KURTZ-PHELAN: Welcome, all, to today’s meeting. I’m Dan Kurtz-Phelan, the editor of Foreign Affairs. We are marking today the release of our July/August issue, though close readers among you will note that only one of our guests, in fact, has a piece in that issue. The other two have contributed to the magazine recently.
But all three of them have, in especially trenchant and interesting ways, gotten at the big question of what the war in Ukraine means for global order, going forward, and they’ve brought a diversity of views and a range of different perspectives to that question. But all, I think, in the writing they have done for FA over the last several months, in some cases, several years, have gotten at that question in particularly interesting ways.
In the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion there was, of course, a flurry of commentary about how and why it would change the world. The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, talked about the Zeitenwende—you know, the watershed for his own country’s foreign policy—within days of the war’s beginning and that was of a piece with, I think, a broader set of declarations about the turning point that the war represented.
But, you know, with a few months of distance the German Zeitenwende looks a little bit more complicated than it did at the time and that is true of, I think, the broader declarations about what the war would mean.
You know, there were some categorical statements early on and expectations that people had of how the war would progress and what it would mean. A lot of those look more complicated and, in many ways, more interesting as we’ve gotten further into the war and as we go forward and the world grapples with the prospect of a long, grinding conflict for a matter of months or years as food prices continue to be high and energy prices continue to be high, as Western governments consider how to sustain their commitments to Ukraine without undermining other foreign policy goals.
I think all of these declarations and all this analysis of what the war means will, again, continue to get more interesting and more complicated, and all of that makes the question of what the war and its outcome will mean for global order, I think, especially urgent today.
We have these three fantastic recent FA authors, as I said, who bring a range of perspective to these questions. I will very quickly introduce them since all of you have their full bios.
We have Ambassador Ivo Daalder. He was the ambassador to—the U.S. ambassador to NATO during the Obama administration. He’s now president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and his most recent piece, which is in the current issue, is called “Last Best Hope,” co-authored with Jim Lindsay, and it looks at how the U.S. and its allies can take the opportunity presented by this crisis to build a better and more sustainable world order.
We then have Tanisha Fazal. Nisha is a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and has done some of the most important academic work in her field on questions of war and conquest and norms around them. Her piece in our previous issue was called “The Return of Conquest,” but I would also note that she did a really important piece a few years ago called “War is Not Over,” co-authored with Paul Poast, which cut against, I think, the general view of these questions in the field at the time but looks particularly prescient when you go back and read it with a few years of distance and in light of the war in Ukraine.
And then last but not least we have Shivshankar Menon, who is one of India’s greatest foreign policy thinkers and practitioners. He is now a professor at Ashoka University, but from 2010 to 2014 he was India’s national security adviser. He wrote a piece a few months ago called “The Fantasy of the Free World,” which quite early on in the war took issue with some of the triumphalist rhetoric that was prevalent in the West at the time. And that, I think, looks especially prescient as well with a few months of distance.
So—(audio break)—for joining us today. I’m going to spend about half an hour in conversation with you and then we will go to questions from FA subscribers and CFR members.
Nisha, I want to start with you because I’d like to go back to that piece that you and Paul Poast wrote a few years ago in the magazine. You know, the point you made that there was this sense that war had, really, vanished as a feature, great power war, certainly, and even war more broadly—interstate war more broadly had vanished as a feature of international relations, that it was on the decline. There was kind of broad sense of optimism about this.
You took issue with that in that piece and I think that dissent looks especially insightful, given what we’ve seen since.
What was being missed in the broader conversation among scholars and observers and policymakers and what do you—what did you and Paul see as you were doing that analysis that you thought was missing from the conversation, more broadly?
FAZAL: Well, thanks, Dan, for having me, first of all. And let me say also, just kind of as a preface to answer this question, when, at the end of February when Russia—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, Paul and I were in contact saying we wish we were wrong and we very much do wish that we had been wrong.
But I think that there were two factors that people who were making the argument that war is on the decline were kind of either missing or skating over.
One is that there has, certainly, been plenty of conflict since 1945 and over the course of the twentieth century. It’s just most of it, as you’ve mentioned, has not been war between countries. It has been more along the lines of civil war, oftentimes in the Global South, and so just hasn’t attracted as much attention in the Global North.
And then the second factor that, I think, was maybe a little bit easier to miss was that because of dramatic improvements in military medicine, what we have seen—and because most datasets on war have a fatality threshold—a certain number of people have to die in order for the conflict to be counted as a war—well, it seemed like—in fact, it looked like there were many fewer people dying at war, and people took from that the inference that that meant that war was on the decline.
But, in fact, war was becoming less fatal, not necessarily less frequent, and I think it’s really interesting to see how that factor is playing out in the war between Russia and Ukraine because we’re seeing quite a different kind of casualties—set of casualties emerging from this war, given that it’s a conventional war as opposed to an insurgency or a counterinsurgency. But we’re also seeing a lot of politicization around the reporting of Russian and Ukrainian casualties.
But I think that, you know, just going back to the first point I was making, is that, you know, one issue about this decline—this argument that war is on the decline, from the perspective of the Global South is this question of why Ukraine—the war in Ukraine is seen as such a big deal in countries like the United States and EU countries as well, compared to really major conflicts in countries like Syria, Yemen, even, you know, Tigray right now. And I think that that’s a legitimate question that people in the Global South are asking that speaks to the future of global order and raises the question of order for who.
KURTZ-PHELAN: We will pick up that theme in a second but I want to stick for a second with this notion of surprise and ways in which most observers were surprised in the days around Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And, Ivo, I wanted to go to you because you wrote a really smart piece with Jim Lindsay in March, if not the most recent piece I mentioned, trying to—trying to analyze the West’s response and what—the speed, the vigor, the unity. What, when you look back at those early moves, accounts for that surprise and what should we take from that early success?
DAALDER: Well, first, thanks for having me, and I’m really looking forward to the conversation with three smart people here on the screen. And so really, really looking forward to that.
I mean, it wasn’t surprising, in part, because Putin didn’t count on it. I mean, Putin started the war believing two things: one, that the Russian military could beat the Ukrainian military very quickly and he could control all of Ukraine; and second, that the Western response would be similar to the kind of response we had seen before. And there was every reason to believe that that was the case, short of both a historical and a situational one.
Situational one, the U.S. had taken a beating back a year ago now when it really screwed up the withdrawal from Afghanistan, not so much the decision to withdraw as the manner in which it did—unilaterally without involving allies, and we saw it all on TV—in ways that a great power really shouldn’t be acting, and that had a—the sense that, perhaps, the United States was continuing a long period of decline and, therefore, wouldn’t be able to marshal the kind of resources necessary to oppose Putin and his invasion.
Secondly, fundamental changes in Europe going on. First, Angela Merkel, who had led Germany for sixteen years, had been the principal European interlocutor with Putin, had just left the scene. A new, very novel coalition government had emerged, led by someone who didn’t have the foreign policy experience—Olaf Scholz—and, indeed, neither did the foreign and defense ministers of Germany, clearly, focused on climate and economic issues, not on foreign policy, not on national security policy. So thinking that Germany wouldn’t be the leader that it would have been had Angela Merkel still been there.
France facing an election, therefore, Macron willing to find any way out short of having to respond to a war. Britain in disarray—perhaps, not as much as today but it was in disarray even then. So this expectation situationally that the West just wouldn’t be able to get its act together.
And then, secondly, the history. You know, Putin had done things. Perhaps not on the scale and scope that we saw on February 24 but he had done some pretty norm-busting things. He had invaded Georgia in 2008. He had invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. Fostered an insurgency in Ukraine for eight years prior to the invasion.
He had come to the aid of the Syrian dictator, who had slaughtered his own people in 2015, and the Western response had been meek if existent at all, including even after 2014, the invasion of Ukraine. It slapped some sanctions on it and then went back to business as usual, including continuing building gas pipelines from Russia to Germany.
So the expectation was that the West would just sort of buy this, and he was wrong. And by the way, anybody in the West who thought the same thing was wrong, too, and I, basically, think there are two reasons.
One was the scope of the effort that Putin had set off. It was a real shock to the system to see a hundred and seventy-five thousand troops marching into Ukraine, basically, to snuff it out, and that led to the speech by Olaf Scholz in the Bundestag that you mentioned—the Zeitenwende—and this sense that we are back to an era in which security is defined in military terms. That hadn’t been the case for thirty years or more in the post-Cold War period.
And then, secondly, I think credit needs to be given where credit is due. The Biden administration had, in contrast to what it had done on Afghanistan, had really spent a significant amount of time to marshal a coalition for something that they knew was coming. They had intelligence information about—very accurate intelligence information about what was coming. They had shared it with allies.
They had worked for months to put together an economic sanctions package and a whole variety of steps that, basically, on, if and when what they expected to happen would happen, the key could be turned and, importantly, put the allies out front in many ways and said, you should lead the effort of imposing sanctions both because it becomes more difficult to blame the United States for it but then, secondly, also a kind of leadership that unites the Europeans’ and Asians’ allies as well as the United States.
And it worked. It was a remarkable set of actions that were taken in five—four-plus months in. Still are being—are held up and continued.
KURTZ-PHELAN: We’ll get back to some of those questions about how to sustain some of those policies.
But, Shankar, I wanted you to pick up on the point that that Nisha made about how this looks from the Global South, and the point that you made in your piece was that the kind of, you know, grand rhetoric about the free world coming together and just how much of a divergence from recent history this Russian invasion was kind of missed broader global context.
So help us, first of all, understand what this invasion looks like with the kind of—sitting in Asia specifically and then help us understand what, to your mind, have shaped the Indian response and why some of the more critical responses to India’s position in the West misunderstand India’s particular mix of interests here?
MENON: Well, I think this—thank you. Thank you for having me here and for asking me in such distinguished company.
I think there’s three reasons why I think the Global South maybe looked at it slightly differently right from the beginning.
One was because the negative economic impact in terms of energy prices, food prices, fertilizer prices, was immediately apparent, and this hit a South which was already going through—I mean, there’s a global debt crisis going on in the Global South, and the IMF says forty-one countries are at risk of default right now, and this has been going on for years—for the last three years, and despite all the G-20 meetings and so on, there’s been no solution. So there was some shock because of this.
Secondly, but this was a war which had been going on for some time. There had been a proxy war in the Ukraine within Crimea in 2014. Suddenly it had become a conventional war. But it still looked like a European war between Europeans for European order and, yet, the price was being paid outside Europe border.
Also, it became apparent pretty soon and the rhetoric that you mentioned about, you know, the free world versus autocracies, that brought up all the old memories of a bipolar Cold War, which, frankly, I don’t think applies, actually, in practice. I mean, the world is far too interconnected economically.
I mean, China depends on the U.S., in a sense, and the U.S. on China. But it brought back all those memories of being forced to choose sides, of losing agency in the system, of having alliances determine your policy, your engagements, which, frankly, the Global South doesn’t want because the Global South did well after the globalization of decades.
But now, suddenly, issues were being decided on political grounds, and Europe was paying an economic cost to impose political and economic sanctions on Russia for political reasons. So politics is in command. The world is being fragmented into blocs and they are being consolidated. We just heard what the Chinese and the Russians have said on the 4th of February about their friendship without limits—their partnership.
The West was showing united will and there was this consolidation of the transatlantic alliance. It was quite clear. And the South didn’t approve of the Russian invasion, certainly not. In fact, India, all of us, spoke for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and I think we made it quite clear from the beginning we didn’t think that a military invasion was going to solve this problem. But neither did we think that name-calling or sanctions would help solve the problem.
I think the last four months have proved the latter proposition correct. Sanctions have actually consolidated Putin’s regime and his whole—and the people who are paying the price are people who, frankly, were not responsible for these decisions and people in the South as well.
First one, well, there really is no real movement towards a resolution of the problem. So I’m not—so for the South, actually, in various ways this posed a choice they just didn’t want to have to make. From an Indian point of view, it also looked as though the West was being distracted from what is really the primary geopolitical arena, which for us is in Asia.
This is now the geopolitical center of gravity, the economic center of gravity of the world economy, and we have huge issues to deal with. We have a slowing world economy. We have climate change issues. We have, as I said, a debt crisis across the developing world, and we’ve seen plenty of invasions and wars even in this century and not all of them by one side.
So the moral argument, the moral high ground, the argument that this is somehow freedom versus autocracy, that doesn’t cut much ice, especially in post-colonial societies where people have long memories. So and that’s—so when you say why did India—the South—react the way they did, but that doesn’t mean that—in practice, if you look at the Indian position it has steadily moved closer and closer to what the U.S. and the West are saying.
Even China has respected sanctions on Russia—economic sanctions—because, from an Indian point of view, my summary is simple. Russia might be a desirable partner on the Eurasian continent because, frankly, most of the West is just absent in Eurasia. But the West is an essential partner for India’s transformation and throughout maritime Asia—the Indo-Pacific, whatever you want to call it—and there is no way that we can transform or develop India without working with the West.
So, and this is actually as true of China as it is of India and the Chinese know this. In fact, they are in this position—strange historical position—where they are powerful but dependent on the world and where their own economic growth and, therefore, their internal stability actually depends on their links with the U.S. and the West, who they are convinced are determined to prevent their rise.
So you—we have a complex situation, as you said, and there are so many threads here that we can—so many rabbit holes to go down. I better stop.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Let me get Nisha and Ivo to pick up a couple of those threads, responding to some of what you laid out there.
Ivo, let me start with you and, of course, neither—both of you are former officials, not current officials, so you’re not speaking for your governments at the moment.
But, Ivo, what is your quick reaction to that relatively critical account of U.S. strategy in this case?
DAALDER: Well, I think there’s no doubt that the Global South is trying to focus, like everyone else, on its own interests and that includes India, of course. Everyone is looking at this conflict and how does it affect us—me—and how does it affect our capacity to do what is important and how does it affect our strategy for achieving what we are trying to achieve, and there’s no doubt that there are externalities to the conflict that have a significant impact on countries around the world that Shankar mentioned.
Global food prices are skyrocketing. Commodities, writ large, are—prices are skyrocketing at a time when the COVID economy has already stretched and stressed much of the Global South for years now. The same is true with energy.
So it makes total sense that if you are sitting in Nairobi or you’re sitting in J’burg or in Sao Paulo or in Delhi that you look at this conflict from what does it affect us. It also makes sense, frankly—and, you know, in the newest piece that Jim and I did in the current issue we sort of start off with that—you know, there is a bit of hypocrisy here, that a country—and it’s seen as hypocrisy that a country, the United States, that invaded Iraq without U.N. sanction, without being in any way posing a threat to the United States, is now saying, oh, my God, you can’t do this and having that argument with regard to Russia. And the circumstances are different and we use—you know, spend a long time debating it all.
But the reality is that if you are sitting in the places that Shankar was mentioning you’re looking at this and say, you know, what’s the difference between what Russia is doing in Ukraine and what the United States has done in a variety of other places and who are you to tell us that now this is the one that we really need to stand up with but previously you wanted to be on our side.
So I’m deeply sympathetic to it. It doesn’t mean that this wrong shouldn’t be condemned and, indeed, the Global South has condemned it. I think, still, the most remarkable speech—single speech, if I had to take one in the last five months, was by the permanent representative of Kenya the day of the U.N. Security Council vote reminding the world that changing borders by force has significant consequences for countries whose borders were drawn by others, and that if you start down this path there is only disaster down this path.
And so I’m deeply sympathetic with it. At the same time, you know, I think what’s happening is not just about Ukraine. It’s about a larger fight, about global—European security order and the global order, and how that ends has a big impact not only on Europe but, I would argue, how it ends has a big impact on the rest of the world as well.
KURTZ-PHELAN: That is a good segue to Nisha’s recent piece.
Nisha, you, for all of, you know, your writing over the years about trying to put Western views here in broader context, you do argue in your most recent piece that there is something fundamentally different and the stakes are fundamentally different in this war than they were in—even in Syria or Iraq or some of these other cases.
Explain why that’s true and what you see is at stake when it comes to the norms that shape the international system.
FAZAL: Yeah, and this touches on something or picks up on something that Ivo was just mentioning.
I mean, I think that what does make this war different is that Russia has blatantly violated not just international law—I mean, that’s, honestly and unfortunately, not that uncommon in the context of war but, in particular, the norm against territorial conquest, and I think we have to be precise about what we mean about—or I want to be precise, at least, about what I mean when I talk about the norm against territorial conquest.
What I’m talking about is a proscription—proscription, not prescription—so a prohibition against one country attacking and challenging the internationally-recognized borders of another internationally-recognized country and, in particular, threatening the existence of that country, which is exactly what Russia did and continues to do but, certainly, looked like Russia was really trying to take over all of Ukraine and absorb it at the start of the war at the end of February.
And the reason that I see this norm as especially important to global order is that it’s kind of a club good, right? The idea is that you—you know, you are a member of the club and we can think of the United Nations here as a proxy for the club, and part of the membership in the club, a sort of floor condition, is that your existence is secured, you know, as a member of that club.
And I should also mention that this is a really permissive norm. It allows a lot of very bad behavior, and the Global South, I think, is right to call out—(laughs)—larger powers for engaging in that kind of bad behavior.
There are countries in the Global South that have engaged in similarly bad behavior. But that is what I see as fundamentally different in this war compared to more recent wars.
KURTZ-PHELAN: What about—let me press you on one other norm that has not been exactly violated yet but, certainly, seems closer to being violated than, I think, most of us would have imagined in recent history and that’s Putin’s nuclear saber rattling—the potential of the use of a nuclear weapon even if that’s kind of a—you know, a tactical nuclear weapon that is used more to kind of show the capability rather than to do real damage.
To what extent do you see that as a meaningful change that will have repercussions in international politics, going forward?
FAZAL: Well, I mean, I think that would be extremely meaningful, and I think it speaks to a couple of questions. One is how do we know—what is the path of norm decline and the answer is we don’t really know. We haven’t really studied this question. So it’s not a very satisfying answer but it’s an honest one. And I think the other related—
KURTZ-PHELAN: Meaning we know how norms are built but not how they fall apart, that’s—(inaudible)—kind of sense of progress on these fronts. Is that what you’re getting at?
FAZAL: Yes. That is my read of the research.
I think the other question is if we want to think about these two norms—the norm against the use of nuclear weapons versus the norm against territorial conquest—like, if they come head to head, do we have to sacrifice one versus the other? And I think that that’s also a really important question.
I mean, I think that it’s—territory is divisible in a way that nuclear weapons are not, and so as a normative matter—no pun intended—I think I would be willing to sacrifice the norm against territorial conquest to some extent if it meant avoiding nuclear weapon use.
But I also don’t think that’s my decision or our decision. I mean, this is something that Ukrainians are going to have to decide how they want to handle. But all of this is to say that I think that the future is looking rather murky at best and grim at worst for the norm against territorial conquest.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Shankar, let me go back to you to talk a bit about this question of choosing sides but especially in the context of growing U.S.-China tension, and you hear this from lots of governments and observers in Asia, especially in India, that in this growing Cold War like environment you have this pressure that will not be particularly beneficial to Asian order or to the region.
So as you see U.S.-China competition evolving, what concerns you and how do you think actors both in the U.S. and in Asia can shape it to better effect?
MENON: Well, it seems to me that you’re right. You hear ASEAN, India, everybody, saying we don’t want to have to choose sides. Many countries in southeast Asia rely on the U.S. for the security on China, for their prosperity. So, obviously, it is a hard choice.
But, frankly, U.S.-China contention also opens space for other people to follow balancing strategies to, you know—so, I mean, there’s a simple example. The Russian oil is now cheap for China and India, thanks to what’s happening between the West and Russia.
And, you know, so what you’re actually seeing is states acting on their interests. While they make all the right noises, saying, we don’t want to have to choose, we want a rule-based order, we don’t want—but, unfortunately, as the norms—as the strength of the norms or the power of these norms has declined you see the actual behavior has deteriorated considerably.
Asia has seen the world’s largest—history’s largest arms race in the last few decades. You now—you had former Prime Minister Abe, soon after—well, the Budapest Memorandum became a scrap of paper. Putin threatened nuclear weapons. Abe speaking of the possibility of nuclear weapons in Japan.
There is no question that after Ukraine, I think, anyone who speaks of denuclearizing North Korea or expects Kim Jong-un to give up his weapons is probably, honestly, talking through his hat. The percentage of South Koreans who think that if North Korea has a weapon South Korea should have a nuclear weapon has increased by 10 percent in the last six months.
So there is a norm that it’s—there is a nuclearization problem and Japan is actually discussing nuclear submarines—building nuclear submarines. So I think there are what—so Ivo’s right when he says that these are side effects of the Ukraine war.
But, frankly, these were fraying before. They’ve been fraying since, I would say, all the way back to 2008. And then the last time the international order responded in any coherent fashion was, really, London in April 2009 when the G-20 did something to prevent another Great Depression, prevent, you know, us heading down the path we did in the ’30s.
But after that, look at our pathetic reaction as an order—international order—to the pandemic, to all the crises we’ve had since then, and that’s where China-U.S. contention actually gets difficult.
But, frankly, I don’t think the real risk in Asia is China and the U.S. ending up in a military confrontation. I assume these are rational people who follow their self-interest, in which case that’s not number one. I think the real risk is that the fraying of all the norms that prevent interstate conflict between other states but also internally increasing numbers of—you can see it, see what happened in Myanmar. There was no international response. You can see a fraying of all the things we took for granted between states but within states as well and the shift in the internal politics, which, I think, is more worrying. And as states start feeling that they can get away with behavior like this it gets more and more murky and that’s where I think the risk comes, especially where, in maritime Asia, where there is a problem of maritime security and where so much of our trade, our energy, depends on the freedom of navigation in these waters.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Ivo, let me go quickly to you before we go to questions from folks listening.
You, in your more recent piece with Jim—“Last Best Hope”—argue that the U.S. and its democratic allies especially have a renewed opportunity at this moment to make up for some of the mistakes that we have made since 2008 but also, probably more importantly, since the end of the Cold War.
What will it take to do better this time and do you see early signs that we’ve started to figure this out, or are you worried about the trajectory we’re on?
DAALDER: I’m worried about the trajectory we’re on in the way that Shankar mentioned the internal politics of it.
But I do think—you know, and that’s why we wrote the piece—we had a golden opportunity after the end of the Cold War to, really, find a way to strengthen the norm-based, rules-based international order that had, in some ways, been limited by the Cold War competition between the East and the West—between the United States and the Soviet Union—and with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the Soviet empire there was this opportunity that America, as powerful as it was with allies around the world, could have used the power that it had in order to strengthen a rules-based order, to work together with countries from around the world, and, as we argued, squandered an opportunity through a whole series of misunderstandings about how the world actually operated.
There is, you know, at least the basis of trying to restart this today with this remarkable unity that we have found in the West, and it is a Western unity that I recognize does not extend to parts of the Global South. But it is the foundation of a larger effort to rebuild a rules-based order in which not just the Global South but, frankly, China could also play a part.
But it can only play a part if it understands that the alternative it’s seeking—that is, to remake the rules-based order—is not going to work because the power that stands against that is too large.
So we advocate for starting this process by creating what we call the Group of 12, which is bringing together all of the allies of the United States in North America, Europe, and Asia, together with the European Union, into an organization that would coordinate not just on economic policy, as the G-7 does, not just on military policy, as NATO and bilateral alliances do, not just politically, as the European Union and the G-7 sometimes do, but on all three areas, in foreign policy, in security policy, in economic policy, in order to create a strong basis for competing effectively with China and with Russia and, importantly, to provide an attractive club to which others might want to belong and using the analogy of EU and NATO expansion by offering something positive to—including to the Global South.
Sixty percent of global GDP resides within the G-12. Sixty percent of global military power resides within the G-12. Being part of this club that actually wants you as a positive member rather than as a client state, which is how China has treated many of its partners, is something that an India, a Brazil, a South Africa, could find attractive if by being part of that club they also have a real voice, and that has changed in the nature of the dynamic among the states themselves, which will be necessary in a way that, frankly, the last thirty years we haven’t acted in the best interest, I think, of the United States, of the club, or, indeed, of global order. And we have a rare second chance, the last best hope, really, to get it right this time around and that is the only silver lining that I can find from the brutal invasion that Russia launched against Ukraine.
KURTZ-PHELAN: We’ll stop there.
Sam, let’s go to questions.
OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.)
Our first question is a written submission from Manik Mehta, who asks, do you think the world order as manifested by the G-7 is being undermined by the emergence of the BRICS group, which is expanding with the inclusion of Argentina and Iran and, potentially, with more members expected to join?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Shankar, do you want to start on that one?
MENON: I’m not sure that the BRICS is expanding. China is keen to expand it. In fact, has been talking of its own G-11 or G-12 almost by bringing in other countries into BRICS.
But I heard the Russian ambassador saying yesterday somewhere on the record that Russia is not in favor of rapid expansion of the BRICS. I don’t think other members are keen on the idea yet.
I don’t see BRICS and, certainly, for India, for Brazil, for South Africa, we’ve consistently worked to make sure that the BRICS is not seen as being in opposition to the G-7.
After all, if you look at—Prime Minister Modi attended a BRICS summit and within three days he was an invited guest at the G-7 as one of the outreach—one of the five people who were invited to the outreach.
So I think the last thing that we would want is for BRICS to become seen as an anti-Western bloc or the basis of a future anti-Western bloc. BRICS has been successful where it concentrates on common economic interest, in starting a new development bank, for instance, or in working on—towards energy security, for things like that.
But, otherwise, it’s stayed clear of the politics of the day. And so we have to see how it will evolve. But I don’t see it as being a credible opposition to the G-7. No way.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Sam, let’s go to the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is another written submission from Laurie Garrett, who asks, is there any hope in this environment of collaboration on supranational issues, a.k.a., climate change, pandemics, financial collapse, cybersecurity? Or are we doomed to see a succession of global-scale crises addressed poorly on national or small-lines basis?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Nisha, do you want to start there? And then, Ivo, you can jump in as well if you’d like.
I mean, I think this is a great question and when you think about, you know, the pandemic, for example, one of the big questions is why didn’t we—in the face of what was clearly a major global catastrophe why didn’t we see more in the way of global cooperation, and, I mean, I don’t mean to make a joke of this but it doesn’t—the response doesn’t give me very much hope for the alien invasion, right. (Laughs.)
I think that the best hope is kind of along the lines of what Laurie Garrett is suggesting. I think that some of the best responses, certainly, when it comes to global health have really occurred on a regional basis, or could. There’s more potential on a regional basis.
I think, you know, for example, the Africa CDC has done pretty well, you know, historically. Not so much lately but, historically, Brazil has been a leader in South America in terms of regional global health.
I think—so I think on that dimension there’s maybe some hope on a regional basis. I’m less confident on the climate change dimension, which I, actually, think is really the existential crisis of our time.
But I think there one of the interesting things that we’re seeing—and we saw this a little bit with respect to COVID, too—is an increased diversity of nonstate actors, by which I don’t just mean NGOs like the Gates Foundation, but I also mean subnational actors like states—you know, administrative units like states in the U.S. but also cities that are really taking—you know, taking on the lead in a way that they don’t see states doing.
So that’s where I would place my best hope.
DAALDER: I mean, I think Nisha is exactly right that if you’re going to rely on sort of nation states to collaborate in order to deal with global problems, the only way that’s going to happen is if you can convince those states that it is in their interest to do so and not to look at this in a competitive framework.
And, you know, one of the reasons COVID became what it was is because the Chinese government did not open up, did not collaborate, did not find way to look at this as a global problem but it saw it, first and foremost, as a national problem, and then everybody else did the same thing afterwards.
The same as on climate change. It is a bit of “after you.” You know, I will do the right thing but only after you do your right thing. And within that competitive environment, which is the nature of international politics—and it’s been for a very long time—finding collaboration to deal with global problems has always been difficult and will remain so.
So then the question is which actors can act. And I think Nisha is exactly right that on issues like climate change having other actors be part of it—frankly, the business community. I would add as well cities, county, and other governments. A bottom-up approach, if you want, that may have a much bigger impact because of the absence of national governments doing what it takes.
You know, if you look at the U.S. debate on climate change at the national level, you know, all you can do is bury your head in the sand. But if you look at the regional—even the U.S. regional debate, if you look at what’s happening in cities and other places, and even to some extent—and I underline some—big business, things look a little bit healthier.
But the reality is you’re not going to get collaboration if the competitive instinct outweigh—the short-term competitive instincts outweigh the long-term need for working together.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Sam, let’s go to the next question.
OPERATOR: Our next question is an audio question from Fred Hochberg.
Q: Part of what the Ukrainian conflict revealed, I think, is a sort of anti-Western view by a number of developing countries, some of the Mideast. And I wonder, do you think that the West is able to adjust our behavior to modulate or mitigate some of the anti-Western sense, that the non-Western world feels that this crisis—(inaudible)?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Shankar, why don’t we start with you on that one?
MENON: I couldn’t hear the question, frankly.
KURTZ-PHELAN: I think the core of it was what the West can do to allay some of the concerns and resentments and legitimate gripes of much of the non-Western world.
MENON: I think, to start with, deal with the issues of the non-Western world. Apply as much effort to stopping the war in Yemen, which, frankly, is possible, theoretically, as we do to finding a good outcome in Ukraine.
Deal with the developing country debt crisis. At least, we should restructure these debts. Do something about food prices. And then Indonesia’s chairman—chair of the G-20—has been trying to work with Ukraine and Russia.
But it would help if the rest of the world also helped to break the blockade in the Black Sea and got food, fertilizer out, and that would help.
So, for me, that’s the simple answer. Build credibility by addressing the issues of the South.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Nisha, Ivo, anything you would add?
FAZAL: I would just add that, you know, China has really been increasing its footprint in the Global South over recent years and I think if there is an opportunity for the West to behave in—and along the lines of what Shankar suggested that would help bolster the kind of aims that Ivo and Jim Lindsay are suggesting in their piece.
KURTZ-PHELAN: And, Ivo, I suppose your piece is, in some ways, a blueprint for doing exactly what Fred lays out?
DAALDER: Yeah. I mean, importantly, I think it’s not only addressing the issues that are important to the Global South but actually behaving in ways that is consistent.
If you’re going to make a normative argument about, you know, attack on other countries, that they’re behaving—misbehaving on a normative sense, then it’s probably good for you not to do the same thing and start, in some sense, looking at yourself and looking at—it’s very important and it’s part of the reason we wrote the piece in the way we did—we got to look back at why we got it so wrong over the last thirty years and what mistakes did we make because there was—you know, 1989, 1990, and 1991, the world looked very differently, you know, including after the Gulf War, a U.N.-sanctioned fifty-plus nation effort to restore the territorial integrity of Kuwait without overthrowing the regime, just importantly.
You know, if you were at that point, and Bush and Scowcroft talking about this new world order, but then we didn’t do anything. And looking back at ourselves, I think that is as important as then addressing the issues that are in front of us.
MENON: Can I add something?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Mmm hmm.
MENON: It seems to me—there’s a very good article in this issue of Foreign Affairs by Phil Zelikow where he describes the order as the ability to do things, to deliver outcomes, and says, therefore, what we should concentrate on is identifying the tasks which we should be doing, which affect us all, and actually doing something about it, restoring order, in a sense, in a world which is either between orders or without order, rather than the theater politics or establishing credibility or even rebuilding norms because all those are very long, slow processes—political processes.
Whereas, I think we can get credibility very quickly if we actually were to sit down and say, OK, here’s our hierarchy of tasks. Climate change is existential. We’re going to do something serious about this.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Yeah. It is a great point and it’s a great piece that, I think, is—reads very well alongside much of what you all have written.
Sam, let’s get more questions in.
OPERATOR: Our next question is a written submission from Hani Findakly, who asks, does the Russian invasion create an opportunity to address chronic regional issues such as the Palestinian-Israeli issue on the basis of territorial gains by force?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Ivo, do you want to take a crack at that, or Nisha?
DAALDER: You know, yes, in principle, no, in practice, I think, is the—you know, every conflict in one form or another has its own unique fundamentals and if you don’t address those unique fundamentals you’re not going to be able to resolve them, even though they also represent, you know, typologies in ways conflicts occur and you can draw on these different typologies to try to find a way out of the unique situation.
You know, one—turn it around, one possibility to think about is if—how does this—how do you move forward on the Ukraine-Russia war without either side really being willing to settle for either the status quo or anything else is to take a lesson of the kind of—the situation after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 in which the goal was to stop the conflict and then to find disengagement and find ways to, in some ways, accept that both sides have a different view of the territorial nature of the situation and use that as a basis for building confidence over time to change, which worked in the case of Egypt, didn’t really work in the case of Syria, and, certainly, hasn’t worked at all in the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But to think about it in those terms.
But I don’t—I’m afraid that—I’m not an optimist on ending the Russia-Ukraine conflict. I’m also not an optimist on ending the conflict between Palestine and—Palestinians and Israelis.
FAZAL: I mean, I’ll just—so, first off, let me say I share Ivo’s pessimism, unfortunately, with respect to these two conflicts.
But what I’ll add is that I think that the conflict in Ukraine has been revelatory in a lot of ways in terms of really exposing some of the weaknesses of international order that we’ve been discussing but also in sort of exposing what might seem like hypocrisy of some of the norms that have governed the international system since 1945.
And one of the reasons that I was saying earlier that I want to be precise about the norm against territorial conquest is because it is very much a norm against taking the territory of an internationally-recognized state, and Palestine’s recognition is very contested and it’s one of the reasons why Palestine has been lobbying so hard and so long to become a member of the United Nations, which it’s not, although it’s recognized as a state by the GA and that gives it some rights.
So I think that that actually points to a real difference between those two conflicts, at least in the eyes of international law, that make it challenging to draw some lessons from one and apply them to the other.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Sam, let’s get one last question in.
OPERATOR: Our next question is a live question from Roy Pettis.
Q: Hi. Roy Pettis, nearing the end of my fellowship here at CFR as the national intelligence fellow.
I guess it may be strange to think about post-Ukraine war, but knowing that Putin could end it whenever he decides that he’s satisfied with what he’s doing, I do find myself wondering is there any way to bring Russia back into the international order or are we faced with what we’ve sort of seen from Russia since 2006, a belief that they must break the international order somehow in order to not be at the bottom of the heap.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Ivo, let me have you start on that and then we’ll give Nisha and Shankar a quick chance to sum up.
DAALDER: I mean, Roy is right that Putin can end this war right now but that would also mean he has to withdraw his troops from the territory he has occupied, and there’s even a question of how far that is. Is it to the February 24? Is it to 2014? What are the lines?
So—and how that ends, in fact, is part of the question then leads to what the relationship is between a post-war Russia and at least the rest of the European security order.
As long as Russia has this stated aim of overturning the post-Cold War status quo, particularly in terms of territorial integrity and independence, which is not just a violation of the U.N. Charter but, frankly, of every single European security document signed since 1975, including as late as the Istanbul Declaration of 2009-10—’09, I guess it was—and the Astana Declaration of 2010, in which the territorial integrity and independence of the member states was recognized by all.
If that doesn’t happen, it’s very hard to come back into the European security order as a full participant. So it really does matter how the war ends and, frankly, what happens to Russian ambitions after that. And in my view, that probably has something to do with who leads Russia and that, in many ways, we’re not going to find Russia back into the system until we live in a post-Putinism world, which will take a while.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Nisha, let me get you to reflect on that in the context of your work on norms and what that would mean for the norms that you’ve studied but also what you would recommend in terms of reinforcing this.
FAZAL: Well, I think that if we’re talking about—if the question is can we bring Russia back into the club, right, the club, as it stands right now, I think Ivo’s response is the correct one, that Russia can’t come back in. You can’t really ease up the pressure until Russia at least recognizes—(laughs)—Ukraine’s sovereignty as a state.
You know, I think there’s an outstanding question of what could happen if there was kind of a just a de facto occupation of eastern Ukraine the way that there has been of Crimea. There, there’s maybe a little bit of room to maneuver.
But, to me, the bigger question is if we’re asking if we want to—can we bring Russia back in, the question is to what, right. Is it the existing order that’s been around since 1945 or is it a new, not necessarily a hundred-and-eighty-degree different order but some other kind of order along the lines of what Russia and China have been discussing, especially early in February?
KURTZ-PHELAN: Shankar, let me have you close with some thoughts on how we deal with Russia after this. You’ve, obviously, dealt with Russian officials and diplomats in a different capacity. So I think you’ll have a different vantage on—
MENON: I’m just surprised that Putin doesn’t just declare victory. He’s got one-fifth of the Ukraine. He’s got a land bridge to Crimea. He’s got freshwater sources for the Crimea. You know, and sit tight and then negotiate for the rest.
But on the larger issue, I think the problem is that there’s too many people changing the status quo. There are too many revisionist powers in the European order right now. I offer Sweden and Finland joining NATO is also a change in the situation.
I mean, everybody’s—you look at Hungary’s positions. You look at Poland. Nobody likes the status quo, and this is writ large globally. When you look at the globe as a whole, global order as well, all the powers are revisionist powers today and this is highly unstable and this, for me, is what really worries me and this is why, for me, this is a world adrift. It’s between orders.
So can Russia be brought into the club? That assumes a club exists. I don’t see that club today. And I’m sorry to end on such a pessimistic note, but the way I see it we have to build the club.
Now, whether we do it the way Ivo says—you know, a purely Western club and then open it up—or we do it in some other way, ultimately, it will have to include all these people who today we think are antagonists because without them it’s not going to—given the balance of power today, the fact is that, you know, the world is multilateral economically but unipolar militarily and completely confused politically.
So we need a club that accommodates all this. I wish us luck.
KURTZ-PHELAN: Well, I think you all have left me with ideas for new pieces to commission from each of you.
So thank you for that, as well as for joining us today and for, really, the fantastic pieces that you all have done for Foreign Affairs in the last few months and last few years, and we look forward to getting you back in the magazine.
Thanks to everyone for joining us, and we will see all of you back later this summer or in early fall. Thanks, all.