By: Harry C. Blaney III
In a world that increasingly seems bent on self-destruction, bad governance, and self-inflicted wounds, there is clearly an urgent need to, as they say, “get a grip” on things! As President Obama has said, none of these problems are easy; they will take a long time to deal with and they can’t be done by just one nation. Nor can they be addressed by just doing nothing. The key is, as Obama again said, is “not to do stupid things”, and needless to say do intelligent things and do them well and do them with other like minded nations whenever possible. This means first of all examining with care our values and our real interest, the cost and practicality of possible options, and not least the probability of success and any unforeseen consequences; what some would call “blowback.”
The last Bush administration did none of this and this administration has learned hopefully that lessen of “not doing stupid things.” That does not mean withdrawing from the world, but it may mean forcefully responding to a crisis when necessary and practical. But what are the elements that either make good policy and strategy and what are the harsh constraints in devising good strategy and properly implementing it, and with others, in a true multilateral coalition?
First, one domestic constraint on an effective American role in addressing global challenges is our corrosive political landscape, which is too often driven by hate, ignorance, stupidity, and partisan politics and not by good values or the national interest. The right wing neo-con hawks have criticized Obama for “leading from behind”. This pejorative statement is simply partisan from those who got us into an unnecessary war at great cost to our nation, the lives of brave men and woman in the armed forces, and our embassy staff. Now they are looking at pushing a unilateral unnecessary war with Iran and seem to be fomenting a crude “cold war” strategy and creating implacable enemies out of China and Russia. Sadly, some of this is to increase mindlessly the DOD budget on behalf of the military-industrial sector and to push narrow ideological and myopic interests.
This is not the way to make smart strategic and foreign policy decisions. It has already hurt our global role as Congress debates the coming budget and pushes restrictions on the president’s ability to conduct his foreign policies as this is written.
Second, external constraints were partly covered in our earlier post and several are looked at below and others will follow in this series. In our last look at forward strategy, we tried to take a “macro” perspective and asked: “did the institutions of our international community react, educate, and address with honesty and in comprehensive detail what these changes and trends portend for our frail planet? Does the international community know what needs to be done to safeguard the security and lives of its citizens?” Looking ahead, there are two categories of our analysis: (1) Recognizing the distinctly “macro global” trends of 2015, and (2) an attempt to understand these trends and consequences while devising possible responses to specific functional and regional problem areas.” Another installment will be looking forward into 2015 and beyond, would be aimed specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy.
THE CHANGING GLOBAL AND STRATEGIC AND LANDSCAPE AND THE DECLINE OF GOVERNMENTS AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS TO ADDRESS OUR REAL AND COMING RISKS
There are many reasons why governments and international organizations seem increasingly incapable of addressing and mitigating our global challenges and high-risk dangers. Not least, as we have noted, is the growing indifference of many nations including in the United States to the plight of the most at risk and vulnerable. The recent global recession had a deep impact on the reaction of citizens who have a growing sense of hopelessness. Encouraged in the United States by right-wing Republicans, their billionaire backers, and their paid for media and pundits, have long pushed for disdain of role of government and international organizations in serving the well-being of common citizens in need. These forces drove public opinion against sufficient support for preemptive action to address major dangers to national security and global stability and humanitarian crises. This means that organizations like UNESCO, UNDP, UNEP, UNHCR, World Health Organization, World Food Program, NATO, World Bank, and the UN system as a whole including the Security Council, are under funded and restricted by member states from taking effective action to address oncoming risks and conflicts. If this trend continues, the risk to American security and to the global system’s ability to address and mitigate serious major threats will continue to deteriorate and risks and costs will grow and not diminish. We need a new look on how to make these international institutions more effective and forward looking.
TOP LEVEL THREATS: PROLIFERATION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION AND DESTABILIZED REGIONS AND NATIONS
Despite all the headlines about terrorism, the far greater risk to U.S. and global security at the existential level are weapons of mass destruction in the hands of rogue or unstable and confrontational nations. This includes Russia under the unpredictable President Putin and Pakistan and India with nuclear weapons; nations both of which are in conflict with each other. North Korea already has nuclear weapons and is led by an unpredictable leader, and the possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons in a region of ubiquitous conflict and instability. Each of these problematic centers will remain well into 2015 and beyond and need a much higher level of attention by all global actors than has been seen hereto through by all nations and especially among some in Congress who seem to think “war” is the answer to every issue. I suggest to our readers to look at the post of Secretary Kerry’s Geneva press conference for an insight into this problem with a focus on Iran and beyond.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND ENVIRONMENTAL CHALLENGES TOP LEVEL THREATS
As President Obama has made clear there is no more important crisis the globe faces that climate change and its consequences. Many members of the Republican Congress do not think it exists, or do not think that it is caused by human activities, and even encourage energy sources that are among the worst polluters. This roadblock needs to be overcome with an enlightened global leadership, and the environmental community and citizens need to act. This is what the president had done by domestic legal regulations and international agreements that do not require Senate ratification. The agreement with China, the trip to India with this as a key topic, and with efforts to at last forge a global consensus on a broad range of climate impacting actions indicates some useful progress. More is still needed. I think 2015 and 2016 will see major moves abroad with our allies on this issue while opposition by Republicans will persist.
GLOBAL POVERTY, CIVIL UNREST, POPULATION MOVEMENTS AND GROWING COMMUNAL AND REGIONAL WARS AND TERRORISM
There is little question that America and the rest of the world will increasingly be impacted by the larger forces we have already seen arising. Frankly, they are at a cost of our past indifference to what is happening beyond our borders. Few paid attention to these forces; many of our leaders and our citizens and especially our corrupted media are giving more space and time to what the last stupid celebrity did, diverting our people from facing serious issues and solutions.
Terrorism is just one result of indifference by governments, powerful elites, and business to a larger social responsibility. It will not go away overnight but it can be mitigated and in part overcome. The primary action needed is to give jobs to those that live in hopelessness and despair. The other is to fight the ideology of hate and those that use terrorism to achieve their aims. Here the answer is not just military. Often here is where diplomacy and collective political and economic action can and should mitigate the conditions that breed conflict and narrow nationalism or racial hate.
Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, much of the conflict-ridden Middle East and many parts of Africa need greater help than has so far been given. If we do not recognize this we will be over whelmed over time by several results: more conflict, an increased spread of diseases, greater poverty, and humanitarian and natural disasters and in the end a high risk world for all.
THE SO-CALLED RISE OF MAJOR “NEW” ACTORS ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE
A lot has been written about the rise of “new” powers like China, India, and, for some, Russia. This concept is often joined by the so-called “decline” of America and Europe. Frankly, this has both a part of truth but also a lot of nonsense. Yes, India and China are growing but each has still deep-seated weaknesses, which will undermine their inherent potential for decades due not least to the large inequality that exists and social, racial, and ethnic divisions within each society. For Russia, despite all the aggressive and destructive actions, it is a state of concealed but deep crisis and decline that seems, under Putin, to reject modernity or even rationality and has destroyed its citizens meaningful participation in their collective decisions. This can’t last in the present equilibrium that is unstable over the long run. Putin is an historical tragedy for Russia at this time. But the West and the rest of the world need a strategy to draw Russia over time into a community of cooperating and responsible states and we should never give up this goal.
Some European leaders recognize this, but the silly forces on the right seem to think unneeded war with a nuclear-armed irrational nation is a bit of a lark. In 2015, Obama seems to know this and is struggling to find the right balance of restraint and prevention of aggression and the “inducement” of diplomacy, economic gain, and cooperation. We are likely to see more of this but Ukraine is the testing ground for both sides in 2015 and beyond and the only “good” solution requires Ukraine to remain a viable independent and unified state that can choose its destiny in the long run.
More on specific challenges will come in future posts and a look a creating a more effective international structure and the ability to foresee earlier coming dangers and respond.
We welcome your comments!