American Studies, CIRS Faculty Lectures, Dialogue Series, Environmental Studies, Regional Studies

A New Political Strategy to Limit Climate Change


In this moderated discussion based on his latest book, Climate Change and the Nation State: The Realist Case, Anatol Lieven sets out a new political strategy to mobilize support for the effort to limit climate change. He argues that while international agreements and movements are valuable, in the end, their purpose is to get states to act, because (as the pandemic response demonstrated) only states can take the measures and mobilize the resources required. For this to happen, states and their populations have to be convinced that climate change is not just a threat to humanity in general, but a danger to the vital interests and the long term survival of their own nations.

By refocusing the debate about climate change on the national rather than the global level, Anatol Lieven concentrates on the states and institutions that can take effective action, and on how mass support for such action can be motivated. This involves a recognition of climate change as an existential threat to existing nation-states and an appeal to progressive nationalism in response. He provides a Realist frame for the threat of climate change and the necessary response to this threat. This response will require radical changes to our economies and societies, but he reminds us that in the past we have faced and overcome such immense challenges: the total wars of the 20th Century, and the creation of social programs to civilize industrial society and save capitalism from itself.

Lieven shows how in this emergency our crucial building block is the nation-state. The drastic action required to change our societies may be inspired in part by internationalist idealism but can only be carried out by the institutions of effective nation-states, backed by public legitimacy. This requires different national versions of what has been called the “Green New Deal”: to rebuild social solidarity, not only in order to justify the sacrifices that will be necessary in the fight to limit climate change but in order to strengthen our societies so as to withstand some damaging effects of climate change that are already inevitable. This will also require new policies to limit migration and deal with the impact of artificial intelligence.

Speaker: Anatol Lieven is a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and a Fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. He was previously a professor in the War Studies Department of King’s College, London. He worked for twelve years as a British foreign correspondent, reporting from South Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe for The Times and other publications. His other books include Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power (1998);  Ethical Realism: A Vision for America’s Role in the World (2006); America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism (2011) and Pakistan: A Hard Country (2012).

Moderator: Ahmad Dallal, DeanGeorgetown University in Qatar.