.

Military pre-emption is the one which immediately springs to mind post-Iraq, and which raises the most hackles.

Pre-empting a military threat by military action has in fact been done for centuries. The difference was that mobilisation of an army in the past, for example, was very visible evidence of an emerging threat. People could see the threat and therefore were convinced of the need for action.

The changing nature of the threats we face today means this is often no longer possible. A small group of terrorists, with a small, easily hidden quantity of chemical or biological weapons can wreak havoc without any outward signs that the threat exists. A 'rogue state' can deploy WMD without any clear physical evidence that could be produced to prove to the court of public opinion that an attack was imminent. In these cases reliance has to be placed on intelligence.

The Iraq conflict has indeed highlighted the extent to which intelligence is relied upon to justify pre-emption. If therefore the intelligence or the use made of it is questionable, where then does this leave the doctrine of pre-emptive military action?

It is now right therefore that we begin to address how this doctrine of pre-emption should in future operate, given that in the UK we, as a democracy, must carry public opinion along with us.

The answer must be in the public realisation that pre-emption is much more than just military. It should primarily be either political, or diplomatic or economic - or a mixture of them. Diplomatic and economic pre-emption of crises are often more effective and less damaging than military pre-emption. If we can assist a country in drawing back from becoming a failed or rogue state then military action becomes unnecessary.

Economic pre-emption can be effected both by aid and by increased trade aimed at raising the living standards of the deprived populations concerned and giving them jobs and hope. For example Cancun highlighted many of Africa's problems and development issues that should not be divorced from our foreign policy in the 21st century. Indeed Africa is a good example. Human Rights, democracy and leadership are desperately required there, as is the bringing on of young, less corrupt and more democratic leaders. NePAD can help this process, but it must develop an honest peer-review mechanism to give root to the concept of 'good governance' that lies at the heart of it

Conversely Zimbabwe and other African crises remind us that turning our backs on them, for whatever 'post-colonial' reasons, merely encourages the creation of failed states with all the inevitable consequences which anyway will involve us all as a result.

The world has changed.

The 21st century will certainly not be as clear-cut or as easy to understand as the 20th century. We too must change and adapt to the new realities of power and threats. Fluidity must characterise our response. The trans-Atlantic relationship, the special relationship, remains the cornerstone of the UK's foreign policy. We must build on it. We must keep the US engaged in the multilateral approach to international problems through Nato and ultimately through a reformed UN as well.

Together we must create a world in which fear of domination ceases to be the dominating motive and an acceptance of the fruits of international cooperation becomes the guiding light.

It can be done."

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