SPEECH BY FORMER PRESIDENT F W DE KLERK
TO THE UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA
17 APRIL 2007
BRIDGING THE GAP BETWEEN GLOBALISATION AND ISOLATION
AMERICAN LEADERSHIP IN A GLOBALISED WORLD
If the world has become a globalised village, there can be little doubt that – for the time being – the United States is its Mayor and – its Chief of Police. America holds these positions – not because it has been elected to them – but because of its unchallenged military, economic and technological pre-eminence.
America’s role as de facto global leadership bears with it heavy burdens and responsibilities:
- The United States has to spend a disproportionate share of its national wealth on the upkeep of its global military capability;
- its pre-eminence makes it a target for disaffected groups all over the world. Osama bin Laden would not have targeted the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon if they were not military and commercial symbols of the richest and most powerful country in the world;
- The price of pre-eminence is, and always had been, unpopularity. America must endure the jealousy of some of its oldest allies, many of whom delight in taking pot-shots at her policies, while sheltering beneath her strategic umbrella;
- the United States is likely to be criticised, whatever it does. If it acts to enforce United Nations resolutions on Iraq, it is accused of imperialism. If it fails to intervene in other crises – such as the current conflict in Darfur – it is slated for being insensitive to the plight of Africans. To quote Bart Simpson: “You’re damned if you do and your damned if you don’t.”
Unfortunately, this is the price that must be paid for being the only remaining super-power. It is a price that was well understood by other pre-eminent powers – from the Romans two thousand years ago to the British during the nineteenth century.
How then should America react to this burden? What challenges will confront it as global Mayor and chief of police?
When the United States first ascended the stage of world power at the beginning of the last century, President Teddy Roosevelt’s approach was to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick.’ He said that by so doing America would go far. He was right.
The big stick is undoubtedly necessary.
After the terrorist outrage of 11 September 2001 it was essential for the United States to use its big stick against international terrorism.
- It was right and proper to overthrow the Taliban regime which had provided the main operational base for the terrorist attacks against America.
- It was essential to put extreme pressure on any country providing a safe haven for Al Qaeda;
- It was equally important to launch a global campaign to track down terrorists wherever they might be hiding.
In this, America’s ‘big stick’ played an essential role.
But what of Iraq? On the one hand, the reality is that if it had not been for the resolute action of the United States, Saddam Hussein would still be in power in Bagdad. He would still be doing everything in his power to deceive the international community and he would still be repressing the Iraqi people. All of the hand-wringing of some of America’s allies and all of the resolutions of the United Nations would have meant nothing to him. There can be no doubt about one thing: Iraq, the Middle-East and the world are better places after the destruction of his brutal regime.
All these things are true.
But it is equally important to remember Teddy Roosevelt’s advice ‘to speak softly’. Military force has an essential place in international affairs – but at the end of the day it cannot create lasting solutions.
Military force also carries with it immense risks.
It is much easier to start wars than to end them. Also, the outcome of war is always uncertain. The Austrians, the Russians and the Germans did not think at the beginning of the First World War that the result would be the destruction of their dynasties. When Napoleon marched his Grand Army into Russia in 1812 he did not foresee the disaster that would soon befall him. History is full of similar examples – which have persuaded wise leaders to resort to war only as the very last option.
In the same way one should think very carefully about beginning military adventures far from ones shores with few sure allies in very volatile neighbourhoods.
Playing the role of the global policeman brings with it many burdens and tribulations and little thanks. The imperial role also requires iron will and force – qualities that are often inconsistent with democratic values.
The Romans, who also ventured into the Middle-East and who stayed around for hundreds of years, understood the problems and requirements of empire. These are vividly illustrated at Masada, the mountain top in the Judean desert where Jewish Zealots made their last stand after their failed rebellion against Rome in 63 AD. The lesson of Masada is not the undoubted courage of the Zealot defenders – who finally committed communal suicide rather than surrender to the Romans: it is the implacable will of the Romans. Rather than allow a few hundred Zealots to defy them, they sent a whole legion into the desert and besieged Masada for two years. One can still see the lines of their camps and the walls they built around the mountain. Eventually, when they realised that Masada could not be taken by any other means, they built a gigantic ramp several hundred feet high against the weakest point of the mountain rampart – which they were eventually able to use for their final assault.
Needless to say, the treatment that they would have meted out to the Zealots – had they ever succeeded in capturing them – would not have looked too good on CNN.
The question is whether the United States can muster such will over an extended period to promote its global interests? Does it have the will to remain involved in long, difficult and expensive overseas ground conflicts for indefinite periods?
That is the difference between the United States and former global powers like Britain and Rome.
There are clear limitations to the use of the ‘big stick’. It is essential to deal with clear and present threats – when it can be wielded swiftly, accurately and effectively – but it is problematical when it requires long, costly and unpopular operations on foreign soil.
That is why the United States – in its global leadership role – should also consider the necessity of ‘speaking softly’.
‘Speaking softly’ requires a multilateral approach to international crises. It does not mean that the international community must forgo the option of using the big stick; but it does mean that if it is finally used there will less criticism and a greater chance of success.
The ‘Speaking softly’ option also recognises that long term solutions can be achieved only by addressing the root causes of conflict – poverty, repression; ignorance and fanaticism.
It is not by accident that Afghanistan, the country that Osama bin Laden chose as his refuge, was also one of the poorest, most tyrannical, repressive and conflict-ridden societies in the world.
The long-term way to combat terrorism must then include tackling the roots of poverty, repression and conflict. The challenge to world leaders is to address the following priorities:
- the first is the scourge of poverty – poverty arising from the failure of some parts of the world to join in the global march to prosperity;
- the second is the promotion of democracy and human rights; and
- the third is the peaceful resolution of the conflicts that continue to lie at the root of so much instability and human suffering.
We are living through one of the most profound developments in human history, the process that we have come to call globalisation – or world integration. During the past decades we have begun to lay the foundations of a new supranational global community. One of the central implications of this new community is that none of us – and particularly not the leading powers – can any longer ignore problems and grievances in distant countries. Non-performing economies cannot be ignored and relegated to a basket-case category outside of the mainstream of global commerce; and bloody crises and conflicts in distant societies deserve much more than mere thirty-second segments on the evening news.
In the new millennium it will be less and less possible to ignore the stark reality that a large part of the human population still lives in unacceptable poverty, misery and repression.
Some will argue that there has been progress; that the portion of the world’s population living in absolute poverty has declined from two thirds to one third in the past forty-five years. However, fact is that the total number of people living below the poverty line has stayed about the same – at about 2 billion – because the world’s population has more than doubled since 1960. Even more serious is the fact that the disparity poorest and richest fifths of the world’s nations has widened from 30 to 1 in 1960 to 78 to 1 in 1994. In 2004 the per capita income of the richest OECD countries measured in US$ was 96 times higher than the per capita income of the least developed countries.
In a shrinking world, the problems of one region will inevitably become the problems of other regions and ultimately of the whole world:
- Diseases like AIDS – which first appeared in Africa – do not observe international boundaries;
- As we saw a few years ago, economic crises in emerging markets can have serious negative consequences for the whole of the global economy; and
- Conflicts and instability in distant societies can reverberate throughout the whole international community. The attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001 brought this fact home with chilling clarity. Who would have thought that religious fanatics hiding in caves in distant Afghanistan could possibly pose a threat to the hi-tech nerve centre of the world’s most powerful economy in down-town New York?
- Whether we live in the first world or the third world, we all share the same fragile global environment. The decimation of tropical forests and the extinction of animal and plant species will have long-term consequences for the whole planet.
In our globalised society such problems and conflicts will sooner or later breach international borders and affect the interests of us all. It is equally true that the problems confronting a globalised world can no longer be dealt with unilaterally by any single country – regardless of how powerful or rich that country might be. Problems of global development, global security and protection of the global environment can be dealt with only if the international community works in concert. The United States can – and must – play a pivotal leadership role in this process – but it cannot achieve success alone.
Under its leadership and the leadership of other prominent countries the international community should develop the policies, the resources and the will to tackle the root causes of global problems.
We need to recognise the symbiosis between stability, prosperity and freedom: Economic prosperity creates the environment in which democracy and free institutions can grow – and they, in turn, help to promote the stability that is essential for economic growth.
There is an undeniable link between peace, development, growth and democracy. Only three of the countries in the world with per capita incomes of less than US $ 1,000 are full democracies, while nearly all of the twenty richest countries – those with per capita incomes above US $ 15 000 – are democracies (the exceptions being a number of oil-rich states).
There is also a link between levels of development and peace. Eleven of the thirty poorest countries – including Afghanistan – have in recent years been wracked by devastating civil wars. On the other hand, none of the twenty richest countries currently experience serious internal conflict.
How then can we achieve this symbiosis between economic development, stability, democracy and a vibrant civil society? Once again I only have time for a few guidelines.
In the sphere of the economy, the developed countries need to help to promote economic growth in the least developed societies.
- More attention needs to be given to the debt burden of the world’s 41 highly indebted poor countries – 34 of which are in Africa. Some steps are now being taken by the IMF to address this problem, but more needs to be done.
- Steps should also be taken to increase the third world’s share in global trade. For example, Africa, with almost one-sixth the world’s population accounts for only one fiftieth of global trade. Third World exports need more favourable access to first world markets. The unacceptable reality is that the world’s most developed nations spend US$ 280 billion on subsidies to their own farmers and only US$56 billion on foreign aid. What is worse is that first world’s agricultural subsidies often make it impossible for developing countries to compete in global markets for agricultural products – the one area where they have a competitive advantage.
- The poor countries also require higher levels of foreign and domestic investment. They have to achieve at least 5% per annum growth levels if they are to break out of the grip of poverty. And they are simply not getting the investment required to achieve this.
The international community also needs to continue its efforts to promote democracy and the rule of law in third world countries.
Twenty of the 45 countries of sub-Saharan Africa are presently – or have recently – been involved in wars. Much of this instability can be ascribed to the lack of democratic mechanisms and the absence of the rule of the law.
- The international community should do more to encourage third world countries to proceed with democratic reforms and to protect the basic rights of their citizens.
- It should also not hesitate to act against regimes that grossly violate human rights and that subvert democracy. The Government of Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a recent prime example.
- It needs to adopt a much more proactive stance in defusing potential conflicts and in promoting the peaceful resolution of disputes.
One of the fundamental causes of conflict throughout the world lies in the inability of different ethnic and cultural groups to coexist peacefully within the same societies. In the post Cold War world, conflict seldom takes place between countries. In 2000, the first year of the new millennium, only two of the 25 significant conflicts that afflicted the world were between countries: the rest were within countries – primarily between ethnic, cultural and religious communities. The present or recent conflicts in the Middle East, former Yugoslavia, southern Asia, Rwanda, Burundi, Sri Lanka, East Timor and Kashmir all bear bloody testimony to this fact.
The current conflict in the Middle East is, unfortunately, a good example of both the challenge that the international community faces in this regard and of the risks that such conflict can hold for the entire world.
- The simmering tension between Israel and the Palestinians threatens the stability of the entire Middle Eastern region;
- It can affect oil production and can cause a major international economic crisis;
- The tension is causing enormous strains in relations between Moslems throughout the world and the West – and in particular, the United States.
- The passions that it has unleashed have created the environment in which fanaticism and terrorism can flourish.
For all of these reasons the United States, as the pre-eminent world power, cannot afford to allow the conflict to spiral further out of control. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, peace in the Middle East is too important to the key interests of the whole international community to be left solely to the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The Israelis and the Palestinians are simply going to have to find some way of learning to live together. This means that both sides will have to take risks; both sides will have to make painful compromises; both sides will have to accept that military force, and suicide terrorist bombings will only accelerate their downward spiral into deepening conflict. At the end of that conflict, after immense and unnecessary suffering, they will still have to negotiate.
Although the situation looks desperate, I do not believe that it is hopeless. I recall the dreadful period that South Africa went through between 1984 and 1987. We also, were confronted by our own version of the intefada; we also resorted to draconian security measures to restore order; we also experienced growing international isolation and condemnation.
But we pulled back from the brink. We discovered that there was another way: that it was possible to solve our long-standing and bitter dispute through peaceful means. In the process, we learned the following lessons:
- We could not dictate with whom we would negotiate. Whether we liked it or not we had to sit eye-ball to eye-ball with people and parties that had been our bitter enemies;
- We found that the negotiations should be as inclusive as possible. For that reason we invited all parties with significant support to join the process.
- All sides had to take enormous risks;
- All sides had to make very painful compromises;
- All sides had to accommodate the reasonable concerns and interests of others.
Finally we emerged with a new constitution which guarantees the individual and collective rights of all our people and which is enabling us to live together with one another in peace and co-operation.
If we could do it, the Israelis and the Palestinians should also be able to do it. The United States and the rest of the international community can play a major role in this process
- by urging the parties to cease all violent acts and to return to the negotiations;
- by insisting that both sides should make the concessions that will be essential to reach a just and last peace; and
- by giving cast-iron guarantees that the agreement that the parties reach will be honoured by all.
The most eloquent response to global terrorism would be to achieve a settlement that would ensure the security of Israel, living in harmony with a viable Palestinian state.
These, I believe, are the priorities that confront the United States in its global leadership role. The United States should take the lead in
- tackling the problem of under-development and continuing third world poverty;
- in promoting conditions in which democracy and basic human rights will be enjoyed by all mankind; and
- in finding peaceful solutions to the conflicts that continue to afflict the world – and particularly inter-community conflicts and the impasse between Israel and Palestine.
The United States, as the last remaining super-power, will inevitably have to play a disproportionate role in addressing these challenges. It is part of the burden of world leadership. However, there is, perhaps, only one thing more burdensome than being the most powerful country in the world – and that is, no longer being the most powerful country in the world!
World leadership is a difficult business:
- it requires huge expense and will to maintain a military capability with global reach;
- it requires patience to endure the jealousy and criticism of much of the rest of the world; and
- it requires perseverance to address the underlying causes of global conflict.
Above all, it requires firm and continuing belief in, and commitment to, the ideals for which your country stands.
It should be remembered that most of the great civilisations declined and disappeared from the world stage because they lost belief in the ideals that inspired their birth and growth. In shouldering the burden of world leadership Americans should not forget why their country became so pre-eminent in the first place. The key to addressing its global role may be for the United States to resist the temptation of becoming absorbed with what it is accused of doing wrong. It should perhaps redouble its commitment to the things that it has done right:
- the United States is one of the freest and most democratic countries that the world has ever seen. Many other countries have liberal democratic constitutions, but the freedom of their citizens is hemmed in on every side by bureaucratic and ‘nanny-state’ restrictions.
- in the United States there are few restrictions on individual entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and, by so doing, to contribute greatly to the common wealth of the country.
- your country still nurtures a healthy spirit of free competition – not only between individuals and companies, but also between cities and states competing for investment.
- all this has contributed to your excellence in scientific discovery and technological innovation and to your economic dynamism.
In the final analysis, the greatness of the United States does not lie in the undoubted strength of its armies, its navies and its air forces: it lies in the values and ideals of personal and economic freedom that it represents. If it can remain true to these ideals it will succeed in carrying out its historic global leadership role.