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When the Line Between War and Peace Becomes Blurred, How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe?
When the Line Between War and Peace Becomes Blurred, How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe?
Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
Guéhenno to Trump: You Cannot ‘just crush’ ISIS
Op-Ed / Global

When the Line Between War and Peace Becomes Blurred, How Do We Keep Ourselves Safe?

Originally published in World Economic Forum

Is a more connected world a safer and more resilient one, or is it more brittle and fragile? It all depends on how we organize our defense. But the failure to stem the rise of terrorism over the past 15 years suggests we’ve not got it right. How can we restructure our defense systems to take into account the immense changes taking place, and the blurring distinction between war and peace?

An Out-of-Date Model

Today’s defense model is one of state-centric centralized defense. Each state is expected to protect its citizens against external threats by deterring state-to-state aggression and by intervening in those states whose failure provides a safe haven to non-state enemies.

States are also expected to protect people against internal threats; they do so through increased police and military presence in our cities, and through ever-expanding digital mass surveillance to detect anomalous behaviours and identify potential threats.

A Thin Line Between War and Peace

This model is not working. Whether it is little green men in Crimea or cyber-attacks, the line between war and peace has been blurred, and in a world no more structured by an ideological divide, exploiting the vulnerabilities of the enemy is a more effective way to wage war than confronting it head on.

As for failing states, 15 years of costly interventions should have taught us the limits of military intervention: foreigners may help but they can’t substitute for locally driven state building.

We need an alternative model of decentralized defense that will reflect the profound transformation brought upon us by the digital age...

Lastly, finding the needle of terrorism in the haystack of law-abiding citizens is proving to be a frustrating pursuit, which at worst could turn democratic countries into police states, and at best, generates many false flags and will never guarantee complete success, even if the record of security agencies is better than often alleged.

We need an alternative model of decentralized defense that will reflect the profound transformation brought upon us by the digital age and the increased connectivity.

A New Approach to Defense

What we have at present is the worst of both worlds: traditional centralized systems are inefficient at identifying and correcting local vulnerabilities, but connectivity increases vulnerabilities because it accelerates and multiplies the psychological, political and in some cases physical impact of an attack on any part of a system. This is very different from the terrorist attacks of the seventies, which were not a threat to our societies.

What, then, should our new approach towards defense look like? That’s not an easy question to answer, but whatever model we end up with needs to take into account five important points:

The enemy within

Internal fragilities are a greater risk than external threats. By any objective measure, terrorism and external aggression are low risks to our personal safety, but they exacerbate our pre-existing sense of vulnerability. The biggest risks are the political upheavals that such a sense of vulnerability can trigger and that malevolent actors can exploit.

We can’t let fear win

Communities brought together only by fear are vulnerable because fear destroys trust, which is the foundation of any long-term human community. A much greater effort is needed to foster a positive sense of common purpose. Civic organizations and public debate have a critical role to play in strengthening the fabric of society from the bottom up.

Cities will supplant states

Physical proximity is becoming more relevant as a counterweight to the anonymity of globalization: in an urbanized world, cities are likely to become increasingly important as political units and standard bearers of identity. Over time, they may become more relevant to our security than states, provided that mechanisms are put in place to ensure effective sharing of data.

The only way to restore some symmetry and stability is to organize defense at the lowest possible level...

The changing nature of warfare

Top-down provision of security, based on the Weberian model of the state enjoying a monopoly on the legal use of force, is ill-suited to the growing diffusion of power, including lethal power, which multiplies the capacities of individuals to wreak havoc in a society. Attack is becoming much cheaper than defense, especially, but not only, in the cyber world. We should not be surprised if this makes asymmetric warfare the most rational way of conducting war, which would generate increased instability.

The power of devolution

The only way to restore some symmetry and stability is to organize defense at the lowest possible level, empowering individuals to protect themselves against cyber-attacks through point-to-point encryption, and empowering cities to strengthen local connections among its citizens, making it more difficult for outsiders to launch attacks. Devolving power to individuals and to lower levels of government will also deprive enemies of targets whose value resides in their symbolic value as centres of great power, reducing the advantage of asymmetric attack. Nuclear warfare, but also cyber warfare, will be less likely if there is no target of strategic importance.

A Brave New World

The implications of this transformation will inevitably be gradual but they will be far-reaching.

Nuclear weapons for instance, are the ultimate expression of the traditional centralized state system: they need its resources to be developed, they require extreme concentration of decision for the threat of use to be credible, and they require similarly structured enemies for the threat to have a target. Their elimination – essential for the long-term survival of humanity – is unlikely to come from a decision to abolish them, but it may eventually happen through an evolution of political structures that will make them irrelevant, for lack of resources, centralized decision makers, and targets.

At the strategic level, the evolution of the world towards ever-bigger building blocks – the US, China, Europe, Russia – ­will be reversed. The ongoing backlash against a European super-state is partly an expression of nostalgic nationalism, partly an acknowledgement that big structures can be dangerous because the stakes are just too high when a change occurs at the top. But now the era of the big state is coming to an end.

At the same time, the world has benefited enormously from the economies of scale of globalization and from the dynamism brought about by diversity. Individuals, cities must be connected, but the connections are unlikely to replicate the pyramidal model of traditional federalism. The European Union will need to adapt to that new situation if it wants to stay ahead of its time.

More likely, in a flatter world, interoperability and communications between smaller entities will be achieved through a multiplicity of issue-specific arrangements that will balance democratic and technical legitimacy: think of the evolving governance of the internet.

The ongoing backlash against a European super-state is partly an expression of nostalgic nationalism, partly an acknowledgement that big structures can be dangerous...

At the operational level, just as “know your customers” has become an obligation for any law-abiding bank, know-thy-neighbour is likely to become a feature of tomorrow’s societies. If applied to big entities such as mega-states, or even mega-cities, it could destroy anonymity, which has been an essential dimension of freedom, and could make our societies oppressively Orwellian.

However, if there is a multiplicity of political entities, allowing us to choose our neighbours, and if we can protect privacy through robust encryption, that risk will be largely eliminated. Freedom will be ensured less through separation of powers and more through a juxtaposition of multiple powers.

Why Decentralization Makes Sense

The present experience with increased flows of refugees pouring into Europe provides the best example of the value of decentralization. When human beings are just part of a statistic, they can easily be perceived as a threat. When they acquire a human face, natural human empathy reasserts itself, as has been the case in many German small towns welcoming refugees.

Decentralized defense will operationalize that intuition: the abstraction of the nation feeds dangerous nationalism; the empowerment of individuals connected by proximity strengthens the fabric of a resilient and open society.

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.