DANGERS, OPPORTUNITIES, AND CHOICES IN 2015 AND BEYOND
By: Harry C. Blaney III
After looking back at 2014, which was in so many ways a time of change and a time of conflict and tragedy for many around the world but there were also moments of active and sometimes productive diplomacy and renewal that transpired. In some areas of the world, it was lamentably much of the same. The sad questions that remain: Was the globe well served by its leaders? Did the citizens of each nation take the lessons of our times with renewed understanding and engagement? 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.
In the “macro” or what some call the “geo-strategic” level, and what I have also called major global challenges, we are indeed facing the kind of significant risks and dangers which are among the most confounding and complex, along with not as easily understood barriers to progress. We often see across-the-board disruptive forces that impact much of the rest of the specific regional and functional issues we face.
Looking forward, there are two important issues. First, what are the underlying landscapes and trends that are shaping our global system? Second, what can the United States, our allies and friends, do to improve global security, poverty, and reduce violence and secure well being as we move forth into 2015 and beyond?
PRESIDENT OBAMA’S “SECOND WIND” ON GLOBAL ISSUES AND SECURITY
One of the most important new developments is a tougher, more focused and more innovative stand by President Obama in foreign affairs including national security. This policy is still created with great deliberation, but also with more of a will to act “out of the box” than it did before the November election.
Already, there are several examples of this development. One example is the agreement with China regarding a climate change limitation of greenhouse gasses that bypasses Congress. Another example that has great importance is the decision to open negotiations with Cuba, creating the ability to establish diplomatic relations and to relax decade’s old failed sanctions, overall promoting closer and a more intense engagement. His immediate action to deal with Ebola showed when prompt action was clearly needed he would act. The very recent decision to continue to negotiate with Iran over their nuclear program as well as to start a quiet dialogue on broader issues, like how to handle ISIS, has also become another signal of this new development. All show a new tendency to take political risks at home to achieve key American objectives.
In his State of the Union speech, President Obama made it clear that he would be more active in taking the lead on a host of outstanding and difficult issues abroad. As our world grows more conflict prone, he is more assertive to make our best efforts to try to mitigate the worst consequences of upheaval, humanitarian disasters, global health dangers, the rich-poor poverty gap, terrorism and its repercussions, and last but not least the so called “rise” of China and Russian aggression. Presidential meetings in Saudi Arabia and India indicate a game-changing mode. But his caution and deliberation are likely to continue.
It is clear that the White House, Department of State, and Department of Defense are all currently going through a “re-thinking” of American strategy to account for the fast moving changes that are developing around the world. Included in this reassessment are relations with Russia; especially dealing more actively with the escalating Ukrainian-Russian conflict. This is extremely relevant as this conflict not only touches the security of our NATO countries, but also shows a perspective for a long-term diplomatic modus vivendi with Russia. But, as this is being written, there is a building consensus on both sides of the Atlantic that some added assistance to Ukraine is necessary.
Look for new instruments and modalities from Obama to shape the foreign affairs agenda and debate in the coming months. Also look for Secretary John Kerry to be even more active in setting the stage in places like the Middle East, China, Africa, and India. Expect a host of added initiatives over the coming months and even into 2016. President Obama is clearly laying a more active and innovative American agenda in the foreign affairs field, even beyond his term in office.
A second installment of this post, looking forward into 2015 and beyond, specifically in key problem sectors describing the difficulties and opportunities that lay ahead for American foreign and security policy will follow in the coming days.
We welcome your comments!
John F. Kerry’s remarks during his swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of State
“I am proud to take on this job because I want to work for peace and because the values and the ideals of our nation are really what represents the best of the possibilities of life here on Earth.”
Good Morning Mr. Secretary, Here are Your problems! Good luck Sir!
John F. Kerry has just landed his ideal job…and the one phrase he must be thinking as he gets his first morning briefing of the first day in office: “beware of what you wish for.” Unlike some before him he is well versed in global issues and their many problems, constraints and dangers. He is even further, a “Foreign Service brat,” as the phrase is used in diplomatic circles. Yet, the difference between being Chair of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee and its agenda and writ, is a magnitude apart from that of any Secretary of State…..he must act, and often fast and frequently without sufficient information or even much detailed context. Yes, that, Mr. Secretary is the reality each day and every hour and without weekend retreats from the world’s realities.
When Kerry came to State he said: “Can a man really run the State Department?” No Mr. Secretary, the State Department and the world’s ills will run you!
He also knows well the “Black Swan” conundrum, that the unpredictable is very much likely and growing more dangerous. One problem is, these “Black Swans” are in all likelihood occurring much too often and mainly with few good options. Witness the horrific conflict in Syria and our inability to manage stopping of the horrendous killing, or to shape a decent end and future for the Syrian people. All this is made worse with our limited tools for dealing with such contingencies and now likely fewer resources with the stupidity of the sequestration. Welcome to the world of scarce resources in a high risk world, Mr. Secretary!
Kerry is well versed also, on our most “dangerous” challenges that involve weapons of mass destruction. The names are well known: Iran, Pakistan-India, Israel, North Korea and the nukes still abundant and not well cared for in Russia. On the latter, he will have the delight to deal with President Putin who will be thinking all the time they are talking how to make America’s role in the world more difficult. If he can penetrate that dark soul he may yet get another medal for not just courage, which he has, but also for audacity.
On his desk will be briefing papers on dealing with Iran and possible early negotiations, but also carrying the existing policy burden of “no nuclear weapons” and a “red line,” a likely nuclear blast in North Korea, an Afghanistan where the final “exit” and its consequences are still unknown, an Iraq that may revert to internecine warfare and dark ethnic killing, an “Arab Spring’ that all together is one of the great challenges and unpredictable events of our age. And you know that China “rising” and the pivot to Asia is also in your brief. Just to add more fuel to the fire, getting the India-Pakistan-Afghanistan conundrum on course for a long term “solution” would make “a world of difference” to global security. Better get your Policy Planning staff on that quickly!
Let us not forget climate change and persistent avoidance of a global bargain to deal with it. Kerry knows what must be done and we see the consequences of inaction all over the globe. That may prove yet, to be the one key “legacy” accomplishment that could stand for centuries or our major failure.
We should not forget that besides the cuddly Putin, Kerry will be having to do “face time” and chumminess with Benjamin Netanyahu. In fact, he will be getting his early baptism of Secretaryship with a meeting not only with BiBi, but also Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He clearly has the courage of Daniel going into the lion’s den. He now has two lions to stare down and a Congress that will be on his (and likely poor Hagel’s) back with every move he makes in the Middle East. No sleep for the wicked and in this case for the honest peacemaker. Mr. Secretary don’t forget the “two state solution” nor “settlements” nor the lobbyists here! Obama is waiting in the wings for a Spring visit to the Middle East so, hurry.
The good news is that you have some wonderful people in the Foreign Service, but they have been overworked, put in danger spots they should never have been exposed to, given impossible assignments in wars and hell holes, and under-compensated, not given the right tools and training, and not often appreciated. But, you know that, and the question is what can you do about it since, neither Secretaries Rice nor Clinton did much to change that reality.
In short, welcome to four brutal years of unrelenting crises, intransigent foes and allies alike, mad trip schedules, often dangerous or risky acts or places, policies gone bad, late night calls, exhausting and sometimes boring meetings and one-on-ones with no hope of progresses, and finally perhaps, if you are lucky and work very hard and smartly, a few nice successes and a few disasters adverted – and many intractable problems still left to your successor. Good Luck Mr. Secretary and here is your bottle of Tums!
John F. Kerry’s remarks at Swearing-in Ceremony: http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2013/02/203859.htm
After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!
More and more reports are coming out of Moscow that President V. Putin is intent on a salami slicing process of deep repression and authoritarian Soviet style rule. His actions have included repression against NGOs in Russia that take money from abroad and those that don’t, the passing of legislation that limits freedom of expression, including the protests against them, criticism of the Kremlin, and the clamping down on freedom of the press. The goal is a top down government from the Kremlin.
In the realm of foreign affairs the probation of adoption by American families of orphans, along with indications that Putin is perhaps in an angry mood toward America and the West, seems to be pursuing a series of policies that are at cross purposes with those of the U.S. and of other Western democracies.
Now, news comes out that further legislation aimed at cutting the ties of Russians with the outside world are in the process. These may include a ban on Russian officials having connections abroad, such as wives and children living or being educated outside of Russia and the former Soviet Union. Putin has also closed down local broadcasting by VOA in Russia. Corruption is endemic and tolerated especially if it is by Putin’s favorites.
Beyond these moves is a decidedly strong trend towards the kind of extreme xenophobia and the suppression of anything that smacks of “Western” or the culture of and civic support for real “democracy.”
There seems at the same time, a trend by Putin, to increase defense/military spending at the expense of the funding of domestic needs like health care, which is already appalling. Also, Putin has instituted his stronger control over the regional governments at the expense of local autonomy.
In the background, there is a growing resentment by the middle class of Putin’s policies and a desire for a more open society. In the end, it will be the citizens of Russia that will likely move the regime or rid it of its authoritarian overlay. Meanwhile, this increasingly corrosive overlay of society is accompanied by public cynicism or even support. There are signs of a more open debate of resentment and opposition to the authoritarian and corrupt elements. My guess is that this desire for a modern and open society will in the end carry the day, but at a very high cost to the Russian people who have waited centuries for some sense of dignity and real civil rights.
The question for America and its allies is what can be done, if anything, to persuade Vladimir Putin and not least the Russian people that both repression at home and belligerence abroad is not in their own interests? The Russian Federation now faces not only years of possible reaction, but also possible loss of inward investment, and a possible loss of its main revenue if either oil or gas prices fall or non-Russian supplies are supplanted from other regions.
The first thing that should not be done is to overreact ourselves mindlessly and preemptively act in ways that would only reinforce Putin’s obsessions and other right wing nationalists and play into their hands in creating an isolated and besieged Russia. This would give “rational” to the Kremlin to adapt authoritarian acts to “defend” its sovereignty and “Security” interests.
Those in America who wish to isolate Russia and make them a forever “enemy” and recreate a new “Cold War” are as much a danger to wise policy and the integration of Russia into the community of responsible nations. These “neocom” right wing “war hawks” wanted a mindless war with Iraq, they wanted us to confront China rather than engage them and push the “inevitable” coming conflict with China, and now they want to do the same with Russia.
What is needed instead is a wise long-term strategy of encouraging cooperation and confidence of the Russian people and also, especially of the growing better educated elite and middle class to recognize that Putin trajectory means only greater poverty of its people, less growth in modern technology and knowledge, and will destine Russia forever to be backward and solitary.
Our first step must be to once again reassert to the Russian people that we desire partnership and collaboration for the benefit of both our nations and to continue our “reset” dialogue with Russian leaders even when it seems almost hopeless to persuade them of its efficacy to their own interests. We need to devise a comprehensive agenda of useful initiatives and to hold out its benefits and break down the walls of communication between our society and theirs – even over the heads of the current regime if necessary.
Obama will be visiting Russia in the fall for a G-20 meeting and before that meeting there needs to be a major focused effort to engage in the kind of diplomacy, which reconnects our two nations and emphasizes those areas of mutual interest. Also, there should be an emphasis on a “full court press” of public diplomacy and the use of what many call “third tract” “back door” and a quiet effort to reach Russian citizens directly with the theme that America is not their enemy, but rather that together we can have the kind of cooperation that respects Russian’s real interests. The issues to be addressed early on in a quiet way include missile defense in Europe, Iran’s nuclear weapons, Syria, North Korea, our exit from Afghanistan, trade opportunities, investment and above all nuclear weapons and non-proliferation. That short list illustrates the still importance of the reasons behind the original “reset.” Secretary Kerry and President Obama now need to put enough attention and energy into this necessarily long-term strategy, which for a host of reasons is of the greatest importance to global security for everyone.
After reading this article, be sure to look at our Student National Security-Foreign Policy Solutions Essay Contest page to submit your essay today!