A century ago, President Woodrow Wilson set out fourteen points that were to form the basis of peace negotiations to end the First World War.  Although the world was back at war twenty years later, the Fourteen Points were the basis for many institutions of the international order, including the United Nations and its various bodies and offshoots.  They also pointed the way to establishment of a number of nation states that now exist in Europe.

But are the Fourteen Points still fit for purpose in a world where the United States is no longer the ascending power, where China and Russia expect to be listened to and have their own approaches to international affairs, where the UK and France are no longer colonial powers and their colonies are now nation states?  And how relevant are the Fourteen Points where the threats to peace are very different from those faced a hundred years ago and are increasing and are increasingly complex?

Against this backdrop, a workshop last week at Chatham House, in association with the Meridian International Center in Washington DC, came up with its own list of points for the twenty-first century.  There were seven points, rather than President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and there were some similarities – for instance, the references to arms control.  However, I was interested to see that the focus of the new list was on communication, equality, the environment and education, rather than carving up territory, recognition of nations and navigation routes.  But the Fourteen Points addressed problems of a colonial era and were designed to end a war that had engulfed too many around the world.  The seven points are designed to prevent another world war.

The seven points are:

1          We shall prioritise diplomacy as one of the most important ways to prevent conflict.  We shall ringfence public diplomacy spending in the way that we do for defence and international aid.

2          We shall establish global norms for tax structures so that every member of every country is subject to fair taxation and inequalities are reduced.

3          We shall re-double global efforts to address climate change and ensure that the Paris Agreement is implemented as fully as possible.

4          We shall re-order and re-frame the international system to be more representative.  Representation for sub-state groups and minority peoples will be included at all levels at the United Nations and its associated institutions.

5          We shall re-charge the United Nations Security Council to ensure that new mechanisms can be established for agreement and ensure that interventions can only take place with full agreement throughout the whole of the UN system.

6          We shall set up in place further measures to prevent conflict and curb military aggression, including increased emphasis on disarmament and arms reduction and controls, including controls on cyber weaponry.

7          We shall increase the international emphasis and commitment to sustainable development and education for all and we shall support good governance practices and funding for education particularly for girls.




Last week, I was at Chatham House in London for International Crisis Group’s presentation of conflicts to watch in 2018.  I find it one of the more depressing top-ten lists and we seem to be a way off hitting a top-ten of crises and conflicts that have been avoided.

Which areas or countries made the list?  North Korea; US-Saudi-Iran rivalry; the Rohingya crisis encompassing Myanmar and Bangladesh; Yemen; Afghanistan; Syria; the Sahel region; Democratic Republic of Congo; Ukraine; and Venezuela.

Here are some points I took from the session.

1          The list could easily have been a lot longer, with the Israel-Palestinian conflict being cited as the eleventh item on the list in most years.  Other countries referred to were Libya, Pakistan and Cameroon.

2          There are no great surprises on the list, with the possible exception of the Sahel – the region that includes Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania – but that might be because it doesn’t receive as much coverage in the media.  From recollection, it made last year’s list too.

3          ICG’s representative made the point that politicians frequently overestimate the impact of military intervention and underestimate the influence that can be achieved through non-military measures.  Using just a bit more power generally won’t solve the problem and there are some obvious examples of this.  I can’t help thinking some history lessons wouldn’t go amiss for a few world leaders and their advisers to hammer this point home.

4          Creative thinking on the part of world leaders is in short supply.  It seems to me that creative solutions are essential in view of the number of conflicts across the globe and a large dose of patience is needed too.  It can take time to build trust and to achieve results.  Militarisation isn’t creative but there seems to be a trend in that direction, which is a shame because history shows it rarely works and is costly on all levels.

5          There are 18 elections across Africa in 2018, including in Cameroon, a country that those familiar with the region see as a potential conflict area.  As a result of colonial connections, France and the UK might be able to take (non-military) steps to make a difference and avert a crisis.  That’s likely to require creative thinking, a lot of patience and collaboration, but that would seem to me to be a price worth paying to stop a tinder box breaking out in flames.

Back to the Future


I heard Condoleezza Rice speak at Chatham House last week. Apart from being even more articulate than I’d expected (and having a remarkably dry sense of humour), three things struck me.

The first point is the emphasis she placed on the role of Russia in the resurgence of great-power rivalries in the context of current inter-connected crises. We see Russia’s name cropping up, repeatedly, but hearing an expert on the Soviet Union comment on the role of Russia in current affairs and situations shone a spotlight on the point.

The second point follows from this: history has this horrible habit of repeating itself. It’s a resurgence of great-power rivalries. This is hardly a novel point, but it’s linked to the importance – that Dr Rice emphasised – of playing the long-game and being patient. Western Europe has had centuries to settle its democratic institutions – and decide that democratic institutions are what it wants – and expecting other countries to reach similar conclusions in the space of a few years is unrealistic in the extreme.

The final point is more difficult to pin down, but there was a sense that Dr Rice’s comments could only have been made by someone from the pre-Obama era of government. I can’t speak for others, but I’ve become more used to a tone of disengagement and a perception that US and European governments would prefer to distance themselves from international conflicts. The level of reassurance that can be given by presence in NATO ally countries, the view that sanctions are a blunt weapon and the willingness to identify the weaknesses of an isolationist approach all felt pre-2009.

I’m not saying one approach is right or wrong and I don’t regard myself as a hawk. But I realised just how used I’ve become to withdrawal starting to be the norm.

The evolution of answering the question


Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin, was in the news this week for declining to answer a question put to him by Justin Webb at the end of an event at Chatham House. The question was about evolution, of which, more later, because that wasn’t the first point of interest.

Governor Walker was asked, repeatedly, what he thought about events beyond the confines of the US and he refused, repeatedly, to answer them. He said this was because he was in the UK on a trade visit for (and, presumably, paid for by) the state of Wisconsin, but he also said that he didn’t consider that it was polite to answer questions on policy regarding the United States’ interaction with other countries whilst he was outside the US. And he stuck to this line through questions about the fight against ISIS, what a Scott Walker foreign policy might look like (and who might be advising him on that) and whether the US should arm Ukrainian rebels.

It was no surprise that he didn’t use the stage at Chatham House to announce a challenge for the Republican nomination, although I was surprised that there weren’t more questions trying to coax a clue from the Governor.

All questions that fell outside what he acknowledged to be slightly old-fashioned parameters on foreign policy were answered with the fluency of the professional politician; Governor Walker speaks in full paragraphs and lots of them.

And it looked as though the event would be fairly bland and uneventful, until a near-throwaway question from Justin Webb, almost as people were getting up to leave.

He asked Governor Walker whether he was comfortable with the idea of evolution, whether he believes in it and whether he accepts it. And it turned out that this was a further question he was going to punt on (to use Governor Walker’s phrase).

Except, of course, anyone who wondered whether the Governor was giving, at the very least, serious consideration to a challenge for the Republican nomination now had the answer to that particular question.



The working day on Thursday was bookended by two sets of comments.

The first was the much-publicised spat, in the wake of the UK Autumn Statement, between the Conservative party leadership and the BBC regarding spending cuts and reduction of the public debt.

The point that struck me is how tired this felt – not so much the squabble as the underlying cuts/debt issue. I’m not commenting here on the levels of public debt, the rights and wrongs of cuts, the amount of any spending cuts or where any cuts should fall. It’s rather that the overwhelming impression is that the vast majority of voters will see the debate as mud-slinging between members of the establishment and divorced from the amount of money they have in their pockets and whether they can make ends meet. And that goes for the House of Commons ding-dongs and salvoes between the political parties across all media about the public debt and spending cuts. And people wonder why non-traditional political parties are emerging and consolidating, in England and in other parts of the UK.

The second set of comments made up part of a response by the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, at Chatham House in response to a question about what he would do to promote women’s rights. (The event was on the record and so I’m not breaching the Chatham House rule.) Although rule of law (Sharia law; civil and criminal law) is crucial to this process, President Ghani said that economic empowerment is fundamental. Without that, women will remain vulnerable, particularly those in urban areas.

But it was his next statement that moved the dial for me. He said that economic empowerment requires real credit, not micro-credit.

I’d been stuck in a very inappropriate rut of thinking that any developing – or reviving – country would only need small sums of money for people to become self-sufficient or that the economy was on a scale where only small businesses would be required or that people would be content with small-scale activities. That isn’t President Ghani’s vision. He’s not looking to make people self-sufficient at the most basic level. For instance, he’s looking for chains such as Tesco and Walmart to share their knowhow in respect of distribution and delivery chains to allow Afghanistan to integrate its economy at a regional and international level so that foreign aid isn’t needed. He wants Afghan goods to be sold in stores in Europe and North America. And he sees women as playing an important role in that process.

It’s a vision that, to me, contrasted sharply with the tired re-hashing of political argument that had littered the media during the day. It felt forward-looking and inspiring, not tired and stodgy. Whoever can bring a vision to UK politics would have a rich seam to mine.