22 February 2008 - 24 February 2008

50th Anniversary Event: The priorities for US foreign policy after George W Bush

Chair: The Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH and Dr Richard Haass

 Ditchley celebrated its 50th birthday on a mild but cloudy winter weekend with a conference on the Foundation’s fundamental issue, the nature, influence and policies of the United States.  We were fortunate to have as participants three powerful teams from the US, Canada and the UK, together with some experienced and perceptive players from other countries with a close relationship with the US. 

The aim of the weekend was to look forwards rather than into the past;  and much of the discussion imagined that we were offering foreign policy advice to the next President.  It was nonetheless inevitable that the recent past, and especially developments since September 2001, should feature strongly, not without some criticism from both European and American participants.  But this was kept within limits and some important counter-points were made and acknowledged.  Indeed, many people pointed to the value of substantive continuity between Administrations where it made sense for American and shared interests.  For their part, the Europeans could not – and did not – escape criticism for the quality of their contribution to global security management in particular.  Yet on the whole we had a constructive, wide-ranging and at times inspiring debate. 

There was a good deal of focus on the issues which the next President would immediately face on coming into office in January 2009.  Of these we felt the most important were: 

  • Iraq.  There were different views around the table, but the majority felt that it would be difficult and undesirable for US interests for the next President to withdraw American troops completely from Iraq within the first four-year term.  The surge had been partly successful in the short term, but Iraq would take many years, perhaps decades, to reach a situation of solid stability and cohesion.  Early withdrawal would leave a dangerous vacuum in terms both of regional stability and the opportunities for terrorism.  The new President would need to make some hard calculations about the balance between American interests in the region and the American people’s tolerance. 
  •  Iran.  Participants recognised the importance of avoiding the binary choice between attacking Iran and allowing it to develop nuclear weapons capability.  But most participants believed there was still scope for well constructed diplomacy.  Preparedness to engage Iran directly might help.  There was also considerable support for an initiative on regional diplomacy, connecting up the security and economic development of the Gulf region as a whole with the situations in Iran, Iraq and neighbouring countries.
  • Afghanistan.  People felt that this might be 2009’s most difficult regional issue.  As in Iraq, national political cohesion was hard to find.  Military operations, while important, could not solve the long-term problems.  Pakistan’s uncertain future was closely connected, not least because there was little prospect of proper control of the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.  In addition, the subject would continue to be a severe test for NATO as it came up to its sixtieth anniversary. 
  • Middle East Peace Process.  With the continuing uncertainty over the follow-up to last year’s Annapolis conference, the situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories was unpredictable, but likely to remain very messy into 2009.  The majority of participants hoped that the new Administration would signal immediate interest in active diplomacy from the beginning.  The conference was divided as to whether engagement with Hamas would be necessary as part of this, but most people felt there was at least a case for oblique diplomacy.  The roles of Iran and Hizbollah also needed to be brought into the equation.
  • DPRK.  With recent American diplomacy having produced only partially successful results, North Korea would remain a challenge.  Continuity in the six-party talks would need to be endorsed and the linkages with Iran and counter-proliferation recognised.
  • International terrorism.  Even if the next Administration re-ordered its priorities and its signature themes, terrorism would continue to loom large – even larger if there had been further significant attacks before January 2009.  Again, there were different nuances in the discussion, but most participants wanted to see a different balance between terrorism and other issues, and between the hard security aspects of terrorism and broader soft power considerations.  More needed to be done to counter radicalisation and recruitment.  The language of the “global war on terror” was no longer appropriate.

We heard strong calls for the next Administration to avoid being consumed by the crisis issues.  New relationships would have to be constructed and signals transmitted on the longer-term challenges.  As always, the new team would be forced to make difficult choices about the chronology of contacts and visits, as between Europe, Asia (particularly China and India), Russia and the Americas.  A clear majority of participants, however, if not everyone, believed that the US would benefit from early signals of presidential interest in broad engagement, especially with the emerging players on the economic and therefore the political scene.  China, which the George W Bush Administration had on the whole handled well after a sticky beginning, would certainly loom large, not just on East Asian security and political issues, but also on energy and environmental questions.  India would be close behind.  The relationship with Russia, however, was picked out as the one where a different tone might be set and different results attempted.  The current relationship had been allowed to become too scratchy and antagonistic, when on a number of issues the interests of the two countries could benefit from engagement and compromise.  Alongside this discussion of relationships, it was suggested that the G8 should open its doors to a wider group (perhaps a G13 or G16).  Most participants supported the concept, but sensible warnings were voiced not to attempt a formal G16 mechanism.  Broader and more consistent ad hoc diplomacy, according to the issue, would be preferable. 

The relationship on which we spent the most time, however, was the US-European one.  The discussion was enlightening and also important, because we placed obligations as much, if not more, on the European side as on the American.  Each remained equivocal about the other:  hopeful for more but worried about too much.  There was no doubt about our common interests, but considerable differences existed between our respective approaches and priorities.  There might be an opportunity for a new effort by Europe as the arrangements evolved for foreign policy under the new treaty.  But designing new foreign policy instruments had to be accompanied by political will in European leaders to go global and strategic.  The Americans would otherwise not be all that interested.  And there was a risk that the working-level arrangements would remain dysfunctional, largely because of the tendency for the Europeans to caucus themselves into an inflexible position before they engaged with the US. 

This glumness about the transatlantic relationship’s potential, while familiar and realistic, could be partly dispelled, people thought, if the Europeans decided to contribute more solidly on the security front.  Addressing terrorism across a broad front was perhaps the most important issue.  But military contributions to NATO operations, as in Afghanistan, would follow close behind.  Russia, Turkey and the Middle East Peace Process were all important.  Those with the  longest experience of US-Europe believed that some improvement might be possible, but that the fundamental inclination of the Americans to deal with the largest and most capable European countries on a bilateral or an ad hoc basis would continue on political, diplomatic and security issues.  The longer term global subjects, such as climate change, energy and trade ought to offer more scope for a coherent transatlantic partnership.  Much depended on whether both sides of the Atlantic could readjust to the world’s changing power relationships (here some people felt that the EU was in a stronger state of denial even than the United States). 

Those longer-term issues were anyway an area of huge importance for the new Administration.  The linked questions of climate change and energy supplies were seen by most participants as heading the list.  There would be huge disappointment in the rest of the world if 2009 did not see a much greater American effort to address the climate change agenda.  This might not be in the form of signing up to Kyoto and its follow-up, but would probably need a newly designed US domestic and external programme, which some participants hoped would extend to a cap-and-trade regime and in the future to carbon sequestration, once this had been developed as a viable technology.  The next most important issue would be counter-proliferation, with the 2010 NPT Review Conference rapidly approaching, failure at which would probably mean the end of the regime, as would Iran’s success in reaching nuclear weapons capability.  Did American nuclear dominance have to be quite so emphatic, and was there not room for a more open debate about trade-offs, verification and monitoring?  Trade liberalisation, human rights (close Guantanamo?) and international legal structures (especially the International Criminal Court) would also be on the priority list. 

What we failed to spend enough time on, in spite of the probability that crises, even geological shifts, would happen under the next President, was the world economy.  Economic performance and growth, the strength or weakness of the dollar, American fiscal and current account deficits, the rise in protectionism, the high cost of energy, the question of development funding and the growing power of the sovereign wealth funds would all make their impact felt in geopolitics and would need time and attention from the next President.  We drew the broad conclusions that, to address these issues sensibly, a style and tone of consultation and engagement from Washington would be highly beneficial.  But we did not try to calculate the comparative impact of economic as opposed to political issues from 2009 onwards.

In amongst all this discussion of the issues, a running commentary continued on the nature of the American Republic and of the single superpower.  No-one disputed that the United States would remain the great power for a long time to come, indispensable for the solution of almost any global or major regional problem, in all sorts of ways the exceptional nation.  But we also believed that the unipolar moment was over.  It had been an interesting experiment after the bipolarity of the Cold War, but now multipolarity was inevitable.  Some of this multipolarity existed within the nature of the United States itself.  Congress would be as important a player as the Administration in most of the issues catalogued above and no American President could afford to put the domestic constituency behind the international one.  We did not doubt that there would be a huge continuing American interest in international stability, global economic progress, the promotion of democracy and human rights and the maintenance of stable trading relationships.  But these would not necessarily be the organising principles of American foreign policy.  Under George W Bush the “global war on terror” had been the core issue since 2001.  Most participants hoped that that would no longer be the case, however important the defence against terrorism remained.  Soft power instruments, and especially diplomacy, needed to be given stronger resources and support, even if the rest of us continued to depend on American hard power as a primary instrument for maintaining a rules-based system internationally.

Much as we might have dreamed of the new President making immediate decisions in early 2009 that favoured our recommended courses, the company realised that in real life it would not happen that way.  But we all agreed that there was a vital importance attached to the signals which the President’s early rhetoric would send to the outside world.  The quality and nature of people appointed to senior positions in Washington would be carefully watched.  Early decisions on the deployment of resources would likewise be indicative.  Above all, we wanted the United States to move beyond the rather fearful psychology of the past few years, regain its underlying confidence and engage.  Then the rest of us, not least Europe, would be tested in their response. 

This was a debate which in its range and quality fully lived up to the traditions of Ditchley’s fifty years.  We were fortunate to be led in our plenary sessions by co-chairmen of formidable experience and judgement.  We realised that some of the message we were trying to distil could not easily be directed to the next incumbent of the White House.  Some more oblique channels would need to be used, just as the United States itself might have to think of more indirect ways of promoting its general interests abroad.  But we were in no doubt that there were huge opportunities for finding better solutions to global problems over the next eight years and we hoped that we had helped to clarify how best they might be realised.

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


Joint Chairmen:

The Rt Hon Sir John Major KG CH
Chairman, Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.  Formerly:  Chairman, European Board, Carlyle Group (2000-05);  Member of Parliament, Conservative, Huntingdonshire (1979-2001);  Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury (1990-97).
Dr Richard Haass
President, Council on Foreign Relations (2003 ).  Formerly:  Director of Policy Planning, US Coordinator for Policy toward the Future of Afghanistan and Lead US Government Official of Northern Ireland Peace Process, US Department of State, Washington DC (2001-03).

The Hon Gareth Evans AO QC
President and Chief Executive, International Crisis Group, Brussels (2000-).  Formerly:  Foreign Minister, Canberra (1988-96).

Mr Peter Boehm

Assistant Deputy Minister, North America, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.  Formerly:  Minister (Political and Public Affairs, Embassy of Canada, Washington DC.
Mr Leonard Edwards
Deputy Minister, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Ottawa (2007-).   Formerly:  Deputy Minister, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (2004-07).
The Hon William Graham PC QC
Vice Chairman, Canadian International Council;  Chancellor, Trinity College, University of Toronto;  Chairman, Atlantic Council of Canada.  Formerly:  Minister of Foreign Affairs (2002-04).
The Hon Robert K Rae PC OC QC
Foreign Affairs Critic, Liberal Party of Canada;  Co-Chair, Platform Committee.  Formerly:  Partner, Goodmans LLP, Toronto (1996-2007);  Premier of Ontario (1990-95).  Board of Directors, The Canadian Ditchley Foundation.
HE Mr James R Wright

Canadian High Commissioner, London (2006-).  Formerly:  Assistant Deputy Minister and Political Director, International Security Branch, Foreign Affairs Canada (2005-2006).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Dr Dominique Moïsi

Special Advisor, French Institute for International Relations, Paris;  Columnist:  Financial Times, Die Welt and Ouest France.

Mr Jürgen Chrobog

Chairman, Board of Directors, BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt.  Formerly:  State Secretary, Auswärtiges Amt (2001-05);  Ambassador of Germany to the United States of America (1995-2001).
HE Mr Wolfgang Ischinger
German Foreign Service (1975-);  Ambassador of Germany to the UK, London (2006-).  Formerly:  Ambassador to the USA, Washington (2001-06).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.

Professor Hisashi Owada

Judge, International Court of Justice, The Hague (2003-);  Professor, Leiden University.  Formerly:  President, The Japan Institute of International Affairs (1999-2003).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

HE Ms Heng-Chee Chan

Ambassador of Singapore to the United States of America, Washington DC (1996-).  Formerly:  Executive Director, Singapore International Foundation.

Mr Carl Bildt KCMG

Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm (2006-).  Formerly:  Member of the Riksdag (1979-2001);  UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Balkans (1999-2001);  Prime Minister of Sweden (1991-94).

The Rt Hon Lord Butler of Brockwell KG GCB CVO

Life Peer (1998-);  Master, University College, Oxford (1998-).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Sir Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP
Member of Parliament, Liberal Democrat, Fife North East (1987-).  Formerly:  Liberal Democrat Party Leader (2006-07).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation. 
Mr Dominick Chilcott
HM Diplomatic Service (1982-);  Deputy Head of Mission, British Embassy, Washington DC (2008 ).  Formerly:  HM High Commissioner, Sri Lanka (2006-07).
Mr Robert Cooper CMG MVO
Director General, General Secretariat, External and Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the European Union (2002-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1970-2002).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation. 
Ms Caroline Daniel
Comment Editor, The Financial Times, London (2007-).  Formerly:  The Financial Times:  White House Correspondent, Washington DC (2005-07).
Professor Timothy Garton Ash CMG
Professor of European Studies, University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford;  Senior Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford University;  Columnist, The Guardian.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Lord Howe of Aberavon CH QC
Life Peer, Conservative (1992-);  President, Which? (1992-);  President, GB China Centre (1992-).  Formerly:  Lord President of the Council, Leader of the House of Commons and Deputy Prime Minister (1989-90);  Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (1983-89);  Chancellor of the Exchequer (1979-83).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Hon Peter Jay
Visiting Executive Professor of Political Economy, Henley Management College (2006-);  Director, Bank of England (2003-).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
The Rt Hon Lord Kerr of Kinlochard GCMG
Deputy Chairman, Royal Dutch Shell plc (2005-);  Chairman, Imperial College, London (2005-);  Director:  Rio Tinto plc (2003-), Scottish American Investment Trust (2002-).  Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1966-2002).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Sir David Manning GCMG CVO
Formerly:  HM Diplomatic Service (1972-2008);  HM Ambassador to the United States of America, Washington DC (2003-07);  Foreign Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister and Head of Defence and Overseas Secretariat, Cabinet Office (2002-03). 
Mr Michael Moore MP
Member of Parliament, Liberal Democrat, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (2005-);  Spokesman for International Development (2007-).  Formerly: Spokesman for Foreign Affairs (2006-07).  A Member, Ditchley Foundation Programme Committee.
Dr Robin Niblett
Director, Chatham House, London (2007-).  Formerly:  Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington (2001-06).
Sir Peter Ricketts KCMG
HM Diplomatic Service (1974-);  Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Head of the Diplomatic Service (2006-).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Philip Stephens
Associate Editor and Senior Commentator, Financial Times.  Author.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.

Mr Philip Carroll

Non-Executive Director, BAE Systems, London;  Vulcan Materials Company; Texas Medical Center. 
Lady Judge
(Formerly The Hon Barbara Thomas);  Chairman, United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (2004 );  Chairman, School of Oriental and African Studies;  Deputy Chairman, Friend’s Provident Plc (2001-).  A Governor and Member of the Council of Management, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Elliott Kulick
Chairman and Chief Executive, Pegasus International Inc (1985-).  Formerly:  Associate Director, Middle East, Mobil International Oil Company; Senior Consultant, Booz Allen and Hamilton Inc.

Congressman Gary Ackerman

Representative, Democrat, Fifth Congressional District of New York, US House of Representatives, Washington DC;  Second Ranking Democrat, House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The Hon John Bellinger III
Legal Advisor to the Secretary of State, US State Department, Washington DC. 
The Hon John Brademas
President Emeritus, New York University (1992-).  Formerly:  Chairman, American Ditchley Foundation (1990-2006);  Member, 86th-96th Congresses (1959-81).  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation;  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Robert E Hunter
Senior Adviser, RAND Corporation (1998-);  President, Atlantic Treaty Association.  A Governor, The Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Robert G Kaiser
Associate Editor and Senior Correspondent, The Washington Post (1998-).  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation. 
Mr Cary Koplin
Managing Director, Investment Management Division, Lehman Brothers/Neuberger Berman, LLC (2000-).  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
The Hon John McLaughlin
Senior Fellow, The Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies, School of Advanced International Studies, The John Hopkins University (2004-);  Member, Council on Foreign Relations;  Consultant on National Security, CNN.
The Hon Franklin Miller KBE
Vice President, The Cohen Group (2005-).  Formerly:  Special Assistant to President George W Bush;  Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control, National Security Council.
Ms Jami Miscik
Global Head of Sovereign Risk, Lehman Brothers (2005-).  Formerly:  Deputy Director for Intelllligence, CIA (2002-05).  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Professor Joseph S Nye
Distinguished Service Professor, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (2004 );  Director, Council on Foreign Relations, Washington DC.  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Ambassador Thomas R Pickering
Vice Chairman, Hills & Company, Washington DC;  Consultant, The Boeing Company.  Formerly:  Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, US State Department (1997-2000).  Board of Directors, The American Ditchley Foundation.
Mr Walter Pincus
National Security Correspondent, The Washington Post, Washington DC;  Consultant, The Washington Post Company.  Formerly:  Consultant, CBS News;  Executive Editor, The New Republic.