On Tuesday, 10 December, The Hague Institutehosted Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series. In his remarks, Admiral Stavridis provided a wide-ranging commentary on twenty-first century security challenges, arguing above all for a cooperative approach to international security. ‘Nobody’, he observed, ‘wins alone’.
Admiral Stavridis began by identifying various global challenges which western and like-minded countries face. These included:
- The threat of violent extremism, both in the form of Islamic fundamentalism but also in other guises (Stavridis cited, for example, the attack by the far-right nationalist Anders Brevik in Norway in 2011);
- The risks posed by Iran, North Korea and Syria to international peace and security;
- Illicit criminal flows, and transnational crimes such as piracy;
- Environmental challenges, including management of the High North;
- The emerging risk of cyber-attacks, including alongside kinetic attacks, as occurred in Georgia in 2008.
- Managing global change, including integrating China and India into the rules-based system and managing the continuing fallout of the economic crisis which began in 2008.
Stavridis’ prescriptions to these challenges emphasized the importance of listening. Institutions like The Hague Institute, as well as academic establishments like the Fletcher School play, Stavridis contended, crucial roles in building intellectual capital. A key focus for institutes of higher education should be languages, he added, which are vital for inter-cultural understanding.
The importance of networks was also a theme of the remarks, and the discussion which ensued. Stavridis outlined his view of social networks as vehicles to connect societies and convey messages, including the policy aims of western states, which are often appealing to citizens of third countries. International networks mandate operating in coalition, he underscored, arguing that unilateral outcomes generally do not have positive outcomes.
The tenor of the Admiral’s remarks was hopeful: before the 50-member coalition in Afghanistan, he reminded the audience, one would have to go back as far as the Peloponnesian Wars to find such a large coalition operating towards a common aim. The agenda now must be one of further collaboration, Stavridis stressed, whether in the form of inter-agency cooperation or between the public and private sector. While such efforts may harness soft power tools, there will, he emphasized, be times where hard power capabilities are required to underpin an overall diplomatic engagement. In hard and soft power efforts alike, building bridges will be the cornerstone of 21st century security, he concluded.