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“The world should get better at launching ideas instead of rockets”

An Executive Conversation with Adm James Stavridis

Location

GCSP

Admiral (Retd) James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and GCSP Associate Fellow, visited the Centre this week to address a distinguished group of high-level representatives from the worlds of diplomacy, business and the media.

Admiral Jim Stavridis was appointed as an Associate Fellow in April this year, alongside five other distinguished personalities. He kindly accepted to open the first networking event of its kind since our move to the ‘Maison de la paix’ in January.

Drawing upon his more than thirty years of service with the US Navy, experience as NATO's 16th Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and a number of senior operational military appointments, Admiral Stavridis focused his talk on 21st century security challenges and on why security of the future should be built with bridges rather than walls.

Unilateral action almost always fails

He began by looking back 100 years to the beginning of the First World War, which he described as a “failure of diplomacy in every dimension”. Noting that the international community tried to create security by walling themselves off from each other, he pointed out that this pattern did not work well in the 20th century and certainly does not work any better in the 21st.

Today’s international security challenges

Stavridis then outlined what he saw as the main challenges facing the international community today, starting with violent extremism – which he highlighted as being a truly global issue with cases from the Taliban in Afghanistan to Anders Breivik in Norway to the United States.

He then moved on to discuss nations operating outside the norms of international law, such as Iran and North Korea, and those that are undergoing transformation and conflict.

Finally, he stressed that the movement of cash, weapons, people and drugs can create corruption and destabilisation in fragile states.

Other challenges he brought up included cyber security, the rise of China and India to the top tier of international relations, and political gridlock in the US.

More listening before leaping into action

Highlighting the importance of taking time for education, learning languages and reading literature from other cultures, Admiral Stavridis emphasised that “we need to do more listening before leaping into action”.

He suggested that cooperation should be increased through social media, alliances with committed purpose, security training, joint disaster relief and education, giving the example of 400,000 Afghani security sector officers that were given literacy training by the NATO-led coalition. The private sector also has a role to play in building bridges, as economic development has to be a part of creating security.

Admiral Stavridis wrapped up his talk by saying that we are “good at launching rockets but we need to get better at launching ideas”, meaning there are times when hard power is needed but we also need to increase the utilisation of soft power.

Playing the long game

During a Q&A session with the select audience of 25 guests, Stavridis was asked about implementing a modus vivendi in the case of Ukraine today, to which he responded saying that firstly, NATO allies need reassurance and, secondly, that the Ukraine military needs to be strengthened. He said increasing capabilities in areas such as cyber strength and lethal and non-lethal equipment would provide deterrence, which would be stabilising for the region.

More generally, he noted that it was important for the West to continue to cooperate with Russia on a number of key issues such as Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, the Arctic, counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics, insisting on the need to “play the long game together”.

Later in the discussion, the security situation in the South China Sea and Northeast Asia was also commented on, and considered by Admiral Stavridis as being significantly acute, if not worrisome.

Forum for dialogue

The raison d’être of these high-level networking luncheons is to regularly bring together, in an exclusive setting and prime location in the heart of International Geneva, diverse groups of prominent professionals from different cultures, business sectors and organisations. These events are a reflection of the convening role of the Centre as a forum for dialogue on key security and peace policy issues.

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