by Denis McLean
So, what can I add to the collective wisdom of this startling American line-up? After all, all of us — except for the welcome leavening provided by Elizabeth Pond — labor under the disadvantage of being (no, I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say) former diplomats. Kaiser Wilhelm II was once discussing the possible future course of events with his advisers. The Chancellor — it couldn’t have been Bismarck as he wasn’t sufficiently modest — observed that it was difficult to see into the future. The Kaiser replied, “It is a gift that is given to sovereigns frequently, to generals sometimes, to diplomats almost never.”
Now what does a mere ex-diplomat have to offer from the bottom of the South Pacific? What are we looking for from the United States in the Asian-Pacific half of the globe? Well of course in our region — as elsewhere — what we want of the United States is that it stay the course. As we all know, in Asia and the Pacific as elsewhere, the United States is the key actor, with a range of military capabilities, economic and political strengths which dwarf any potential challenger.
Such stability as Asia has enjoyed in the past fifty year’s has been largely thanks to the continuing presence of the United States. The U.S. is the balancing power in the region and its role is crucial in relation to two of the potentially most explosive flash points in the world today — the Taiwan Straits and thee Korean peninsula. The key powers in the region — China, Japan, South Korea and, to a lesser extent now, Russia — do not contest the U.S. presence; indeed, they all, in their heart of hearts, seek to encourage it. The United States is not a destabilizing influence in the region. For all its predominance, the U.S. has no territorial ambitions of its own to pursue, no economic advantages to secure — other than its fundamental commitment to free trade. Its primary concern in the region is to uphold the delicate and potentially extremely dangerous balance in the northwest Pacific where the three next most powerful countries in the world — China, Japan, and Russia — jostle against one another. There is another, generally unspoken, concern which the United States shares with Australia and New Zealand: This is that the broadly western grouping of countries should not again be divided against the Asian realm, as happened during the Second World War. These are not negligible interests.
China looms large. Some experts have calculated that China maybe, if one makes all kinds of presumptions about its ability to maintain present growth rates and to solve internal problems of wealth distribution and conversion of decrepit state industries, could have an economy as large as that of the United States within the next, say, ten years. But one wonders whether this kind of assessment has been tested against the truly phenomenal expansion of the U.S. economy in the past few years. China moreover has noted the ease with which the United States dealt with Iraq and Serbia, both equipped with weaponry more or less equivalent to China’s own. Both China and the U.S. have been anxious to develop and expand the relationship, most notably in the area of international trade. Taiwan’s aspirations for international recognition and standing, and China’s determination to resist that aim and not deviate from the position that the island is a breakaway province which must be incorporated into the People’s Republic, could almost at any time precipitate a crisis.
For the present, active diplomacy, especially by the United States, aiming in particular at promoting the engagement of China and the Chinese in world affairs, is keeping things steady. By bringing China out of their splendid isolation and into the endless process of negotiation and conciliation — thanks to which the world continues to go ‘round — it is hoped they will increasingly become part of the solution, rather than the problem. In this regard, political points scoring in Congress and in the current Presidential election campaign over such issues as China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation is unhelpful.
The U.S. role in almost every aspect of affairs in the region is crucial. There was no better demonstration of that than President Clinton’s intervention in the East Timor crisis in September of last year. You will remember the mayhem in East Timor after the territory voted overwhelmingly for independence from Indonesia. Supporters of a continuing affiliation with Indonesia — probably including members of the Indonesian military — trashed the place and began systematic slaughter of civilians. Indonesia was resistant to pressure to allow international intervention. The President of the United States, in the air on his way to Auckland, New Zealand, to attend a regional summit meeting under the banner of APEC — the forum for collaboration on economic issues — made it clear that if Indonesia could not or would not act, the international community must do so. And so it happened. Within a few days Australian and New Zealand and other internationial forces were landing. Indonesia had assessed the importance of its relationship with the United States, especially in regard to the underpinning of World Bank and International Monetary Fund loan money, against the value of resisting foreign intervention and had decided — unsurprisingly — in favour of staying on-side with the United States.
What of the modalities of U.S. engagement in global, as in regional, affairs? Clearly the role of global cop is unattractive and unsustainable politically in the long run. Persistent unilateral intervention by the United States around the world will not only generate serious resentment, but may be directly contrary to U.S. international interests. Washington will presumably aim to preserve American pre-eminence without encouraging rival powers to gang up against U.S. interests. A solitary cop on the beat, no matter how well armed, is an invitation to the outlaws to make common cause against him.
The answer is to refine the difficult arts of collective decision making. The great power will always want things done its way. As Winston Churchill said of his relations with his Chiefs of Staff Committee, “All I wanted was compliance with my wishes — after reasonable discussion!” It is not possible to ignore that element of consultation and discussion, and continue to hold the group together. The sense of participation, even if it is in fact largely illusory, is fundamental.
Not so long ago a senior U.S. adviser in foreign and defence policy told a meeting with senior Australian officials that if the United States got into a war over the Taiwan Straits, it would expect Australia to be there. Now in one sense this remark is unexceptionable: Australia is a declared ally of the U.S. in the Pacific — unlike New Zealand, which has wandered off into some more indeterminate state. It is reasonable to expect that your allies will be with you. But the question goes a bit deeper. Is it reasonable to expect uncritical support when there may not have been the preliminary engagement in the policy process? Allies in collective security arrangements need to be brought along, engaged with the issues so that at least a sense of common commitment emerges. Collective security in other words is not achievable by proclamation, but by process. It involves a genuine interaction between partners so that all may have a sense of responsibility.
IN THE DAYS of the Cold War, when there was a very real sense of common threat, the art of alliance maintenance was easier than it is now. Western countries cohered with only relatively minor grumbles around the senior partner — the United States — in the principal alliances put together in the late l940s and early l950s. These were NATO, of course; the U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Korea Mutual Security arrangements and ANZUS — Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Although New Zealand, as I have said, has been dropped from ANZUS for anti-nuclear heresy, these core alliances built around close patterns of military and political collaboration have lasted, even though the Cold War is long since over. This is because they bring member countries into a uniquely intimate relationship with the U.S. — the focal point of world power. More than that, they remain germane to the security issues member countries face.
To make my point from the opposite tack, let me remind you of two collective security pacts long since consigned to the dustbin of history. SEATO and CENTO were tacked together by the U.S. in a fit of what was called “pactomania.” The principal sufferer from this malady was the U.S. secretary of state of the day, John Foster Dulles. SEATO and CENTO were vaguely designed — as part of a policy of containment of the Soviet Union — to cover the gaps in the chain in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. They were never real. Members did not share common commitments or ideals. SEATO was accurately described by the Chinese as a “paper tiger;” I’m not sure that anyone ever took CENTO even that seriously. Collective security, in other words, will only work if solidly based in real collective interests.
Now there is another concept of collective security, one based essentially on the notion of gathering together what are “coalitions of the willing” in response to particular problems in particular circumstances. [Conference coordinator] Erik Jensen, who must be a fan of the titanic struggles between good and evil brought to us by western movies, has introduced the concept of the “posse” for our consideration at this conference. There they go! The evil ranchers or the gallant cowboys galloping off through the sage brush in a cloud of dust. Posses are essentially coalitions of the willing — put together to hunt down a particular bad guy or do nasty things to a lone sheriff defending the wilting heroine. After it’s all over Shane rides off into the wild blue yonder.
But, of course, Erik is quite right. Posse-making is at the heart of current thinking about how best to develop international responses to the rash of challenges to international order now so much a feature of our world. NATO action in Kosovo was essentially a posse going out after one particular bad guy, Slobodan Milosevic, and to try to put a stop to what he was doing. In Kosovo, the nature of the military problem and the need for urgency were such that it became essential that the U.S. take the leading role. But it is interesting that the second strongest contingent committed to the air war against Serbia came from a relatively small ally — the Netherlands.
It is not necessary that the United States always be the sheriff in the forefront of these actions. There are often other powers capable of making useful contributions. Smaller partners will, however, look for U.S. endorsement and will seek the reassurance that the superpower will come to their aid if they get into trouble. The United States need not lead all posses. But it will be fundamental if global collective security is to work that the U.S. — whether through the UN Security Council or not — give its backing to its partners engaged in major peace operations. The U.S. should not aim to be the global cop so much as the lead member of the coalition on occasion and global back-up squad on others.
In Southeast Asia the East Timor operation was a case in point. Australia and New Zealand were able, along with some others from the region, to get forces into that deeply troubled territory quickly. The U.S. was supportive but, for a number of reasons to do with the importance of its role in the region, especially in relation to Indonesia, could not take the lead role. Instead, by offering logistical backing and support — which was also provided by other major powers, notably Britain and France — the operation could go ahead. In turn, time was bought for a balanced UN peace operations programme combining military and civilian elements to be assembled. The UN operation has now taken over.
The U.S. has a fundamental role to play in helping to put together the capabilities to meet these types of emergency [wars of nationalism and separatism].
But so too have other countries.
Sometimes there is no reason for the United States lo become involved at all. New Zealand and Australia have recently brought a strictly regional peace operation on the island of Bougainville to a successful conclusion. This was no minor or peripheral affair. As many as 20,000 islanders had lost their lives in guerrilla fighting over fifteen years and more. An AustraIian-owned and -operated copper mine was at the heart of the factional fighting, in which there was a struggle for power between groups wanting independence from Papua New Guinea and others wanting realignment of the territory, either with Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands to the south. Mediation efforts lead by New Zealand produced a cease-fire and made it possible for peacekeeping forces to be introduced. The truce holds and the reconciliation process — which will take a long time — has begun.
A final point. What we face not only in Asia and the Pacific but around the world are security challenges of great diversity and complexity. It is no longer adequate to think in terms of major over-arching threats, but to recognize that human rights and international stability alike are being continually eroded by the seemingly endemic modern wars of nationalism, tribalism , and religion. It is necessary to be clear about terminology when discussing the types of response needed from the U.S. and other capable members of the international community to the sorts of problems we face. The word “peacekeeping” itself needs now to be qualified. The international community can — and does — call on a range of more or less distinct types of civilian, civilian-military or just plain military programmes in response to any one situation. There are to my mind six different and more or less distinct categories of peace operations:
- Peacemaking — the attempt, using diplomatic techniques, early warning, military liaison, mediation, etc., to head off or resolve a conflict or initiate a peace process — by peaceful means.
- Classical peacekeeping — the use of lightly armed military personnel to verify or monitor an agreed settlement or truce.
- Reconstruction — wide ranging involvement of civilian and/or military personnel in rebuilding the infrastructure of a society once the war is over (more or less where we are now in East Timor).
- Protective engagement or containment — insertion of armed military units to try to protect the civilian population, deliver humanitarian relief or provide a platform for peace negotiations while strife continues (where we have just been in East Timor).
- Deterrence — deployment of military forces to dissuade a potential aggressor from pursuing a violent course (which the U.S. and others have done for almost ten years now along the borders of Macedonia).
- Peace enforcement — the coercive use of military force to impose a solution on a dispute, punish aggression or reverse its consequences (the NATO operation in Kosovo).
The wars of nationalism and separatism are not trivial in a military sense. The U.S. has a fundamental role to play in helping to put together the capabilities to meet these types of emergency. But so too have other countries. There is a slow-dawning sense of international responsibility — duty even — to assist where human rights are threatened by conflict. It is often selective and all too seldom completely effective. Nevertheless, it is a development that gives cause for hope. The U.S. role is crucial. But that does not mean that the United States must be at the forefront of every foray mounted by the international community to try to make a better world. It does mean that the U.S. should actively foster the collective security principles by working with others to promote solutions and using its power to underwrite operations in which the load is taken by others. It also means — please — that the United States should stop denigrating the principal international agency for conflict resolution and peace making — the United Nations itself.
Ambassador Denis McLean has held a number of senior posts in the New Zealand government, including secretary of defense, 1978-1988, and ambassador to the United States, 1991-1994.