The Alternative to War

Introducing FP's Peace Channel and PeaceGame, in collaboration with the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Peace is back.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's proposal to rid Syria of its chemical weapons -- whatever intentions lie behind it -- not only headed off the imminent use of military force by the United States, but also put the idea of a negotiated settlement back on the political agenda. The renewed focus on peace caught the U.S. administration by surprise. It also seemed to relieve most Americans. According to a September poll by the Washington Post and ABC News, 79 percent of Americans support the Russian plan. Only 30 percent support U.S. military strikes against the Syrian government.

At the same time, U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hasan Rouhani are testing the waters for a diplomatic solution to their countries' decades-long nuclear standoff. Whether their pinky-toe diplomacy will go any further than it has already remains to be seen, but for the first time in years, a peaceful resolution has entered the realm of the possible (though not yet the realm of the probable). Similarly, Israel and the Palestinians are back at the negotiating table in an effort that one regional leader characterized during conversations at the United Nations General Assembly meeting as "the most promising in the past 14 years."

The recent flurry of activity underscores how far diplomacy has been from the center of discussions of national security in recent memory. This is all the more striking in the aftermath of more than a decade of war during which the limitations of force became all too evident. Despite the thousands of lives and billions of dollars sacrificed during the war in Afghanistan, that country's future hinges on the success of a democratic political transition after Hamid Karzai steps down as Afghan president in 2014. Force alone is insufficient to bring about peace. Only legitimate elections, the avoidance of an economic collapse, and eventual talks with the Taliban can lay the foundation for sustainable security -- but such issues receive far less attention and certainly vastly fewer dollars than the military dimension.

In short, it is time to get serious about peace.

Imagine, for a moment, what foreign policy would look like if we did take peace seriously. Not peace as an unattainable utopian ideal. Not peace as a warm chestnut served up in speeches. Rather, what if we approached the achievement of peace with the same kind of time, energy, resources, and realism with which we approach preparing for wars? What if we viewed peace not as the cessation of hostilities, a coda to the serious work of projecting force, but rather as the achievement of the political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, and other factors that lead to stability, organic growth, and conflict resolution -- within rather than apart from a system of laws?

This is the premise of a new series of ventures by Foreign Policy in collaboration with the United States Institute of Peace. This series will include FP's new Peace Channel, a forum for cutting-edge analysis and reporting on how to build peace; PeaceGame, a counterpoint to Washington's traditional emphasis on war games; and an educational outreach initiative to engage young people who are the natural constituents of peace. Our goal is to reintroduce peace not only as an idea, but also as a pragmatic policy option. To do this, we need a forum to debate the merits of both policy and practice. We need expertise and new voices at the table to address the drivers of violence.

Peace is hard work, and we do not take these initiatives lightly. But war is costly, too, on almost every level.

According to the World Bank's 2011 report on conflict, security, and economic development, wars can wipe out an entire generation of economic progress. A typical civil war in a medium-sized country costs more than 30 years of GDP growth. It takes an average of 20 years for trade levels to recover after a major episode of violence.

The Institute for Economics and Peace estimates the cost of containing violence at $9.46 trillion in 2012, or roughly 11 percent of gross world product. This equates to nearly twice the value of the world's agricultural production, nearly five times the size of the global tourism industry, and almost 13 times the annual output of the global airlines industry. And none of this assesses the incalculable human costs of conflict -- not just the loss of lives and the dislocations, but the pain and suffering that manifestations of man's inhumanity to man brings.

Turning from costs to opportunities, we know that peace is possible even where it seems improbable. Who would have predicted that Kenya's 2013 election would have passed without significant violence after a 2007 election that resulted in hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands displaced? Who would have imagined that Rwanda (for all its continuing human rights violations and its pernicious role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo's civil war) would emerge from genocide to become one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa? Who would have foreseen Disney cruise ships making port calls in Cartagena, Colombia?

We know that nonviolent political movements are often more effective than violent ones. Scholars Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan demonstrate, for instance, that peaceful uprisings are twice as likely to succeed as violent ones. This occurs not just because peaceful uprisings have the moral high ground, but because nonviolent movements have proved more effective at undermining the pillars of strength on which oppressive regimes depend.

Taking peace seriously should not be confused with pacifism. Although some who endorse nonviolence are indeed pacifists, many others (we among them) recognize that there are times when the use or threat of force is essential to ensure security and protect interests. Peaceful approaches, however, can be more successful, more sustainable, and less costly. Violence also has a profound effect on human psychology and can harden opponents to negotiated solutions, even when such outcomes would serve the best interests of all parties involved.

Taking peace seriously would require significant change on the part of governments and the institutions that support them.

First, we would need to radically improve our understanding of peace and how to practically achieve it. Quality analysis and established best practices are available -- but they pale in comparison with what is available in the arena of hard power. Within the policy community, we would have to do some cultural heavy-lifting, because conflict resolution and post-conflict reconstruction still tend to be viewed -- in the same vein as development, the environment, women's rights, and advancing civil society -- as too soft and peripheral to sit at the grown-up table. (This second-class status persists even though it is clear these efforts are all crucial to preventing and ending conflict and preserving whatever they may have achieved.)

Second, we would need to invest more in promoting peaceful outcomes. Organizations like the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) and many others have staff working in combat zones every day, but their resources are a sand speck on a flea compared with those of their partners in the military. As FP has reported, the Pentagon spent $5 million last year on a television channel featuring shows like The Grill Sergeants, but the U.S. Congress spends only seven times that on USIP's activities in places such as Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Myanmar, Sudan, and South Sudan -- less than the cost of maintaining one light rifle infantry platoon in Afghanistan.

Finally, we need to change the way we talk about peace. Peace is not just the cessation of hostilities. Rather it must be viewed, if it is to be sustainable, as the achievement of conditions that promote the kind of opportunities that drive people to work within, rather than against, the economic and political systems in the countries in which they live. Peace is, as it happens, much bigger than it is often characterized as being, and this contributes to the fact that we so often fail to achieve lasting peace in zones of chronic conflict.

PeaceGame and the Peace Channel will advance these goals. PeaceGame will do so twice a year, bringing world leaders, experts, and students together in a scenario setting to tackle some of the toughest problems of peacemaking that we face -- once each spring in the Middle East, once each fall in the United States. The Peace Channel will do so every week by presenting news and analysis linked to the various elements of peace -- negotiations, post-conflict reconstruction, peacekeeping, and related issues of development -- including regular contributions from FP writers and editors and from experts at USIP. In addition, starting next year, we will conduct an annual contest seeking the best ideas from graduate and undergraduate students studying these issues -- with the winners invited to join and observe the PeaceGame events.

Along with the contribution of our own resources to these events, FP is pleased that some elements of this comprehensive program, to which we are committing for an initial period of three years, are being underwritten courtesy of the government of the United Arab Emirates. As with all our undertakings, FP is solely responsible for the content of our undertakings, but with an effort this important, we are also exceptionally grateful for the support to do it right.

Watch the Peace Channel for more information about PeaceGame and related programs. It will be part of FP's newly redesigned website, launching in beta version on Oct. 11 and for all the world to see on Oct. 28.

Abid Katib/Getty Images



Has Obama given up on the Asia pivot?

On Oct. 11, 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote an article in Foreign Policy titled "America's Pacific Century." The article laid out the theory and practice behind the Obama administration's "pivot" to Asia, an "essential," strategic rebalancing of U.S. focus toward the Pacific.

But what a difference two years makes. On Wednesday, the White House announced Obama's decision to cancel the last two days of his Asia trip, which was supposed to be a six-day swing through the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, that the White House described as part of Obama's "ongoing commitment to increase U.S. political, economic and security engagement with the Asia Pacific." While this was precipitated by logistical obstacles created by the U.S. government shutdown, we can't help but note the irony: on the two-year anniversary of Clinton's article, Obama will not be celebrating and strengthening relationships with U.S. partners in Asia. In truth, there's not much to celebrate.

Two years after the pivot, U.S. influence in Asia has diminished. China's growing military presence and deep U.S. defense budget cuts threaten the longstanding preponderance of American military might in the region. The United States has not signed any new free trade agreements with Asian nations since Obama came to office; nor has it reached any significant diplomatic achievements that could serve to demonstrate and reinforce its role as a Pacific power.

The problem with the pivot is not one of strategy: More robust U.S. engagement is indeed required to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise as trade links throughout the Pacific expand. And the United States needs to channel China's ambitions to ensure they drive growth rather than instability. But like much of the Obama administration's foreign policy, the Asia pivot has been more promise than follow-through: a thin veil of spin masking a deep lack of substance.

At the outset, basing the pivot on a false premise undermined its credibility with U.S. allies.  President Obama's unfortunate and arrogant habit of denigrating his predecessor George W. Bush's eight years in office extended to his Asia policy. The whole notion that the United States needed to "rebalance" in favor of greater engagement with Asia implied that Bush had abandoned the region.

This is untrue. Bush improved the U.S. relationship with Asia-Pacific nations. In 2007, he signed the world's largest bilateral free trade agreement, with South Korea. He reached an historic nuclear cooperation pact with India in 2008. Bush forged close personal relationships with many Asian leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. And by initiating the Strategic Economic Dialogue with China in 2006, Bush paved the way for closer economic relations between the two countries.

The significant innovations and successes of his predecessor show just how little Obama's pivot has accomplished.   

On the military front, the Obama administration has routinely mentioned a Nov. 2011 agreement to cycle 2,500 Marines through Australia as an example of its expanding military footprint in Asia. But that contingent is mere symbolism amid the 130,000 U.S. troops already stationed across the Pacific -- and it does not represent an overall troop increase, since it will come from 9,000 troops being redeployed from Okinawa. As a result, this agreement did little to reassure allies -- but still managed to elicit Beijing's ire. In December 2011, Geng Yansheng, a spokesman of China's Defense Ministry, criticized the Australia plan, saying "we believe this is all a manifestation of a Cold War mentality."

More ominously, $1.2 trillion in defense cuts over the next 10 years will overtake the Australian agreement and undermine the America's ability to project military power into the Pacific. The cuts will lay off 120,000 troops and likely force the retirement of three aircraft carrier battle groups and ground a third of our combat wings.

On the economic front, Obama has been largely ineffectual. He has failed to corral China's flagrant theft of U.S. intellectual property, or curb China's manipulation of its currency.  He's failed to initiate talks with any Asian countries over new bilateral trade agreements. And it now appears as though negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would be America's largest free-trade pact, may not meet their December target.

Clinton, Obama's first secretary of state, at least paid lip service to a U.S. commitment to Asia -- but her replacement Secretary of State John Kerry may not even do that. During his February confirmation hearings,  Kerry questioned whether the pivot and its military ramp-up are "critical yet," and voiced concern over how Beijing would react to an increased U.S. presence. With Kerry having shown far more interest in the Middle East than Asia, the pivot may be over before it ever really began. 

Such a sudden lurch away from a policy that was so recently the fulcrum of our global strategy would seriously damage our standing in Asia. To mitigate this damage, the administration should take a number of steps. First, it should prioritize reversing the sequester's military budget cuts, in order to invest in the naval assets necessary to ensure the United States plays a central role in Asian security. Second, even if he misses the December deadline, Obama should not let momentum behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership falter. He must insulate the U.S. negotiating position from his political base's protectionist demands -- pressure that has slowed trade talks in the past.

Finally, the administration should avoid reverting back to the soft rhetoric of "strategic reassurance" -- its initial, ill-defined 2009 policy toward China -- which Clinton seemed to think meant allowing U.S. interest in human rights take a backseat to climate change in relations with Beijing. That conciliatory posture shook the confidence of allies who depend on the United States to check China's more coercive tendencies. 

Obama may not have meant for the curtailment of his trip to be a message to U.S. allies in Asia. But this is the third time Obama has cut an Asia trip short because of domestic concerns. We support Obama's Nov. 2011 announcement that in the Asia-Pacific region, the United States "is all in." But we're still waiting for him to make his move.