The Good, the Bad and the NAFTA

July 19, 2017

Antonio O. Garza (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

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Over the past few weeks, there has been some great news coming out of Mexico’s energy sector.

First, there was the announcement that a consortium of international energy companies had discovered enormous shallow water oil reserves in a previously unexplored bloc. These companies won the rights to explore the field two years ago during the energy reform’s first public bidding round, and it now appears that their risk will be paid off with an abundance of black gold. Yet, it’s not just the companies that will benefit, it’s a boost for the energy reform writ large and also for the Mexican government’s tax coffers (as they are set to rake in 83 percent in taxes over the project’s lifetime). This past week, I also met with U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry while he was in Mexico City to highlight our strong and vitally important cross-border energy integration. As other parts of the bilateral relationship are looking tense, this is one area where the two countries are moving ever closer together.

Yet, there is still a fair share of bad news coming out of Mexico and in some cases it’s getting worse. The country’s murder rate has skyrocketed this year, with 11,155 people killed from January through May alone (a 32 percent increase from last year), including seven journalists. Corruption allegations have also shown no signs of abating. Over the past year, the federal government took the positive step of indicting several corrupt governors, but so far there have been few steps toward seriously prosecuting them or rewriting the rules to make sure that others can’t follow in their illicit footsteps. Public frustration over this combination of ineffectiveness and inaction came to a boil when the Mexican government was accused of using top-secret technology to spy on not just organized criminal groups but also public intellectuals, journalists, and human rights investigators.

Finally, there is one news item that can only be categorized by its profound uncertainty: the NAFTA renegotiations. These discussions are scheduled to begin in early fall, after the United States wraps up its 90-day notification period (it has already collected more than 12,000 public comments and held three days of public hearings). On Monday, the U.S. government published its “Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation,” which covers broad swaths of North America’s $1 trillion in cross-border trade. But the negotiators will have to move fast, as they’ll be under intense pressure to wrap up discussions by early 2018, before Mexico’s presidential campaigns pick up steam.

To follow all the latest bilateral and trilateral developments, The Mexican Council on Foreign Relations, COMEXI and the Bush Center are doing an excellent job at creating smart North America focused content. In a recent report, COMEXI lays out various recommendations for “Redefining the Bilateral Relationship,” across the NAFTA negotiations, bilateral security, the border, and migration—highlighting not just policy divergences but the many areas where the United States and Mexico’s interests align. Meanwhile, the Bush Institute’s North American Competitiveness Initiative continues to be an excellent resource for in-depth context and recommendations on boosting our region’s prosperity and security.

Art and meaning and ties between cultures – 140 Twitter characters will only get us so far

July 18, 2017

Nancy Brinker (U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, 2001-2003; U.S. Chief of Protocol, 2007-2009)

Cross posted from Fox News Opinion

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Inside the ever-evolving world of communications it is clear that technology sits at the center of our conversations. Never before has it been so easy to share information with someone anywhere at anytime. But just because we are talking to someone, doesn’t mean we are talking with them. It’s this challenge that sits at the heart of an ever-widening divide between America and the rest of the world.

A recent international survey spearheaded by the Pew Research Center found that favorable ratings of the United States have decreased from 64 percent of people across all countries surveyed in 2016 to 49 percent this spring. The decline in regard for how much foreign nations hold America is especially pronounced among some of our closest allies in Europe and Asia, as well as neighboring Mexico and Canada. Those looking for an answer to rectify this crisis of confidence in American leadership, would be wise to look to the words of American educator Steven Covey, who said we must “seek to understand before you can be understood.”

In 1963, President Kennedy founded the “Arts in the Embassies” program, a public-private partnership between the U.S. State Department and more than 20,000 partners from museums, galleries, collectors and others that enable thousands of artists to show their art at U.S. embassies abroad. Every president and secretary of state has embraced this program since. The universal language of art has become an important part of American foreign policy and continues to play a leading role in strengthening ties between nations.

On September 11, 2001, shortly after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve as America’s Ambassador to the Republic of Hungary, I was on my way to the airport to board a flight for Budapest when the planes hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The car was turned around. That day my travel itinerary changed along with the norms that had come to define U.S. foreign policy for generations.

After my arrival in the Hungarian capital we set to work on establishing ties between our two nations. Enhanced security and safety concerns resulted in delayed approval to acquire American art. So instead of waiting to decorate the residence with American art, artists from Budapest were invited to loan their art to adorn the walls. That gesture, which sought to personify a communicative bond and respect for culture between two peoples, went a long way toward gaining the appreciation of the Hungarian government.

The artwork, which encapsulates creativity in the face of duress, allowed me to better understand the unique history of the Hungarian people. Together, our progress included newfound cooperation with security initiatives in the Global War on Terror; resolved commerce transparency issues; and the establishment of the first conference on human trafficking and the exploitation of workers, which was attended by neighboring Balkan States.

My return to the United States in 2003 and subsequent posting as the Chief of Protocol for the White House offered the opportunity to welcome foreign heads of state and educate a wide audience on Hungarian art. The collection, which is shared with my son Eric, spans more than 150 years, from just before the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the present. One of the largest collections outside of Hungary, it includes the works of the acknowledged masters of modernism, as well as artists of more modest reputations who never would have gotten the recognition they deserve if we had not been able to share their works with American universities and museums that have featured our collection.

In this time of complex communication and diminished respect for American ideals among our allies, 140 Twitter characters will only get us so far. My experience as an ambassador bears this eternal lesson: if you want to know a people, you need to take the time to learn about who they are and where they came from, their hopes and aspirations, their art and culture.

What Are the Opportunities for ASEAN?

July 14, 2017

Curtis Chin (U.S. Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010; Asia Fellow, Milken Institute)

Cross posted from Yale Insights

Asia’s importance in the world economy is large and growing; the continent already accounts for one third of global GDP, according to the World Bank. While the giant economies of China and India get the most attention, the countries of Southeast Asia are contributing to that growth as well. PwC’s Long View forecast sees Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia moving into the world’s 25 biggest economies, with Indonesia rising to number four globally, by 2050.

Those countries, plus Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Singapore, are part of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), which gives them collective economic and political heft. The Council on Foreign Relations describes ASEAN as the most developed example of regional integration outside of the EU. (That isn’t to say the two unions are easily comparable. EU members share sovereignty through a strong, legally-based, central institution, while ASEAN is a consensus-based intergovernmental agency with no element of sovereignty sharing.)

In addition to providing some measure of economic integration, ASEAN provides much-needed stability to a region that was the site of war and genocide for much of the late 20th century. But that doesn’t mean that Western-style democracy is taking hold. Earlier this year, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, told Agence France Presse, “Human rights is in a precipitous downward spiral in every ASEAN country except perhaps Myanmar, and that’s only because military rule in that country was so horrible for so long.”

To understand the economic opportunities and development challenges facing the region, Yale Insights talked with Curtis Chin ’90, former U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and currently an Asia fellow at the Milken Institute.

Q: Can you put ASEAN in context, in Asia and the world?

When people talk about Asia, too often, they’re really just discussing China and India. Clearly those are two giant and very important countries, but there’s more to the region. Put together, the 10 nations of ASEAN have a population of 630 million people. That’s not the billion-plus population of China or India, but it’s very clearly significant. If it were a single economy, ASEAN, at $2.4 trillion, would be just the third largest in Asia. On the other hand, it would be the fifth largest in the world.

The $274 billion invested from the U.S. into ASEAN in 2015 is more than went to China, India, Japan, and South Korea combined. That may be surprising, but I think it’s testament to the tremendous opportunity that ASEAN offers whether as a production base, a market to sell services and products, or as a source of ideas and innovation for the rest of the world.

Q: What are the opportunities and challenges the ASEAN countries face?

It’s important to recognize that Southeast Asia is tremendously diverse. ASEAN includes the city-state of Singapore with its modern infrastructure, population of 5 million people, and role as a hub for financial innovation. It also includes the archipelago nations of the Philippines and Indonesia with populations of 100 million and 250 million, respectively, each spread over thousands of islands. And it includes Myanmar, which is very much finding its way forward in terms of governance and stability. The rules, laws, and structures you need to put in place to attract investment are still being developed. The other countries—Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos—all have their own unique concerns and different levels of economic development. Leading each of these countries presents very distinct challenges.

Q: As an association of countries, how does ASEAN compare to the EU?

There’s been a lot of compare and contrast between Southeast Asia and what is going on in Europe. Critics will say the consensus-based ASEAN way is slow. The organization has existed for 50 years but only in 2015 did the countries come together to create the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC.

The AEC is bringing down trade barriers and moving towards, not a European-style common market, but a distinctly Southeast Asian one. The AEC doesn’t mean free trade and free movement of labor, but it has meant freer trade and freer movement of labor. They haven’t moved towards a single currency, and looking at what’s happened in Europe, I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon in Southeast Asia. But ASEAN is still coming together, albeit slowly, step by step while the EU is facing Brexit and questions about its future.

To its great credit, Europe has come together in a way that has meant peace for seven decades. Southeast Asia, too, was a region torn by war, and ASEAN has been a tool to bring these diverse nations together in a peaceful manner to slowly build a stronger economy for them all.

Q: Are there specific examples of cooperation that you’d point to?

Examples of greater cooperation and integration would include ASEAN working to address human trafficking and the illegal wildlife trade. More needs to be done, but they are making progress. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore are coming together to address the challenges of slash-and-burn forest fires that take place every year—pollution knows no borders. As an outsider—although I live in ASEAN—I want them to do more, but they are taking steps forward. It is very important that institutions get stronger, and that individual governments and companies figure out ways to better work together.

When I was the U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, many people thought that the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India, and China] would really drive the next phase of global growth. In the last couple years, those economies have not grown as fast as people once envisioned. Now, when people ask me whether the next global star will come from Southeast Asia, I say that any of them could take off, but to get there they need to focus first on what I call the “little BRIC”: bureaucracy, regulation, interventionism by government, and corruption.

Clearly, government structures and regulation are necessary, but when does it go too far and reduce the incentives to start a company or hire more people? When is there too much government interventionism in an economy? When is corruption out of hand? For me, the little BRIC is the true economic constraint on growth in Southeast Asia, in ASEAN, and the world.

Q: Are there examples of countries that have found good ways to address some elements of the little BRIC?

The right balance will likely vary country to country and might change over time. As an American, I might think Singapore has too much regulation, but clearly Singapore is doing well and I know the leaders are also thinking through how to encourage more innovation and how to move to a next level of development.

And in terms of corruption, Singapore is among the 10 least corrupt countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. The U.S.is only in the top 20. Unfortunately, for a number of ASEAN countries, corruption is an area where there is tremendous need to improve.

Q: In addition to the AEC, there are a number of trade deals that do or may involve ASEAN, including the TPP and RCEP. What’s happening with trade in the region?

China is central to that question. How does China deal with the rest of Asia, and how does the rest of Asia deal with China? That’s critical both economically and militarily, especially with tensions in the South China Sea.

When I think of the alphabet soup of trade deals or potential trade deals, overall integration is a wonderful thing. But we also have to recognize that the consequences of trade have not been equally distributed. Thus the pushback in Europe in the United States, and also in Asia. As we develop trade deals moving forward, countries and companies will need to think through how their citizens or employees will benefit, and if they are going to be hurt by a trade deal, what needs to be done to address that.

If we’re going to have greater free trade, if we’re going to have greater fair trade, more needs to be done to communicate the pluses and minuses of each deal. That will let people make an informed decision, whether it’s the right way to go, or not. And we need to figure out what will ensure that prosperity goes beyond a very small group of people.

Q: What is happening with the digital economy in ASEAN?

When people think of ASEAN, they often think about it as a source of natural resources—the tremendous oil and gas reserves in part of the region—or they’re thinking about ASEAN as production-based: the value of the labor of the people of the Philippines, Indonesia, or Thailand. But ASEAN today shouldn’t be thought of only in those terms. ASEAN today should be looked at as an opportunity even in areas like high-tech and the digital economy.

I saw an interesting statistic, which was that even though ASEAN might only have 630 million people, there are 700 million digital consumers. Clearly many individuals are using multiple devices, but it shows ASEAN’s digital economy is growing in leaps and bounds and will continue to do so. That sector is projected to grow 500%, to $200 billion, by 2025.

Q: What about infrastructure?

There is still tremendous need in areas like power, water, sanitation, and roads throughout much of the region. By one estimate the need is more than $22 trillion through 2030, but there is a significant infrastructure financing gap.

Beyond simply finding the funding, I think that approach needs to be refocused. Too often, development is simply about building. We need to also think through how we maintain and update what is being built.

When I sat on the Asian Development Bank’s board, I became, some would say notorious—I would like to say helpful—in underscoring what I called the three Ps of responsible development. That is, people, planet, and partnership. Responsible development takes into consideration the people that are being impacted by a project, the impact on the broader environment, and the reality that there isn’t enough capital at the ADB, World Bank, or even now the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The reality is that for the region to move forward, these countries need to encourage their private sectors.

At the end of the day, Asia’s way forward must include a thriving private sector in each country because government cannot be the driver of job creation. Even in China, we’ve seen the government thinking through how they can use the private sector to move their economy forward, to increase growth. There just isn’t enough money to build an economy on state-owned enterprises.

Q: How does that dovetail with your work as the inaugural Asia Fellow at the Milken Institute?

The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic and policy think tank that focuses on increasing prosperity. These are questions that are very much on the minds of the leaders of Southeast Asia: “How do we get economies to move forward? How do we get there to be more growth and more evenly spread growth?”

For the Milken Institute, capital market development is key. Without capital to allow for implementation, even the best idea remains simply an idea. What’s critical for the countries of ASEAN is that they need to bring together their own private sectors, public sectors, and civil societies to develop strategies to increase access to capital. As the nations of Asia-Pacific address this little BRIC, foreign direct investment is more likely to come in, which will drive job creation.

And today there are many different ways that countries and companies can access capital. It’s no longer a loan to the government from the World Bank or a business loan from a local bank. There are lessons from the United States, from Europe, and from around the world that I think countries of ASEAN will increasingly want to adopt.

America’s Hostage Negotiation Strategy is Broken

June 26, 2017

Bill Richardson (Governor of New Mexico, 2003-2011; Secretary of Energy, 1998-2000; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, 1997-1998; U.S. Congressman from New Mexico, 1982-1996)

Cross posted from The Washington Post.

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Otto Warmbier was laid to rest June 22 by his loving family in their town outside of Cincinnati, nine days after he was brought home in a coma after 17 months of imprisonment in North Korea. The North Korean government described him as a prisoner of war, so by their own definition, his death is their absolute responsibility, pursuant to the Geneva Conventions. That the North Korean government kept him in an unresponsive state without proper medical assistance constitutes a crime in terms of international law and flouts common decency.

The blame is theirs. The lesson for us is that America’s hostage negotiation strategy is broken.

I’ve helped rescue hostages from around the world and from North Korea, specifically. In 1994, I negotiated the return of downed Army helicopter pilot from North Korea and the remains of his co-pilot. In 1996, I helped bring American Evan Hunziker back from North Korea. I, and the team at my center, worked for 15 months to try to gain Otto’s release, including a visit to Pyongyang in September.

To bring these cases to a resolution, we often work on three parallel tracks: identifying opportunities to create leverage; engaging directly with captors to ascertain what it might take to secure hostages’ release; and working with the families of those taken hostage, who often find themselves in need of guidance. Working on all three tracks remains viable, but Otto’s case shows that it’s time for a paradigm shift.

First, we have to recognize that time is no longer neutral. In past instances, all that mattered was working toward an outcome, no matter how long it might take. But urgency must be the new norm if we’re to have a chance at curtailing the physical and mental abuse that prisoners can face, particularly when dealing with unpredictable actor. In the year-plus since Otto was detained, Kim Jong Un contravened a litany of humanitarian norms regarding treatment of hostages. The regime still hasn’t provided a believable explanation for Otto’s coma, and why they failed to disclose his condition to the family or diplomatic proxies in the country.

But timing is only part of the problem. Previous hostage negotiations have had success largely because outside actors have been effective in pressuring their client states. Maybe North Korea doesn’t have an incentive to appease America, but China, which works with both countries and fears the collapse of the North Korean state, does. Otto’s case, though, underscores the reality that the final stages of negotiations between sovereign states often need to be undertaken by the parties themselves — here, the governments of the United States and North Korea.

Yet despite the clear need for governments to resolve these cases bilaterally, the U.S. has no clear policy on how to handle instances in which Americans are held as collateral by foreign governments. It’s not that the U.S. hasn’t tried to improve its overall approach. In the final years of his administration, President Barack Obama made a concerted effort to rethink how the government treats hostage cases, primarily in circumstances where Americans are held by terrorist organizations. The creation of the Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell was a step in the right direction. It’s meant to encourage agencies and departments to share relevant information among all participating actors in securing the release of prisoners held by terrorist groups, and exists to provide channels to keep families informed on the progress of their relatives’ cases.

But that’s not enough. Families who have engaged with the HRFC have expressed frustration at the lack of information-sharing — something the HRFC was ultimately supposed to fix. Other families who have hired private external negotiators have been stymied by strict rules regarding the sharing of information with outside parties working to create the conditions necessary for a deal to be reached.

Yet we know coordinated private diplomacy is often critical. Unconstrained by traditional diplomatic choreography, private diplomacy leverages preexisting personal relations and trust that can lead to the sharing of information and creative flexibility, something with which government struggles. To try to bring Otto home, for example, representatives from my center met more than 20 times with North Korean officials. The information gathered was critical. Coordinating and sharing these efforts between government and private diplomacy can unleash a set of tools largely ignored, and in some cases eschewed, to date. For example, a small gesture of recognition — a note delivered privately — from the United States indicating that it would see Otto’s release as a humanitarian gesture, could have helped bring him home earlier: private diplomacy working hand-in-hand with government.

Yet for all the shortcomings of U.S. hostage policy, President Trump has yielded one clear success with the release of Aya Hijazi, who was held by the Egyptian government until shortly after the president’s White House meeting with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Trump deserves credit here, but his administration can’t rely on this sort of leader-to-leader diplomacy as a primary approach, as it would incentivize governments to take Americans captive, not to mention forcing the president to shift focus from important geostrategic issues.

To secure the release of the other three U.S. citizens being held in North Korea, Joshua Holt in Venezuela, Siamak Namazi in Iran and Austin Tice in Syria, to name a few, the administration must first treat these cases with urgency rather than patience, and second, convene a contact group, including private diplomacy actors across the political and private spectrums, to identify case-by-case strategies and levers. Personal relations are assets and they do not exclusively lie inside one administration.

Time to Negotiate with North Korea

June 23, 2017

Thomas Graham, Jr. (Special Representative of the President for Arms Control, Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 1994-1997)

Cross posted from the June 23, 2017 edition of U.S. News and World Report

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The great Cold Warrior and international negotiator Ambassador Paul Nitze once said to me “Whenever I enter one of these negotiations (U.S.-Soviet nuclear arms negotiations) I try to imagine the narrow strip where both sides can stand comfortably. Then I try to steer U.S. policy toward that place.” That is a good construct for important and sensitive negotiation with an adversary. And it could work with North Korea as well. Whatever one thinks of North Korea, with their horrible record of human rights and disregard for human life, they do have interests, which they acknowledge, and they will negotiate if approached correctly and very carefully.

North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a dangerous state with a long track record of being willing to sell anything to anyone for its own benefit, and a history of state terrorism against South Korea. As such, it poses a double danger. First, the DPRK could sell nuclear weapons to Iran or to terrorist organizations, or it could transfer bomb production technology as it did to Syria during 2005-2007. Second, a nuclear-armed North Korea, with ballistic missiles currently capable of reaching targets throughout Northeast Asia and likely capable of reaching the United States within a few years, is a grave threat to South Korea, Japan and America.

However, Pyongyang’s policy over the years has also included a certain realpolitik and willingness to negotiate. The North Korean regime, which has few allies in the international sphere and grapples with crippling domestic problems, is above all interested in survival, economic benefits and a diplomatic relationship with the United States. Military action against North Korea is not an attractive option; the huge North Korean artillery and rocket forces amassed along the Korean Demilitarized Zone pose a serious threat to Seoul that is less than twenty miles away; and in recent years, uncertainty has developed about what the DPRK might do with its nuclear weapons. Diplomacy is the only practical option.

Some say that the North Koreans are irrational but the track record does not necessarily bear this out. The United States utterly crushed North Korea during the Korean War but 64 years have passed since the end of that conflict, and the Kim family remains in control. The North Koreans have a weak hand and they have played it with skill. Their objectives have always been clear: survival, economic benefits and a relationship with the United States. In the past, to the extent the U.S. was prepared to pay this price, agreement with the DPRK was possible. Playing on this the Clinton administration made real progress: the DPRK nuclear program was essentially shut down – not eliminated but shut down – and an agreement ending their ballistic missile program was close.

For its own purposes, the Bush administration decided to abandon all the Clinton progress, adopt a confrontational position toward North Korea and include North Korea in the president’s axis of evil speech in early 2002. Later that year, just before North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, a U.S. delegation was in Pyongyang. There, among others, the U.S. delegation met with First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Kang Sok-ju who accused the United States of singling out North Korea for nuclear attack and, among other memorable statements, said “We are part of the axis of evil, and you are gentlemen. That is our relationship. We cannot discuss matters like gentlemen. If we disarm ourselves because of U.S. pressure, then we will become like Yugoslavia or Afghanistan’s Taliban to be beaten to death.”

The hardline was back. Over the next 15 years arms limitation was largely abandoned. North Korea conducted five nuclear weapon tests and many ballistic missile tests. The DPRK has become a direct threat to the United States. And the new ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, had raised the stakes. Arguably, negotiation is still possible but now in addition to survival, economic benefits and a relationship with the United States, the DPRK wants to be recognized as a nuclear weapon state, something the United States cannot and should not do.

However, if catastrophe at least at some level is to be avoided, negotiations have to be attempted. The North Koreans likely will be open to making an agreement that they perceive to be in their interest. The trick will be to find the terms of such an agreement that would also be in the interest of the United States. The alternatives are not attractive. Leon Sigal, a long-time, non-government expert on North Korea has suggested an approach of seeking a temporary suspension of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program while both sides discuss reciprocal steps that the U.S. could consider in order to address North Korea’s security concerns. There may be interest in this in North Korea. This could be a place to start.

Why a Re-Balanced State Department Budget Should Include Support for Cultural Diplomacy

June 14, 2017

Curtis S. Chin (Asian Development Bank, 2007-2010)

Cross posted from Ambassador Chin’s LinkedIn Page.

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GWANGJU, SOUTH KOREA – From here on a Korean peninsula split between North and South, to Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where U.S. Secretary of State Rex. W. Tillerson recently testified before a Senate Appropriations Committee on the FY 2018 State Department Budget Request under U.S. President Donald J. Trump, our world remains as divided as ever.

Tillerson made clear that the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request of $37.6 billion “aligns with the [Trump] administration’s objective of making America’s security our top priority.” While there would be “substantial funding for many foreign assistance programs,” he said, other initiatives would see reductions. The State Department and USAID budget, he noted, had increased more than 60 percent – a “rate of increase in funding [that] is not sustainable” – from Fiscal Year 2007, reaching an all-time high of $55.6 billion in Fiscal Year 2017.

“While our mission will also be focused on advancing the economic interests of the American people, the State Department’s primary focus will be to protect our citizens at home and abroad,” said Tillerson in his prepared remarks introducing the budget request.

Time to Get Creative with Diplomacy

Yet, with disruption and division haunting our world, the United States needs to get creative and double down on diplomacy in all its forms. This can be done cost-effectively and in a way that showcases America at her best.

This is particularly important in places such as South Korea and elsewhere in Asia and the Pacific – a region that continues to be a key driver of global economic growth. Much of the region remains worried about an increasingly aggressive China and would welcome strengthened U.S. engagement.

Certainly, there is no substitute for the “hard power” of a strong military and a willingness to deploy and use military assets. U.S. engagement in Asia will benefit from an America that is stronger both economically and militarily.

That was clear when former U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to act after his “red line” was crossed in Syria unintentionally undermined his much publicized “U.S. pivot to Asia.” That Obama-era initiative came to be seen by many in the region as more rhetoric than reality and, as I argued on CNN, “more bark than bite.”

Soft Power Has Its Advantages

But “soft power” too has its advantages. This must be kept in mind both by the U.S. president and the leadership of the U.S. Congress as work moves forward on an overall FY 2018 budget that gets spending under control while advancing American interests.

Trump should be applauded for not shying away from the hard work of seeking more balanced economic and trade engagement, and more sustainable, if not yet balanced, budgets.

I believe that a final, negotiated FY 2018 budget request for the State Department should include continued funding – if not a gradual increase – of what has been a relatively small amount of money allocated every year to the soft power of “cultural diplomacy.”

Roughly defined as the use of an exchange of ideas, traditions and values to strengthen relations and encourage engagement, cultural diplomacy is perhaps most easily seen in the use of music, arts and sports to build cross-cultural understanding.

Beyond “Ping Pong Diplomacy” in Asia

Famously, in the early 1970s, an exchange of table tennis players between the United States and China helped pave the way for a visit to Beijing by then President Richard Nixon. Then, it was “ping pong diplomacy.”

Today, it could well be the power of American football or music that helps America and Americans to better connect abroad – and that includes with counterparts in long-time allies, such as here in South Korea. Likewise, the power of South Korea’s culture from its rich traditions to the new wonders of K-pop and Korean TV dramas are advancing South Korean interests and “brand Korea.”

This February at the Asia Culture Center in the South Korean city of Gwangju, I was honored to join our U.S. Charge d’Affaires Marc Knapper from our embassy in Seoul to support American cultural diplomacy in action. Some 100 participants and their families and communities in Korea came together with a team of dancers from the Battery Dance Company in New York to help build understanding and bridge divides. Gwangju is the 6th largest city in South Korea and the birthplace of that nation’s modern democratic movement.

“Inclusion is the name of the game,” said Battery Dance Company founder and director Jonathan Hollander to me, “with disabled students working with high school dance majors; Filipino young women and a high school hip hop dance club; North Korean defectors; middle-aged ladies from a community dance group; and the Gwangju Ballet.”

Cultural Diplomacy at Work: Dancing to Connect

I first came to know Hollander when I served some 15 years back on the bipartisan Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy under U.S. Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. That committee was authorized by the U.S. Congress and established in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, as security concerns led to increased restrictions on travel and greater scrutiny of visitors from some Muslim-majority countries.

I now serve on the Battery Dance international advisory board as part of my own efforts to encourage cultural exchange – and build understanding of the United States.

“Cultural diplomacy becomes a real live thing when you get diverse people into a space together and differences are erased, borders crossed, preconceptions challenged [and] cooperation engendered,” said Hollander. “Both the US and Korea are experiencing social upheaval at the same time. Tensions are high. What does the future hold?”

Perhaps, we should once again look to the past to answer that question amidst new U.S. restrictions on visas and potential temporary travel bans from some countries.

Nearly 12 years ago, in September 2005, the eight-person Advisory Committee on Cultural Diplomacy issued a report to the then-U.S. Secretary of State underscoring the importance of strengthening U.S. engagement internationally as positive perceptions of the United States fell, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.

Our committee included Republicans and Democrats in the world of academia, culture, business and government.

The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy

In our report, “Cultural Diplomacy: The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy,” we urged the then-Secretary of State to consider a number of recommendations that would strengthen America’s soft power in the ongoing battle of ideas, and create a cultural diplomacy infrastructure and policy for the 21st century.

As I found later through the Battery Dance Company and other organizations, whether supported by the U.S. government or U.S. businesses abroad as part of their corporate social responsibility efforts, sometimes it is not the career diplomats who are our best American representatives. Indeed, everyday Americans as well as American businesspeople, athletes, entertainers and performers are often best positioned to convey the vibrancy, the innovativeness and warmth that is also the United States.

While the mandate and work of our bipartisan advisory committee finished long ago, here are two recommendations we made that are worth revisiting even as U.S. State Department and USAID budgets are possibly reallocated and reduced.

First, we recommended providing advanced training and professional development opportunities for U.S. Foreign Service Officers who are public affairs officers and have responsibility for public diplomacy and cultural diplomacy through their careers. This would include particular attention to upgrading their ability to use research, polling, and new media, including social media. This cannot be “your grandfather’s State Department.”

Second, we recommended expanding international cultural exchange programs. We sought to underscore the power of open, not closed, doors. At that time, we focused on inviting more Arab and Muslim artists, performers, and writers to the United States, and sending their American counterparts to the Islamic world.

Today, the need for smarter, enhanced U.S. engagement extends around the world, including to the Asia and Pacific region. As China continues to militarize “islands” it builds in the South China Sea – through which much of U.S. trade with the region transits – an opportunity exists for the United States to positively raise its profile through diplomacy as a more responsible power and partner in the region.

Enhancing Security through Cultural Diplomacy

Back in 2005, the advisory committee wrote that “cultural diplomacy can enhance our national security in subtle, wide-ranging, and sustainable ways,” and underscored that such diplomacy efforts require a generational commitment of funds, expertise, courage and time. Those words still ring true.

In 1848, the British statesman Lord Palmerston is said to have commented that nations have no eternal allies or permanent enemies, but only eternal and perpetual interests. Working to win the hearts and minds of reasonable people everywhere remains very much in America’s interests.

Certainly, the challenges of budgets and bureaucracy remain, but it is time for the United States to recommit to diplomacy – cultural, commercial and educational. As Trump and Tillerson disrupt the staid halls of the U.S. State Department, there should be no ignoring that robust, strengthened diplomacy is good for American security and also makes long-term economic sense.

Mexico: Off to the Races

June 2, 2017

Antonio O. Garza (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

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The U.S.-Mexico relationship is once again back in the headlines and this time it’s not just changing, it could be completely redefined. After months of anticipation, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer submitted a two-page letter to Congress on May 18th, which announced the Trump administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA. The letter spurred the U.S. government into action, triggering the start of a consultation process—where businesses, industry groups, and private citizens can submit comments—and public hearings scheduled for later this summer. By early fall, negotiators from all three countries will begin sitting down together to hash out the details, with the goal of wrapping up the negotiations in early 2018.

To put it simply, reshaping NAFTA—an agreement that underpins over a trillion dollars in trade and that touches every major sector of the three countries’ economies—in only a few months is remarkably ambitious. While Mexican officials would like to end the process before the start of their presidential campaign cycle in early 2018, delays seem not just likely but inevitable. Throughout the process, expect to see a renewed focus on the trilateral relationship, which we are already witnessing through cross-border events and publications, as civil society groups and businesses seek to share their opinions and insert them into the negotiations.

However, while the upcoming NAFTA negotiations might be tough, the even more game-changing process in Mexico is going to be tackling the country’s rule of law challenges. On this front, 2017 has been a grim year, with setbacks for the recent anti-corruption reforms, fugitive corrupt governors, and the highest homicide rate for a first-quarter in the last two decades. Among those killed since January were six journalists, a particularly dark stain on an already bleak record. As I wrote for USA Today earlier this week, making improvements in protecting journalists and human rights defenders is not just going to be good policy, it will be the substance of strong leadership and presidential legacy.

Finally, for those of you keeping an eye on Mexican politics, this Sunday, June 4th marks the governor races in the State of Mexico, Coahuila, and Nayarit. Of the three, the State of Mexico race is the one to watch, as President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI party has not lost the state in a century. The latest polls, however, show the PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo to be neck and neck with the leftist Morena candidate Delfina Gómez. While the PRI’s success at holding the state and Morena’s ability to pull in voters with its anti-corruption, populist message is expected to provide a sneak-peek for next year’s presidential elections, the fact that the race is so close (after the PRI won this governorship by 20+ percent in previous years) is already a strong indicator of the state and country’s political mood.

U.S./Mexico: Improving Tone, But Nothing’s Final

April 20, 2017

Antonio O. Garza (U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

These past few weeks have presented the Trump administration with its first real foreign policy tests. Syria’s use of chemical weapons, the United States’ retaliatory airstrikes, the nuclear standoff with North Korea, and China and Russia’s constant maneuvering in this ever-moving foreign policy chess board. Yet in these globally-focused days and weeks, Mexico—once seemingly the administration’s top focus—has skirted below the radar.

Today’s U.S.-Mexico relationship is marked by a relatively thoughtful tone, which I for one interpret as good news. As the economic tensions have eased slightly, the continental conversation has begun to center more on fair trade, each countries’ interests, and job creation, a healthier tone for beginning NAFTA negotiations than the protectionist talk that dominated economic discussions just a few months ago.

On bilateral security cooperation, the discussion has also become more focused. Throughout the change in U.S. administrations, law enforcement on both sides of the border have continued to work together with little interruption. And at the highest level, DHS Secretary John Kelly has continuously heralded the United States’ cooperation with Mexico as both positive and critically important.

Yet while bilateral relations may be on more stable ground, Mexico continues to face its own range of domestic drama. In the ongoing saga of fugitive governors, there has been some recent success. Interpol and Guatemalan officials captured Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte in Guatemala and Italian officials nabbed former Governor of Tamaulipas Tomas Yarrington, with both now facing charges of corruption and collusion with organized crime. Yet, there are still governors on the run, with former Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte missing and possibly hiding out in El Paso.

The stories of corruption and ongoing violence will continue to play out as we move ever closer to Mexico’s presidential elections in July 2018. To get a sense of what Mexico’s population is feeling in the election’s lead-up, be sure to watch the State of Mexico’s election this coming June. President Peña Nieto’s PRI party has governed the state for almost a century, but the three opposition candidates are making it a close run. Also tellingly, insecurity has been a big theme of the campaigns with both the PRI and the PAN releasing TV spots that focus on the state’s security conditions.

However, one cautionary note before we fall back into a more predictable and comfortable bilateral relationship or get swept away in Mexico’s electoral intrigue. While the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship is on better footing, now is not the time for complacency. Ensuring cooperative economic and security relations requires consistent and tireless effort to protect what works and continually improve those areas where things could be better. This may always be true, but amid shifting policies, it’s critical.

“What’s the Best Country?”

March 30, 2017

Faith Whittlesey (Ambassador to Switzerland, 1981-1983 and 1985-1988)

Doug Sears (Former Foreign Service Officer)

Cross-posted from The Daily Caller

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The New York Times earlier this month ran a story about the recently released U.S. News best countries ranking. Unsurprisingly for those who have lived and worked there—Switzerland was ranked #1. Another un-surprise–the United States was ranked #7. The writer for The New York Times predictably attributed the U.S. slide to President Trump, despite the fact he has been in office less than 3 months.

But if we are willing to look elsewhere–and admit that maybe a new Dark Age of Trump has not suddenly succeeded a Golden Age of Obama/Clinton (the U.S. stock market doesn’t seem to think it has)–perhaps it might dawn on us that the new administration is actually trying its best to put into practice some lessons, maybe derived from the Swiss, that could better serve us the next time U.S. News gets around to doing its survey.

Read the rest of this entry »

What Could Possibly Go Wrong When Dealing with the Russians?

February 22, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross-posted from The Cap Times of Madison, Wisconsin

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A look at history should give President Donald Trump pause if he and his administration think they understand the workings of Russian minds. The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan provides a lesson in how the Soviet Union and the U.S. miscommunicated and misunderstood each other — with long-lasting, dire results.

On Sept. 21, 1995, as Norwegian ambassador I hosted a private lunch for Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and Admiral Stansfield Turner. Vodka was served.

Dobrynin had been the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States from 1962 to 1986, from JFK through Ronald Reagan. His book “In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents” is a must-read. Stansfield Turner was the head of the CIA for Jimmy Carter.

It was a sunny day in Oslo and the three of us chatted like old friends, as we had come to know each other over three days at a closed-door conference hosted by the Nobel Prize Institute recounting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

The conference can best be described as “What didn’t we know, and when didn’t we know it?”

All of the actors making decisions during the 1979 invasion were at the conference, including the head of the KGB and the head of the White House National Security Council. It was to be an oral history of those in the Soviet Union involved in the fateful decision to invade Afghanistan and those in the Carter administration who decided how to respond.

The 1979 invasion was the end of “detente” — the thaw in the Cold War that began in 1969 as the new policy of President Nixon and that produced the SALT 1 treaty reducing nuclear weapons.

A direct telephone link between Washington and Moscow — “the red telephone” — was installed at that time so the leaders of the two world powers could talk and avoid a crisis that could escalate into war.

That phone must have been off the hook in December 1979 because it became clear from the conference — my memory helped by reading the now-available transcript — that neither side knew what the other was doing or thinking despite being sure they did.

The Soviets thought that the U.S. would understand that this action was directed at keeping a Muslim country on their southern border from falling apart. The inept government the Soviets had been propping up was about to be overthrown.

The Carter White House thought the invasion was part of a grand plan to expand the Soviet Empire and that the Soviets were creating an “Arc of Crisis.”

The Soviets’ reading of Washington was that this local matter in their “near abroad” would be criticized but would not harm the U.S. relationship under detente.

Dobrynin: “I am trying to tell you how we really thought. There was no discussion in the Kremlin of any Grand Design. There was no discussion in the press — well, the press did not matter — nor in the Politburo, or the Foreign Ministry. I spoke privately with Brezhnev at the time and there was never a single word about it. … In one of the meetings Brezhnev even asked me, “Anatoly, where is the ‘Arc of Crisis?'”

As a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a Western embargo and sanctions on the Soviet Union, and President Carter pulled the United States out of the Moscow summer Olympics in 1980.

The war lasted nine years, over a million civilians were killed and millions more fled as refugees to Pakistan and Iran. The CIA started a not-so-covert action to harass the Soviets: “Charlie Wilson’s War.” The fighters against the Soviets became radicalized and when President Mikhail Gorbachev ordered the Soviet 40th Army to return home, what was left in Afghanistan was a mess that turned eventually into the Taliban and al-Qaida.

If President Trump deals with the Russians thinking he knows how they think, there will be disappointment — not deals. And, if President Putin, a man too clever by half, thinks the new administration gives him license in his “near abroad,” tragedy will result.