John Mroz: "The World is Doing Much Better than One Year Ago."
In a recent interview with Slovenia's Delo, EWI president John Mroz discussed a range of issues including cybersecurity, energy resources, and recent international conflicts. The interview was conducted following a panel session Mroz moderated at the 2013 Munich Security Conference on February 2.
Among more than 400 participants of this year’s Munich Security Conference there are 11 heads of states or governments, 43 foreign ministers and 20 defense ministers. Has this high concentration of global decision-makers brought any good?
At a conference such as this one in Munich, which is the biggest security conference in the world, the most important thing is to capture the general sense of how good or bad the current situation is. Last year it was genuinely depressing, people were not enthusiastic – today it’s much better, although they are not naively positive either. The world is doing much better than one year ago.
But now we have wars – in Syria, Mali…
There will always be wars, and although what’s going on in Mali is terrible, a collapse of the Eurozone would have been something totally different. People are now much more optimistic and eager to cooperate. It’s true that the UN Security Council can’t take action on Syria, but the real concerns are elsewhere. I led a debate on cybersecurity in which we all agreed that the threats are higher than one year ago. In some areas the situation is worse, but if we take everything into account, the overall environment is much better, especially in Europe.
If we stay on Syria and Iran for a moment – how should we observe the Russian foreign minister’s meeting with Syrian opposition leaders?
Lavrov’s meeting with the opposition is a dramatic move, yet what is even more dramatic is that the opposition leader also met with the Iranian foreign minister. It’s exactly why these conferences are important – a lot is going on in the background, leaders meet day and night.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich that international politics can get personal. Do you see any shifts in the U.S. foreign policy as President Obama begins his second term?
Vice President Biden was careful not to announce anything big before President Obama outlines his big foreign policy plans for next four years in his State of the Union address. There are some hints, though – climate change will certainly be one big theme of Obama’s second term.
Another important topic at the Munich conference was the new technologies of shale oil and gas extraction. As America ends its reliance on imported fossil fuels, and even becomes a major exporter, how will all this change international relations?
Many countries will be affected – Russia will bear strong consequences. Russia has so far influenced the prices with its long-term contracts, but its global economic position is about to change dramatically. Nobody knows how this is going to look like in the end, but the situation is going to be much, much different.
How about China?
Chinese leadership is under intense domestic pressure; there’s widespread corruption, a huge emerging middle class that demands clear air and clean water, millions of people still living in poverty. They are facing very difficult challenges – Chinese leaders have their hands full.
At the conference you led a discussion on fighting crime or even war in cyberspace, just as the leading U.S. newspapers accused China for launching cyber attacks as retaliation for their reports on the Chinese prime minister’s family fortune.
Yes, the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal all complained about the attacks. There’s a lot going on on the Internet, but cyber crime is still the greatest challenge. It all starts with individuals – how smart we are with our passwords; how often do we change them, how complex they are;do we use one password multiple times. If we go further to companies, organizations and governments, there’s no cyber warfare, but a lot of industrial espionage going on, not just by Russians and Chinese. Democratic countries are in the game, too: Israelis, French, we Americans. But it all gets back to individuals – your computer gets infected with a virus and, while you go to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, for example, the organized criminals take control over your computer; this trend is really dangerous.
Your organization, the EastWest Institute, aims to build trust and solve problems in international relations. Are you succeeding?
Building trust is about dealing with other human beings. If you need somebody, you automatically want to trust that person. If it is somebody from a different culture, religion or ethnic group, acquiring trust takes a little bit longer. If there is bad experience involved, then building trust takes even more effort. Trust-building is a long process that doesn’t depend just on a presumption that you are a good person and therefore I want to trust you. Building trust is a two way street, where we have to work together. In cybersecurity we work in this way with the Chinese on spam. Two thirds of all emails are spam, large number carry viruses, so we are delivering global standards to fight spam.
What are your other projects?
A lot of them deal with water and food security, on the issue of water in Africa, we worked together with the French G20 presidency. Climate change has dramatic impact on water resources, threatening wars and mass migration of people. We deal with this in Central Asia as well, in the Amu Darya basin, which involves 5 countries, including Afghanistan. Once there were rumors of war, now they work together on better management of river flow, etc. The same process is going on between Egypt and Ethiopia. In very practical terms, we did in the Amu Darya basin what we used to do in the Balkans: we brought together people that can help and we focused on practical issues of deforestation and erosion of river basins. These are small things, but it is how you build trust and change people’s mindsets. It’s a hard work that you can’t do at a conference, but somebody has to do it.
Clear air and clean water have impact on clean environment. What about fracking, which wall also talked about? Many Europeans reject the idea, because of strong chemicals involved.
There are arguments for and against. In my country, the U.S., the level of pollution went down to 1982 figures, almost exclusively because we replaced coal with gas. Gas has side effects as well, but nothing compared to coal. Imagine, therefore, if China could replace a third of their coal based power plants with gas. The biggest problem is water, because fracking requires a lot of water mixed with chemicals. In five years, new technologies will emerge that will require smaller amounts of water and no chemicals at all, which will make shale oil and gas extraction environmentally friendly. Shale fossil fuel resources are not found just in America, but China, Ukraine, Poland, Argentina, Brazil and Chile. This is a game-changer.
Years ago, you used to work in Western Balkans. What would you say about the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia?
The EastWest Institute goes where the situation is toughest, where there is an imminent threat of war: there’s nothing like that between Slovenia and Croatia. A lot depends on the political will, but also on the people, that must say: “That’s enough!” Just when I look at the European economy, and then look at the issue of Cyprus, I think: how ridiculous is that! Let’s resolve this and focus of economic growth.
For Slovenians, however, the access to international waters is a very important issue.
That is something else, that is part of history and should be addressed. I believe that the people should be more vocal in demanding that these open issues should be resolved. However, it is true that nationalism is growing nowadays. Everywhere – in Japan, Korea, China, as well as in Europe. It’s one of the effects of globalization, people are more nationalistic, which makes the problems, like the border one that you mentioned, harder to resolve.
Are you afraid of new currency wars?
No, people might be more nationalistic but they are not mindless to shoot themselves in the foot. I don’t think it will come to that. Many people around the world are aware of everything that Europeans had to undertake. Faced with the crisi, they understood the difficult decisions that had to be made; even in Greece the level of unrest was not that high.
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