Veteran Journalist David Andelman Launches Red Lines Project


Veteran foreign correspondent, celebrated author, and CNN commentator David A. Andelman has joined the Center on National Security as a visiting scholar and director of its Red Lines Project.

Andelman plans on writing a book and producing a documentary series from the research he develops with the Red Lines Project, which launched in June. He also envisions creating an online database featuring hundreds of interviews he conducts across the world, with the goal of helping people understand the origins of red lines, their legal foundations, and the dangers and opportunities they pose.

Red lines are a declaration from one group, most often a government, to another group that if the latter commits an action deemed unacceptable then a retaliatory response will follow. But often, red lines erect challenges among competing moral, political, and military forces that make them difficult to enforce. Red lines throughout history are littered with “catastrophic failures,” largely because of conception and enforcement methods, Andelman said.

The project’s conception arose from President Barack Obama’s failure to enforce a red line in Syria when the dictator Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on his own people, killing more than 1,400. Obama’s cabinet disagreed strongly with his decision to walk away from the red line without military action to remove al-Assad from power. The American president’s inaction proved ruinous to the French President Francois Hollande because it signaled the United States didn’t take French concerns about the Syria crisis seriously, Andelman noted.

Neither history nor Obama’s recent mistake have failed to dissuade countries from declaring their own red lines though. Andelman contends there are more red lines on more continents today than in any single point in history.

“In many ways, we’re living in the least stable times any of us have lived in,” Andelman said. “Red lines are not helping with stability. We need to understand how to cope with them. That’s one of the strengths of this project.”

Red line challenges must be understood on multiple levels, including the national, the international, and the regional, as well as those related to terrorism, he added. For instance, Andelman’s early research shows terrorist groups, unlike governments, have not contributed to the rise in global red lines.

Naturally, Andelman’s work will grapple with how Obama’s successor, President Donald Trump, affects the creation of red lines, both directly and indirectly in a world of uncertainty and rising authoritarianism. North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear capabilities is one prominent red line, but there are plenty more in the region involving the South China Sea, Russia, and Korea.

“He’s challenging so many different traditional ways of doing diplomacy and addressing military challenges,” Andelman said of Trump. “It’s troubling to see Trump effectively challenging red lines he might not recognize as such, in reaction to other countries that are potentially more dangerous than he understands.”

Andelman’s distinguished journalism career includes stints as Southeast Asia bureau chief for The New York Times, a Paris correspondent for CBS News, and as a “Voices” columnist for CNN on international affairs. He is also the author of three books, including A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today, which examines how the world’s geopolitical problems in the 21st century connect to actions taken almost a century ago in the aftermath of World War I.

Center on National Security Director Karen J. Greenberg recalled first meeting Andelman when he attended the center’s events on national security and civil liberties. Greenberg expressed excitement over the Red Lines Project’s historical grounding, and the manner in which it privileges diplomacy at a time when many nations are turning their back on such efforts.

“Historical context can be reassuring and can show you options on how to move forward and what is different about the current moment,” Greenberg said. “David has that mindset, and so does the Red Lines Project, as we try to better understand this very important global security issue right now.”


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