27 June 2003 - 29 June 2003

Underlying approaches to international relations

Chair: The Rt Hon the Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC

Over a beautiful summer weekend at Ditchley we looked at the underlying approaches to international relations on either side of the Atlantic.  We were fortunate in having around the table a full cast of politicians, policy advisers, commentators, academics and others with a deep knowledge of this subject.  We were helped in having a chairman with wide political experience of the questions under discussion.  We looked at the background and at some of the underlying principles and assumptions in the recent transatlantic dispute, and at some of the international strategic and economic issues which now confronted us. 

In an initial discussion we were strongly advised by an American participant not to take as gospel everything advocated by the “neocons”.  European intellectuals might be fascinated by what they had to say but the Administration’s policy was a separate matter.  In response, some Europeans said that words and tone mattered in public diplomacy and at times there had been similarities between the “neocons” and the Administration.  We looked back at a long history of transatlantic crises including Suez, the expulsion NATO from Fontainbleu etc.  Some thought that the Iraq episode would prove to be another in this line.  Others claimed that it was fundamentally different.  During the Cold War, Europe and the US had disagreed frequently over “out of area” operations but the existential threat of the Soviet Union had kept the two sides together.  Now there was a deep divide in our assessment of the threats we faced.  In addition, it was alleged that since 9/11 the USA had considered itself to be at war while Europe had not.  The crisis had, according to some, revealed an instinctive unilateralism on the part of the USA and a deep multilateralist approach among the EU countries.  An American participant expressed the view that this was a false dichotomy.  The question in many American minds was not unilateralism vs multilateralism, but more a dispute about what sort of multilateralism.  Americans were interested in deterring threats, Europeans in risk-management.  It had also occurred at a time when Europe was engaged in a profound search for its identity in which it was obsessed with the US, although the reverse was not true.  As one European participant put it, in the search for their identity the Europeans were clear that the absolute other was Al Qu’eda while the US was in danger of becoming the relative other.

In replying to a comment from a US participant that the growing Muslim populations in a number of EU countries were inevitably exercising political influence, it was claimed that the Muslims in Europe had not formed a lobby.  They were divided on ethnic lines and had no effective leadership which, in a sense, made dealing with them more difficult than with other immigrant communities.  Like Muslims in the Middle East they were often angry and frustrated by the course of events, but only a tiny minority had been recruited by Al Qu’eda.

In looking at some of the underlying issues, we discussed whether the Transatlantic Community was coming to an end.  It was alleged that in some parts of Europe, the US was seen as more of a threat than a factor for stability.  In the military sphere there was a widening gap in capabilities and in perceptions of the threat.  An abrasive political style on both sides of the divide had not helped.  In a striking phrase, one participant stated that in Europe the US was no longer us.  From the opposite perspective, Europe, it was claimed, was viewed as a geographical area from which the US could choose potential partners according to need.  But, claimed the Europeans, this missed the central importance of European integration and of European countries commitment to it.

It was suggested by an American participant that there were two views in Europe about the US.  The British view which sought to enhance its influence in Washington by supporting the US – the Deputy Sheriff role – and the French who sought to provide a counterbalance to American power.  It was confirmed that a reconsideration of unvarying US support for ever closer union in Europe was under way in Washington.  This had been a policy for the Cold War.  In the changed circumstances of today the USA would support those who wished to work with them and not those who worked against them.  In response it was claimed that the US probably had the power to wreck Europe as a political actor but if they did so, the winners would be those who wanted to build Europe against the USA.  From the European perspective, dealing with a hyperpower brought new problems.  Regime change and pre-emptive action had historically been a US response to problems in its Central American backyard (the Monroe Doctrine).  If, however, these policies were now to be applied on a global scale there would be serious implications for European countries, partly among their Muslim communities and partly when, as in Iraq, they would be expected to help with reconstruction. 

Notwithstanding this unease about US power and intentions there appeared to be a consensus about the issues where intervention could be justified.  These included genocide or humanitarian disasters, terrorism (especially where states were supporting terrorists – Afghanistan) and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

This led us into the difficult field of legitimacy and legality.  Legitimacy was defined by one participant as a fund of good will which could be drawn on by countries when things go badly.  The wider the scope of the actions, argued some, the higher the standard of legitimacy required, the highest being the endorsement of the UN Security Council.  If this was not possible, then, it was proposed that a “double majority” of democracies and of countries in the region might be an alternative.  A substantial coalition of the willing was seen as a third option.  Most of us thought, however, that a single country acting on its own would not do.  The lawyers among us argued that legality was important.  Power should be restrained by law and law could never simply be an expression of the will of the strongest.  The world, commented an experienced observer, was governed by power and rules.  Although terrorists did not consider themselves to be bound by rules, if the US behaved similarly it would leave a “bad taste” which could affect other countries willingness to help in other ways like paying for reconstruction.  International law could, however, adapt to new circumstances.  In this context the UN had a unique role in discussion and agreement on international norms, as it had done on terrorism.  And commented another participant, if the south was not consulted on any new norms they would lack international legitimacy.  This gave rise to a discussion of democracy and the conclusion that it could not simply be defined as the holding of elections.  Perhaps the real emphasis should be on the rule of law which could do much to help stabilise a society.  A number of us recommended that discussion and coordination by the Europeans and Americans on what constituted the rule of law could prove very useful.

We also took a systematic look at the threats we faced and the transatlantic response to them.  At the top of our list of threats were international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, both of which, while not new, were now regarded as much more urgent.  Allied to these threats were the problems of failed or failing states which could provide havens for terrorism and possibly for the spread of WMD.  We ran through a longer list of threats which included energy dependence, water, poverty, AIDS, crime, environmental degradation and the emergence of new, possibly expansionist, powers (China and India  were mentioned, but without examining them in much detail).  The Indo/Pakistan nuclear stand-off was given more attention and was considered by some to be a serious threat.  A general observation was made that the West should spend more resources trying to understand the new threats it faced.  They were more “foreign” than those of the Cold War.  There was a powerful incentive for us to try to understand better issues like Muslim fundamentalism.

In our discussion of terrorism there appeared to be agreement that this was a threat mainly in the context of Islamic antipathy to the West.  Interestingly, it was argued that this antipathy was directed principally at western, particularly US, policies and not at western values.  Young Muslims, claimed one participant, were deeply attracted to American soft power (education, freedoms etc) but frightened of American hard power.  We thought that the Palestine issue loomed large in Islamic consciousness and resolving it would diminish a  good deal of support for the active fundamentalists, but could also greatly increase their support if it was not, commented one participant.  Hamas and Hizbollah might currently be considered as regional terrorist operations against Israel.  But this did not necessarily mean that they might not strike in Europe if the Road Map for peace failed and the Europeans were seen as ineffectual in influencing the Americans.  We were urged to be specific in our terminology.  We should refer to Al Qu’eda and not give the impression that we regarded all Muslims as potential terrorists.  This was particularly important when we spoke about the “war on terrorism”, an expression which was criticised by some as conceding a spurious military status on the terrorists, something the British had been careful to avoid in Northern Ireland.  The Americans present pointed out that “wars” were often declared in the USA, on drugs, on poverty etc and too much should not be read into the expression. 

In looking at weapons of mass destruction, a participant drew the distinction between nuclear weapons which were essentially state weapons, CW which was more a battlefield weapon and BW which were weapons of mass terror.  Our concern was mainly with the first and last of these categories.  In nuclear terms it was suggested that if only a few more countries followed Pakistan’s example it was hard to imagine that a nuclear weapon would not be used in the next 20 years.  One participant argued that Iran was a test case.  If, in spite of international pressure, Iran moved to nuclear weapon status then the non-proliferation regime would have failed.  On the BW front we were told that advances in biotechnology and genomics were moving so rapidly, it was difficult to assess the lethality of potential new weapons, let alone to constrain or counter them.

In considering our responses we concentrated on two of the most contentious geographical issues, the Middle East peace process and Iran.  We acknowledged that traditionally there had been differences between Europe and the US on the Middle East, but the Europeans among us were relieved to be assured that President Bush personally was now committed to the “Road Map”.  We were also assured that domestic and electoral American politics would not act as a constraint on him.  The US would insist on a two state solution and a contiguous Palestinian state.  The real issue, we were told, was whether there would be acceptance on the Muslim side for Israel’s continued existence within secure borders.  Surprisingly, perhaps, there was wide support for NATO assuming a peace-keeping role in this area.  We spent some time on the question of reconstruction with differences of view expressed about the adequacy of post-conflict planning in Iraq.  Some of us thought that agreement on a policy for reconstruction should be part of the “rules of the road” and not an add-on after any conflict.  There was acknowledgement of the enormous costs involved which the US could not support on its own.  This underlined the point, according to some, that whatever its military predominance the USA could not finally settle any major question on its own.  Interdependence was a fact of life. 

On Iran there was a general consensus that the West should be firm and united on the nuclear issue, using the IAEA as the main means of pressure.  The majority were against actively seeking regime change where overt Western pressure was likely to slow down the process of political development rather than accelerate it.  Iran’s nuclear programme led us to a discussion of double-standards.  Should not similar pressure be applied to Israel, and what should be our policy on North Korea?  One answer was that the non-proliferation treaty was itself discriminatory and that it would be more productive to accept that there were 5 (declared) + 3 nuclear states, and concentrate our efforts on preventing any further proliferation.  The US response to differentiation in their treatment of Iraq and Israel/North Korea was that Iraq had shown itself impervious to outside political pressure while there was still a chance that Iran and North Korea’s neighbours might be able to deter them from going down the nuclear route.  One participant commented that it would be hard to imagine a surer way of spreading WMD technology more widely than by a military attack on Iran.

We discussed pre-emption and drew a distinction between “hot”, or immediate, pre-emption when the threat was clear and unambiguous, and longer term “cold” pre-emption or prevention (Israel’s attack on the Osirak reactor).  One participant said that the US had collapsed the distinction between the two.  The cost of a mistake was simply too high.  This brought us back to the UN with a clear difference of views between the US and the other participants.  The Europeans heard unwelcome phrases like setting aside the UN, no outsider would be allowed to decide on US national security, the primacy of national interest etc, even while the Americans professed an attachment to multilateralism.  Most Europeans were, however, prepared to concede a need for greater “muscularity” in dealing with new threats and for a broader interpretation of the right to self-defence as set out in Article 51 of the UN Charter.  There was an appeal for discussion between Europeans and Americans on the criteria for pre-emptive action. 

When we looked at transatlantic economic relations we were reminded that for all their awesome hard power, the USA ultimately had to rely on a healthy productive economy to pay for it.  We did not, however, think that any conceivable downturn in the US would seriously undermine its ability to project hard military power in the foreseeable future.  We speculated about the imminence of a funding crisis and the willingness of the rest of the world to continue to invest so heavily in the USA.  We noted that the USA and Europe had grown much more interdependent in the last decade.  Germany was, for example, responsible for 800,000 jobs in the US.  Isolationism was hardly an option now, indeed businessmen on either side of the Atlantic remained committed to greater integration and were irritated by the present political rifts.  We saw no direct connection between poverty and terrorism other than that poor countries might provide refuges for terrorist groups.  It was striking that many of the 9/11 terrorists were from relatively prosperous backgrounds.  We examined ways of bringing about regime change by using multilateral debt conditions, “odious debt” rules or by other methods but had little confidence in our ability to force any new regimes to follow better economic policies.  In general we thought that successful market economies were those which were embedded in local cultural and social systems.

We spent some time discussing US and EU approaches to the WTO and the possibility that protectionist pressure in Europe and the US, in response to competition from China or India, might force labour and environmental issues on to the WTO agenda.  We also examined critically recent US tendencies to look for bilateral rather than multilateral trade agreements.  Overall it seemed to many of us that agriculture remained a major obstacle in EU/US relations and more widely.  We also concluded that in this round, EU/US deals on the old pattern would not work unless they also took into account the interests of developing countries.

In looking back at the ground we had covered, the fear was expressed that the wonderful weather and the congeniality of the surroundings had blunted our appetite for tackling the most difficult issues or of pressing our arguments to more specific conclusions where our views differed.  Notwithstanding that, we were satisfied that we had covered a broad agenda in some detail.  While we appeared relatively more at ease with the economic issues which were the bedrock of much that we had discussed we were less confident about the two options for European/US relations that appeared on offer – “strategic association with the US” or “a counterbalance to American power”.  Although the predominant European view was in favour of the first we had to ask ourselves what was in it for the Europeans.  Had the UK in fact had a moderating influence on the USA?  Did consultation really mean an ability to change policy or a one way street?  Had the British been able to influence US policy over preparations for reconstruction in post-conflict Iraq?  There was a world of difference between partnership and subordination. 

There was wide agreement on the need to build a broad agenda for positive transatlantic relations.  The key components seemed to us to be:

·          Terrorism and WMD

·          Key regional issues

·          Engagement with Islamic world

·          Trade and Development

·          Poverty and state failure

We also agreed that our discussion about legitimacy had thrown up a need to develop some new “rules of the road”.  This did not necessarily mean new formal legal doctrines but more some general guidelines which would need to be applied on an ad hoc basis to specific cases as they arose.  We had already heard how practice and jurisprudence had evolved in the UN over time.  This was accompanied by a strong plea for some sort of informal mechanism (not a “directorate” possibly more on the lines of existing contact groups) which would allow serious discussion between major western countries on key issues such as the appropriate conditions for the use of force, the terms which we believed might legitimise intervention etc.  This might, suggested one of the participants, be a basis for a transatlantic bargain in which a greater US commitment to work for multilateral approaches to problems might be balanced by a more effective European contribution to dealing with them.                                           

In a concluding comment we heard a view that although we had put the Israel/Palestine question high on our list of priorities, the most urgent question at the moment was the outcome on the ground in Iraq.  We could not allow Iraq to become another Somalia.  What emerged in Iraq would be critical for developments in the rest of the Middle East.  Failure would also be crucial for UK/US relations and probably also in determining future US attitudes on intervention.

I am grateful to those, particularly from abroad, who took the time to join us for this conference.  My thanks also go to the Chairman for guiding our discussions so expertly.  The conference was the third in a series this year in which we have examined aspects of transatlantic relations which have come to the fore since 9/11.  The other two were International Terrorism and the Future of NATO.  It is a complex of issues to which I am sure we will return.

This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.


Chairman:  The Rt Hon the Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC

Life Peer (Conservative) (1997-);  Deputy Chairman, Coutts & Co (1998-);  Prison Reform Trust (1997-);  Member of Parliament (Conservative), Witney (1983-97) (Mid-Oxon, 1974-83);  for Home Department (1985-89);  for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1989-95);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation


Professor David J Bercuson

Director, Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, The University of Calgary (1997-);  columnist, The Calgary Herald;  author

Mr Peter Harder

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (June 2003-)

The Hon Roy MacLaren PC

High Commissioner to United Kingdom (1996-2000);  Minister of State (Finance) (1983);  Minister of National Revenue (1984);  Minister for International Trade (1993-96)

Dr David Malone

President, International Peace Academy (1998-);  Director General, Global and Human Issues Bureau, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (1998-)

Professor Kim Nossal

Professor and Head, Department of Political Studies, Queen’s University;  formerly:  editor, International Journal (1992-97)


State Secretary Jürgen Chrobog

German Foreign Ministry


Mr Philippe Errera

French Foreign Ministry, Deputy Head, Policy Planning staff

Dr Dominique Moïsi

Deputy Director, IFRI;  Editor-in-Chief, quarterly review “Politique Étrangère”;  regular columnist, “Financial Times” and “Ouest France”;  author


Mr Krishnan Srinivasan

Former Deputy Secretary General (Political), Commonwealth Secretariat (1995-2002);  Indian Foreign Service (1959-95);  Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs (1992-94);  Foreign Secretary (1994-95)


The Hon John Bruton TD

Vice-President, The European People’s Party (1999-);  Vice-President, Christian Democrat International (1998-);  Member, Dail Eireann for Meath (1969-);  Member, Council of State (1994-);  formerly:  Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland (1994-97)


Sir Antony Acland KG GCMG GCVO

Permanent Under Secretary of State, FCO, and Head of Diplomatic Service (1982-86);  Ambassador to Washington (1986-91);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

The Rt Hon Michael Ancram MP QC

Member of Parliament for Devizes (1992-) (Conservative);  Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (2002-)

Sir Franklin Berman KCMG QC

Barrister;  Visiting Professor International Law, Universities of Oxford and Cape Town;  formerly:  Legal Adviser, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (1991-99)

Mr Matthew Bishop

The Economist

The Rt Hon Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP

Member of Parliament, Fife North East (1987-) (Liberal, 1987-88, Liberal Democrat, 1988-);  Frontbench spokesman on foreign affairs and defence (1994-);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

Dr Christopher Coker

Department of International Relations, London School of Economics

Mr Robert Cooper CMG MVO

Director General, General Secretariat, External and Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the European Union;  formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1970-2002);  Head, Defence and Overseas Secretariat, Cabinet Office (1999-2001)

Mr Guy de Jonquieres

World Trade Editor, Financial Times

Mr Simon Fraser

Director for Strategy and Innovation, Foreign and Commonwealth Office;  member, Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation

Mr Timothy Garton Ash CMG

Director, European Studies Centre, St Antony’s College, Oxford;  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

Professor Christopher Greenwood CMG QC

Professor of Law, London School of Economics and Political Science;  formerly Fellow, Tutor and Director of Studies in Law, Magdalene College, Cambridge;  barrister;  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Patron of World Affairs Councils of America (2003).  Formerly:  Chairman of World Affairs Council (2001-2003);  Member of Parliament, Bury St Edmonds (1964-92) (Conservative);  Minister of Sport and Under Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (1970-74)

Mr Roger Hardy

Middle East and Islamic Affairs Analyst, BBC World Service

Professor Sir Michael Howard CBE MC FBA

Emeritus Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford (1989-);  Fellow All Souls College, Oxford (1968-80);  Regius Professor of Modern History, Chairman of the Facultry Board and Fellow of Oriel College, University of Oxford (1980-89);  author;  President and Co-Founder, International Institute for Strategic Studies;  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

Sir Michael Jay KCMG

Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonweal Office (2002-);  HM Ambassador, Paris (1996-2002);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation

Professor John Kay FBA

Fellow, St John’s College, Oxford (1970-);  Vice-President, Economics & Business Education Association (1996-);  Fellow of The British Academy (1997-)

Mr Anatol Lieven

The Carnegie Foundation;  formerly:  Deputy Head, Moscow office, The Times;  Fellow, United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC;  International Institute for Strategic Studies

Dr Gautam Sen

Lecturer in the Politics of the World Economy, London School of Economics

Mr Philip Stephens

Financial Times (1983-);  Editor, UK Edition (1999-);  Associate Editor and Political Commentator (1995-99)

Mr Simon Webb CBE

Policy Director, Ministry of Defence


Mr Edward Mortimer

Director of Communications and Chief speechwriter to Secretary-General, United Nations (1998-);  foreign leader writer;  Foreign Affairs Editor, Financial Times (1987-98);  a member, Programme Committee, The Ditchley Foundation


Dr Thomas J Biersteker

Director, Watson Institute for International Studies and Henry R Luce Professor on Transnational Organization, Brown Univesity (1994-)

The Hon John Brademas

President Emeritus, New York University (1992-);  President, NYU (1981-92);  Member, 86th-96th Congresses (1959-81);  House Majority Whip (1977-81);  a Governor, The Ditchley Foundation, Chairman, American Ditchley Foundation

Ambassador Richard Haass

President of Council on Foreign Relations (July 2003-);  Lead US Government official on Northern Ireland Peace Process

Ambassador James R Jones

Chairman, World Affairs Council of America;  Member, House of Representatives (1973-87);  Chairman and CEO, American Stock Exchange (1989-93)

Dr Charles Kupchan

Fellow, Council of Foreign Relations

Dr Jerry W Leach

President, World Affairs Council of America

The Hon Matthew Nimetz

Partner, General Atlantic Partners (2000-);  Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, NYC (1981-2000);  Partner Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett (NYC (1969-77);  Department of State:  Counselor (1977-80)

Mr Rajesh Swaminathan

Attorney, Steptoe & Johnson LLP (corporate WTO and International trade policy);  General Counsel and Chief Legal Adviser to the American India Foundation

Mr Edwin D Williamson

Partner, Sullivan & Cromwell LLP (1971-90, 1993-);  legal adviser, US Department of State (1990-93);  vice Chairman and member of Executive Board of the Business and Industry Advisory Committee (BIAC) to the OECD (1998-)

The Hon Dr Dov S Zakheim

Department of Defense Under Secretary (2001-);  Coordinator for Afghanistan Reconstruction;  formerly Vice-president System Planning Corp;  formerly:  Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for Planning and Resources in the Office of the Under-Secretary of Defence (Policy) (1985-87)