The stamp of America First on US foreign policy

Donald Trump
Credit: AP

What if the implementation of the tenets of America First onto US foreign policy was for real? What if Donald Trump had been consistent on telling Americans and the world, that he was serious on taking the US out of the liberal order? and, ultimately on bringing the US status down from being the centerpiece of the liberal order to a simple superpower?

Since 2017, it seems that Trump and his advisors/implementers have been working on cutting all the strings attached around the US in terms of commitments, engagements, responsibilities and duties to transform the US from the ‘indispensable’ power into a simple sovereign power. After years of trying to grasp the logic of Trump’s foreign policy, it appears to be the most likely hypothesis at this point of time.

For two years, foreign policy experts and American allies have been trying to understand the logic of Trump’s approach to foreign policy. And based on the structures, heritage, norms and values of the post-World War two order, Trump’s decisions are incomprehensible. For instance, the departure of the US from the Paris climate deal, the different rounds of tariffs and quotas (washing machines, solar panels, aluminum and steel, and potentially car tariffs), the withdrawal from the Iran deal, the visceral despite for the European Union and deep support for Brexit, the departure from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the lingering NAFTA talks, and lately the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem are all a direct affront to the trust of allies. These radical shifts are not increasing American security, not advancing American interests and undermining global security.

What does that tell us? Donald Trump wants nothing to do with the liberal order and believes that the US can be better off alone dealing on bilateral basis and imposing its weight and will onto others. Trump and his administration may appear to see a success in this approach considering the limited response by the Europeans (still at awe by the permanent affront of the liberal order), and a mild reaction by China (so far).

Donald Trump believes, as a large segment of the American electorate, that the US has no business in playing the role of the world policeman. The international institutions, designed post-1945s, making the liberal order are in fact limiting the American sovereignty and national interests. The multilateral system orchestrated via the United Nations system, the World Trade Organization, and the multitude of regimes undermines the way the US can act. In December, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security advisor, wrote “these omissions [of the liberal elements in Trump’s NSS] undercut global perceptions of American leadership; worse, they hinder our ability to rally the world to our cause when blithely dismiss the aspirations of others.” Barry Posen summarizes it into the argument that Trump’s grand strategy is “primacy without a purpose.”

This approach and shaping of American foreign policy are extremely dangerous for the US and the world at large. Donald Trump inherited a strong economy and a relatively stable global order. The US is not involved in any major crises, at the exception of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Donald Trump did not have to save the American and world economy the way his predecessor needed to respond. These domestic and geopolitical realities have in fact created an illusion for this administration that has not proven itself in addressing any critical crises. The Trump administration feels almighty when it has in simple terms only been in cruise-control mode. Most of the crises faced by the Trump administration are in fact self-inflicted, as proven by the sudden cancellation by Donald Trump of the upcoming Singapore summit between the US and North Korea.

If Donald Trump continues on this trend and truly takes the US out of the order designed by the Americans and Europeans post-1945, he will not only launch the US into a motion of de-credibility of the US, weaken the liberal order, and simply downgrade the US into a regular superpower. Here are the dangers of such trend: first, history has taught us that multipolarity is greatly instable. The probability of war at a regional and global scale would increase. Second, the challenges ahead are becoming more global and complex to solve than ever before. The case of climate change, nuclear and chemical proliferation, free-trade, pandemics, mass migration, and stability of the financial system all require a imagesnetwork of institutions and regimes as a platform of discussion and interaction among states. These multilateral platforms permit to align interests, deepen cooperation and coordination and design mechanisms to implement and enforce agreements and policies. One country, as economically and militarily powerful as the US today, cannot solve any of these issues alone. Third, in his quest to greatness (almost like Don Quixote) Donald Trump will simply undermine the status, influence and power of the US and downgrade it to a superpower. Ironically, a long-term decline in influence and power will require the US to increase its alliances to balance its progressive global decline. That is the story of past hegemons. Fourth, this abrasive style may alienate once and for all American allies. The comments by President Donald Tusk at the recent EU summit in Bulgaria speak volume about the state of transatlantic relations. He said “We are witnessing today a new phenomenon: the capricious assertiveness of the American administration. Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, some could even think, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’”

The US foreign policy under this Trumpian paradigm is due to a lack of understanding of the past 70 years and world history, the arrogance of inheritance of such power, and ideology. Furthermore, the Republican establishment in power and control of the Congress (House and Senate) seems to agree with the current direction of US foreign policy considering the lack of opposition (at the exception of Senator McCain). The decline of the US has been projected for quite sometime and it certainly won’t occur overnight. However, the trends these last years of this administration confirm to American allies and the world that analyzing Trump’s foreign policy decisions based on past paradigms will lead to more confusion than understanding. Trump’s America first is for real and could have lasting negative impacts on the US, world affairs and global security.

(COPYRIGHT 2018 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

The Iranian Dossier – France’s Position

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Shortly after the decision by the Trump administration to refuse to certify the Iran deal, and “instead tasked Congress with determining whether to take punitive action,” I was invited by the Program in Arms Control and Domestic and International Security (ACDIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to provide an analysis on the French and European position regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan fo Action (JCPOA).

Concerns that Iran may seek to develop its own nuclear arsenal once the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) expires in 2025 are legitimate. But how can one make an informed decision to decertify the deal when so far Iran has complied with the terms of the 2015 agreement signed under the UN auspice?

Politically speaking, Donald Trump, against the recommendations of his top advisors decertified the deal after having already recertified it at two previous occasions. While this decision may appeal a Trumpian base that perceives multilateral and diplomatic efforts as a form of weakness undermining American grandeur, a divide between the US and the Europeans is apparent regarding the survival of the Iranian nuclear deal. European counterparts, especially France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union (known as the E3/EU), have not shied away from expressing their opposition to such unilateral decision by the White House.

To read the rest of the analysis, click here

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

Sovereignty versus Voices – Thoughts on Trump and Macron’s Addresses at the UN

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World  leaders are gathered in New York for the opening of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly. This year is quite unique with a series of major unknowns and new players. The 2017 session included the recently elected American president, Donald Trump, and French president, Emmanuel Macron. In addition, the United Nations (UN) is headed by a new Secretary General, António Guterres, trying to make a name for himself. If these players matter, the geopolitical context requires a concrete and thoughtful reflection on its engaging world players on a multilateral basis. Comparing Macron and Trump’ speeches permits one to reflect on the internal forces at play and visions within the liberal order at a time of growing instabilities and complex challenges.

Unknowns Ahead of the 72nd UNGA Session

President Trump was elected in November 2016 on a nationalist platform summed up in his campaign slogan, America first. Trump’s vision of the world is dire, dark and negative, requiring the US to start defending his interests and national security on unilateral basis. Historical alliances, global governance, multilateral institutions and global trade are undermining American interests and supremacy. Trump perceives diplomacy in transactional terms, wherein only the US can win. Months later, in May 2017, on the other side of the pond, Emmanuel Macron won the french presidential race by campaigning on an agenda calling for audacity and grounded on a pro-Europe and pro-multilateralism agenda. Macron’s election was perceived as the end of the populist rise beginning with Brexit and allowing Trump to win the White House. The two leaders met on a series of occasions, the first time at a NATO summit and the second in Paris for the 14 of July. Both men could not be more different, but appear to be developing a relationship.

Ahead of the 72nd session, the future engagement of the US as part of the Paris deal (global fight against climate change), North Korea, the future of the Iranian nuclear deal, and multilateralism at large remain unknown. These four issues are at the center of the global agenda due to a shift in American foreign policy since the election of Trump. Soon in office, Trump called for the departure of the US from the Paris deal and has been more than unclear about the reality of climate change. Interestingly enough, many experts were, positively, surprised by the fact that world leaders remained committed to the Paris deal despite the departure of the US. On North Korea, Trump has escalated the rhetorics, as part of his tweeting war, threatening to unleash ‘fire and fury‘ against North Korea ensuing the launch of  intercontinental ballistic missiles. With regard to the nuclear deal with Iran, Trump had used this issue on the campaign trail to undermine diplomacy and multilateralism and Secretary Clinton (whom did not finalize the deal). The Iran deal is widely perceived among conservative and republican circles as a failure, which will undeniably result with Iran becoming a nuclear power. Lastly, on multilateralism, Trump has never shied away from the fact that unilateralism and transactional foreign policy serve better American interests than complex organizations like the United Nations.

In less than a year, President Trump has managed to shape a new narrative about the instability of the international order, in particular the liberal order, and the need for the US to use military might at all costs to advance its interests (i.e. the limited bombing over Syrian and the escalation of the war in Afghanistan).

Trump-Macron Ping-Pong

The speeches of both leaders could not be more at odds. If Trump sees the world and foreign policy as a transaction and through unilateralism, Macron has expressed his support towards multilateralism and global governance. Both leaders made their debut at the UN earlier today and their respective speeches confirm the prior statement.

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UN Photo/Cia Pak

President Trump’s speech (here) certainly marks a breakup with his predecessor. Trump opened his address before global leaders with a campaign tone talking about domestic matters (the growing economy, the strengthening American military and American resilience). Trump emphasized at great length the concepts of sovereignty (used 21 times in total including the word sovereign), security, prosperity and power. Regarding the way he sees American foreign policy, he underlined that the US was guided by outcomes and not ideology. “We have a policy of principled realism,” he argued “rooted in shared goals, interests, and values.” Some claimed that this speech demonstrated a return to realpolitik for the US. But half way through his speech, the American president made the following statement, “The scourge of our planet today is a small group of rogue regimes that violate every principle on which the United Nations is based.” These rogue regimes were identified as North Korea and Iran.

On North Korea, Trump used the platform to directly threaten the regime in Pyongyang claiming that the US may have no other option than “to totally destroy North Korea.” The language utilized to describe the members and leader of the North Korean regime was undiplomatic to say that least. He used this part, without mentioning it, to point the finger at Beijing. Ensuing his menace, he said “That’s what the United Nations is all about; that’s what the United Nations is for.  Let’s see how they do.” The use of the pronoun ‘they’ in the last clause indicates the disconnect between Washington and the rest of the world. It indicates that Washington has its strategy ready (use of military force), and now the members of the UN can try to find an alternative via diplomacy.

Macron’ speech (here in French) had a totally different tone. His opening sentences emphasized the core ideas, values and norms encompassed by the UN and the desire to design a new system putting human rights at its center (with a natural

Opening of GA 72 2017 AM
UN Photo/Cia Pak

reference to René Cassin). The issues laid out by the french leader consisted of Syria, terrorism (Iraq), Mali (G5 Sahel and MINUSMA), protection of refugees, climate change, nuclear proliferation, multilateralism, and the reform of the UN (less bureaucratic and more active).

On climate change, President Macron directly responded to President Trump by expressing absolute opposition to renegotiating the Paris deal. On nuclear proliferation, Macron expressed deep concerns with the way North Korea behaves on the international stage, but rejected Trump’s reference of the Iranian deal as a bad one.

If Trump’s narrative was centered around the theme of sovereignty, the structure of Macron’s address was organized on the idea of France’s ability to hear the voices of the weakest and defending their rights and empowering them by speaking for them. Through the emphasis of voices, Macron presented France as a guardian of the weakest with French national interest being directly intertwined with global security. In reading and analyzing Macron’ speeches (for instance with his recent speech in Athens), one can identify a series of commonality: bringing France into the sphere of superpower (at least in rhetorics); similitude with an Obamaesque style of narration; deep reference and understanding of history; and a bold and global call for audacity. This style certainly breaks with the recent past of addresses of French presidents (in particular Sarkozy and Hollande) and re-unites France, for better or worst, with its gaullo-mitterrandist heritage.

Concluding with Secretary General Guterres’s comments seems appropriate. “We are a world in pieces. We need to be a world at peace.” The antipodal addresses of the American and French leaders illustrates a clear split within the West about framing critical menaces, developing a cohesive strategy, and ultimately shaping world affairs. The transition from rhetorics to actions, if any, will be fascinating to observe.

(COPYRIGHT 2017 BY POLITIPOND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED WITHOUT PERMISSION).

Politipond’s Quiz – Summer 2015

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Fall is on the corner, and it is time to see how well you have been following the different issues taking place over the summer in the transatlantic arena. Take a short quiz and see if you passed.

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

Cuba and Iran – Obama’s Legacy or Diplomatic Victories?

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

President Obama appears to be working on solidifying his legacy in the last years of his second mandate. His two real diplomatic victories are coming at the last mile of his presidency with the closing of the nuclear deal with Iran and the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even if the future looks bright for President Obama in starting his last year in office, and especially for his legacy, his administration has been looking for a clear diplomatic identity throughout the reigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at the helm of the US Department of State.

The Cuban-Iranian Files

In a matter of weeks, the US diplomatic body has offered the US two great diplomatic victories starting with the nuclear deal with Iran and the resumption of diplomatic

Photo: U.S. Department of State
Photo: U.S. Department of State

relations between Cuba and the US. In the case of the nuclear deal with Iran, it began in 2003 with a European diplomatic mission, the EU 3+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Germany + the High Representative Javier Solana). In 2003 the US had just waged war against Iraq and was not inclined in participating in the nuclear talks with Tehran (still today the members of the Bush administration are still fighting against a diplomatic deal with Iran as illustrated in the recent piece by John R. Bolton). China, Russia and the US joined the Europeans in 2006 as part of the P5+1 format (5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). In September 2013, the US initiated the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since 1979. From 2013 to July 2015, both capitals with Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing worked on finding a deal. Even though a large part of the success goes to Kerry and his team, the Europeans, lead by three successive High Representatives with Javier Solana, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, played a crucial roles throughout the process. At the lowest point of the relations with Iran, the EU was axiomatic in initiating and maintaining the negotiations at least alive. The last two years of negotiations led by John Kerry and the US demonstrated to be essential in the agreement of a deal. Despite missing the original deadline of June, the world powers and Iran finally agreed on the Vienna accord, which now needs to be approved by the US, Iran and other powers.

The re-opening of the relations with Cuba is a second landmark for the Obama administration. If the Iranian file was not certain to translate into an agreement, the

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

opening of relations with Cuba was only a matter of time. Aside from the powerful Cuban lobby and its two republican spears, Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, wanting to maintain the 55 year old embargo, the rest of the US does not really feel any emotional connection to this reminiscence of the Cold War (read here an interesting piece by Simon Kuper about the perception of the US policy towards Cuba in Miami). In his December 2014 speech, President Obama announced the change of this “rigid policy” towards Cuba and that “a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban.” On July 20th, the Cuban embassy officially opened in D.C.

The Cuban and Iranian openings share one element in common, Obama’ strategic intelligence of cautious diplomatic negotiations. With both countries, the US has some serious concerns about democratic principles and values, the lack of free press, the oppression by the state of individuals and civil societies, their human rights records and so forth. But both countries are important for the US for several reasons: first, they are important regional players. Iran is central for the stability of the Middle East and finalizing wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Cuba is so close from the US southern borders that a failed state could be disastrous in terms of human and drug trafficking. Then, in order to bring ‘change’ or at least transformation in societies that have been locked since the 50s for Cuba and 79 for Iran, it will take time. The best way to open up the countries and permit from a bottom-up transformation is to bring them back into the community of nations.

Now the chances that both countries become allies of the US in the future remain thin. The Ping Pong Diplomacyopening of the US-China relations initiated by Nixon was central for the current relations between both superpowers. There are certainly not always peaceful, but both countries are today so interdependent and intertwined. However, China is not the type of country that the US dreamed of, an open-democracy. With almost five decades of cooperation between China and the US and a clear reflection on the level and depth of the current tensions between both partners, one could imagine how they could have been without the implementation of the ping-pong diplomacy leading to the visit of Nixon to China in 1972. So let’s apply this model on the Iranian and Cuban case.

Diplomacy in the 21st century

Diplomacy in the early 21st century has become a dirty word in American politics. In a field, that is extremely conservative and principally framed and informed by realists, for Obama to have implemented and closed, almost simultaneously, on two diplomatic deals is a real accomplishment in such. However, Obama’s foreign policy has certainly lacked of a clear identity and direction since 2008. For instance, Obama initiated once arriving in power a shift, or pivot, to Asia requiring American’s partners, namely the Europeans, to increase their power and influence in the neighboring regions. Aside from the French, the Europeans were unwilling (look at the Brits) and unable to perform such missions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Obama and the US were brought back in the European sphere of influence quickly considering the crises in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa (Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon), Iraq and Yemen. The US foreign policy appears to be, yes successful, but less influential in shaping world events. Obama could not do what he had envisioned and had to instead settle for what was possible/achievable.

Now let’s be clear on the fact that both diplomatic efforts are directly aligned with American interests. In the case of Iran, bringing back Iran into the community of nations is already a positive step. The Obama administration was right on focusing solely about the issue of nuclear production and avoiding Iran to get the bomb, at least in the next decade, instead of trying to include all types of prerogatives requesting for domestic reforms and change. Sticking to the nuclear deal was the main reason for a successful agreement. Certainly the US will have to reassure its regional allies, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will materialize through new arms deal and commitment of eventual engagement in case of serious tension. In the case of Cuba, the US has nothing to lose and will instead gain more. The US has to position itself considering that European governments have been shifting their positions towards the island. Both diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran are not an approval of the regimes and their ideologies, but simple diplomatic success on important regional and global security matters.

In the 1960s, France and Israel were extremely closed allies. So close that France provided

Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO
Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO

the nuclear bomb to Israel. After a long friendly relations between David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister and French President Charles de Gaulle, France started to shift from Israel to Arab nations as the country needed gas and oil. After this shift, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter to Charles de Gaulle, saying that he thought that they were friends. To this, de Gaulle responded that people have friends; nations have interests. By working with the Iranians and with the Castro regime, President Obama is not seeking for friendship, he is simply working on advancing American interests. Obama has certainly advanced American interests on both issues, but what about his legacy?

The concept of legacy needs to taken with some lightness for two reasons. First, legacies are made because of time. Historians are more inclined to validate one’s legacy than other social scientists much more focused on the present. A serious historical reading of Obama’s achievements can only take place in several decades (read here a piece by Robert Dalleck in Politico raising some caution about using the concept of legacy too soon). Second, one’s legacy is usually solidified by his/her successor. A continuation of Obama’s foreign policy, most likely with the election of Hillary Clinton, would ultimately play in favor of Obama in engraving his domestic and international landmarks. Until then, President Obama has sealed two diplomatic victories.

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

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).

HR Mogherini – A Foreign Policy Leader à la Clinton?

Photograph: Chatham House
Photograph: Chatham House

Even with an absent United Kingdom in European foreign and security policy, the excellent British think tank Chatham House has been the center of the euro-atlantic foreign policy world. Candidates for the 2016 US Presidential race are passing by as well as some high-level EU officials. If Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin, did not want to talk foreign policy in a foreign policy think tank (read here the Q&A focusing on cheese and Wisconsin), the High Representative Federica Mogherini did not shy away from such exercise with a solid speech (read her speech here).

HR/VP Mogherini took office in November 2014 (read here a previous analysis on the transition of power from Ashton to Mogherini) and has taken full control of her role and position. The transition between her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, has been immediate and flawless. Both HR have their own strategy, personality, and leadership style. Ashton was much more of a bureaucrat and a shy foreign policy leader, while Mogherini is clearly at the forefront of the EU by always being present and visible, a little bit like former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It seems that the EU has its chief foreign policy following the steps of Clinton. As Hillary Clinton, HR Mogherini has been using her voyages to put the EU on the map as a global power, launched reflections for an overarching strategy, and addressed each crisis facing the bloc. Both foreign ministers have been relentless in their missions.

Pressing Issues Confronting the EU

As expected, HR Mogherini highlighted during her speech at the Chatham House the most pressing issues threatening the stability of the Union and its Member States. “I [Mogherini] believe that there is no better way for the EU to have a global influence than to be a responsible power in our immediate neighborhood.” As she argued the challenges and threats at the doors of Europe affect directly the “vital national interests of our member states.” All of them are surrounding the EU on every front, East, South, and South-East. Eastern Europe is on the verge of a war, as reports continue to demonstrate that Russia continues to send heavy-weapons and soldiers, and the Mediterranean periphery is in flame (read here the very informative Q&A led by Quentin Peel of the Financial Times tackling additional topics like Turkey, UK declining foreign policy, and eurozone crisis).

  • Ukraine – Mogherini argues that the EU deeply believes that Russia should be a partner rather than a foe. But the evolution of the conflict in Ukraine does not allow such belief, but instead calls for European actions in order to assure the transition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The EU is concerned about the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the stability of the continent.
  • Libya – the instability in Libya, Southern border of the EU, represents a similar challenge to the security of the EU and its Member States. The challenges in Libya are serious, complex and intertwined counting issues such as appearance of the Islamic State (IS), human trafficking, exit point for massive illegal migration in direction to Europe, and no state-authority over the territory. The power vacuum in Libya ought to be addressed.
  • Syria – the war in Syria has lasted long enough for seeing the rise of IS, many international failures to solving the crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis and a complex sectarian war with no end in sight. Without solving Syria, the threat of IS will only continue to grow.
  • Tensions in the Middle-East – seeking for a lasting peace process between the Palestinian authorities and Israel.
  • Iran – the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an important piece of the Middle-East puzzle. As argued by Mogherini, “for too long we thought of the Iranian issue as a zero-sum game.” In fact, she claims that “a comprehensive agreement would be hugely beneficial for both sides.” In the case of the negotiations, the EU is the leader in the negotiations.

HR Mogherini concentrated her analyses on the neighborhoods. But other issues and crises are affecting the stability of the Union, especially with the rise of instabilities in Africa and the region of the Sahel.

Mogherini’s Call for a New European Security Strategy

By the end of her speech, HR Mogherini finally introduced the fact that she initiated a work to reflect on a new European Security Strategy. “Our European Security Strategy, on which Javier Solana did a wonderful work, is also 11 years old. At that time, no one could imagine how fast the world and our neighbourhood would change in the coming years.” The 2003 version was an important document in identifying the European way for global actions and addressing the threats facing the Union as a whole. But in over a decade, the EU only produced one additional document the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the ESS simply adjusting the 2003 version, without any deep strategic changes and rethinking. The world in 2003 was certainly very different to the one facing the EU in 2015. Global politics shifted from a unipolar to a multipolar system. “Everything is changed,” argued Mogherini “we have changed.”

Soon after taking office, HR Mogherini initiated a process of strategic reflection to ‘reform’ EU foreign and security policy. A new strategy ought to be designed and implemented in order to address the new regional and global realities. ‘Effective multilateralism,’ the core of the EU strategy in 2003, may not be as effective in 2015 as it was in 2003 (thus, Mogherini does not have to seek for building unity among the Member States as it was required by Javier Solana in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq causing great disunity at the time). The 2015 version will require to address the new global environment (multipolar world order and the rise of new powers), new security challenges (traditional ones: territorial security in the neighborhoods, nuclear proliferation; new ones: domestic and international terrorism (IS and Boko Haram), environmental threats, cyber threats), and the instruments required for the best response (hard power: through the use of the CSDP, NATO, CSDP/NATO, or by the Member States like France has done in Africa; soft power: institutions, partnerships, cooperation, negotiations, and diplomacy).

“But our foreign policy can sometimes be disconnected” argued HR Mogherini. “We need to connect the dots. And we need a true sense of ownership. A common vision. A common European interest. Our identity in the world. That’s why I’m starting from member states.” HR Mogherini responded to the criticism that there is no common EU foreign policy if one takes in consideration the latest actions by France and Germany to solve the Ukrainian crisis during the Minsk Protocol II. She claims that “a European common foreign policy does not call for Member States to give up their own foreign policies. On the contrary, each country can reinforce our common action with its own strength and expertise. But we see Europe at its best only when all the Twenty-eight push in the same direction.”

HR Mogherini is correct in seeking for the development of a comprehensive European Security Strategy. “There is no contradiction between an eastward looking and a southward looking EU. Only a comprehensive approach to our foreign policy can protect our values and interests in the long run. Events in North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe affect the whole of us. No one can expect to close their eyes.” The new Security Strategy will permit the EU and the EU-28 to reflect on the threats the EU should address, the type of power the EU wants to be and play, and the way the EU should conduct itself in its neighborhoods and global arena.

Mogherini’s 100 Days in Office

With Mogherini at the helm of European foreign policy, the difference between her and her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, is undeniable. Ashton seemed uncomfortable, where HR Mogherini is being over-present and very much at her ease in facing the media. She travels the world from meeting to meeting. She understands the need to be present, even if it is for a 30 minutes handshake, in order to build relationship and put the EEAS and the EU on the map. If Ashton was not as visible as her predecessor, she was respected in closed-meeting with her foreign counterparts. It is not surprising that HR Mogherini kept her at the helm of the European negotiations with Iran.

In her first 100 days, HR Mogherini has done quite a lot as illustrated by the infographic created by the EEAS (see below).

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

Considering her relentless rhythm, some diplomats wonder about her longevity, but as well the type of foreign policy being shaped by HR Mogherini. As analyzed in an excellent article by Bruxelles 2, an experienced European diplomat confides that leaders do not have the time anymore to reflect as they constantly runs from one place to another. One of the core problems faced by current political leaders is their dependence on the agenda and the need to constantly respond immediately to new issues. Foreign policy in some ways has been hijacked by the immediacy of information, when in fact reflection and thinking are core requirements.

Last but not least, HR Mogherini argued when discussing the threats facing the EU that “this is why I believe any narrative of a clash among national interests and European interests is flawed. We hold a ‘joint place in the world’, and it very much depends on the unity and the effectiveness of the European Union’s international projection. It should be clear to everyone that we, the Europeans, are much better when we are together. It is a matter not of European interest but of national interest, for all.” The consolidation of a common vision by merging national and European interests under a common umbrella could be Mogherini’s landmark.

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

Vinyl Diplomacy – A refreshing look at US Diplomacy

Source: UN Photo (14 October 1952)
Source: UN Photo (14 October 1952)

Diplomacy is more than high-level meetings behind closed-doors. Diplomacy is primarily the art of building relationship between humans. However, it seems that this core component has been lost leading to a decline of Diplomacy in its role, perceptions and successes, at least since the end of the Cold War. Even though American diplomacy seems to have failed on many levels, as demonstrated in this piece, there are still some glimpses of successful use of diplomatic instruments, like music, in order to deepen ties between nations and individuals. The rise of ‘vinyl diplomacy’ in an over militarized diplomacy can speak volumes about American soft power.

The Militarization of Diplomacy and its Demise

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the American hegemony, diplomacy has been confused between foreign policy and defense policy. How many times since 9/11 has the Secretary of Defense taken the lead on issues that should be first undertaken and/or overtaken by diplomats? In the US, the Department of Defense, in charged of military affairs and the use of force, tend to have too much power over the decision-making processes in diplomatic affairs and the solution implemented. Diplomacy should always be first, followed by military power, in the last resort.

The most obvious case was the race to the Iraq war in 2002-03 when diplomacy was sidelined, and even diminished/discredited, by the Bush administration in order to use the ‘almighty’ american power against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Diplomacy, at least the American and British, was irrelevant and to some degree useless. The Anglo-American couple undermined the primacy of international law, diplomacy and international organizations like the United Nations. One of the most memorable moments on the road to Iraq was the speech made by Colin Powell, at the time US Secretary of State, before the

Photograph: Timothy A Clary/EPA
Photograph: Timothy A Clary/EPA

United Nations Security Council demonstrating that Iraq had in its possession weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The fact that Powell was a four-star general leading the American diplomatic service demonstrated the militarization of American diplomacy. In the last decade, the US has not conducted proper diplomacy where it should have been; military power has been now framed as part of diplomacy. Well it should be the other way around: first, diplomacy (but credible policies with a ‘real’ support at home) and then the threat of military power in order to provide the stick. In the post-9/11 world, diplomacy is now perceived as a sign of weakness from the highest-elected officials and large segment of population.

One of the most interesting case is the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The current negotiations are complex, difficult, and lengthy. Diplomacy is and should be all of the above. The fact that the legislature, and especially the Republican party, continuously threaten to deepen sanctions against Iran and even use force affect the credibility of the American diplomatic machine. This raises important questions: Can diplomacy bring everything wished for the two negotiating parties? No and it has never been the case. Now, is the use of force against Iran a credible scenario? No. Americans are not ready to start a war requiring at least 100,000 soldiers on the ground with an endless war in sight. Americans have grown war-weary since the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the fascinating components behind the lack of trust in diplomacy and negotiation lays in the polarization of domestic debates. How can a country show unity and trust in its diplomatic body when domestically the different political forces are unable to communicate, interact, negotiate, and compromise? Once again the failure of American diplomacy is not caused by the complexity of the current global issues and/or the inability by American diplomats to do their jobs, but in fact by the degree of incoherence and cacophony in domestic political debates.

Vinyl diplomacy

Photograph: State Department
Photograph: State Department

So how can American diplomacy address these problems? What elements could be integrated in order to do diplomacy? In a recent interview for PRI’s the World, Matthew Barzun, US Ambassador to the United Kingdom has been working on his ‘vinyl diplomacy’ (listen to the interview here). In this enlightening and refreshing interview, Matthew Barzun talks about his love for music and how the US embassy has become a concert hall featuring bands like the National and Belle and Sebastian with spectators counting Prime Minister David Cameron and his spouse among others. As he argues in this interview, “Diplomacy at its fundamental level is about connecting with people. And it’s not just elected or official government-to-government relationships. … We actually do get the government leaders but in a different context. all together in one place, united by a love of music and the particular band we’re featuring that night.”

The ‘vinyl diplomacy’ is a wonderful initiative with most likely real success in building human relations outside of closed-meetings. It is a trademark of the diplomat in charged and demonstrate one of the many ways to strengthen ties between countries. Certainly, doing ‘vinyl diplomacy’ in the UK could seem routine in between two close-partners and among anglo-saxon countries. The ‘vinyl diplomacy’ falls directly under the broad umbrella of American soft power. Would any other world ambassadors initiate such type of diplomacy?

Last but not least, Marco Werman, host of PRI’s The World, asked Matthew Barzun about one of his favorite songs. It was difficult to resist and underline a common pleasure for Iron & Wine’s ‘The Trapeze Swinger.’ Let’s finish with one of America’s best dimension of soft power, music.

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

SOTU – A US Foreign Policy à la carte

Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Prior the 2015 edition of the State of the Union (SOTU), the Republican party was presenting it as the ‘final act’ of the Obama presidency. But with the rapidity of the world events, the domestic debate and so forth, it could be, according to David Brooks, in fact the ‘beginning of the final act.’ As demonstrated throughout his address, he talked about the values at stakes rather than laying out a list of proposals – as in previous SOTU -.

President Obama opened his speech by drawing a dark picture about the turn of the new century caused by terrorism and the financial crisis. But he quickly underlined how the American economic engine is as good as once was in the 1990s with recent growth and a shrinking deficit, that unemployment levels are as low as prior the crisis, and America is energy independent. The tone of the speech was very celebratory in some ways as he directly challenged a divided Republican party. The 2015 SOTU was the moment of turn around, a legacy speech in some ways.

The bulk of his foreign policy section came around the end of his address and consisted in reaffirming America’s commitment to ‘smart power,’ meaning a combination of hard power with ‘strong diplomacy’ – for whatever it means -. According to Obama, the question is not about whether the US acts in the world, but how. In order to illustrate his foreign policy vision, he selected three themes:

  • first, the fight against terrorism. Obama underscored that the US won’t be going to war like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq (as a side note, President Obama highlighted the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan without getting into great details). But instead the US will lead coalitions on case by case basis. Nevertheless, Obama re-stated his call to Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIL. The Congress was very quiet on responding to his call. Aside from this comment, ISIL was not a large part of the speech and it does not appear that the US will be widening its military efforts in the Middle East. Europeans may have to jump in (read here an analysis on the question).
  • second, President Obama took the example of Ukraine, Cuba, and Iran in order to demonstrate American leadership in leading the world. In the case of Ukraine, he claimed that the US is “upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small.” However, the example of the US standing against Russia in protecting Ukraine seems ill-advised. Russia is still very active in Eastern Ukraine and the war is still going on. The sanctions adopted by the EU and the US may need more meat in order to change radically Russian foreign policy. Certainly Russian economy is showing serious signs of weaknesses, but will it change the way Putin frames Russian national interests and the direction in Russia’s foreign policy? So the link between Western sanctions affecting the Russian economy does not imply that Putin will change his foreign policy anytime soon.
  • third, President Obama addressed several topics affecting American national security such as cyber-security and cyber-threats; public health with the example of Ebola; and climate change. Among this laundry list of topics, President Obama addressed the question of climate change in greater depth. Obama re-called that 2014 was the warmest year on the planet and rejected the arguments raised by climate change deniers in Congress. Even the Pentagon, in an earlier report, wrote that climate change poses a direct threat to national security. The Pentagon wrote that “In our defense strategy, we refer to climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today – from infectious disease to terrorism. We are already beginning to see some of these impacts.” However, he did not include a statement calling the Legislature to prepare and think about American strategy prior the December Paris Summit on Climate Change.

Ultimately, the speech was stronger on domestic policies than on foreign policies. Once again, there is a lack of overarching foreign policy strategy aside from the perpetual mention of smart power. The problem is that smart power, like hard and/or soft power, is an instrument of foreign policy not a strategy. One cannot base a foreign policy on ‘smart power’ (even Hillary Clinton underscored such discrepancy). The foreign policy section appeared more like a list of issues and crises without a clear strategic thinking. Such weakness provides a confirmation to the beliefs and perceptions by a majority of Americans that Obama is ‘not tough enough’ on foreign policy. As illustrated in the chart below, his numbers have declined. In a matter of six years, more than 50% of Americans feels that Obama is not tough enough. A lack of direction in Obama’s foreign policy may have contributed to the belief that Obama has not been tough enough in office.

Source: Pew Research. 2014.
Source: Pew Research. 2014.

Since taking office, President Obama was dealing a tough domestic, economic and fiscal situation. But the world has not stopped spinning and the US has been over the last six years in search of a clear strategy going from the pivot to Asia, to retrenchment, to leading to behind, now to strong diplomacy. The feeling from the 2015 edition of the SOTU is that the Obama administration will be dealing with foreign policy on case by case basis. Forget about getting a menu, it will be à la carte from now on.

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

 

ISIL and Homeland Terrorism – Is Europe Going to War?

Source: AP
Source: AP

It took 10 days to shift a quiet and reluctant European Union and its 28 Member States from a closed-minded fortress to a group reflecting on the realities of its environment. Ensuing the terrorist attacks in France and the foiled ones in Belgium, the war narratives are emerging in Europe. In the case of France, the political class – in and out of power – has been hammering the same narrative: ‘France is at war.’ At war against radical islamists in Mali, in the Sahel, in Iraq and Syria, and just comes back from Afghanistan. All these foreign military interventions orchestrated by France since 2012 – aside of Afghanistan a multilateral military effort – had gone unnoticed by a French citizenry uninterested about French foreign and military policies as well as geopolitical realities.

Europe at War?

The week after the Charlie Hebdo attack, ‘France is at war’ has become the mainstream narrative of most French politicians. French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, and Minister of Interior, Bernard Cazeneuve, among others have all talked of war. During his allocution before the National Assembly, Manuel Valls declared “Yes France is engaged in a war, against terrorism, against jihadism and radical islamism” (“Oui la France est en guerre, contre le terrorisme, le djihadisme et l’islamisme extrémiste (…)). Additionally, the taboo in France has been broken, the political elite is finally underscoring on daily basis that French and European citizens ought to be ready to see an increase of terrorist attacks inside the Union. The linkage between the two points, increase of terrorist attacks and the war narrative, is France high level activity in fighting radical islamic groups around Africa and the Middle East. France among the other EU Member States ought to understand the dichotomy of the current fight: on the one hand, the fight against radical ideologies within the EU is not going to end anytime soon and will require serious societal-political debate; while on the other, stopping the rise of ISIL will not end the rise of extremism in Europe.

In the case of France and Belgium, the alleged terrorists have received training in Syria at some point. Both countries hold the largest muslim communities in Europe (in proportion to their overall population); both countries have faced recent attacks such as the killing at a jewish museum in Brussels and the killings orchestrated by Mohammed Merah against Jewish individuals in the South-West of France. Both countries have failed in their models of integration as a segment of their Arab youth has become radicalized or at least sensitized to the radical islamist cause.

Source: Pew Research Center
Source: Pew Research Center

Additionally, more and more individuals – most of them are indeed European citizens – are coming back to their homelands after receiving a military training in Syria and/or Iraq (look here at the excellent interactive map by Radio Free Europe). The numbers fluctuate in the case of France from 700+ (as described below) to roughly 1000 in January 2015. Ultimately, EU Member States are confronting a complex challenge connecting foreign war endeavor and homeland terrorism-radicalization of a segment of Muslims communities.

Source: Statista
Source: Statista

With the increasing numbers of European citizens fighting in Syria/Iraq under the ISIL umbrella, should the Euro-Atlantic community wage war in Syria and Iraq against ISIL?

The war narrative in France is interesting for one simple reason: Is France trying to get domestic support to a military intervention in Syria? Or is France trying to mobilize its European allies and the US for a military intervention in Syria? The current bombings over Iraq and Syria led by France (principally over Iraq) and the US seem insufficient in maintaining the rise of ISIL. As argued in a recent ECFR analysis, “months into the armed strikes, it is clear that the existing approach can only go so far. Western political leaders, thrown into a state of panic by the mesmerised media coverage of the beheadings of Western hostages, launched extensive military action against IS that has been heavily dominated by the US, in spite of the participation of regional actors who spend tens of billions of dollars on weapons each year.”

Scenarios to Addressing the Root Causes of ISIL:

Ultimately, in the aftermaths of the January terrorist attacks, how could the EU address the realities of the threat?

First, mobilization of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO may be the way to go for the military phase at first followed by a credible CSDP mission of state-building. The NATO-CSDP couple did work in the Balkans and has stabilized the region since the late 1990s (read here a volume on the Security Sector Reform). Certainly some states in the Balkans are more stable than others; and problems of corruptions, lack of rule of law, and other societal and economic problems remain a reality. Nevertheless, it is a more stable region than ensuing the fall of the Soviet Union. In the case of Syria and Iraq, both NATO-CSDP could be the instrument to first, use credible military forces on the ground and in the air, followed by a long-term reconstruction process overtaken by the CSDP. Inside the EU, the question of a credible CSDP mandate and operation will be a tough one to get. Large EU Member States, like the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany, may be reluctant to invest large amount of money, to provide credible military capabilities and soldiers. France and Poland cannot be the only two large Member States providing the bulk of the CSDP mission. The destruction/containment of ISIL is not an end in itself; but it is the re-construction and eventual creation of nation-states in the region. The reality is that 15 years later, starting with the 1998 bombing campaign over Kosovo, the CSDP and NATO are still present in the Balkans. Europeans and Americans must be consciously willing to commit to several decades of reconstruction in the Middle East.

Second, Russia and Turkey are the key to the future of the region. Russia was the state protecting Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad when France and the US were ready to sanction Syria following the use of sarin gas against civilians. President Obama did not

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP
Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis, AP

want to start another war in the Middle East and was certainly satisfy to find the best-worst short-term option in his playbook, an international supervision and destruction of the Syrian chemical arsenal. Since then Russia and the West have not been agreeing on the course of event in the region. Russia ought to understand that the current situation in the Levant is not aligned with its interests. The second key player is Turkey. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been reluctant to use military force against ISIL. Turkish army is deployed at the borders with Syria monitoring the ongoing war in Syria. Both players are crucial for the future: Russia in order to get a military operation with international legitimacy, a Resolution by the UN Security Council; and Turkey, as a neighboring state and NATO member in leading the war effort in Syria.

Third, Arab States, especially Qatar, Saoudi Arabia, Iran, ought to play a credible role as well. Their contributions is greater than simple financial and military supports, it holds strong religious and symbolic dimensions. The involvement of Arab States would demonstrates that the war against ISIL is not a clash of civilization between the West and the Arab world as it has been framed, but rather as a war between radical islamism and the world. Without the inclusion and the assistance of these three regional powerhouses, the fight against ISIL will not be fully realistic, at least in the aftermaths of the military phase.

A New Regional Order?

The Arab Spring has transformed the balance of power at domestic and regional levels all around the Mediterranean. The EU, Russia, the US, Arab States may all have diverging political systems, religious beliefs, perceptions of the world, but the reality of the threat is undeniable and common. The long term solution is not military, but political. Behind the walls of its imagined fortress, the EU has thought that it would be immune of all troubles if it just ignores the threats and challenges knocking at its doors. The EU’s neighborhoods are on fire causing mass migrations, rise of terrorism, all sorts of illegal activities and political instabilities. European capitals must now address the problem, ISIL, as it is not only destabilizing the Mediterranean region, but now European societies. It is Europe’s fight. Europe should decide to take the lead on this one.

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