obama oval officeAs one reads the disturbing headlines and news reports of the events in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, and the additional upheavals and inherent instability throughout much of the Middle East region, one senses that significant events are unfolding and at a rapid rate – faster than anyone can anticipate or plan for. The world is changing fast!

This gives rise to a number of questions, which over the 4th of July “rest” period, we all need to reflect on and “rethink” our old concepts of the global order and our role in it.

The first question is how we should start thinking about the world we are living in but also the world that our children will inherit?  To do this we need a deep and fundamental understanding of the forces at work in the world today, their antecedents, their causes, and their trends and direction, and their meaning for us all.

The more immediate question, naturally is how can the international community absorb, think about, and act to bring a measure of peace and security to the Middle East region? Many in the U.S. and abroad have already said we should “write off the region” and leave it to those on the ground to settle. Others believe that some form of either national or international intervention is the better option to stop the now some 100,000 deaths in Syria, and the spread of killing throughout the region.

Few ask the deeper questions of the costs of either action; what chances of a better outcome would result from either of these approaches? We need to examine the details and consequences of many choices. If we act – with whom, when, and with what force, tools, and what required diplomacy? And what are our goals and are they realistic?  Please have sympathy for President Obama as these are not easy decisions – and I assure you, both the public and he do not have total clarity of the on the ground situation, nor do those that are killing on either side. As a Policy Planner, I assure you that more is unknown than is known in many conflicts and crises. Yet the fundamental question remains: does the world stand by when horrific events take place that have wide repercussions? Do we take seriously the “responsibility to protect” that has been mandated by the United Nations?

The other conflict, in the Egypt case, is between support for a democratically elected but increasingly autocratic and radically Islamic government and the alternative of a military dominated, new regime that in the past has had its own autocratic tendencies but promises to return security to the streets, bring prosperity, and eventually civil government?  Do we side with the protests on the street or with the government that was elected but has abused its powers? We deal/recognize daily with autocratic/authoritarian governments such as China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. Yet our values as America are to side with democracy and human rights. In our world there are no simple answers to these questions.

The other question that is being asked is what should be the American role in dealing with key global challenges such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, climate change, global poverty, the troubled global economy, and on our 4th of July our own need for better economic equality, and for growth with fairness. Do we apply these values also to our global responsibilities? Here in our America we are also divided on these historical American traditions and values with a strong conservative sector of our nation preaching against doing anything against poverty – indeed taking away help in such areas as food stamps, housing, education, especially for the poor, and denying climate change and the need to act on it, wanting to invalidate good science, teach false ideas, and keep our vulnerable and less powerful citizens from voting. These elements undermine our own democracy and also our ability to be seen by the world as a leader for justice and peace.

Happy 4th of July and hope to see your thoughts on Rethinking National Security in the coming weeks and months!


  1. Harry Blaney July 8, 2013 / 7:53 PM

    Chuck Woolery has hit the nail on the head that our international institutions are not fully up to the task of dealing with all the changes to our global system or the fast pace of change.
    But we should not blame these organizations which are the creatures of their members and dependent on funding from their member states. We have in an earlier decade of actually trying to undermine the United Nations and other instruments of international cooperation.

    If there is major dysfunctional qualities about the US House of Congress under the Republicans, then the same is often true of the way we and other nations have been unable to create better international structures and new programs. But one major problem is that nations, especially the United States, have been unwilling to fund these organizations sufficiently to enable them to carry out their key functions. But there are also other nations that have no interest in making these organization work to promote security, prosperity for all, humanitarian values or democracy — note the recent actions by Russia and China.

    This is most true in the area of peacekeeping/peacemaking, support for the poorest of our globe including food for children — note the GOP in Congress is cutting food for our own children while cutting foreign assistance some 18% and perhaps more including food for this world’s most vulnerable. It is critically clear in dealing the critical issue of with Climate Change. I liked the quote above of Martin Luther King, Jr. We have found the “fools” in our own time and place. Can we become “wise” is the question that Chuck asks and it up to this generation to respond with “yes” and to act accordingly.

  2. chuck woolery July 6, 2013 / 5:51 PM

    Serious national security threats have been evolving and accelerating since the development of gunpowder. Today’s destructive power of technology in all its forms (nuclear, biological, cyber, nano…even conventional IEDs and now drones) are unprecedented and will only continue to accelerate exponentially. They are also increasingly affordable, ubiquitous and easy to conceal and/or deliver.
    Our minds capacity to think rationally however about this exponential growth of destructive (and constructive) capacity appears to be limited by the lack of evolution of our basic paleolithic brain. We achieve linear learning at best. But the glacial evolution of our political and religious institutions appears to be our greatest weakness. I’m convinced that our inherited mind/brain evolutionary standing is largely responsible for these sclerotic or flat-lined institutions. We continue believe that they are good enough to get us through this increasingly troubled era. They are not.
    We have the mental capacity to develop the most sophisticated technical innovations for creation of heaven or hell on earth, but lack the compassion, wisdom or rational to create political or economic institutions capable of providing clean water to all children or resolving the most basic human disagreements. We have the capacity to develop such institutions. Our founding fathers took bold steps. But not bold enough. Our progress over the past 200 years and especially the last 50 years has effectively blinded us to the trajectory of destructive power and our anemic unreliable responses to global problems.
    Unless we develop the wisdom and the courage to expand the ideals that our founding fathers expressed in the “Declaration of independence” and codify them in a new united nation states of the world ‘constitution’ with an enforceable global bill of rights (see Universal Declaration of Human Rights)…we will continue to believe that existing institutions (UN, NATO, State Department, USAID, DOD, DHS, HHS,…) will be able to adequately protect American lives and preserve our cherished freedoms. They won’t. They can’t.
    Chances are we will not take the transformative changes needed. Eventually, conditions will get so painful that the need for such changes will become as self-evident as “all people are created equal”. BY then however, the destructive capacity of humanity may have delivered us to a point of no return. Time is not on our side.
    These thoughts are not new. Albert Einstein once said he ‘didn’t know what World War III would be fought with…but he knew that World War IV would be fought with sticks and stones’. MLK once said “We must discover the world over and we must learn to live Together As Brothers Or Perish Together As Fools”
    Things are changing quickly. The only valuable question is “Can we? “
    Our future is “justice and liberty for all”…or none. We lack only the global institutional capacity to do it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s