Shadow Government

'Restoration' is not an option; why America can't afford to lead from behind

In the August 8 issue of Time magazine, Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass argues that the United States should institute a foreign policy doctrine that he terms "restoration." The goal of "restoration" is to "rebalance the resources devoted to domestic challenges, as opposed to international ones, in favor of the former." The objective of such a policy, he states, would be "restoring this country's strength and replenishing its resources -- economic, human and physical."

Haass' exhortation to focus on domestic priorities will undoubtedly find a ready audience in a nation which is weary of war and concerned about its own economic health. And rightly so -- our economy is the foundation upon which our national security rests. If we cannot increase our prosperity and continue to lead the world in areas such as education and innovation, our power and influence in the world will inevitably decline. In this regard, it is necessary that the U.S. exercise greater fiscal discipline and summon the courage to tackle long-term budgetary problems, but it is not sufficient; we must also be careful to remove impediments to economic growth and competitiveness.

In articulating a foreign policy doctrine, however, it is not enough to say that we must shepherd our power through sensible domestic policies. We must determine what we do with our power. It is here that Haass' "restoration" founders.

Anticipating a criticism of his inward-looking policy prescription, Haass asserts that "restoration is not isolationism," and advocates acting internationally when a "rigorous assessment of U.S. interests" argues for doing so. The real question, of course, is how one defines those interests and goes about pursuing them. In Haass' view, the U.S. should define those interests narrowly - "limit[ing] foreign policy to what matters most" as he puts it. While he does not exclude the possibility of including "elements of democracy promotion, counterterrorism, and humanitarianism" in foreign policy, he cautions that these policies should be reserved for when "opportunities or exigencies" arise. Haass also allows that in the future a more internationalist approach may be appropriate, but that the U.S. must first "put its own house in order."

This approach, however, results in a foreign policy vision which is too modest to promote American security and prosperity in the long run. We cannot neglect or defer international issues in favor of domestic matters. Our well-being depends not only on political and economic conditions at home, but also those overseas; the view that we can pay heed only to those issues with a direct effect on us and ignore what happens inside countries and communities abroad simply does not fit with today's reality. Our economic prosperity has been globalized as commerce, capital, and labor increasingly moves across national boundaries; so too has our security, as oceans no longer provide the buffer from foreign threats that they once did, and as more Americans live and travel abroad.

Thus, we cannot afford the sequential approach to engagement with the world that Haass proposes, looking first to our own problems before turning outward once again sometime in the future. Opening markets for trade overseas will boost our own economic recovery; encouraging democracy abroad will safeguard our own security. Haass conflates democracy promotion with "ousting authoritarian regimes," but this is misleading. The promotion of democracy, human and civil rights, and free markets comprises a range of actions and policies -- multilateral and bilateral, using hard and soft power,involving the public sector and private sector. Haass is right, of course, to counsel caution when it comes to war and underscore the need to understand clearly our aims, capabilities, and constraints in our foreign dealings; but this does not necessitate a foreign policy of modest aspirations.

In Haass' framework, issues such as democracy promotion, human rights, and free markets may not involve vital interests or direct threats -- "what matters most," in other words. But such thinking is shortsighted. A successful foreign policy should not only protect current interests and address today's threats; it should expand the universe of opportunities for American interests overseas, and defuse threats before they materialize. Emphasizing democracy, human rights, and free trade and investment means expanding future economic opportunities and cultivating tomorrow's leaders even as you deal with today's. By doing these things, we seek to create an international context which is more hospitable to the entire range of American interests, rather than simply pursuing them individually.

If the U.S. wishes to restore our strength, we must understand the sources of our strength. As previously noted, our economic health is the foundation of our national security. But this is a two-way street -- our willingness to (wisely) exercise leadership overseas, shoulder global responsibilities, and shape rather than passively accept the international order reinforces our own economic prosperity and vibrancy. For decades we have understood this and sought to promote political and economic liberty abroad even while dealing with crises at home; should we now set aside these burdens and turn inward, it will be not only to the world's detriment, but our own. America achieves greatness by setting ourselves to great tasks, with great conviction; now is a time to streamline our budgets, programs, and expenses, but not our ambitions in the world.

Shadow Government

Look who’s talking now: can dialogue stop North Korean provocations?

This week Secretary of State Clinton announced in Asia that the United States will invite North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye-Gwan to New York for exploratory talks about further talks leading perhaps to a resumption of the long-stalled Six Party Talks.  The administration is struggling to maintain sang froid and avoid the breathless rush for breakthroughs that led to an embarrassing bait-and-switch by the North Koreans after the Bush administration preemptively lifted sanctions in October 2008.  Nobody in the current (or former) administration now thinks North Korea has any intention of abandoning their missile and nuclear weapons programs.  After two nuclear tests, outward proliferation attempts to Syria and probably Burma, boastful revelations about their clandestine uranium enrichment program, and vows to become a full nuclear weapons state by 2012, Pyongyang has left little ammunition for its apologists (though some still hold out in isolated pockets in Berkeley, Seoul, and -of course-- Beijing). 

Why then is the administration resuming dialogue with Pyongyang?  The main reason is to convince the North not to engage in further nuclear tests or provocations in 2012.  Aside from being the 100th birthday of the Great Leader Kim Il Sung, 2012 is also an election year in the United States and South Korea and therefore highly auspicious for new North Korean demonstrations of nuclear and missile capability.  Senator John Kerry echoed the administration's concerns when he warned recently that "given North Korea's recent irresponsible conduct, staying in a diplomatic holding pattern invites a dangerous situation to get even worse."  And so the administration, which had shown solidarity with Seoul in the wake of North Korea's sinking of the ROKS Corvette Cheonan and fatal shelling of Yeongpyong Island last year by declaring it would not engage the North until the South did, began pressuring Seoul this year to relax its demands for an apology from the North.  In Bali last week the South Korean Foreign Minister met symbolically with his North Korean counterpart (sans apology), opening the way for the administration to make its own move.

Will this modest gambit prevent further provocations?  There are two things that recommend the approach.  First, the North needs food aid -- not so much for starving people as for the celebration of the elder Kim's birthday and the youngest Kim's (Kim Jong Eun's) succession to replace Kim Jong Il. Second, the administration appears to have convinced Seoul that engagement with the North now will put more pressure on Beijing to punish the North if there are provocations next year.

Still, these are thin reeds with which to dissuade Pyongyang from keeping on schedule with its propaganda and weapons development schedules.  Hopefully, the administration has no intention of backing away from implementation of sanctions under UN Security Council Resolutions 1619 and 1874, which will do much more to constrain proliferation and focus the mind of the Dear Leader than the forthcoming dialogue.  Moreover, rather than worrying primarily about appearing reasonable to Beijing in advance of North Korean testing, Seoul and Washington would do well to demonstrate the consequences of North Korean provocations in terms of tighter U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral security cooperation (to her credit, Secretary Clinton held a trilateral with her ROK and Japanese counterparts while in Asia this time).  The greatest utility of dialogue at this juncture may be to convince Pyongyang and Beijing that there will be no relaxation of pressure without concrete and verifiable steps at denuclearization, but that there is still a notional prospect for improved relations if the North is forthcoming.  That will also require the administration to stand firm even if the North threatens to walk out and exact retribution for America's "hostile policy" because we have not made concessions.  The administration swears it will not pay for talks, but given that the purpose of the talks is to prevent further North Korean provocations, we have already handed early leverage to Pyongyang.