NSC-68 was a key document for the mid- to late-20th Century. But geopolitical codes are necessarily dynamic. The break-up of the Soviet Union in the late 20th Century created a new global landscape that was no longer predicated on a bi-polar world of global powers.
Following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the US updated its geopolitical code to engage with anti-American terrorism. The National Security Strategy (NSS) of 2002, also known as the “Bush Doctrine”, asserted that the “struggle against global terrorism is different from any other war in history” (NSS, 5). The document delineated a strategy for the War on Terror—justifying a global reach while targeting specific countries. There was a certain vagueness (“the enemy is not a single political regime or person or religion or ideology. The enemy is terrorism.”), that was flexible enough to zero in on specific perceived threats.
What language was used to identify threats? What was introduced as a way to respond to counter threats? What were some of the means (“other than institutions and ‘principles’ to secure allies”) included to secure allies? How was the Bush Doctrine represented (justified) to the American people (what language was used)?
Watch a discussion about contemporary American geopolitics (A Farewell to Geopolitics: American Grand Strategy for the New Era given by MIT Political Science Professor Stephen Van Evera on March 6, 2012) and think about the answers to the questions below:
- Who are new geopolitical actors that the US (and others) should take note of?
- What are Dr. Van Evera’s recommendations for the US? How does this connect to our working understanding of geopolitical code?
ROGER OWEN: Welcome to the Cambridge forum discussing challenges of globalization and global engagement. I'm Roger Owen, Professor of History at Harvard University, and I will be the moderator. If 9/11 demonstrated how small and dangerous the world can be in the era of globalization, the decade after 9/11 has been a proving ground for responses to 21st century global threats.
Our speaker, Stephen Van Evera of MIT's Security Studies Program, looks at the ways the United States has responded to military diplomatic and economic challenges over the past decade and asks, have our actions made us more secure? Arguing that, in fact, US strategies have been ineffective, even counterproductive, he outlines an American grand strategy for the new globalization web of international relationships. What policies and actions does he see as effective in promoting American and global security going forward? Where does he find the political and economic will to achieve such a new strategic vision? And what should citizens be doing to foster increased security?
Stephen Van Evera is Ford International Professor in the MIT political science department. He earned his BA in government from Harvard and his MA and PhD in political science from the University of California at Berkeley. Professor Van Evera works in several areas of international relations-- the causes and prevention of war, US foreign policy, US security policy, US intervention in the third world, international relations with the Middle East, and international relations theory.
He has published books on the causes of war, and on social science methodology, and articles on American foreign policy, American defense policy, nationalism and the causes of war, the origins of World War I, and US strategy in the War on Terror. His article "A Farewell to Geopolitics," which was his contribution to a consideration of the future of US foreign relations that was collected in the volume To Lead the World-- American Strategy after the Bush Doctrine from Oxford University Press forms the basis for our discussion. So welcome to the Cambridge forum Stephen Van Evera. Thank you.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Thank you, Roger, and thank you, Pat. I always like to talk from an outline, partly so I don't get lost myself. So I think Pat passed out a little summary of the remarks I'm going to make that'll make it easier to follow what I'm going to say. If anyone doesn't have one, I think Pat can hand one out. It's great to be here to talk about these important questions. Pat put to me the challenge of speaking to American policy toward a globalizing world. What's the impact of this huge, unformed, unbounded phenomenon of globalization, and how well is America doing in managing It? And I thought, man, that's impossible. That's a huge subject. I give up.
So I thought, as long as I'm going to talk about something impossible, I'll talk about something even more impossible. I'll offer a overview of the broad sweep of American policy not only toward globalization, but toward all the threats in the world and ask, as a general matter, is the United States taking the right approach or wrong approach? Is US grand strategy today toward the main problems that the US faces rightly cast a wrongly cast? And I sort of sum up my argument at the outset there under Roman numeral one, I'm making a somewhat, if you will, radical argument that US grand strategy today should be radically different from what it was historically.
It's time for a complete rethinking of how the United States does business in the world-- that the nature of the threats the US faces in the world that they are perhaps not smaller-- I think they are somewhat smaller but not much smaller than they were back in the day-- back in decades past. But they're very different in shape and nature. But the US government is doing what it tends to do, which is to keep doing the same thing over and over again because large organizations and government bureaucracies don't like to change their missions, so we are basically largely pursuing foreign policies and security policies that are designed for the old days-- what I might call the age of geopolitics.
And today, we live in the new days where things are very different and it's time for a basic rethink. And to sum it up, for the first, really, two centuries of America's existence, the prime threats to the United States were always thought of as coming from other powers, especially from great powers, and especially during the years from 1917 to '89, the American foreign policy was directed at a single problem, which was the possibility that a single state would dominate all of industrial Eurasia. And if it did, it would then be strong enough to project power across the Atlantic and threaten the US.
And that was part of the motivation that led the US to decide to fight against the Germans in the First World War. It was a large part of the reason that FDR decided to join World War II and fight the Nazis. And it was the fundamental reason why the United States decided to join the Cold War in the late '40s and contain the Soviet Union. And it fits in with how great powers, in general, down through the ages have done business-- seeing each other as the major threats to each other.
And my argument is that we live in a new world where that kind of thinking is obsolete. And where the common interests among the major powers of the world today are much larger than their conflicts of interest. And we should be pursuing, essentially, an opposite policy of, if you will, concert rather than conflict with other major powers. The closest analogy in history is to the Concert of Europe that was pursued by the major states of Europe in 1815. Those of you who are close students of the old days will-- I'm sure you all remember the Concert of Europe.
But it was a brief period in European history after the Napoleonic Wars when the European powers saw the main threat to themselves to lie more in the danger of revolution than in the danger of conquest by one another. And they formed a broad, if you will, "concert," which did not have to do with the Boston Pops, it had to do with a courting-- bringing their policies into agreement and concerting their efforts together against the threat of revolution-- a threat from below, if you will. And they agreed on conflict abatement measures, ways to prevent war with each other, to sort of share the world, if you will, in quite an ugly way because, of course, what they were trying to do is prevent democracy and suppress popular movements and keep the people down, et cetera.
Their motives were very dark, but their objective and their answer was cooperation. This lasted for quite a while. Historians disagree on how long, but vestiges of this cooperation policy went on for some decades. And there was no major war in Europe while the European powers pursued that approach.
And what I'm arguing is that we're really in a parallel time where the great powers of the world have a large interest in cooperation, and we should once again pursue a concert not for those dark reasons of the old days but, because today, number one, the great powers of the world are not a major threat to each other. The United States is not going to be conquered any time in the near future under any scenario you can think of. The notion that China could be a security threat to the US is just wrongheaded and far-fetched. And therefore, the containment of China, which could only have the purpose of preventing China from threatening the US, is a wrongheaded idea.
At the same time, the US faces, along with everyone else, new threats that are best addressed and only addressed by common action by all the powers. And they can be addressed by common action of all the powers because these new threats threaten all the major states of the world, and they can only be effectively addressed by common action among them all. And those threats are, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, which I believe has taken a new, frightening turn in the last few years; the spread of terror networks that want to use these weapons, which now look weak but I don't think have gone away; and perhaps most important-- threats to the global commons, by which I mean threats to the environment, especially the threat of climate change; threats of global financial disruption, which is a problem we thought we understood and could kind of solve five years ago, but it's clear we don't know what we're doing in that area.
And the threat of a new big economic downturn still hangs over us. And other threats, including the threat of pandemic disease, which isn't so much a threat as it's an opportunity these days. I mean it is a grave threat-- pandemic disease can kill far more people than major wars can if bad luck strikes but, by cooperating internationally, we can abate that threat in ways we couldn't used to. And we throw that opportunity away if we have great power competition. So that's sort of a summary-- that we ought to put geopolitics think if you will aside and pursue great power co-operation-- a highly unnatural thing for great powers to do, a very natural thing for the national security establishments of the world to do, but I think it's appropriate to the world we're in today.
And just to take you through the details of that argument, geopolitical threats have sharply diminished. In other words, we don't live in a world anymore where it's believable that any great power is going to conquer the US. The number one threat people point to today that the US allegedly needs to contain or address is China. After the Cold War ended, people were looking around for the new great power that might be the problem. For a while, people said, Germany! Man, they're the new danger. They're going to unify and get strong and be a danger and, of course, that argument kind of looked silly in a hurry. Or Russia-- will Russia come back? And again, that argument looked silly in a hurry.
So China has been featured as the main new potential quote, "geopolitical threat." By which I mean a state that could become strong enough to pose a security threat to the US and, therefore in some way, requires, or needs, or merits a confrontational approach-- a containment policy or even a nastier policy of rollback or some efforts to reduce its power-- a policy of hostility of some degree that would either contain its power or reduce it. And there's many voices in Washington who argue for a policy of containment toward China. And my argument is that even that threat just can't be-- you can't keep it together if you argue that that threat is a real threat to the US national security.
Because the world has changed in ways that make the whole logic of past American geopolitical activities no longer hold water for big changes in the world. One is that empires no longer pay rewards. Back in the day, the fear was that the Soviet Union would take over Western Europe, harness its industrial might, turn the industry of Western Europe to weapons, and then have an overwhelming military strength. That may have been true in those days.
One of my students actually wrote a terrific book called, Does Conquest Pay? Peter Liberman is his name-- excellent study of whether empires paid rewards to those who conquered them back in the First World War era and the Second World War era. His answer was, yes, they did pay, they didn't pay $0.100 on the dollar because the conqueror had to police the empire and, of course, there was always resistance and inefficiency.
But those who conquered industrial regions could milk them quite successfully. And today, I think that's just no longer true. We live in a knowledge economy era when areas you conquer can't be milked and can't be policed because you can't make knowledge workers produce at the point of a gun.
Second, we live in an age of nationalism where an empire is now much more costly and difficult to control than it once was. So the idea that China's going to expand and take over its neighbors and milk power from them is, I think, wrongheaded. If China really were to go on some kind of expansionist course, I think they could expect to suffer in the same way the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan or the US did in Vietnam.
Another huge change in the world is the nuclear revolution itself. And here, my view is somewhat that, even during the Cold War, the national security elites of the world, if you will, didn't fully think through what these weapons meant. But my argument is that these nuclear revolution was a defensive revolution in military affairs-- it was a frightening revolution-- it had many downsides-- but that basically, no great power is ever going to conquer any other great power that has a secure nuclear arsenal. You can't frame the argument that the clever briefer makes for, how does it work when you invade another country that has nuclear weapons you can't destroy? Well, you shouldn't do it. It's going to end badly for you.
And nuclear weapons are inherently very easy to hide, deliver, and protect, which means that it's very easy to maintain a secure nuclear deterrent if you work at it. And so it's not an accident, mind you, that we've had no great powers conquer each other since the nuclear revolution happened. And one of the counterintuitive unforeseen benefits of the nuclear revolution is it makes conquest among great powers fundamentally impossible. It makes it impossible. It's not going to happen. And when I say that's a benefit-- much warfare through the ages has been motivated by the search for security.
If you explore the motives that drove great states to wage great wars down through the ages, it was frequently that they felt insecure and felt that they either had to expand their borders to acquire more assets, or to overthrow nasty neighboring regimes, or to reduce the assets that other countries had and therefore to change the balance of power in their favor so that they could not be conquered by their neighbors. And this devilish problem has essentially been ended-- or at least has been ended as long as nuclear weapons are the dominant weapon in warfare.
And what that means regarding China and the US is, come on, good people. China is not conquering the US. Even if China's economy grows like Topsy, even if it does surpass the US in total GDP, even if its defense establishment does become larger than the US defense establishment, China is not going to cross the Pacific Ocean and conquer the US. So this threat that the US, for many decades, centered its policy around is now fundamentally gone.
The same is true of Russia-- as I said, ditto. The biggest threat to Russia posed to us is their own weakness-- the danger that they'll fall apart, the danger that they'll lose control of their nuclear weapons, which is quite a serious danger, and their weapons will fall in the hands of terrorists. So as that threat has disappeared, revolutionary change-- and very disappointing-- well, let's just say shocking to the defense establishment, because that's the threat toward which our defense establishment has been geared for many years-- great power warfare.
Two other threats have arisen. One is the danger of WMD, or weapons of mass destruction terror, which seems right now to be sort of in advance, but I believe we face long-term secular trends that are going to keep that threat, unfortunately, with us. One is that weapons of mass destruction are slowly becoming easier to make, slowly becoming more accessible to more players, slowly becoming things that it is more plausible to fear that might fall into the hands of bad actors. The price is going down. Knowledge of how to make them is going up. More actors seem to want them.
We went through a phase in this whole problem of things going the right way. After the Cold War ended, we saw Ukraine, and Belarus, and other countries-- Kazakhstan-- give up their weapons. We saw South Africa, which had built a bomb, decided it didn't want the bomb and abandoned the bomb. We saw the Argentines and Brazilians ramp back their nuclear program.
So things were looking really good like, we're heading the right way here. But since then, we've seen a number of states seem to develop nuclear ambitions-- the Iranians, the North Koreans, we know Saddam Hussein wanted the weapons. He very incompetently went after them and sort of was in a box, but he wanted them. And we see the prospect of new nuclear technologies that would make nuclear enrichment easier for people with fewer resources.
And we also see the danger of new kinds of WMDs being created. And especially, we see the synthetic biology revolution potentially bringing to fore, essentially, new weapons of mass destruction. Martin Reese has written a worrying book that people should read about where is technology taking in the world, arguing that the advance of science is essentially causing the power to destroy to outrun the power to counter the power to destroy.
The long-term trends suggest that science is bringing us more ways to destroy than it's bringing us ways to defend against such things. And he even talks about how nanotechnology might be used for mass killing, and even how folks in the low-temperature physics business are doing things that could be very destructive whose results they don't understand. REES Martin Rees it's a book-- some years ago now but a very important book. And I think that the trend he outlines, unfortunately, is real.
There is a second trend out there which is that there's some distemper loose in the world of global religions-- a rise of not just a sort of angry fundamentalism that you find in many faiths but, also, specifically, a rise of millenarianism, which you see really rising in all five of the world's great religions-- meaning, specifically, the idea that the world is ending, and that's a good thing, and perhaps a person of goodwill should hasten that along. The left-behind folks in the United States are essentially millenarians and who see something good in the end-of-the-world scenario that they have embedded in their faith.
The folks who shot Prime Minister Rabin in Israel in '94 were basically millenarian Jews. The Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan are, believe it or not, millenarian Buddhists. And there are also millenarian Hindus and some Muslims who are not connected to the Jihadis. They're a separate strand. If you want a rationale-- the reason I raise all this is, if you want a rationale for why someone might find it a good thing to do to unleash weapons of mass destruction on cities, to me, I gravitate to religious arguments, and I gravitate, particularly, to ones that argue that mass destruction is somehow God's will.
And we're seeing that kind of thinking growing not ebbing, as well as angry fundamentalism, which also is a problem that can lead people believing they have God's back to ignore the normal rules. Other threats that also don't take the form of great powers-- I mentioned three of them in the outline. The most important one, to me, is the threat of climate change and environmental destruction.
My view is that human civilization is now in the early stages of a horrifying collision with the natural world. And this collision is happening in slow motion, but it's inexorable, it's gathering force, it's leading manifestation today's climate change. And the problem of climate change, I think, is it's going to be an immensely difficult one to solve. And it can only be solved by international cooperation, which is why I raise it as a foreign policy problem. It's going to require a lot of action in other policy realms as well. We also see other threats to the global commons.
As I mentioned, to me, managing the world economy is a global foreign policy problem. Today, we do live in a globalized world where financial crises cross borders, recessions cross borders, and preventing global financial implosion is therefore, again, a global foreign policy problem-- one we didn't used to talk about much because we thought we sort of understood how to do that. But as I said in the outset, I'm increasingly convinced that it's a problem we don't have a good handle on. And we have to come up with better answers. What US strategies we adopt?
On the bottom there on page 1, I say, OK fine. A common policy that addresses all of these is to forge a concert of cooperation amongst all the major powers. Such a concert is both required by the nuclear revolution and enabled by it. It's enabled by it because great powers now need fear each other less so they can cooperate with each other more because they pose less threat of conquest to each other.
They also face a common threat, which is this WMD terror problem, which is another motive for them to cooperate. It somewhat resembles this threat of revolution that we saw back in the 1815 era. So they have the ability to cooperate. They have the need to cooperate. And Furthermore, they sort of have the double-need to cooperate. The threats to the global commons and to national security can't be solved without a wide cooperation.
The problem of WMD spread is inherently a multinational problem. You cannot stop proliferation without common action by a wide range of powers. You cannot deal with terror networks without common action by a wide range of powers. You cannot address climate change without common action by a wide range of powers. You can't deal with managing a financial crisis without common action by a wide range of powers.
So common action by a wide range of states and, in some cases, by everybody. If you have any bad actors in this system, terror networks can flourish and weapons can spread. So widespread cooperation is required. What do you do to create a concert? I list four things-- primary things-- that you want to do. One is, the United States should be a major peacemaker in the world. Cooperation happens when states get along.
The US, as the world's leading power, should take a strong hand in dampening conflicts among other major states. It should be the cop on the block that sees itself as having an active interest in making war unthinkable around the planet. What the US I think should do is, essentially, to frame the ambition-- should be to replicate the miracle of Europe everywhere. Today a miracle has been achieved in Europe. War is unthinkable in Western Europe. This is a part of the world where blood flowed in rivers for centuries.
And today, it is just not conceivable that the major states of Europe would go back to war again. No one in Europe thinks that's possible. How was that achieved? There's a number of actual ingredients to that miracle in my opinion, and students of peace should start with that achievement if they want to figure out how to make it happen elsewhere. But the US's goal should be to find-- let's replicate that achievement around the world. Another way to look at it is to say, let's play Bismarck, if you will-- the good Bismarck, the later Bismarck during the later period of his chancellorship of Germany in the 1880s.
Bismarck's goal was to see to it that around Germany, there was peace so that Germany wasn't sucked into wars on its periphery as he feared it would be. And he had an active policy of dispute resolution among his neighbors and also of deterring conflict among them and providing security for them. His main tool was defensive alliances. He wove a network of relations in which he told neighbors, if you are attacking your neighbors, I'm against you; and if you're the attacked party, I'm with you. My relationship with you is conditional on whether you behave yourself.
The US should use that policy to try to dampen conflicts abroad. And it also should use the strong arm-- should actively mediate conflicts that today it views as spectator sports-- most notably, for example, India/Pakistan where the US has been very laid back, and not been very involved, and not had a strong opinion, never framed its own view on what kind of a final-status peace settlement should be pursued. And to me, the US should be much more forward about pursuing peace for its own sake.
The US should pursue a modus vivendi with China and Russia. In the past 20 years, the US has, essentially, from time to time, poked a stick in both their eyes with NATO expansion, with national missile defense, with the talk of more NATO expansion. Under the Bush administration, the US promised entry into NATO to the Georgians and to Ukraine, which, in my opinion, would be bad things to do for a number of reasons-- one being that, for sure, there would be a war in Ukraine.
Same thing with China-- there was a policy under George W. Bush, basically, of encircling China and containing it. And we now see the Obama administration talking in those terms-- talking about reorienting US defense policy toward an East Asia scenario, meaning, essentially, toward containment of China. And my view is no, let's pursue, basically, detente with both these states on the premise, which we would explain to them often and early, that we have common interests that outweigh our differences.
Third and fourth, the US should build US global legitimacy, which, to some extent, Bush didn't do, and Obama has done it. And we're seeing the results of it in the ability of the Obama administration to forge big coalitions when they want to take action as, for example, on Iran. And fourth is to build capacities for diplomacy. You all know that, basically, in Washington, the Defense Department is the agency that ate government. We've militarized our whole approach to foreign affairs.
The State Department is this tiny, little outfit of overworked and underpaid people. And instead, we need to have, essentially, an understanding that the United States needs to be essentially a dealmaker worldwide-- a, if you will, global social engineer. And you need people who know how to do it and have the time. And that means you have to build up that expertise in the State Department. I also would put public diplomacy down as a major thing the US doesn't invest in that's required for this new strategy.
If you're going to lead a global coalition, you've got to persuade people that it makes sense, persuade people to stay in it, persuade people to support it, and go along with it. And the US has basically dismantled-- I'm overstating a little bit-- but it's largely dismantled it's public diplomacy or persuasion capacity over the last 20 years. Back in the day, the US was fairly good at that sort of thing, but it's been regarded as sort of, it's not kinetic so let's not bother. And this, I think, has been a huge mistake. It needs to be rebuilt.
So those are major pieces of how to build a concert. You then have to use the concert wisely-- the power of the concert. If you have a bad strategy for how to solve these problems I mentioned, you're still going to fail at them. I mentioned under C there in the outline that a good counterterror strategy is not very kinetic. It involves intelligence cooperation. It involves, for example, another thing most people don't think of as counterterror but it's centrally important to counterterror which is dispute resolution.
The Jihadis that the United States is now fighting love conflicts especially ones involving Muslims. They love the Arab-Israeli conflict. They love it. They love the India-Pakistan conflict. Because they use these conflicts for propaganda, for training, for networking-- they're like gasoline on the fires for these groups. And it follows that the United States should have an active policy of dampening or ending these conflicts. We shouldn't view them as something that the US spectates upon without any core interests being at stake. Rather, the US does have a core interest in resolving these conflicts and the US, I think, should have a strong policy and often should be willing to not just mediate them, but frame a final status solution that the US believes is fair and then use carrots and sticks to persuade the parties to move toward it.
It's the same thing with counter-proliferation. You haven't solved the problem of proliferation if you just assemble a big coalition. You need to know what to do with it. And if I look at US counter-proliferation efforts over the last 20 years, I'd say, OK, some smart things are done but also some not so smart things. The US has missed huge opportunities to resolve proliferation problems, especially with Iran and North Korea. I think we could have had deals with both those countries that would have resolved things-- solved 90% of the problem.
But because people in the US government sort of were believing in fantasies-- the fantasy of regime change-- and also because they didn't understand why states want nuclear weapons. They didn't realize that security is a major reason that states want them. So if you threaten those states' regimes or threaten the states themselves, you're not going to get them to stand down their programs, you're going to get them to escalate their programs. So it's the exact wrong way to go. So we've made mistakes in the past on this score, and if you're building a coalition, you need to know how to proceed.
To me, the most elementary thing to say about counter-proliferation or nonproliferation is, it involves talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. It involves a commitment of very long term, very deep engagement with whomever you are trying to persuade to change their behavior. The way we're handling things with Iran is just far from the right way. We now have sort of one meeting a year with Iran. Well you need to have a meeting every week. Because you need to engage in a very long-term process of persuading the other side and learning about the other side to make deals. That's how we dealt with China and the Soviet Union back in the Cold War.
This business of doing everything from arms length is never going to work-- doesn't work. It's a common belief in Washington that if you talk to adversaries that you're appeasing them in some way. And I think that's a very misguided way of thinking about the role of negotiations. We should elevate the problem of global commons issues to high priority in foreign policy. One reason to do that is because the danger we face if we don't manage these problems is so great, in my opinion. We could face a cataclysmic damage if we don't solve this problem.
The second is that especially the climate change problem, in my opinion, is the problem from hell. If you look at what social science knows about problems like this and line it up against the nature of this problem, it's a problem we can't solve. It's a problem we can't solve. We won't solve it. Because it's exactly the kind of problem that while it probably has a technical-- it does, in my opinion, have technical solutions, it doesn't have political solutions.
Specifically, it's a problem that pits a concentrated interest against the common interest domestically in the US. It pits the carbon industries against the common public interest. And if you look at American politics and how it works, the common interest is almost always defeated by special interests. That's the way our political system works. We solve the problem of ozone layer damage because the special interest that was causing the problem also was the guys who would solve it-- the DuPont corporation and the makers of CFCs also were the guys who would make the replacement for it.
But with climate change, we have a much tougher political problem that we face-- as I said, special interests that are dedicated to not solving the problem. And if we know anything about our own politics, we know that that usually doesn't end well. It also requires international cooperation. You've got to get transnational agreement on any measures. And we find it very hard to forge international cooperation on deals like this.
And there are other reasons why this problem is very hard. The problem itself is a problem where the damage is delayed. So the deed you do today doesn't do you harm for years. The harm only shows up much later, which means the harm is not visible, which means it's hard to rally people to solve it.
The harm of climate change has an appearance or a signature that doesn't, shall we say, appeal to or activate normal human fear pathways. As a species, we're hardwired to be frightened by things that involve blood, and screaming, and teeth. And climate change is something that doesn't present any of those things to us. So it's, on its face, a seemingly very unfrightening phenomenon, even though it's immensely destructive.
And finally, our religious traditions don't contain moral teachings that activate us to take action on this. There's nothing in Abrahamic religions that is quite like the great law of the Iroquois, which requires that you shall consider the effects of every deed you do down to the seventh generation. We don't have that kind of tradition.
So in many ways, this is a very hard problem. And I say that not to make everyone want to crawl under the pew but to say that this is a problem that requires very strong international action and political mobilization or it won't get solved. Can a concert be organized? I'll sort of stop with that.
The main objection to what I'm saying-- there's a number of objections to what I'm saying-- one of them is that, this is impossible. It's dreamy to think that you can get a broad international agreement on any kind of major international initiative because it's hard to organize coalitions in world politics. And my view is that what I'm really calling for is similar to the Grand Alliance of World War II or similar to the NATO alliance in the Cold War.
We're not talking about building huge institutions. We're talking here about forging cooperation-- perhaps even ad hoc-- but cooperation to solve specific problems. So it's a politically doable thing if elites and nations decide to do it. Now there's a number of big impediments to this strategy. There are special interest lobbies that are going to oppose it. There is the problem of the American public's unawareness of history that would guide them to solve this problem in the way I'm suggesting.
There's the problem that essentially the neoconservative community thinks in opposite ways about foreign policy from the way I'm suggesting we should think. So there's many obstacles to it but, in practice-- let's just say, in principle, I think this is a policy that's-- it's not only required, it's feasible. So I'll stop with that. Regarding peaceful energy versus weaponized energy, what I'm calling for is for the US to try to draw that line in a way that makes it stick around the world.
The nonproliferation treaty tries to draw that line permitting signatories to have, if you will, nuclear energy for energy purposes if they will forswear nuclear energy for weapons reasons. And I think, in practice, that's a line that's fairly visible and not hard to understand. And reaching agreement with other actors who are committed to making it work and who really want to live within those rules isn't all that hard.
With Iran, the obvious, in my opinion, way to flesh out what you're asking about is to reach an agreement with Iran where they agree they will not enrich uranium to more than 5% level of enrichment. And for those of you who are weapons wonks or nuclear power plant wonks, you all watch the Simpsons so you know about nuclear energy. He's laughing, at least. None of you are laughing, but he's laughing.
The nuclear power requires uranium that's enriched to around 5%. Once you go above that, you're doing something that's not useful for energy reasons but could only be useful for weapons reasons. Nuclear bombs require uranium enriched to 93%. The Iranians are now frightening everybody because they've been enriching above 5%-- up to 20%. They have some enrichment-- some uranium now enriched to 20%. So what's the wise final status solution is to ask them to walk that back, contain themselves to 5% or less, do it in some way that's visible to the world--
My colleague at MIT, Jim Walsh, has written a very good policy proposal with Bill Luers and Tom Pickering proposing that Iran be granted the right to enrich on its own soil-- to possess the enrichment facilities and the uranium, but that others would own it and have a right then to watch it, and observe it, and do the accounting on it. And Iran would agree not to go beyond 5%. So that's where I draw the line.
And to me, the real problem is persuading other states that this is where they want to go. Persuading Iran that they really don't want to either develop a bomb or, as many people think, maybe they don't want to develop a bomb but they want to be a turned key away from it or close to it. And instead, let's persuade them that they really want to be far from it. And to my mind, then that requires us getting into a wider discussion with them about their own security. Because a major reason why they want these weapons is because they've been invaded many times, and have many enemies, and five of the world's nine nuclear powers are in their neighborhood.
And in the end, they have to be satisfied that their security needs have been met in some other way. Then you ask about the UN as a format for what I'm talking about. The UN actually was originally organized as a remake of the Concert of Europe. This is not widely the way people talk about it, but when FDR was scratching his head thinking, what'll I do with this world we've got late in World War II, he looked back on the League of Nations, which was a collective security system in which states agreed to go to war with each other if anyone attacked anyone.
They agreed to defend any other member of the system against any aggressor. And he said, well, that just kind of didn't work. Nobody actually lived up to their obligations. I think I'll go back to an earlier model-- the concert system of 1815. So the UN is actually modeled on the Concert of Europe.
And there's a reason why there's a veto in the UN Security Council is the premise that all the great powers of the world would somehow be on the same page, pulled in the same direction, and have the same goals. Of course, it didn't turn out that way in the Cold War. But the UN is basically a structure trying to imitate, or trying to be prepared to operate as, a concert system. I still don't think, though, that it will operate as such without leadership. You have to have a leader state that sets the agenda, that points to the problems, and that tries to form the coalition.
So I think often the UN is a very useful, if you will, format for action of the kind I'm talking about, but the United States is going to have to play a central role and making it serve these purposes. If we stand back and say, let's wait for the UN General Secretary to carry out the agenda I was outlining, it's not going to happen. You have to have a leader state that's pushing the agenda.
ROGER OWEN: Now questions. And I'm afraid you'll have to get out of your pews and come forward to this microphone, which may require a bit of jumping around.
AUDIENCE: I'm curious to know what is your view of, I'll say, a proper policy on the part of Israel towards a nuclear Iran, particularly since they're in the immediate line of fire and there seems to be a lot of saber rattling going on?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Great question. Israel and Iran-- what should Israel's policy be toward Iran. My view is that regardless of your Israeli politics-- whether you're Labor Party, or Meretz Party, or Kadima Party, or Likud Party, or whatever-- I think Israel has an interest in drawing Iran in from the cold. Let's move away from the current issue of, should Israel bomb this spring, which is what people are thinking might occur.
The meta-policy, in my opinion, for Israel toward Iran should be-- Israel wants Iran drawn in from the cold. They want Iran to sort of join the rest of the world-- in the end, to walk back two aspects of its policy. One is its nuclear policy, because Israel should want to live in a Middle East where there is as few nuclear weapons as possible.
And because, in my opinion, an Iranian bomb is going to lead to other bombs in the Mideast, which is going to make the whole region much more dangerous. And second, they should want Iran to accept Israel as a legitimate state in the global system and to stop its support for rejectionist folks who don't want to pursue a two-state solution, especially Hamas and Hezbollah, and Iran has been supporting them. Iran is the only state in the world today that does not recognize Israel.
What has puzzled me is that Israel doesn't ask its friends in the United States to do this. There have been a number of occasions over the last 15 years when it seemed that Iran was offering to make a deal-- coming to the US to settle things. If I'd been the Israeli government at that time, I would have made known to Washington, guys I want you to pursue this. You are the one actor that can pull Iran out of its hibernation, its isolation, its hauled down, position toward the world. We want you to do that. So my advice to the Israelis is, push the United States and go along with US policy toward reaching some kind of modus vivendi with Iran.
AUDIENCE: So it's like America should act as a kind of a broker between Iran and Israel?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yes. Well, and I would say, America should actually broker between Iran and everybody. In other words, what we have here is a-- I'm using the phrase, bring Iran in from the cold. Lets get around to decide it wants to get along better with its neighbors. It wants to stop supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. It wants to stop building nuclear weapons. That requires some kind of grand bargain, though. It's going to require some new security order in the Middle East that will make the Iranians feel that they have a stake in this.
Now let's imagine that's not going to happen; because you're asking a great question. Should Israel use force on Iran? And should the US use force on Iran? That issue's on the table right now. My opinion is that force isn't going to work. It's going to backfire-- not in the way most people point to.
Today, the common criticism of the idea of using force is, gee, Iran will retaliate. You'll see Iran shut the Strait of Hormuz, or you'll see Iran's friends in Hezbollah rocket Israel, or you'll see Iran even attempt to do acts of terror in the United States, or Iran will strike US personnel around the world-- perhaps even, well, you know, the easiest place would be in Iraq. And I think those are lesser dangers to a second danger, which is that airstrikes are going to fuel the Iranian nuclear program.
In the end, we really can't stop this program with weapons. We have to persuade them to stop it. And a military campaign is going to strengthen the hand of those in Iran who believe in a nuclear program so I'm against the use of force. I think it's going to backfire.
ROGER OWEN: We have a line, if you would be so kind.
AUDIENCE: This is either a simple question or a complex question. It has to do with the effects on the US and global economy of a radical reduction in the price of oil. I realize that one answer to the question might be, well, it would just be like giving everybody a huge tax cut because it would reduce the amount of everybody's expenditures on gasoline. And so it would provide a terrific boost to the economy.
On the other hand, there is the view-- a sort of philosophical view that money obtains its validity as a result of its scarcity. And that we are, in fact, living in an age of paper money that is based upon largely the most important commodity in the world, which is oil. That is, we're really spending our petrodollars-- our greenbacks are really petrodollars. The question is, what would be the effect of a radical reduction in the price of gasoline and oil on the US and the global economy? That's the question. And I don't think there's an easy answer, but maybe you have one.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Short term, it would be an economic stimulus. It would be like a tax cut. Right now, we have an understimulated economy. It's still crawling out of the recession at a slower rate due to our own, in my opinion, big mistakes. We should have done a much bigger stimulus than we did, and this would help fill the stimulus gap. But long run, it will-- a lower price of oil will hook us further on fossil fuels and expand the danger of climate change.
And we have to face up to the danger we face here. We've got to act like adults. At some point, we're going to have to say, think of a future, plan for the long run-- concerning ourselves with short-term prices of oil commodities or carbon is all very well and good, but we've got to make a fundamental transformation in the energy systems of the world. And we delay that by keeping oil prices low. I'll make a further comment. My own policy recommendation for how to deal with climate change is two simple words-- carbon tax. Price mechanisms can solve the climate problem if we will use them. So the simplest tax shift is a better way to put it.
We should move taxes off of other things we do that are productive and onto the carbon complex so that, in fact, the carbon complex pays its full freight. So that it pays for all the damage that it does, including the damage it does the climate in addition to the cost of producing it. So we need to make this cost shift so that carbon pays the full freight. Once it does that, we'll find that green energy can compete in the marketplace with it, and we'll see a flourishing of new green energies. But until we do that, we're not going to see green energy being able to compete equally, and lowering the price of oil will make that problem worse. So I'm not hoping for a--
AUDIENCE: So we can lower the price of oil, only in the circumstance in which a carbon tax was imposed?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well I'm saying you have to impose an even higher carbon tax to make up for a lower price of oil--
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: --in order to get the result you want. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: High, professor. I was wondering how you would apply the framework of acting in concert to the recent leadership transition in North Korea. Specifically, was and is there an opportunity for the US to act in concert with China to improve the lot of the North Korean people and still be in America's security interests?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: North Korea poses a really tough problem because there's so many large interests at stake-- not just the problem of weapons of mass destruction but the problem of human rights, and the suffering of North Korean people, and the incompetence of the regime there, and so forth. I am still a believer that we should engage North Korea. And that if we pursued engagement the way I'm recommending, which is-- spend a lot of time at it, do a lot of talking, don't do it at arm's length-- I think there's a 50/50 chance you could make headway.
I think we nearly had a deal with North Korea in 2001. It was a very close-run thing. The Bush administration made a big mistake walking away from the deal that was on the table at that time. And if we'd made that deal, we would have frozen their plutonium program. And I think they, today, would have no nuclear weapons, or they would have had the one weapon they built back in the '90s. And we made a huge mistake not cutting that deal. And my view is, if their regime was willing to make it then, let's re-explore it. Let's continue engagement.
And this requires talking to a very ugly regime. These guys are heartless people. They shoot people who try to flee the [INAUDIBLE] to escape from starvation. They oversaw a famine in the '90s that killed over a million people. So you're not talking to nice people. And my view is, that's world politics. You don't wait for people to be nice to talk to them. And the problem of nuclear weapons requires that we deal with everybody.
AUDIENCE: Thank you for your words. But there's one area that you neglected in the area of natural resources. And with expanding wealth among nations, and also we know the depletion of resources water, energy, and so on-- that, won't this usher in a new era of people being insecure and maybe a greater sense of nationalism in competing for these depleting resources in the future? And the second thing regards what you were talking about that we put more emphasis on the Department of Defense than diplomacy. And I think it's because of the nature of our capitalistic system that we don't know how to monetize diplomacy, but we know how to monetize defense activities.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well regarding resources, I'm actually if you will an optimist about the long-term future of resources. My short history of resource development is, there's a race between us depleting what we now have found and developed and us finding new ways to develop yet new resources. And I think, usually, we win that race. The net price of most resources has been moving up some in recent years but not radically.
To me, the great danger is the environmental damage we're doing as we increasingly find more and more ways to essentially extract things from the earth. It's the collateral effects of our very skillful exploitation of the natural world that concerns me most. I'm thinking of peak oil, for example-- the argument people have made that we're going to run out of oil because we reached peak oil a little while ago or maybe now; and we're soon going to have more competition for energy resources. I think the other thing is true-- that we're very ingenious at finding new carbon resources.
And we just found a whole boatload of new carbon resources in the South Atlantic near Argentina. We're finding more carbon resources in the Mediterranean as we were talking about tonight. And to me, that's the problem. We're so good at finding new ways to extract things from the earth that we're damaging it in ways that are causing large collateral threats to us.
AUDIENCE: Well to follow up on that theme, it would seem that what's necessary for global survival is some concert developed for self-imposed self-restraint. In other words, we need something globally to restrain our use of carbon because we're in effect, moving it from terrestrial to atmospheric forms at a rate that we cannot survive. I don't mean just as a nation, state, or as Western civilization but as a species.
The rate at which carbon is being emitted to the atmosphere is such that it's going to induce climate change on a scale that's going to threaten every city on every coastline just as we're moving toward the coastlines. 60% of humanity lives within 50 miles of the coast, and that's increasing. At the same time, we know that sea level is rising. So that on a global scale, we've got global problems, and yet all we've got is international responses.
What you've done very well as outline for us how the international community might revive the 1815 consort of nations. But it's still within the framework of more bigger, better logic of continuous growth, which can't be sustained in what you've just outlined as the suicidal commitment to oxidizing terrestrial carbon. Do you have any insights about how we might move toward a global understanding of our global problem, not an international tweaking with competitive politics?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: He asks really easy questions, there. That's an easy one. You and I were chatting earlier about how a disaster seems to be under way in the domestic politics in the US on climate change. 10 years ago, it was accepted by many people in the Republican Party that climate change was human caused and posed a grave problem. John McCain talked about how it was a problem we had to take action to solve. And Newt Gingrich appeared in the famous ad with Nancy Pelosi saying this was a problem that had to be solved.
Others in the Republican Party, generally, agreed with that. Someone did a nose count of Republican Senate candidates in I, think, 2010 and found that 19 of the 20 strongest candidates were climate-change deniers of one kind or another. And we now we heard Rick Santorum the other night saying very sharp things about people who worry about climate change, arguing that they were twisting the facts. So there's been a very striking backward movement in public opinion on this.
And I think, in part, this does reflect, shall we say, mistakes of strategy by the scientific community. To me, when I watch the debate about climate change, the advocates of action against climate change generally frame the argument in rational scientific terms, and they argue from authority. They say of the IPCC scientists, of whom there are 2,500, only seven of them don't sign the IPCC reports, and there's enormous consensus that climate change is human caused and highly dangerous. They don't use the tools of marketing. They don't use tools of public relations.
Understandably, scientific culture is uneasy with marketing discussion, with marketing discourse, with hyping things, if you will-- with the telling only one side of the story. And my view is, I'm sorry we've got to use the tools that we understand work when it comes to making the needle move on public opinion. I'm not arguing for being dishonest, but I'm saying let's use the tools we know work.
I'd like the folks who are worried about this problem to have some chats with folks who know something about moving public opinion and how it's done. Because I don't see signs of it. I don't see that the folks who are working the climate change problem, generally, have a strategy for a very big project that needs doing, which is massive change in public opinion across the entire globe, which is a thing that will cost a ton of money, and there has to be a strategy for raising that money. And then there has to be a strategy for using that money, which, in my opinion, can't simply be confined to the normal reference to scientific facts and figures that folks from the climate science community are used to.
I'll say another thing, too, which is, I think that foundations have to play a huge role here. Abe Lincoln once said that governments exist to do the things that people can't do for themselves. And my opinion is, foundations exist to do the things that governments and people can't do for themselves. And my opinion is, this is a problem that as I said earlier can't be solved by governments. Because governments tend to be captured by special interests; and our government always is. As I said, special interests tend to very overwhelmingly dominate the common interests here.
Who then is going to bell the cat? Who is the actor that has to be made responsible to find some way to cut against these currents? In my opinion, I looked at the foundation world as a domain that has to be mobilized and understand that it has a heavy responsibility to deal with this. Does anyone know Bill Gates? Call him up. Tell him he needs to commit himself to a large, essentially permanent, public-opinion project that needs to continue until the end of time. Because this problem is not going to go away, ever. It needs to be a permanent effort to shape public opinion across the planet on this issue. I'm joking about knowing Bill Gates. I don't know him either.
AUDIENCE: 1815 is a great benchmark because France went through a very bloody revolution, and then Napoleon, of course, and we feel Napoleon III had the great vision to catch up with Great Britain socioeconomically, and Queen Victoria was very generous to reach out. And since that 1815 deal, there was no-- that was first time, to this day, that Great Britain and France have not had war. And looking at that experience with respect to North Korea, Maurice Strong proposed to use Sakhalin island oil to bring its oil pipeline to North Korea during the Kofi Annan time in the United Nations. Do you think that's an option to bring North Korea socioeconomically out of the woods?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Your proposal is use Sakhalin Island as a--
AUDIENCE: Oil to build a pipeline that would be paid for by South Korea among others and endow the North Koreans with a source of energy that they don't have.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Let me say that your proposal, which is somewhat, shall we say, to bribe North Korea into a different way of behaving--
AUDIENCE: It's not my proposal, it's Maurice Strong's.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Pardon?
AUDIENCE: Maurice Strong, who was the Special Envoy of the United Nations to North Korea during Kofi Annan's regime.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: And he proposed this?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well, my recollection of what happened in the '90s, which was that the deal reached in '94-- you all should know that the US reached a deal with North Korea in 1994 that did freeze its plutonium program, and that deal involved bribery, if you will. The US promised oil and reactors to North Korea. The deal fell apart over time and not just because of North Korean action, but because the US Congress wouldn't carry out the US end of the deal. But let's just say a deal was made based on, shall we say-- I'm calling it bribery-- of the kind that you're outlining.
And one of my PhD students, Robert Reardon, has written a dissertation looking, in general, at that kind of deal and asking, does it work? And his answer is, yes, it does work. Positive inducements do persuade states on this issue to change their behavior. So I hadn't thought about this whole Sakhalin Island idea and the oil and so forth.
AUDIENCE: After the US deal [INAUDIBLE].
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: That idea emerged later?
AUDIENCE: Kofi Annan asked Maurice Strong to look for solutions. He met the Russian president, and they didn't say yes, but they didn't say no, either. So that was on--
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: You're catching me ignorant of the specifics. In other words, I don't know how easy that deal would be to do. I don't know how beneficial to the North it would be. I don't know what the costs would be to the Russians. But if it would transfer wealth to North Korea, to me, projects like that have a lot of potential.
North Korea's a very poor country. They live on the very edge. They do desperate things to pay their bills. That's one reason people are so anxious that they not get nuclear weapons is that they've basically been paying their bills for the last many years with counterfeiting money, selling drugs, and selling weapons around the world. And the fear is that they're going to get the temptation to sell some really big, bad weapons
AUDIENCE: The biggest concern of Putin was who's going to pay for it? And that's what Maurice Strong came up with-- that the Russians would not have to foot the bill.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: So who's paying for the deal under you?
AUDIENCE: It would be South Korea and the concert of nations as opposed to a Russians--
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: So a group would do it. Exactly. Exactly.
AUDIENCE: And Maurice Strong was the promoter of that idea.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well if you can get people to pay-- like I said, the US-- in the end, the Congress bridled it-- fulfilling US promises in the '90s, and that caused a problem. You've got to willing players, but to me you're barking up the right tree.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Yes. Hi, good evening. My question has do with the conflict in Syria right now and how the US and the West can come up with some solution, I guess, in concert with the Arab League to try and get that murderous regime Assad, I guess his name is, out of Syria. Because I mean if that blows up-- and it looks like it's going to-- Egypt seems like it's disintegrating. Israel's unwilling to really talk about two-state solutions [INAUDIBLE] building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
So the whole Middle East is just sort of blowing up, and here we are still dependent on oil. And since we're so controlled by our special interests and the oil and gas and Israeli lobby, it's not a very optimistic picture. I'm just wondering if you have any ways of perhaps trying to deal with this?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: I'll give a quick answer, but then I'll turn to John Owen to answer because he knows much more about Syria than I do. My own quick way of thinking about problems like that is, I always gravitate toward solutions that involve sharing and security-- meaning, can some kind of political settlement be imposed-- in this case, it would have to be imposed-- that involves sharing among the major groups of Syria. The reason that the Alawites have been so ferocious in clinging to power and crushing their opposition is because they're afraid that it's all or nothing. That if they get pushed aside, they're going to not only be pushed aside, they're going to be trampled under, because they're a minority. The total Shiite population of Syria is only around 13%, 14%? How many are Allowite do you think?
AUDIENCE: 18% or 20% is the--
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: But it may be inflated.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Yeah, the country is about 75% Sunni. And the Alawites, in particular, fear that it's all or nothing. Their backs are to the wall. If they don't maintain dominance, they'll be crushed completely. They need to be somehow eased into sharing power with others on the promise that in the new order, they'll have a place at the table, and they won't be drilled under. And that will require outsiders to come in in some way and ensure that a settlement that involves sharing power or sharing things, positions-- is going to stick. But I think it's very hard to do in Syria.
And Syria is a much more difficult situation than most others because it's sort of a cockpit for conflicts in the Middle East. So many outsiders think they have a stake in the outcome there. The Sunni major states want to get rid of Assad because he's not Sunni and because he's friends with Tehran.
And there's much hostility toward Tehran, so the Saudis don't like him. Other major Sunnis in the area don't like Assad. And you've got the Tehran, which sees him as their longest standing ally. He's been the only reliable Iranian ally now for 30 years. I guess I'm pointing to another problem, which is, there's danger this conflict will spread if it's not somehow contained. But John, I'm sure you have the answer to this question.
ROGER OWEN: No, that's a judicious reply, thank you very much; and we need to move along.
[STEPHEN VAN EVERA LAUGHING]
AUDIENCE: Hi, I have a couple of questions. In terms of, let's say, the climate change difficulty, I think it's also related, in a way, to our foreign policy difficulties in that we cannot go towards sustainable stuff when the oil companies and the coal companies are putting our backs up against the wall at every stop-- like you said the special interests. You can't get public opinion to change when we have no media with which to tell the truth through.
And foreign policy-- who's going to want to come in concert with us when our way of dealing with things is, if we don't like you, we'll just throw a drone over your country? As long as you have oil that we can get to, we don't care about your collateral damage people. Part of our difficulty with Iran is because we're already drilling in Iraq, and the Sunni and the Shiites in that mess are on different sides.
And we have to stick up with Israel when we're the only ones that do, which makes our-- who wants to play with us? The oil companies and the fossil fuel people are just-- I mean the EPA is almost useless now. And . I don't know how they're getting away with it. And I don't know how like you said, how do we get public opinion to change? How do those senators? Are they really all that money hungry and power hungry?
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: You raise a number of questions, and I'll talk to the first one, which is, oh dear, aren't we really facing a losing battle here on the climate-change front and on the public-opinion front. And I would say, don't lose heart, OK? I would say, study the history of great wars of ideas-- I'm calling them wars of ideas-- contests of ideas if you want-- in this country and in the Western world for lessons.
And the first thing you'll notice is, we have seen problems on which huge change in public opinion happened. And often, it was engineered by good actors who knew what they were doing. I'm thinking, particularly, of the anti-slavery debate in the 1840s and '50s, where, essentially, a group of people had a strategy for shifting public opinion in the United States on slavery and a rather small group of them-- Louisa May Alcott and others.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well anti-smoking is another very interesting case because it opposed a very powerful vested interest and, nevertheless, triumphed. And my favorite example is the civil rights movement. I believe that Dr. King was a genius in many ways but most importantly in his understanding of how to shape opinion. His entire movement was constructed as, essentially, public theater aimed at especially northern White, but the broad US audience. And his use of theater and his understanding of new media both were, I think, brilliant level. They were genius level. Where is the new thinker who is going to understand how to shape or move the needle on public opinion on climate?
I keep thinking about theatrical things-- if King were around, he'd have a lot of ideas on what to do about climate change. Recently, I remember I saw last summer-- I have a friend who is involved in politics in Tonga, so I follow a little bit what the Micronesians are doing. And of course, they're right in the front line here because their countries are going to go under water first. And there was a cabinet meeting recently-- I don't know if it was the parliament of the cabinet of Vanuatu, or Tonga, or Nauru, or one of the islands. Pardon me? Which one?
AUDIENCE: The Maldives.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Was it Maldives? Yeah. And they held their cabinet meeting underwater! And of course they filmed it, and the whole point wasn't to have the meeting, it was to dramatize the situation they faced. And to me, OK, that's thinking. Now you're understanding theater. Now you're understanding how to be on the media. Now understanding how to drive the discussion and be the ones that others are talking about.
Now in the end, I think the money will be on the other side, the Koch brothers have billions, and they invest billions in their arguments, but my opinion is, let's not give up the ship here. We've seen how clever actors can use slender resources to-- most often I gravitate to these theater strategies like Martin Luther King used-- but I don't think this is an unsolvable problem. I think we need to think hard.
AUDIENCE: Very good. Well the president who held that underwater meeting was ousted in a coup this last week. It's actually a good example of how theatrical events can be reversed very quickly. I'm surprised as well that you embrace foundations as a hopeful sign. Perhaps Gates is, but if you look at the burden of the contribution of the Rockefeller and the Ford Foundation in the post-war era, it has been to transform global agriculture from a solar-sustainable system to a petro-dependent one, just when we know we are potentially running out of petroleum.
In other words, it bought into the more bigger, better logic, and it brought more and more people into the tent, as it were, of the petrochemical solutions to agriculture. But it put humanity on an absolutely unsustainable trajectory. We've got more and more people dependent upon fewer and fewer crops grown in more and more, now, ecological regions dependent upon greater and greater subsidies of something we know we're running out of. That's suicidal. I'd be very nervous about embracing Western foundations as a model for funding something because their own strategies are based within the more bigger, better, competitive mode, not the sustainability mode.
I wondered if you'd have any way of suggesting to Gates that perhaps he move beyond this question of more vaccinations, more malarial treatment, and the like and deal with stable human populations on the global commons.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Well, I guess I'm calling for an effort to mobilize the foundations to adopt a wiser policy toward human welfare broadly and climate change in particular. The foundations aren't going to solve the problems if people don't mobilize them, don't educate them, don't engage them in discussion, don't propose to them that they fit into a larger strategy that they have a role to play in.
So- again, what would Martin Luther King say? He'd say, hey, don't just leave those folks to stew in their own juice and make mistakes. You've got to mobilize them. And you've got to direct them toward a program that makes sense, and persuade them that it makes sense, and get them lined up with it, and get them acting in favor of it.
So to me, the mistakes that you outlined were mistakes that weren't-- to me there's more hope with the foundation because they're not tied to any interests that makes them have to behave badly. The money's in the bank. The coupons all get clipped. Their income doesn't go down if the problem gets solved. So they are a player in the game that can be steered toward positive action and has no real reason not to take positive action. That's why I think about them as a key player that needs to be brought on the scene and talked to.
ROGER OWEN: Hi, excuse me, we need to wind down so this is the last question, if you could be succinct.
AUDIENCE: First quickie is that, does President Obama have a clear foreign-policy strategy and vision hat you could put forth in a few words? And secondly, I've heard that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is getting tired and wants to step down from her role, and I think she's been doing a great job as Secretary of State. Is there enough resources there? Who would fill her shoes if, hopefully, Obama continues and has a second term? And finally, what if Romney wins? I mean, I shudder to think of that, but what's this world going to come to if Obama doesn't get the second term? Thank you.
STEPHEN VAN EVERA: Those are great questions. About Obama's strategy, I thought, during his first year, that he was sort of in line with the strategy I'm outlining-- a concert strategy. And his tactics toward world politics do fit pretty well with the strategy I'm outlining. He's a multilateralist, not a unilateralist. He believes that you build the legitimacy of the United States before you act, you work on persuading other countries that you act in their interests, not just in your own.
So in a number of ways, he's tactically pursuing policies that align with a concert. But he's not putting all the pieces together, and he's drifting, as I said, toward some kind of confrontation policy with China, which, to my mind, precludes a concert. Once you're in some kind of [INAUDIBLE] with the Chinese, boy, this kind of cooperation is impossible.
And in my opinion, many bad things will follow. People better understand a cold war with a major power is something that's very hard to unwind and many troubles will flow from it. If you try to solve these cooperation problems in a divided world where you've got two states that don't like each other and don't trust each other and are engaged in a militarized [INAUDIBLE], it's going to be much tougher to solve any of the issues we talked about tonight.
So I was quite unhappy at the recent Obama national security strategy statement that came out a few weeks ago where he talked about-- or I guess Panetta talked about reorienting our defense effort toward East Asia. It's fine to reorient toward East Asia as long as you're being nice. The veiled reference really was to a policy of containing China, which I think is a big mistake. They're not the first to do it. I mean, Bush 43 also favored a policy of containing China. He made a big nuclear deal with India that was all part of an encirclement strategy.
So Obama is kind of halfway there, halfway not there. And I think he's been stepping away from some of the elements of the policies that I talked about more recently. He started out with an effort to abate the Arab-Israeli conflict. And I think, for perhaps understandable reasons, he's given up on it. He's decided that he's not going to spend more capital on it.
His policy towards South Asia-- I believe he should take a much stronger hand towards sorting things out in South Asia, resolving the conflict in Afghanistan, or resolving the India-Pakistan conflict. He's been stepping back from them and adopting policies that I think are really eyewash-- the whole idea of a new Silk Road and, let's make everybody rich in South Asia, and it'll all be good, which has sort of been how they've been talking about approaches in South Asia-- I don't think is adequate. So I think he's sort of been drifting a little away from this idea of broad cooperation.
Regarding Hillary, I've heard also that she's thinking of retiring. As a replacement, I don't know who's being talked about. I know one thing people said is, why don't Hillary and Biden trade places. Some people are saying she'd be a stronger candidate than Biden. But I have no idea if that's being talked about. There's a number of skilled people, though, that could do a very good job as Secretary of State.
And I think she's done well. I think that they can find other people who can do well. What they really need is an administration decision, though, to redirect things in a fundamental way, and that's a decision the president has to make. If you're going to do this big change I'm talking about, the president has to stand by it, sell it, explain it, educate the American people why it's a good idea.
Then you asked about Romney, and I believe that the neoconservative community is sort of a self-defined, fairly cohesive community of foreign policy thinkers. They tend to work together to some extent, and I think in fairly-- there's some disagreement among them, but they think in fairly common ways-- and they're very, I think, well established now in the Republican Party. So I think they will likely have considerable influence in the next administration.
Without reading the exact tea leaves of Romney, I'm expecting them to have considerable influence. People thought they wouldn't have much under George Bush 43, and they did have a lot of influence, especially through Cheney, who listened very carefully to them. Romney is not a natural member of that community, but I think he's going to wind up listening carefully to them.
So my prediction is that you're going to see a return to fairly neoconservative ways of doing foreign policy if the Republicans win the election, which means-- on the last page there I outlined some axioms they believe in-- unilateralism, big stick policy, the assumption that others-- you make more friends by intimidation than you do by accommodation-- preventive war as a solution in extremis but fairly often.
The notion that great powers are a fundamental threat to the United States-- that China is a threat-- the neoconservative community is quite convinced that a hard line toward China is the right approach-- also toward Russia. So if you find that community shaping foreign policy, they're going to be walking in the opposite direction from the one I was recommending tonight.
AUDIENCE: Thank you.