National interests collide and conflict arises today as in the past. Differing ideologies, historic grievances, and regional antagonisms lead to distrust and are an impediment to cooperation. Contentious issues of various degrees of seriousness abound. Although the world is free of widespread major warfare, there has been a marked increase in conflict in recent years and there are confrontations that suggest increasing instability. Emerging powers, desirous of being accorded a greater role and influence in the world order, can become disruptive when denied the recognition they believe to be their due.

National interests collide and conflict arises today as in the past. Differing ideologies, historic grievances, and regional antagonisms lead to distrust and are an impediment to cooperation. Contentious issues of various degrees of seriousness abound. Although the world is free of widespread major warfare, there has been a marked increase in conflict in recent years and there are confrontations that suggest increasing instability. Emerging powers, desirous of being accorded a greater role and influence in the world order, can become disruptive when denied the recognition they believe to be their due.
National leaders face significant constraints that discourage frank and open-minded exchanges in genuine pursuit of understanding one another and of finding ways to reduce tensions and resolve conflicts. When they meet in international fora:

  • Their time together is very limited. Final communiqués are written before the meeting starts. The meeting is often a media event for their domestic audiences.
  • Political polarization in many countries generates harsh criticism at home well before a new idea can be fleshed out. Partisanship no longer ends at the border. The widespread lack of trust in government and political leaders grants office holders limited leeway to do much out of the public eye. While this affects leaders in every form of government, it constrains democratic leaders the most.
  • Sound-bite journalism shapes public opinion on even complicated and nuanced issues. The near instantaneous nature of global reporting permits less brokering by political process.
  • Media transparency, a desirable feature of policy making, in these circumstances limits exploration of bold solutions.

In the past, international dialogue addressing important changes to the world order most often occurred in an immediate postwar setting. At such times, the winners got to write the new rules.
Highest political priority and credit was given to finding international stability for its own sake — that is, without having to serve narrow domestic political purposes. Today, when competing powers convene there are no definitive winners and losers, and there is less public and political focus on stability for its own sake. Indeed, when confronted with conflict—when dialogue is essential for de-escalating confrontations—we give political credit to our governments for punishing our adversaries by not engaging with them. Dialogue — even a handshake — with an adversary is seen as a sign of weakness, or as legitimizing the enemy.

A prominent challenge the Congress set for itself in Vienna (and will pursue in its deliberations going forward) was that of determining how to create a politically safe environment in which national leaders can explore with adversaries solutions to the problems that confront us. We seek to prevent the emergence of a new cold war among the major powers — or worse, inaction in the face of a potential catastrophe.

The Congress’s focus is not on creating a new institution for such a purpose, but on fostering genuine dialogue so as to:

  • engender the political will for participating states—and, where appropriate, non-state actors — to cooperate on security issues and other challenges;
  • talk constructively about differences; and
  • test possible solutions with relevant parties.

There are any number of existing regional and global groupings, agencies, and organizations that are able to deal with specific issues. New, ad hoc groups can be established as matters dictate. The challenge is to instill the political will to find agreement. Excellent institutions fail when such will is lacking; conversely, even poorly structured institutions can help solve problems where a spirit of cooperation exists.

While there are many impediments to cooperation, the major powers have certain problems and interests in common that would be best served, or may only be effectively addressed, by collaboration, including climate change, ISIL terrorism, extremism, pandemics, the regulation of international capital movements and tax management, and determining and achieving global development goals. There are success stories in international cooperation from which to draw inspiration. As our discussions proceed, one objective will be to define what would be required from the relevant parties for each of these common interests to also become success stories.

Given the divisive issues that must be managed, it is not overly dramatic to note the possibility of a new cold war between the United States and its allies and Russia and/or China. There is recent psychological research to suggest that to begin with a vision of a peaceful outcome leads to more positive behavior than that which flows from the rather more limited goal of avoiding war. Whatever the merit of this hypothesis, the aim of promoting peace is the primary goal of the international dialogue we seek.

The participants in the Congress of Vienna 2015 lived the experience of the Congress of 1814/1815 outside the official meetings, coming together socially in a shared appreciation of artistic and musical expression, which contribute to bridges being built across political and cultural divides.

The recommendations and reasoning arising from the dialogue of the Congress follows.


The conclusions of the Congress with respect to the current relations among states, particularly
among the major powers, 1 are as follows:

1) Given current political conditions, committed government-to-government dialogue of the sort proposed is not to be expected, with the U.S. at least, over the next eighteen months. In the interim, a non-governmental, or Track II, initiative comprising informed, experienced, and solution-minded individuals representing a full range of viewpoints— and aimed at making specific, detailed recommendations to the authorities on the security issues and the individual global challenges, to be addressed when the time is right—should be undertaken. A small representative group should continue the process begun in Vienna and periodically inform and engage a wider body of the Congress.

2) Ideological differences between governments will persist, not least because the debate over the relative merits of different systems of governance is on more level ground today than at any time in the postwar period by virtue of the comparative political and economic performance in recent years of authoritarian and democratic regimes. If global stability is to be achieved—and risks that can only be significantly mitigated at an international or global level are to be addressed—governments must cooperate, or at least talk effectively, across persisting ideological differences and differing views of history.

a. This means that differences with respect to civic and other individual rights and those growing out of historic animosities must not be allowed to impede negotiations on other matters.

b. If there are consequences for other states as a result of the policies and actions in a particular state vis-à-vis its citizenry, this may give rise to intervention. Multilateral determination of the justification in individual cases, the post-intervention obligations of the intervenors, and the capacities needed for a viable outcome are clearly seen from the track record of recent cross-border interventions to require more attention.

3) It is not suggested that if Russia’s and/or China’s respective current economic problems were solved this would remove the confrontations and disagreements each has with other states and resolve global and regional risks and instabilities. But both do face economic challenges that impinge upon security and conflict-related issues:

a. Russia likely believes that any attempts to undermine its influence over its near abroad (e.g., Ukraine) would further complicate prospects for the creation of a Eurasian Economic Union and thereby undermine its general geo-economic, and hence geo-political, stature. Indeed, Russia raises the risk profile in response to U.S. and EU economic initiatives in an area that Russia sees as being itssphere of influence. Russia characterizes this as designed to and actually weaken its economic hand; in response Moscow resorts to nationalistic aggressiveness— and devises
narratives for domestic consumption that blame the West for hardship within Russia. This occurs even as the states in the region claim a right to self-determination and seek enhanced U.S. military protection and economic counterbalance — and the United States debates its options from case to case.

• An improved economic picture in Russia would likely lessen Moscow’s motivation for behaving aggressively toward its neighbors.

1. Might a mutually beneficial trade and investment pact between Russia, the EU, and the United States be possible? What might it look like? What impact might it have? (In general, lending assistance in finding solutions to economic crises could lead to more constructive dialogue overall—and, if such solutions were mutually beneficial, they would likely prove to be easier initiatives to undertake than other reciprocal concessions that might be considered to improve relations.)

b. China, even while investing widely around the world (in pursuit of resources, safe transport routes, and economic opportunities to use industrial capacities currently less needed at home after a growth period that has built excess capacities that will take years to absorb), focuses heavily on its economic dominance in its region—indeed, in what is an expanding definition of its region—in pursuit of economic growth. Its neighbors are strongly motivated to develop good economic relations with China, but look as well to the United States for defense, security, and economic counterbalance. There is little evidence that China (unlike Russia) uses nationalistic
rhetoric and regional aggressiveness as a diversion to retain domestic public support in the face of economic problems; nor are there issues and parties against which they might easily or productively do so. (This behavior on the part of China may prove in the future to be dependent on whether the economic interests of China’s are accommodated alongside those of the West.) China prefers to defer boundary disputes, while making it clear by the occasional initiative that this does not imply any relinquishing of Beijing’s claims (particularly when low-profile actions of a contending party to such a dispute is seen as adverse to the Chinese claim.)

It is worth noting that China is very focused on its role as an investor with respect to the terms of the deals it makes—a fact that, along with its history, contributes to its being respected without being warmly embraced as an ally or trusted. At the same time, large and long-term investments on resource and infrastructure developments abroad mean an investor focus on the locations involved that motivates China to want the resolution of conflicts and avoidance of tensions. This is a feature that should be drawn upon in discussions.

• What might a mutually beneficial and more inclusive economic approach which would contribute to China’s economy look like? What might it contribute to security in the region?

c. Might a similar mutually beneficial economic approach contribute to a change in territorial claim tensions and other security risks in Asia—affecting the behavior of China and possibly India and Pakistan?

• Might there be an economic offer that would serve as an inducement to security initiatives that reduce tensions and increase specific and visible cooperation?

d. Are we not currently moving in the opposite direction with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans Pacific Partnership, with their geopolitically influenced member selection criteria as opposed to a more inclusive approach? Are Russia and China not doing likewise with the Eurasian Economic Union (however weak a vehicle it is currently), and the Silk Road and Shanghai Cooperation initiatives? Does not the U.S. handling of the question of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank participation—and the U.S. Senate’s refusal to increase China’s voting weight in the IMF—reflect detrimental adversarial thinking? Are confrontational geo-political blocs being reinforced through these initiatives, at the expense of more stabilizing inclusive arrangements?
Economic ties that make one country sensitive to disruptions in another country may lead the former to bring pressure to bear for the resolution of domestic tensions and conflict in the other or, conversely, provoke the former to take aggressive action to defend its interests. Similarly, the affected country may choose to encourage improved governance approaches in the other country (e.g., to address corruption or introduce policies that better serve the public interest), or it may choose to exploit the deficiencies of the other to its own advantage. As these different reactions are likely to lead to very different outcomes, the ways in which economic ties and trade pacts could serve the purposes of stability and fairness merit closer and state-specific attention to determine if economic gestures— especially of a mutually beneficial sort — might be more actively exploited to improve security.

4) At this moment of increased tensions worldwide, we are closer to the possible use of nuclear weapons than we have been in some time. Avoiding nuclear warfare and the use of other weapons of mass destruction and disruption should be given urgent, renewed attention.

While these focused suggestions should not submerge the broader agenda for promoting peace among the major powers, the following would update the procedures for mitigating the risk of military confrontation between major powers:

a. Mutually reinforcing pathways to risk reduction might be developed by expanding the existing U.S.-Russia dialogue to include China, despite the latter’s more limited military assets. China could be invited to join the bilateral military arrangement, or the trio of the United States, Russia, and China (perhaps with Europe, making it a quartet 2 ) might be organized by the Permanent 2 Five of the U.N. Security Council. It might be best to consider inner and outer groupings in any such risk reduction scheme so as to avoid excluding a country that might later resent its exclusion (e.g., Iran); or that threatens stability with a nuclear capability, a poor anti-proliferation history, and possibly inadequate safeguards against terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction (e.g., Pakistan)—to the detriment of global stability. The following specific initiatives are recommended:

• Strengthen the existing Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers in Washington, D.C., and
Moscow — and add China to this enterprise, or to a parallel structure. Give the
centers an expanded mission to cover non-nuclear threats and risks, including the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. Assign military intelligence officers of each participating country to each center to foster communication and cooperation.

• Restore implementation of the confidence-building measures developed in relation to the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which is moribund, exploring as well the inclusion of China. These measures include data exchanges, notification of major troop or military equipment movements, and strengthening the Treaty on Open Skies.

• Recognize that states no longer have a monopoly on weapons of mass destruction and disruption, and work with international organizations and national governments (including the U.N. Security Council, NATO, and China) to reduce the risk of access to and the use of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors.

• Involve all states in reducing the risk of the use of weapons of mass destruction by mobilizing them to actively uphold the provisions of U.N. Resolution 1540 (2004). The responsibility for such mobilization can be assigned to existing risk reduction institutions. New institutions can be created to furnish the technical expertise needed to help less well-resourced countries implement the resolution. This will both create needed human capital and help develop the sort of relationships among nuclear experts that will foster further cooperation among states.

• India and Pakistan pose a particular risk. These rivals share a long border and a history of conflict, yet they have no risk reduction mechanisms in place. The threat of nuclear war in South Asia is increasing, as both states are developing tactical nuclear weapons. The question of how to bring India and Pakistan into a risk reduction program is of primary importance. The major powers should take the initiative to develop risk reduction mechanisms appropriate to their situation. A similar mechanism might be helpful and important elsewhere in Asia as well.

5) The mobilization of mid-size powers regarding global stability and fairness issues should be initiated and encouraged. Mid-size and smaller states are unable to ignore international rules and the dictates of the major powers. They are therefore inherently inclined to search for agreement across divides and tend to prioritize conciliation and diplomacy.

While possessing limited individual influence, except through the power of their ideas, all such states maintain friendly relations with one or another of the major powers. It would be useful to explore ways in which the mid-sized and perhaps smaller states could be organized to exert a constructive cumulative influence on the major powers.


1 While conflicts between nations other than the major powers can be highly disruptive and damaging for those affected, priority is given by the Congress to relations among the major powers because the risks and impacts of their conflicts are greater; the absence of hostilities between them is essential for the maintenance of a stable and fair world order; and cooperation, if genuinely embraced in their relationships, would inevitably help resolve significant regional and local conflicts in many of which they play a direct or indirect role.

2 The role of Europe and the EU calls for a distinct discussion in light of their internal preoccupations, priorities, and disaggregation dynamics; and their continuing essential limitations in the development of a common foreign policy and defense strategy. The European Union is not positioned to play a leadership role in the issues under discussion here. But Europe does need to be at the table on questions of relationships with Russia and China. Further, it comes from a history of strong differences and hostilities. We are seventy years from World War II. The EU exists, there are institutions and policies that function at a unified level (however bureaucratically inclined so as to intermediate its diversity). The structure does seem beyond the point of reversal. And, there is a widely held conviction that hostilities between member states are inconceivable. This represents extraordinary progress when considered from a larger historical perspective and when compared with the experiences of other federated governance entities at this
period following initial formation.


The Congress also turned its attention to forced migration, which is, in many current cases, a direct consequence of conflict. It concluded that there should be a resetting of policy responses to the plight of the many millions of forcibly displaced persons around the world who will not soon —if ever—be able to return home. Despite the media focus on the current refugee crisis in Europe, close to 90 percent of the displaced are stranded in the Global South, where they are often denied the right to work, where their children have no access to education, and where they live in conditions that are conducive to generating more instability. The Congress urged a recharacterization of this destabilizing phenomenon as a development task, rather than as primarily a humanitarian responsibility.

The sentiments of the Congress were that:

1) Applying development thinking to the issue is not a substitute for humanitarian assistance, effective asylum management, and the full funding of UNHCR (which is currently underfunded), all of which need to be supported.

2) Nor should a development approach to displacement deflect attention from giving highest priority to preventing dislocation in the first place, nor from attempting to make return possible by resolving the conflict that provoked the displacement.

3) The application of an industrial development strategy to any area in which there are large numbers of migrants implies the acceptance of a possibly long-term displacement—or, at least of a steady flow of forcibly displaced persons—into that location. This unfortunate reality cannot be ignored even if best efforts were made to avoid displacement and maximize return.

The creation of an international investment fund staffed by individuals with strategic planning and business development know-how, the practical ability to help start-up businesses, and knowledge of financing sources should be pursued. The ventures selected should be investment-worthy.

The efforts and resources of the fund should be tied to the acceptance of migrants as local residents, making the arrival of migrants a development opportunity for the communities involved. Development plans would necessarily be site and population specific.

a. The fund should emphasize partnering with others, especially in public/private sector combinations whereby private capital would augment the funds available and bring capabilities that would increase the prospects of success.

b. Labor standards should be closely monitored to ensure the avoidance of any suggestion of exploitation of the stranded population.

c. Entrepreneurship on the part of the displaced population should be encouraged and business start-ups assisted.

d. Economic development plans should include the population of the host country so as to avoid resentment and ensure overall success: a viable local economy is essential to the support of the migrants.

4) A “responsibility sharing” policy is needed to address the scale and locations of the current problem. The required resources are not currently being provided and are simply not available where the largest numbers of displaced people are located. As the causes of displacement are rarely linked to any action on the part of the host jurisdiction, it is unfair to expect it to bear the initial heavy burden of aiding migrants.

Success in addressing the current issues of the forcibly displaced might later prove a useful precedent for addressing projected displacement caused by climate change and, perhaps, that arising from economic failure or increasingly severe economic disparity.


The Congress discussed the tensions created by economic disparities, another under-addressed source of instability, given its detrimental impact on economic performance, social cohesion, and productivity of the community. More specifically, the Congress addressed the widely argued proposition that economic disparity would be reduced by technological advances and industrial innovation. Today, however, we see that the widening economic gaps are, in many cases, the result of how new technologies are developed and deployed.

1) Among the factors fueling increasing disparity in the distribution of the economic gains from the deployment of new technologies and innovations are:

• the nature of the protection of intellectual property rights under domestic laws and international agreements and conditions;
• the market power afforded the owners of such rights and other dominant corporations;
• the momentum for developing new technologies and innovation that resides with advanced economies; and
• the lack of the required skills and education on the part of many to capture the highervalue jobs associated with such developments.

Any proposed solutions must not undermine incentives to innovate. It would not be appropriate to lose the increased productivity and resources that technology and innovation generate. The wide availability of a technology should not be confused with the distribution of its economic value. There is a difference between the benefits of the use of a new development and that of its increased value—the latter accruing to the owner/developer, or to parties with the power to capture the gains.

2) The terms, conditions, policy overlays, and deployment mechanisms through which the innovative products, services, and methods of technology development reach the end users/customers are fundamental to the economic distribution results—and a principal avenue through which changes might be addressed.

Addressing the causal factors that are deeply rooted in the policies and politics of the industrial world will not be a simple matter. The evidence suggests a wide variety of experiences with different technological developments and locations, as well as an intermingling of the various causes of disparity, the appearance of new technologies being only one of the determinants of the distributional results.

A specific set of policy recommendations or methods that would address this phenomenon
requires more work, especially as the results are variable across cases. But, the four factors set
out in paragraph #1 above are the place to start.


Whether political leaders will have the space to act on the recommendations of the Congress will depend on the case made for each recommendation, the private convictions of decision makers, and public opinion. As we go forward and begin to further explore the ideas and supporting analysis growing out of the Congress, consideration needs to be given to:

• achieving effective access to government authorities so as to be able to make specific recommendations and suggest methods of implementation;
• developing a strategy to engender supportive public opinion so as to give political leaders political space in which to act on constructive proposals; and
• making it possible for leaders of the major powers to develop the sort of personal relationships that encourage open-minded dialogue in seeking solutions to the major issues of our time.