Summary: The paper high

lights seven failures by the
West to uphold the foundations
of a world order. The author
compares past successes with
recent failures, rooted in a series
of crises, to maintain stability
and questions the West’s
common vision of the interna-
tional order or the stability and
credibility of NATO.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
The Point of Departure:
The Seven Crises of the West
by Ferry de Kerckhove
German Marshall Fund of the
United States-Paris
71 Boulevard Raspail
75006 Paris
T: +33 1 47 23 47 18
October 2014
It is very hard to fnd any solace in
the world today. Events seem to be
ripping apart conventional wisdom
about the evolution of the interna-
tional system and uprooting some
of the basic tenets which we, maybe
arrogantly or naively, thought were
the foundations of international order,
underpinned by a growing body of
international law. Yet, on three major
a fundamental failure of that
order has occurred for which transat-
lantic partners are ill prepared:
• Te frst piece of territory, Crimea,
taken by one sovereign nation
(Russia) from one of its sovereign
neighbors (Ukraine) in contra-
diction with the UN Charter and
bilateral agreements. Te last such
attempt, during the frst Gulf War,
with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, was
denied. Crimea is a fait accompli
that will not revert in our time.
• Te blatant, banned use of chem-
ical weapons by a government
(Syria) against its own people
leading to a double “reward” —
the removal of the stockpiles by
the international community
and the maintenance in power
of the responsible leader, Bashar
Al-Assad. More importantly, it
1 The three issues were suggested at a recent confer-
ence in Ottawa by my former DFAIT colleague Paul
puts a serious dent in past eforts
on arms control and disarmament.
• An armed struggle that either
harkens back to the days of the
crusades or portends a very
worrying future, i.e. the Shia-Sunni
armed struggle across nation-state
borders, which there is little if any
legal framework to counter.
Many “smaller” failures such as
continued nuclear proliferation by
North Korea, expanded settlements
by Israel in occupied territories and
Chinese muscle fexing in the East
Asian Seas, add themselves to a
growing list of insurgencies before
which the international community
appears helpless.
Each of the failures has a practical
“explanation.” Te 1954 gif by Nikita
Khrushchev of Crimea to Ukraine as
recognition of the Communist Party
of Ukraine’s role in building his career
was a tragic mistake that should have
been remedied by Boris Yeltsin and
Leonid Kravchuk in 1992 before
enshrining Ukraine’s territorial integ-
rity in exchange for Ukraine’s renun-
ciation of its nuclear weapons two
years later. With regard to Syria, there
was the Russian-U.S. deal involving
the removal of Syria’s chemical stocks
to obviate a U.S. attack. Te third goes
back to the early days of the politico-
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
religious struggle between conservative Wahabism and
popular Khomeinism, with a spicing of Persian vs. Arab
attempts to dominate the region. Yet today, the pressure
of nationalism having taken a beating with the ousting of
local dictators, religion is gaining sway, adding fuel to the
underlying political fre.
Tese signifcant events and many others underscore the
cumulative onset of seven crises with a particular impact
on the West, even though the areas of dispute underscore
the increasing salience of the “New Kings” at the periphery.
1. Tere is an evident crisis of leadership explained in
part by war-weariness, considerable neo-isolationism
in public opinion and uncertainties regarding national
interests in the face of an increasingly complex and
polarized world. But there is defnitely a failure on
the part of leaders themselves, with a lack of trust
fostered by WikiLeaks and Snowden’s revelations. If one
compares the kind of communications between leaders
on Ukraine (admittedly improving over time) and on
the Islamic State insurgency in Iraq or the EU response
to Mali and Central African Republic, on one hand, to
the kind of reactions at the time of George H.W. Bush
facing the fall of the Soviet Union or the coup against
Mikhail Gorbachev, on the other hand, one realizes the
timidity and irresolution of today’s world leaders. U.S.
President Barack Obama is not alone in this but there
is a legitimate question as to U.S. leadership post-2016.
Indeed, the crisis of leadership appears pandemic in the
West. Tere is a failure of leadership to articulate the
specifc “national interests” at risk or at stake in situa-
tions as they arise. Leaders statements — undoubtedly
crafed by communications professional — appear to
obfuscate to the point that either or both the leader and
composer simply do not understand the situation well
enough to be clear, accurate, relevant, and logical in
messaging. Tis leads to a poorly informed public —
even misinformed- that does not indulge in any critical
analysis and hence accepts superfciality and spin as
substance that it does not understand.
2. Ever since the failure of the World UN Summit of 2005
to bring about essential changes to the management
of crises by UN members and to the supporting insti-
tutional framework, including the Security Council as
well as more broad reforms, there has been a worldwide
institutional crisis accompanied by a diminution of
confdence in multilateral diplomacy that is plaguing
today’s ability to difuse crises at an early stage. Tis
institutional crisis particularly afects NATO, which
rattles a worn and rusty sabre while failing to realize
that its means hardly meet its language and that its
victories are Pyrrhic at best, when victory is claimed —
e.g. Libya, Afghanistan. “Old speak” dominates. But the
institutional crisis may also stem from a failure to get
back to basics. What is the role of the UN: the preven-
tion of war and collective security in the collective
(global) interest. It was the UN that called for the total
membership to respond to the attack on Kuwait under
the collective security rubric within its expectation of
preventing war. An unprovoked attack on a member
state must be met with a collective response. NATO, on
the other hand, was formed as a collective defense alli-
ance of like-minded nations (common values of democ-
racy, freedom, and human rights) to defend against the
non-disarmed adversary apparently bent on expanding
the Communist world into and across Western Europe.
Afer the “fall of the Wall” NATO undertook out-of-area
operations justifying regional stability as its common
interest — as well as defense of common values seen at
risk in the new and challenging security environment.
In other words, we must restate the roles and reasons of
our institutions in international relations and how we
expect them to function. Tis is both an analytical and
educational mission.
3. Te third crisis has economic and social underpinnings
as it is a general crisis of confdence by our popula-
tions in the face of growing income inequalities and
diminished opportunities and of an evident inability or
deliberate refusal by governments to do anything about
it. Triumphant globalized capitalism and deregulation,
minor tinkering notwithstanding, remain the economic
architecture of the world. While efcient in terms of
allocation of resources, it is less so in productivity terms
as the model of supply creating demand is the source of
major wasted gains. Further, at some stage, reduction in
There is defnitely a failure on the
part of leaders themselves, with a
lack of trust fostered by WikiLeaks
and Snowden’s revelations.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
standards of living of the lower classes further estranges
people from their governments.
4. Te latter crisis has its companion piece in the crisis
of governance, namely the relationship between the
governments and the governed, where long-term issues
are punted while short-term responses are given strictly
according to electoral calendars. While the political
logjam in the United States as evidenced in the fscal
clif episode and subsequent sequestration measures is
but one example, other Western nations also face block-
ages and a visceral failure of cooperation across the
aisles of power. Ofen, domestic institutions no longer
meet the requirements of modern societies; new legisla-
tion barely plays catch up with existing problems while
new ones await. It can be seen as a crisis of democracy,
in that democracy is dependent upon an informed,
engaged, and involved electorate. Low voter turnout, the
almost negligible membership in political parties, and
the continuing difculty in getting quality candidates to
run should be looked upon as scandalous. Yet, these are
met by ignorance and apathy even though it screams for
frank leadership that speaks to nations at large and not
to only one political constituency.
5. Probably one of the most formidable crises is a civi-
lizational one, in a Huntingtonian sense or, more
specifcally, the role of religion, particularly Islam, in
the political evolution of societies. Tis an issue that
makes Western governments uncomfortable. It is high
time we recognize this clash of civilizations, of funda-
mental values and cultures that we have not wanted to
clearly state in some misplaced “political correctness.”
Te “caliphates” are totally unaccepting of the Western
values and way of life. Tis must be made clear to our
publics lest they be lulled into some unrealistic sense
of security. While there are certain rapprochements
between Muslim moderates and the West in terms
of values, there is no fundamental efort at joining
on either side — if anything, as evidenced in Muslim
Africa, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the gap is widening. Of
course, Islamism/Wahhabism is the primary and most
forceful component we commonly have to deal with.
Again, democratic governments must be forthright and
clear in stating the source of risks, dangers, and threats
to prepare their populations for the kinds of conficts
that may arise. We have been using the “terrorism”
rubric but must develop a new and distinct descrip-
tion of what we have to do and why — the articula-
tion of a basic strategy to address some fundamental
and stark incompatibilities in the global international
environment. For this is where the New Kings reign,
all the more so since the Arab Spring freed signifcant
religious/political forces, including extremists. Te role
they played in the Arab revolutions gave them legiti-
macy and allowed them to claim a leadership role in the
shaping and development of their countries. Yet, we are
now witnessing military-inspired anti-Islamist “coun-
terrevolutions,” adding to the complexity of choosing
the right friends and fghting the right enemies. Our
learning curve is all the more slow that factors that
have fostered radical Islam are numerous and that our
nations, welded by history, are facing states mostly
created by us over the previous century and whose unity
stems far more from Islam than from their “Arabism” or
ethnicity. Indeed, Islam imbues politics and transcends
the boundaries of Muslim nation states. On the other
hand, for other nations such as China, Japan, and, in
large part India, religion or philosophy, culture, history,
and the concept of civilization are entirely embodied
within the nation-state. Hence the need for a sophisti-
cated and nuanced understanding of each case on how
the outside world is perceived and approached. Tere
are many diferent “kings.”
6. With the latter crisis comes another phenomenon: the
crisis of history catching up with geography. When one
sees the Kurds in Iraq building their own “sub-state
entity” for lack of a better term in a non-federal state —
and doing it very well — one cannot but refect that the
failed Treaty of Sèvres of 1920 that called for an “auton-
omous Kurd territory,” followed by the treaties of Kars
and Lausanne, is but one example of external leaders
It is high time we recognize
this clash of civilizations, of
fundamental values and cultures
that we have not wanted to clearly
state in some misplaced “political
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
failing to take into account history, geography, ethnicity,
and political aspirations. Tis provoked, a century later,
insurgencies and failed states now that both the Cold
War overlay of forced stability and Western inspired
or fostered dictatorships have given way to multiple
revolutions and renewed irredentism. While the Arab
World is today the epicenter of counter-revolution and
the new war on terror, Joseph Stalin’s geographic legacy
in the post-Soviet Union era will eventually wrack havoc
in Central Asia and beyond. Te Western creation of
colonial divide in Africa leading to today’s “nations” in
name have also turned into chaos in some multi-ethnic,
multi-language states.
7. Finally, we are going through a crisis of transition of
major proportion. During the Cold War, liberated
colonies became pawns in the powerful claws of the
two superpowers, non-alignment notwithstanding,
and afer the fall of the Berlin Wall, we all fell under
the illusion of triumphant democracy and liberalism
underpinning a vibrant capitalism. It seems that the
inevitability of liberal democracy spreading all over
the world has taken a beating over the last few decades,
notably in many countries on which we now depend for
our economic growth and well-being.
Whether it is a
by-product of the emerging multipolarity, a retrench-
ment of the United States, the assertiveness of China,
or the failure to abide with international law by Russia,
it is clear we are entering unchartered waters and that
the international security paradigm of old no longer
applies. Admittedly, ever since September 11, 2001, we
imposed an anti-terrorism superscript to our security
policies that altered our understanding of the undercur-
rents. It is odd that today one fnds NATO members
either searching for or dusting of defense plans of old
as if the paradigm still held. It is equally odd that many
a writer refers in a deeply derogatory way to “revision-
ists” in talking about Russia, mainly, and China, as if
there was a sacrosanct order — mostly characterized as
ordained or imposed by the United States — that could
not be contested, although one could argue that an over-
whelming majority of the world’s nations actually resent
Pax Americana. Yet, it is not so much revisionism that is
worrisome but the narrative that underpins it, particu-
larly by Russia. Te latter postulates that every “color
revolution” — Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Ukraine —
has been partly or totally provoked by the West with
2 As suggested by Doug Bland, from Queen’s University’s School of Public Policy.
“regime change” being the new tool of war.
thus calls for an alternative, an ofsetting “Euro-Asian
Empire” or Alliance, to counterbalance the old order.
Te problem with Putin’s antagonistic Russia is that the
country is, or never was, a “full-service” superpower
and that it increasingly resembles a dying star. Like all
dying stars, before imploding, it might take out at least
its closest neighbors.
It is unclear whether Europeans and North Americans
share a common vision of the evolution of the global order
inasmuch as up to now, despite September 11, “Fortress
America” is much less under threat than Europe, all the
more so that terrorism has changed its way and destina-
tions. Most formal meetings across the Atlantic produce
generally very short term, “lowest common denominator”
views of the world, allegedly to reassure their publics that
the old system still works, that the Alliance is solid like
a rock and that reform at the margins is toddling along.
Maybe it is time to “lock up” a full contingent of policy
planners from most if not all countries of Europe and
North America in a conference center — ably supported
by outside experts — until they arrive at a common under-
standing if not a common vision.
Although “revisionist powers” is a bit of NATO speak,
engaging the Russians and others is indispensable while
trying to understand where they are coming from as
opposed to try to convince them that “we are right.” All
the crises listed above underscore the need to engage with
Europe’s difcult neighbors since despite Crimea and other
major diferences, greater dangers in the European “near
abroad” loom more ominously.
Tere are serious doubts about the solidity and credibility
of security provision to non-NATO members, and there is
no agreement within NATO as to who should beneft and
3 See the remarkable summary of the 3d Moscow International Conference on Security,
May 22-24, 2014 written by Anthony Cordesman “Russian and the “Color Revolution,”
CSIS, May 28, 2014.
It is clear we are entering
unchartered waters and that the
international security paradigm of
old no longer applies.
Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Policy Brief
to what extent. More importantly, there is no consensus
on what to support and who should be supported and how
in countries on the other side of the Mediterranean pond.
Tis takes a huge amount of leadership backed by a solid
analysis and understanding, which our political leaders and
our institutions are presently incapable of providing.
Transatlantic partners come to Asia as well as to the Middle
East and North Africa region in what the French military
called “en ordre dispersé”
at a time when there should be
unity of purpose, common commitment, and adequate
GMF’s focus on all these issues is salutary but it will also
take a real discussion with revisionists and others to see
to what extent like-mindedness still exists and if it can
be operationalized in a more productive way even within
the Alliance. But for that to happen, there must frst be
an accepted and common awareness that there is indeed
a problem that we have been studiously avoiding because
of the potential of confict within the alliance. A restate-
ment of the fundamentals for the Alliance and a clear
recognition that a search for a pax-NATOnia will be elusive
and even dangerous, as the Arab Spring and current and
forthcoming sub-Saharan African adventures have demon-
4 In a disorganized manner or an uncoordinated fashion.
Te views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the
views of the author alone.
About the Author
Ferry de Kerckhove is a senior fellow at the Graduate School of Public
and International Afairs, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of
Ottawa; a member of the Canadian Defense and Foreign Afairs
Institute; and a member of the Board of the Conference of Defense
Associations Institute. From 2008 to 2011, he served as Canada’s
ambassador to Egypt.
About GMF
Te German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens
transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges
and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by
supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic
sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business
communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic
topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed
commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF
supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded
in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-proft organization through a gif from
Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF
maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition
to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has ofces in Berlin,
Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, and Warsaw. GMF also
has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Schefer
Director, Paris Ofce
German Marshall Fund of the United States
Tel: +33 1 47 23 47 18

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