A Plan of Action – Managing Global Insecurity

18 Feb, 2009    ·   2811

Report of the IPCS Seminar held at the IIC on 9 February 2009 

Chair: Ambassador Lalit Mansingh  
Speaker: Ambassador Carlos Pascual, Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution, Washington DC

Lalit Mansingh  

The purpose of the study undertaken by Brookings was to analyze the threats to global security and how these might be effectively addressed. It challenges conventional wisdom, particularly the concept of sovereignty and provides in its stead a revised concept of ‘responsible sovereignty.’ The study is unsparing in its criticism of the lapses of US leadership, and is aimed at the new incumbent Obama government, in that, it suggests the course the US foreign policy must now chart.  

Carlos Pascual

The Managing Global Insecurity (MGI) project outlines the likely contours of an international order founded on the notion of responsible sovereignty that will deliver global peace for the next fifty years. Such an order or international security system will not depend on US leadership alone or a unilateral imposition of ‘solutions’, but will have to be run on the basis of global participation by other important states of the international community. 

Traditional sovereignty is premised on the concept that borders are sacrosanct and the most important threat to a state’s sovereignty is the transgression of its territory. But today’s threats do not recognize borders. Today, despite several advances, a host of problems continue to plague us – climate change, nuclear proliferation, disease and epidemics, conflicts, poverty and terrorism, among others. The most pressing challenge before us is how to govern the incredibly interconnected world we inhabit, given these problems.

The concept of responsible sovereignty stipulates that to exercise sovereignty responsibly, not only should a state be responsible towards its own citizens, but must also be accountable for its domestic and international actions. Additionally, states also have a responsibility to assist those states that are incapable of governing themselves effectively.

The development of a participatory international order, predicated on the idea of responsible sovereignty, must chart four different tracks:

Restoring Credible US Leadership

The credibility of American leadership, which has diminished significantly over the course of the last eight years, will have to be restored for it to be able to play an important role in the proposed global order. For this, it will have to demonstrate its willingness to be part of and operate in accordance with a rule-based international system. During George Bush’s administration, the military managed to make significant inroads into civilian functions. The key challenge for the Obama administration will be to reverse this trend.

Revitalizing International Institutions

Certain issues require greater institutional capacity to be dealt with. For this there is a need for more effective dialogue between states, to come up with solutions to global issues. Greater international cooperation is required not just to address issues of economic import, but also concerns with respect to climate change and nuclear proliferation, among others. The MGI study calls for the formation of a G-16 (to include the G-8 and other countries, including India, Turkey, China, and Brazil, among others). The creation of this body has not been proposed as an alternaive to the UN, but as a pre-negotiating forum. There is also a need to gradually reform the UN Security Council (UNSC) starting with the P5. These countries must exercise voluntary veto restraint, especially on the question of foreign intervention in weaker states. 

Tackling Shared Threats

Among the most important international issues confronting us are climate change, the global financial crisis, and nuclear proliferation. It is important to understand that these transnational problems are deeply interlinked. The financial crisis has clearly demonstrated the link between economic instability and poverty. There is need for greater transparency and regulation of financial markets. States need to avoid resorting to protectionism, especially at a time when the world is reeling under the effects of a financial meltdown. Instead, they must try and open up and expand their economies even further. The challenge that the US faces is to accept a scrutiny of its own economy and steer clear of any attempt to engage in any kind of economic protectionism.

Internationalizing Crisis Response

International crises demand a great deal of our attention, and the Greater Middle East requires perhaps the greatest attention. We have to develop a more sound policy to deal with international crises; a collaborative political strategy that takes cognizance of both individual states and regional contexts. There is increasing recognition that we need far greater and more effective international cooperation today.



• While it is true that the world is increasingly becoming borderless, the question of humanitarian intervention continues to pose significant challenges. The problem boils down to the questions of – who intervenes and who decides when an intervention is needed. In Yugoslavia for instance, the US went ahead with its decision to intervene without engaging the UN; in the Middle East, the UN has been kept out specifically by the US from getting involved in the peace process.

• Can there ever be democracy in the international sphere despite US efforts to promote its spread, or does democracy stop at America’s borders?

• The idea that the US should take on a leadership role within the proposed international security system, is disconcerting, especially since we are now moving towards a globalized world, with equal respect and role for states in charting the future course of the international system.

• While the dominance of American leadership in international affairs is a fact; the proposal to carve out a similar role for it within the proposed security system is bound to be seen by many as being rooted in America’s desire to realize its hegemonic interests. This is likely to become a cause for grave concern, especially among the developing nations, who would wish to see a more democratic conduct of world affairs.

• As far as the Middle East is concerned, unless the Obama administration’s policies mark a radical departure from Bush’s unilateralism, the problems of the region are unlikely to be resolved.

• While there is clearly a convergence of traditional and non-traditional threats, the responses proposed by the presenter to address these seem very state-centric – the prescriptions that have been outlined in the presentation offer a very westphalian solution to deal with transnational threats and issues. This raises the question of how does one move beyond the westphalian notion of state sovereignty. That is, how does one address non-state issues through state mechanisms? Shouldn’t we consider bringing in non-state actors into the proposed security structure as well?

• Can the contours of the proposed collaborative political strategy towards the Greater Middle East be identified more clearly? Presently, the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East have the support and backing of the US. Therefore, paradoxically, it is the US that blocks this region from moving towards democracy – something that also has implications for South Asia.

• When it comes to the question of assessing how responsible a state is internally – what yardsticks does the concept of responsible sovereignty have to offer to judge that? Additionally, on the question of the responsibility of states to assist in the capacity building of weaker states – along what lines would this be done? Is there a consensus within the international community in this regard?  

• We have a rule-based international system with a host of conventions and international agreements on a range of issues. But one often finds the US reluctant to become party to these. Instead, America has developed its own set of rules to conduct its affairs in the international realm – this clearly is very contradictory behaviour. How do you deal with a state that openly disregards international rules? 


• It is important to adhere to the basic principle of having a UNSC mandate for all cross-border interventions. However, there have been situations when the international community has become deadlocked in this regard. In Darfur for instance, while there was a willingness to talk about the ‘responsibility to protect’, there was no concomitant capacity to protect. The proposal to have a voluntary restraint on the use of the veto within the UNSC is precisely to encourage a real debate on some of these pressing problems of humanitarian assistance. As an international community, we must be willing to undertake humanitarian interventions, if we wish to take the idea of the ‘responsibility to protect’ any further.

• The US will have to recognize that the only way to effectively engage in international interventions is through regaining its eroded legitimacy in the international system. Additionally, it also needs to understand that humanitarian interventions are not short-term affairs and that re-building a state is a long-term commitment that cane take even decades to achieve. 

• Democracy promotion received a bad name during the period of the Bush administration; it was seen as something alien and western that was being imposed on states from the outside. For democracy to succeed, it needs to develop from within a state. It is equally true that authoritarian regimes have the capacity to crush any moves within their states towards democracy. What we need therefore, is to find ways to engage with such governments to encourage them create more democratic spaces within their states.

• There is a need for greater alignment between major powers of the world and for regular interaction between them, not only between their leaders, but also at other levels of their respective governments, especially with respect to transnational security challenges.

• We need to think of America’s role within the proposed global order not as that of the dominant actor dictating terms to the rest, but rather as one whose plays a facilitative role – encouraging cooperation of the other member states. This order will be a network of inter-state partnerships, based on clearly laid down rules.

• The US has been schizophrenic about the Middle East (ME). The challenge for the US now is how to engage with the Greater ME, not unilaterally, but through a broad partnership framework. And as the US engages with this region; its policy towards the ME peace process, stability in Iran, etc., will become important.

• The concept of responsible sovereignty does not diminish the importance of states. On the contrary it reinforces the state as the central actor. Responsible sovereignty simply calls for state accountability both, for its internal and international actions. It in no way implies finding solutions to global problems, sidestepping the state. 

• Additionally, responsible sovereignty does not call for states making judgements vis-à-vis other states. However, it is important for states to challenge each other, especially if they are seen to behave irresponsibly. Moreover, the proposed international security system must be based on a set of negotiated rules and a mechanism to judge their application or the adherence to them by states.

• The meaning of realism has changed over the years – it is no longer about power politics. Today it means that a state places its own interests in a wider context of what is in the interest of the larger global community. It is only through this that more effective and pragmatic solutions can be found to the transnational threats that we face.