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Annual Bernard Brodie Lecture (1998)

Annual Bernard Brodie Lecture (1998)

Remarks by William S. Cohen, U.S. Secretary of Defense, University of California, Los Angeles, October 28, 1998.

Thank you, Al [Carnesale]. I am very glad to see Al as Chancellor here at UCLA. Not only has he been an energetic leader in higher education for decades, he is one of those rare people who is both a pragmatic manager and an intellectual mentor. So in an era of constant flux, this institution is very fortunate to have someone of Al’s caliber with his steady hand on the helm. Secretary [Warren] Christopher, Dean [Richard] Rosencrance, Mr. [Ron] Burkle, faculty, students, and guests.

I would like to begin with a few quotes I keep pasted on my desk. "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. Bribery and corruption are common. Children no longer obey their parents. Every man wants to write a book, and the end of the world is evidently approaching." Sound familiar? It was written on Assyrian tablets some 4,700 years ago.

There is another one: "It is a gloomy moment in the history of our country. Not in the lifetime of most men has there been so much grave and deep apprehension. Never has the future seemed so uncertain as it does at this time. The domestic situation is in chaos. Our dollar is weak throughout the world. Prices are so high as to be utterly impossible. The political cauldron seethes and bubbles with uncertainty. Russia hangs, as usual, like a cloud, dark and silent upon the horizon. It’s a solemn moment of our troubles. No man can see the end."

With the exception of the dollar being weak, that could almost be an editorial in the Los Angeles Times. In fact, it was in Harper's Weekly Magazine back in 1897. I recite these words only to try to put some perspective on the current difficulties that we seem to be confronting, either domestically or abroad.

I approach today’s topic -- "The Conditions for Peace in the 21st Century" -- with some hesitation and humility. Winston Churchill was once asked what skills a person needed to be a good leader. He replied that you must be able to accurately predict "tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And afterwards," he said, "you must be able to explain why it didn’t happen."

Our television screens these days are awash with pundits and politicians sheepishly explaining why their predictions have not come to pass. If I can paraphrase the ancient Greeks that, "Those whom the gods would destroy, they first make prophetic."

Not so long ago, the roar of the Asian Tigers echoed across the Pacific, seeming to herald a new era of Asian economic supremacy. Today, of course, America and the International Monetary Fund are helping many Asian nations to emerge from beneath a tidal wave of currency crises, financial shocks and political transitions.

Not so long ago, as Europe emerged from the shadow of the Cold War, some felt that NATO would be consigned to the dustbin of history. Today, NATO is reinvigorated as it embraces new democracies across central and eastern Europe. In several cases, the mere prospect of NATO membership has led nations to strike new accords and settle historical differences. And NATO is critical to allowing peace a chance to take root in the Balkans.

Not so long ago, Bosnian leaders from rival factions were barely talking to one another. Hate-mongers were threatening to undercut the peace agreement at every turn. Today, while there are still those who would rather dig fresh graves than bury old hatreds, new leaders offer hope that one day all Bosnians can live and work together.

Not so long ago, many thought the end of the Cold War would stem the cancerous spread of weapons of mass destruction, that nuclear arsenals would be shrinking anachronisms. Today, shock waves of concern continue to reverberate around the globe from nuclear blasts in the Indian desert and Pakistani mountains. Terrorists with cheaper weapons of mass destruction -- chemical and biological weapons – are tracked by America around the world and around the clock.

It is quite easy, with hindsight, to find obvious flaws in yesterday’s predictions. At the same time, we must be mindful that politics is inherently and inescapably about the future. Bernard Brodie, whom we honor with this lecture series, was a brilliant historian and strategic thinker. He knew that although history, logic, political science, mathematics and other disciplines were invaluable to preparing for the future, they would always be incomplete. Still, he believed mankind could make progress in addressing the problem of war. He once wrote that, "With good eyesight, one has less need of a crystal ball – which is rather a good thing in view of the relative availability of each."

So we have no choice but to sharpen our eyes: we must debate and argue about the consequences of ideas. We must propose forward-leaning solutions, not simply react to the hurricane winds of change in the world. And we must recognize that this era of future shock where time is speeded up by events presents America with situations where the costs of action are surpassed only by the costs of inaction.

The current global financial crisis reveals this fundamental truth. The economic tsunami that started in Southeast Asia is still crashing on the shores of nations the world over. In its wake are countless victims, many of whom don’t understand why their lives have changed. They want to know who is responsible, who should be blamed, and how they can regain what they have lost. America cannot afford – as a matter of principle, a matter of economics, or a matter of security – to be indifferent to their fate. As President Clinton said, this crisis poses a threat not to any one nation, but to every nation -- no task is more urgent for our future. The United States now faces a two-fold challenge – one economic, one intellectual. Together, they both affect our long-term security.

With regard to the economic challenge, we must take tangible action in order to shore up the global system. Just as the policies of Bretton Woods and the Marshall Plan were critical to stability after World War II, so too will today’s decisions be essential to stability in the decades ahead. Secretary of the Treasury Rubin and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, I believe, have developed a sound strategy for reforming the global financial architecture. It is a combination of direct, targeted actions by the United States and long-term structural approaches designed to encourage free trade, openness, stability, and increasing levels of trust.

We must meet the second part of this challenge, the intellectual challenge, in the marketplace of ideas. America and her allies must continue to make a compelling case about democracy and free markets to the millions of people from Russia to Southeast Asia who now question the reforms underway in their nations. They need to hear, know, and believe two axioms. First, democracy means stability. Earlier this year, a new book entitled Never At War was published, and it reminded us that democracies do not fight one another. Second, stability grounded in democracy is a precondition for enduring success in the global economy. The consequences of indifference to this debate would be profound, for ideas are like weapons; when threatened, people tend to grab the nearest one. We have a direct interest in the conclusions other nations reach about free markets, about democratic government, about the United States, and ultimately, global stability.

A number of views are competing. When the Cold War ended and the Berlin Wall was hacked and bulldozed down, many Americans believed that the age-old search for how best to organize human society had ended. In the eyes of one academician, Francis Fukuyama, history had come to a halt. Economic and political liberalism would sweep the globe as the new universal culture. This led the South African Peter Vale to say: "Rejoice my friends or weep in sorrow, what California is today, the world will be tomorrow."

Other scholars, such as the historian Samuel Huntington, warned that we should not confuse Europe with the world and predicted that we would face a "clash of civilizations," a world in which the lines of contact between Western, Orthodox, Islamic, Japanese and Confucian societies inevitably would produce economic or military conflict. This is a world in which cultures compete, nations conspire, and economic powerhouses prey on developing nations. It is a thesis that has stirred great debate and disagreement.

Another view is expressed by Anwar Ibrahim, a good friend of mine and one of the most intellectually gifted men I have met, who until recently was the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, but who has been embattled of late. Just before I became Secretary of Defense, Anwar and I started the Pacific Dialogue, a diverse group consisting of leaders from many disciplines across many Asian nations. In considering how the Asia-Pacific region might attain lasting peace and prosperity we tried to identify what would work and what would not work in the 21st Century.

The Pacific Charter we developed sketched out a vision of a world in which there is not a clash of civilizations, but rather a "feast of civilizations," a world characterized by interdependence, democracy, cooperative solutions and a rising tide of economic growth that lifts all nations. In Anwar’s words, it is a future that should be approached not with fear and suspicion but with "the curiosity of a child and the humility of a sage."

Ultimately, America will only realize such a world in the 21st Century if we remain true to a strategic decision that has been at the core of our security architecture for the last half of this century -- America best protects and promotes its interests in the world by remaining actively engaged around the world – politically, economically, and militarily. That strategy is encapsulated in a simple formula: shape, respond, prepare.

America must shape the international security environment by influencing the attitudes and actions of friend and foe alike. We must constantly improve our ability to respond to a wide variety of potentially destabilizing events, from humanitarian operations and refugee crises to terrorist actions and large-scale wars. At the same time, we must prepare for the future by harnessing cutting-edge technologies that bring all the power and speed of the digital age to bear on our operations.

In the first of these elements – our efforts to shape the world – we see most clearly how the U.S. is helping to ensure the conditions for peace in the next century. America shapes the world through strong bilateral relations, such as those the United States maintains with old allies such as Britain or Germany or new relationships with Russia or China. Our bilateral alliances were forged in the Cold War to protect against a specific threat. But today they are not reactive, they are pro-active. They stand not against anyone, but for shared objectives and serve as the primary means for promoting peace and prosperity.

America also shapes the world through multilateral alliances and frameworks for discussion and cooperation. NATO, for example, although primarily devoted to the protection of members states’ borders, also promotes stability in Europe as a whole. It prevents conflicts, reduces the threat of weapons of mass destruction and deters aggression and coercion beyond its borders.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the United States shapes the strategic environment by remaining actively engaged in a variety of overlapping multilateral channels. These include our cooperative efforts in peacekeeping and drug interdiction in Latin America; the ASEAN Regional Forum, the so-called ARF, that has brought together so many Asian nations to discuss common challenges; and, conferences on practical security cooperation and groups to address specific problems from Cambodia to the Korean Peninsula.

Of course, if we are to shape the future of Asia in the 21st Century we must acknowledge the emergence of China. China is already an Asian power, and rightfully so. Some have argued that we should try to contain China, but you simply cannot contain one-fifth of humanity. Rather, we must encourage China to evolve into a responsible and cooperative nation -- a nation that is more open on security matters and more respectful of the rule of law, a nation that adheres to international norms, including peaceful resolution of disputes, and a nation that recognizes the common interests we all share in a stable environment that ensures security and promotes prosperity.

So the United States has deepened our engagement with China. In the security realm, our two nations have taken steps to increase mutual confidence and decrease miscalculation -- exchanging military personnel, and conducting reciprocal ship visits and agreeing to observe one another’s military exercises. All give hope that China is willing to work with us to our mutual benefit and to the benefit of the entire region.

A final point that I would like to make is that as we shape the security of our world, we must at the same time shape our security at home. The United States runs a very grave risk if we continue to think of national security as something that only happens beyond our borders as opposed to within them. The simple fact is that the United States has been the beneficiary of geography – we have not had to contend with the levels of terrorism faced by many other nations.

But the threats of such attacks have only grown in recent years – the images of the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings are by now burned into our collective psyche. Ultimately, the freedoms and way of life that we enjoy are a function of our safety on a day-to-day basis. Freedom, by necessity, is the absence of fear, and we must work to preserve our liberties. As Alistair Cook once wrote, "Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline."

As Secretary of Defense I have spent a great deal of time on these issues. How to prevent, but if need be, respond, to biological or chemical warfare attacks. How to build safeguards into the computer systems that affect so many aspects of our communities. Just a few months ago a single satellite high above Kansas tilted only slightly in the wrong direction, and as many as 35 million people – from worried parents to doctors and emergency personnel -- lost the use of their cell-phones, pagers, and computers. Imagine the consequences for our lives if hackers were more successful in attacking and destroying those same systems. We cannot afford to ignore these threats, we must summon the necessary will to combat them.

Fifteen years ago, as the Cold War was nearing its final throes, Richard Nixon argued that there was no question whether America could win an arms race, an economic race, or a political race. He suggested that the real contest was the battle of wills. He wrote, "Real peace requires that we resolve to use our strength in ways short of war. There is today a vast gray area between peace and war, and the struggle will largely be decided in that area. But nothing that today’s generation can leave for tomorrow’s will mean more than the heritage of liberty. The struggle to protect freedom and to build real peace can raise the sights of Americans from the mundane to the transcendent, from the immediate to the enduring."

Ultimately, America’s security and stability is absolutely essential to global security. It was T.S. Eliot who said that, "Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, lies the shadow." Well, somewhere in that shadow land between romantic globalism and narrowly defined pragmatism lies the basis for a conceptually sound and a politically grounded policy that will allow the United States to play a constructive and influential role in world affairs.

Let me conclude with a quote from Winston Churchill. It was a meeting that Winston Churchill had with one of our most distinguished journalists, by the name of Stewart Alsop. They had dinner one evening, and they had several bottles of wine, and then a toast of champagne. And then Churchill finally turned to Alsop and said, "America, America, a great and strong country. Like a horse pulling the rest of the world up out of the Slough of Despond." And then he looked very directly and coldly into Alsop's eyes, and he said, "But will it stay the course?"

Fifty years later, we can answer his question. America has stayed the course because that's our history. America will stay the course because that's our destiny. Thank you very much.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).