Category Archives: by John Lenczowski

Human Nature, Moral Order, and the Quest for Peace

Address at the Inauguration of the Marvin H. Shagam Program in Ethics and Global Citizenship
The Thacher School, Ojai, California
October 3, 2015
John Lenczowski

I am honored and delighted to be invited to address you all today on this felicitous occasion.

It is thrill to see Mr. Shagam again, to see three of my old school friends who are on the Board of Trustees, Bob Johnson, Phil Pillsbury, and Marshall Milligan, and to see your great Head of School, Michael Mulligan.

Being here brings back great memories of my own days at the School.

My nickname in those days was “Wedge.” My classmate who dubbed me that way explained it as follows: the wedge is the simplest tool known to man. I learned a lot from having been so identified. There is wisdom in simplicity. And there is also comfort in coming up with a good cover story.

I fondly remember racing my horse, Whiskey Run – especially with my old chum, Steve Culbertson and his horse, Sunny Weather. We would race madly up Horn Canyon.

One time we raced around the reservoir. As we finished the circuit, I remember how our horses wanted to turn right and go home, but Steve and I wanted them to go left and back around the reservoir again.

So, without saying a single word to one another, Whiskey and Sunny agreed to compromise: they stopped short, just before we were about to crash into a tree at the fork in the road. Steve and I both went flying over the tops of our horses’ heads, and as we were flying into the tree branches, we made eye contact in mid-air both with looks of flabbergasted surprise.

Our horses won that bout and charged all the way back to school where, after our long hike back, we found them consuming vast quantities of hors d’oeuvres in one of the hay barns.

At lunch with the trustees today, I was prompted to recall one other incident. Since I had originally been enrolled at Groton School back east when I was born, I was asked how I came to Thacher.   Well, after moving west, my parents recognized Thacher to be the counterpart of Groton on the west coast and they wanted me closer to home.

Then I was asked what my parents thought of a school where we played soccer on dirt fields that were occasionally punctuated with horse manure. Well, one day when I was home for Christmas, my Mom caught me wiping my hands on my pants. In disgust, she exclaimed: “straight from the pastures of Thacher!”

Today, I would like to share with you some thoughts about one of the great and noble endeavors of mankind – the quest for peace.

This quest lies at the heart of the mission of Thacher’s new Marvin H. Shagam Program in Ethics and Global Citizenship.

The very name of the program points to two of the most compelling means of achieving this goal: ethical behavior that one should expect from a responsible citizen, and citizenship that consists of caring for the well-being of the community.

The question arises: how do we get such behavior from enough of us that we can truly build a peaceful world?

A useful way of answering this question is to examine the causes of conflict that make true community so difficult.

One of the great theoreticians of international relations, Kenneth Waltz, says that the three main sources of international conflict are the nature of man, the nature of different regimes, and the anarchic nature of the international system, where there exists no supra-national authority that can enforce international law.

Examining the nature of man, of course, is one of the principal tasks of philosophy, which we in America don’t study much these days. We often make assumptions about human nature without examining them carefully.

For example, there are two major worldviews when it comes to addressing problems of peace and security.

One is the view of world community or the brotherhood of man. Adherents of this view hope for the reunification of mankind, whereby particularism will fade away; where, eventually, through intermarriage, we will all become a single race; where national identities will evanesce, and individual governments will eventually give way to global governance.

Here, national identity and citizenship are seen as obstacles that must be removed. And once they are, we may all speak the same language, so that no nation or empire will exercise superiority over others with all the divisiveness that such superiority can create. Such a universal language – Esperanto – has already been created for this eventual day.

Underlying this worldview are certain assumptions: that mankind throughout the world will recognize the wisdom of this solution; that everyone shares a common rationality which will lead them to conclude that it is in their best interest to behave accordingly; that they will indeed behave according to these best interests; and that there is a natural harmony of interests in the world that simply must be realized.

One of the assumptions underlying all this is an optimistic view of human nature – that man is capable of rational, enlightened behavior that can eventually result in peace. This worldview inspires that approach to foreign policy that is called “idealism.” This approach focuses on ultimate global goals like world peace, global democracy, global free trade, global protection of human rights, and the like.

A second worldview stresses the reality of diversity. It holds that different societies took shape at different times, in different places, under different circumstances. Individual groups managed to achieve authority, security, and order by gaining control of specific territories. They established governments and legal monopolies of force.

According to this worldview, it is these conditions that form man’s main experience of living in peace. That monopoly of force pertains here in our country, and we enjoy some modicum of genuine peace, except where the mafia or criminal gangs challenge the established monopoly of force in certain neighborhoods.

According to this view, governments – especially legitimate ones that rule by the consent of the governed – afford the principal opportunity for people to live together in peace.

Underlying this worldview is another assumption about human nature: that it is flawed, and that the realization of a global harmony of interests is impossible because there are too many conflicting interests and passions that prevent such harmony in the first place.

This worldview, then, concentrates not on global solutions but on more limited but achievable goals: such as protecting a nation’s security, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and well-being. It is less concerned about the welfare of others abroad. This approach to foreign policy is called “realism.”

Differing assumptions about human nature also lie at the root of different kinds of regimes. We must study those regimes and their philosophical underpinnings because different regimes behave differently in the world arena.

Totalitarian regimes with revolutionary ideologies tend to be more aggressive. They tend to seek revolutionary changes in other countries and in the international system, in contrast to ordinary states which tend to be status quo powers that operate not in an offensive mode, but rather in a reactive and defensive mode.

There has been a debate over the centuries about human nature. For years, in Western, Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian thought, man does have a nature, a moral nature, where the essence of human life is moral choice, where we all have free will and can choose to do right or wrong. The entire field of ethics arises from this central proposition.

A feature of 18th century Enlightenment thinking, however, was the idea that man does not have a permanent nature, that man is an empty vessel whose character is determined by his environment. If one wants to have a better man, then it is necessary to find the right influences to improve man’s character so that we can bring about a good society. This idea was an essential element of the so-called “Age of Reason” which sought to improve the lot of mankind by liberating it from Biblical morality and freeing it, according to new, rational solutions, to create an entirely new society and civilization.

The corollary assumption here is that man’s nature is perfectible on this earth – and even on a mass scale if only we apply the right formula of social, political, or economic engineering.

As Richard Weaver has taught, ideas have consequences. And the consequences of the ideologies that brought the assumption of human perfectibility to its logical conclusion were the two great socialist systems of the 20th century: national socialism – Naziism – which sought to perfect man through eugenics to make a “master race.” The second was international socialism – Communism – which sought to create the “new Soviet man,” the “new communist man,” or just the “new man.”

These ideologies, based on a utopian interpretation of human nature, attempted to create heaven on earth through coercive measures. The socialist regimes dedicated to this idea killed more of their own people than were killed in all the wars of the 20th century combined.

In contrast, the other, allegedly pessimistic, but perhaps more realistic, view of human nature has had its own political consequences.

For one, this view lies at the foundation of the American system and other republican governments. As James Madison said, if men were angels, there would be no need for government. But men are not angels, and they never will be – at least not on this earth, and certainly not on any mass scale.

As a result, we have built our public arrangements – we have built community – around the idea that we must protect ourselves from the inevitable evils that we know will be committed by some among us.

So, we have a rule of law and law enforcement. To avoid the concentration of power in the central government which might be seized by an evil-doer, we diffuse power among federal, state, and local governments. We then created a separation of powers among executive, legislative, and judicial branches and a system of checks and balances. We have a Constitutional law that is higher than statutory laws, which can be unjust laws, written up in a fit of passion by what can sometimes be a tyranny of the majority.

In establishing these arrangements, the American Constitution is not concerned with global solutions. It sets forth to achieve a more perfect union, to provide for the common defense, and to promote the nation’s general welfare.

But what is noteworthy about the American system is that its legitimacy rests on the assertion in our Declaration of Independence of certain truths that are held to be universal and not just American: that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights. Our Founders called the system arising from these ideas the “Novus Ordo Seclorum” – the new order of the ages – an order that many of them hoped to spread worldwide as the new foundation for global harmony.

The propositions about inalienable rights in the Declaration raise a critical question about the relationship between moral order and political order.

The question is: Is there a transcendent, universal, objective moral order in the world? Are there objective standards of right and wrong that apply to all peoples at all times and in all places?

This is one of the most important philosophical questions that must be addressed in our education. But American higher education, which used to wrestle with this question, avoids it like the plague.

Why is it so important? Because of the consequences arising from the differing answers to it.

The Greco-Roman-Judeo-Christian tradition says that there is such an order. Sometimes it is called the “Natural Law” – the law written on the human heart that forms the basis of conscience.

There is another view. It is that moral standards are neither objective nor universal. Instead, it is said, they are established by personal preferences, so that one person may have one set of moral standards and a second person another set. According to this theory, the standards of society are relative and not objective. They are a social construct: they are the combination of personal preferences realized on a mass scale.

Vladimir Lenin was one who denied the existence of objective moral standards. In his Speech to the Communist Youth Leagues in 1920, which was required reading for every Soviet school child, he said that there are no objective moral standards, and that such “standards” are a “bourgeois prejudice.” Instead, he said that whatever assists communist revolution is good, and whatever hinders the revolution is bad.

This is a contingent morality, determined by circumstances, and ultimately determined by those with the power to judge the circumstances and enforce whatever standards they choose that will serve their purposes.

Whether moral standards are established by the ruling party or a majority consensus within society, it means one thing: they are established by power struggle. This is the doctrine of “might makes right” – whether the might takes the form of a majority vote or the people who possess the biggest guns and the greatest will to use them.

The American system is based on a different theory. It is founded on the notion that majorities – even in seemingly civilized places – can become tyrannical. It is thus founded on the notion that, yes, we have majority rule in America, but we also have inalienable minority rights.

What is a right? In short, it is a just claim. It is that which is justly due you as a human being or as a citizen. But for a right to exist, there has to be a standard of justice to determine whether the claim is just. And that standard of justice requires, necessarily, objective moral standards.

The system of majority rule with inalienable minority rights cannot logically exist unless those rights come from a source higher than the potentially tyrannical majority. The Founders said that they come from what they called the Creator. This Creator could be the God of Abraham or could be something else. Various options were possible. But what was clear was that rights were not conferred on our citizenry by any human law or court decision.

Indeed, certain judicial interpretations of our own Constitution enabled slavery to be possible. But did those interpretations make it just?

Indeed, if objective moral standards do not exist, then who are we to criticize policies and actions taken by other governments and cultures? Who are we to criticize widow-burning in India? Or the Nazi extermination of the Jews, Slavs, and Gypsies, and before those people were slaughtered, the Christian clergy, who threatened the Nazi project with their moral opposition. If human law is supreme and there is no natural law, then all the actions of the Nazis were not only ideologically desirable and legal, but just another lifestyle choice.

If you question the existence of a natural law, then how do you explain the existence of conscience – that little voice that tells you that you are doing the wrong thing? How do you explain the reality that people who do the wrong thing are often haunted? And try as they may to banish its manifestations, the haunting never goes away.

If there is no natural moral law, then how can there be objective ethical behavior? If there is no natural law, then the quest to achieve that ethical behavior which can help build human community worldwide will be very hard indeed.

So, in light of these questions of human nature and moral order, and the diametrically opposed systems of government and foreign policy deriving from them, how can we constructively think about working for peace?

There are various theories of peace. Some are based completely on power relations. Some kind of peace can prevail when there is a balance of power between adversaries. Another kind of peace is possible through hegemony – where one state is so much more powerful than the others and it can dictate its terms of peaceful order. Then there is the peace of empire, where one power takes over all other political entities which completely lose their sovereignty.

Some theories of peace are based on psychology and feelings. They ask that we all treat each other better by feeling more tolerant toward one another. There is validity in all these theories.

But of all the theories of peace I have encountered, the most compelling is the ancient Christian concept of earthly peace. It is not exactly the peace of Christ. It is not the beatific vision. It is what St. Augustine in the 4th century called “tranquillitas ordinis” – the tranquility of order. This concept of peace means establishing political order. It involves the building of human community.

How is this done?

It is all based on a realistic understanding of human nature. First, one must be realistic about the dark side of human nature. If we recognize the existence of evil and the perennial propensity of man to be tempted to do the wrong thing, we are now prepared to acknowledge that there will always be criminals and aggressors among us, whose behavior destroys peace and community.

So, we need laws and law enforcement domestically, and we need armies to deal with violators of international law.

But laws, the police, and armies are not sufficient to build human community. What must also be done is to be equally realistic about the good side of human nature. That good side is man’s capacity for truth, justice, and that love of neighbor that transcends the requirements of justice. And that means mercy and forgiveness.

I like to tell my students that although they all thirst for justice, that isn’t really everything they want. If they got true justice, none of them would have driver’s licenses, because they are all speeders. What they really want is mercy.

During the Cold War, the great Soviet scientist, the inventor of the Soviet H-bomb, Andrei Sakharov, told his masters in the Kremlin: “There can be no peace without human rights. You will never have peace with the West until you have peace with your own people – and that means treating them with justice and protecting everyone’s human rights.”

There is a bumper sticker that says: “If you want peace, work for justice.” This is ever so true. And indeed, justice is the fruit of ethical behavior and living by the Natural Law.

Violations of justice are a perennial source of grievance and conflict. But sometimes justice is hard to achieve.

There is an aphorism from Cicero: “Summum ius, summa iniuria.” The totality of justice is the totality of injustice. What this means is that if you insist on total justice, you won’t get any.

A good example of this is the Palestinians. These people have some legitimate grievances. Many were driven from their homes and lands and want to be able to go back to them.

But Israel exists. Several generations of native born Israelis live there. This is their country.

Most Palestinians — some 70 percent – are ready to live side-by-side with Israel. But a large minority of them are not. They want total justice. They want their old land back and the Israelis out. So what are the Israelis supposed to do? Go back to Minsk, or Pinsk, or elsewhere in Eastern Europe?

In demanding total justice, the Palestinian rejectionists are getting no justice.

In addition to the physical security that comes from police, armies, fences, and the like, what the Palestinians and Israelis want and need – and what all of us really want and need – is mercy, forgiveness, and respect for our human dignity. People want their inalienable rights honored and protected. They want love of neighbor.

All this completes the formula for building community, for establishing a political order whose result is true peace.

It can be achieved – at least within the borders of a given country. This kind of order is not utopian because it has a way of addressing evil. It is realistic about both aspects of human nature and is based on moral order.

Understanding the flaws and frailties of human nature is the first step toward realism about all sorts of unpleasant conditions in the world. The question is whether one can truly achieve greater peace if one ignores these realities.

In their idealism, too many people avert their eyes from some of these realities. Terrorism, mass murder, leaders of foreign powers who congenitally lie and conduct propaganda, disinformation, and strategic deception, states that not only violate treaties, but which have strategies to violate treaties and develop those strategies even before they sign the treaties they plan to violate. Some people are willfully blind toward these things.

George Orwell calls this “the will to disbelieve the horrible.” The great Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn calls it “the desire not to know” – because if one knows, then one may have a moral or strategic obligation to do something about it.

Unfortunately, utopian views of human nature and wishful thinking about the world lie at the root of multiple forms of utopianism in foreign policy.

First, we have the liberal internationalist version: Just give us more negotiations, more dialogue, more mutual understanding, more treaties, and more international organizations like the UN and we will all be able to live in peace.

All these things can be helpful. But all too often, this policy dreams away the evildoers or pretends, as our President is doing with Iran today, that they can be taught to have goodwill toward their neighbor whom they actually wish to dominate, enslave, or destroy.

Then there is a neoconservative version of utopianism that believes that we can march into Iraq and transform it into a democracy as if culture doesn’t exist – as if the habits, traditions, and mentality developed over decades and centuries don’t exist.

Then there is the utopianism of the left-wing or libertarian isolationists who believe that if we just withdraw from active engagement with the world, diminish our military presence worldwide, and perhaps even disarm, then hostility toward us would start evaporating. Some of the adherents of this view seem to forget that there is a concept called “provocative weakness,” where aggressors see disengagement, disarmament, and withdrawal as a signal of weakness that can now be exploited.

Finally, there is the utopianism of the so-called “realists” who believe that it is possible to conduct an authentic American foreign policy solely according to our vital national security interests. This approach holds that it is actually possible to divorce our foreign policy from the humanitarian impulse and moral sensibilities that reside in the American heart.

In the end, peace will be more likely if we don’t imprison ourselves in any of these ideological templates but rather rely on prudence – the application of moral and strategic principles to specific, usually unique, circumstances. Indeed prudence is the virtue of the statesman.

Peace will become more possible we if banish wishful thinking from what should be a realistic appraisal of the conflicts that will inevitably arise around the world – conflicts that come from the desire for power, money, land, empire, prestige, domination over others, ideological or religious messianism, and other motivations of dictators, revolutionary parties, transnational movements, and others.

And finally, we can work on building true tranquility of order by basing all our actions on the development of prudence, honesty, courage, humility, and all those other personal, civic, and cultural virtues that result in justice, mercy and love of neighbor.

At Thacher, as we sing the School song, we call these things “honor, fairness, kindness, and truth.”

These virtues are all the fruits of moral order and are not automatic or inherent attributes. They must be cultivated. Without them, peace is impossible, civilization is impossible.

The task of cultivating them is the job of parents, teachers, the arbiters of our culture at large, and each one of us. It is a blessing that a Thacher education is dedicated to this task – and here let me honor the half century of Mr. Shagam’s pedagogy and mentorship.

Our choices of how to behave become habits. And habits become destiny. The choices you make as to how to behave will ultimately determine whether there will be peace in your lives, in your families, in your communities, and maybe even a little more peace on earth.

There is a prayer:

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

John Lenczowski, CdeP ’67, is Founder and President of The Institute of World Politics, an independent graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C. He formerly taught at Georgetown University and served in the Department of State and as President Ronald Reagan’s White House advisor on Soviet affairs (1983-1987).

Remarks by John Lenczowski at IWP Commencement

The following remarks were made by IWP President John Lenczowski at The Institute of World Politics Commencement Ceremony on May 16, 2015.  More videos of the ceremony can be found here.

Good afternoon everyone. Let me first thank all those who have made this school possible:

Trustees, benefactors, faculty, staff, friends and helpers, the spouses and families of those who work for this cause, and ultimately, our students.

Today, as we celebrate our graduates, I want to talk about the challenges they face as most of them go on to serve the cause of peace, freedom, and national security.

America’s foreign policy today is in a crisis. The crisis is different than the challenges we faced in our recent wars which provided some measure of focus and energy. Today, it is a crisis of leadership concerning America’s values, principles, and purposes, which has resulted in the absence of coherent foreign policy goals and strategy.

One cannot have a strategy without goals. And one cannot set achievable goals unless they are consistent with our country’s values, principles, and purposes.

American foreign policy today is a welter of confusion. In some cases, it is marked by appeasement or an isolationist desire to withdraw from the world. In other cases, it is characterized by willful blindness toward unpleasant strategic realities or a reluctance to engage with the world in an energetic way. Much of this is born of the fatigue of flawed, utopian military and nation-building interventions of the past decade.

Our current leadership can neither deter Russia’s war of subversion against Ukraine nor help others resist it. As Russia seeks to demonstrate that NATO’s security guarantees are hollow and that the bonds of civilization that tie the West together are fraying, our leadership is unable to inspire confidence and unity among our allies.

Although our leaders talk about “soft power,” they fail to use it. They are unable to compete against ISIS for the hearts and minds of young Muslims. Although we are in a war of ideas, they have deployed no warriors of ideas, nor do they seek to recruit any.

They are afraid to identify the enemy ideology for what it is. They are incapable of favorably comparing a civilization grounded in human rights and freedom of conscience to an ideology of false martyrdom and self-destruction. Our governing elite has so thoroughly cut itself off from the Judeo-Christian roots of Western civilization that it is incapable of comprehending a challenge framed in explicitly religious terms.

hen it comes to Iran, our government is pursuing an arms control agreement with a hostile regime that has callously disregarded its other international obligations. This is wishful thinking.

Our current leadership does not acknowledge the rising threat from China. It says nothing to the American people about China’s enormous military preparations. Just one example: is anyone here other than our students aware of the Underground Great Wall — three thousand miles of navigable tunnels which are concealing China’s growing nuclear arsenal?

China has over 50,000 spies in our country as well as a massive propaganda and covert political influence apparatus here. Its cyber espionage is perpetrating the greatest theft of intellectual property in history. Where is the sense of alarm about all this from our national leadership?

What lies at the root of today’s leadership crisis is an alienation from the fundamental principles of our country and civilization and a widespread view that our country may even be is a malevolent force in the world. This alienation derives from the regnant philosophies of multiculturalism and moral and cultural relativism that undermine the necessary dedication to the values, principles, and purposes of America.

Too many Western intellectuals compare America with heaven when it should be compared with the other actual governmental systems out there. A truly honest comparison requires realism about the world and the human condition.

Too many members of our intelligentsia and governing elite also fail to appreciate what IWP students learn — namely, America’s capacity to acknowledge our failings and to work to prevent them from recurring. In contrast to other civilizations, America is the greatest experiment in social, political, and economic self-improvement in history.

It is a civilization that is rare, precious, and worth defending. IWP graduates understand something about America’s exceptional character and heritage.

The genius of the American system is the realism about human nature that underlies our Constitutional order. It is precisely the recognition of the fallibility of human nature combined with respect for the dignity of the human person that enables our system to endure and prosper.

That recognition of the flawed nature of man impelled our Founding Fathers to set up a rule of law, knowing that we will always be tempted to follow our baser instincts. To prevent power from concentrating in the hands of a single evil-doer, they set up a diffusion of power, a separation of powers, and checks and balances.

Understanding the foundations, purposes, and traditions of the American political order is the prerequisite for establishing foreign policy goals. That understanding should inform us that there are alternatives to utopian military intervention and nation building projects, other than isolationism or appeasement.

If one has coherent values, principles, purposes, and goals, then what must be done to keep the peace is to use all the instruments of statecraft to handle every contingency that this world can throw our way. This is what we teach at IWP.

Our students learn these various arts, including military strategy, intelligence, counterintelligence, the art of diplomacy, the many arts of public diplomacy, political action, political warfare, and economic strategy.

When our leaders are aware of all the instruments in this orchestra, they have a greater range of options than only diplomacy or war. But a number of these instruments, such as counterintelligence and the many aspects of public diplomacy and strategic influence, have long been neglected by our foreign policy establishment and the academic world.

Of course, as any IWP student will tell you, this is not because the United States can’t use these instruments of statecraft — it has, numerous times, from the War of Independence to the Cold War.

Our counterintelligence community once used various methods to counter hostile foreign agents, disinformation, and covert influence operations — but then it mostly lost its institutional memory of how to do this. IWP grads are restoring that memory.

We used the many instruments of public diplomacy during the Cold War. We fought the war against hostile propaganda with the U.S. Information Agency, the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.

We waged the war of ideas with American libraries abroad, the Congress of Cultural Freedom, subsidizing foreign journals of opinion, and supporting free trade unions, whether in Italy after World War II or the Solidarity Union in Poland.

We were unashamed of American ideas. The ideas we promoted catalyzed the revolutionary changes that liberated hundreds of millions of people. We won that war of ideas!

From history such as this, IWP students have learned arts of statecraft that directly apply to current and future threats. They then fan out throughout our government and are raising the standards of professionalism in so many of these fields.

While these instruments of power must be used in our country’s defense, they also have the potential of being abused. So they must be exercised by people of character, virtue, and patriotism. That is why we at IWP care so deeply about what kind of people our students turn out to be.

True statesmanship is not only a matter of knowledge and skill, it is a matter of good character.

  • It means doing the right thing when no one is looking.
  • It involves cultivation of conscience.
  • It requires cultivation of the will and self-control.
  • It requires the development of good habits — because habits become destiny.

Character — especially when it applies to leadership in statecraft — begins with consciousness of certain necessary virtues.

First, there is the essential virtue of personal and intellectual honesty. This means commitment to the truth.

Here courage is essential — having the courage of one’s convictions — the courage to see the truth when all about you are willfully blind, and the courage to tell truth to power.

We teach our students that there are two kinds of people — mission oriented people and those who are interested in power, position, glory, and the satisfaction of one’s ego.

We want our students to be mission-oriented. And when they are tempted to intrigue to gain personal power and glory, we want them to resist the temptation.

So IWP teaches that humility is another essential virtue. And so is acute sensitivity to the dangers of hubris.

Humility keeps people on track to achieving a mission, because the mission is the cause higher than oneself.

Hubris derails you from putting the mission first.

Finally, there is prudence, the essential virtue of statesmanship. Prudence is the ability to exercise wisdom, reason, caution, and discretion in the conduct of policy. It is the application of universal moral principles to particular situations — which presupposes knowledge of those principles in the first place.

With prudence, one can discern good ends, achieve good ends, and ultimately be good.

With the education that you graduates have received both intellectually and, we hope, in developing your character, we expect great professional achievements from you, and especially the exercise of those virtues that make for statesmanship. With leaders like you, we really can reform the way America conducts foreign policy.

I am grateful for having had the chance to be your professor and to see how seriously you have taken your studies and your vocations. Congratulations for persevering and God bless you in your service to your family, your neighbor, your customer, and your country.

John Lenczowski
The Institute of World Politics Commencement
May 16, 2015

George Lenczowski: Diplomat, scholar, and defender of Western civilization

George Lenczowski 2Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of my father, Dr. George Lenczowski.

This is a significant milestone for me, because of everything that my father did to inspire in me a passion for international affairs and the defense of America and Western civilization. The intellectual and moral/philosophical influences he had upon me lie at the heart of so much of what I have tried to do in building The Institute of World Politics.

My father was born of Polish parents in St. Petersburg, Russia. His father had been studying at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology, which was one of the foremost academic institutions at the time, even for Poles, who had lost their independence a century beforehand to the partitions by the three surrounding empires: Russia, Prussia, and Austria-Hungary. Most of Poland had been gobbled up by the Russians, and it made some sense for a Pole seeking advanced education in science and engineering to study in the empire’s capital city.

Two and a half years later, after my grandfather had secured his first job in Russia, the Bolsheviks overthrew the weak democratic order under the Provisional Government. As people with higher education and who were working for private enterprise, members of my father’s family were considered “class enemies” by the Bolsheviks.  So, to save their lives, they took the few possessions that they could carry, and escaped to Poland, which then won its independence at the end of World War I.

My father earned a law degree in Poland and a doctorate of laws in France. He joined the Polish diplomatic corps, and was stationed in Tel Aviv in pre-war Palestine. He fought the Nazis as a member of the Polish Army in North Africa. During the war, his parents were arrested by the Nazis in Warsaw and were murdered in Nazi concentration camps. My father was reassigned to the Polish diplomatic mission in Tehran in time for the conference of the Big Three – Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin.

He met and married my mother there, who had just escaped from two and a half years imprisonment, also as a “class enemy” in the Soviet Union. When the Yalta Agreement was signed, where Roosevelt and Churchill consigned Central and Eastern Europe to communist domination, my parents came to America.

Having lost his parents to national socialism, and having lost all his family possessions twice to international socialism, my father was particularly sensitive to to the fragility of civilization. Indeed, he could see very clearly how politics can take radically ugly turns in places where one might not normally expect it.

He eventually became one of the founders of Middle East studies in America, and taught political science and international relations at the University of California at Berkeley. He wrote some of the pioneering works on oil and great power conflict in the Middle East, all the while concerned about the security of the United States and the Free World.  He and my mother never forgot the cause of human rights within the Soviet empire.

My father’s commitment to the cause of freedom and to protecting the dignity of the human person lay at the heart of his newfound patriotism for America, and his concern for the defense of Western civilization.

His spirit lives on in our efforts at IWP, and may his immortal soul rest in peace.

The goals of US policy towards Cuba

Cuba-225x300editedWhat will be the likely result of President Obama’s breakthrough in U.S. relations with communist Cuba?

The President seems to assume that everyone agrees that the old policy was designed to bring about regime change — ideally democratic, or at least milder form of authoritarianism that granted greater respect to human rights —  and that this policy was not going to succeed.  The president’s assumption is not exactly true.  Refusing to grant diplomatic recognition and continuing commercial business as usual has been much more a position of moral opposition to an illegitimate regime as it has been any kind of plan of action for regime change.

The President seems to convey that the goal of his new policy will bring about such change.  But simultaneously, he says as the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl has pointed out, that his policy is designed towards achieving stability and avoiding chaos in Cuba.

Meanwhile, in playing a pivotal role in the U.S.-Cuban breakthrough, Pope Francis appears to believe that greater democracy, respect for human rights, and freedom of religion can result if there are more peaceful relations between the two countries.  When he was about to become Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he wrote a book arguing that such results can and should come from greater dialogue between the United States and Cuba.

I can see only one path by which such an outcome might take place.  This path involves what amounts to the psychological disarmament of the Cuban dictatorship.  Under this scenario, the Castros, their Party apparatchiks, and their cronies, will begin to let their guard down because they will become convinced that the United States is no longer heaven-bent on regime change.  Their government-controlled businesses will become ever-more dependent upon trade and tourism with the United States to the point that they allegedly will have a vested interest in keeping U.S. attitudes favorably disposed towards Cuba.  This vested interest, in turn, will be counted on to restrain the internal security authorities from those excessive human rights violations that would arouse and alienate the U.S., thereby putting their commercial relationships with America at risk.

Indeed, a variant of this scenario took place in the Soviet Union, but it varied sufficiently from the Cuban scenario insofar as America had put such economic pressure on the Soviet military economy that Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev’s principal policy was not to embark on genuine political-economic reforms, but to seek a Western economic bailout.  This bailout depended on eliminating the idea in the West that the USSR was the “enemy.”  Therefore, Gorbachev could ill afford to appear like one by throwing too many more people into the Gulag or killing more people than he did.

The problem here is that Castro has never sought a Western economic bailout unless it is solely on his own terms.  Those terms amount to preserving the communist system and his regime’s monopoly on power at virtually all costs.

Instead, the US-China relations model points to the much more likely future, which is that American businesses will become so dependent upon Cuba trade that they will not wish to rock the boat politically.

Because U.S. companies have become so dependent on trade with China, Beijing feels utterly no restraint against throwing whomever they wish into the Laogai, not to mention continuing their massive espionage, military buildup, and regional attempted land grabs.

The kind of peace that exists between the U.S. and China, which is very much the result of a dialogue of the kind that Pope Francis has recommended, is, in fact, illusory.  There is one very good reason for this: there can be no peace without justice.  There can be no peace without respect for human rights.

As Andrei Sakharov, the Soviet inventor of the hydrogen bomb turned human rights activist, taught us: The Soviet regime would never have genuine peace with the West until it had peace with its own people.

One fervently hopes, under the circumstances, that the optimistic scenario for Cuba envisioned by Pope Francis will come to pass, but I have my serious doubts.

Lessons from the Sony hack attack

Globe - 180x190This piece by John Lenczowski was originally published by The Washington Times on December 18, 2014.

The hacking attack of Sony Corp. and the compromising of its intellectual property should send a wake-up call to American business. If Sony can be hacked, so too can our companies that make defense technologies. This attack reveals that the very innovations that give us our competitive edge in the world, both commercially and strategically, are gravely at risk.

In November, the Pentagon announced the Defense Innovation Initiative, which is designed to promote fresh thinking about how we can maintain our military superiority through technological innovation, despite tighter budgets and the corrosive effects of two long wars. Unfortunately, this strategy will fail unless both government and business place higher priorities on technology security policy and counterintelligence.

Two of our adversaries are stealing our technology at levels that exceed those of the Cold War. China in particular is using commerce as a cover for massive espionage, the fruits of which are deployed with amazing efficiency in the greatest military buildup on the face of the earth — a buildup consistently underestimated by our government.

Simultaneously, Russian industrial espionage continues at enormous levels and fuels Moscow’s military buildup.

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Let us conduct our wars within the law

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq early in the morning of Sept. 23, 2014, after conducting airstrikes in Syria.President Obama has embarked upon a war against the Islamic State. This war should have been unnecessary. But the President failed to reach a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government and failed to prevent the Maliki government’s marginalization of the Sunnis within Iraqi society and the exacerbation of Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions. The result has been a power vacuum that was filled by the Islamic State’s arrival as the putative “rescuer” of Iraq’s Sunnis.

The President is conducting air strikes, not only in Iraq, but also in Syria, and he is sending increasing numbers of American troops to serve in various training and advisory capacities.

The problem is that he is doing all these things on a very weak to non-existent legal basis. He is arguing that he can legally conduct these actions against the Islamic State on the basis of the 2001 Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against “those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.” But the Islamic State was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

In addition, the War Powers Resolution gives a President 60 days to gain Congressional consent and requires that he end hostilities within 30 days if these are being conducted without such consent. This 90 day period has expired.

Some people argue that Congress has implicitly given its consent by permitting some monies to be spent for these purposes. However, a dangerous precedent is being set. War is too important an enterprise to be conducted in disregard of both the Constitution and an explicit act of Congress.

If we are to be involved in a war against the Islamic State, our elected representatives should make an explicit decision to this effect, and hold themselves accountable to the people. Any such decision should be based on a forthright evaluation of the vital security interests that are at stake, and how success in this enterprise is to be defined. Congressional abdication from serious discussion of these issues risks giving this President and future Presidents excessive discretion in a matter on which the Constitution requires Congressional action.

Deterring Russian Aggression

231693_7530Now that we are distracted by the war against the Islamic State, what should the U.S. do in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine — in a way that deters future aggression and encourages regional peace?

The Obama administration and NATO have made some modest progress in reacting to Putin’s aggression.  They have imposed some sanctions and created a 4,000 troop “rapid reaction force” that would rush to the rescue in the event of new Russian aggression elsewhere.  In the mind of of Putin and his strategists, however, these actions are not serious.  As the Russians measure the “correlation of forces,” the Obama/NATO actions send a signal of weakness, not strength.  They will not deter.

Russian interventions in its “near abroad”

Russian strategic intentions in the “near abroad” have been clear for years.  Russia’s national security doctrine specifies that it has the right to intervene militarily to protect Russian speakers living in neighboring countries.  This doctrine, which is completely contrary to international law, was officially codified in 1992-3.

Since then, Russia has meddled in the internal affairs in all of the former Soviet “union republics.”  This involves: intelligence penetration; the buying up and the control of local companies by FSB and Russian mafia-controlled corporations; energy blackmail; financial and other support of political factions and leaders within these nations; and Russia’s longstanding divide-and-rule/conquer policy.  This last policy entailed pitting one ethnic or religious group against another, including perpetrating or inciting pogroms.  Examples included pitting Azeris against Armenians, Meskhet Turks against Uzbeks, Abkhazians and South Ossetians against Georgians, Gagauz and Russians against Moldovans, Russians against Estonians, Lithuanians against Poles, and now Russians against Ukrainians and Poles against Ukrainians.

Russia has also sought to cast the shadow of its power over NATO countries in East/Central Europe.  In addition to pervasive intelligence and commercial penetration, it is likely that the Russians sabotaged the Polish presidential aircraft containing a large percentage of Poland’s leadership that crashed in Smolensk — a leadership that, compared to other Polish leaders, was disproportionately jealous of maintaining Poland’s independence from Russian influence.  What is clear here is that there was foul play: explosions that occurred before the plane actually crashed.

A weak American response

In the face of all of this, President Obama’s policy has been silence, willful blindness, or appeasement.

In reaction to Putin’s invasion of Georgia, Washington embarked on its “reset” policy to reduce tensions with Moscow.

In the face of the Smolensk crash, which, if it was indeed Russian sabotage, would have been an act of war against a NATO ally, the Administration failed to call for an international investigation.  Instead, it stood silently by as Moscow unambiguously adulterated the crash site and issued a coverup report.

We signed the “New START” agreement that serves no U.S. strategic interest.  Moscow continues to modernize its strategic forces in spite of this treaty, which was signed even though the U.S. government knew that Moscow was violating the INF Treaty (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) of 1987.

We abandoned the deployment of an ABM system in Poland and the Czech Republic, and did so in a truly undiplomatic fashion, without consulting and reassuring these NATO allies.  The unambiguous message to Moscow was that we were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate its interests.

Weakness is provocative

Now our lack of seriousness in response to Russia’s moves in Crimea and eastern Ukraine will do nothing but tempt Moscow to continue its aggression elsewhere and seek to achieve a long-sought goal: the breakup of NATO.

Putin has questioned the historical validity not only of an independent Ukraine, but also of Kazakhstan.  It has created incidents in the Baltic states, including the arrest of an Estonian official and the interdiction of a Lithuanian fishing boat.  To break up NATO, Russia just needs to show that the alliance’s security guarantees are worthless at the margin.  By the time NATO’s ministers respond to a Russian covert action in Latvia and deploy the “rapid reaction force,” Latvia could very well have been swallowed up.  If Moscow’s “separatist” provocateurs seize just a small part of Latvia, one can envision American editorials asking the equivalent of “Why die for Danzig?”  When Article 5 proves worthless, NATO members will get the message: forget the useless alliance and make independent security arrangements with Moscow.  This process may even be already underway.

The vital U.S. national interest

Ultimately, our policy must be shaped by our vital national interests.  The first of these in this region is ensuring that all the countries of Europe remain well behaved toward one another.  If Europe is at peace, economic development and international trade are maximized, not only to Europe’s benefit, but to ours as well.

NATO was expanded to do just this, and it has been a wildly successful investment.  Membership in NATO gave its new members the incentive to suppress the temptation to irredentism and the igniting of conflicts arising from members of one national group living as a minority in a neighboring country.

It is also a vital national interest to ensure that Russia channel its energies into constructive policies of internal economic development and security from genuine threats.  So, Russia must first be deterred and then only then invited to cooperate on matters of real mutual interest: preventing the expansion of Islamist terrorism and containing Chinese expansionism.

Finally, it is a vital national interest to ensure that we retain credibility as an ally and that we retain true alliance relations with many countries whose cooperation we will surely need in future situations.

Serious deterrence

To realize these vital interests, the U.S. needs to send Russia, its neighbors, and the world signals of strength so that we retain our credibility both as an adversary and as an ally.  The first step in this process is to re-establish credible deterrence — a task which has been made all the more difficult given the Administration’s weak policies.

Serious deterrence will require:

  • Reversing the debilitating cuts in our defense posture.  While this means replacing weapons and materiel lost in our recent wars as well as modernizing our weaponry, it also means preserving the human capital in our armed forces — leaders who cannot be replaced nearly as quickly as arms — who are slated to be permanently removed from our armed services.
  • Shoring up our allies in the region, particularly the Baltic States, Poland, and Romania.
  • Supplying those allies with more advanced weapons, especially missile defenses.
  • Deploying greater numbers of U.S. and NATO troops in those countries on a permanent basis and ensuring that they are well armed.  Such a tripwire would be a true deterrent.  Given Russia’s violations of the INF Treaty and the CFE Treaty (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe), the United States should not hesitate for a moment to make such deployments.
  • Deploying the most advanced ABM system in Poland and Czech Republic.
  • Arranging for Ukraine to receive adequate defensive arms so that Moscow cannot persist in its aggression without paying a high price.
  • Ensuring that our sanctions reinforce our credibility and seriousness.


While the Administration has leveled a number of sanctions, there are signs that Moscow has a scornful attitude toward them.  In light of this, there are measures that deserve the most serious consideration.  One strategy that must be considered is a cooperative effort within NATO to have some alliance members purchase weapons and other products that were originally bound for Russia but which are being withheld as part of the current sanctions regimen.  An effort of this sort can help minimize the pain that individual countries and their affected industries may suffer as a result of these sanctions, thus providing an incentive to continue to cooperate in a theater that required a common approach.  An example here would be the purchase — perhaps even for our own ship-deprived Navy — of the Mistral destroyers that France has been constructing for Moscow.

Trumping Russian energy blackmail

As many have commented, among the most important steps that can be taken here are those that would deprive Russia of its ability to conduct energy blackmail against Ukraine and against many of our NATO allies in Europe.  An active policy — in contrast to the Administration’s passivity, if not obstruction — of seeking national energy independence, is long overdue.  This would be the first step in what should be an urgent effort to supply U.S. oil and liquefied natural gas to our European allies and Ukraine.

Another urgent initiative is for our government to supply Ukraine and our European allies with the new revolutionary EM2 nuclear reactor developed by General Atomics.  This tiny reactor can be transported on the back of a flatbed truck.  It is much safer than existing reactors, as it is helium cooled, much less vulnerable to melting down, and so small that it can be buried.  It transforms nuclear waste into power.  It is much less vulnerable to nuclear proliferation abuse.  And this small unit can supply all the power needs for a city of 333,000 people.

U.S. government expenditures for such a reactor are national defense expenditures, and the benefits that they would supply us and our NATO allies far outweigh their cost — which is negligible in national strategic terms.  (It should also be mentioned that a good supply of these reactors should be available within the United States as an insurance policy against the threat of the shut-down of the nation’s entire electrical grid by an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP), whether it comes from a nuclear attack or from solar storm activity.)

Countering Russian propaganda

What no one is talking about but which needs to be implemented urgently is a broad-scale informational campaign to counter Moscow’s extraordinary propaganda and perceptions management efforts.  Such a campaign would put Putin on the political defensive by exposing the ongoing record of Russian violations of the sovereignty of its neighbors, Russian violations of its solemn international obligations, and Russian criminality that extends from its suppression of independent media to the assassination of its political enemies in foreign capitals.  Putin charges that the new government in Ukraine is illegitimate.  The irony is that Putin’s own election was so laden with corruption and manipulation that his own legitimacy is subject to even more question.

Another issue that deserves much greater exposure is the fact that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine constitutes a violation of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances.  In this agreement, signed in 1994, Russia pledged to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine within its current borders.  In return, Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.  None of the other signatories, including the U.S., have done anything to ensure compliance with this agreement.

Russian propaganda, disinformation, and covert influence operations need to be analyzed and exposed.  Moscow conducted the Crimean intervention on the basis of specious claims about how their countrymen in Crimea were allegedly endangered by “fascists” in Kiev.  It continues making these charges concerning Russians living in eastern Ukraine.  Where is the truth to counter these falsehoods?  Where is this Administration’s strategic communication effort?

While Russia has been challenging the legitimacy of post-Cold War borders, an issue could be made of the illegitimacy of Russia’s possession of Kaliningrad, which was never Russian territory, and which never should have remained part of Russia after the collapse of the USSR.  Russian rule over considerable non-Russian lands such as those in the Caucasus could be raised before the UN Special Committee on Decolonization.


The protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of an independent Ukraine is a matter with serious geostrategic implications for the security of large portions of Europe, as well as the many other independent countries that used to be captive nations within the USSR.  The Administration appears now to consider the annexation of Crimea — and maybe even portions of eastern Ukraine — as a fait accompli which cannot be challenged.  But if Russia is able to get away with any part of Ukraine, what will stop it from annexing all or part of Moldova, another independent member state of the United Nations?  What will stop it from reabsorbing part or all of Kazakhstan?  Or, for that matter, taking over the rest of Georgia?

Congress should let the Administration know that its policy of accepting a Russian fait accompli is unacceptable and harmful to America’s efforts to maintain peace in Eurasia.

With a sufficient number of serious signals of American and Western strength, a wise policy of diplomatic action that can discreetly give the Russians a face-saving exit from Crimea and eastern Ukraine would be the first order of business.  But such diplomacy will be surely a failure unless Putin and his gang encounter serious disincentives against the continuation of their current aggression.

Russian agents of influence and the war on fracking

“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
-Sun Tzu

Soviet2500 years ago, Sun Tzu said that to defeat your enemy without using force is the acme of skill.  So, how does one do this?  It involves the use of various arts of statecraft that are not well-cultivated in the United States.  But the Russians have long cultivated them.

During the Cold War, the Russians conducted various types of covert and overt influence operations using agents of influence, disinformation, and forgeries (together called “active measures”), as well as propaganda, and offensive counterintelligence operations.  Their targets included: the national strategic leadership of NATO countries, as well as of other countries throughout the world; various non-governmental groups that had influence over governmental decision-making; the media, including the film industry; educational institutions at all levels; churches; unions; and the public at large.

Putin’s regime has not forgotten these techniques.  It has been using them blatantly in its attempts to annex Crimea and pry off several other provinces from Ukraine.  It has been using agents of influence to corrupt the decision-making of many of its neighboring countries.  It has used its intelligence services to bribe members of Parliament and other government officials in these countries.

The West has not been exempt from Russian “active measures.”  As Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the General Secretary of NATO, charged a couple of weeks ago, Russia has been using these various techniques to influence environmental organizations in Europe to oppose the domestic production of shale gas, specifically for the purpose of keeping Europe dependent upon Russian gas and vulnerable to Russian energy blackmail.

The General Secretary of NATO is not usually prone to making serious charges of this sort without solid intelligence — charges that some could interpret to be a conspiracy theory.

Does this mean that every Western European environmental organization is a Russian agent?  By no means.  But it does mean that there are people within some of these organizations who are Russian agents of influence or are influenced by them.

This was exactly the case with the so-called “peace” movement during the Cold War.  Then, the Soviets organized numerous front organizations, most of whose members were innocent people of goodwill who feared nuclear war and sought nuclear disarmament.  But these front organizations were also invariably filled with people who were directly doing Moscow’s bidding.

The U.S. government used to collect intelligence on these various techniques and would vitiate their effectiveness by declassifying the intelligence about them and publicizing them.  This was a decisive non-military dimension of the national security strategy of this country, which has been completely junked by recent administrations.  If the U.S. is to spare itself from excessive vulnerability to these types of strategic influence, we should reconstitute intelligence collection and analysis and expose these strategic influence operations. We should also reconstitute our counterintelligence capabilities, in order to protect against these “active measures.”

If the Russians won’t forget the lessons of Sun Tzu, is it wise for us to do so?

Soviet Influence Activities: A Report on Active Measures and Propaganda, 1986-87

The Voice of America Shouldn’t Be A Whisper

Putin’s propaganda machine is in high gear, while the U.S. scales back the VOA. Why?
The full text of this article can be found at the website of the Wall Street Journal. 

Vladimir Putin’s action against Ukraine validates the historic relationship between propaganda and aggression. Having seized control of major broadcasters, his henchman are censoring websites and telling Russians in Ukraine that “fascists” in Kiev are planning to round them up and kill them. Russian provocateurs whip up protests against Ukraine’s government. U.S. correspondents report that Ukrainians and Russians are being “brainwashed” by Russian disinformation.

All this is designed to motivate Russian armed forces and secure public support on both sides of the border for Mr. Putin’s efforts to “protect” Russian Ukrainians not only in Crimea but throughout the country. Moscow has a virtual monopoly on the narrative. The question is how far must Mr. Putin go before the West, and particularly the U.S., returns to the airwaves in full force to counter the Kremlin’s propaganda.

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Moscow understands the strategic importance of information. The US doesn’t.

RadioToday the Washington Post reports that the last peeps of American broadcasting over the Voice of America on a Russian AM radio transmitter were just shut down.

Broadcasting over the AM band (as anyone who listens to a car radio knows) involves reaching only a local audience.  Nothing could be simpler for Moscow than to close down US access to local transmission facilities.

The scandal that lurks behind this seemingly minor episode is that the United States long since shut down its shortwave broadcasts to Russia, which could reach vast swaths of Russian territory from transmission facilities located far away from the target area.

Putin’s latest action is merely the latest effort to shut down any free media that could contradict his government’s propaganda line.  It is this propaganda that has been an indispensable aid to his ability to conduct his aggression against Ukraine.

When will the U.S. government take seriously the role of information and propaganda in foreign policy?