JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I’m Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council, I would like to thank you all for coming out on this beautiful spring day. An extra-special welcome to the members of our Friends Committee.
Our speaker is Charles Kupchan. He will be discussing his book, How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace.
Professor Kupchan last spoke at the Carnegie Council in 2003, right before we invaded Iraq. At that time he talked about his widely acclaimed work, The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-First Century. A lot has happened since that time, but a recent rereading of the transcript from that event is still very relevant today.
I’m delighted to welcome him back to this Public Affairs Program.
Throughout the last presidential campaign and since becoming president, Mr. Obama has spoken often about his willingness to extend a hand and engage with U.S. adversaries. He has talked about America entering a new era of engagement based on mutual interest and mutual respect. While the jury is still out on whether engagement has been productive and whether enemies can become friends, this policy has still brought about change in our relations with the rest of the world and how the world views us. For example, on the nonproliferation front, the Obama Administration’s “reset” policy with Russia has always borne fruit, as evidenced by the signing of today’s treaty that will trim both the Russians and our strategic nuclear arsenals to their lowest levels in half a century.
Professor Kupchan, like President Obama, believes that diplomatic engagement with rivals is critical to rapprochement and can be realized. Therefore, it is not surprising that in many ways How Enemies Become Friends not only evinces Obama’s thinking on this issue, but is an instructive roadmap which can be used to navigate the journey that can restore the United States to its place as a global power that is respected not only for its military might, but for its moral leadership.
Looking at successes and failures, this book challenges the conventional wisdom that democracy is necessary for peace and demonstrates how non-democracies can be reliable contributors to international stability. Acknowledging that engagement is multifaceted and complex, our speaker provides a very extensive analysis of how, when, and why adversaries transform enmity into amity.
It is widely recognized that Professor Kupchan is an expert at using historical analogies to shed light on contemporary problems. As evidence, he carefully examines 20 extraordinarily diverse cases, ranging from the 13th century to the present, which help to explain his findings and for us to understand the prevalent myths about the causes of peace and under what circumstances stable peace succeeds and stability ensues.
Our speaker is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University and Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He served on the National Security Council [NSC] during the Clinton presidency, which no doubt proved to be a great source for his research on this topic. Before joining the NSC, Professor Kupchan worked in the U.S. Department of State on the policy planning staff. He is the author of several books, including the previously mentioned The End of the American Era, Atlantic Security: Contending Visions, Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe. They have all stood the test of time, as I am sure this book will as well.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Thank you very much, Joanne, for the warm welcome. It’s a pleasure to be back at the Carnegie Council and to have a chance to spend the next hour, hour and a half, in conversation with you.
The book that we will be talking about today arose from the following reflection or observation, and that is that we—”we” meaning people who care about foreign policy and, in particular, specialists, like myself, international relations professors, the foreign policy community in Washington—we spend an enormous amount of time thinking about war. If you pick up The New York Times on any given day of the week, you will find one, if not two, articles about war, probably one on Afghanistan, one on Iraq, maybe one on Sudan, the Middle East conflict.
Rarely do you read about peace. I think it’s safe to say that we’re not going to wake up tomorrow morning and see the headlines of The New York Times be “All Quiet on the U.S.-Canadian Border.” That’s because war is an event. War happens. Peace is a non-event. Nothing happens. The 82nd Airborne is not on the U.S.-Canadian border. In fact, that border has been undefended for over 100 years.
But I think we make a mistake when we take for granted or when we fail to sufficiently pay attention to peace. The U.S.-Canadian border is a good example, in the sense that there are thousands of miles of territory between the two countries. That border was once militarized. It was actually demilitarized only in 1906, when the British took out their last contingent of regulars from the Canadian side. But now it is a border that’s essentially inconsequential geopolitically. That, in its own way, is a miracle, because we know from history that borders are usually sites of bloodshed.
To give a more recent example, the Franco-German border, where not more than 60 years ago, hundreds of thousands of people were killed. That border is as irrelevant today as the U.S.-Canadian border. In fact, it’s even more irrelevant, because when you go to the Canadian border, even though you don’t see an armored division, you do see a customs official and you might today even see a SWAT team looking for terrorists. But at the Franco-German border, you don’t stop, you don’t see a border guard, you don’t see a customs official, you don’t even need to change money. And that is a miracle. Nobody is going to die, probably, on that border again for the rest of time, or at least for a long, long time.
It’s this puzzle, these magical moments when peace breaks out, when borders become inconsequential, when France and Germany, which spent hundreds of years killing each other, become friends or when England and the United States, which were bitter enemies—fought a war in 1775, fought a war in 1812, almost went to war again numerous times in the 19th century—suddenly, poof, by 1902, 1903, Roosevelt
So there are moments in history when something happens and enemies become friends. There are moments in history in which nations are able to escape what is perhaps the most pervasive pattern in international history, and that is war between states.
This book asks a very simple question: How does that happen? How do these magical moments of peace emerge? When do these magical moments of peace emerge? Might we be able to do a better job of orchestrating them more frequently, more regularly? That’s the puzzle.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple answer. If I were Tom Friedman, I would have a simple answer and I could give it to you in two phrases. But I will, nonetheless, try to give you a comprehensible, straightforward account of what I found in the book.
I’ll begin by saying a few things about how I set it up. Then I’ll address two key questions. One is, what’s the story? How does it happen? How does it unfold? The second question is, when does it happen? What conditions need to be there?
Then I will end by teasing out some lessons for contemporary policy, particularly for the United States. And I think this is a very timely question, because, as Joanne was saying in the introduction, Obama has come down very firmly on the side of attempting to engage unfriendly regimes. In fact, today we have had a milestone in that effort—in fact, probably the first milestone. Medvedev and Obama sat down in Prague and signed an arms-control deal. We haven’t made much progress yet with Iran, Cuba, Syria, Burma, but, as Joanne put it, the jury is still out.
So I want to end by saying a few things about where we are in American diplomacy.
As far as the setup of the book is concerned, what I did was to simply go out and try to catalogue historical instances in which longstanding rivals became friends, in which longstanding rivalries gave way to peace, enmity to amity.
I put the bar fairly high. That is to say, I looked only at cases in which the relationship was actually demilitarized, in which the countries tore up the war plans, in which, if you look at the records, publics and elites alike said, “War between us and them is unthinkable.”
That’s a pretty high bar, but I think it’s an important bar, in the sense that it does get at this fundamental and magical issue of when states succeed in escaping geopolitical rivalry, when they succeed in escaping this strategic imperative that so often pushes them in the opposite direction, toward competition and toward war.
I start the studies in the 13th century. The earliest case I look at is the original confederation of three Swiss cantons, 1291, which was the kernel for what today became Switzerland, in 1847, 1848.
I look at the Iroquois Confederation, which was fashioned in 1450 between five Iroquois tribes in Upstate New York. The villages where they made peace still exist today. These were brutal tribes. They were not just killing their enemies, but bringing them home and eating them for dinner. nonetheless, from 1450 to 1777, not a single Iroquois tribesman died in battle with another Iroquois tribe. This all revolved around what they called the Great Binding Law, an oral constitution, which succeeded in preserving the peace.
Then I fast-forward through lots of history and get to the 19th century, the Concert of Europe, in which peace broke out between Europe’s great powers at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Then I cluster quite a few of the cases in the 20th century, the main case in the book being Anglo-American rapprochement. This is a standalone chapter, which starts in 1896 and ends by about 1903, 1904, when the British are essentially tearing up their war plans for conflict with the United States and pulling the British navy out of the Western Atlantic.
What I then did was read a lot to start looking for patterns, trying to figure out how this process of reconciliation begins and how it proceeds. Let me just give you a thumbnail sketch of what I found in terms of the story.
All of the cases that I look at, all 20 of them, start in a very similar situation, and that situation is, one of the states in question has its back up against the wall. It faces a perilous strategic predicament, usually facing too many enemies and not having enough resources.
When you face that predicament, you need to find some way out of it, and the way that you attempt to get out of this pickle is that you choose one enemy to move into the friend column. You say, in the case of Britain, “We have Germany as an enemy. We have the United States as an enemy. We have Japan as an enemy. All three are becoming major powers. The Boer War is breaking out in South Africa. What do we do?”
In the case of Britain and the United States, in 1895, a territorial dispute breaks out between British Guiana and Venezuela, and the United States, which was feeling a little uppity at the time, says, “This is our backyard. We need to have a say in this dispute.” Lord Salisbury sends a message back to Washington and he says, “Get lost.”
At which point Congress starts to debate the issue and there’s talk of war in the United States—the Monroe Doctrine, essentially. This is the Western Hemisphere. Great Britain should not be dictating territorial disputes without our say.
When the prospect of war emerges, the Cabinet meets in London. They talk to the Admiralty. The Admiralty says, “We can’t go to war with the U.S. We don’t have the ships.” It’s that point that convinces Salisbury to say to the United States, “Uncle.” “Fine. You want to take this dispute to arbitration? Let’s go to arbitration.”
Then Washington says, “Hmm, that’s very interesting. Our main rival in the world, the country that we broke away from in war in 1775 and thereafter, is starting to be nice to us. What’s going on here?”
From there, they move into a second phase, the first phase being Britain feeling pressed, and it makes an opening gambit. It makes an offer to the other side that says, “We would like to try to move this relationship in a more positive direction.”
The second phase is one of a reciprocity, a reciprocal exchange of goods—”goods” metaphorically speaking—where the United States starts giving things back to the British. From 1896 to 1898, you essentially see the U.S. and the British probing each other, testing each other, first on British Guiana and Venezuela, then on fishing rights in the Bering Sea, then on the border between Canada and Alaska, then on the Panama Canal, which the United States wants to build, but it can’t because of a treaty with Great Britain. Great Britain finally says, “Sure, go ahead and build the canal.” Finally, in 1898, the United States attacks Cuba, drives the Spanish out, colonizes the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and there’s only one country in the world that supports the United States, Great Britain.
From 1898 to 1902, 1903, the relationship starts moving through what I would call the third and the fourth stages. is calling war with the British a civil war, tantamount to fratricide.
The third stage is that the game starts moving from the diplomats to ordinary people. In the first stages, it’s quiet diplomacy. Usually no one even knows about it. That’s because, as I’ll come to in a second, the politics of being nice to your enemy are perilous. When leaders reach out to someone they have been at war with for 100 years, there’s always somebody waiting at home to sharpen the knife and come after them for selling out to the enemy. So between 1896 and 1898, some of what I just described was public; a lot of it was not, because the British cabinet thought that if the British people and the Parliament knew that the Royal Navy was pulling out of the Western Atlantic, they would scream bloody murder.
But after 1898, the cabinet starts to get the British public involved. The Anglo-American Chamber of Commerce is born, on both sides of the Atlantic. Traders, financiers, tourists, new shipping lines are created, The Atlantic Monthly, Scribner’s. It spreads not just from the realm of businessmen and the Chamber of Commerce, it goes into theater, to literature, to the arts.
So you begin to see a narrative change, a discourse change. Op-ed writers now talk about Great Britain not as an enemy, but as a cousin. The British start talking about Americans as “our Anglo-Saxon brethren,” not boorish, stupid, unshaven, unwashed hoodlums on the other side of the Atlantic. That’s really the final stage in the process, when Americans and British alike begin to embrace an identity that is shared, in which they talk about “us” and not “them,” in which the United States is seen as a member of the family, not as an “other” that has been a source of bloodshed for the motherland.
That, in a nutshell, is the story. It’s the pattern that I find in all 20 of the cases that I looked at: an opening gambit, when one country faces a dangerous strategic predicament—sometimes that’s it; it’s over. If the other side doesn’t reciprocate, go home. The rivalry continues. If reciprocity is forthcoming, then you start moving down to this stage of roughly two to three years where you’re testing each other, probing each other, mutually walking away from rivalry; finally, societal integration, societal involvement, and it ends with this change in the way that the two countries think about and describe each other.
Let me just mention a few interesting aspects of that story that I want to highlight.
One is the presence of very interesting what I would call power-checking devices. When these countries are going through that process, they innovate. They find ways to box off disputes. They find ways to make one another feel more comfortable about the other—dispute-resolution mechanisms, ways of fencing off issues.
One thing I found repeatedly was that oftentimes when the countries are trying to find accommodation, they set aside the most difficult issues. You put them on ice and then you deal with the issues that you think you can find agreement on. Then, when you feel more comfortable with each other, you come back to the tough cases.
In the Anglo-American case, we start with distant borders and Central America and fishing rights. It’s only two or three years later, when there is a level of comfort and confidence, that we can really tackle the tough nut, which was the Panama Canal and the border between Alaska and Canada, because those are core national security issues.
In the case of the Iroquois, they oftentimes would meet, the Grand Council, around the fire in Onondaga. That’s the town where they always met. Sometimes when there was a dispute that they couldn’t resolve, the tribe that had the grievance simply wouldn’t show up, because it knew if it showed up they wouldn’t find agreement and it might break the consensus. And it might not show up for a year or two, until the issue was simply defused, and then they would come back and sit around the fire and arbitrate the issues among the five tribes.
Another very interesting tool—what you could sort of think of as deconcentrating power—is finding ways to reduce the consequences of power asymmetries. For example, one of the cases I look at is the Senegambia Confederation, when Senegal and Gambia stopped competing with each other and formed a union. Senegal gave Gambia many more seats in their joint parliament than they deserved, because otherwise the Gambians would have been uncomfortable. They would have felt that they would have been overwhelmed.
Why do European parliamentarians spend most of their time on the train? That’s because when Europe was founded as a power-checking device, they didn’t want to put the capital in Berlin or in Paris. They wanted to put some of it in Brussels and some of it is in Strasbourg and some of it in Luxembourg, so that power would be diffused.
Why do I live in a swamp? I live in a swamp, Washington, D.C., because it was the only place that the Founding Fathers could agree on as a place to locate the capital. Philadelphia would mean that Pennsylvania would dominate the union. Boston, Massachusetts is too big. Anyway, it’s in the North, and it’s urban and industrial. So let’s put it in Washington, the middle of nowhere—part agriculture, part commercial, because it’s on a river, safe for northerners and southerners alike.
In almost all of the cases, there are these kinds of efforts to defuse power asymmetries and defuse power concerns by these kinds of very interesting tricks.
The second thing that I found, which I found quite surprising, was that economic interdependence, commercial integration doesn’t matter. That’s surprising, because we’re led to believe that if we can get Palestinians and Israelis to invest in each other’s economies, peace will break out, that if we can get Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Muslims to have joint ventures, peace will break out. I just didn’t find that.
In many of the cases I look at, peace goes up while commercial integration goes down. In fact, it’s inversely related. But the bottom line, at least from the 20 cases I looked at, is, “It’s the diplomacy, stupid.” You get the politics right, you deal with the grievances, and then the trade and the investment will follow. If you don’t get the politics right, you can trade and invest until you’re blue in the face, and it will not matter. It will not bring peace.
A third observation—and I mentioned this in passing—is that the politics of rapprochement are often more difficult than the policies of rapprochement. That’s because, as I said, when you try to reach out to your enemy and you stick your neck out, someone at home is going to try to lop your head off. That’s because being harsh to your adversary is politically safer than being accommodating to your adversary. We see that every day here in the United States and abroad. So managing the domestic politics of rapprochement, getting to yes, building coalitions behind rapprochement is extremely important and extremely difficult.
Half the cases that I look at are failures, cases where countries start down the road of making friends and it falls apart, it unravels. Usually the reason that it unravels is because there are domestic coalitions in the countries involved that step up and block it, because they are threatened by it commercially, because they are threatened by the consequences of rapprochement with their neighbor, whatever it may be. They’re the ones that scuttle it, not the diplomats, who, in many cases, are able to find ways of settling their differences.
The final point I would make—and it follows on from what I just said—is that this process, from the initial opening gambit to the closing of the game, when the narrative sets in, goes backwards as well as forwards. I wish I could tell you that this was a unidirectional process and that when you get to peace, it stays, but, unfortunately, I didn’t find that. In fact, I think it’s somewhat disappointing that even when you get to stable peace, even when you demilitarize relationships, they remain fragile.
Narratives of hostility, differences of interest can emerge relatively quickly. I would only point out the example of our own country that began life as a federation in 1789, a very successful federation, prosperous, relatively safe, the master of our own destiny. We fell apart in 1861, and half a million people died trying to keep the union together.
There are many other cases, whether it’s Yugoslavia today, the Sino-Soviet relationship in the 1950s, that didn’t survive the process, even though they got fairly far down the road.
Let me now say a few words about the conditions. Under what circumstances did I find that states were able to make their way to peace? Then I will end by saying a few things about the policy agenda and Obama.
As far as the conditions—when does this happen?—I ended up focusing on three important variables: one, what I would call institutionalized restraint; second, what I call compatible social orders; and third, a degree of cultural commonality. Let me just say a few things about those three.
I went into the project believing that I would find that regime type mattered and, in particular, that liberal democracies, more open states, more democratic states, would be able to find their way to peace more easily than non-democratic states, in part because, again, that’s what we’re told, that’s what we’re led to believe.
I did not find that. I found that the most important feature or characteristic of the state is its ability to practice strategic restraint, to withhold power, to be willing to step back from rivalry, to bind itself to its neighbors. That is a necessary condition. But I found that states that are autocratic, non-democratic—in fact, states that could be very nasty in their domestic politics—can be reliable and steady peacemakers in their foreign policy.
When Brazil and Argentina embarked on the path to peace in 1979, they were ruled by military juntas. Suharto, who replaced Sukarno in 1965, was one of the nastiest sons of bitches—excuse the phrase—of the 20th century. He killed hundreds of thousands. But he made peace with Malaysia and founded ASEAN [Association of South East Asian Nations] and, in some ways, was the person who brought stability to that part of the world.
The United Arab Emirates is today a very successful, stable, relatively prosperous federation. It is also one of the most illiberal states on the face of the planet. But those seven Emirates that came together in 1971, despite the complete absence of democracy, despite the complete absence of any history of constitutional restraint, relied on tribal conditions of restraint, as the did the Iroquois, to fashion the kinds of bargains and power-checking devices that I talked about.
So in that sense I think it’s a very interesting finding, and that is that, at least when it comes to foreign policy, we Americans tend to overrate democracy. One of the conclusions of the book is, let’s be careful about judging other countries on the basis of their domestic institutions and spend more time focusing on the way they behave externally and the nature of their foreign policy.
The second variable that kept coming back again and again in the case studies was this elusive variable of what I call social order. I generally found that states that were fundamentally different in the way they organized themselves and their political economy weren’t able to get past the early stages. So an industrializing state, an agrarian state; an open economy, a closed economy; an aristocratic society, an egalitarian society; they were able to get through the first stages, but when their societies began to grow more and more integrated, they would be blocked domestically.
Why, for example, did the United Arab Republic fail after two short years? Because Nasser tried to take over the Syrian economy, to regulate an open economy and turn it into a centralized, Egyptian-like economy, and the Syrian bazaar merchants and the Syrian landed gentry revolted. They essentially paid the Syrian army to revolt, which it promptly did.
In the case of the United States, we broke apart in 1861, largely because of a fundamentally incompatible social order in the North and the South. Despite the presence of democratic institutions, despite constitutional restraint, as the North and South got more and more integrated and as the political balance shifted to the North, the South saw the writing on the wall—the end of slavery, the end of agrarian life—and they tried to get out.
Finally, I found an important presence of culture in the cases, not in a Huntingtonian sense—Samuel Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations.” I did not find that countries of different cultures are destined to clash, but I did find that countries of similar cultures find it easier to get to yes than countries of different cultures. By culture, I mean ethnicity, race, and religion.
For example, at the same time that Great Britain attempted to fashion friendship with us, they did the same thing with Japan. They formed an alliance in 1902. It didn’t work. One of the reasons it didn’t work was because the British never felt comfortable with the Japanese in the same way they felt with their Anglo-Saxon brethren on this side of the Atlantic.
Not necessarily a politically correct or encouraging finding, but one that keeps reappearing through the cases.
In the case of Switzerland, as I mentioned, the three forest cantons successfully launched the confederation in 1291. But it then falls prey to five civil wars before it makes it to peace. What was the main dividing line? Protestant versus Catholic—originally, urban versus rural, but urban versus rural became Protestant versus Catholic, because the farmers stayed Catholic and the artisans and the merchants became Protestant. Religion was the main line of cleavage in Switzerland until the 19th century.
The one sort of cultural variable that doesn’t matter—and this is probably good news—is language. I did not find that language was an important barrier in any of the cases that I looked at. In Switzerland, interestingly, they fought about religion, they fought about urban versus rural, but they did not fight about French versus Romansch versus German.
Let me end by trying to tease out a few takeaways, a few things that I would ask you to put in your pocket as you walk home this evening. Here I’ll speak directly to American foreign policy and the whole question of engaging adversaries.
The first point I would make is simply that I think Obama is right. In the big debate that took place in the presidential campaign between McCain and Obama, McCain said engagement is appeasement; Obama said engagement, under the right circumstances, is good diplomacy. What I find is that Obama is right and that, short of invading another country and destroying them and rebuilding them, as we did to Germany or Japan, longstanding rivals come to an end when t e two sides sit down and talk to each other, not when one side coerces the other, through intimidation, into submission. So in that sense, it is a resounding confirmation of the idea that we should talk to Iran, we should talk to Syria, we should talk to Cuba—not that we will necessarily get to yes, but that that, historically speaking, is the way that you get to yes without war.
A second takeaway—and I mentioned this already—is that I think we should be careful about overrating democracy. I’m not someone who would prefer to live in an autocracy. I’m not someone who is against democracy. But I think that we sometimes are too facile in the equations that we draw between domestic governance and a state’s place in the international system. As I said, I found that states that are quite repressive at home can be reliable partners abroad.
That doesn’t mean we should not criticize them. That doesn’t mean that Obama shouldn’t speak out against China when they throw political prisoners in jail. But it does mean that we should be careful about throwing out the baby with the bath water and labeling regimes as ugly or unacceptable and miss opportunities to reach out and work with them, as we have just found in the last few days with the Russians.
Maybe this will be a flash in the pan. It’s also possible that this will be the beginning of a new era of strategic cooperation with Russia, a country which by any measure is not a democracy.
The third takeaway—again, one that I mentioned—is that it’s about diplomacy; it’s not about commercial integration. I think that’s a very important policy finding, in the sense that we tend to believe that if we get traders to get into the game, if we invest, then we will get the right outcome.
As I said, it’s about the diplomacy; it’s not about the trade. In that sense, I think the Obama Administration is heading in the right direction, both on the question of dealing with non-democracies and on focusing on the diplomacy rather than on trying to deal with problems through economic engagement.
The fourth point is the domestic politics. I, in some ways, worry about this issue in this country more than I worry about any other issue. That’s because we are at a point in the political trajectory of the United States that is about as dysfunctional as we have ever been. We are more polarized, more fractious, more divided than at any point since the 19th century.
So my main concern is not that Obama will fall short in Moscow or Havana or Tehran. It’s that when he makes successes—and he will get some and he will lose some—he will come home and find that he can’t get the Congress to back him, that he will take the START treaty [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] to the Senate and he will not be able to get eight Republicans, that he will take the CTBT [Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty] to the Senate and they will want nothing to do with it, that he might make a deal with Tehran or with Cuba, part of which is getting Congress to reduce the sanctions, and the sanctions will stay because Congress won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.
I would simply point out that the Jackson-Vanik amendment, passed in 1973 to get Jews out of the Soviet Union, has yet to be repealed. That is well after the Soviet Union disappeared, and Jews are free to leave Russia.
So that’s all by way of saying that the politics of rapprochement is often more difficult than the policy. I think Obama should start paying a lot more attention to the politics than he has been. As he found out the hard way on health care, we are at a very fractious point in our history. If you don’t build the coalitions, you don’t build the consensus, then you will not get to yes.
The final point that I would leave you with—and it is an uplifting point—is simply that peace does break out, that these magical moments do happen. I think that is a reassuring and an uplifting finding.
The one somewhat offsetting remark I would make in conclusion is that it doesn’t happen as often as we might like, it’s very hard to get there, and when you get there, it sometimes goes backwards. But, to me, that should not be a reason to throw up our hands, but simply a reason to work even harder to make these magical moments of peace more frequent and more durable.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: Speaking of democracy, it is dysfunctional. Obama certainly tried very hard for a year to try to get some cooperation. What can we do about it? It doesn’t seem fixable. Maybe we should find a different system.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Unfortunately, getting a different system is a tall order. I agree with you that it’s deeply rooted. I was an Obama supporter and, in full disclosure, an adviser, and I was happy that he got elected. But when pundits started pronouncing in mid-November that blue America and red America were gone and the United States of America was back, and this was a sea change, a realignment in American politics, and Virginia and North Carolina and Nevada and New Mexico are now blue, I was thinking, what are they smoking? Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening here. We are a very deeply divided country.
I don’t see that changing any time soon, because I think the sources of that polarization are profound. They have to do with generational change. They have to do with the media, the explosion of the Internet, of digital technology, of the degree to which we read this dot-com or that dot-com. It has to do, I think, with the replacement of the industrial economy by the digital economy. The digital economy is one where we can live where we want to live. The industrial economy made us move all over the country to ports, to rivers, because that’s where the jobs were. I think that, because we now can live where we want to live, the country is becoming more segmented socially and geographically.
As many of you probably know, New England doesn’t send one Republican congressman to Washington—not one. Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, that’s not good. You go out to the Mountain West and you find pretty much the opposite. The states there don’t send a single Democrat to Congress. When, historically speaking, those kinds of divisions have emerged, we have trouble.
What was, probably, the most important change that led to the outbreak of the Civil War? It was that the Democratic Party became the party of the South and the Republican Party, the party of the North, after 1855. Prior to that time, the parties had strong constituencies in both parts of the country. But when our parties and our regions are homogeneous, then no party has an incentive to reach out to the center. That’s kind of, I think, where we are today.
I think Obama is courageous for trying. I think he was a little bit naïve in believing that it was about Bush not being nice to Democrats. I think he actually believed that if he had lunch with George Will, if he had lunch with David Brooks, and then he brought the Republic leadership to the Roosevelt Room, everything would be good again. But that’s not what has happened.
The only thing I could say is—what could he do? Continue to try to reach out; tack to the center; when he negotiates with Tehran, see if he can get Brent Scowcroft or James Baker to go—in other words, try to get a Republican imprint on this. But it’s going to be an uphill battle.
QUESTION: You made a very brief reference to the strategic power balance when you said that sometimes a major power decided to make peace with one of too many enemies so that it could face the other ones. I wonder if you could comment a little bit on whether any kind of strategic power arrangements make any difference in bringing about this process that you tended to concentrate on of bringing about peace.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Could you just say a word more? Do you mean particular kinds of strategic environments?
QUESTIONER: Do strategic power arrangements make any difference in most of the cases or in all of the cases or only in a few cases, like the one that you mentioned, when Britain was facing, at the end of the 19th century, too many problems and decided to make peace with the United States?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: As I mentioned, most of the cases begin when a country feels that it has too many enemies and needs to remove them. There are some cases where the impetus is domestic in nature. In the case of Brazil, the problem was that the hardliners in the security apparatus were taking over the country, and so the moderates—if you will abide by that phrase—within the military wanted to ease the strategic environment to undercut the hardliners.
So there is some variance in the cases. But in general, I would say that when it is the large power in the setting that makes the peace offering, it usually goes further. That’s because when it’s the big power that does something nice, it’s unusual. It makes everyone sit up and pay attention. When a small, weak power makes a peace offering, it comes off as an act of desperation. They have to do that. But when Britain backs down to the United States, when Indonesia backs down to Malaysia, when Brazil backs down to Argentina, everyone says, “What’s going on there? Why is Big Daddy backing down to the little small fry?”
So that’s one aspect of it.
A second is that, in general, these zones of peace, especially those that involve more than two, revolve around a center of power. In the case of the EU, it was the Franco-German coalition. In the case of the Gulf Cooperation Council, it was Saudi Arabia. In the case of ASEAN, it was Indonesia; in Mercosur [Mercado Comum do Sul—Southern Common Market], Brazil.
When the major power in the region is unwilling to practice strategic restraint, to withhold power, to put one hand behind its back, the other powers generally are afraid of it. When the dominant player in the game is willing to exercise restraint, that’s when you get the crystallization, including among non-state actors. The Mohawk tribe, for example, was much bigger and more populous than the other four Iroquois. The Mohawk essentially had to buy into restraint if the other, smaller tribes, the Seneca and others, were going to sign into the Great Binding Law.
QUESTION: Could I ask you a question that may connect the End of the American Era to this book, through an anecdote that you may remember? When Nixon went to Paris, Kissinger accompanied him. Kissinger asked de Gaulle, “If you had an irreconcilable difference with Germany, how would you solve it?” And de Gaulle said, “Par la guerre,”—”by war.” The fact that we laugh about this means that even in the 1960s, when this occurred, it was unthinkable.
The question is, to what extent do you think the European Union is a model for how enemies become friends and to what extent is it so completely unique that it cannot serve as a model?
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think it is a model, in the sense that it serves as an example for other regions, be they in East Asia or Africa or wherever, for how to engage in experiments of political and social engineering that gradually eliminate geopolitics from the equation. Countries need to go down their own paths. But the general structure and the general sequence of steps that the European Union I think does provide a very instructive model for others.
A lot of EU specialists would disagree with what I said about commercial integration. A lot of people would say the EU is where it is today because it’s a trade bloc and it has been all about economics. I would offer a slightly different gloss on it. That is, it has been economics in the service of geopolitics.
The European Coal and Steel Community—yes, that was an industrial grouping, but it was put together for geopolitical reasons. In fact, the French and the German coal and steel companies hated it. They wanted nothing to do with it, the Germans because they were all cartelized and the French wouldn’t even give data to the government. That’s because this was really driven by political elites, who went out there and grabbed the companies and the firms and they said, “You will do this.” Then, once you got them to do it, economic integration begins to develop its own logic.
I think, for example, that there is a very important lesson there in East Asia. Japan and China need to find some way to do a little bit of what France and Germany did. If that doesn’t happen, East Asia will be sort of permanently divided.
So, yes, I do think the European experience is a good one.
One final comment. My guess is you might share this. I’m worried about Europe, more worried than I’ve ever been. It’s not just the Greek crisis. It’s the re-nationalization of political life that has been taking place over the last three or four years. As I said, one of the things that kept jumping out at me in the book is—yes, it’s great, peace breaks out, look at us go—it goes this way, too. I don’t think that Europe is past the point of no return. I do not expect war to break out soon between France and Germany or France and England. But I’m not altogether confident that Europe might not gradually slide backwards.
QUESTION: Ignoring the United States, what is your view of the future? Where do you see enemies becoming friends in the world, since you have studied the past, obviously, and you are a practitioner of the present? Do you see any enemies becoming friends in the near future? You can use the United States, but that wasn’t my question.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think, in potential terms, any of the cases that we’re looking at could be ripe. It could be Pakistan and India. It could be Palestine and Israel. In the case of Northern Ireland, we’re sort of making some progress—two steps forward, one step back.
I’m not someone that feels comfortable making point predictions about specific conflicts. I would say that the easier cases out there, in my mind, are, vis-à-vis the United States, Russia—I think Russia is the low-hanging fruit of all the sort of troubled countries that Obama is attempting to engage.
I think it’s very important for him to have a win. If he goes into the November midterms with nothing to show for engaging adversaries, I think he is quite exposed. He now has the START treaty. It would be nice if he had something else. We’ll see if that happens.
Other places—I’m not particularly optimistic about the Middle East. Having just come back from Delhi, I’m not very optimistic about Pakistan-India.
I’ll just end with one other comment, which is tangential to what you asked, but I think related.
I think one of the big, if not the big, grand strategic questions of the next decade is not just solving these longstanding rivalries among neighbors, but there’s a big kind of tectonic shift coming ahead.
That tectonic shift is that the West is gradually losing its primacy. The writing is on the wall. Then the question is, what will happen to the Western system? I think the dominant narrative, at least the one I hear in Washington, is that we will open the Western system to newcomers, and thereby enable this system to long outlast our primacy. So we will let China into this room, we will let India in, then Brazil, then Turkey. This system that we have erected after World War II will then persevere.
I don’t think it’s going to work that way. On the basis of the research in this book, what I think will happen is that we are going to have to compromise. We are going to have to not just fling those doors open and let them into this room, but go to a whole other building and sit down in someone else’s room and have a conversation about a whole set of new norms and principles for guiding the international system. Some of them will be Western and some of them will be not. Some of them we will like and some of them we will not.
But it seems to me that if we don’t go into this next decade with that frame of mind, we’re going to be in trouble.
QUESTION: You have mentioned the Israel-Palestine situation a few times. I’m just curious if you can give a slightly more detailed analysis of how particularly the Oslo process proceeded along the trajectory you discovered in your book and, both forward and backward, how it then disintegrated—and particularly vis-à-vis the issue of social integration and creating a universal narrative, how that did or did not play out.
CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think that the unraveling of Oslo and the dueling narratives that have, unfortunately, settled into both Israel and Palestine make peace quite elusive right now. As I mentioned, these narratives matter. I remember being back in Israel when I was a student, the narratives of animosity and hatred and us-versus-them wasn’t there. Now it’s there. I have spent time on the West Bank recently, and it’s there, too. It’s very hard to get out of that box.
But I would say that, at least on the basis of the book, the following kinds of actions would be very useful: One, gestures by both parties, but particularly from Israel, because Israel is the dominant party—Israel has the money, has the land, has the tanks, and has control—gestures to try to build a certain level of confidence on the other side. Obama thinks that the gesture should be a freeze on the settlements. Other people think the gesture should be more dismantling of checkpoints. You could draw a long list, but something that could begin to send a signal that “we really want to move in a different direction with you.” Then there would need to be reciprocal gestures on the other side.
But it seems to me that unless you go through what I would call stages one and two, where you begin to exchange concessions, where you begin to suggest to the other side that you have benign intentions, you are never going to get to Jerusalem. You’re never really going to get to borders. You have to have a level of confidence and a level of predictability to make a deal. Otherwise, the Israelis are going to say, “Why should we give back East Jerusalem if they’re just going to shoot missiles at us?”
So it seems to me that there is a step-by-step process that the United States can play a role in trying to get going, which could then lead to a sufficient level of confidence and mutual understanding among the two populations that you could get votes in the Knesset and political support in the Palestinian community for the two parties to make peace.
Unfortunately, I think we’re very far from that right now.
JOANNE MYERS: This was such a thoughtful and wonderful talk. I hope we won’t have to wait seven years for you to leave the swamp and come back to the big city.
I would just like to invite you all to continue this discussion. His book is available for you to purchase.
Thank you so much.
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- How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace (Audio)
- The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century (Transcript)
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