FREDRIK LOGEVALL: Good afternoon to one and all. It's wonderful to have you with us and to have an opportunity to introduce our speaker. My name is Fred Logevall, and I am a faculty member in the history department here, where I teach the history of US foreign relations and international history in the 20th century. I'm also Vice Provost for International Affairs. And really the reason that I'm here today, I'm the director of the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies.
Today's talk is part of a series that we have at the center, which is a Foreign Policy Distinguished Speakers Series. If you have a program like this, then you have a sense of what we're doing. So I won't go into great detail, except to say that this series and the foreign policy forum of which it's a part, I think it's doing some really interesting and exciting things on campus, in part, by drawing together people on campus in various departments-- faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, staff-- who have an interest in world affairs broadly conceived and, more to the point here, in bringing a selected number, a carefully selected array, of distinguished speakers from the outside who come to Cornell, who not only give a talk of the type that you're about to hear, but-- and this is something we really insist on-- who interact with graduate students, undergraduates in many cases. We want our speakers not only to talk about their research or their expertise in a forum like this, but also to interact with students. And so I'm very pleased that we have this going.
We have on campus, I'd say, about three dozen faculty and other specialists, researchers who have interest in this area. I would say, therefore, we have critical mass. And then of course, there's a lot of student interest as well. And this event, I want to say, has been brought to you, as they say-- has been made possible by funding that we've received from the San Giacomo Charitable Foundation, from Mrs. Judy Biggs, and also from the Bartels Family.
A couple of upcoming events that I just want to draw to your attention. On October 9, Judge Sang Hyun-Song, who is the president of the International Criminal Court, will present a lecture entitled "Preventive Potential of the International Criminal Court." That's the second speaker in this series. And that's going to be a 4:30 PM right in this room on the 9th of October. On November 18,
Francis Fukuyama, who is a Cornell alum, as many of you know, noted public intellectual, and who is currently at Stanford University and has been for some time, he will be here to lead a forum, to give the main address in a forum, which we're entitling "Public Intellectuals, Ideas on America's Place in the World." That isn't the title of his lecture. His lecture is going to be about the potential challenges to democracy in the 21st century. And Francis Fukuyama will be here to speak.
We're also going to have with us two very distinguished faculty from our own campus, Peter Katzenstein from the government department and my colleague in history, Isabel Hull, will be here. And in addition, John Mearsheimer, who once upon a time earned his PhD here at Cornell, John Mearsheimer will be here from the University of Chicago.
So the four of them will be-- I was going to say going at it-- but they will be enlightening us on the 18th of November in an event that is at 4:30 PM in the Schwartz Auditorium in Rockefeller Hall. More information on that, I think, to come.
Finally, on the 21st of November, the president of Iceland, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson-- that's how I would say it as a Swede. I'm not sure that's correct as an Icelandic pronunciation. But let's say President Grimsson, in American vernacular, will be here to speak at Schwartz Auditorium. His lecture is "Iceland's Clean Energy Economy, A Roadmap to Sustainability and Good Business." And that will conclude the fall series.
Now, just a few words of introduction about our speaker today. I'm so pleased in particular to be able to introduce to you Stephen Van Evera, who is the Ford International Professor from MIT. Lots than I could say about Stephen. And I'm going to be brief. You're not here to hear me. You're here to listen to Professor Van Evera.
He is a member at MIT of the security studies program. He chairs The Tobin Project, the working group at least, in terms of The Tobin Project on national security. I have had the honor of being peripherally involved in The Tobin project and am very grateful for that opportunity, grateful to Steve for that.
Steve Van Evera's publications include books on the causes of war and on social science methods, articles on grand strategy, American defense policy, nationalism and the causes of war, the origins of national identity, the origins of World War I, which certainly is apropos here, articles on American intervention in the developing world, the Israeli Arab conflict, and US strategy in the war on terror.
A particularly important book, in my judgment, which I just want to single out is Causes of War, Power and Roots of Conflict. And by the way, I should say, because I always forget, there will be books available for purchase after we finish. And I think that Professor Van Evera can be persuaded to sign.
Just a final word from me of a somewhat, I guess, more personal nature, and that is that what I really appreciate about Steve Van Evera is his, among other things, his commitment to interdisciplinary. It's something we talk a lot about in the academy, certainly here at Cornell. And I imagine at MIT there is a great premium placed on figuring out ways to break down the disciplinary walls and to do more stuff across disciplines. Not everybody does it. Not everybody is actually committed to it. And Steve is one of those people who is committed to that. And I see it, for example, with The Tobin Project, but also with some of the other things that Steve is doing at MIT. And I'm very, very grateful for that.
I think he's committed to the proposition that we need as, say, historians and as political scientists, who are interested in foreign policy, foreign relations, international history, we need to figure out ways that we can learn from one another, that we can work together, that we can even figure out how to best trained both undergraduates and graduate students. And I think that's a very exciting proposition.
He has as well a kind of insatiable intellectual curiosity which I love. We just had a session with students. I think a few of you were participating in the session. And Heike Michelsen, my colleague in the Einaudi Center, came to my office, and she said, the session won't end. They're still talking in there. Because the idea was that our guest would have an opportunity to go back to the Statler Hotel, kick back a little bit, and then I would meet him there. It didn't happen. Instead, he came straight to my office. And it says something about our guest that he was so willing to engage with the students for that long.
He is a giant in the field of international relations scholarship and somebody who cares as well about what we do as us historians of international affairs. I'm delighted that he's here with us today. The subject of today's talk is "American Grand Strategy and Current Crises, Ukraine and the Middle East." Ladies and gentlemen, Steve Van Evera.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Thank you for that. It's very kind. Regarding that last subject, by the way, I circulated to Heike several things I wrote. And one of them is about this whole question of how can we break down the silos in social science that divide people who ought to be working together and make social science, I think, smarter and better by de-siloing, if you will, or interdisciplinarizing, or whatever you'd want to call it. But if any of you want to see my thoughts, my more developed thoughts on, if you will, reorganizing social science so that they are more multidisciplinary and also more relevant to the real world. You can ask Heike for the memo that I wrote.
That's a very kind introduction. I'm remembering Senator John Stennis famously used to listen to overly fulsome introductions and respond at the end by saying, (SOUTHERN ACCENT) why, after listening to all that, I thought I was dead. (NORMAL ACCENT) So thank you for the very kind introduction.
Today, I want to talk about American grand strategy. And I'm specifically going to talk about what it used to be, why it ought to change, and what it ought to be going forward. And I'm spurred to do it partly because I have been following the discussion about foreign policy in Washington for the last few years, but especially the last few months, and it's been basically a grand strategy free discussion. If you listen to the talking heads on cable, they don't reference larger strategy ideas when they recommend what to do on Ukraine or on ISIS or on China.
And my view is any foreign policy that precedes with no grand strategy beneath it is bound to end badly. You need grand strategy to set priorities, to tell yourself when your strategy is no longer current and is obsolete and needs to change. Yet, I think it's a chronic condition of debate about policy that it tends to be focused on the trees, not the forest. And the large strategy that you're operating under doesn't get debated enough.
When I teach foreign policy to my students, I tend to teach it somewhat as the history of major debates about grand strategies. But recognizing that if you went back in time and actually read the newspaper at any given point, people talk much more about, if you will, the weeds or the branches, not the forest. Nevertheless, to me, it's a key thing that a country has to do is to choose grand strategy wisely. If you don't have one, you're in trouble. And if you choose one badly, you're in trouble.
When I say grand strategy, what I mean is, if you will, the largest, most general ideas about how you provide-- in this case, I'm talking about grand security strategy-- so what are the most general ideas that the government is operating under about how to provide or how to cause national security? Back in the early Cold War, the big strategy debate-- the grand strategy, if you will, debate-- was between three strategies that were on the table from 1947 or so until 1954 or so-- containment, isolation, and rollback.
It was a very fateful debate because the choices were huge. Rollback basically involved starting a nuclear war. People forget that this was ever actively talked about in the US, but it was. And isolation involved a radical withdrawal from the world. In the end, containment won the debate.
Then continued a long debate about how to do containment, how to conduct it. Which was, again, a very fateful debate about whether the US should pursue finite containment, meaning let's only work on containing the Soviets, but not other leftists, from gaining influence in industrial regions like Western Europe and East Asia but not the rest of the world, versus global containment, the idea that the US should oppose all, if you will, communists and leftists in the world all over the planet.
And that debate was replayed many times. And it really was, if you will, in general form, the debate about Vietnam and the debate about the Central American wars of the '80s. Which all replaying this question-- should the US be involved in combating leftist movements and ideas across the planet or not? That debate was generally won by the globalists. But when I say grand strategy, this is the kind of argument I'm talking about.
And what I'm going to argue today is that we need a radical change in how Americans have thought about grand strategy and a radical change, if you will, in the grand strategy that's assumed in Washington, if there is one assumed anymore. I guess I have two critiques at Washington. One is that if you ask most people in the policy role what is grand strategy today, US grand strategy, they would tell you they weren't sure, that they don't have one. But insofar as they have one, it needs to be changed.
And my recommendation, just to cut to the chase, give you a summary, is the US should adopt a concert strategy. That it's 1815 again. It's a very unique time in world affairs. We've only once before seen a time like the time we're in. But we're in the time we're in, and we should adapt accordingly.
In 1815, and for a brief time thereafter, the major states of Europe saw each other as less of a threat than they saw the threat from below. For a time, they were more worried-- they felt there was a greater security threat to their regimes coming from essentially popular movements, movements of democracy or, if you will, movements of revolution. They were fearful of a replay of the French Revolution in one of the European states, which they felt was a threat because it might overthrow them if they were the country where revolution happened. Or it would lead to international war, as it did with the French fighting the rest of Europe. And that would threaten them in a different way.
So they created a regime of cooperation amongst each other which had significant rules for how to avoid conflict with each other and resolve conflicts and to cooperate against the threat from below. It was a very ugly policy. You know, judged from contemporary values, it was anti-democratic and anti-popular. And it lasted for, good question, how long? But the terms of reference for the concert did survive for some decades.
My point is that today, once again, the threat from other major powers to the US is much abated to the point where it's trivial. During the entire 20th century, American foreign policy was premised and keyed on the idea that the main threats to US national security came from other major powers and that is no longer true.
Specifically, in the 20th century, the premise before World War I-- or World War II rather-- was that the major threat was that Germany would establish continental hegemony, come to dominate much or all of industrial Eurasia. And if it did that, it would then have enough industrial might to create a war machine that could project power across the Atlantic and threaten the US. It was unclear if it could do it indirectly by penetrating Latin America or whatever. But it would threaten the US.
This was the same premise that, again, led the US into the Cold War. The primary reason for the US decision to wage the Cold War was the fear that the Soviet Union now replaced the Germans as the prime, If you will, threat to Eurasian hegemony. And it did that by taking over Eastern Europe. And if it then took Western Europe, it again would have a GDP net, aggregate GDP, bigger than the US and could then create a war machine that would be able to project power across the ocean and threaten the US.
And these were the two premises behind the those two wars-- all about power, all about keeping too much power out of another bad actor's hands or out of any actor's hands. And I might add this is in a long tradition. The British thought about their policy toward Europe before that in very similar ways. You know, Britain again and again through the ages saw the major threat to British security to lie in the possible arising of a hegemon that would dominate the continent and then have enough power to threaten Britain. So it's a very common way for major powers to look at national security.
And what I'm saying here today is that's great, glad everyone had those ideas. They're all totally obsolete. This is no longer the world we live in. This is obsolete thinking. Today, major powers essentially pose virtually no threat to United States. There's no scenario under which any major power can threaten American sovereignty. Even if China continues growing like Topsy, for reasons I'll lay out, China cannot meaningfully threaten American national sovereignty. And the United States should accordingly not put high priority on preparing to contain China or weaken China or confront China or any other major power.
At the same time, new threats have arisen in the world which are serious. And they are similar to the 1815 threat from below. They're not the same. But they're similar. Specifically, the threat of WMD terror, the possibility that terror groups are going to acquire Weapons of Mass Destruction, aspire to use them against major cities, US cities, and will find a way. And if you want to think of that as another threat from below, you can think of it that way.
And then I would say beyond that there are other threats that essentially are equally grave to US security and US society, specifically threats to the commons is a term people use. But above all, I'm thinking of climate change. There are others, you know, the threat of pandemic disease and so on, which has the characteristic of being threats to the commons, meaning they threaten all societies commonly. And they can only be defeated by common action by major powers.
And sort of cutting to the chase again, all the way to the end, the lesson here is these threats are new, graver than they ever were, and can only be defeated by common action among major powers. And the bottom line then is that the US should try to forge, if you will, a broad coalition of major states of the world to deal with these problems, to deal with WMD terror, to deal with other threats to the commons, climate change and so forth.
And bottom line is this is quite out of line with the terms of debate in Washington today. In my opinion, we should talk about why the Ukraine crisis arose and whether all the blame lies with Russia or whether the West has blame. But the Obama policy has been, if you will, not in line with what I'm saying. Obama's early foreign policy rhetoric was quite in line actually with a concert policy. But they've now walked off of that. So I'm urging that they go back to it.
So that's the talk in a nutshell. I'll go quickly through the outline. I handed out an outline just because I think it's fun to take notes on an outline and you can be more sure what to argue with if you want to argue later about it. So I've given you a handout that's sitting on the back up there. And it also lets me talk faster, because I can assume that if you are skimming the outline, you don't need to hear every word. So I'm going to jump over things here.
But Roman numeral II, what are the security threats to the US, and do they look like the past, and have they diminished? And I've outlined what the past strategy was-- maintain the division of Eurasia.
Why do I argue that, if you will, geopolitical threats to the US are much reduced and no major power now threatens US sovereignty? China is the chiefly featured possible hegemon. And my argument is they can't pose a serious threat to US sovereignty for four reasons. The most important is the nuclear revolution, OK? The most important is the nuclear revolution. American strategy discourse never really caught up with the implications of the nuclear revolution.
And to me, the core meaning of the nuclear revolution, especially the hydrogen revolution, the arising of immensely powerful hydrogen arsenals, is that a state that wants a secure deterrent can pretty well always maintain it. It's much easier to build, hide, and deliver nuclear weapons than it is to hunt, kill, and destroy them. As a result, it's a pretty easy trick to maintain a deterrent. And no state with a deterrent is ever going to be conquered by another state. It's not going to happen.
You can't imagine the clever briefing that you give to the aggressor government. How do you conquer a country that has a secure nuclear deterrence that can annihilate you if you move against it? The bottom line reason for this is that once you have nuclear capacities amongst powers that are absolute, conflicts tend to be won by the state that has the most will, the most will to run risks, most will to take losses. And that is almost always the defender. States care much more about protecting their own sovereignty than they care about taking away the sovereignty of others. And they'll invest much more in terms of blood, treasure, and risk to do that.
So by the way, we need some more research on this. There's no, if you will, developed research on the history of how great powers think to underpin that. But if you want to challenge it later, we can talk about it. But I would argue that the nuclear revolution is a defensive revolution. And it means that-- I think it's an extreme defensive revolution-- even if China had a GDP several times that of the US and harnessed much more of it for military purpose than the US, it could not achieve a first strike capability. And short of that, American sovereignty is absolute and secure.
The other things that have also changed since the, if you will, age of geopolitics-- 1940s, '50s, '60s. Back in those days, the world economy worked in such a way that if you conquered vast industrial regions, you could milk them for military power. Smokestack industries could be, if you will, milked at gunpoint, the way Hitler milked the Skoda Works in Czechoslovakia or the way the Germans milked the French industries in the areas they overran. Now we live in a knowledge-based economic world, and you can't conquer and milk them. The idea of conquering people and then making them produce stuff for you, it's a fallacy, given the way things work today. If China were to somehow expand, which I don't think they intend to do, they would not empower themselves by doing it.
And the third factor is kind of obvious-- is we live in an age of intense nationalism and dispersed small arms. And imperial adventures are now much more punished than rewarded, because you whack a hornet's nest when you try to take things that don't belong to you. So this whole idea of, you know, China doing some kind of scenario like what Hitler did-- taking things over, getting stronger-- not going to happen. You know, it falls apart when you look at it carefully.
And lately, everyone's got knickers in a twist about Russia. There the story is even plainer. And maybe I'm, if you will, beating a straw horse there or whatever, because we don't really hear people saying that Russia is a potential hegemon. But you know, Russia is a basket case. They have an economy the size of Italy. They're basically a petro state. They're very corrupt. Their population is declining. Their GDP will be falling farther and farther behind the world standard over coming years.
So Russia's making trouble. Russia is run by a nasty government. He's a cruel dude. I do not like him. But do they pose a serious threat of expanding to the point where they assemble enough power to be a threat to the US? The answer is no.
I'm taking you through the specifics on, you know, should you believe me when I say don't worry about other major powers posing a security threat or posing a threat to US sovereignty? What threats are emerging? My view is that the WMD terror threat is serious. It's hard to estimate how serious. But it's serious. And it's enduring. It's not going away.
And let me just say as a first thing. Academics disagree greatly on how much of a danger does al-Qaeda pose? How much of a danger do its affiliates pose? You have views ranging all the way from folks like [INAUDIBLE] and John Mueller, who say that this is a totally over-hyped threat, and we should, you know, just take some Valium and not be so scared, versus my friend Graham Allison at Harvard, who has been saying for the last 15 years that we'll have a nuclear war in five years. So he's been wrong every five years. But you know, of course, he's wrong till he's right.
But my real point would be it's very hard to, if you will, net assess this threat. The only serious scholar who's tried to do it is Matthew Bunn at Harvard who wrote a terrific book recently on nuclear security. And he makes an effort to, when I say net asses, meaning bring some rigorous method to judging how serious the threat is. I love his work. But I'm not saying you have agree with his results.
If you take the middle of the road on this, this threat is a serious threat. And my point would be it looks like it's going to get worse for two reasons. One is if you do a long-term trajectory of where weapons of mass destruction are going in the world, I think you can make a pretty serious argument that they're going to become more and more available to non-state actors. They're going to become more and more dispersed and either available by manufacturer or theft or purchase to non-state actors, to terrorists. The price of such things is going down. We see advances in biology that are putting, you know, biologically engineered agents more and more coming into the possible future as a threat to the safety of the world.
Over the last 20 years, we've seen control over nuclear weapons and materials deteriorate in Russia. And it's not been fully restored. We see the possibility of new technologies under which nuclear materials can be made much more cheaply, the laser enrichment process that the Australians have developed. Others in this room know more than I do. But my point is good argument can be made that these materials are going to be more available down the road. And it's very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.
The book people should read on this that's the sort of most-- I wouldn't call it polemical because it's by a guy who knows so much, Martin Rees-- it's called Our Final Hour, A Scientist's Warning. And it's basically a speculation about the future, arguing that WMD, the power destroy is both increasing and spreading. And he's looking over, you know, the next century. So he's looking long run. But he's one of Britain's most distinguished scientists. And I think his speculation should be taken seriously.
The second point is are we going to see a continuation of dangerous radicalism in especially world's religious communities? And my view is, you know, as you look back over the last 20 years, there's much reason to think yes, that there's some distemper loose in the religious communities of the world that is likely to continue bringing forth radical expression.
Martin Marty and Scott Appleby years ago wrote about fundamentalism and argued basically it's a backlash against modernity, and it's not going away. As long as modern market and media continue to press against traditional societies, you're going to see them backlashing in violent ways.
Whatever the theory is or whatever the cause is, we certainly haven't seen a recessing of radical Islam. We've seen, at core, al-Qaeda has been greatly weakened by US military pressure in Pakistan. But we've seen it proliferate, or metastasize if you want, into regional outfits that are less focused on hitting the US but are also very capable in Yemen and in Somalia and Nigeria in the Sinai and in Iraq. And of course, we see it now in Syria with Al-Nusra and Khorasan. And they've gotten into Libya. So we've seen these local franchises spreading.
The point I really keep saying to people about this is that the al-Qaeda narrative continues to be legitimate and widely believed in the Muslim world. I don't believe that [INAUDIBLE], if you will, jihadi terror. It's a bad name for it because it gives too much credit to it. But it will continue until that narrative is defeated. And I don't see that on the horizon. Maybe it could be defeated. But it's not being defeated.
And as I said, we see other things going on in the world of religion that are, to me, going to sustain the problem of people motivated to use weapons of mass destruction against civilians. We see a rise of millenarianism which is a wholly different problem in all the world's religions. And millenarianism I think, is a particularly worrying or dangerous mindset in the nuclear age, or the WMD age, because millenarian ideas can be a justification for the mass killing of civilians. By millenarian, I simply mean the idea that the world is going to end, and that's a good thing. And then the next phrase for some millenarians is, and we should help bring that about. And this is a wholly different problem from jihadi Islam. But it's at least of the same kind of behavior.
So you know, long-term projection, these dangers aren't ephemeral. They're not going away. And yet other dangers, the dangers to the commons, I don't think I need to [? disquisite ?] very long on climate change, which looks more and more worrying as we learn more and more about it. The key point there is that-- well, for various reasons, I think it is the problem from hell politically.
It's configured as a problem that, to me, it has a very clear policy solution. Repricing carbon would be a very effective way of changing the industrial complex of the world. I believe price signals really change things. And if we reprice carbon, if we created a carbon tax that was really imposed global, you'd see a rapid and very deep change in the way energy was produced across the planet.
But the climate change problem is a very, very hard one to solve for a range of reasons. The signature of the problem doesn't appear in the way that humans receive threat information. It's a benign looking phenomena that arises very slowly. It involves no screaming, no blood. It pits a concentrated interest against the common interests.
My wife used to write about economic sanctions and one of her mantras always was, in politics, especially US politics, almost an iron law obtains, which is concentrated interests defeat the common interests. Whenever you have a combat between a common interest and a concentrated interest, you're going to see the concentrated interest win, even when they're unpopular, even when they're doing much harm to the common good. And the climate change conflict is a classic case that pits a concentrated interest against a common interest and for several other reasons, I think.
The further point is this problem cannot be solved without broad and intense international cooperation. And you can say it should be solved without it. Countries shouldn't wait for each other to cooperate to get moving and solving it. But that's the way it is. You're not going to get international action to solve this problem until you get broad agreement on international cooperation, which makes it a foreign policy problem, which is why I'm bringing it up here as part of US grand strategy.
So that's yet another dimension to the need to, if you will, create a concert of broad cooperation, not just against terror but also against other threats to the common. Even now we see with Ebola an example of yet another problem that I think does require, again, broad international cooperation, which is threats to global public health. The problem there is not so much that we face new threats that we didn't face before. It's that we have new opportunities to solve serious public health problems by cooperation, but they will be disrupted if we have a major break in major power relations.
You know, my sort of bottom line here is a lot of things are going to go wrong if the US and China get into a Cold War. We're going to stop cooperating against terror. We're going to stop cooperating against WMD. And then even on things like the flu, which a lot of it emerges from China, we're going to see a breakdown of cooperation on that and other public health things. So the cost will be huge if we have a major rupture in major power relations. And instead, the US should work to create tight cooperation.
Roman numeral V, I've already said much of what's under there, that the nuclear revolution plays an interesting role in both the problem and the answer. The nuclear revolution means that major powers can't conquer each other anymore, which enables cooperation. It also is the root of the current threat of weapons of mass destruction terror. So it requires it also.
And there's a third dimension too to it, which is that given that the great powers are safe from each other, they can also afford to cooperate with each other. In other words, they don't need to conflict with each other. They also can afford to cooperate with each other and then they have to cooperate with each other because they all face threats in common.
Maybe a fourth thing should be brought up too, which is that these problems cannot be solved without broad cooperation. So many things have come together here to recommend a very unusual foreign policy. Like I said, very rare in history. I should say here it's like a white elephant. You almost never see the major powers of the world cooperate tightly. It's almost an iron law of foreign policy the major states of the world get along badly.
If you look at Quincy Wright's old book that collects data on wars for the last 500 years, one regularity there is that major states are almost always at each other's throats. They get along worse with each other than medium powers do. It's a strong regularity in world affairs. Major powers do not get along. And what I'm arguing here is maybe there are good reasons for that. Those reasons don't exist anymore. And so it's time to change direction.
Policies to create a concert-- you know, what to do with China, what to do with Russia. My view is this Ukraine crisis can be solved. The Western press has not done a very good job explaining how it erupted. My own answer to it is that a solution along the lines of neutralization will solve this. I think the Russians will accept it.
The main Russian objection to events in Ukraine is that they seem to point toward the drawing of Ukraine into the Western security orbit. And that's really what's driving Putin to all of his bad behavior. The EU accession offer of a year ago, which triggered the crisis, contained two poison pills in it that seemed to signal that this was the beginning of the drawing of Ukraine into, not only the EU but also NATO. There were military clauses in this offer.
And my observation is that no major power kindly accepts the running up of a hostile alliance to its borders. You should not be surprised that the Russians take this poorly. Maybe they should be calm about it. But it's almost an iron law of world politics, once again, that major states, they resist forcefully, by violence, when a unfriendly alliance approaches their frontiers.
The United States had the Monroe Doctrine. And under it, it invaded many countries in Latin America, Central America, again and again-- I won't go through the list, but it's a long one-- insisting that, in other words, other major states stay far from the US frontier.
Think about the Korean War and how the US got into the combat with China. What was the cause of the US conflict with China that erupted in November 1950? It was because the US ran itself up to the Chinese border. China said don't do it. The US ignored it. And then big war resulted.
Or if you'll think about how Israel views its territory and the surrounding areas and insists that hostile powers not be directly on its borders. Or if you even think of traditional British policy toward the low countries and how Britain sort of saw the low countries as a backyard and insisted that they be controlled by someone friendly.
It's a very strong regularity. It shows sort of, if you will, the poverty of American foreign policy debate that this is not referenced when we try to explain Putin's reaction to the NATO accession offer. Because to me, this is not about Putin. He's behaving the way any Russian president would behave. And in doing that, he's behaving pretty much the way any national leader would behave. And the answer is for the United States to, if you will, live by the great power Golden Rule-- do not do that which would be hateful to yourself. The United States would never tolerate-- never at all tolerate-- a hostile alliance on its border. It needs to compose its relations with Russia in a way that eliminates that possibility.
And neutralization, what I mean by that is the arrangement that the US had with Austria in 1955 when the US and Soviets agreed to neutralize Austria, meaning an agreement that will not be part of either alliance is the way to go forward with that. [INAUDIBLE] do an agreement that the Russians will leave their hands off internal politics in Ukraine.
So I say all this simply because I can imagine your wheels are turning. You're thinking this guy has pie in the sky. He thinks the United States and Russia are going to, you know, reach a modus vivendi and go forward and solve problems together. My answer is yes. Yes, we can. It'll take a while. But the interests are aligned to do it. And there's a way to patch up this mess in Ukraine, which today looks so terrible.
And regarding China, the US should define its policy toward China as one that leads toward modus vivendi. Specifically the pivot to Asia should be defined as something directed not against China, but against conflict, and that the US should it should frame itself as a, if you will, order keeper or security provider in East Asia, the way it always was in Europe.
We can flesh out more what it would mean to create a concert. But that gives you a rough idea.
The US should do other things. Always behave in foreign policy in a way that builds its legitimacy. The US cannot build a concert-- cannot forge a broad coalition of states-- if it doesn't behave in ways that the rest of the world thinks are legitimate. So, if you will, [INAUDIBLE] uses of force, sharp dealing, talking disrespectfully should all be understood to be bad practices by the US.
The US also needs to, if it's going to play a big leadership role like this, improve its skills at public diplomacy at deploying its ideas or using its words, if you will. But leading in this way requires shaping debate abroad, which the US used to be very good at in the Cold War and in the 50s and 40s, I would say, not after that. And that skill set has been eliminated from the US government.
It's now really been almost forgotten that the US once upon a time knew how to deploy ideas and make arguments, that long ago there was a day when FDR mobilized half of Hollywood to convince the world that the Allies were right in World War II and did it very skillfully. And that skill needs to be recovered if the US is going to play, if you will, a concert assembling role.
Can a concert be organized? Again, I think people might be saying, oh, that pie in the sky, the idea of really lining up a whole lot of countries to do one thing. My view would be look to the past. when the US leadership were willing to invest political capital in doing it, they've succeeded. During the Second World War, the US organized a grand alliance of very diverse countries and got the moralists pointed in the same direction. It took the total focus of US leaders. But they did it. And in the Cold War, again-- NATO, same thing, a very broad alliance focused on the same goals, lots of endless quarreling over burden shares and policies and disagreements about tactics. But in the end, it shows that broad coalition assembly is not beyond the skill set of the US government.
Impediments to a concert, I'm not expecting my recommendation to be followed. I don't think in the end that our government is going to do what I'm recommending. So I'm sorry to tell you that. I'm sure you're all convinced that it's a good idea.
But what are the impediments? They're big. We have a whole host of lobbies in Washington that aren't going to go for this. The various national foreign lobbies that like the US to have bad relations with other powers are all going to make this difficult-- the Polish lobby and the Taiwan lobby and other lobbies. And I should say the human rights lobbies aren't going to like it either. We have essentially a human rights lobby in Washington that thinks that confrontation with other major powers improves human rights. I disagree with them. I don't think this is a way to make the life of Ukrainians better. I think that our confrontation with Russia is wounding the Ukrainians, myself. But whatever. I'm in a minority on that. But we have special interests that aren't going to like it.
The US Defense establishment is really not going to like it, because we're talking here about essentially a foreign policy that totally redirects our security apparatus away from major power conflict. And our entire security apparatus is geared toward it. So you know, large organizations never like to have their missions changed or their essence-- their essence meaning their mission-- changed on them. And so you will find total lack of enthusiasm from the US military and security establishment for this change, so lots of opposition.
You find that, I think, American public culture is not [INAUDIBLE] to take this argument very seriously. Part of it is simply that Americans don't understand how much the US benefited in the past from cooperation. There's sort of a culture today in the cable news world that allies are a pest. And you know, Uncle Sam has solved everything by himself. And why should we cooperate with others? It doesn't it doesn't produce good rewards.
If you ask most Americans, what percentage of the losses in World War II on the Allied side were borne by the US, I'm pretty sure people would tend to get that number wrong. And they would give big numbers. They think that, you know, Hitler was beaten because Ike landed at Normandy, and then Patton drove to the Rhine, and we took those guys down. And they don't understand that actually US contribution in terms of suffering in World War II was trivial. 3% of the Allied deaths were American. 97% percent were borne by Allies, illustrating that the US once upon a time was good at what I call Tom Sawyer grand strategy.
I'm getting off the subject. But Tom Sawyer is one of my favorite strategists. It's smart to have the other boys whitewash the fence. It's better that they should whitewash the fence than that you whitewash the fence. And American foreign policy during the 20th century, I think, was very Tom Sawyerish. And our popular culture doesn't remember that. So it makes the appeal of a cooperation strategy smaller.
So the impediments are big. I'm not accepting quick acceptance. But I still think that this strategy should be put forward and thought about, because I think that continuing the old think-- you know, that major powers are the major threat and competition was the answer-- is going exactly the opposite way.
So I'll stop with that and suggest comments, questions, speeches, brickbats, amazement, horror, skepticism-- reinforcement, I'll take that too. Do you want to take it?
AUDIENCE: So good afternoon, sir. My name is [? Huong, ?] a first year here in the history program and the history department. And I'm one of--
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: [INAUDIBLE]?
AUDIENCE: [? Huong. ?]
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: [? Huong. ?]
AUDIENCE: Yeah. I'm from Vietnam, one of Professor Logevall's advisees.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Great.
AUDIENCE: And my question is, so I'm from Vietnam, and from the perspective of smaller states. Historically, whenever the bigger states have tended to agree, we've tended to lose. I mean polling was divided. Vietnam at the Geneva Conference was divided. I mean, I don't think you're the first person to suggest a kind of society alliance system among the great powers. But what does that entail really for the smaller states? What does that entail for Ukraine, for the Philippines and Vietnam, for Taiwan, for all these actors?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: That's a great question. I kind of skipped over this question of what exactly should the US be doing in East Asia. And one element in my mind of a concert strategy is for the US to play peacemaker, if you will, amongst all the major states in the world. Any major conflict anywhere tends to spread and suck others in. And then that tends to divide major countries that need to cooperate. So my view is the US needs a peace policy.
We also need a peace policy for a second reason, which is in my view-- I'm getting a little into the arcana of how the terror groups flourish, but they also flourish on war. Al-Qaeda basically is an organism that grew because there were Petri dishes of war for it to grow in. So my view is the US should have a pro peace policy. It should say to every region of the world, we are here. An objective of our policy is to prevent war among all the states of the region.
And my analogy really is to Bismarck and the way he organized German policy in the 1880s, his policy toward the German periphery. He basically believed that Germany's national interest lay in being in a peaceful neighborhood, that Germany would be sucked into wars that happened on its periphery and that one way Germany could help diminish the chances of war on its periphery was to provide security for neighboring states. So we forged a network of defensive alliances with other states. I'm simplifying somewhat there. But that's roughly what he did, making it so that everybody on his periphery knew that Germany would be backing them if they were attacked but would be against them if they were attacking. And as a result, everybody in Europe felt deterred and reassured.
That, in my view, should be the US policy toward East Asia. We should say to everybody in the region, we're for peace, and we're for the security of everyone. And we will be against aggression by anyone in the way that, as I said, Bismarck was. So I think the US should make clear that it will weigh in the balance in favor of any victims of anyone's aggression, including China's, as part of the peace policy.
So I'm not suggesting that-- let's just say I want to distinguish my recommendation from Nixon's policy of 1971, when, under the Nixon Doctrine, he sort of had a concept that US friends, allies, proxy states, whatever you want to call them, were going to exert hegemony in parts of the world. You know, Iran would sort of run one area. Brazil would run another and so on hegemonistically. I'm not suggesting that. I'm suggesting that the US should be in favor of the peace and freedom of all, which is a way of enforcing peace everywhere, which is good for the concert.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Oh sure. Over here.
AUDIENCE: So does this policy that you're proposing mean in Egypt we sort of go back to a Mubarak style? We let, you know, some bad things happen as far as democracy is concerned in order to contain militant Islam, and we let the Chinese drill wherever the hell they want to in the Far East?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well, I don't think it actually makes a clear prediction about what US policy should be toward Egypt. I mean, if we're taking the terror problem seriously, we should let the best answer to that be our guide in Egypt. It doesn't mean we should abandon all concern for human rights.
But to me, supporting Mubarak, supporting a harsh, if you will, knuckle-down regime in Egypt is not-- I don't think it is the best way to dampen radical Islam. I think it's a great way to lead to an explosion. And I'm worried that the new regime, the Sisi regime in Egypt, by their complete suppression of the Islamists is going to, in the end, drive them so far underground that they do organize once again into a group that use force. So we're going to see a new eruption of violence out of Egypt.
So great question. You're right that an implication of my talk is, you know, the US should put high priority on policies that dampen the terror threat. But to my mind, supporting ruthless dictators, often it's not the right policy.
And regarding China, appease China by letting it take what it wants-- I mean, I am saying that we should try to, if you will, reach a modus vivendi with China. My main advice on how to do that is I believe in preemptive solution to all issues. I really think these oil issues are kind of small ball stuff. And the Chinese are foolish to push them. We would be foolish to let them become real, if you will, items of international crisis and division. You know, there's enough oil to go around. Frankly, there's too much. And so you know, the Chinese are foolish to be pushing this issue.
But my view is-- it gets into a whole other area, but I'm a believer that a smart, peace-oriented country preemptively moves to resolve issues before they become politicized. And you know, we should be looking around Asia at all the issues. What's the universe of issues that are not yet resolved? And my view is just resolve them any old way. It doesn't matter too much how you resolve them. You get them resolved because unresolved issues get politicized. And then once they're politicized, the party is getting far more cranked up about fighting about them than they should be. And you often will get major conflicts over minor things.
I would lean in favor of all tactics to reach a modus vivendi with China without appeasing China. I mean, if you appease them, you know, mindlessly then more trouble comes down the road because they'll have no respect for any restraint you demand on them.
Yeah. Sorry. Yeah, sure.
AUDIENCE: Two questions on Ukraine. The first one is, in your outline at least, you talk about the [INAUDIBLE] Ukraine crisis based on mutualization of Ukraine, minority rights [INAUDIBLE] in Ukraine, and Russian non-interference in Ukrainian internal affairs.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Right.
AUDIENCE: You don't mentioned Crimea, number one.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: No.
AUDIENCE: Number two, why would Ukraine, at this point, go a long with a settlement that says neutralization of Ukraine and trust that Russia will not interfere in Ukrainian internal affairs in the future? Why would Ukraine believe that?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well, I'm not sure they have to believe it. In other words, to my mind, an agreement like that would be self-enforcing. If the Russians decide to break the agreement, then we'll break the agreement. This is how all international agreements work. They're all self-enforcing. There's no court in the sky that makes you follow. And you try to structure the agreements so that if the agreement comes apart, it will fail gracefully, meaning that you too have an exit option that leaves you no worse off than you were before the agreement.
And when I think about the scenario you're putting before us, you know, I would tell Mr. Putin, or Mr. Russian dude in Moscow, fine, you guys can forget your obligations under this. And we will forget ours. And you'll be sorry. So you know, think carefully before you stick your fingers in and try to deny the Ukrainians their national autonomy. So that's how I think about it.
Now, I'm kind of glossing over the details there.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] Crimea?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yeah, what about Crimea? I mean, I think Putin did a really stupid thing in Crimea and a real problem. And I don't know how to walk it back. The main reason it's a problem for him, because it's going to be an economic millstone. The places is in economic ruin. It's going to drain huge resources from Russia. What a foolish thing to do. He had significant objectives there-- the fleet and all that. But they could have been-- you know, he's an emotional guy. He's a hothead. You know, he just-- he eats too many chili peppers. He got too excited.
Why is it a mess though? The main problem is for our proliferation policy. Going forward, US guarantees to other states who want nuclear weapons that instead of buying nukes they should accept America's security protection have been a major tool of preventing other countries from seeking nuclear weapons. This is the main reason why Germany doesn't have them, Japan doesn't have them, South Korea doesn't have them, Taiwan doesn't have-- the use and the credibility of US, if you will, security protection.
And the US did offer an assurance. It didn't offer a guarantee. It didn't put an iron clad promise to Ukraine back in '94, saying if someone messes with you, we'll fight for you. But it was an assurance, a kind of an aura of protection was created. And by invading Crimea, Putin has undermined the credibility of that offer.
And so I'm not sure what we should demand of him down the road to undo this. How are we going to, if you will, spin this event so the future states accept a security guarantee that's worth something? I mean, all the others made we made were worth something. And we've taken risks for those states. But it is a problem. And I want to put it aside.
What I want to do is say to Putin, look guy, you really have a real mess here. And if you ever want to get things fully restored with us, you've got to find some way to limit the damage of what you did because the damage is serious. You need to help us, if you will, essentially with an image problem-- how do we talk about Ukraine in a way that doesn't make it appear that we've betrayed an offer?
Now, to me, the facts on the ground are not as grim as they often are in the sense that Ukraine is Russian majority. The legitimacy of Ukrainian ownership of Crimea is pretty thin, given that they only acquired it in 1954, and they only acquired it because Khrushchev was kind of goofing off one day, an event that was somewhat accidental. And I keep playing with ideas like, you know, for 30 years Bosnia-Herzegovina was under Austrian rule but Ottoman sovereignty. So can we put something together that seems to maintain, if you will, Ukrainian sovereignty but under some very loose system? I don't know about that.
I don't have an-- no one has an answer to it, by the way. You talk to most people, it's like, oh my god, that one's over. So how do we limit the damage of this ridiculous, stupid thing Putin did? I don't know. When I say ridiculous, I really mean-- it's not ridiculous. It's stupid.
AUDIENCE: It was a violation of state sovereignty.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yes. Oh, absolutely.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yes, absolutely. Exactly. Well, I think that has been overplayed a little bit. I mean, haven't borders been changed by force in Europe since World War II? You know, everyone says, never happened. Well, yes, it has-- repeatedly really. You know it happened in the Caucasus and happened in Bosnia and so forth. But you know, you're right. It's a norm that it's much stronger now than it was before World War II. And that's a good thing.
The biggest problem to me is this proliferation angle. He's really made a problem for us there. I agree with you.
In the back there, on the right.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Oh. OK, sorry. My question is more about climate change. I'm glad to hear you bring that up because I think that gets dismissed by a lot of people.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: It gives what? I couldn't hear you.
AUDIENCE: About climate change-- so I was just thinking about events of the past week, considering the Planet Summit, that was largely unproductive, and some other [INAUDIBLE] that have come up to surface, like the Netherlands paying Liberia to not deforest their forests, and tribes in the US and Canada working together to recover the bison population. So my question is, there's a lot of talk about the need for sweeping agreement to improve the climate change situation. But do you think there's a future in smaller agreements making progress towards that goal, sort of chipping away at it rather than getting everybody to agree on one thing?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Very interesting question-- the tactics of bringing about true action on climate change, what should they be? Just to say a general thing, when I talk to my friends about it, it exasperates me how, if you will, ahistorical the environmental movement is. Because my impulse is always to tell them the core problem here is global opinion. And the core project has to be moving the needle on broad public opinion about climate change, changing the terms of debate about it, and making the broad public of the world, especially the elites, understand how serious this problem is and understanding that there is an answer to it. Because I'm very optimistic about the answer.
The research done on what the economic cost would be of a serious carbon tax is they would be small. This is not nearly as costly as you hear. But what does history teach us about how to, if you will, move the needle? I want people to study movements that have actually done it and ask how they did it. To me the gold standard here is the American Civil Rights Movement of the early '60s. I think it's not well understood how brilliant they were and how difficult a problem they had.
Everyone's, oh, climate change, you know, you're going up against the oil industry and the coal-- you know, that's impossible. You can't get people to change their mind about that. Well, I'll tell you the Civil Rights Movement had to change white attitudes on race at a time when the US was a pretty racist place. And these attitudes are extremely deep and hard-bitten.
And the skill with which that movement approached that, and in a short time frame-- they did it really from 1955 to '60, '65 really. It was a brilliant movement. Without getting into why I think they were brilliant, it wasn't just that Dr. King knew how to give a good speech. It was a brilliant invention of street theater. And a very tightly managed, extremely choreographed, and very well thought through series of street theater actions that people should study. Because I think the climate change movement could also-- should use street theater.
And by the way, why do I think they were brilliant? I mean, it's part-- today's movement breaks all the rules about pedagogy and communication. It presents knowledge, if you will, in scientific forum with tables and charts. That's not how people absorb information. Human beings absorb information chiefly from narratives. That's how we're hardwired. You sit around a fire and hear a story. We absorb it from things that are brought to us that are immediate in nature, things about individuals, not things about millions of people. So narratives about individuals, highly compelling-- charts and tables about millions of people and temperature change since 1880, not so motivating.
There's a book called Made to Stick that I think people should read. It's basically a marketing book on kind of how do people learn-- how does the public learn, If you want to communicate to a lot of people and move the needle. But marketing knowledge is just missing, in my view, from the environmental community. There's a distaste for it, I think. And I understand the distaste. I mean, the movement is heavily led by folks in the science community. They find it distasteful to, if you will, spin things or shade things, or exaggerate things, or whatever they think is going on with marketing.
But to my mind, you know, we have to get real here. And to me, you have to learn from past failures, past successes. The other major movements that need to be studied are the US anti-slavery movement, which was also, I think, brilliantly led much. Much can be learned from why they succeeded-- again, a very hard issue. The US conservative movement today, which I think is, again, brilliantly led and very effective at shaping opinion in the US. Much can be learned from how the US conservative movement has won many arguments.
So I'm ranting a little bit off your question. You were asking me, will small actions work? And my view is small actions are great at reminding people daily that big actions are needed. But my views on the policy question is there is one and only one answer to climate change. And that is repricing carbon. If we don't reprice carbon, every other solution has work arounds and will be corrupted and in the end will be ineffective.
Even, if you will, halfway stations to repricing, such as creating markets for carbon, which I think have not worked in Europe. On the other hand, I am a strong believer in the impact of repricing.
Exhibit A, by the way, would be the way the world energy system reacted to the oil shocks of 1974 and '81. When the oil shock hit in '79, and the price of oil shot up-- you're all too young to remember, but the price of oil shot up. And everyone in the commentary was saying, oh my god, we're going to have a very high price of oil now forever. it will last for decades. And what really happened is the industry took the price signal, went out and invested in finding and pumping new oil, found a vast amount of it, pumped a ton of it, drove the price down by 1986 to a level so low no oil company could make any money. It illustrates really how strong and fast a changed price signal will cause the private economy to adjust.
So I think, you know, this is an answer that will work. And it's the only answer I can see, and I think some effort to explain the economics behind it and restore the history too.
Also in terms of big changes, you know, to me-- are big changes possible? The other example people should bear in mind, just to encourage themselves that something big can be done, is to look at US war mobilization in World War II. And again, here I'm arguing really against those who say that transforming the global energy complex is too hard, too costly.
During World War II, the US essentially threw away half of the US economy. We just picked up and just threw it away. Maybe that's too strong, but transformed it. We mobilized from an economy who was spending 1 and 1/2% of GDP on defense to one that was spending, depends how you count, but maybe 45%. And did it in only three years. And this is a much bigger transformation than the transformation required to essentially move from a carbon economy to a green economy.
That was a bigger change. And it was done because the country decided to do it. And it kind of contradicts what I was saying earlier because it wasn't done by market forces. It was done by command and control. It was just ordered by the president. But to me, it's another example showing that when there's national will to make a major change in the structure of the economy, this is a doable thing. The issue was getting the government to decide to do it, which requires that society decide to do it.
AUDIENCE: Yes. I'd like to draw attention to one of the items on the second page of your outline. You say-- needed, enough military power to deter or reverse regression among other states. I have two questions related to this. The first is to what extent would the US and I suppose other big powers of the US concert need to combat the perception that this is an interventionist strategy against smaller states? And how do you measure enough military power? Who possesses and controls that?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well your first question is really good-- you know, the security dilemma. When you do things to defend yourself but others feel threatened by them, and how can the United States reassure others that the capabilities that are built for providing security abroad aren't going to be used against others? My bottom line there is-- it's on the third page-- build global legitimacy. The US needs to behave in a way that reassures others that US takes others' interests into account as well as its own.
And you know, I think there was a very unfortunate culture of sharp dealing in the Bush 43 administration. You know, I think John Bolton, who-- his whole aura was what is Uncle Sam doing? We're getting every little thing we can squeeze out of other people. We never take others' interests into account. We're the sharp dealing country. And I think US rhetoric and policy really needs to fit a totally different model, which is we care about our own interests and the common good. And we could be counted on to not only take care of our own immediate security problems and perhaps economic problem, whatever problems, but that we also, if you will, take others' interests into account. That needs to fit US conduct.
But I agree with you that in general major powers tend to forget how scary their capabilities look to others and how others are not quick to assume that when they build military power that it's benign and won't be used against them. And so I guess all I can say is all the more need to behave carefully to not convince others you're the enemy.
Let me just say. The point you make really is, in my view, the strongest argument against what I've said, OK? If you want to think about my colleague Barry Posen, who's written an important book that I recommend to all of you. Restraint is the name of it. It came out this year. And he is, if you will, calling for a much more limited and restrained policy than I am. He doesn't endorse creating a concert. He doesn't endorse an active policy of providing security around the world.
And I think part of his reasoning is he doesn't have faith in the ability of our polity to restrain itself from foolishness. Number one, he's fearful of what you're pointing to, which is others will fear American bad action, even when they shouldn't. And then he's fearful that sometimes they're going to be right. And our policy will be captured by bad actors. We have lots of charlatans in Washington and demagogues and fools and so forth, like all major powers do. And that our policy will be sometimes-- it will lapse into belligerence.
And he basically believes that-- and again, good case be made for this-- that if there isn't serious risk in any given action, the US tends to do it. When a major power faces low costs to being belligerent toward others, it tends to be belligerent toward others. Being restrained requires pushback from others.
If he's right about that, then you're completely right that if we charge off and do Steve's idea, number one, we're going to scare others into opposition. And number two, we're going to misbehave ourselves. And others will be right to be fearful of us.
Although bear in mind-- just to say in my own defense at this point, which is the military that I would design is smaller than our current one. And it would be shaped toward defense not offense. It would be how can we basically make others better able to defend themselves. I'm not recommending hegemony here. This is not, you know, America, go out and run the world. It's America, go out and make other states safe from each other. Which I think is pretty easy to do. It does not take a lot of military power. Conquering countries is hard. Here in front.
AUDIENCE: On a similar note, so this idea of a bold concert assumes that there are no real threats to American security, which means that America isn't actively protecting its hegemonic position-- so does this mean that you're proposing that American policy moves away from traditional offensive realism or that you're introducing new actors into the system, the non-state actors and terrorist groups?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: So what do I think of sort of offensive realism or hegemony? And you know, John Mearsheimer-- what do I think of him, huh? He's my friend. You know, I've learned so much from him. But I don't agree with him about grand strategy.
Let's just say I always distinguish-- when I talk about hegemony or imperialism, I distinguish limiting the foreign policies of others from limiting or controlling their domestic policy. So people should sharply distinguish if the US goes abroad and does stuff, what are you doing? Are you affecting or trying to shape foreign policies of other states? I'm for that. You know, let's shape states into behaving better toward their neighbors.
What about shaping their internal affairs? I'm much more leery of that. And I'm not always against it. I think there are just some cases of extreme human rights threat that the US should intervene. You know, I think we should have intervened in Rwanda. But I think, as a general matter, the US should not be in the empire business, meaning should not be in the business of directly imposing its will on the domestic, economic, social, and political order of other societies. We should do that very, very sparingly. We're very bad at it. And the results are often way worse than the situation before we went in.
We thought we were going to fix Iraq up and make things good for the Iraqis. We did something very difficult there, which is we took a country run by a monster, a murderous monster, and made it worse. How did we do it? We made it worse. And the answer is we're not good at social engineering overseas.
You know, conservatives often point out we're not good at social engineering in this country. And to me, I think some of them should reflect on the fact that we're even worse at it overseas. Exhibit A would today be Syria. And I'll say something I think probably is controversial and people won't accept it. But my view is we should not have the objective of regime change in Syria. We should not have the objective of ousting Assad. Assad's a monster. He's murdered scores of thousands of people. My view is if we persist, however, in seeking his ouster and do it, things will be even worse in Syria for a range of reasons. One is that we're so bad at, if you will, postwar situation management. Second, that country has conflicts you have not yet heard of, horrors that you haven't yet seen. The expulsion of the Christians and the Alawites will be next on the list after we oust that regime.
We should be involved in their internal affairs, I think, in the following way. We should be peacemakers. We should be pushing the actors toward some kind of, if you will, power sharing settlement. Syria needs peace. They don't need regime change. They need peace.
You know, I could go on about what a bad idea regime change is. I mean, if you look carefully at the Syrian Free Army, it's a cauldron of completely cacophonous groups, many of which are very extreme. And the idea of them coming into power, you're talking about civil war among them from the first moment.
And then in the end, sort of an iron law of, if you will, regime change is-- after regime change, who takes over? We have a very strong regularity in history. The most organized group takes over. And who does the most organized group tend to be? It's the most extreme group. And who's is going to be in Syria? ISIS. They're going to dominate Syria if we oust Assad.
Think of the Bolshevik Revolution. When the Bolsheviks took over, they were not the most powerful group in the USSR. They were the most organized. Or think Egypt. Why did Morsi dominate in the aftermath of the Tahrir Square activities? Again, they were not the most popular. But they were the most organized. And we'll see that replay in Syria.
So I'm very skeptical. I'm not always against it. Rwanda, like I said, I think we should have done it. But the conditions when we can really make things better are very confined. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So a change in US grand strategy in favor of a concert strategy, I think, is a very noble venture. However, as you've already mentioned, If major powers are reluctant to get along in the first place, does this varying level of willingness for foreign powers to cooperate make for an effective change? Because the boy who wants to play soccer can't play by himself. Do you know what I mean?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: So you're taking off my observation that historically the major powers of the world get along badly. And so how do I connect those dots? Well, it's a great question why they get along badly. And you know, my short answer is it's because they are the greatest threat each to one another. As they each survey the scene around them, they see other major states as the ones that can hurt them. So they don't get along well for security reasons.
I also believe, and can't prove, but I would say it has to do with their security establishments. They tend to have the biggest security establishments because they can't solve their security problems by alliances. Medium powers don't tend to have very big security establishments. And their security establishments don't tend to be very feisty. Because if they threat inflate-- you know, if the army of the Netherlands says we face a huge problem from Germany, the Netherlands prime minister is going to say, great, let's find some allies. You know, let's get the Americans to solve the problem because they can't solve it themselves. Whereas when major powers' militaries, their business model is to threat inflate, in my opinion.
A key reason why you see these bad relations among the very strongest states is their security establishments like things that way. And if we don't find some way to essentially tame the role of professional militaries in shaping opinions of major states, you're going to see this problem.
I mean, I mentioned on the outline, you know, the US security establishment isn't going to go for this. They're not going to like this. This wrecks their business model. So I'm agreeing that, you know, there's something gummy in the warp and woof of major power politics that makes this policy very hard to carry out. I agree with that.
AUDIENCE: Do you believe Russia is asking for a reset 2.0 is more related to them maybe admitting fault in going into Crimea? Or is it that the United States and Russian relations have deteriorated to the point where we need another reset?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Asking for reset 2.0-- you said either, or. One is relations have deteriorated. And the other is--
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Crimea. But aren't those the sort of same thing? Oh. You mean Crimea, meaning that they figured out it's a mess, and they don't want to keep it?
AUDIENCE: Yes, exactly. What [INAUDIBLE]
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yeah. I actually don't see the Russian elite backing off this blunder they made. Now, I don't read the Russian press. And a lot goes by me that I don't-- I'm not aware of. But I have not seen them trying to walk that cat backward. I do think that it's finally dawning on some of the Russian elite that what they've done is going to be very costly down the long run. Economic isolation is going to do them significant harm. And I think it's a bigger harm than they expected.
I'm not sure how Putin is-- well, if they're asking for a reset, you know they kind of asked for it in March. In other words, people forget that they made a peace offer in March, on March 16. Go back and look it up. And the offer they made was essentially the one I outlined. It was neutralization. They didn't talk about keeping their own hands off Ukraine. But it was, you know, fine, we can pencil that one in. They said, how about neutrality essentially and how about minority rights for the Russian minority in Ukraine?
They've talked about that second issue in kind of a weird way. They keep talking about autonomy for the East. And then they've spoken as if what they really want is extreme autonomy. They want the eastern Russian speaking areas to be very autonomous. And frankly, I don't understand why they want to do this. Because if they're extremely autonomous-- if the Russians are very autonomous from Kiev, then they don't have influence in Kiev. And that means they can't drag Kiev into closer partnership with Russia.
So I just don't know if Putin's even thinking straight. I'm not sure. You know, has he really thought through where he wants to take things? But what I would say to him is, what you really mean is-- OK, some kind of Swiss-type political system where, if you know how it works in Switzerland, all the nationalities sort of sit at the table all the time. They all have sort of a place at the national table. And there's decentralized authority so that the local regions-- the German, the Italian, and the French-- all have large authority over their own affairs. As a result, more or less everybody gets to help run Switzerland. And I would say that's what you are asking for in Ukraine. Maybe we can give you a little good advice on how to bring that into being. But that's what you want. And it's a just and reasonable claim.
I mean, you know, minority rights-- we all believe in it. Why should the Russian minority be trashed? They shouldn't be. So I would bring the Russians back to that offer they made on March 16. And I would add, please agree to not interfering in Ukrainian affairs.
Let me hasten to say that operationalizing that last thing will be very difficult because the two societies are so internetted. And the economies are internetted. And therefore, almost if someone sneezes in Moscow, they're affecting things in Ukraine. So defining what one would mean by leave the Ukrainians alone-- don't try to guide their political system-- is going to take some work. And it would have to be done very clearly. I'm not sure how. But you know, it's not beyond the wisdom of people.
Over there. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. Yeah, Putin is very ambitious and strong [INAUDIBLE]. He would like to revive the golden age in the era of the [INAUDIBLE]. So [INAUDIBLE] Ukraine is very strategic position based on the geopolitic of the Rossiya. So it seems to be the solution of the conflict how to Ukraine to be neutral, such Switzerland, and yet not to Western [INAUDIBLE] or not to [INAUDIBLE]. How do you think?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: OK, what are the Russians now seeking in Ukraine? And there's about four theories out there. One is they're seeking to pressure the west into neutralizing Ukraine. Another is they're seeking to, if you will, this is step one in a general program of incorporating Russian minorities around their periphery, including Ukraine. And then also, there's a big Russian minority in Estonia and one in Latvia, a little one in Lithuania, and a big one in Kazakhstan. And so what they're doing is essentially they're replaying what the Serbs did in the 1990s toward the Serb diaspora. The third is that they're trying to recreate the USSR, which is, you know, they want all of Ukraine. The intermediate one is this Rossiya thing you talked about, where he's used language suggesting that Novorossiya is his goal, which is this area-- it's basically defined as the southern half of Ukraine.
So we can't read his mind. I don't think he has the power to do any of the others. I think, you know, for him to actually try to recreate the USSR, I mean, like I said, these guys are not a juggernaut. They can't do this. They'll face immense nationalist resistance if they try to use force beyond Russia majority areas. As for moving beyond that, I don't think they're dreaming of it. He talks in ways-- you know, you can cherry pick his statements, suggesting that he's dreaming of it. He talked about how the collapse of the USSR was the worst disaster in world history, implying that he wants to put it back together again. He's never really said he wants to.
So I think his goals are quite limited here toward neutralization of Ukraine. If you look back at Russian rhetoric over the last decade, they've been quite consistent and very clear. They have a red line on Ukrainian alignment with NATO. And they warned us back in 2008, in crystal clear terms, that is a red line for us. They made this clear. And also that Georgia was a red line. And they more or less said, if you guys pull Ukraine into NATO, we're going to saw off the eastern third and keep it for ourselves. That was essentially what they said back in '08.
We should not be surprised that they're being really nasty about this. Should they be? Everything I said earlier-- you know, we live in the nuclear age, so countries can't be conquered anymore. So why should they even care that NATO sits on their frontier in the Ukraine? NATO's not going to be able to conquer Russia from Ukraine because Russia has a huge nuclear arsenal. So my view is that they are suffering from dinosaur think here. They're suffering from an old way of ancient geopolitics. But that's the way they think. And major powers think that way.
And as I said, to me, understanding their motives, you can do it by looking at what they've said over the last 15 years. They've been very consistent. Ukraine in NATO is a red line.
Yeah, up on the left.
AUDIENCE: I've been thinking about the East Asia part of the outline and waiting for North Korea to come up. So what are possible scenarios that you see in North Korea [INAUDIBLE]?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Boy, you want me to fix everything. That's a really easy one. When you say North Korea, the button you push with me is this comment I made earlier about a wise national foreign policy strategist leader, whatever leader, preemptively settles all issues that are not yet politicized. And North Korea is the best example and the most urgent one in East Asia. The US and China need to come to an agreement about what they're going to do if North Korea implodes. If they don't, there's significant danger that they're going to collide with each other in some way as they both move into Korea and try to manage the situation.
And by the way, people have told me that there's been talks on this and that they are carefully hidden, because for obvious reasons people don't want this known. In any event, I don't trust that they've done it. I think governments always don't settle things till they should. So you know, I urgently want a dense understanding between the US and China, and South Korea and China, on how to manage that event. Because that event-- you know, I'm not saying it's tomorrow, but there's a good possibility.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well, I want them in the picture too. I want them all agreeing on kind of zones of influence in Korea, roles in Korea, what's to be done with those nuclear weapons? Is something going to go in there and grab them? And if so, who's going to grab them and how are they going to grab them? South Koreans are obviously very sensitive about any use of force that winds up getting their people killed. And a lot of South Koreans can get killed in various scenarios. So I want agreement on what to do.
By the way, Senkakus really show you how important it is to settle stupid little things, if you will, early. I mean the Senkakus are without any value. They're just rocks. One of the uses I thought of for our nuclear arsenal is why don't we just test a weapon on the Senkakus and just make them go away? Because then everything's good.
You know, I'm joking. I'm joking. Don't take me seriously. It's one of the few things that nuclear weapons could possibly achieve in this world. I'm joking, Fred. Isn't it awful I came here and said stuff like that?
FREDRIK LOGEVALL: Not at all. Not at all. We have time for one more. One last question? I guess I'm calling it. Yes, please.
AUDIENCE: My question is this-- how effective are the economic sanctions against the Russian regime? A solitary question [INAUDIBLE]. And number two, how do you work and encourage the European leaders to maintain those sanctions in place to make sure that they don't succumb to the pressure from the Russian regime to remove the sanctions that the gas companies are using?
FREDRIK LOGEVALL: Very sneaky. That was two questions, but OK.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: I don't have a very good answer to it because I've not studied in detail the impact of the sanctions. But you know, if you look at the headline numbers, the sanctions are having a big impact. The Russian economy is now frozen in place. It's not growing anymore. They have significant inflation. These sanctions are hurting.
I'm a big believer in general that the economic sanctions that actually make governments change their policies are the targeted sanctions. You want sanctions that are aimed at the elite, not at the public. And I've not actually studied these sanctions carefully to see how successfully are they, if you will, precision guided at the Russian elite, at the oligarchs basically. I haven't studied it. But the sanctions are hurting.
And then the second half of it, though, is what you say, which is the Europeans, how much stomach will they have for these things? This economic war between Russia and Western Europe is going to hurt Europe a lot. And Europe's economy is already in terrible shape. And if the economic war escalates and gets out of control, and everyone starts doing things that hurt themselves long run, which definitely is true-- if the Russians shut off natural gas to Western Europe, that's going to really hurt the Russians long run, because it's going to get the Europeans to switch off of natural gas. And they're going to build big LNG facilities and start importing gas from the US. And then the Russians will have lost their market.
So having this economic war is bad for everybody. But let's imagine it happens anyway. The Europeans are really going to get hurt. And they are already in really bad shape. Don't expect the Europeans to be smiling when Uncle Sam says, you know, be tough, be strong, keep the sanctions on.
I've been a little surprised at how, if you will, insert the Europeans have been about trying to push this conflict to resolution. I thought that Merkel would grab the steering wheel long ago and say, wait a minute, there's an answer here. Let's find it. It's a real failure for her leadership that she hasn't done that.
FREDRIK LOGEVALL: Well. So I didn't think that I would conclude by quoting a speaker's spouse. But it strikes me that it's a very powerful thing to suggest that concentrated interests will become common in interests most of the time. So that's one takeaway from this. And also it suggests the challenge that is ahead. But I think, as Professor Van Evera has suggested, his wife is not necessarily always correct. Most of the time maybe she is. But maybe not always because there is also an opportunity, I think you've suggested, for common interest to prevail.
So I want to thank all of you for coming on a beautiful day. I wanted to remind you that there are books here for purchase and a gentleman who is eager to assist. And then finally to ask you to join me in thanking our speaker.
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MIT political scientist Stephen Van Evera spoke at Cornell on Sept. 29, 2014 as part of the Einaudi Center's ongoing Foreign Policy Distinguished Speaker Series.