Recap | America’s Next War and How to Prevent It

recap america's next warPaul B. Stares, director of the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, presented ideas from his new book in a talk at the Tower Center “America’s Next War and How to Prevent It.”

Stares argues that there’s been a reversal of post-Cold War trends. Growing friction among great power countries and increasing organized violence in unstable regions of the world make the case that the United States is facing a growing risk of conflict.

“The United States is the 9-1-1 of the world,” Stares said. The U.S. has guaranteed the security of 48 countries, making the U.S. the “principal underwriter for global order.” In other words, how the U.S. responds to global threats matters greatly, as does its efforts to maintain international stability.

What can we do? Two debated strategies

The two different approaches to maintaining global order are perhaps best exemplified in George W. Bush’s strategy and Barack Obama’s—or, as Stares called them, doing more and doing less, respectively. Doing more involves using more military power and more assertive diplomacy in an effort to encourage the spread of democracy and to aid in development. This strategy is costly and risks further destabilizing the area without guaranteeing peace.

Doing less involves making fewer entangling commitments, like as the formal security guarantees mentioned above. It also includes less nation building and intervention, which risks leaving a security vacuum and being passive in the fight for universal human rights and democracy.

A Demand-Side Approach

Stares recommends an alternative strategy: taking deliberate, proactive measures to prevent conflict and minimize risk. He calls this a “demand-side approach,” meaning mitigating and managing risk and conflict as needed. He outlines this strategy in three stages: the long game, mid-term game, and short game.

The long game, conflict risk reduction, includes several strategies such as encouraging international trade and working to offset climate change. The most important, Stares argues, is promoting strategic stability among the major powers. This means not doing anything to threaten a country’s confidence in its nuclear deterrent capability.

The mid-term game, crisis prevention, is assessing and anticipating emerging risks in a 12-18 month time line. Within this plan, Stares encourages prioritizing risks: Tier I threats would be any that would draw us into conflict with China or Russia, Tier II threats would draw us into regional disputes such as that between Pakistan and India, and Tier III threats are those that require limited military interventions.

The short game, conflict mitigation, would focus on de-escalating tensions and managing already present conflict. In this case, North Korea would be the first priority, with Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Yemen, etc. in the second tier, and Venezuela, Yemen and Somalia in the third tier.

Stares argues the U.S. has the resources to make preventive actions more effective and efficient. Do we need to overhaul major organizations in favor of reform? Not necessarily. Stares says what we really need to do to keep the peace is look ahead, plan ahead and prepare ahead.

For further reading, check out his book Preventive Engagement.