Re-Crafting U. S. Foreign Policy

I’d like to direct your attention to a very interesting set of proposals on re-directing U. S. foreign policy from Bill Richardson, former U. S. representative to the United Nations and present governor of New Mexico and Democratic presidential aspirant. James Joyner has ably summarized the article so I won’t bother doing so.

In the article Gov. Richardson identifies six key trends that are “transforming the world”:

Six trends are transforming the world. The global community must simultaneously come to understand and respond to all of them. One trend, of course, is fanatical Jihadism bursting from an increasingly unstable and violent greater Middle East. This trend had been growing for years, but the invasion and subsequent collapse of Iraq have fueled its growth. A second trend is the growing power and sophistication of criminal networks capable of disrupting the global economy and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction. Together, these two trends raise the terrible specter of nuclear terrorism. Al Qaeda wants nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan sold nuclear materials to rogue states, and former Soviet nuclear weapons are poorly secured. The existence of a black market for nuclear materials is well documented, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons to new countries has further increased the opportunities for Jihadists to obtain them.

A third trend transforming the world is the extraordinarily rapid rise of Asian economic and military power, particularly in China and India. The inclusion of these two countries, the most populous in the world, in international discussion has changed the nature of diplomacy, both through bilateral agreements and through international organizations. A fourth trend is the re-emergence of Russia as an assertive global and regional player, tempted by authoritarianism and militant nationalism, with a large nuclear arsenal and strong control over energy resources. The simultaneous rise of India, China, and Russia requires US strategic leadership to ensure that these powerful nuclear-armed nations may be integrated into a stable global order.

A fifth trend transforming the world is the growth of both global economic interdependence and of global financial imbalances, unaccompanied by the growth of institutional capacities to manage these realities. Globalization has made national economies more vulnerable to resource constraints and financial shocks originating beyond national borders, and growing global demand for energy has the potential to lead to geopolitical tensions or even a global energy crisis. Financial imbalances related to the US trade deficit and the accumulation of dollar assets by Asian nations could lead to a dangerous collapse of the US dollar.

The sixth trend is the globalization of urgent health, environmental, and social problems. Global warming and pandemics like AIDS do not respect national borders. Poverty, ethnic conflict, and overpopulation also spill over borders, feeding what Moises Naim has called the “five wars of globalization” (over drugs, arms trafficking, money laundering, intellectual property, and alien smuggling).

I wish Gov. Richardson had connected the dots a little more for me, relating the solutions he proposes to the trends he’s identified as challenging us. For example, one of his solutions is for the U. S. to ratify the Kyoto agreement. In my view Gov. Richardson’s sixth trend notably suggests that we should not ratify the agreement. Environmental issues do, indeed, “spill over borders”. Since China is now the greatest offender and trending in the wrong direction, exempting China from the restrictions of the agreement makes it a non-starter as far as I’m concerned. I see nothing whatever in China’s present or history which leads me to believe that China is susceptible to being lead by example. Indeed, the very idea is nonsensical to me.

I’m also not convinced about some of the institutional reforms that Gov. Richardson proposes:

US leaders also must restore their commitment to international law and multilateral cooperation, which means many things. It means promoting expansion of the UN Security Council’s permanent membership to include Japan, India, Germany, and one country each from Africa and Latin America. It also means ethical reform at the United Nations so that this vital institution can help its many underdeveloped and destitute member states meet the challenges of the 21st century. Finally, it means expanding the G8 to include new economic giants like India and China.

Beyond the United Nations, a commitment to international law means that the United States must be impeccable in its own human rights behavior. The US government must join the International Criminal Court and respect all international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions. It should reward countries that respect the Universal Declaration on Human Rights—and it should negotiate, constructively but firmly, with those who do not. The United States must also start taking human rights in Africa seriously. The two most horrendous recent human rights abuses have taken place in Rwanda and now Darfur, and history teaches that if the United States does not take the lead on ending these abuses, no one else will. The United States should have sent a special envoy as soon as the mass killings began in Darfur and should now put pressure not only Sudan, but also on other states, like China, that have influence in Sudan. US diplomatic engagement and leadership is essential to put global, multilateral pressure on such regimes. One way of doing so would be to enthusiastically support the International Criminal Court, so that individual leaders who engage in or allow crimes against humanity know they will be held accountable.

I’m all in favor of reforming the United Nations Security Council and have put my thoughts here. I find the notion that Germany belongs on the UNSC puzzling. Europe is moving towards a federal system and already has two seats on the UNSC. Why is a third seat a good idea? Other than, perhaps, you like the way Germany is likely to vote. Would the way Germany is likely to vote be likely to help or injure American interests?

Reforms should be conducted relative to first principles. There’s already one “democratic” organ in the United Nations: the General Assembly. Does making the UNSC more “democratic”, more “representative” enhance its legitimacy or reduce it? (I use quotes in the preceding sentence because I don’t think you can refer to the government of China as either democratic or representative and, since the UN represents governments rather than people, including more governments does little to make the institution more democratic or more representative.)

Would an expanded UNSC be more or less likely to act in response to the challenges that Gov. Richardson presents?

As to complying with our treaty obligations, I’m in complete accord with Gov. Richardson. However, those obligations cut both ways. For example, is the present Iraqi government sovereign or not? If it is not, as occupying nation we continue to be obligated to produce security in Iraq—just withdrawing (which Gov. Richardson supports) would be a war crime. I see no exemptions in the Geneva Conventions for inconvenience, cost, or political expedience.

There’s more than one reason to place greater reliance on international institutions. If it’s to build greater support and consensus for doing the right thing and pursuing U. S. interests, I’m all for it. If it’s as an alternative towards the U. S. taking action itself, it sounds like another word for isolationism.

I’m also concerned that there’s little in Gov. Richardson’s proposals about trade. As the world’s foremost proponent of free trade, the U. S. is already the leader in the “global fight against poverty”. Is that what he means? China and India’s increased foreign trade have done more to end poverty in those countries than every other anti-poverty program in human history combined. I note with chagrin that, unless this particular bullet refers to free trade, there doesn’t seem to be much about free trade in his list, indeed, he’s pretty dismissive. That’s a shame because historically opening up trade has been one of our strengths.

8 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    Richardson seems to be promoting a Huntington “Clash of Civilization” approach to the Security Council. Don’t have my copy with me, but if the key trend is cultural clashes, then forming a body in which the cultural hegemons can resolve their disputes and act in concert has utility. I think Huntington’s problem was that some civilizations lacked powerful hegemons, like the Islamic civilization and Sub-Saharra Africa. He reluctantly recoginzed Brazil as a potential hegemon in Latin America, though it has language/cultural distinctiveness. That Richardson advocates an African and South American seat without specificity makes it pretty clear that this is his thinking.

    But Richardson doesn’t appear to see cultural clashes as the key threat, but a seties of discrete trends for which I think ad hoc alliances and treaties would be better suited.

  • Exceedingly well done Dave.

    I’ll give Richardson kudos for frankly discussing radical Islamist terrorism, compared to Edwards ( a lightweight blowhard, IMHO) this rhetoric is the height of realism.

    What makes less sense is the absence of the information tech revolution from this list of trends which is having a global impact of enormous significance. Overall, the grasp of economics and geoeconomics by the Democratic candidates is the weakest I’ve seen since 1984 – are Larry Summers and Robert Rubin AWOL from advisory positions this time around?

  • Actually, I think you’re being too kind, Mark. The entire field—Democratic and Republican”is stocked with innumerate technophobes who are nearly economically illiterate. That’s partly a generational issue but I think it also reflects a world in which the political, technological, business, etc. sectors are simply going their own way.

  • Dave,

    How’s this for a UN reform proposal…


  • I’ve heard a number of similar proposals, gary. The idea, while appealing, has a number of shortcomings. For one thing, I don’t think it’s possible to define democracy well enough to do the job (yes, I read the “Democracy” tab). Here’s an example. What if it’s not the government that prohibits freedom of speech or the press but local custom? In other words, mobs come and set fire to your house. Democracy or not?

    I’d be happy if we limited the membership of the UN to nations. City states surrounded by ungoverned territory probably don’t count.

  • Dave,

    Defining ‘democracy’ is not easy, but we really have no alternative. Without it, we allow dictators to dominate global politics. And just to show you that very serious efforts have been attempted to draw the line, check this out…

    This is the effort of a group within the UN itself. Here’s their list of countries that qualify…

    It is possible to construct a meaningful, working definition. As to your example, it would depend on whether the rule of law is being applied to prevent such mob rule.

    Definiing democracy is the only road to world peace I can think of.


  • “The entire field—Democratic and Republican”is stocked with innumerate technophobes who are nearly economically illiterate”

    Agreed. At present there is no one for whom I could in good conscience vote for ( though perhaps more than I few I would feel comfortable voting against).

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