Jul 30, 2014News

(BGF) –  On July 21, 2014, Governor Michael Dukakis, Chairman of Boston Global Forum made a speech at the International Political Science Association Annual Conference, Montreal, and proposed six things to do to build a world at peace and not perpetual war.

Please read it below.

Governor Dukakis 1

(Photo: Governor Michael Dukakis, Chairman of Boston Global Forum , at the Boston Global Forum conference on July 2 , 2014)

Montreal. July 21, 2014.


“We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient– that we are only six percent of the world’s population- that we cannot impose our will upon the other ninety-four percent of mankind– that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity– and that, therefore, there cannot be an American solution to every world problem”

                                                          John F. Kennedy

 “Trying to eliminate Saddam…. would have incurred incalculable human and political costs…. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. Furthermore, we had been consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations” mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response which we hoped to establish.”

                                                            George H.W. Bush

        “ The only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.

                                                            Harry S. Truman

For several years I have been raising questions about U.S. foreign and national security policy. In fact, I was raising them in the presidential campaign of 1988, but I did a pretty poor job of articulating them and getting myself elected at the same time.

A lot has happened since 1988. The Cold War ended shortly thereafter, and while I didn’t think George H.W. Bush was a particularly good domestic president, he understood what was going on in the world; successfully negotiated an end to the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev; and called for the creation of what he called a new world order.

He meant a world in which, with the strong support of the U.S, international law and international institutions would be strengthened; developing countries could look to the international community for support in transforming themselves into increasingly democratic and prosperous places; and the U.S. would no longer be required to run around the world acting like an international policeman.

I thought he demonstrated that belief impressively in the Gulf War. Jim Baker made at least seven trips to the Middle East to win support for concerted U.N. backed action against Saddam’s unprovoked aggression against Kuwait. To a remarkable degree the world community supported that action, the vast majority of Arab nations among them. And he was very clear about why he would not respond to his critics on the right who kept pushing him to go all the way to Baghdad and get rid of Saddam Hussein and his government.

“ Going in,” he said,” and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish.”

Too bad his son didn’t read his father’s memoirs. We could have avoided a lot of trouble and saved thousands of lives and at least two trillion dollars– the ultimate cost of the Iraq war. And we might have avoided what now appears to be the near dissolution of Iraq.

But George W. Bush isn’t the only person who didn’t understand what his father meant when he talked about a new world order. In fact, there are very few people who are discussing it these days. Instead, we seem to be caught up in a world of new Cold War scenarios, 19th century like military alliances, and a failure to take advantage of the extraordinary opportunity the elder Bush described for us– a world in which force would be increasingly ruled out as a means for settling disputes between and among countries and the rules for doing so would be enforced by strong and credible international peacekeeping institutions.

I wish I could tell you that that world has taken shape and evolved and grown over the past twenty-five years, but virtually the opposite too often has taken place. Invading Iraq had to be one of the dumbest things my country has ever done, and the consequences have not only been predictable– the policy itself is in ashes, and so is the pipe dream of a unified and democratic Iraq.

But that was by no means the first major military or diplomatic intervention since World War II that has fallen flat on its face. Iran and the U.S. might well be solid allies today if we hadn’t overthrown the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953. The CIA-led overthrow of the democratically elected Guatemalan government the following year caused untold suffering and heartache, especially for that country’s indigenous people.

After buying into the Eisenhower administration’s plans to invade Cuba in 1961 and watching them fail, JFK asked himself,“ How could I have been so stupid?” Now we know that two years later he authorized the secret resumption of talks with Castro designed to lead to normal and peaceful relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Had he not been assassinated, the U.S. embargo which has now gone on for over fifty years would probably have been lifted and over time a very different Cuba would have emerged.

The list of failed American interventions– or, for that matter, Soviet or Russian interventions– goes on and on. Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Chile, Lebanon. Libya- one after another with sad and often tragic consequences.

And whoever the genius was who convinced policy makers in Turkey, France, the White House and members of the U.S. Congress that active intervention on behalf of this or that rebel group in Syria made sense should be peremptorily fired. Didn’t they understand what was likely to happen? And when the U.N. Secretary-General asked Kofi Annan to mediate the dispute when it first began, and Annan skillfully was able to put together a sixteen nation conference , including Syria, committed to the peaceful and democratic transformation of Syria without Assad, we refused to attend. Why? Because Iran, without whom there cannot be peaceful resolution of the Syrian situation, had been invited as one of the sixteen by Annan. Two days later, Annan quit.

Nearly three years later John Kerry tried to put that same kind of conference together, but it was too late. 120,000 dead; three million refugees; Syrian cities in ruins, and the worst of the rebel groups not only growing in strength in Syria but in the process of trying to put together its own country straddling what are now Syria and Iraq. The UN Secretary-General renewed the invitation to Iran to attend, but the main Syrian opposition forces said they would not attend unless Iran unequivocally committed to Assad’s removal, and the Secretary-General had to withdraw his invitation. Predictably, the conference achieved nothing.

More recently, we seem to be heading right down a Cold War path in Asia and the Pacific. I am still trying to figure out what the “pivot to Asia” was all about. We keep telling the Chinese that it really isn’t about them when it clearly IS about them and seems to reflect a fear that…. What? That they are an increasingly powerful country? That they will soon have the largest domestic economy in the world? That they will be in a position to assert themselves in the Pacific?

At the present time, we have at least six countries, including China, Japan, the two Koreas, Vietnam, and the Philippines, arguing over who owns what island in the South and East China seas. The U.S. has jumped in on behalf of our “allies “to do… what? Why isn’t the international community urging all of these countries to take their territorial disputes to the World Court of the Law of the Sea Tribunals. Isn’t that what they were created to do? It certainly beats our announcement that we are putting a drone base in Japan. Or Japan’s announcement that it has “ reinterpreted” its constitution to permit it to rearm and take more aggressive military action in the Pacific.

In the meantime, we complain that the Chinese are hacking into American as well as other national or private sector information systems while we are doing precisely the same thing and are now well on our way to spending billions on eleven cyber warfare teams that will presumably be able to wage cyber warfare against the Chinese and others in ways that are almost certainly going to set off an international cyber war. Do we want this? Is it likely to contribute to a more peaceful world? Why aren’t we calling for an international conference designed to do everything it can to stop a cyber arms race before it becomes the newest international battlefield?

Moreover, these efforts are not limited just to the Pacific theater. At last count there are some 837 American military bases in 150 countries– and this more than twenty-five years after the Cold War officially ended. One of our newest military frontiers is apparently Africa. We now have an African military command under a major-general. Its headquarters is in Stuttgart, Germany. It has a thousand employees there, and it is currently spending nearly a half a billion dollars in more than fifteen African countries– many of them headed by dictators– on the equipping and training of African armies.

It reminds me of what we were doing in Latin America in the 1950’s and 1960’s when we were supporting a flock of Latin-American dictators at a time when there were only three genuinely democratic governments in all of Central and South America. In fact, it was so bad that Fred Harris, the U.S. Senator from Oklahoma at the time, commented that all you needed in South America was a uniform and a pair of sunglasses, and if you told us you were anti-communist, we would support you politically and militarily. And support them we did– Batista, Somoza, Jimenez, Odria, Pinochet and more–not exactly a democratic hall of fame. They did little to stem the march of Communism, but they did a pretty good job of suppressing the liberties of their own people– with help from us.

All of this has cost us trillions of dollars that could have been used to do great things at home and to help developing nations abroad. Iraq and Afghanistan alone will end up costing us somewhere in the neighborhood of three trillion dollars– and we still haven’t fullt tallied the costs in those countries as they both appear to be on the verge of falling apart after years of war financed by the U.S.

Now, I understand that there is a threat that faces us and that we must take seriously– and that is the kind of terrorism that seems to have developed primarily but not exclusively in the Middle East. I am not naïve. I spent sixteen months of my life as a young American soldier seven miles from the DMZ in Korea, and while I was fortunate to arrive there after the truce with North Korea had been signed, I was very much aware of what the Cold War at the time meant and what it required of us and our allies.

But that was then, and this is now. The Pacific is a relatively peaceful place these days. What the international community should be doing is to help calm the waters and bring important international institutions into the picture that can create a framework for peace and security for all of the Pacific nations just as the EU has brought peace and relative stability to a part of the world that had known nothing but war since the beginning of human history.

Russia is no longer the Soviet Union, and while Vladimir Putin is not going to win the ACLU’s man of the year award, he is at the very least holding together a country whose fragmentation could be highly destabilizing—and he, too, is facing the constraints of a new Europe in which the idea of a full scale war on the Continent is unthinkable.

In the meantime, virtually the entire Western Hemisphere is now under the control of mostly democratic governments, and while one can be troubled by what has been going on in Venezuela lately, the idea currently being pushed by some members of Congress that we should impose an economic boycott on the country because we don’t agree with the guy that the Venezuelan voters elected in their most recent election is, in my judgment, both absurd politically and a violation of international law. We are members of the Organization of American States and are bound by its charter. That charter is clear. No member state has the right to interfere directly or indirectly in the internal affairs of another member state.

If there are concerns about the state of democracy in Venezuela, the OAS is perfectly capable of handling it, and while that process can be frustrating at times, it certainly beats embargos that are both a violation of the OAS charter and are bound to fail as they have so miserably in Cuba.

Even in the case of terrorism, it seems clear that pouring billions and trillions into F-35s and super carriers is utterly useless if your goal is to stop and defeat terrorism. Terrorists are not afraid of F-35s and super carriers. If we are going to stop them, it will require tough and collaborative international police work that penetrates these organizations and breaks them up. That work is not easy. It requires persistence and tenacity, but investing billions in elaborate weapons systems will do little to stop them.

What, then, might be a sound policy which the U.S. and other nations might adopt to build a peaceful world that increasingly rejects perpetual war as either a necessary or effective basis for creating a world at peace?

First, such a policy must embrace the United Nations and its constituent agencies as the best hope for creating a framework for a new and more peaceful world. Yes, the UN has its limitations, but we won’t help it to become the institution many of us hoped it would become when it was created in San Francisco in 1945 if we keep ignoring it. I had the opportunity recently to read the testimony at a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the subject of problems in the Pacific, particularly with respect to China. Senators spoke. A number of presumably expert witnesses spoke and were questioned by committee members. Not once during that committee session did the words United Nations, the International Court of Justice or the Law of the Sea treaty ever cross the lips of anybody.

Instead, it was all about who was doing what to whom; who was allied with whom; and what the U.S. was going to do with China, a country that has bought billions of U.S. bonds, ships billions worth of goods to the U.S., and now has nearly a quarter of a million of its young people going to school in the U.S. every year. And when the president of China decided to make a visit to Seoul, Korea recently, American commentators to a person interpreted this as an effort on his part to weaken or destroy our longtime alliance with South Korea.

Nobody seemed to suggest that stronger and closer ties between China and South Korea might lead to a less difficult and ultimately more responsible non-nuclear North Korea– or that a China that engages with its neighbors in a peaceful and constructive way while being urged by the international community to submit its territorial claims to the World Court might make a real contribution to a world that settles its differences peacefully and rejects the notion that we are forever doomed to perpetual hostility and conflict.

Please note that at no time during this talk have I suggested that my country abandon its leadership role in world affairs. Nothing would be worse that a retreat to fortress America. I am a committed internationalist. I want my country to play a strong and constructive role in making this world a better place for our children and grandchildren. But I want that role to be one that contributes to a world at peace, and that won’t happen unless we work every day to create the kinds of laws and institutions that can keep the peace and will make it unnecessary for the U.S. to believe that it has to be deeply involved in every dispute on the planet.

It is a world in which the U.S. will no longer have to spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year on weapons of war that, I repeat, are largely irrelevant to the real threats we do face and that could make the U.S. and the world a much better place..

In the meantime, despite all the sound and fury, especially in the Middle East and eastern Europe, this is probably the most peaceful world that Kitty and I have ever lived in. Remember: we were the children of the Great Depression. Our childhood was defined by World War II. Our teen and college years were dominated by the Korean war and the McCarthy-inspired hysteria of the Cold War.

Our early years in politics were bound up in the battle over what we were doing in Vietnam– and it is hard to describe to those of you who were not alive or at least politically conscious at that time how divided the U.S. was over that war. In fact, good patriotic Americans left their country to come to Canada because they refused to serve in it, and the hundreds of thousands of American soldiers that came home from it– 55,000 did not– were not greeted with kisses and flowers.

And no sooner had we settled down to try to enjoy the peace dividend that we expected the end of the Cold War to produce when we elected– or, rather, the Electoral College elected- a president who not only didn’t read his father’s memoirs but forgot something Harry Truman used to say– “the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know.”

Yes, we have serious and continuing conflict in the Middle East, and that, regrettably, will continue for some time. When the British and the French decided to create the map of the post-Ottoman Middle East, they didn’t spend much time thinking about religion or ethnicity. In fact, it was oil and the spoils of war that shaped new map, but trying to intervene militarily in the Middle East or any other place without broad international agreement just won’t work. What may work is the process that the Secretary-General attempted to put in place in Syria with Kofi Annan, and it is that kind of process that deserves the support of sensible people around the globe.

Yes, the international community has real issues with Iran, issues that in my judgment would have never arisen, had we let the Iranian people develop their country and their democracy back in the 1950’s. I think it is significant, however, that virtually the entire international community, including Russia and China, are involved in trying to resolve the issue of nuclear proliferation in Iran, and it appears that we have already made significant progress on that front as well as in convincing Syria to get rid of its chemical and nuclear weapons—no small achievement..

Iran, by the way, has called for turning the Middle East into a nuclear free zone. Of course, that would mean that Israel would have to give up its nuclear weapons, but if the U.N. could effectively enforce such an agreement, wouldn’t it make a whole lot of sense? We say we are committed to eliminate nuclear weapons totally. Why not start in the Middle East before some of these extremist groups get them and begin to threaten to use them?

North Korea is obviously a difficult and often incomprehensible regime to deal with and one that is dangerously isolated, but China has already called for a resumption of six power talks. Rather than an effort to damage U.S. ties with South Korea, the Chinese president’s trip to Seoul seemed to me to be a strong message from him to North Korea. Continued good relations between the U.S. and China is one of the keys to a gradual assumption of national and international responsibility by North Korea, and we shouldn’t forget it.

So, to sum up, how do we build a world at peace and not perpetual war?

— First, we must work hard strengthen the UN and its peacekeeping agencies and missions.

— Second, we must use existing international peacekeeping institutions like the World Court and regional organizations like ASEAN, the EU, the OAS and others as an important part of that peacekeeping architecture.

— Third, we must continue to pursue the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons– a goal already endorsed not only by the president of the United States but by world leaders all over the globe and Col War veterans like George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, and Sam Nunn.

— Fourth, we should call for an international conference to stop cyber warfare before it begins mushrooming around us and costing us additional billions we don’t have or could be far better used on important priorities at home or across the globe.

— Fifth, we must work hard on our relationship with China and make sure that we don’t blunder inadvertently into another cold war we don’t want and don’t need.

— Sixth, we should focus lesser like on newer international challenges which cry out for strong international cooperation and leadership. Developing and adopting international occupational safety and health standards which will make tragedies likes the ones we recently witnessed in Bangladesh a thing of the past. Working hard to continue to improve international public health in ways that have already produced remarkable gains. And, above all, working to make sure climate change does not destroy the very planet on which we live.

Needless to say, very few of these ideas are original with me. Most of them have been discussed more ably and more effectively by others with far more diplomatic experience than I have. What is needed now is a serious and sustained effort to make them work. The future of our planet depends on it.

Above all, let’s try to heed the words of that young and dynamic U.S. president who was born in a house not far for where Kitty and I have lived for the past fifty-one years..

“What kind of peace do we seek,” Jack Kennedy asked in that speech at American University in November of 1961.

“Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war.. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave, but a genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life worth living. Not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.

“The pursuit of peace,” he said,” is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war.. But we have no more urgent task. Too many of us think it is impossible. Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief… No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“History teaches us,” he said,” that enmities between nations, as between individuals, do not last forever. The tide of time and events will often bring surprising changes in the relations between nations. [ We should not] see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats.

“For in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”

—Governor Michael Dukakis—