A record-setting 23,708 people gathered in Las Vegas in September to attend the ASIS International 53rd Annual Seminar and Exhibits. Keynote speakers both informed and inspired attendees with presentations on management trends and U.S. foreign policy. In addition, more than 150 educational sessions offered new insights on current security challenges. Following are some of the highlights from those events. (For in-depth coverage of all the seminar activities, including the products on offer at the more than 2,600 booths, see the November/December issue of ASIS Dynamics.)
Kissinger Addresses Foreign Policy Challenges
Former U.S. Secretary of State and 1973 Nobel Peace Prize winner Henry Kissinger, a giant of Cold War diplomacy, addressed Wednesday’s general session at the seminar and exhibits. He thanked attendees for their service protecting freedom but warned that today’s crises abroad are only early symptoms of a growing global Islamic jihad.
“The Islamic jihad is, in a way, only at the beginning. We’re just seeing the symptoms of it in one part of the world,” Kissinger said of the Middle East, pointing to huge, potentially disaffected Muslim populations in India, Indonesia, and in the West.
Kissinger served as national security advisor to President Richard M. Nixon from 1969 until 1975, and simultaneously as secretary of state beginning in 1973 until 1977, the final three years under President Gerald R. Ford.
Kissinger and his North Vietnamese counterpart Le Duc Tho shared the Nobel Prize for their efforts to end the war in Southeast Asia, and in 1977 Ford awarded Kissinger the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Kissinger’s remarks focused on neighboring flashpoints in the fights against radical Islam and the spread of nuclear weapons: Iraq and Iran. Addressing the former, Kissinger restated his contention that withdrawal is a formula for disaster on a broad scale.
“When people talk about Iraq and talk about American withdrawal, they have to understand that the war we’re fighting happens to be located in Iraq today, but it will not end in Iraq. It’s an assault on the institutions of the region, and on the international system. It’s deeply founded, and it’s run by dedicated people,” Kissinger said.
“If this radical element develops the idea that they defeated the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the Americans in Iraq, that will not be the end of the process. It will be the beginning of a whole new kind of crisis…the script for a much more serious crisis down the road.”
Kissinger recalled April 30, 1975—the day Saigon fell—as the saddest of his career. He characterized the move as a series of simple decisions—decisions that he says the United States can’t make in Iraq.
“This is not something that we can win by a decision to leave. We can only win it by demoralizing the terrorists and keeping them from achieving their goals and by building the leadership structures to resist them.” Making a decision to leave, Kissinger said, would only produce a “temporary quiet.”
Kissinger noted the failure of Iraq’s elected leaders to establish a functioning government, but he expressed optimism that leaders in the region may be compelled to establish order as more of them realize that their countries, not the United States, will be the victims of a political failure in Iraq, Kissinger said.
Concerning Iran, Kissinger expressed doubts about the potential of diplomacy to stop the country’s push for nuclear capability. “Nobody wants another war. But history has shown us that those who want to change the system and tell you they want to change it and who take action to change it through terrorist attacks all over the world, if they’re not confronted and if it’s not demonstrated to them that they cannot succeed, then you don’t get a long way,” Kissinger said, recalling the relative simplicity of the Cold War—an era of mutually assured destruction.
“I have read people saying that if you could contain the Soviet Union, you could contain Iran. But it is not the same thing. If Iran has nuclear weapons, four or five other countries are going to have nuclear weapons. And then nuclear material will be spread around the world, and it’s bound to become available to terrorist groups.
“Some people say, ‘You have to use diplomacy.’ I have studied diplomacy as a professor, I have practiced diplomacy as a diplomat,” Kissinger said. “I have never seen a negotiation in which you prevail by the beauty of your argument. That’s a construct of academics. In the real world, you have to have incentives and penalties.”
He went on to say that “those penalties, however, such as economic sanctions, often either have little effect or, if severe, harden a country’s resolve.”
In an exclusive interview following his speech, Kissinger told Security Management that the challenge of Iran lies in the fact that its government represents a cause more than it represents a nation of people.
Kissinger tempered his speech with an optimistic observation on the state of the nation. “We are still the strongest nation in the world, and we are still the most cohesive nation in the world, which is essential to eventual achievement of peace. Nobody is applying to emigrate to the jihadist countries. They are coming to our country because they want conditions for a better life.”
His droll, academic baritone belying his sense of humor, Kissinger expressed his personal debt to members of ASIS. “This is an organization to which I personally owe a great deal, because for the last decades of my life I have needed personal security for a variety of reasons, mostly to protect me against my own staff.”
Kissinger is currently chairman of the international consulting firm Kissinger Associates, Inc., and is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently Ending the Vietnam War: A History of America’s Involvement in and Extrication from the Vietnam War.
“For me, it is a pleasure to talk to this group,” Kissinger said, wrapping up his address. “You see all of this. You have to help overcome it. This is an enterprise that was imposed on us. No American would have wanted it. But…the future of world peace, and of our children, depends on the success of the effort.”
Peters Promotes Focus on Excellence
People and excellence. If Tuesday’s keynote speaker, Tom Peters, had his way, these would be the only two terms in a businessperson’s vocabulary. According to Peters, they are the two components every business needs for success whether it makes widgets or provides security.
“Being good at what you do is not about the toys, but about the people,” said Peters. He also said what every security person must know innately: No one remembers your wins, but everyone will remember your losses. Because of this, security professionals should remember one name, Charles Darwin, and follow his iron law of nature: Be adaptive.
One issue that Peters zeroed in on was the security industry’s proclivity to say “security” far too much. “You are risk managers,” said Peters. Positive reinforcement is critical in business. Be positive and people will respond. Perception is everything, Peters reminded the audience.
In a business marked by terrorism, disasters, and the worst humanity can offer, security professionals must emphasize successes. “You teach people by bringing up good stories,” said Peters. Security managers, like any business executive, should also remember their staff is everything. “Unearth the champions,” Peters said, pointing his fingers at the audience.
“Somewhere in your organization, people are already doing things differently… and better. To create lasting change, find these areas of positive deviance and fan the flames,” said the prophet of business management. The security industry, like any business, needs to find these innovators, hiring them based on their can-do attitude, and then training them for skill.
This all goes to fulfill the prophecy of one of Peters’ inspirations, Boyd Charles, who once said: “I’ve always believed that the purpose of the corporation is to be a blessing to the employees.” In an age marked by Enron-like business scandals that treat employees and customers with contempt, Peters said that this message is more important than ever.
Putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of management, Peters proclaimed, “If you don’t have a motivated work force, it’s your failure of imagination.”
Another lesson of business management Peters told the audience to remember is that their business is ultimately about teaching. “You are not responsible for security, you’re responsible for teaching people how to do security.”
In the end, like any business, the security industry must not be “normal,” according to Peters. History doesn’t remember normal people, he said. And that’s because normal people don’t think outside the box and get things done. And that’s what business is all about.