David Hamburg

No More Killing Fields, Part II

VTR Date: April 26, 2002

Guest: Hamburg, David


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Dr. David Hamburg
Title: “No More Killing Fields”, Part II
VTR: 4/26/02

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And my guest again today is the distinguished author, physician, psychiatrist, educator, Dr. David Hamburg who for a decade and a half presided over one of our nation’s most prestigious philanthropic institutions, The Carnegie Corporation.

Now, whenever Dr. Hamburg has spoken here before about his twin interests in the healthy development of our children and in the development of world peace that he pursued at Carnegie, in both areas he has emphasized prevention as the means of avoiding what he calls “rotten outcomes.”

And that was no less true when along with the late Cyrus Vance, formerly American Secretary of State, my guest co-chaired the distinguished Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict. Now, in his own personal approach to the Commission’s work, a book evocatively titled “No More Killing Fields”, Dr. Hamburg shows how prevention and negotiation may, just may, keep us from self-destruction.

Indeed, they must, the alternative is too much of a horror to contemplate. Yet, I’d like to begin our program today by taking my guest back to a thought I’m afraid I didn’t too successfully navigate into an intelligible question last time. It has to do with what future mechanism will most likely make a reality of Dr. Hamburg’s fervent wish for what his impressive new book calls, “No More Killing Fields” … must it be a truly international body, like the U.N. with one nation, one vote. Or will we best give peace a chance if the general practice of fairness and due process of essentially democratic nations is translated into world leadership. And to be frank, world power. Dr. Hamburg, is that a fair question?

HAMBURG: It is. It’s one of the great dilemmas that the Commission faced and was not really able to resolve. But we did cause a number of studies to be done. Quite a number of studies to try to get around the contours of this difficult problem with new information to the extent possible. And deeper analysis, to the extent possible. And, in one of the later chapters of this book, I try to present a fair case for, for each. That is to say, at the center is the notion that for prevention to be really serious, to be effective, to have a chance of working, against deadly conflict, there has to be international cooperation. And by and large sophisticated international cooperation because these are very complex tasks and so it means that strengths have to be pooled, burdens have to be shared, labor has to be divided. And how do you do that?

At the moment, it’s sometimes said prevention has no address. Prevention is a sort of “To Whom It May Concern” message. That’s the state of the part now and maybe it will remain so. The two main options are the ones you stated. For organizing the international cooperation on a systematic and reliable basis. One would be through the UN. The advantages of the UN in essence are that it is the one really universal organization; everybody’s in it.

HEFFNER: And it’s here.

HAMBURG: It’s here. And, and it has considerable legitimacy throughout the world. Partly just because it is universal and because it is a form where everybody can have his or her say from every angle and every remote corner of the world. It has a certain legitimacy. And at the present moment, for the next five years, it has extraordinary leadership in Koffi Ana who fully deserved his recent Nobel Peace Prize. And it has, it has units that are quite effective and helpful throughout the world. The World Health Organization, UNICEF on behalf of children, United Nations environment program has improved considerably in recent years. There are a number of parts of the UN that are, that are quite helpful. The UN Development Program is quite significant, along with international financial institutions like the World Bank in addressing the problems of economic development.

So, it has assets and it has the world in it, and it has remarkable leadership, and it has a number of strengths. However, in the last analysis, as the Secretary General often says, it’s only as strong as its member states. It can only do what the member states will let it do, and particularly the Security Council and within the Security Council, particularly the Permanent Five, as Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States … crystallized out of World War II. And so, it is a fact that many of the countries in the UN still are dictatorships. And the dictators are extremely, exquisitely sensitive to potential interference in their internal affairs. They treasure the right to abuse their own people as they see fit. That is, that is a “norm” that is being eroded and Koffi Anan, among others, is doing everything he can to erode it. But, the fact is there are many ways that obstacles can be put in the path of the necessary cooperation to prevent war through the UN.

Those obstacles may gradually be overcome in time, and, and my book has a number of suggestions and ways of doing that. But the alternate case, and these are not mutually exclusive, in fact it is a coalition led by the community of established democracies, which, after all, is an expanding community. Not so long ago, it was almost entirely the United States and Western Europe, and now it’s much more than that. India, for example. And so, it is an expanding community, it has great strength, as you said … has just … all dimensions … science, technology, economic, political, military. It must not be a coincidence, that such vast power in so many dimensions resides in the established democracies.

But they have the capacity to do a great deal. There’s also a great deal of intellectual and moral ferment in the democracies right now. Not in all of them, but in many of them, about this very problem. They have been extremely responsive to the challenge of the Commission and they have taken a number of initiatives. For example in the European Union and the G8 and other organizations of the established democracies.

So they’ve got the power, they’ve got certain principles that are well established. And, and they have, after all, in practice, on-going ways of dealing with conflict resolution at an early stage, below the threshold of violence or at least below the threshold of mass violence. Look, when we live in a democracy we automatically grow up with a sense that there has to be “give and take” and there has to be sharing, there has to be helping, there has to be compromise. There are many ways of mutual of accommodation … formal and informal, there is an independent judiciary, and all of that.

But there is also sort of the habit or style of negotiation. And, and those mechanisms built into the functioning of democracies go a long way toward preventing mass violence internally and the same principles and practices, are, in fact, quite useful throughout the world. Now one of the recent discoveries, so to say, of the established democracies is that they can foster the building of democracy more and more throughout the world. It’s not easy, it takes time, there are many mistakes, the transitions can be bloody, but, but on the whole, there is a powerful current running toward the establishment, the spreading of democracy through the world with the established democracies as a catalyst.

And I would say for the time being, the established democracies have more capacity to prevent deadly conflict that the UN, although a lot of what they will do is through the UN. They would act partly through the UN and partly outside the UN. And, and there are some dilemmas. Even for those who most deeply believe in, in doing as much as possible of this through the UN, they still face the problem, which Koffi Anan stated … I believe it was in relation to Kosovo. But he stated it more generally. He said, “What do you do if there’s a genocide about to occur, or underway … and you can’t get action through the Security Council?” I mean do you just stand aside and forget about it?

So, I think he’s clearly hinting there that there are times when the UN is unable to respond in a, in a deadly awful situation, and others must do so.

HEFFNER: Indeed, the kind of situation that you describe there … aren’t those situations most likely not to involve the advanced democracies with their capacity to take preventative action between and among themselves and to, to depend upon negotiation. Aren’t we talking about violence? Aren’t we talking about “killing fields” that are very far removed …


HEFFNER: … from those democracies?

HAMBURG: This is a very fundamental point. “Far removed” and yet we’re discovering less and less far removed all the time.

HEFFNER: In their impact upon us.

HAMBURG: In their impact on us. Our attitude has been as in the case of Cambodia, or Rwanda, while it’s regrettable, it’s very far away, you know, it’s long ago, and anyway “the witch is dead”, it’s not really in our vital interests to be considered. We regret it. But we cannot invest in trying to stop it.

But what we found increasingly is that there are a number of very bad effects of, of that sort of thing happening. Of the failure of states or of civil wars … a morass developing. It’s a sort of breeding ground for endemic diseases; for mass migrations which cause great suffering and dislocation in the region and may precipitate regional wars. And, for severe environmental damage, which doesn’t respect any national boundaries. And above all … and above all … of international, catastrophic terrorism. These are breeding grounds for hatred, violence and terrorism. So … and, and finally, let me say, there’s also a kind of a demonstration effect.

If, if a genocider can get away with it with impunity, that is noticed by other people who have genocidal inclinations elsewhere. So, as a practical matter, I think we have to look at our national interests in the established democracies … we, the Europeans, the Canadians and Japanese, and so on. We have to, to look at that as being not so far away. That is that there’s no place so remote that it may not inflict very great damage on the rest of the world. In a multiplicity of ways. And I think that is, that is rattling us some now. We’d like to think of some of some of these messy, bloody situations as far away and not really bothering us, except a bit emotionally. But it’s much more serious than that and so we have to find cooperative ways internationally to deal with it.

HEFFNER: Of course, what I have heard and you may not have heard the same things, more and more I have heard people … who I never would have identified with such thinking, saying “the hell with all of them, it’s impossible … it can’t be.” They don’t have your faith in eliminating the killing fields through negotiation. And there is that sense of American, at least, withdrawal.

HAMBURG: Well, it’s not only a matter of negotiation … I mean fundamentally the structure of, of the approach that I take in this book, which grows out of, that goes beyond what was available at the time of the Commission’s own Report some years ago is … is, first of all, preventive diplomacy, which is some way or other of facilitating negotiation, often with third party mediation. But there are ways of doing it much earlier and much more effectively than we used to, to realize. So that is important, there’s no question.

Where there’s already a serious conflict brewing it may be at the point of conflagration, but, but the better we can catch it before it reaches a point of conflagration, the better we’ll all be. But there’s also the longer term consideration of international cooperation for democratic development. Now that’s very fundamental. There’s no use our talking about we’re only bothered with compassion fatigue, we’ve helped those countries and nothing’s happened.

It’s not true nothing’s happened. In many places where we’ve, where we’ve helped … a great deal has happened. Look at the transformation of Europe and Japan after World War II. Look at what happened with South Korea. There are many places where good things have happened. But it’s taken a long time and it’s been difficult. But we have learned in the process from successes and failures, and I try to crystallize them with that in the book about international cooperation for democratic development.

Right now I think the hardest cases in general are the Islamic countries and especially the Arab Islamic countries. And I touch on that near the end of the book, where, where terrorists are being generated in considerable supply. And a situation where many of the countries have dictatorial leaders and a very small, very rich elite. And a very poor, very subjugated masses. A great deal of unhappiness. Very few practical skills for the young people. Very few economic or political prospects. And so they are frustrated and angry as they grow up and, and therefore readily susceptible to religious fanatics or political demagogues. It’s not by any means limited to the Islamic world. That problem exists in various parts of the world. But I believe and try to explain in operational terms in this book that, that if we can get enough international cooperation … again, particularly among the established democracies … to make the kind of determination to stick with it, as we did, say, with South Korea … that 30 or 40 years from now you could find flourishing democracies with reasonable prosperity in many places which are today very poor and in bad shape.

HEFFNER: You don’t think the problems are so intractable …

HAMBURG: They’re human. They’re human. There are by and large intelligent and innovative people all over the world. To large extent it rests on what kind of opportunities they have. And the approach in, in international cooperation for democratic development has, first of all come to recognize more the democratic part of it politically. That it’s not, it’s not very satisfactory to say, “Well, leave it with a dictatorship as long as we can do business.” The democratic part of it has come more front and center. But also you have to have market based economy so that there’s a chance for prosperity to, to emerge. And I think there’s plenty of talent out there, but it gets squashed early. And one of the, one of the current emphases in development is on education. Even, even the support, international support of early childhood education … things you and I have discussed in past years about what’s good for kids in the United States is also good for kids in Cambodia. We’re all human. We’re much more simply human than otherwise.

HEFFNER: I’ve wondered as I read the book and as I read your … formula is not the right word, but your prescriptions, and you are a doctor … I keep coming back to, in my own head, to a question that I’ve asked you before, and that is “what picture of the nature of human nature informs your belief that whether through the UN or through the working democracies alone, not alone, primarily through them, we can do what you believe needs to be done?

HAMBURG: Well, I think … I think we’ll move in that direction just as a practical matter. I mean with the world covered wall-to-wall with small arms and light weapons (in quotes) we do immense damage. And with the great danger of having weapons of mass destruction creeping around the world, I think that the risks will just get higher and higher; the damage will get higher and higher; and we’ll say we just can’t go on. You know if it goes on for another half century, or another century, what kind of humanity, if any will be left? I think it’s going to be a very practical matter of having to come to terms with the fact that it’s now much easier to incite hatred and violence quickly, vividly all over the world, and our destructive power is much greater than it ever was. So as a practical matter we have to come to terms with it. Is it easy? No. We carry a lot of baggage. I believe we’re a very aggressive, contentious species.

The operative word in the Commission was “deadly”; preventing deadly conflict. We don’t think you can prevent conflict. Conflict’s a ubiquitous, and as far as we can see, it always will be … it is a part human nature. There was, as you may recall a period in my career when I was deeply concerned with evolutionary research. And I came out of that convinced that that the long, long line leading to the human species through millions of years is one that has, has much aggression in it. Now, mind you, a rather poignant and important aspect of it is that the aggression is also tied to affiliation, attachment, the positive emotions. We, we give away our lives in the service of those we love. We identify with some sort of primary group, it may now be aslarge as the nation-state, even a big nation-state, but we identify with some human group that for us is survival. And I think we come out of that tradition where the, where the human group was survival.

And so on the one hand it’s very important to be attached and to belong and to obey the cultural norms and to believe in your group. On the other hand, it’s very natural to be suspicious of other groups who may do you harm. That’s a long part of our history. And I think we have to come to terms with that, broaden our identifications and come to think eventually in terms of one human species, very meaningfully attached worldwide. And having to cooperate as a practical matter, in a way that’s far beyond what we did in the past. It’s not easy. It’s not something we … if it had been easy we would have done it a long time ago.

HEFFNER: What are the tools, what are the mechanisms for achieving that very difficult task?

HAMBURG: Well, I think that the center of it is recognizing that, that there have to be cooperative mechanisms and that the cooperative mechanisms, like we were discussing earlier, really address what I like to call super-ardent goals. That is goals that are so important that all of us have to cooperate in order to achieve them. The adversarial parties, they have to drop their fighting because … well, take the issue most vividly for us, of course, in the past year, is the catastrophic terrorism. It has elicited, at least for roughly a year’s time, considerable cooperation among nations who weren’t very cooperative before. And the sense is that, that if such terrorists get a hold, let’s say, of a nuclear weapon … it might be New York, it might be Washington, it might be St. Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, London, Beijing. I mean everybody is vulnerable. Everybody’s concerned and there is this vivid sense … you’re going across not only the democracies, but many of the non-democracies of the world … that this ball game of terrorism with more and more deadly weapons and even weapons of mass destruction, will require cooperation and, and to some degree setting aside hostile assumptions we made before.

Now we don’t have to love each other, but we have to work together in order to deal with a very serious problem. And it is a kind of super-ardent goal that we can only solve, only reach by cooperation.

HEFFNER: And by the use of force.

HAMBURG: if necessary. Sometimes. The, the, the international cooperation for democratic development could, in time, build much more satisfactory countries around the world, which would breed fewer and fewer people susceptible to the terrorist appeal. But to the extent that you’re dealing with established terrorists, who are out to do the maximum possible damage, then … yes, military, police and intelligence considerations become exceedingly important.

HEFFNER: Now, we’re, we’re taping this program at the end of April, 2002. Beyond the air in a few weeks when people see it, do you anticipate that we will be in a position where things are worse or things are better?

HAMBURG: In a few weeks, I don’t know. On a time scale of a year or two, I expect we will have, in the world, I don’t know whether in the United States or elsewhere … we have in the world, other very severe terrorist episodes. I don’t think we’re through with them yet. I think there are too many established terrorists and there’s been too much appeal, a kind of contagion. I don’t think it’s going to go away very soon. But I think we, we … although we need to address the practical aspects of that very seriously … let me give you one example … the great “nunlugar” program which was a way of helping Russia safeguard its nuclear and bacteriological weapons after the Cold War and tried to prevent leakage of the weapons of mass destruction and the people who could make weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. That program needs to be intensified. For example it doesn’t now cover tactical nuclear weapons, which are in fact most attractive to terrorists. So that measures of that kind need very badly to be taken. And not only between us and Russia, but we and the Russians actually ought to lead a world-wide coalition to deal with that sort of issue. To safeguard weapons from theft and bribery and accidental firing. So there are very practical political military matters that will be of great importance for decades to come. But in those decades, we oughtn’t to be assuming that the conditions will remain the same. We ought to be doing everything in our power to, to make democratic, political and economic developments spread throughout the world, and it’s spreading now, but to make it spread more rapidly and more effectively.

HEFFNER: Again, what are the present mechanisms for that that you find most hopeful?

HAMBURG: Well, it’s, it’s, it’s a mixture. Certainly today the role of the private sector in the economic development is much more prone than it was 20 or 30 years ago. The role of, of investment and trade. Take the South Korea case again … Pat Haggerty the late Chairman of Texas Instrument once said South Korea was like the 51st state for a while, in a sense that we really took hold of it and invested in it and fostered trade with it and fostered regional cooperation around it even in very difficult circumstances like the traditional Japanese Korean hostility. We made an all-out effort, including a large private sector effort to improve economic conditions there.

We were a little slow on the uptake about democratic political conditions, but there in due course we moved, and not just a government, and maybe not even a government will lead, but non-governmental organizations would become immensely more important than they were. Incidentally, in whether you take a UN lead model, or a democracies lead model for international cooperation, the non-governmental organizations today will be very important; far more than they would have been 20 years ago. And many of them are zeroed right in on human rights and democracy and decent human relations.

HEFFNER: Taking the lead, I presume, are foundations in America.

HAMBURG: Foundations have supported the NGO’s to a very large extent and they’re not all … terrific, you know … but on the whole I think a number of the conflict oriented conflict resolution type, prevention oriented NGO’s have done wonderful work. The Carter Center, the International Peace Academy, the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations to name a few; the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington is mixed, it has government support and private support. The NGO’s have all kinds of mixtures, but, but yes. Foundations have taken a lot of initiative and I’m proud to say Carnegie was one in building up those NGO’s that tended to be effective either in the preventive diplomacy side of things, or in the democratic development side of things.

HEFFNER: Dr. David Hamburg, I appreciate it so much when you come, mostly because you were so doggone enthusiastic and optimistic. And I know that we need that. And I appreciate you’re being here again.

HAMBURG: Well, thank you for having me, it’s wonderful to be with you.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. If you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, New York 10150

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.