24 June 1999 - 26 June 1999

The Instruments of International Security in the Twenty-First Century

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

The remit of our conference recognised that the best long-term prospects for avoiding violent conflict in the century ahead must lie in tackling its underlying political, economic and social causes.  Our focus however was upon the instruments available to the international community in situations where, for whatever reasons, the structural springs still gave rise to conflict.  We observed that the past half-century had seen a merciful freedom from war on the scale of 1914-18 and 1939-45, but that Korea-style regional wars and – most conspicuously, in more recent years – grave conflicts, of fearsome human cost, cutting across tidy interstate categories had continued to challenge the global community.  How might that community improve its capacity to deal with – or, better still, pre-empt – these challenges?

The Kosovo episode – vivid in our minds as we met, and by no means over – highlighted a shift in international attitudes, at least among the developed democracies of the West, to re-balance the longstanding tension between the concept of national sovereignty and that of universal human rights.  Kosovo exemplified, though there were other examples, the growing albeit not universal sense that there was an international duty and therefore a right to deny free rein to appalling behaviour by unpleasant régimes – or collapsed ones – at the wholesale expense of their own citizens’ elementary well-being.  We were properly warned against a hyperactive do-something aspiration to satisfy ills everywhere – that would pose risks of exhaustion and failure, of bull-in-a-china-shop making things worse, of perceived arbitrary selectivity.  But international law, formal or customary, did seem to be on the move, and it was increasingly hard to argue that state frontiers should confer absolute freedom upon intolerable oppressors.

But the problems of legitimacy in intervention were in present circumstances notably awkward;  there was here a further tension, this time between justice of outcome and legality of process.  We heard differing views upon whether these considerations actually collided in the Kosovo action;  but we all agreed that it would have been better if that action could have had specific prior authority from the United Nations Security Council, and some felt that the precedent it provided for intervention without this might one day come to haunt those who had set it.  At least one voice argued that more resolute diplomacy could have averted the perceived threat of Russian veto;  others questioned this, pointed also to China, and suggested that to try for UNSC clearance and fail to secure it could have been deeply damaging to what liberal democratic opinion almost everywhere regarded as ultimately essential to be achieved.

We hankered after, though we did not manage to define, clearer criteria for substantive legitimacy in intervention, for example in respect of the character or scale of the wrongs to be prevented or corrected.  And we debated at some length options for improving the credibility and efficacy of the Security Council as legitimator.  Several participants supported enlargement of permanent membership (though fewer indicated just how the longstanding conundrum of whom to choose and whom not was to be answered).  In any event, however, we knew that this would not resolve – it might even in some degree exacerbate – the veto-centred difficulty of effective working.  One earnest voice suggested that it would be in the long-term interest of the “Western” three among the Permanent Five to propose the outright abolition of the veto and seek by wide political pressure to overbear likely Russian and Chinese reluctance;  but the feasibility of this found few backers.  Another suggestion noted the occasional possibility of a readier recourse to the General Assembly to rally political support, over Security Council logjams, for action against outrages.  But all such approaches, so it was vigorously argued, whatever be their general merits were gravely hampered in current particular reality by the apparent propensity of the world’s single superpower often to view use of the United Nations and similar international machinery as an optional convenience rather than a central presumption.  The United States, in this perception, attached less priority than its long-term interest should indicate to the cumulative strengthening – against the day when its predominance might be less sweeping? – of internationally-structured governance and order as an important value in its own right. 

Most of us, it seemed, would welcome further improvement – the drive for this had perhaps lately lost impetus – of the UN’s own capability in conflict action, including at least some kinds of intervention.  Financial constraints held the Secretary-General and his staff back from doing everything that appeared useful, for all that the present incumbent had significant activity to his credit.  Though we were doubtful of the concept of standing international forces under UN command, there should be merit in clearer and more extensive on-call earmarking of suitable national assets.  The UN needed also to have at its ready disposal more solid military advice – not just in committee form, as in a resurrected Military Staff Committee, but in a competent staff with access to good intelligence and prompt political information (and capable of advising effectively on how to formulate directives and rules of engagement which, even if short of the ideal, approached more nearly than hitherto the operational needs of field formations rather than those of diplomatic compromise.)  We were warned that peace-enforcement was usually a highly demanding military task mostly dependent on key contributions from among a small number of capable powers;  and we suspected that in such tasks, as in liberation of Kuwait, the UN should in prudence see its role as authoriser and delegator rather than as operational executist.  The UN had nevertheless good successes to its name in peace-keeping, where it usually had the advantage (over most possible subsidiary groupings) of being unencumbered by regional-hegemon perceptions.  But we were healthily reminded that the use of armed forces, whether in enforcing or keeping the peace, was a means and not an end, a condition-creator not a solver;  it ought always to be set within a thought-out wider political strategy shaping political/military interfaces, addressing causes, and looking towards post-conflict management and locally-owned eventual outcomes.

This concern for post-conflict management reminded us again of its better half, pre-conflict management.  There were familiar difficulties about this:  the hesitancy of the international community to get involved – especially with a credible foreshadowing of military action if necessary – in advance of clamant crisis;  the genuine problems of timing, where premature movement might needlessly precipitate yet tardiness miss the best moment;  the difficulty of finding carrots as well as sticks amid, for example, deep ethnic intransigence;  very often, the reluctance of parties to accept outsider roles as neutral and to have opponents acknowledged as interlocuteurs valables.  The Secretary-General could and did operate usefully in this territory (the more quietly, the better) but must not be expected to work with the assurance or style of a medieval Pope.

We considered briefly whether conflict avoidance or management might need to have in its repertoire new constitutional structures or instruments.  Kosovo, just for example, might compel at least for a while some arrangement amounting to international trusteeship (though the word had non-ideal overtones and the substance awkward practical problems, as over enforcing law and order).  The problem of “self-determination” was bound to recur, perhaps often.  A world containing some eight thousand linguistic groups yet fewer than two hundred states had to find coherent ways – perhaps through more varied and flexible versions of federation and confederation – of distinguishing between citizenship and cultural identity.

We reverted frequently to the lessons (so far) of Kosovo – while reminding ourselves that the next crisis would certainly be different, and that to focus too precisely on the apparent warnings from the last one might well generate the wrong responses to the next (as, several participants suggested, the discomforts of Somalia had been damagingly read across into inaction over Rwanda).  But we noted variously that coalition warfare, for all its inefficiencies, would increasingly be made imperative by pressures – even upon the most powerful – to spread political and military responsibilities;  and that dealings with Russia (and perhaps increasingly with China) in “intervention” situations must place value upon the involvement of awkward interlocutors yet not ultimately allow them blocking power.

How far must changing public attitudes within the “Western” democracies guide or constrain international military action beyond the classical needs of self-defence?  Differing historical experiences shaped notably differing attitudes even within NATO;  but in most countries rising public expectations that something be done to deal effectively with the intolerable partnered uncomfortably the attitudes of risk-averse and compensation-conscious civil societies.  There was a widespread perception that conscripts should not be sent to run distant risks;  and though it was vigorously contended that received opinion among commentators now over-stressed public unwillingness to accept casualties, Kosovo might illustrate awkward trade-offs between the relative valuations placed on the lives of one’s own combatants and those of “collateral” sufferers on the other side.  In this as in other respects (such as the proper sense of “last resort” as a condition of using force) the new tasks of military power – frequently political coercion rather than neat victory – might call for a revisiting of some aspects of “just war” doctrine and related law.

The value and future of NATO, as incomparably the world’s most effective collective instrument for applying force, came up recurrently in our debate.  Non-NATO participants, while recognising perceptions in Russia and elsewhere of NATO adaptation as threatening, noted the Alliance’s value as standard-setter for joint military activity.  Might collective Europe emerge, in line with its declared aspirations, as a more effective force?  Sceptics suggested that NATO worked well largely because it had one clear leader, and queried moreover whether the will (including the will to spend more and to accept real interdependence) existed to surmount familiar difficulties about European collective capability;  but we heard optimism that encouraging advance was genuinely under way, for example in using existing resources better.  Germany was crucial in this, it was suggested, and though domestic willingness to see its forces used had moved ahead there might not yet be adequate public grasp of the need for reform in military structures and investment.

We were unsure how far the Kosovo experience should compel reassessment of what air forces could and could not be expected to do;  it had certainly underscored that there was ultimately no substitute for forces to control territory.  A brief comment suggested that the value of maritime forces had in recent years received a boost, but we did not plumb this.  We were wisely reminded that, in all three operating environments, we were by no means in an era where particular levels of conflict could be dependably excluded even if relative probabilities had shifted.  It followed that forces must still have at the root of their training and equipment the task (not least for deterrence) of being able to prevail in combat – other skills, however necessary, had to be additional (which perhaps further illustrated the future impracticality of reliance upon conscripts as general-purpose military assets.)

We dwelt little upon military hardware, other than to note the increasing breadth of what was technically feasible (for those who could afford it – possible awkwardness here for coalition operations) and the fact that, at least at the margin, there must be two-way interaction between this and the options available for decision on political action.  We mostly excused ourselves also from any extended re-run of basic debates about the future of nuclear weapons, though we paused inconclusively on concerns about the Russian nuclear armoury.  Most of this now lay outside the ambit of the current arms control agenda;  we heard some divergence of view about whether or not it remained well-safeguarded (as was surely in Russia’s own strong interest).

We encountered familiar transatlantic differences of emphasis on the merits of US plans – increasingly likely now to come to fruition – for ballistic missile defence at the national as well as the theatre level.  Proponents argued that what was envisaged need not be unnegotiable with Russia, which had after all set its own precedent, with the treaty on conventional forces in Europe, for re-shaping bargains which had ceased to fit changing reality.  But there remained expression of unease about the likely reactions – logical or not – of Russia and China, and the wider implications of such reactions.

Had the arms control agenda lost impetus, or relevance?  Some participants suspected so, and believed that the future lay more with realistic disarmament pursued without formal agreement;  others further argued that UNSCOM experience in Iraq had harmed the arms control concept (though reasons adduced diverged, some saying that the involvement of US intelligence had corrupted the effort, others that this had been essential to uncovering Iraqi breaches and that the real mischief lay in the refusal of major countries to act against undeniable such breaches).

We had taken a very wide canvas, and for all the richness of our discussion many areas scarcely received their due.  We recognised that dealing with biological and chemical weapons might prove to be an issue primarily involving non-state threats (and we noted the striking difference, perhaps attributable to differences in the perceived manageability of public response, as between US and European governmental willingness to address contingency planning against these).  One strand of opinion nevertheless held that the “state” threat of BW/CW should not be discounted, and that the international community should seek ways of undergirding the prospective outright prohibitions (inescapably of imperfect verifiability) of these weapons.

We gave, regrettably, even shorter shrift to the place of sanctions – often overrated and overused, so some thought, but not useless – and to topics like non-lethal weapons and the desirability of somehow constraining the vast proliferation of “light” arms.  Overall, we identified no new instruments of international security, nor conversely material possibility yet of completely discarding existing major categories;  but there was room for refinement and for more flexible use, and – so at least many of us hoped – for further shift of emphasis towards options focused on international prevention and non-military management.

This report 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 Lord Hurd of Westwell CH CBE PC
Formerly United Kingdom Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs


Professor Robert O’Neill AO
Professor of the History of War, All Souls College, Oxford

General John de Chastelain CH
Chairman, Independent International Commission on Decommissioning, Northern Ireland
Mr John G Cockell
Associate, Conflict Analysis and Development Unit, Department of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science
Mr Paul Heinbecker
Assistant Deputy Minister for Global and Security Policy, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
Professor Kim Nossal
Department of Political Science, McMaster Universtity, Ontario
Dr Gordon S Smith
Director, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria

Monsieur Jean-Marie Guéhenno
Senior Counsel, August & Debouzy;  formerly Ambassador to Western European Union
Monsieur François Heisbourg
Chairman, Geneva Centre for Security Policy

Ambassador Dr Tono Eitel
Professor of International Public Law;  formerly Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Dr Günter Joetze
President, Federal College for Security Policy Studies

HE Ambassador Yukio Satoh
Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations

Mr Gerald Hensley
Secretary of Defence
Professor Denis McLean CMG
Formerly Secretary of Defence

General Sir Rupert Smith KCB DSO OBE QGM
Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, Europe

Mr Anthony Aust CMG
Legal Counsellor, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
The Rt Hon Menzies Campbell CBE QC MP
Liberal Democrat spokesman on foreign affairs and defence
Mr Richard Clarke
Head of Policy Planning Staff, FCO
Mr Jon Day CBE
Director of Defence Policy, Ministry of Defence
Sir Marrack Goulding KCMG
Formerly Under Secretary-General, Political Affairs, United Nations
Professor Christopher Greenwood QC
Law Department, London School of Economics & Political Science
Mr Edward Mortimer
Chief Speechwriter to UN Secretary General
Professor Adam Roberts
Montague Burton Professor of International Relations, Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford
The Rt Hon George Robertson MP
Secretary of State for Defence
Mr Paul Schulte
Director, Proliferation and Arms Control Secretariat, Ministry of Defence
Field Marshal Lord Vincent GBE KCB DSO
Formerly Chairman, Military Committee, NATO HQ 
Sir John Weston KCMG
Formerly Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Dr Nicholas Wheeler
Senior Lecturer, Department of International Politics, University of Wales

Mr Ray Clark
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Army
Dr Hans Mark
Director, Defense Research and Engineering, Department of Defense
The Honorable Joseph S Nye Jr
Dean, John F Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
The Honorable Walter B Slocombe
Under Secretary of Defense (Policy), Department of Defense
Dr Gregory F Treverton
Acting President, Pacific Council on Internation Policy, RAND