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  Global Views
A New Containment Policy — the Curbing of War and Violent Conflict in World Society
Special Contribution
By Andreas Herberg-Rothe
Twin Towers in Flame —The Sept. 11 attacks were a series of suicide attacks by al-Qaeda upon the US on Sept. 11, 2001. On that morning, 19 Islamist terrorists affiliated with al-Qaeda hijacked 4 passenger jet airliners.The hijackers intentionally crashed 2 of the airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NYC. 2,974 people died in the attacks.

Newly elected President Barak Obama has argued that containment is not a reasonable policy concerning Iran, Korea, terrorism and even perhaps China. But one question is, what would be the alternatives. Regime change in Tehran? Traditional deterrence? Did those strategies have been working in the past? Perhaps a strategy of containment is not the silver bullet, but the previous strategies may be even worse. It must be recalled that the strategy of containment was successfully applied against the USSR and led finally to it's demise. The second question then arises how we can adjust a policy of containment which is applicable as the appropriate strategy in this globalized world.

We are witnessing a worldwide expansion of war and violence, which should be countered by a new containment, just as George Kennan emphasized as early as 1987: “And for these reasons we are going to have to develop a wider concept of what containment means (…) – a concept, in other words, more responsive to the problems of our own time – than the one I so light-heartedly brought to expression, hacking away at my typewriter there in the northwest corner of the War College building in December of 1946.” Sixty years have already passed, since George Kennan formulated his original vision of containment. Although his original concept would be altered, in application by various administrations of the US-Government, in practice it has been incorporated within the concept and politics of common security, which has been the essential complement to pure militarily containment. These ideas are still valid – and as Kennan himself already pointed out, they are in more need of explication and implementation than ever. Especially because, what Kennan could not foresee, the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown, that the aim to gain victory about ones opponent in a traditional manner is no longer applicable in a globalized world. Instead of such strategies of the past we need one which is concentrating on transforming military achievements, power and success into a lasting political order.

The disinhibition of war and a new containment

The triumphant advance of democracy and free markets in the wake of the Soviet collapse seemed to be unstoppable, to the point where it appeared for a time as if the twenty-first century would be an age defined by economics and thus, to a great extent, peace. However, these expectations were quickly disappointed, not only because of the ongoing massacres and genocide in Sub-Saharan-Africa, but also by the return of war to Europe (primarily in the former Yugoslavia), together with the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the USA and the Iraq war with its on-going, violent consequences. A struggle against a new totalitarianism of an Islamic type appears to have started, in which war and violence are commonly perceived as having an unavoidable role. Both are also perceived as having become more “unbounded” than ever before - both in a spatial sense, for terrorist attacks are potentially ever-present, and temporally, since no end to these attacks is in sight. One can also speak of a new dimension to violence with respect to its extent and brutality - as exemplified by the extreme violence of the ongoing civil wars in Africa. Additionally we are facing completely new types of threats, for example the possession of weapons of mass destruction by terrorist organizations or the development of atomic bombs by “problematic” states like Iran and North Korea. The potential emergence of a new Superpower, China, and perhaps of new “great” powers like India may lead to a new arms race, which presumably have a nuclear dimension as well. In the consciousness of many, violence appears to be slipping the leash of rational control, an image the media has not hesitated for foster, especially with respect to Sub-Saharan-Africa.

Will there be “another bloody century,” as Colin Gray has proposed? Hence my conclusion is that we need a new strategy of containment, which must be different from that of the Cold War, but is based on some similar principles.

As compared to the Cold War, there is no longer an exclusive actor to be contained, as the Soviet Union was. Even if one were to anticipate China’s emergence as a new superpower in the next twenty years, it would not be reasonable, in advance of this actually happening, to develop a strategy of military containment against China similar to that against the Soviet Union in the 50th and 60th of last century, since doing so might well provoke the kind of crises and conflicts that such a strategy would be intended to avoid.

The attempt to built up India as counter-weight to China and facilitating its nuclear ambitions, for instance, might risk undermining the international campaign to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the world.

The second difference is, that current developments in the strategic environment display fundamentally conflicting tendencies: between globalization and struggles over identities, locational advantages, and interests; between high-tech wars and combat with “knives and machetes” or suicide bombers; between symmetrical and asymmetrical warfare; between the privatization of war and violence and their re-politicization and re-ideologization as well as wars over “world order”; between the formation of new regional power centres and the imperial-hegemonic dominance of the only Superpower; between international organized crime and the institutionalization of regional and global institutions and communities; between increasing violations of international law and human rights on one side and their expansion on the other. A strategy designed to counter only one of these conflicting tendencies may be problematic with respect to the others. I therefore stress the necessity of striking a balance among competing possibilities.

The third difference is, that the traditional containment was perceived mainly as military deterrence of the Soviet Union, although in it’s original formulation by George Kennan it was quite different from such a reductionism. Our main and decisive assumption is, that a new containment must combine traditional, military containment on one side, and a range of opportunities for cooperation on the other. That’s not only necessary with respect to China, but even to the political Islam, in order to reduce the appeal of militant Islamic movements to millions of Muslim youth.

The perspective of a curbing of war and violence in world society implies the expansion of non-military zones to which the Kantian conception of democratic peace but it also implies the active containment and limitation of the expansion of war and violence.Such an overarching perspective has to be self-evident, little more than common sense, because it has to be accepted by quite different political leaders and peoples. The self-evidence of this concept could go so far that one could ask why we are discussing it. On the other hand, such a concept must be able to be distinguished by competing concepts. Last but not least, it should be regarded as an appropriate concept to counter contemporary developments.

Finally, taking into account, that Kennan’s concept would not have succeeded, if it had been directed against the actions of the international community or the United States, it should be to some extend only brings to expression, what the international community is already doing anyway. “Other states are instrumental in interrupting the flow of finances from one institution to another, in restricting the movements of terrorists, in eliminating their save havens, in tracking down and arresting their principal leaders and in driving a wedge between the terrorist groups and the various populations they purport to champion.” Which strategy these states are already pursuing? Nothing else than a strategy of containment!

The question of course remains, how to deter the true-believers, members of terrorist networks or people like the current President of Iran, for whom even self-destruction may be a means of hastening millenarian goals. Of course, the “true-believers” or the “hard-core terrorist” could hardly be deterred. But this is just the reason, why containment should not be reduced to a strategy of deterrence. The real task even in these cases therefore is to act politically and militarily in a manner, that would enable to separate the “true believers” from the “believers” and those from the followers. This strategy can include military actions and credible threats, but at the same time it should be based on a double strategy of offering a choice between alternatives, whereas the reduction to military means would only intensify violent resistance. Additionally, even the true believers could be confronted with the choice, either further to be an accepted part of their social and religious environment (or to be excluded from them) or to reduce their millenarian aspirations. Of course, by following this strategy, there is no guarantee, that each terrorist attack could be averted. But this is not the real question. Assuming, that the goal of the terrorists and millenarian Islamists is to provoke an over-reaction of the West in order to ignite an all-out war between the West and the Islamic world, there is no choice than trying to separate them from their political, social and religious environment.

Competing concepts

The function of this conception can be clarified through the example of democratisation. The limitation of war and violence lays the foundations of democracy. If the single counter-strategy to the proliferation of violence were a general, worldwide democratisation – in the meaning of implementing democratic elections, a necessary, but not sufficient precondition of establishing real democratic societies – implemented (as would be necessary) through force, this would almost certainly lead to counterproductive results. This is particularly clear in those cases where fully developed constitutional democracies are not yet present, but states and societies are undergoing the initial process of transformation. It is more justified to speak of the antinomies of democratic peace in the latter cases than when referring to developed democracies.

Thus it is possible that a one-sided demand for democratic processes without regard to local conditions in individual cases might even contribute to the creation of totalitarian movements. The historical experience that corresponds to the change from democratic to totalitarian processes is embodied in developments during and after World War I. In nearly all of the defeated states there was at the beginning a process of democratisation, including, in some cases, democratic revolutions. Yet almost all ended in dictatorships. In Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the “right of national self-determination” proclaimed by US President Wilson was interpreted in a nationalist rather than in a democratic way, so that it entailed the exclusion of entire populations, and even the first genocide of the twentieth century, committed against the Armenians, which already began during World War I.

From the overarching perspective of the containment of war and violence, however, it can be reasonable in particular cases to renounce democratisation in favour of disarmament. Thus in the case of Libya (a former “rogue state”) the United States has abandoned a policy of enforced democratisation by military means in favour of Libyan nuclear disarmament, providing an almost watertight guarantee that Gaddafi can continue to rule and will be succeeded by his son. Clearly, this example does not exclude the possibility that in other cases the processes of democratisation promoted from the outside might involve the use of violence. Historically speaking, one must remember that after World War II there were a number of democratisation processes following militarily disastrous defeats, for instance in Germany and Japan, and then in Serbia after the Kosovo war.

The central approach developed here, in contrast to other theoretical conceptions of peace, can be described as follows: conceptions of democratic peace following Kant, those belonging to theories of equilibrium, and conceptions of hegemony and empire, have all been used to bring about a limitation of war and violence in world society. But these means have often become ends in themselves. In my approach, the containment of war and violence itself becomes the overarching aim of political and communal action. Proceeding from this political aim, one can then judgewhich goal and which action are the most appropriate. This determination applies both to the notion of just conduct in war (jus in bello) and to the notion of the “right to war” (jus ad bellum) in the case of interstate wars. In the European experience, the acknowledgement of the foe as an equal with the same rights proved to be a central precondition for curbing war following the disaster of the Thirty Years War (Carl Schmitt). Both conceptions succeeded in curbing warlike violence between European opponents, although irregular and unrestrained forms of violence persisted on the margins of the European world. During the crusades of the Middle Ages and in the course of colonial conquests from the 16th to the 19th centuries, non-European opponents were not merely fought but often exterminated.
management plan, which usually needs more time. “Peace work requires patience, it needs time (…), and it must be allowed to grow from below. Unlike military action, peace work cannot claim to offer immediate solutions, bring these solutions about, pretend that they have been achieved, or enforce them. And experience teaches us that immediate, victorious solutions themselves create new injustices and fail to bring about peace.”18 from appeasement. An essential limitation of the dangers, posed by terrorist organizations could be based on three aspects: first, a struggle of political ideas for the hearts and minds of the millions of young people; second the attempt to curb the exchanges of knowledge, financial support, communication between the various networks with the aim of isolating them on a local level; and finally, but only as one of these three tasks, to destroy what the Israelis call the terrorist infrastructure. In my understanding, trying to achieve victory in a traditional military manner would not only fail, but additionally would perhaps lead to much more terrorism in the foreseeable future.

The purpose of containing war and violence, therefore, is, to remove from the belligerent adversary his physical and moral freedom of action, but without attacking the sources of his power and the order of his society. The key to "mastering violence" is to control certain operational domains, territory, mass movement, and armaments, but also information and humanitarian operations. But this task of “mastering violence” should no longer be perceived as being directed against the center of gravity, but to the “lines” of the field of gravitation. Instead of an expansion of imposing one’s own will on the adversary up to the point of controlling his mind, as the protagonists of Strategic Information Warfare put it, the only way of ending conflict in the globalized 21st century is to set limits for action, but at the same time to give room for action (in the sense, Hannah Arendt used this term) and even resistance, which of course has the effect of legitimising action within those limits.

Containing war and violence in world society

The overall political perspective on which the concept of the containing of war and violence in world society rests therefore consists of the following elements, the “pentagon of containing war and violence”

▪ the ability to deter and discourage any opponent to fight a large scale war and to conduct pin-point military action as last resort,
▪ the possibility of using military force in order to limit and contain particularly excessive, large-scale violence which has the potential to destroy societies;
▪ the willingness to counter phenomena which help to cause violence such as poverty and oppression, especially in the economic sphere, and also the recognition of a pluralism of cultures and styles of life in world society;
▪ the motivation to develop a culture of civil conflict management (concepts which can be summed up with the “civilizational hexagon”, global governance, and democratic peace), based on the observation, that the reduction of our action to military means have proved counterproductive and would finally overstretch the military capabilities
▪ restricting the possession and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, as well as of small arms, because the proliferation of both of them is inherently destructive to social order.

The position I have put forward is oriented towards a basically peaceful global policy, and treats the progressive limitation of war and violence as both an indefinite, on-going process and as an end it itself. The lasting and progressive containment of war and violence in world society is therefore necessary for the self-preservation of states, even their survival and of the civility of individual societies and world society.

Andreas Herberg-Rothe

Dr. Phil. Habil., is a permanent lecturer at the faculty of social and cultural studies at the university of applied sciences, Fulda and was a private lecturer of Political Science at the Institute for Social Sciences, Humboldt-University Berlin (up to 2009) He was an associate of the Oxford Leverhulme Programme “The changing character of War” (2004-2005) and convener (together with Hew Strachan) of the conference “Clausewitz in the 21st century” (Oxford 2005). He was a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Centre for International Studies (2005-2006).

He is the author of “Clausewitz's puzzle. The political theory of war. Oxford University Press” and edited together with Hew Strachan the anthology “Clausewitz in the twenty-first century. Oxford University Press 2007” . His articles include: New Containment Policy: Grand Strategy for the Twenty-first Century?In: RUSI-Journal, Whitehall, London Whitehall April 2008, Vol. 153, No. 2, pp. 50-55;The re-politicisation of war and violent conflict - The world powers are striking backIn: Ralph Rotte/Christoph Schwarz (eds.): War and Strategy, New York (Nova Science) 2010. His last book about Clausewitz (together with Jan Willem Honig and Dan Moran) has just been published: Clausewitz: The state and war. Stuttgart 2011. In 2010 and 2011 he hold lectures at Westpoint Academy about Tolstoy and Clausewitz as well as in Washington about a new containment policy, the emergence of world order conflicts, Clausewitz and partisan warfare and in Oxford about the democratic warrior. Some of his political-philosophical articles are collected in his volume: Lyotard und Hegel. Dialektik von Philosophie und Politik.Wien 2005 (Lyotard and Hegel. The dialectics of the political and philosophy). He held his most recent lecture about the last topic at the international Hegel conference in Istanbul in October 2012.

Dr. Habil. Andreas Herberg-Rothe
Senior lecturer
University of Applied Sciences Fulda

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