That’s the gist of the advice a panel of foreign policy experts would give to the next US administration regarding future national security challenges. Understanding the intersection of various issues, foreign and domestic, as well as the increasing role the people play in questions of national security, must be highly considered by the next leader of the United States, the panelists recently told an audience at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO.
For former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the top three upcoming national security challenges include:
- The US relationship with China — a complex one that she called “the most important of the 21st century” — in which the two countries must find areas where they can work together, such as the North Korean nuclear issue.
- The next administration will also likely have to find some way to help resolve Russia’s destabilizing pressure on Europe, through both deterrence and dialog (whose complexity Albright demonstrated to laughter from the audience by patting her head and rubbing her stomach at the same time).
- Climate change is a critical issue that must be addressed with policy and action as soon as there’s a new occupant in the White House.
“The world does not operate if the United States is not engaged,” said Albright. “The question is always at what level and with what partners? There’s nothing in the word indispensable that means alone.”
Stephen Hadley, national security advisor to President George W. Bush, suggested that the next president’s biggest national security challenges start on the domestic front.
“I think the challenges for whoever is elected are unprecedented, because issues we thought had been settled in this country 40, 50 years ago are now open,” Hadley said, citing election season debates over immigration, free trade, and the role of the United States in NATO.
On the latter issue, for example, Hadley acknowledged that many Americans don’t know what NATO does nor why the United States is a member, although it’s “absolutely clear” to the foreign policy community. As such, “we need to have a discussion about our basic principles, and we need to re-center our politics,” he said, with more discussion and involvement of the American people. This includes communicating why American involvement in the Middle East matters, he added, and that trade is “not just about trade — it’s about the strategic positioning of the United States and our ability to influence things abroad.”
Fixing the US economy is key, Hadley said, because “it’s the foundation of everything else we do.” The rise of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders reflects Americans’ enormous discontent with the political status quo and with a global economy that they perceive has benefited foreigners at the expense of the United States.
“If we do not address these foundations and knit this country up and strengthen the economy, we will not have the leverage we need to work on these issues,” said Hadley.
Finally, “we need to work on our brand,” Hadley said, noting that the democratic model championed by the United States since World War II isn’t working so well globally anymore. Russia and China are showing the world different models of authoritarian capitalism that are catching on, he said, while the American style of democracy is faltering in large part “because our politics are so fractious.”
David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former British foreign secretary, said it’s important for leaders to understand the three tenets of successful diplomacy: how to engage rising powers, how to cushion the fall of declining powers, and how to disempower rogue powers.
These days, engagement should be taking place at all levels, not just between governments but with the business community and other populations, Miliband said. He gave the example of Turkey, which he calls a rising power with a population that identifies more with Europe than the Middle East. Europe and Turkey have failed to engage with each other enough to bring Turkey into the EU, which has contributed to today’s instability. But, “I have faith that the growth of the middle class, the emancipation of women, is the genie that’s out of the bottle,” Miliband said, referring to not just Turkey. “The links between people are going to go deeper and stronger than governments. And the pressure from below will be for integration.”
Miliband also criticized the United States for spending too little on humanitarian aid and not taking in enough refugees. It’s a country that has been historically successful in integrating immigrants, and has a rigorous process of screening refugees. Bringing more people of different faiths and cultures would not fuel terrorism but combat it, he noted. “Because the last thing ISIS wants is for the United States to be a genuine model of a multicultural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic society.”