‘Centenary lessons: twentieth century Europe & twenty-first century Asia‘, Horizons (Centre for International Relations and Sustainable Development), September 2014
Based on a lecture delivered in Berlin in May 2014.
In this important year of international reflection on the lessons of a war which tore the world apart, it is important to focus on what we should now do together, rather than who was to blame. It is even less helpful to engage in the foreign policy parlor game of trying to identify the twenty-first-century equivalents of the twentieth-century antagonists a hundred years ago. Apart from being historically fraught, it is also unhelpful because it is like assigning a part in a play whose script we all know and whose storyline has already been concluded. This too points us in the direction of the allocation of blame, rather than the distribution of responsibility for carving out a different future.
It is also about being alert to the reality that profound change can happen suddenly, and that we should not simply be seduced into the complacency that peace is somehow the natural condition of humankind, because it has been that way for so long. It is equally about the importance of a creative diplomacy that always seeks actively to solve problems, rather than just passively describe them, or worse assume they are insoluble and allow the options for any solution to melt away. Furthermore, it goes to the question of the responsibility of political leadership on the profound questions of war and peace to always lead public opinion, rather than just follow it.
Finally, it is about building the institutions that encourage the habits and culture of common security, rather than believing that these habits will somehow naturally evolve out of the ether. And, in the great challenges that now present themselves for the Asian century ahead, to work with both China and America to forge a common path for a global future for us all.