Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Ready to Lead? Rethinking America’s Role in a Changed World

The UK's Royal Institute of International Affairs is also known as "Chatham House" (after which the famous "Chatham House Rule" is named). Indeed, the Institute is nowadays better known as "Chatham House".

The Director of the Institute, Dr. Robin Niblett, has recently published a Chatham House Report with the title, "Ready to Lead? Rethinking America’s Role in a Changed World", in which he gives the US six pieces of advice, which I sum up as follows:

1. Don't talk about "global leadership", simply provide it: "The risk of international disappointment will be intense if the United States proves unable to deliver meaningful solutions to key international challenges – from ending the Arab-Israeli conflict to helping achieve a comprehensive international deal to combat climate change. There is also the risk of a divide between the administration’s aspiration to lead as a force for good in the world and the reality of how the United States must pursue its national interests". Wise words.

2. The dollar isn't almighty, and the US military isn't almighty - and US has to act in recognition of the fact that "US influence in most regions has declined in recent
years, while the US economic model has lost some of its appeal. (So) the US ... should concentrate wholeheartedly on promoting the conditions within which specific countries can develop their own routes to positive change for their citizens". Nevertheless, he argues, the Bush administration leaves a strong legacy of wellfunded foreign assistance programmes.... President Obama can build on this approach and add his own initiatives, such as his proposal to create a Global Education Fund. Further opening US markets to goods from developing countries will also need to be a key part of the policy mix". The question this raises is WHICH developing countries should have access to US markets? Anti-democratic ones or democratic ones?

3. Spend less time making demands of opponents, more on understanding their domestic compulsions - and make more efforts to support its friends and allies. "By so doing, the United States will play to its strengths, run up less against the limits to its leadership potential and still change to its advantage the context within which its opponents must then operate." Sounds good. But it isn't clear what Dr. Niblett means specifically: in what new ways does he propose that the Obama administration "support friends and allies"?

4. Stop focusing so much on leaders and parties abroad, and focus instead on governance and political processes: " supporting the creation of viable institutions
and processes that promote good governance is more likely to establish a durable framework for positive change. President Obama’s intention to strengthen the role of the US State Department should help achieve this rebalancing of effort, but it will also depend on increasing the financial resources for US diplomacy and the other
instruments of US ‘soft power’. Equally important will be ensuring that the diplomacy of the administration’s special envoys does not recreate the same reliance on personal relationships and some of the interdepartmental competition which blighted parts of the Bush administration’s foreign policy." All good stuff. The only problem is that the contrast which Dr. Niblett draws between personalities and institutions is one that does not hold in most developing countries - that is precisely the nature of the problem and the key reason why these countries remain stubbornly unable to "develop". Dr Niblett does not seem to realise that he lives in a cultural context where that crucial distinction was won by the Protestant Reformation. In pre- and non-Reformed cultures, institutions exist to serve individuals; in Reformed cultures, individuals create and/ or serve institutions.

5. Get involved with others, as an equal, in "turning the transatlantic relationship into an effective player in tackling global challenges". For example, enabling the G-20 to be a more representative forum for consultation, strengthening the UN system, "renewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in such a way that nonproliferation remains a rational option for sovereign governments around the world, and helping craft the framework for a new global deal to combat climate change at the Copenhagen Climate Conference at the end of 2009." My impression is that the Administration is going about precisely this agenda, though still in a sometimes ham-fisted way.

6. Lead by example. In this context, Dr. Niblett makes several different sorts of points. I provide the gist of each of them below, each of which is followed by my comments in capitals: (a) "President Obama ... took immediate steps after his inauguration to underline the connection between US policy and the nation’s ideals. Beyond closing the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, the administration could adapt its legal treatment of detainees in armed conflict, and encourage the inclusion in the mandates of peace-keeping missions of the obligation for them to cooperate with investigations by the International Criminal Court. I'M AFRAID I SEE NO CHANCE OF THIS HAPPENING. ANY U.S. PRESIDENT THAT MADE EVEN TOKEN MOVES IN THIS DIRECTION WOULD IMMEDIATELY RUN INTO TROUBLE. (b). "President Obama’s commitments to strengthen national environmental standards and to use federal procurement to drive higher levels of energy efficiency could be the basis for reaching new international environmental standards and benchmarks.". THIS WOULD BE A GOOD APPROACH, AND WOULD MOREOVER BUILD ON WHAT, FOR EXAMPLE, CALIFORNIA HAS ALREADY INITIATED. (c) "Most important of all, at this critical time, America must not revert to protectionism. President Obama’s national economic recovery strategy needs to serve as an example for the rest of the world of the progress that a dynamic and open but well-regulated market economy can achieve for its people." WE WILL SEE WHETHER THE U.S. IS CAPABLE OF DEVELOPING AND MAINTAINING A GLOBALLY OPEN MARKETPLACE, COMBINED WITH LIGHT BUT EFFECTIVE REGULATION ALONG WITH FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS. Sphere: Related Content

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