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April 9, 2016

Responding To: Managing Security for a New World

Managing Security for a New World

Chuck Hagel

Adapted from remarks delivered at Georgetown University on March 21, 2016.

We Americans have taken a pretty cavalier approach to intervention over the years. Most of the 320 million or so Americans alive today were born after World War II. In the intervening years we’ve often told people and countries what to do, when to do it, how to do it. If you didn’t comply with our standards then you weren’t measuring up. 

Now we are living at a whole different time in the world. We are living at a time of the greatest diffusion of economic power ever seen. With that economic power has come a diffusion of political and decision-making power. We have seen this even in our own allies - in Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines over the years.

America needs to learn to work with these empowered countries, instead of trying to enforce our point of view on them. This cautious approach to intervention is particularly relevant to what’s happening in the Middle East and much of North Africa today. That region is experiencing a toxic combination of political dysfunction and economic disaster—coupled of course with the history of European colonization and sectarian, ethnic, and historic differences.

We have to work with the leaders, the countries, the people of that region, because ultimately they're going to have to sort it out. They're going to have to determine what they will tolerate and what they won't tolerate for themselves. We can help them, but I don't think we help them by invading countries and occupying countries.

The reality of living in a world of seven billion, soon to be nine billion people, leaves us no alternative: If we don't get along, and figure this out, then we will destroy each other, and we have that capability now. I think “managing” relationships is really the most important approach.

Our greatest threat to the future of global security is a deterioration of some of these relationships. After World War Two, the United States and its allies created a global security arrangement predicated on an architecture of alliances. That alliance dimension produced a series of coalitions of common interest, including the United Nations, IMF, World Bank, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which is now WTO, and the most important and effective collective security arrangement in the history of man, NATO. Our greatest threat to the future of global security is a deterioration of that architecture, which we are beginning to see fray today.

Chuck Hagel is a former U.S. secretary of defense.

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