Salve Regina Rochambeau Dialogue: A New U.S. Foreign Policy For Today’s Challenges
Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you. I would like to thank Salve Regina, Dr. Kelli Armstrong, Dr. Jim Ludes and Dr. Iskander Rehman for the invitation. The Rochambeau Dialogue recognizes the longstanding and extraordinary military and political alliance between the United States and France. The depth of our alliance stems back to the founding of our nation and the willingness of France to support America’s quest to establish an independent nation founded not on a racial, religious, or ethnic identity, but on the values of liberty, freedom, and democracy— and that mutual commitment is just as strong today.
When French President Emmanuel Macron spoke to Congress last year, he emphasized the common values between the United States and France, values that shaped the post-World War II international order. The world order, which the United States has taken the lead in building, has been defined by international relations scholar John Ikenberry as “a western-oriented, liberal international system organized around openness, rules, and multilateral cooperation.” It has been based on principles of liberalism, including liberty, fundamental freedoms including a free press and an open society, and universal human rights. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and its allies believed their vision had prevailed and that former Soviet bloc countries would embrace liberal democracy. The West assumed that greater political and military integration of our former adversaries into the U.S.-led international system, and the removal of barriers to international trade, would inevitably deliver greater security and prosperity for all.
Today, however, our rules-based order is under siege on a number of fronts. Major changes in the geopolitical landscape have created significant challenges for the West’s vision of global security and prosperity. As President Macron stressed during his address to Congress, “our strongest beliefs are challenged by the rise of a yet-unknown new world order.” The reasons for the fraying of this order are complex and include political, national security, and economic factors.
Politically, some of our underlying assumptions have proven incorrect. In particular, the assumption that in the post-Cold War period Russia and China would over time seek greater integration into the liberal world order has been replaced with a recognition that these strategic competitors now pose a threat to the liberal democratic model and reject U.S. global leadership.
In the national security dimension, our post-Cold War assumptions of international security guaranteed by U.S. military dominance were shattered after 9-11, and our strategic orientation shifted to meet the challenges of a growing threat—global terrorism by violent extremist organizations. This shift changed the way we trained, equipped, and fought. At the same time, as we focused on the terrorism threat, Russia and China invested in modernizing their militaries, leading to a relative decline of U.S. military dominance and a reduction of military readiness against near peer adversaries. Furthermore, the decades-long counterterrorism fight has led to fatigue among Americans, many of whom are frustrated with the seemingly endless and costly deployments of our armed forces to overseas conflicts in which our exit strategy is ill-defined, if it exists at all.
In terms of economic factors contributing to the fraying of the liberal international order, the American middle class has watched much of the benefit of multilateral trade and globalization accrue to a very small percentage of extremely wealthy individuals, leaving the average worker struggling to get by on stagnant or declining wages. Americans have seen factories and manufacturing jobs that had supported generations of prosperity move overseas or across borders as a result of trade deals that did not have sufficient protections for labor or effective enforcement mechanisms. China, in particular, has been a focus of animus, as it has increased its relative economic power, including through coercive economic policies, intellectual property theft, and state-sponsored industrial espionage. American workers increasingly feel at the mercy of global forces beyond their control, whether it is the world economy and trade, the environment and climate change, or immigration and job security.
Our strategic competitors have been quick to highlight these cracks in the U.S.-led liberal world order. Ahead of the G20 meeting in Osaka in July, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared in an interview with the Financial Times that Western-style liberalism had become “obsolete.” He claimed that the liberal idea had failed in the most basic mission of any government—providing for the stability and security of the middle class—and that the forces of globalization and multiculturalism had not benefited the majority of the people. As a result, President Putin argued, the liberal idea no longer deserved its status as the “dominating factor” in the world order. European leaders, including EU President Donald Tusk and President Macron were quick to push back against Putin’s claims. Meanwhile the U.S. response, including by our President, either failed to understand Putin’s criticism or didn’t perceive its relevance in the day-to-day lives of average Americans.
I would propose, as you engage in the Dialogue, that you consider whether a defining challenge of our time is whether the United States and its allies are prepared to defend the liberal idea, and the world order we have built based on those principles, from the forces that seek to undermine that order. Will the liberal international order weather current challenges, or will it decline into obsolescence with a return to the law-of-the-jungle nationalism predominant in the first half of the 20th century? And, if the liberal world order survives, how can we update it to ensure we have the tools, the resources, and the alliances to take on the challenges of the 21st century? The answer rests, in part, on the role that the United States chooses to play. Will the United States decide to remain, as then-Defense Secretary Mattis described, “the indispensable nation in the free world” or will we retreat from the U.S. leadership role in the international order?
As President Macron stressed to Congress, we need a clear-eyed review of the rules-based international order in light of the significant changes in the geopolitical landscape. But I do not believe we should either rush to declare the international order fatally flawed, or allow it to atrophy through neglect. I would argue instead that a renewed American and European commitment to the fundamental, first-principles of that framework will best serve our collective foreign policy and national security interests.
Let me briefly outline three categories of current threats to the liberal world order. The first is from near-peer competitors that seek to challenge U.S. leadership of the world order and replace liberal democracy with alternative models that serve their strategic interests. The second category is non-state actors and rogue states that reject the world order and have the capacity to erode our ability to maintain it. And the third category is the rise of illiberal ideologies, across many parts of the world—and increasingly within Western nations—that have exposed strains within our liberal political systems and have implications for our national security.
Starting with our near peer strategic competitors, let me turn to Russia. Declaring liberalism “obsolete” or no longer deserving of its dominant status in the international order is part of Putin’s strategy for advancing Russia’s interests, which includes a return to balance-of-power international politics, regaining Russia’s great power status, and the establishment of a recognized Russian sphere of influence over its neighbors. The model of “Putinism” is built on state-protected kleptocracy inside the country, reinforcing Putin’s domestic power by making it so that ultimately no one can challenge his rule. In addition, Putin has sought to export this model to authoritarian regimes in Syria and Venezuela, in Europe and beyond.
At the same time, Putin seeks to exploit the vulnerabilities inherent in open, and free societies of the United States, Germany, France, and other leading Western countries, in an effort to undermine public faith in liberal democracy and
equate our democratic systems with the corrupt system Putin has engineered to retain power. Kremlin and Kremlin-linked actors are using the tactics of information warfare and malign influence operations to interfere in our political parties, democratic institutions, and free markets. Not only does this chip away at the integrity of our democracies, it also has implications for our collective security. We must recognize that Putin can wage war on the United States and all that it stands for without ever involving the military.
Turning to China, President Xi Jinping has moved away from greater integration with the liberal world order, and instead consolidated control over the domestic economy and society, creating a style of authoritarian capitalism. He has removed checks on power fundamental to preserving a path to liberty, including ending Presidential term limits and cracking down on the press, academics, independent voices, and religious and ethnic minorities. Xi has also sought to export China’s alternative model, branding it “socialism with Chinese characteristics in a new era.” Without adopting Western liberal values, China offers, according to Xi, “a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence.”
In its own version of hybrid warfare, China is actively promoting its model regionally in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, attracting developing nations to greater economic integration with China without demanding greater political freedoms associated with liberal democracy. At the same time, China uses predatory lending practices, corrupt financial deals, and other exploitative economic schemes to influence foreign political leaders and buy off weaker partners.
As China has grown into an economic powerhouse, it has deployed the full extent of its financial resources to advance its strategic interests. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which provides development assistance and infrastructure loans abroad, has outspent the World Bank. As China scholar Richard McGregor wrote recently in Foreign Affairs, this Initiative has “made concrete Beijing’s plan to develop and dominate the land and sea routes connecting Eurasia and the Indian Ocean and thus make China the hub of business and technology all the way to Europe.”
China’s economic ambitions are replicated in the military sphere, where it seeks to use its superior military power to suppress smaller countries’ sovereignty claims in key regions and advance China’s strategic interests globally. Nowhere is this more evident than in the South China Sea, which is why international freedom of navigation operations, including regular passage by U.S. warships, and the passage of French naval forces in April, through the strategic Taiwan Strait, are essential for maintaining internationally-recognized transit rights and pushing back
against China’s excessive claims. Our ability to call on allies and partners in the event of a contingency is critical to countering Chinese military ambitions.
China’s hybrid warfare operations have implications for our ability to sustain economic, political, and even military alliances. The International Republican Institute concluded recently that these tactics “have the potential to draw fragile democracies into China’s orbit and away from the United States and the Democratic West. This represents a clear and significant threat to the U.S. strategic and economic interests and has the potential to destroy the American-led liberal democratic order.”
An additional aspect of the strategic competition with Russia, and particularly China, is the quest for technological dominance as we become increasingly interconnected globally. The race to develop and deploy the tools of tomorrow, including artificial intelligence, machine learning and quantum computing, may determine whether Western-style liberalism or an alternative model will define the world order for the 21st century. Russia and China are already seeking to exploit these cutting-edge technologies to advance their models of state control of their populations. It is imperative that Western societies invest in these innovations to be able to defend our liberties and collective security.
Let me very briefly mention the challenge to the liberal world order from rogue nations and non-state actors, though frankly this could be the subject of an entire speech in and of itself. The rise of violent extremism by non-state actors over the past two decades constitutes a fundamental rejection of the international order that will likely be a generational challenge. As the French know all too well, terrorism by violent extremist organizations threatens the security of all liberal societies, and demands a coordinated response by our security institutions. Our coalition efforts have demonstrated the strength of multilateral operations in rolling back terrorist safe havens. But, as we saw from the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant—a reboot of al Qaeda in Iraq—and their efforts to establish a physical caliphate, these groups continue to morph, find new safe havens, and adapt their tactics. Successful counter terrorism operations require us to apply concerted pressure in conjunction with our allies and to work by, with, and through local partners. One such example is the U.S.-French cooperation in North Africa, where French forces have taken the lead in addressing the violent extremist threat in Mali and elsewhere, with the United States providing critical support to those operations—including airlift, refueling, and intelligence. We must also recognize that these violent extremist ideologies cannot be defeated militarily and that we require the sustained engagement and well-resourced efforts of our diplomatic and development experts.
And as I mentioned a moment ago, one aspect of the tension on the current world order and the leadership role of the United States, is the strain of over two decades of conflict. We all want to find a way to bring our forces home whenever possible, but it must be done in a deliberate and well-thought-out manner in concert with our partners and allies. In the case of the Syria withdrawal announced late last year, contradictory statements by the President, his National Security Advisor, and other Administration officials only served to underscore that that decision was anything but thoughtful and deliberate. Similarly, in Afghanistan, our allies, partners, and the international community have been largely in the dark with regard to our future intentions in Afghanistan – often relying on press rumors or statements from adversaries like the Taliban to piece together the current state of play. These types of actions hurt the credibility of the United States and make the world question our commitment to maintaining the world order.
The threat from rogue states like Iran and North Korea also results from their rejection of the international order because they see it as contrary to their interests in regional influence and nuclear status. North Korea reminds us daily of the specter of nuclear war and nuclear proliferation. There can be little meaningful progress towards getting North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons without a unified strategy with our allies, in particular South Korea and Japan, and in close consultation with China. It remains unclear whether China is truly committed to a denuclearized North Korea, and unfortunately the Trump Administration has been focused on summits with the North Korean dictator that garner flashy headlines but lack substance and seriousness. The Administration has not done the hard work required to pursue a diplomatic solution to the North Korean threat.
Iran has also shown that it is a dangerous and destabilizing force in the Middle East and continues to violate international norms and abuse the human rights of its people. However, when faced with a united international community, Iran has also demonstrated that it is willing to enter into negotiated constraints on its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, when the Trump Administration pulled out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, Iran was in compliance with that agreement. The President’s go-it-alone approach is ill-conceived and only heightens the risk of miscalculation that could lead to war. We must return to the P5+1 format as during the JCPOA negotiations to reduce tensions and find a sustainable path forward.
The third category of threats to the international liberal order is the growth of illiberal ideologies, as reflected in the undermining of free institutions in countries previously committed to our shared values. We are seeing troubling signs of this trend, including Hungarian Prime Minister Orban’s open advocacy for an “illiberal democracy” model of government and the rise of far-right, nationalist movements in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere. These ideological movements are exploiting grievances associated with the liberal international order, including maximizing fear and mistrust surrounding issues of immigration and globalization. Russia, in particular, is harnessing these political divisions, through disinformation and malign influence campaigns that amplify these fringe ideologies and grant marginal political figures the appearance of legitimacy. By sowing chaos and internal strife, our adversaries augment the strains on the liberal international order, and leverage these extreme views to advance the export of illiberal models of governance.
As a result, we have seen a decline in freedom globally. The independent watchdog organization Freedom House found that 2018 marked the 13th consecutive year of declining global freedom, resulting from the rise of repressive authoritarian powers; recently democratized countries slipping into illiberal policies and corruption; and the expansion of populist political forces in established democracies that challenge fundamental principles like separation of powers and minority rights.
The rise of nationalistic and nativist ideologies in the United States, encouraged by President Trump’s rhetoric, raises grave concerns about whether the United States will continue to fulfill the role of leader of the Free World. The President’s repeated denigration of our alliances and cozying up to authoritarian strongmen has caused some of our democratic partners to question whether they can rely on U.S. leadership to defend their sovereignty and counter aggression by our mutual adversaries. Taken together, his policies intended to dramatically reduce both lawful and unlawful immigration emboldens a white nationalist agenda and signals that the United States is less welcoming toward refugees and other immigrants, even though the majority of Americans want us to remain a beacon of hope.
Furthermore, the Administration’s disregard for Congress, the courts, and other institutional checks on presidential power, and its disdain for the media and the integrity of our electoral system are at odds with fundamental American ideals and values. These actions have a chilling effect on public respect for democracy and the rule of law that reverberates well beyond our borders. It also emboldens autocratic and other repressive leaders to behave in ways presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have condemned for decades.
While these trends are disturbing, I believe they are not irreversible. Today, I would propose three steps that the United States and its allies and partners can take to strengthen our defense of the international order and reaffirm our commitment to liberal democracy.
First, we must recognize that the big, geopolitical challenges of today and the future will require the United States to deepen its multilateral engagement. As Tony Blinken and Robert Kagan argued in the Washington Post in January, the United States along with allies and partners should work to establish a “league of democracies or a democratic cooperative network,” creating institutional links among the United States, Asian, and European democracies. This organization could take a comprehensive approach to addressing threats to democracy today, such as cyber security, terrorism, and election interference. These efforts should be structured not only to share the benefits of deeper cooperation but also to spread the burdens of maintaining the rules-based international order.
In this respect, the United States and its allies must allocate sufficient resources to provide foreign and developmental assistance to counter Chinese and Russian influence. This should take the form of funding programs for disaster relief, global health initiatives, infrastructure development, and support for nascent democratic institutions. It is also critically important for the United States to lead likeminded nations in speaking forcefully in support of human rights and condemning repression.
The United States, along with its European allies, must also continue to have a credible multilateral deterrent through NATO. The United States, France, and other allies must increase our multilateral readiness and responsiveness and continue efforts to reform NATO’s command and control structure. NATO must also improve its interoperability and transition newer members away from legacy Soviet defense systems. We should also remember that the NATO alliance, as stated in the North Atlantic Treaty, is “founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law.” We should give further consideration to how alliance members can fulfill their NATO treaty obligation to promote those principles upon which free institutions are founded.
In addition, rather than confronting China unilaterally, the United States should work with the European Union, Canada, and Japan to ensure trade rules are enforced with regards to China. The United States, along with allies and partners, must also shine a light on China’s efforts to steal intellectual property and technology and efforts to take unfair advantage of a globalized economy.
Second, we must recognize that strategic competition with Russia and China is a long-term prospect and update our strategies, policies, operational plans, and tools of national and international power to compete effectively. The United States, along with its allies and partners, must have a clear strategy for managing this competition and, when necessary, responding to aggression in-kind or asymmetrically. In order to be postured to implement such a strategy, we must reorganize to ensure a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to countering our strategic adversaries. Collectively, we must ensure that we have a comprehensive toolkit for this hybrid competition, including diplomatic, developmental, economic, and communication tools. This requires recognizing that non-military capabilities are just as central to our security and the protection of our world order as our military capabilities.
One example of successful cooperation to counter Russian hybrid aggression occurred between the United States and France during the 2017 French Presidential election. The Macron campaign was subject to disinformation and propaganda attacks, amplified through social media, and the hacking and release of stolen information timed for maximum impact on the election. These foreign interference operations, however, appear to have had little impact on the French electorate. While there are a variety of reasons for this, one contributing factor was the intelligence sharing between the United States Intelligence Community and their French counterparts about malicious Kremlin election interference. The United States, France, and other democratic partners must find ways to build on these practices to successfully counter foreign malign influence in the future.
Third, the United States and our European partners must look inward and ensure that our citizens continue to benefit from the international order. We must demonstrate to the people of the United States, France, and other nations that the international order serves their interests in security and prosperity, that the costs of maintaining our values are worth the price, and that the ideals retain their power to lift the human spirit. The United States must make investments in its people, including education, health, and economic productivity, as a strategic decision for the future. That includes a well-coordinated effort – across the government and private sector – to make sure that the United States continues to conduct innovative research and make technological advances.
We must also explain to the American people what is at stake. We must convey why it is important that we work to defend the international order and sustain the United States’ leadership role in it. We must explain why it weakens the United States when we no longer stand up for human rights at home and across the world. It weakens us when we put up walls instead of building bridges to other cultures. It weakens us when the United States is perceived as exchanging our commitment to freedom for the principle that “might makes right.” It weakens us when we are no longer seen as reliable by our allies and partners. It weakens us when we ignore foreign interference in our democracy and efforts to undermine faith in our electoral process. And it weakens us when we are not leading on the world stage, and instead ceding leadership to those who want to remake the world order to serve their narrow interests.
I am not optimistic that this Administration will step up to restore America’s leadership role in defending the international order. Given this White House’s inclinations, Congress has a responsibility to work to reassure allies, sustain our values, and strengthen American leadership. I hope we can discuss these steps during the question and answer period.
In conclusion, while there are real grievances with the current international order, this framework still provides our best chance of successfully navigating the challenges of the 21st century. We should strive to deepen our collaboration and cooperation. Our adversaries seek to divide us and weaken our transatlantic bonds because they know they have no chance of succeeding if we put up a united front.
Despite the efforts of authoritarian governments to export their alternative models and the rise of illiberal ideologies, we still see people across the world—from Moscow, to Hong Kong, to Khartoum—risking their lives for the ideas and freedoms instituted in our world order. We cannot and should not abandon those who seek to live in freedom and democracy. As the late Senator John McCain implored us, “we have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent.” I agree with Senator McCain. Thank you and I look forward to your questions.