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Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
First Responders: Europe Reacts to “America First”
First Responders: Europe Reacts to “America First”
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

First Responders: Europe Reacts to “America First”

Originally published in The Security Times

As the Trump administration threatens to retreat from America's longstanding alliances, it is time for Europeans to take the lead in guaranteeing their own security.  

It is unclear whether US President Donald Trump is aware of the history behind the expression “America First,” the term he uses to describe his foreign policy vision. The catchphrase was first used just before World War II by isolationists who opposed any American engagement in the mounting European crisis. The echo of that dark period has relevance for today. At that time, the structures that had been put in place after World War I, in particular the League of Nations, were disintegrating, and a growing number of leaders around the world were exclaiming: “My country first!” We know how it ended. Today, in an age of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, the principle of “my country first” would have even more devastating consequences.

Europe, which has suffered more than any other continent from the scourge of nationalism, is positioned best to vigorously counter the narrative of “my country first.” Europeans must present a united front in order to be taken seriously by the Trump administration. They also must stand their ground in relation to a more assertive Russia, which is reported to be backing nationalist and populist movements across the continent and staging cyber attacks intended to alter the course of key elections in France, Germany and the Netherlands.

2017 is a crucial year for Europe, as these elections can decisively advance or reverse the trend towards nationalism and fragmentation that began with the Brexit referendum and became a global phenomenon. If nationalist forces prevail in these contests, it is likely that the “my country first” narrative will gain momentum, with terrible long-term costs for all – including Russia.

Europeans must present a united front in order to be taken seriously by the Trump administration.

European states need a shared strategic approach to meet these challenges. Priorities should include: a greater commitment to their own security, made visible through defense spending; greater organization, possibly through a European pillar in NATO; and seizing the initiative to advance arms control arrangements that would help avert the risk of a major war.

Trump has given the Europeans ample cause for concern. He has declared NATO obsolete; he speaks more glowingly about Russian President Vladimir Putin than about many Western leaders; and he suggests that he will apply his transactional vision of diplomacy to longstanding alliances. Some of his pronouncements suggest that the US commitment to defend Europe depends on the willingness of Europeans to pay for it, rather than on shared values. The person rumored to be the next American ambassador to the European Union, Ted Malloch, has bragged that his role in bringing down the Soviet Union is relevant experience to the goal of “taming” the EU. Some members of Trump’s entourage are reveling in the discussion of which country will follow the British example and leave the EU.

The Europeans should take a position that is firm but nonconfrontational. For a start, they need to become more serious about investing in their own defense. Most European members are spending significantly less than the NATO goal of 2 percent of GDP. If they do not change course, the Trump administration will be less likely to take their interests into account.

There is a real risk that the US and Russia will not consult the Europeans in making a deal to redefine the regional security landscape. Trump, who considers terrorism the numberone threat for the US, may prioritize cooperation – or the appearance of cooperation – with Russia in the Middle East, while making concessions on issues that are at the core of European security interests. For instance, if the US chooses to scrap sanctions against Russia, there would be little leverage left to convince Putin to withdraw completely from Eastern Ukraine.

However, Europeans cannot simply buy American commitment through increased defense spending, and NATO cannot sustain itself as a political alliance if it is viewed only in transactional terms. It is time to strengthen the alliance by reviving the concept of a European pillar of NATO. Given the current mood in the White House, it will be up to the Europeans to present a clear and compelling vision of what NATO stands for in the 21st century.

The principle of collective defense, as set forth in Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, is only credible when undergirded by shared values. Europeans are more likely to be heard – by Trump, as well as by Putin – if they speak with one voice on defense issues. Europeans will need to have political ownership of this effort, the modalities of which – whether through a fully separate European headquarters or an increased role for the European Defense Agency – should be discussed among EU members. The European Defense Action Plan, proposed by the European Commission in late 2016, may provide the basis for greater coordination, even if intergovernmental mechanisms remain the driving force in matters of security.

Europeans cannot simply buy American commitment through increased defense spending, and NATO cannot sustain itself as a political alliance if it is viewed only in transactional terms.

Deciding which countries would constitute a European pillar is a tricky issue likely to stall any formal institutional approach. There will be disputes over the involvement of European NATO countries that are not members of the EU, such as Norway or, even more contentious, Turkey. The United Kingdom, one of the strongest military powers in Europe, is preparing to leave the EU. Other EU countries, like Sweden, make significant contributions to European security without being NATO members.

Given these complexities, an informal political approach is the only viable way forward. A caucus could be organized – including, but not limited to, the six founding members of the EU – to agree on two basic principles: a) the emergence of a European pillar is necessitated by the altered strategic landscape; b) a key goal of the European pillar is to pursue ways to strengthen NATO. The core group should be open to other members of the EU while establishing close consultation mechanisms with EU non-NATO members as well as with NATO non-EU members. The United Kingdom would ideally find that its strategic interests are well served by its involvement in the core group.

The Europeans should also mount a major diplomatic initiative with Russia on arms control, even if an overarching agreement with Putin on security arrangements may currently be out of reach. Three complementary tracks should be pursued, each involving the Europeans in different ways:

  1. An arms control track for conventional weapons under the aegis of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The goal would be a reversal to the gradual demise of the treaties and agreements signed after the end of the Cold War. They had been implemented to radically downsize armed forces in Europe and create transparency and predictability in military deployments. They succeeded at the first task but are now failing at the second. Intimidation, ambiguity and surprise are becoming the norm, such that protracted conflicts could easily escalate.
  2. An arms control track for nuclear weapons between the US and Russia; Europeans would be involved through NATO. The goal would be to prevent the likely collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty signed by Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan in 1987. The Euromissile Crisis of the 1980s was one of the most divisive crises for NATO. A replay of the dispute under present conditions could destroy the alliance.
  3. A cyber defense track, managed in a new ad hoc framework involving the EU and NATO. It should explore ways to introduce cyber arms control and confidence-building measures in cyberspace. As a first step, parties should agree on what constitutes an act of war in this new battlefield.

Revamping the European security agenda may sound too ambitious in the current political context, but it is urgently needed to counterbalance the forces threatening to divide the continent. Opinion polls show that Europeans, while critical of many aspects of the EU, see defense as an area that warrants more rather than less cooperation. Today’s Europe is confronted by extraordinary challenges demanding an extraordinary response. Germany and France, whose military capacities should become increasingly compatible and complementary, could take the lead after elections in the two countries have taken place. Now is the time to launch a public debate on this bold move.

In fundamental terms, “my country first” is a reductive and destructive principle. It ignores the fact that solutions to many of the world’s biggest challenges require cooperative management – whether on security issues, climate change, migration flows or the global economy. Coercion has its limitations, and hard power can only go so far when not accompanied by the soft power that makes it acceptable. The temptation for the most powerful nation on earth to use force unilaterally may be great, but the US should resist it.

In both words and actions, Europe has the opportunity to make a positive case that another course is possible.