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Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
War Must Not Become the New Normal
War Must Not Become the New Normal
Interview / Global

Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Crisis Group’s President and CEO, speaks to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour about the international challenges that are likely to persist in 2017 and the growing need for robust international structures to meet the threats.

In a broad discussion with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the President and CEO of International Crisis Group says military power alone cannot defeat the Islamic State. YouTube/CNN

You can find a transcript of this video below.

Amanpour: Jean-Marie Guéhenno, welcome to the program.

Guéhenno: Thank you.

Amanpour: You know, drawing on all your experience and you’ve had lengthy experience in national security, whether as a French diplomat, as a UN diplomat, now as head of the International Crisis Group, can you explain how ISIS is still out after more than two years of U.S. and coalition bombing? 2017 starts like 2016 ended.

Guéhenno: Well, I think whether it’s IS or al Qaeda, because, by the way, al Qaeda is very much out there. We don’t have the right strategy. We think that we can do it on a global scale when in reality, the causes of IS are very local where the very harsh tactics of the government radicalized some parts of the opposition. And that’s why IS really flourishes on conflict. The best way to stop IS to prevent conflict.

Amanpour: OK. Well, given that, what do you expect to happen under a Donald Trump who said that his view of IS is just to, you know, bomb the hell out of them.

What do you think can be done differently with the new administration?

Guéhenno: I do hope that he will not act on his idea of bombing the hell out of IS because that’s not the way to go. The way to stop IS is to have people who feel they have representation in government and then they move away from radical elements. That has been the proven method wherever there have been terrorists. And the notion that you can just crush them is wrong because then they disperse, they move to the next country as we’ve just seen in Turkey.

Now Turkey is being infected by the chaos in Syria. You see in Libya, the chaos in Libya now is spilling over into the Sahel. So you push in one point, you just spread the disease in other countries.

Amanpour: The problem, though, Mr. Guéhenno, as you know better than most because you’ve sat at the top tables while this chaos has been implemented all over the world. Nobody seems to have the patience to talk about governors and to talk about representation of people so that this IS infection doesn’t feed on it and grow.

And in fact, President-elect Trump says that, again, he’s not interested in nation-building and he even believes that he may or may not like Assad, but that Assad is there to fight terrorism. And that’s why the U.S. should, with Russia, back that. So Assad is going to stay. Again, how is that going to change?

Guéhenno: Well, you see, I think there’s been a big shift in the pendulum. There was a time in early 2000 when both President Bush and the UN thought you could really rebuild the world. I think now we’ve been chasing. We see that it’s much more difficult. But the pendulum shouldn’t go in the other direction and think that we can’t do anything about it.

Now for Assad, the rhetoric of Assad must go, did not fit with the reality. Assad is part of the picture, but at the same time, the notion that you can have a stable, long-term Syria with a government that ignores a big chunk of the population, that’s not going to work.

What I do hope is that between Turkey and Russia, they are going to have some kind of agreement because so that there’s a more inclusive government gradually. If that doesn’t happen, I think the Russians will be stuck in Syria and I think they don’t want that. So that’s maybe why they can come to a deal with Turkey.

Amanpour: You’ve written a major piece about the challenges ahead and you’ve also said we’re about to enter one of the most dangerous decades that you remember, certainly in modern history – why? Why is this going to be more dangerous than what we’ve just gone through?

Guéhenno: Well, I think, you know, there’s a trend that started during the Obama administration, a kind of U.S. retreat. But Obama wanted to compensate that with a very strong support to multilateral institutions to organisations that create, so to speak, the bricks and mortar of the international system.

If you don’t have that, if every country thinks it has to look first at its own interest without any consideration for the broader implications, then you can have a lot of wars and clashes and that’s a dangerous situation. The U.S. is by far overwhelming in terms of power, but if the hard power of the U.S. is not made acceptable by soft power, by a sense that they are principled, that guide U.S. policy, then the rest of the world will get very nervous.

Amanpour: And that, because again, Donald Trump has talked about a transactional foreign policy basically for America’s best interest, what is that going to mean?

Guéhenno: Well, the world cannot be just a succession of deals. It needs predictability. And in that respect, I think one should be interested in China, because China knows full well that it is a growing power, but it wants it – you heard what they said on climate change, they think this agreement is important. China does not want an unpredictable world. And to avoid an unpredictable world, you need structures, you need more than deals.

You know, it’s like in business. You have business people who think that you go from one deal to the other, and others who think you have to build a relationship with the client. Well, the world is more the second model than the first.

Amanpour: So if you were to look ahead, what do you consider the most serious challenge and the most difficult one to get to groups with on the world stage, coming up, let’s say in the next six to 12 months?

Guéhenno: Well, I think the way we go to address the issue of the instability in Europe is major, because if we see a deepening of the European crisis, if you see the European Union in danger, then one of the major voices, balancing voices in the world, will be lost.

And during the Obama administration, there was strong support for the European Union. I think it’s the best interest of the United States to continue to support the idea of the European Union and the European Union, is going to be challenged in 2017.

Amanpour: Jean-Marie Guehenno, thank you so much indeed for joining us.

Guéhenno: Thank you.

Op-Ed / Global

War Must Not Become the New Normal

Originally published in Journal of International Affairs

With the proliferation of conflicts, weakening international institutions, and rising nationalism, the world faces daunting times ahead. A new coalition of states must come together to promote our collective interest in peace and security.

The pessimists were right, at least in the short term—things are getting worse. Terrorism and armed conflict have increased in the past decade and the post-World War II vision of a cooperative international order, which seemed to get a second chance with the end of the Cold War, is now threatened by resurgent nationalism. To secure a more peaceful world in the long term, the optimists must base their struggle with a clear-eyed understanding of how far things have gone wrong.

Since 2010, a vicious circle has developed. A two-decade downward trend in global violence has gone into reverse, even if conflict has not reached the levels it was at during the Cold War. Today, there are more conflicts, more displaced persons, and more refugees than there were five years ago, and that deterioration generates fear and retrenchment at the very moment when a more cooperative and proactive management of the world is needed to prevent further deterioration. Many nations are now more focused on crisis management than prevention, looking after their immediate interests rather than working together to prevent new conflicts.

Paradoxically, this is happening at a time when the world is more connected than it has ever been—goods, but also people, information, and ideas, are on the move. Migrations have always existed, but they are acquiring new dimensions, quantitatively and qualitatively, as better-informed human beings look for better futures. Many are leaving zones of conflict and many are just looking for the promise of a better life that the weak states they come from are unable to offer them. But in the absence of a genuine global human community, such movements lead to fragmentation rather than convergence.

At the same time, the increased connectivity of the information sphere means that local events can quickly become global news. The suicide-bomb fueled violence of civil wars in Iraq or Syria have distorted our traditional measures of terrorist activity, yet some terrorist acts still reverberate worldwide in an unprecedented way, thus encouraging more terrorism. Technological progress, whether it is applied to cyber warfare or dirty bombs, may one day make it possible for terrorists to dramatically amplify the physical impact of their actions. For now, the impact of terrorism is more a reflection of information warfare than physical realities.

Fracturing is turning the international community into a mosaic of inward-looking states, some of which are very fragile.

In the richer parts of the globe, the outside world is thus increasingly seen as a threat to the cultural and economic fabric of society, rather than an opportunity. Peaceful societies are becoming dangerously polarized, as the politics of fear gain momentum. This is why it is essential that those struggling for a more peaceful future—be they diplomats, civil society leaders, or my colleagues in conflict prevention—keep up their mission of informing governments and public opinion about what is really happening and what can be done to tip the needle away from war.

They must also confront the paradox that the connectivity of the world makes conflict resolution more difficult rather than easier. Hopes rose after the end of the Cold War that in the absence of a global confrontation, a sense of common purpose in the international community would help resolve conflicts by addressing grievances that were primarily local. And indeed, there was for a time a significant drop in the number of wars, as UN peacekeeping missions were deployed and many conflicts were ended. The present situation is reversing the progress that was achieved.

This is not a return to the Cold War, as there is no ideological battle that would bring some new structure of antagonism in the world. The challenge is in fact greater. The ideological vacuum that characterizes our time, including the crisis of a liberal agenda, is filled by identity nationalism from Moscow to Washington. This fracturing is turning the international community into a mosaic of inward-looking states, some of which are very fragile. Domestic dynamics shape international politics. But in a connected world states are not islands, and what happens in one has repercussions beyond its borders. More and more, conflicts are crossing borders, between Iraq and Syria, Libya and the Sahel, and Nigeria and Cameroon.

The Syrian conflict is the most tragic and extreme example of a world fragmented by fears and connected by conflicting interests. Syria is not just a base for the transnational organization known as the Islamic State, it is also a battlefield in the confrontation of regional powers and a strategic pawn in the U.S.-Russia relationship. Multiple layers of conflict mean that any resolution will have to accommodate multiple agendas. Some, indeed, may for now be irreconcilable. Until such times pass, the least bad strategy is containment.

New forms of warfare have also eroded the relevance of the clear rules on the use of force that were agreed to at the end of World War II. Cyber attacks, which include a wide range of actions with some limited to information warfare and with some having potentially lethal consequences, usually do not have a clearly identified author and blur the lines of responsibility for hostilities. Use of force in self-defense was expanded by the Clinton and Bush administrations, and the extensive use of drones by the Obama administration further eroded the distinction between war and peace. Moreover, the body of laws that was developed to regulate the violence of war is also under threat, as the distinction between civilians and combatants is increasingly challenged. In Syria and Yemen, international humanitarian law is ignored as civilians and civilian targets are repeatedly bombed and groups such as the Islamic State commit atrocities against civilians on a regular basis.

The increased connectivity of conflicts is not accompanied by a parallel strengthening of the agreements and institutions that could serve as the mortar to hold together a fragmenting international community.

Matters are further complicated by the internal crisis of states themselves. This is most acute in the Middle East, where the legitimacy of majority rule clashes with ethnic and religious loyalties, posing a direct challenge to the monarchies and military regimes that have dominated the past century in that region.

In Africa, many states have exhausted the legitimacy that their leaders had gained from the anticolonial struggle, and their rulers are now judged by their people on the services they deliver. A potentially rich country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, has more people living in extreme poverty than China and Indonesia combined.

In China and countries that have been the greatest beneficiaries of the last 20 years, the capacity of the state to maintain a high level of growth is in doubt. This is beginning to threaten the implicit bargain that has underpinned the relationship between the state and the people: limits on civil liberties in exchange for rapidly improving standards of living.

Even in the richest parts of the world, states are in a silent crisis. They are too distant to effectively manage problems that need to be dealt with at the community level, like the local integration of migrants, and too small to manage global issues like climate change. In a world where the global and the local are increasingly intertwined, states are pulled in opposite directions. They are expected to represent local identities, and at the same time to interface effectively with a globalized world. They have difficulty doing both. The multilateral organizations that connect them—the European Union in particular—are suspected of exposing societies to destructive, anonymous forces of globalization rather than acting to protect communities.

The situation is made worse by the fact that the increased connectivity of conflicts is not accompanied by a parallel strengthening of the agreements and institutions that could serve as the mortar to hold together a fragmenting international community. Nor is it counterbalanced by the reaffirmation of principles and rules that would help manage and contain the uncertainties of relations between autonomous states. On the contrary, the arms control treaties that have helped give predictability to the strategic relationship between the West and Russia are being questioned. The EU is in crisis and the United Nations is unlikely to enjoy strong support from the new U.S. administration. Several member states have withdrawn from the International Criminal Court, which was created at the peak of the liberal, universalist agenda.

After a decade and a half of interventionism, the liberal West has lost much of its confidence in its capacity to shape outcomes in foreign lands.

Doubts in the capacity of international institutions to prevent, manage, and solve conflicts continue to grow, further eroding their legitimacy. When the Security Council is paralyzed by the differences between its members, as is the case for Syria, the credibility of the UN as an institution suffers. The gap between what it is expected to achieve and what it can actually do widens. Moreover, the considerable growth of the operational role of the United Nations, exemplified by the more than 100,000 peacekeepers deployed around the world, has shown the limits of international engagement and could be quickly reversed. Many peacekeeping missions, from Congo to Sudan, struggle to stabilize the countries where they have been present for many years.

It has become all too obvious that internationally driven processes cannot substitute for more locally driven processes. After a decade and a half of interventionism, the liberal West has lost much of its confidence in its capacity to shape outcomes in foreign lands.

International norms and institutions are weakening, and the new administration in Washington is unlikely to make it a priority to reverse this trend. Even if it is too early to tell what all of its specific policies will be, it is already clear that U.S. support for international institutions, a fundamental tenet of the last 70 years, cannot be taken for granted anymore. The new administration may dramatically amplify a trend toward retrenchment that was already present in the Obama administration, but was balanced by efforts to strengthen multilateral organizations like the UN and the World Bank. President Trump’s “America First” is more than a slogan, and one can no longer assume that the United States will maintain a key stake in upholding the international order it was instrumental in creating.

Such an evolution could also be accompanied by a shift in which values have priority. In China and elsewhere in the region, so-called Asian values are likely to hold sway. Stability and efficiency might gain preeminence over democracy and human rights. Already, the question is being raised by some as to whether democratic elections are an effective system to select the best leaders, or at least to eliminate unqualified ones. The “soft power” of the West would then be dramatically reduced, and historians would see 2016 as the year when the move away from a world largely shaped by Western values accelerated.

The rest of the world will have to adjust as balances change. This is not just happening in Asia, but also between Russia and Western Europe, between Iran and the Saudi Arabia-dominated Gulf, and between India and its neighbors. These adjustments will create a whole new set of regional and local dynamics. A world that is likely to become more transactional holds many surprises. Alliances can shift and countries can harden their stances quickly if they believe they cannot rely on the same external reassurance. The coming years are therefore likely to see a continuation of the trend toward more—rather than less—conflicts. While old conflicts are increasingly difficult to end, new ones keep being added to an already long list. As the world slips into ever more violence, the danger is that war becomes the new normal rather than an exceptional situation.

New leaders may emerge as partners to buttress the global system, perhaps including China or coalitions of regional powers that have understood that a shared basic order benefits all.

More dramatic scenarios are possible. The erosion of international norms and institutions combined with less preventive diplomacy will lead to more conflicts, and local grievances combined with international or transnational connections will increase the risks of escalation. Local actors may gain enough autonomy to generate new conflicts even against the will of more powerful actors, who may find themselves dragged by their web of connections into wars they did not initiate. That phenomenon was a factor in the chain of events that led to World War I. It could be replicated today, with the important qualification that the existence of nuclear weapons introduces more caution and more risk in the present situation.

If this survey is gloomy, it is because the world faces daunting times ahead. Today, more than any time since the end of the Cold War, conflict prevention, the inclusion of the widest possible range of actors, and a vigorous defense of international law and norms should be the priority of all those who want to maintain a cooperative, rules-based management of world affairs.

Nothing is preordained. Turning this state of affairs around will depend on the capacity of those countries that have benefited from decades of a relatively peaceful and cooperative management of the world to collectively fill the vacuum that could be the result of a more self-centered United States. New leaders may emerge as partners to buttress the global system, perhaps including China or coalitions of regional powers that have understood that a shared basic order benefits all. They should be proactively encouraged, not sidelined. Such a coalition, which should include what is left of the European Union as an important actor, would be strong enough to uphold and consolidate a system of norms and values that was born in the West. This may be a best-case scenario, but it is the light that should guide those international policymakers as they seek their way through this dark and dangerous passage.