The State of the World through the Eyes of William J. Burns

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

US ambassador William J. Burns recently retired from his 33 years in office at the Department of State. After being one of the top US diplomats for decades, he recently became the president of the prestigious think tank The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. William Burns is only the second career diplomat to rise to the position of Deputy-Secretary at the Department of State. Secretary Kerry compared William Burns to George F. Kennan and Charles E. Bohlen, and claimed that M. Burns has “earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends.” Thanks to his new position, Amb. Burns enjoys, as he mentioned, his newly acquired freedom of opinion and discussed his view of the state of the world with Tom Gjelten, guest host at the Diane Rehm Show, in an excellent hour long interview (listen here the interview).

The tour of horizon was broad, complete and nicely framed. Starting with a comparison of the state of the world from three decades ago to today, he affirms that the world may be as complex like never before but remains as lethal as during the Cold War. The core distinction is, as he argues, that power is much more diffuse than ever before. He certainly admits that the complexity of the state of the world is due to several aspects:

  • From bipolar to multipolar world order – the rise of new powers like China and India has affected the global dynamics and forces. The balance of power is not as clear as once during the Cold War between two superpowers locked against one another with their large nuclear arsenals;
  • new security threats – during the Cold War, the threats were nuclear proliferation and destruction as well as other traditional geopolitical tensions (proxy wars). Today states face other types of threats such as terrorism (principally radical islamism), cyberthreats, environmental problems and so forth;
  • the range of actors – the Cold War was about states and their ideologies at least two of them. The world was divided between two nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, followed by mid-sized powers. Today states ought to deal with more actors than ever before like international organizations and non-state actors ranging from benign ones – NGOs and Transnational Corporations – to malign non-state actors like radical islamist groups – Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS) – and others.

Unfortunately, the discussion was mainly centered around the recent international events, namely the nuclear negotiations with Iran (which he led secretly back in 2013 telling his Iranian counterpart that the US could accept a deal seeing Iran maintaining nuclear power for civilian and peaceful purpose); the threat of the IS and combating it through filling the regional void and implementing a political solution to solving IS; Russia (as he was Ambassador from 2005 to 2008); the opening of US policy towards Cuba; and the role of diplomacy in American foreign policy. On the making of American diplomacy, William J. Burns indicates the complexity in balancing american power in order to advance American interests. Certainly, American power is too often being perceived based on its hard power – military power and economic sanctions -, rather than its soft power.

One dimension that was missing in the discussion was the relationship with American allies and partners. Such missing element is representative of the American debate on foreign policy. Partnership and cooperation with allies seem to always be on the second row for Americans. There are two reasons for such rational: first, American hard power is the most predominant in world affairs – for example the US is the only country with 10 aircraft carriers in service followed by Italy and India with two active carriers – allowing autonomous action throughout the world; second, a large dimension of American foreign policy is informed on the premise of american exceptionalism (this does not appear in Burns’ narratives). In Europe, cooperation and multilateralism are core component of European foreign policy. The EU for instance is always seeking for deepening its strategic partnerships with relevant powers. As opposed to the US, the EU and its Member States see the role of international organizations, like the UN and NATO, as vital dimension of their making of foreign policy.

As the ninth president of The Carnegie, William J. Burns is not stepping down as he will continue to promote American power and interests and shape the debates in American foreign policy.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Power Transition from Ashton to Mogherini

mogherini

On November 1st, 2014, the transfer of power from Catherine Ashton to Frederica Mogherini was finally official. Federica Mogherini is the third High Representative (HR), as well referred as EU foreign minister, in EU history. The first HR, Javier Solana of Spain, was appointed in 1999 and remained at the helm for two mandates (1999-2009), followed by Catherine Ashton of the UK for one mandate (2009-2014), to now Federica Mogherini of Italy (2014-).

Before drawing some expectations on what the EU under HR Mogherini may look like, one should reflect on the transition of power from one High Representative to another: Solana to Ashton to Mogherini. Out of the three High Representatives, Mogherini seats comfortably behind Solana in terms of promising situations, meaning EU Member States’ willingness to commit to EU foreign affairs, economic position of the EU, and global forces. Catherine Ashton received the worst situation possible once appointed as HR in 2009. Considering the domestic, regional and international situations, it would have been very difficult for any appointee to make it into a successful tenure.

The Position and Role of the High Representative

The position of High Representative was established at the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 Solana-fermeture-014and the first High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy was appointed in 1999 after the European Council meeting of Cologne (for more in depth analysis on the position of the HR refer to these books, here and here). The article J.8.3 of the Amsterdam Treaty mentions the position of HR and states that the Presidency will be assisted by the HR. The description of the job requirements was very broad, as the HR ought to contribute with assistance of the Council to the “formulation, preparation, and implementation of policy decisions” on foreign and security policy matters (Official Journal of the European Union 2007: Article J.16). The HR was supposed to increase the cooperation between the various actors in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), bring coherence in the rotating processes of the six-month presidencies, and to make the EU a more visible international actor.

Until the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), the position of the HR did not evolve institutionally speaking. Javier Solana made his marks all over the position during his tenure. With Lisbon, the new position became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The Lisbon Treaty made the position of HR more complex and as well cross-institutional, as the HR sits now at the Commission and at the Council, whereas before the Treaty of Lisbon, the HR was only sitting at the Secretariat of the Council. The position of the HR is now the bridge between a supranational institution, the Commission, the Member States, the Council, and the institution at the HR’s disposition, the European External Action Service (EEAS). The most important change in the position of the HR is its double-role, supranational and intergovernmental all at the same time. As opposed to her predecessor, HR Mogherini has announced her moving from the EEAS building to the Commission’s building, wherein she will be residing. The Treaty of Lisbon made the position of the HR one of the most powerful and visible figure in the Union.

From Ashton to Mogherini

A vast literature, mostly from media and think tanks, have demonstrated, since her appointment, how Catherine Ashton has been a weak HR and certainly not very savvy in dealing with foreign affairs. Cathy Ashton even describes herself as the “accidental diplomat” (O’Connor 2010). HR Ashton certainly scored some late successes with the agreement in Kosovo (despite the recent scandal over the EU mission in Kosovo) and Iran. For the rest, HR Ashton has been invisible and quiet.  As compared to Federica Mogherini, Catherine Ashton took the helm of European foreign policy at a very difficult time. One should recognize that Ashton faced three fundamental difficulties when appointed HR/VP in 2009.

First, the world markets were at their lowest after the collapse of the global financial markets in 2007. The Eurozone was already feeling the tension and several EU Member States were already showing serious signs of weakness such asPortugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, formerly known as the PIIGS. The future of the Union looked very bleak at that point and many thought that neither the EU nor the Euro would survive the crisis. The financial crisis, and its consequences on the eurozone, was the first real challenge ever faced by the EU. Many realized the degree of incoherence, unpreparedness in the design of the Union and its monetary union. Ultimately, the CSDP was not the priority for neither the EU nor the Member States. The Union turned into crisis-mode and let the CSDP on the side. The CSDP was after ten years of existence considered a luxury good that Member States could easily dispense themselves from, especially the European powerhouses with effective diplomatic and defense instruments. During the Solana era, Member States were committed to the CSDP experiment and were willing to spend money and contribute in terms of capabilities and humans. This was not the same under Ashton, whom had to deal with less money, less political will, and an messy world order.

Second, Ashton was being appointed right after the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009. The Treaty of Lisbon changed a lot the EU in terms of foreign and security policy. First, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – or foreign policy – and the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) – or European defense – were merged into the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Second, the Treaty of Lisbon established the European External Action Service (EEAS). Cathy Ashton had one year to design a new institution and make it operational. Third, the position of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy was transformed into a double-hatted position, the High Representative of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP). Prior to Ashton, the HR was simply part of the Secretary of the Council of the EU, now the HR is not only leading a new body, the EEAS, and chairing at the Commission. The double-hatted position merges two contradictory institutional forces, inter-governmentalism and supranationalism.

Las but not least, Cathy Ashton took over European foreign policy after its first and very successful HR Javier Solana. Javier Solana, a savvy Spanish politician, was prior hisCatherine_Ashton_and_solana appointment at the helm of European foreign affairs in 1999, Secretary General of NATO from 1995 to 1999. During his leadership at the head of the Alliance, he oversaw the massive air campaign over Kosovo in 1998 and demonstrated on the international stage his savviness in working with Europe and the US. During his time at the head of European foreign policy, he was the person that pushed the ESDP from its paper-status into a civilian-military instruments seeing its first action in 2003. He has as well axiomatic during the nuclear negotiation with Iran in 2002-03, known as the EU3+1. The +1 being HR Solana, which rose the question of knowing if Solana was speaking in the name of Europe, or simply being an intermediary between the EU3 and the rest of the Union. Last, Solana finally was important in answering Kissinger’s question, “what is the phone number of Europe?”

Yes, Cathy Ashton was not the best HR/VP that European experts were dreaming about. But she embodied what the powerful EU Member States wanted, a leaderless HR/VP shifting the EU from a risk-taking EU into a risk-averse EU. EU Member States, especially France, Germany and the UK, wanted in 2009 to avoid another Solana and settled on the appointment of Ashton. For her defense, as demonstrated above, her set of cards could not really allow her to do anything positive. During her mandate, she illustrated herself more as an administrator than a strategic leader. Her clear achievement, though, is the EEAS, that she was able to create and implement in one year.

A Welcome’s Note

hq_hp_mogherini_enAs opposed to Ashton, Mogherini’ situation is much more promising and could allow her to be an effective HR/VP. She embodies a new generation of European leaders and is from Italy, a founding Member State, that wants to redeem itself after the years of crisis. Mogherini’s experience in foreign affairs is certainly greater than Ashton’s, but lesser than Solana. It will be interesting to see what Mogherini decides to focus on: foreign policy and/or defense. Will she help in strengthening the CSDP – civilian-military instrument -? Or, would she facilitate the transition to a more NATO integrated instrument? In terms of foreign policy issues, she has several important ones in her hands (see the excellent memo by Daniel Keohane, Stefan Lehne, Ulrich Speck, Jan Techau about the challenges facing HR Mogherini):

  • short-term, ebola, the direct threat of the Islamic State (IS), and Eastern violences in Ukraine. They all represent direct threats to the security of the Union.
  • mid-term, stabilizing the neighborhoods (Eastern and Southern) through economic and development assistances. Countries in Northern-Africa and Central Africa are facing serious domestic challenges that could completely destabilize the region. For the Union, it means rise of ethnic violence in Africa, illegal trafficking, rise of mass-migrations, and eventually rise of radical islamism, all these directly threatening the stability of the Union. The CSDP was created for exactly this purpose to stabilize the neighborhoods. Would it become the primary instrument for stabilization, peace-keeping, and institutional solidification?
  • long-term (well beyond her tenure), the survival of European influence in global affairs and the maintenance of its strategic role side by side with new powers like China and Brazil. Ashton did not have a long-term vision, will Mogherini have one? The EU still holds a favorable position in the current global order. Its Member States are key actors in international organizations, with France and Britain at the UN Security Council, with NATO, the WTO, the IMF – Christine Lagarde of France is leading it -, the World Bank and so forth. Multilateralism has always been a core component of European global strategy, now EU Member States have to solidify and empower these international organizations in order to keep them relevant in a more multipolar system. The EU has a role to play in the 21st century, but if it does not secure a seat in this new multipolar global order, it will simply become a second/third rank power.

In any case, Politipond wishes the best of luck to Federica Mogherini. She published on the EEAS website a simple message marking her commencement and calling for a new beginning:

Today we start a new story. The next five years will be challenging, we are all well aware of the difficulties that lie ahead of us. Our part of the world is facing one of the most complex periods of our recent history, still I believe we have all the tools and the capacity to overcome these times of tensions and crisis, and build peace, stability and prosperity all around Europe.
 
It’s up to us and we have great opportunities too. Vision, political will and teamwork can make us shape a much better future. Not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world. Today I start my mandate knowing that I can build on the good lessons we can learn from the past and counting on an excellent team: in the EEAS, in the Commission, in the Council and with all Member States. We know the next five years will be a turning point: we feel the responsibility to make the European dream come true.
 
Generations of Europeans expect from us a new beginning. So, ready to start!
 
Federica Mogherini
 
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).