October 7, 2008

Carl Bildt: we are only beginning to learn state-building

Interview with Carl Bildt

Interview with Carl Bildt


Kadri Liik

Carl Bildt: we are only beginning to learn state-building

Interview with Carl Bildt

How big a danger are the failing states to world security in the coming years? Given that the military resources – and less so economic resources – of the Western countries are quite stretched already, how should we meet the future?
We have to understand that if the main threat to our security in the past came from the strong states – remember the Soviet Union! –we are now far more threatened by weak states and the problems that they generate.
It wasn’t from the Soviet Union that the attack against New York and Washington came, but from shadowy networks hiding in the mountains of a fractured Afghanistan. And while that particular threat from Afghanistan might not be the most prominent today, due to the international intervention, we now see the threat to our societies being posed by the increasing flows of drugs and its associated criminality.
I’m not saying that the situation is the same in every corner of the globe. If we look at East Asia, it is obvious that the rise of the power of China will be the issue for the coming decades. There, the issues we are facing are thus more “classical”. But if we look at the wide areas adjacent to our Europe – from Agadir to Amritsar, from Aden to Astrakhan – then it is obvious that we have to look at the weak state challenge and its consequences.
We must get the analysis right – and we must develop the policy instruments needed to deal with them. In both of these respects, I believe we are just at the beginning of the process.
Do you agree with analysts who say that in order to create a viable state somewhere, the international community and possibly some troops have to be present for about two generations, 40-50 years and that shorter commitments have often proved to be even counterproductive?
I certainly agree that state-building – because that’s the name of the game – requires far more time, resources and patience than decision-makers are normally aware of. That being said, one would have to look at each situation on its own merits.
In Bosnia, we still have troops on the ground 10 years after we managed to conclude the Dayton peace agreement, and there is a rather heavy international interference in the internal affairs of the country, however, I belong to those advocating that this should be ended as soon as possible.
In Kosovo, we are only five years after a war driven, much more than the war in Bosnia, by hatred rather than fear, and the state-building process has proved to be more demanding and difficult than most people are prepared to admit.
I agree that a belief in quick fixes and easy solutions could be counter productive and destabilizing. When the international community decides to intervene or heavily involve itself in some other way in state-building or in stabilizing a country or region, it must be prepared to stay the course for an extended period of time.
To talk about the UN role in state-building – what have been the successes and what have been the failures, and what lessons can be learned from the latter?
A recent study by the RAND Corporation in the US – which I insist on calling the world’s first and finest think-thank in spite of the fact that I’m on its board – has made an astonishingly positive evaluation of the different UN state-building and stabilizing missions since the one in the Congo in the very early 1990’s.
There have obviously also been failures. One effort after the other has tended to fail in Haiti. In Somalia, it all ended in a mess. In Congo, the challenge is still there.
But in virtually all of these cases the problems can be traced back to the unwillingness of the Security Council to give a realistic mandate, to provide the required resources or to stay the course when difficulties start to appear.
Bosnia is often described as a failure for the UN, but that depends on how you see it. It was clearly a failure for the international community. But the UN forces were sent there in 1992 with a limited mandate to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid. The peace-making was always in the hands of others, and the failure of these “others” to reach agreement on a realistic strategy was the reason why the war dragged on until late 1995.
Should there be a permanent institutional and procedural vehicle under the UN, which could be employed whenever a specific state-building programme is required?
There is the Department for Peace-Keeping Operations in the UN Secretariat, and in addition the Department for Political Affairs often has an important role in preventing a crisis from developing into an open conflict or a fragile state from fracturing and collapsing.
Recently, the so-called High-Level Panel has suggested that a special Peace Building Commission should be set up under the Security Council to deal with issues like these. It sounds good, but I fear it would create more problems that it would solve.
Ultimate responsibility for operations of this sort must rest with the Security Council, and if its responsibilities are diluted, I fear that it would take them even more lightly than is already the case, with increasing problems for the different operations and missions.
What is the best way to coordinate international efforts – based on your experience?
Coordination and consensus within the international community is absolute key. If there is disagreement and dissent there, nothing will succeed.
How this is achieved will be different in different cases. On the Balkan issues, a key role has often been played by the so-called Contact Group. In other cases, informal groups within the UN framework have been the instrument, and if you look at the recent North-South peace agreement in Sudan, it was the so-called IGAD regional group with the support of primarily the US, UK and Norway that was the key.
It’s a question of finding the form that brings in all relevant actors and stakeholders in each particular case. I don’t think there is any “one size fits all” approach that would work.
Do you think there is a danger that the international community, once it has established a presence in a failed or failing state, focuses more on getting things done itself rather than on teaching the local community how to do the necessary work themselves– the result of which is that the local politicians learn in the best case how to interact with the international organisations, and in the worst case, how to steal from them, but they do not learn how to manage their country themselves?
Certainly. We always see the development of a culture of dependency, and if we are not careful then this culture tends to dominate to the obvious detriment of efforts to build different forms of local responsibility and ownership of the different processes.
If you look at Bosnia, there is no question that the very broad powers that my successors as High Representative have had, has tended to undermine the evolution of the local political system towards more responsibility and capability.
Instead of taking the responsibility themselves for difficult decisions and compromises, it has been all too easy to just block things and then ask for the High Representative to intervene in order to sort things out. And when he does, it has been equally easy to be critical of his decision. Thus, we have tended to foster a culture of not taking responsibility. This must end.
In January, I visited Kosovo and saw how Estonian peacekeepers escorted Serbs from an enclave-village to work and back, 40 kilometres every day. They have done that for some time, but the need doesn’t seem to go away. How and when can the Estonians leave?
Could it be true that the presence of the international community in a place like Kosovo in some ways deepens the separation, rather than the integration of the two communities – that despite all the talk about integration, actually peace is bought at the price of the de facto creation of two communities?
We have clearly failed to build a multi-ethnic state in Kosovo. When NATO and the UN marched in, we could oversee the speedy return of close to a million Albanian refugees, and this was rightly seen as a major success. But at the same time we failed to protect the remaining minorities, and could not prevent an exodus of up to a quarter of a million of them. This was undoubtedly a major failure.
If we were to leave now, I have no doubt that there would be a major exodus of virtually all remaining minorities from Kosovo. The Serbs might no longer – after the March riots last year – see NATO as the reliable protectors they had hoped for, but without that protection I fear that virtually all would leave.
We will have to remain in Kosovo for a long time to come. There is a necessity for minority protection, and we must be the instrument of last resort for that. I think our presence for years to come will be the only way in which we can hope for a possibility of at the least partly bringing the communities together.
How important are the questions of identity in a process of state building? How do you overcome a situation where deep-rooted national identities are driving people apart and the unifying concept that the international community can offer – such as becoming a democratic market economy – is much weaker than national feelings?
We are living in a time when the politics of identity is far more important than the politics of ideology. And the most difficult challenge in state- and peace-building is building state structures that are seen as legitimate in areas where people of different identity live.
Look – again! – at Bosnia. Here is a state that brings together individuals that in very many cases would describe their identities primarily as Croat, Muslim or Serb. Or look at Macedonia, where every single Albanian would be very clear on the fact that being Albanian is what defines his or her identity.
Multi-ethnic states are more challenging, but within the European framework they acquire a stability that might otherwise be more difficult. Look at Belgium, which is clearly torn between the Vallons and the Flemish. And look also at your own example – both Latvia and Estonia are states that bring together people that might well define their identities in different ways. It must work, and we also know that it can work.
Increasingly, we must discuss a multi-layered identity. I once wrote a book were I described myself as a citizen of my native province of Hallan, of Sweden and of Europe, and tried to say that I would be much poorer if I were to be forced to describe my identity only one-dimensionally.
Does the complexity of state-building imply that a multilateral/international approach is required?
Yes. If you look at a relatively small place like Haiti, more or less on the doorstop of the mighty United States, you should note that even Washington always favours multi-national efforts. Even the smallest state-building operations are often seen as too big a task even for the most powerful of states.
If so, what about the tendency of US to either do it all alone or not be involved at all? Is the US approach and especially the current Bush administration policies undermining state-building as such?
They are changing. They have obviously learnt a very hard lesson in Iraq, and I can only regret that they went into that operation with so obviously simplistic notions of what they were going to encounter.
Now there is a far greater willingness to listen to others, and something bordering on desperation to get others involved as well.
What is you estimation of the state building process in Iraq: what has been well done, what mistakes have been committed, what about the future?
I think the mistakes are too obvious to need further elaboration. The zigzags in policy that we have seen have been ample testimony to the difficulties one has faced.
I see the constitutional issues and the risk of the country disintegrating as being by far the most difficult of the challenges ahead. There is a strong push for something extremely close to outright independence coming from the Kurds in the north, combine that with the multi-ethnic nature of cities like Mosul and Kirkuk and the oil resources in the area and you have a situation that is potentially nothing less than explosive.
In addition to handling this, there is the necessity to reform the economy. The structures of state subsidies and regulations of the Saddam era are still essentially there, and as long as that’s the case we will not see a take-off for the essential non-oil part of the economy. It’s only by the restoration of a prospering middle class having faith in its future that we bring true democratic stability to Iraq.
It’s now almost exactly 20 years from the day when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the then Soviet Union. By now, Estonia has joined NATO and the EU and has basically become a western country, whereas Russia is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism. Why and what has made the difference?
For Estonia, I believe the process of integration in the European Union and NATO has been absolutely crucial. NATO has given Estonia a necessary sense of security that has made it easier to pursue an open and generous policy both towards the Russians living in Estonia and towards Russia itself. And the process of integration into the EU has given a clear direction to the evolution of the domestic policies during the last decade and a half.
Estonia has also, which is a remarkable achievement, emerged as one of the reform leaders in Europe. The flat tax policies initiated by Mart Laar have been of obvious importance to Finland, but is now spreading all over Central Europe, and will one day make the leap into Western Europe as well.
As for Russia, it’s obvious that the so-called managed democracy is acquiring more and more the hallmarks of a mild authoritarianism. We see it very clearly in the media, particularly in television, how it has been used to more or less manipulate the outcome of elections. At the same time, the scope for debate has narrowed as the increasingly centralized governance system looks increasingly paralysed
This is worrying. Russia faces enormous problems if one looks ahead. It’s losing almost a million people a year, it is facing a health situation that is alarming and needs enormous investments in infrastructure in order to be able to develop a more broadly-based economy.
I’m a short-term pessimist, but a long-term optimist, concerning Russia. At the moment, most of the trends are clearly going in the wrong direction. But it is a country of vast talent and great determination to truly be part of the modern world, and that’s why I believe that over time we will see the impulse of European reforms coming back to Russia.
We have no interest in a Russia sinking deeper and deeper into problems it will be less and less able to handle. Today, one of the great issues is how we can shape the policies that have the best possibilities of contributing to such an outcome.

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