Center for Strategic Decision Research


Global Security in the 21st Century

Ambassador Alexander Vershow
United States Ambassador to Russia

I want to congratulate the CSDR center on the occasion of its 20th International Workshop. I know from my NATO days that these workshops are an important opportunity for leaders and decision makers from diverse fields to share ideas about how we can make the world a safer place. I welcome the Center's new focus on Russia and its place in the world. It is especially timely since Russia is becoming more and more a key player in addressing the security challenges of the 21st century. 


In thinking about global security today, we know that there are many common threats that all countries, wherever they are located, must deal with. But it is also important to keep in mind that global security can mean something very different to an American living in New York City, a South African living in Johannesburg, and a Russian living in Moscow or Vladivostok. 

For example, the New Yorker might define global security in terms of the September 11 attack and other terrorist attacks on America and Americans around the world. The South African might think about the AIDS epidemic that has laid waste to tens of thousands of lives in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and elsewhere. The Muscovite might worry about terrorist attacks by Chechen separatists or narcotics trafficking from Afghanistan, while the citizen of Vladivostok might worry about North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons or the potential for a huge influx of illegal immigrants from the south. 

In the United States, we have a saying: "All politics is local." In some ways we can also say that "all security is local"or at least that each person's perception of threats to global security is in large part determined by local, even personal conditions, experiences, and needs. 

During the Cold War we tended to think of global security in terms of a great East-West conflict defined by antagonistic political ideologies and the threat of assured mutual destruction. We are all thankful that that epoch is over and will not return, even though the habits of thinking bred by decades of mutual suspicion and hostility are hard for some to overcome. In certain ways global security at that time may have been deceptively easier to grasp and deal with, because complex, deep-seated conflicts and issues were subordinated to, and perhaps even camouflaged by, the Cold War competition. 

In today's world, all of us must understand that the threats to global security are impossible to reduce to a simple framework. Terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction may be the gravest threats in terms of the potential devastation they can inflict. But we need to remember to look at global security more broadly. Simmering regional conflicts threaten to boil over into confrontations that, in places such as the Indian subcontinent, could go nuclear. The emergence of diseases such as AIDS and SARS, with their catastrophic human, social, and economic consequences, also offer a particularly difficult challenge, one that is so frustrating for us because we have come to believe that science and technology should provide the answers to challenges posed by Mother Nature. There are also economic and environmental threats to long-term global security, the gap between rich and poor, the widespread pollution of water and air and soil, uncertainty about future energy supplies that are no less serious though they may not dominate the headlines. 


Complicating the world situation is a loss of confidence in existing institutions and multilateral mechanisms that were established to ensure global peace and stability during the past half-century. Many, in the wake of the Iraq crisis and war, regard the credibility and effectiveness of the United Nations as more in doubt than at any time in its history. NATO faces new challenges and issues, too, as it redefines its mission and admits new members who used to be part of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Foes of globalization actively oppose the role of the World Bank, IMF, and the World Trade Organization, institutions that were all founded to ensure global prosperity and security. 

Attacks on the so-called hegemony of the United States and concerns about a supposedly "unipolar world" have also, of course, become a daily part of global political commentary. As an American diplomat, I cannot but lament the strength of anti-Americanism in many parts of the world today, reflecting a fundamental misunderstanding of my country's national security goals. According to recent polls, in some Islamic countries Osama bin Laden is regarded as among the two or three leaders in whom people had the most confidence when it came to dealing with world affairs. 

Such views are alarming. Putting one's faith in a terrorist, or mass murderer, demonstrates a sad, desperate view of the world and a striking lack of understanding of the real threats to world peace in the 21st century. 


To prevent genocide against Muslim minorities, the United States took military action, with its NATO allies, in Bosnia and in Kosovo. The United States led a broad coalition in the 1991 Gulf War to free Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. The United States freed the people of Afghanistan from the grip of Taliban extremists who had made their country a base for Al Qaeda terrorists to attack innocent civilians in the United States and elsewhere. And the United States, along with other nations, went to war this year against Iraq on the basis of U.N. resolutions dating back to 1990 to remove a regime whose record of brutality and defiance of the demands of the international community posed a clear danger to the security of the region and the world. In all cases, our goal has been to establish or restore peace, freedom, and democratic self-government so that we can bring our troops home. 

Of course, we prefer to act on the basis of international consensus with the widest possible cooperation, which is why we sought and received support from the United Nations Security Council in the form of Resolution 1441, which gave Saddam Hussein one last chance, after 12 years of evasion and deception, to comply with the will of the international community. Our security is enhanced when the U.N. Security Council chooses to play a constructive, active role in responding to international terrorism and other global threats. Unfortunately, in this instance, despite its earlier vote of support, the Council became hopelessly divided, and this disunity encouraged Saddam Hussein to continue his defiance rather than cooperate in fulfilling the U.N.'s disarmament demands. In cases such as this, the United States is prepared to act alone or with the support of like-minded allies to promote regional and global stability.


There is no question that, for the American government and the American people, the greatest threat to global security today comes from the possible acquisition of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. This is a very real potential threat because terrorist organizations are now international in nature, well financed, and well organized. The threat will continue to exist whether or not we eventually find out the full truth about Iraq's WMD programs. 

Given what we know about terrorist attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, September 11 must be viewed as a non-chemical, non-biological, non-nuclear preview of what is possible. Does anyone believe that those responsible for September 11 and other deadly terrorist attacks would feel any compunction about using weapons of mass destruction to kill tens of thousands of innocent people? Different nations may disagree on what action to take to prevent this from happening, but the United States believes that we cannot sit by idly and allow rogue states and terrorist organizations to acquire weapons of mass destruction that can be used against us or our friends. The threat is real, even if acknowledging it and discussing it make us uncomfortable and uneasy. 


The emergence of new threats has required the United States to develop new defenses. We have created a new Department of Homeland Security to better integrate our domestic efforts to reduce the dangers posed by international terrorism. We are also reconfiguring our armed forces to make them more mobile, flexible, and capable of confronting a new kind of enemy. We have devoted more resources to our intelligence and law enforcement agencies so that we can track, penetrate, and destroy terrorist groups before they can carry out new murderous attacks. And we have engaged in unprecedented cooperation with other nations and institutions, including the European Union, to share intelligence and to break up international terrorist networks together with their sources of weapons and finance. 

NATO has begun to adjust its own military strategy and capabilities, focusing in particular on weapons of mass destruction and anti-terrorism. In the fall of 2002 Russia hosted a joint exercise in Noginsk under NATO's Partnership for Peace program, with civil emergency-response forces from more than 15 countries. In that exercise, called "Bogorodsk-2002," participants dealt with a simulated terrorist attack on a toxic-chemical plant. Other significant cooperation between Russian and NATO military authorities has included a joint assessment of the threat posed by Al Qaeda to our troops in the Balkans and to civil aviation. In addition, NATO and Russia have begun an assessment of the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and are exploring potential cooperation on missile defense as a means of defending our armed forces and populations against ballistic missile attacks.  

On a similar note, Russia, China, and states in Central Asia have created the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to address terrorism and other security threats in that part of the world. The United States has also been working bilaterally with many of Russia's neighbors to improve their capacity to combat terrorism, narcotics trafficking, and other transnational dangers. Countries, as we can see, are responding to the new security dangers and are joining forces in new coalitions that will help safeguard the world during the coming century. The work among intelligence services and law-enforcement agencies is just as important as cooperation among militaries. 

Of course the most effective way to promote peace and stability is through political, social, and economic reform in those countries where the lack of democracy and economic opportunity provides fertile ground for the growth of radical ideologies that fuel international terrorism. We have seen how, even in some of the wealthier countries in the Middle East, political repression combined with totalitarian educational institutions can encourage hatred and the glorification of the murder of innocent civilians as the means to achieve political goals. 


Extending peace and prosperity across Europe has been a central goal of the EU and NATO since the fall of the Berlin Wall through partnership, cooperation, and even membership for those countries that have proven their commitment to democracy, human rights, and free-market principles as the engine of social and economic development. As Russia and most other ex-Communist nations in East Central Europe and Eurasia consolidate their reforms, Europe and Eurasia are becoming a zone of stability and democracy in which war between nations has become virtually unthinkable. Global security in the 21st century will be enhanced to the degree that we can extend the same process of democratization and reform to the Middle East and beyond. The collapse of Saddam's regime gives the people of Iraq the chance to build their own form of democracy, to develop the potential of the Iraqi economy for their own benefit rather than that of a corrupt regime, and, in the process, to serve as a model for other states in the region. 

Russia's own democratization and reforms have contributed to peace and security in Europe and Eurasia, and we believe Russia has an important role to play in extending democracy and stability to other parts of the globe. That is why we have supported Russia's integration into the world economy, its membership in the G-8, and its special partnerships with NATO, the EU, and other institutions. Russia is on the front lines in dealing with international terrorism, the narcotics trade, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and organized crime. As a world leader in science, Russia has a major role to play in addressing new scourges such as HIV/AIDS. And as a growing producer of oil, gas, and other raw materials, Russia also has a major role to play in ensuring global energy security by helping to diversify sources of supply. 


Our future relationship with Russia will depend in large measure on our ability to work together in facing the related security threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our two countries have managed to agree on a common agenda in fighting terrorism, but reaching agreement on how to deal concretely with weapons of mass destruction has proven more difficult. Clearly, North Korea and Iran are the two most obvious examples of situations in which the United States, Russia, and the international community must stand united. Nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran represent a serious challenge to regional stability, the entire international community, and the global non-proliferation regime. 

The cases of Iran and North Korea demonstrate that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) regime is not working as intended. That regime is based on a simple bargain: if a state renounces nuclear weapons, it can gain access to assistance and technology for developing peaceful uses of atomic energy. Although a state must accept some safeguards and verification measures, the regime is based heavily on trust. But North Korea has cheated on the 1994 agreement under which it supposedly gave up its nuclear weapons by starting a covert program for uranium enrichment and North Korea did this many years before the Bush Administration came into office. Now Pyongyang has renounced the NPT and the North-South de-nuclearization agreement, restarted its plutonium reactor, and even claimed it already has a nuclear weapon.

Meanwhile, there is mounting evidence that Iran is seeking to obtain nuclear weapons. Previously our concerns centered on the nuclear power station at Bushehr, which Iran has been building with Russia's assistance for some years. The risks from that project were supposed to be reduced by Iran's reliance on Russia for supplies of nuclear fuel and a commitment to return all spent fuel to Russia. Yet we have now learned that Iran has secretly been developing its own uranium-enrichment capability which would circumvent the very safeguards Russia has been trying to put into place. At the meeting of the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in mid-June and again in September, Russia joined the United States in voicing concern about Iran's noncompliance with its obligations and in calling on Iran to place all of its nuclear programs under IAEA control. In our view, this means that Iran must sign and implement an additional protocol with the IAEA under which it would accept mandatory IAEA monitoring and short-notice inspections of all its nuclear facilities, without exception. Anything less would fail to dispel concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

Looking ahead, we need to consider what additional tools and forms of leverage we can bring to bear to stop Iran, North Korea, or any other country from acquiring the technology for weapons of mass destruction and long-range ballistic missiles. President Bush suggested one new approach in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) that he launched in May 2003 in Krakow. The PSI envisages interdiction operations aimed at stopping weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and associated equipment and technology at sea, on land, and in the air from moving to and from states that present a proliferation risk (and, of course, to terrorist groups and other non-state entities of concern). Carrying these operations out will require the broadest cooperation so that proliferators will have difficulty obtaining dangerous technologies or selling, shipping, or marketing their goods. A core group of U.S. allies is now working to develop the Proliferation Security Initiative, but we hope Russia and other nations will contribute as well. 

Other new approaches may also be needed to bolster non-proliferation regimes and to keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of terrorists and rogue states. I hope this workshop will help identify them. For example, participants should consider whether more intrusive forms of inspection are needed and whether there should be previously agreed-to conditions under which we would impose sanctions or other punitive measures on potential proliferators if they are not responsive to diplomatic persuasion. It may also be wise to accelerate efforts to effective anti-missile defense systems in order to protect our countries against nuclear blackmail in the event we are unable to prevent proliferation. 


I would like to conclude by returning to the broader security agenda that I described at the outset. Although discussion of global security tends to focus on dangers and threats, ultimately our real challenge is to ensure that the 21st century will be an era during which nation-states compete in peace instead of resort to force of arms. The 20th century in large part was defined by its wars and the accompanying disasters and catastrophes, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, but at the end of the century we witnessed the triumph of political and economic freedom. Today we have an unparalleled opportunity to extend that freedom, because the world's great powers stand together in their commitment to human rights and political and economic liberty. 

Russia is moving forward on the course toward a democratic future. America will support Russia's progress toward full democracy and economic openness. We possess unprecedented military, political, and economic strength but we do not seek to dominate any other nation. That is not the approach we take to protect our national interests or global security. Instead, the United States is determined to take action with other nations, not only to defend the world against the threats that endanger global security but also to work together with the international community to promote stability, economic well-being, and a peaceful, prosperous, healthy free world. In such a world, the American living in New York City, the South African in Johannesburg, and the Russian in Vladivostok will all reap the benefits of this cooperation within the community of nations. 


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