Americans can learn from the struggles and wins of Rwandan women

October 6, 2017

Swanee Hunt (U.S. Ambassador to Austria, 1993-1997; Chair, Inclusive Security)

Cross posted from The Hill

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If the hand-wringing of pundits has left you in despair that this country is beyond healing, learn from the women of Rwanda.

Most people rightly recall that small nation in East Africa as the site of a 1994 genocide of unspeakable brutality, in which as many as one million (mostly Tutsi) died in a span of 100 days. With machetes and clubs, Hutu extremists slaughtered not only neighbors, but even Tutsi in their own families. The country was decimated — the equivalent of 32 million Americans murdered this fall.

What fewer people know is that when the killing ended, the impossible happened. Women created 15,000 village councils that formed a leadership pipeline; they designed a grass-roots justice process that allowed healing; they took on influential roles historically denied them.

As chaos cracked open the culture, women surged into the breach: today they hold a world-record 64 percent of parliamentary seats. They passed landmark legislation enabling females to inherit property, which opened paths to economic opportunity.

An astounding 55,000 community health workers have been elected by their neighborhoods. Illiteracy has plummeted, thanks in part to compulsory education for girls as well as boys through the 9th grade.

These advances, forged primarily by women, have made Rwanda the gold standard for development in Africa. Virtually free of corruption, the nation’s annual economic growth has averaged eight percent.

Over the past two decades, Rwanda’s women have built bridges across the deepest chasm imaginable. To put a lid on strife, the government forbade the use of ethnic labels. And women took transformative reconciliation an unfathomable step further, adopting hundreds of thousands of orphans of the other group.

Why should this matter to Americans? Of course we should care as humanitarians. But there’s another reason. It’s at the heart of our security, our well-being, and our pocket books.

It’s a matter of insistent cooperation. Compared to men, American women co-sponsor more bills across party lines, and the huge majority declare to researchers that they’re more willing to reach across aisles. The examples are usually little known, but sometimes front- page “above the fold.” A few weeks ago, women in the Senate joined hands to protect healthcare for the poor. And remember 2013, when they dramatically banded together to avert a government shutdown.

Of course, we’ve seen only hints of what collaboration can mean in our Congress. That’s primarily because women’s representation the United States doesn’t come close to our Rwandan counterparts. Just 20 percent of our Congress is female, far from the “critical mass” (around 30 percent) that can reshape an institution.

Embarrassingly, 120 countries have a higher percent of women legislators than we do.

How do we change this? Americans aren’t going to formalize a gender quota, which is a matter of course in most countries. But our political parties could adopt minimums to reduce the huge disparity of men to women. In fact, one-third of Congressional Democrats are female; the problem is that the GOP women’s caucus has only eight percent. Republican women do run, but they have a very hard time getting out of their primary races, which are closely guarded by good ol’ boys.

Apart from quotas, we can embrace other Rwandan strategies. There, women rose because of a pull from the top and push up from the bottom. Cues from leadership matter; in both parties, high officials should be urging specific women to run, then supporting them with money and top talent to break through and win.

But let’s take apart our situation further: As Rwandan women graduated from their village boards to climbed a ladder of councils, they built a knowledge base of issues as well as the political process, and they formed professional connections. Likewise, we can support an unruly female crowd to step onto political rungs from city-wide boards to major municipal and state-wide offices. Every one of us could join organizations like She Should Run or Running Start, and encourage women we know to throw their hats in the ring.

The good news is that U.S. women compete evenly in open-seat races. Our structural problem is that Congressional incumbents (mostly men) are re-elected at a rate well over a whopping 90 percent. Some doors may open in 2018 since an unusual number of Republican men are likely not to run again, in part because home district resistance to President Trump’s policies is so vociferous.

Genocide has no silver lining. Still, Rwanda is our teacher. If women there reinvented a country out of smoldering ashes, surely we Americans can clear the way for women to break gridlock, embrace differences, and restore civility in our country.

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As Hong Kong dims, Asia can learn much from Singapore, East Timor and Bhutan

October 3, 2017

Curtis S. Chin (Asia Development Bank, 2007-2010; Asia Fellow, Milken Institute)

Cross posted from the South China Morning Post

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Twenty years ago in Asia – as Hong Kong returned to China under the “one country, two systems” formula, there was hope that the former British colony would set an example for a freer, more progressive China.

Those days, for now, seem past as China cracks down on dissent in the run-up to a landmark Communist Party congress, and as Hong Kong jails democracy campaigners over anti-China protests. Hong Kong may no longer be the role model it once was, should Beijing’s moves, unintentional or not, transform this economic showcase into “just another Chinese city”.

Yet, at a recent Milken Institute Asia Summit that looked back 20 years to 1997 and ahead 20 more to 2037, I found hope that, amid the diversity of Asia, there remain numerous examples of a way forward for all of the region.

The story of Asia today remains very much one driven by its largest nations and economies. An increasingly assertive China, a slow-growing Japan, a rising India and a still emerging Indonesia dominate the headlines, along with mounting tensions from the Korean peninsula. Yet, all of “Asia rising” can take a lesson from some of the region’s smallest countries.

From three small countries come three big lessons for a greener, more representative and more transparent Asia. My hope for Asia 2037 is that these small nations – Bhutan, East Timor and Singapore – can inspire and show the way.

“Going green” is a phrase that has been thrown around for many years by both countries and companies. But despite the rhetoric, Asia is increasingly polluted, with man-made forest fires and smog-enveloped cities an annual occurrence. At least one Asia-Pacific nation, however, both talks the talk and walks the walk.

The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan – 790,000 people in a nation of 38,000 sq km – offers an example that its much larger neighbors (China to the north and India to the south) can learn from.

Bhutan’s leaders have put conservation at the heart of their environmental agenda, pledging to keep the country carbon neutral and writing into their constitution the requirement that 60 percent of the nation must remain forested. Other initiatives include bans on plastic bags, restrictions on private vehicles in the capital Thimphu, and a commitment to become the world’s first 100 percent organic-farming nation.

Money can’t buy you happiness

All this is in line with the philosophy of a “gross national happiness” index, as advocated by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. This approach to development goes beyond traditional economic measures, such as the gross national product, which only captures the economic value of goods and services produced. In addition to environmental conservation, the Gross National Happiness Commission also considers sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, the preservation and promotion of culture, and good governance.

East Timor votes in presidential election, signalling age of stability in Asia’s youngest nation

Another of Asia’s smallest countries, East Timor, with 1.2 million people and 14,875 sq km, offers an example of how people can move forward post conflict and take control of their own destinies, when given the chance.

I returned recently to this former Portuguese colony located on the eastern half of an island shared with Indonesia. The trip was as part of an international election observation mission from the Washington-based International Republican Institute. The East Timor government had invited observers to monitor the first parliamentary elections administered without UN oversight since the country regained independence in 2002 from Indonesia. The results were a peaceful and powerful example to many nations, big and small, still struggling to put the power of the vote in the hands of their citizens.
East Timor votes in presidential election, signalling age of stability in Asia’s youngest nation

While significant economic challenges continue, the people of this newest of Asian nations deserve praise as they progress from decades of conflict and centuries of colonialism. East Timor was ranked first in the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016 for Southeast Asia and fifth in Asia, behind the well-established democracies of Japan, South Korea, India and Taiwan.

Why Hong Kong can never be Singapore: just blame history

The densely-populated city state of Singapore, 5.6 million people on an area of only 719 sq km, is perhaps the leading example in Asia of a small nation that thinks big – and succeeds big. With one of the highest per capita gross domestic products in the world, Singapore showcases the economic benefits of transparency and the rule of law. Its neighbors would do well to adopt this nation’s embrace of free markets and free trade in their own search for drivers of growth and foreign direct investment.

Understandably, the pushback was significant when Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, recently argued that small states “must always behave like small states”, in remarks that were perceived to be a criticism of Singapore’s recent foreign policy.

Singapore did not succeed by thinking small, nor has it reached global prosperity by conforming to “small-country guidelines”. Having developed from a fishing village to a first-world country in just a few generations, Singapore also has become the leading finance and trade hub in Southeast Asia and a role model for rule of law. This prosperous Lion City is now ranked the second-easiest place in the world to do business in the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2017” report, behind New Zealand, and the seventh least-corrupt economy in the world, according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.

As a small state, should Singapore hide when ‘elephants’ fight?

Being ambitious is not a bad thing. Small in geography need not mean small-country mentality and policies.

Over the past 20 years, I have seen first-hand the accomplishments and continuing challenges of Bhutan, Singapore and East Timor. Still, as small fish in the big pond that is Asia, these three nations have futures that are by no means certain.

In the two decades ahead, Asia will continue to transform. According to United Nations estimates, India will trade places with China six years before 2030 to become the world’s most populous nation, en route to 1.66 billion people by 2050. Wealth and inequality are likely to grow, as will the risk of military conflict amid competing demands for energy, water and other resources. Paradoxically, a more populous Asia dominated by large nations might also prove “smaller” as trade and technology further link the ­region.

All share a vision for an Asia-Pacific that is prosperous and at peace in 2037. Much, though, will depend on the world’s biggest powers and the region’s largest nations.

Here’s a prediction. Large countries will seek, in the years ahead, to apply economic or military pressure to shape their smaller neighbors’ behavior and policies – no different than today. Asia and the Pacific, however, will be better off if all nations adopt some modern-day, “small state ideas” offered up by Bhutan, East Timor and Singapore – namely, the embrace of a greener, more representative and more transparent future for all their citizens. That ideally will ring true in both Hong Kong and Beijing one day.

Back to the Future: Reagan, Trump and Bipartisan Tax Reform

September 29, 2017

Stuart E. Eizenstat (Ambassador to the European Union, 1993-1996)

Cross posted from The Hill

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With the startling, positive outreach to the congressional Democratic leadership to forge an agreement on short-term funding of the government to avert a shutdown, increasing the debt ceiling and funding Hurricane Harvey relief, followed by further efforts to enlist Democrats on immigration reform and tax reform, the door is now more open than seemed possible for President Trump to create a bipartisan coalition for tax reform and tax cuts, just as Republican icon Ronald Reagan did in 1986. While Trump in 1991 told Congress the 1986 tax act was an “absolute catastrophe” because it closed real estate loopholes important to his business, as president he has warmly endorsed it.

The 1986 Tax Reform Act, signed by President Reagan almost exactly 31 years ago, was the first across-the-board tax reduction for everyone since the Kennedy tax cuts, and there have been none since. President Carter tried and failed to pass a comprehensive tax reform bill in 1978-’79, even with a heavily Democratic Congress.

The essence of the Reagan plan, embraced by the Democratic leadership that controlled the Congress, was to create a fairer, simpler tax system, with lower rates and fewer tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations, that did not inflate the budget deficit. By appealing to Democrats with the liberal idea of closing tax loopholes, shelters and deductions for the wealthy, with the conservative Republican philosophy of lowering tax rates, he forged a bipartisan coalition.

The act lowered personal and corporate tax rates, while remaining revenue neutral by broadening the tax base through eliminating tens of billions of dollars in tax loopholes for the wealthy and corporations. It also lowered the capital gains rate from 20 percent to 28 percent, agreeing with Democrats that capital gains generally benefiting the wealthy should be taxed at the same rate as ordinary income from workers — the heart of Reagan’s and now Trump’s blue-collar support. Reagan said in championing the bill that he wanted to “close the unproductive loopholes that allow some of the truly wealthy to avoid paying their fair share.”

It exempted millions of low-income families from a federal income tax by expanding the standard deduction, personal exemption and earned income tax credit; it drastically reduced the number of tax brackets, with the top rate for individuals cut from 50 percent to 28 percent; and it slashed corporate tax rates from 48 percent to 34 percent, paid for by eliminating or reducing corporate tax breaks.

Since the 1986 act, presidents and successive Congresses have eroded some, but not all, of its benefits. Scores of special, targeted tax breaks and shelters have been passed. The top tax rate for individuals has now increased to 39.6 percent, and the number of brackets has jumped to six.

For sure, President Trump is in the Oval Office in a different era: the middle of American politics has eroded; both parties are more partisan, less willing to compromise, and more subject to pressures from their left and right flanks. Yet even liberal champion Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) voted for the 1986 Act.

Trump’s approval ratings are under 40 percent — far below Reagan’s. It will be harder to close loopholes to offset the revenue loss from tax cuts, and congressional Republican leaders seem less interested in doing so, relying upon “dynamic scoring” — that somehow tax cuts will produce so much more economic growth, tax revenues will magically close the deficit, something which has never been shown to happen.

The Republican leadership is so anxious to pass a tax bill by the end of the year, it will leave little room for the kinds of reforms Reagan and the congressional Democrats achieved to earn the tax cuts. If there is a 2017 tax bill, it is likely to be almost all tax cuts, with no tax reforms to broaden the base.

Still, there are important lessons to be learned from Ronald Reagan’s approach.

He announced his intention for comprehensive tax reform in his 1984 State of the Union message, almost a year before he submitted his proposals, so it was well thought through, and went through a lengthy odyssey in Congress, with full hearings, markups and deliberation. While Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn have been assiduously working on a tax bill for several months, speed seems to be a key goal for both the administration and the Republican leadership, to have one major victory before the end of the first session. This will almost certainly lead to cuts without Reagan-type tax reforms.

Ronald Reagan also courted Democrats, including Speaker Tip O’Neill (Mass.), Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (Ill.), and Rep. Richard Gephardt (Mo.) and Sen. Bill Bradley (N.J.), who already had a similar bill in the hopper, working with the politically gifted Treasury Secretary James Baker. Trump got off on the wrong foot by threatening Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill to support the principals of the tax proposal he presented in her home state. But he has recently rectified this with a sincere outreach to a number of key Democratic leaders, as Ronald Reagan did.

There are substantial hurdles to forge a bipartisan consensus: Democrats are insisting that most of the individual tax cuts be focused on the middle class, and that deep tax reductions be paid for by loophole closings; Republicans are intent on deep corporate and upper income individual tax cuts, with little reforms to pay for them. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center indicates the Trump plan could add over $3 trillion to the deficit in the first 10 years alone, and that 40 percent of the cuts would go to the top 1 percent of earners.

But still, as in 1986, there is broad, bipartisan recognition that:

  • our tax system is too complex and unfair;
  • that reducing high marginal tax rates can encourage taxpayers to lessen reliance on tax shelters;
  • that our corporate tax system in the globalized world economy leaves U.S. corporations at a competitive disadvantage, with the highest marginal tax rates among OECD countries — although far lower actual rates, with all the special tax breaks — encouraging them to invest in low tax states abroad;
  • that U.S. corporations should be encouraged to bring back the more than $2.5 trillion they have parked abroad and make job-creating investments rather than use them for stock dividends and share buybacks;
  • that individual tax brackets should be narrowed; and
  • that the tax code favors debt over equity, by allowing deductions for interest but double-taxing corporate equity income.

The most important lesson from 1986 is that Ronald Reagan showed consistent leadership at key points when the bill seemed doomed, going to Capitol Hill, writing letters to wary Republican members, and using his bully pulpit to stay on message about its importance to audiences around the country. This will be a major test for President Trump, to see if he has absorbed Reagan’s lessons. By indicating to Democrats that he does not want to focus his tax cuts on the wealthy, he is sending a powerful signal. The tax debate is also a test for the Democratic leadership to rise to the occasion, as they did in reaching agreement with Ronald Reagan three decades ago.

America Needs More Ambassadors and We Need Them Now

September 29, 2017

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

Cross posted from FoxNews.com

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America stands in the midst of great challenges at home and threats from abroad. If we fail in our duty to sustain and foster stronger ties between nations, then we run the risk of fracturing centuries-old alliances that have served to keep our people safe and prosperous.

The president of the United States – in addition to his duties as commander-in-chief, healer-in-chief and chief executive – is also our chief diplomat. In this capacity, he is granted the constitutional responsibility of appointing ambassadors to serve as our top representatives on the ground in nearly 200 nations across the globe.

Our ambassadors represent our eyes and ears inside each of these nations, overseeing a team of career diplomats and representatives of vital U.S. organizations. The diplomatic corps represents the best exchange program America has to offer, and it is up to our ambassadors to lobby for our interests with presidents, chancellors, kings and prime ministers in each of these countries.

Yet, according to the American Foreign Service Association, only 47 ambassadors out of 188 positions we should have filled have been nominated. On average, it has taken three months for Trump administration ambassador nominees to be confirmed from the time they are nominated.

With aggression from North Korea and Russia on the rise, and stability in the Middle East in short supply, our current lack of ambassadors hinders friendships, imperils economic development and undermines our national security.

It is in America’s best interest that the Trump administration move swiftly to name ambassadors to these vacant posts. It is also incumbent upon Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to heed the president’s calls for bipartisanship and come together and swiftly confirm them.

Ambassadors come from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds. They are strong leaders, pragmatic negotiators and skilled managers with tremendous experience. They are recruited from both the public and private sectors and carry with them a vast portfolio of knowledge and important relationships that have been accumulated over decades.

From governors, to real estate magnates, to professional football team owners and educators, every ambassador is different from the next, and each brings his or her own personal touch to the countries they are stationed in. Foreign service officers are conducting yeoman’s work, and they rightly deserve to be praised for it. However, it is our ambassadors who bear the blessing of the president.

To his credit, President Trump has already nominated some exemplary statesmen to serve on behalf of our nation’s interests abroad. Jon Huntsman, Terry Branstad and Richard Grenell are highly capable and more than prepared to serve with distinction in Russia, China and Germany.

Taken together, their experience in government and business will help grow and maintain goodwill for America, foster relationships with international corporations, and illustrate to friend and foe alike that the United States is prepared to bring the full force of our diplomacy efforts to international crises.

Having served as ambassador to the Republic of Hungary from 2001-2003, I know that ambassadors are the best conduit to serve on the front lines of protecting and promoting American interests in an increasingly interconnected world.

I began my work in Budapest 15 days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. With a staff of over 400 people, we helped further economic and security interests, and even developed stronger cultural ties between our nations through art and humanitarian causes, including a march over the Chain Bridge in Budapest to raise awareness for breast cancer.

If America wants to have more friends, then we must be a friend first. With aggression from North Korea and Russia on the rise, and stability in the Middle East in short supply, our current lack of ambassadors hinders friendships, imperils economic development and undermines our national security.

President Trump offered a forceful speech and candid assessment of world affairs at the U.N. General Assembly. Congress must work with him to nominate and confirm more ambassadors as quickly as possible.

Nancy Brinker is founder of Susan G. Komen and Race for the Cure.

Save the INF Treaty–but not by repeating history

September 14, 2017

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

Bernadette Stadler (Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

Cross posted from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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In 1983, the United States began deploying ground-based intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. The deployment caused the Soviets to walk out of ongoing arms control negotiations. But it also led to the negotiation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the elimination of an entire class of missiles from the arsenals of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Thirty-odd years later, as the United States contends with a Russian violation of the INF treaty, some experts and policy makers have urged Washington to develop its own treaty-violating missile and to help allies—who are not bound by the treaty—acquire the new missile. Indeed, Congress is currently considering legislation calling for the United States to develop a program of record for a missile that, if tested, would violate the treaty. But even if the United States retraced all the steps it took during the initial INF Treaty negotiations—including the deployment of intermediate-range missiles in Europe—it could not recreate the underlying conditions that allowed the negotiations to succeed in the first place. Only a clear understanding of today’s underlying conditions can shape an effective response to Moscow’s treaty violation.

How it happened. In the late 1970s, the Soviet Union deployed in Europe an accurate, road-mobile, intermediate-range ballistic missile equipped with multiple independently targetable warheads. The missile, known as the SS-20, sparked concern within NATO. The SS-20 system appeared to be a nuclear war–fighting weapon, as opposed to a weapon of deterrence, and was regarded as a huge threat to the alliance.

In 1979, NATO responded with a “double-track” strategy, which entailed engaging the Soviet Union in negotiations on theater nuclear forces while simultaneously preparing to deploy US intermediate-range missiles in Europe if negotiations failed. Though the US missiles that were eventually deployed are often perceived solely as a response to the deployment of the SS-20, they were also intended to reassure NATO allies concerned that arms control treaties, including a new Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II), would weaken US extended deterrence.

The US-Soviet negotiations that ultimately resulted in the INF Treaty began in 1980, but neither side seemed to take the talks particularly seriously. Rather, NATO’s European members were the driving force behind the negotiations. Though they never had a seat at the bargaining table, European NATO members knew they faced an uphill battle in persuading their citizens to accept US missiles if diplomacy failed—and therefore they wished to see it succeed. The United States had less skin in the game and might have let the negotiations languish without NATO pressure. On the Soviet side, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev was not willing to accept limitations on his nation’s very large force of intermediate-range missiles. And the Soviets were optimistic that public opposition to US missiles in Europe might prevent their deployment.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan inherited the INF negotiations and announced an ambitious new vision for the talks: the “zero option,” under which the United States would deploy no intermediate-range missiles in Europe if the Soviet Union eliminated its own intermediate-range missiles. Brezhnev rejected this proposal as one-sided because it would require the Soviet Union to dismantle existing weapons while the United States would only have to forgo deploying new ones. In 1983, with no progress achieved on the diplomatic track, the United States began deploying Tomahawk cruise missiles and Pershing II ballistic missiles in Europe. In response, the Soviets walked out of the negotiations—which only resumed in early 1985.

Shortly after the negotiations restarted, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power. In contrast to his predecessors, who attempted to achieve foreign policy objectives by increasing Soviet military might, Gorbachev believed that security could be based on political measures, including arms control. Under Gorbachev, the Soviet military’s influence over foreign policy weakened, and the Politburo even re-evaluated the SS-20 and concluded that it was militarily irrelevant. Under Gorbachev, the INF negotiations gained pace.

In 1986, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Reykjavik to discuss arms control. The leaders made remarkable progress—almost finalizing an agreement that would have, in principle, eliminated all nuclear weapons. Though they were unable to achieve this lofty goal, they built momentum for the INF talks, which concluded with the signing of the treaty in December 1987.

What’s different now. The INF Treaty was the product of a specific moment in history, and its successful negotiation depended on a number of conditions that do not pertain today. First, NATO countries played an important role in influencing US actions during the negotiations. Members of the alliance, West Germany in particular, pushed the United States to deploy missiles in Europe to solidify US extended deterrence and counter the Soviet threat. European leaders pushed for deployment even though they faced enormous pressure from politicians at home who opposed the introduction of missiles into Europe, as well as from the public, which was deeply antinuclear.

Today, NATO countries seem ambivalent about Russia’s INF violation. The United States, in order to protect sources and methods, has thus far been unable to share with its NATO allies in-depth information about the violation. Some allies have been reluctant to confront Russia until they see more evidence.

Even if they possessed all the information, members of the alliance would be reluctant to accept new nuclear weapons systems on their territory. Five NATO states—Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and Luxembourg—have previously called for the United States to remove from Europe its approximately 150 to 200 tactical nuclear weapons. Some observers have speculated that NATO’s newest members might accept US missiles on their territory, but since NATO decisions are made by consensus, the whole alliance would have to support the decision to deploy missiles.

Furthermore, negotiations toward the INF Treaty succeeded in part because of the personal characteristics of Soviet and US leaders at the time. Unlike his predecessors, Gorbachev favored an improved relationship with the West and believed that arms control negotiations could contribute to Soviet security. Gorbachev and Reagan also seemed to hold nuclear weapons in a different regard than did other Cold Warriors. Reagan famously pronounced that “[A] nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Gorbachev called for the “complete elimination of nuclear weapons.” Although some dismiss these stances as political posturing, the attempts by Reagan and Gorbachev to rid the world of nuclear weapons at Reykjavik demonstrated their commitment to disarmament.

US and Russian leaders today are substantially different from Reagan and Gorbachev. President Donald Trump has professed to want better relations with Russia, but he has also been the subject of intensive investigation into potential collusion with Russia during his presidential campaign. His independence in dealing with Russia has been further stymied by anti-Russia sentiment in Congress, which recently passed sanctions against Moscow. While President Vladimir Putin appears to have a positive personal relationship with Trump, he thrives on competition with the United States and may count on it for political survival. Furthermore, neither Trump nor Putin has expressed any particular affinity for arms control.

What to do. Conditions have changed since the INF Treaty was negotiated, but saving the treaty and preventing a new SS-20–like threat to Europe are not impossible. The United States, in order to bring Russia back into compliance, will have to adopt strategies that are specifically tailored to the conditions that exist today—conditions that include possible NATO reluctance to host new nuclear-capable weapons systems and Putin’s aggressive approach to foreign affairs.

One possible approach involves capitalizing on Russia’s refusal to admit that it is in violation of the treaty, despite its having been presented with evidence of the infraction—and Moscow’s preference, if the treaty is indeed to fail, that blame land on the United States. Unfortunately, that is precisely where blame would land if Washington were to develop an intermediate-range missile system that, if tested and deployed, would violate the treaty. If, on the other hand, the United States shared with its allies indisputable evidence of Russia’s violation, pressure on Moscow to come back into compliance would mount. In addition to publicizing Russia’s violation, the United States should also offer Russia a way to save face and return to compliance without having to admit a violation.

If the time ever comes for the United States to remind Russia just how much it hated the deployment of US missiles in Europe, it could do so without violating the INF Treaty. Steven Pifer, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, has suggested that the United States could deploy additional conventional air- and sea-launched cruise missiles to Europe. These systems exhibit several advantages: They would not violate the INF Treaty, which only covers ground-based systems; they are already in the US arsenal; and they would be easy to remove if Russia returned to compliance.

The original negotiations toward the INF Treaty offer valuable lessons about handling Russia’s violation of the agreement—but simply matching Russia’s violation with a new violation is not a viable solution. Negotiations succeed and fail for a number of complex reasons, including who is in power, who is at the table, and how the international community views (and whether it supports) the negotiations. To save the INF Treaty, the United States must develop strategies that both acknowledge—and take advantage of—circumstances that exist today.

The U.S. Should Take a Lesson from Hungary

September 7, 2017

April H. Foley (U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, 2006-2009)

This Letter to the Editor originally appeared in

The Wall Street Journal

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The US should take a lesson from Hungary when it comes to unwanted statues. After the fall of communism, Hungarians were angrily destroying Soviet statues. The government wisely decided to move them all to a museum/park called Memento Park. Students of history can now visit these haunting symbols of fallen communism and a most despised era and value system.

Tea Leaves: Progress on the Bumpy Road to Democracy

September 1, 2017

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

Cross posted from the Nikkei Asian Review

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A decade ago, I traveled to East Timor, also known as Timor-Leste, to look at the condition of roads and other infrastructure in Asia’s newest country. I was working with the Asian Development Bank at the time, and returned in 2010 for a follow-up visit. It was not until July this year that I returned again — this time as an independent election observer, to witness firsthand the country’s ongoing journey to democracy.

Just like the country’s roads, that voyage remains a work in progress, undoubtedly with more bumps and twists along the way. But in a world awash with cynicism, and with democracy under pressure in so many countries, I found hope in this young nation of some 1.2 million people.

The parliamentary election that I observed and a presidential poll held in March were the first run without international assistance since a United Nations mission left in 2012. A Portuguese colony for 273 years until 1975, East Timor was forcibly occupied by neighboring Indonesia until 1999, and regained its independence only in 2002 after a transition administered by the U.N.

My election day began before dawn, to the sound of roosters, in the small mountain town of Ainaro, where I stayed in a guesthouse a short walk from a beautiful colonial church. For most of the day, with my interpreter Arianto, our driver Angelo and a smartphone app that showed polling stations, I traveled on roads good and bad, and crossed rivers on bridges new and old, throughout the region.

Ainaro district, some 4-5 hours’ drive from the capital Dili, is a special place. Here, Xanana Gusmao, who would become the first president of East Timor, spent many years directing resistance to Indonesian occupation. During World War II, Ainaro was where Imperial Japan’s efforts to conquer this region came to an end.

In contrast to the mayhem and violence back then, the scenes I saw were festive and peaceful. Voters waited quietly at polling stations that opened promptly at 7 a.m. Until the polls closed early afternoon I saw voters coming on foot, by motorcycle and by bus or truck to cast their votes. Young or old, each showed a voter identification card, had his or her name confirmed on voter rolls and entered an election booth to mark a choice from some 21 political parties. A nail was provided to punch a hole in the ballot. Afterward, each voter dipped an index finger into a well of indelible ink to help prevent double voting.

Weeks later, national pride in what happened on that sunny Saturday election day can still be sensed, even as political parties jockey for position in the formation of a new government. “Once again, we have shown the world that Timor-Leste is a democratic country,” my interpreter, and now friend, Arianto Martins de Jesus told me. “The election has brought new hope for Timor-Leste’s people, no matter who leads the government.”

As with all governments — democratically elected or not — a key challenge will be delivering on people’s hopes. Running an election can be the easy part, in contrast to forming a government and running a country. But hope there is, even if at first glance East Timor is struggling on several fronts. Poverty remains high, as does youth unemployment. Oil and gas reserves, the government’s primary source of revenue, could well be depleted by 2022.

Yet notable strides have been made in the last decade to improve living conditions and increase economic opportunities. The Dili I visited in July is a far cry from the one I first saw a decade ago. Plans for East Timor’s first internationally branded hotel, a Hilton, have just been announced, and the international franchises Burger King and Gloria Jean’s Coffees are already in Dili. The infant mortality rate has almost halved since East Timor regained independence, and malaria cases have declined dramatically. Although not all in the region yet agree, East Timor’s accession to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is richly deserved, and would help to lock in progress.

Before making the long road trip back to the capital after election day, I stopped in the old church in Ainaro and caught the start of Sunday service. Much was in the local language, but now and then I heard the word “Alleluia.” Praise and celebration were certainly in order. There may be challenging times ahead for East Timor, but the country’s commitment to the rule of law, peace and democracy bodes well for its future. This tiny young nation is an example to much larger neighbors which are still struggling, or even stalling, on their own bumpy paths to democracy.

NAFTA 2.0: Let the ‘Games’ Begin

August 25, 2017

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

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

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The NAFTA talks kicked off this past week in Washington DC, with negotiators from the three countries outlining their visions for improving trilateral trade. While the mood appeared to be generally constructive, tensions surfaced as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer repeated the Trump administration’s focus on reducing trade deficits. The negotiators will sit down next in Mexico City on September 1st to continue hashing out the details on this point and others, but even if they can successfully produce a NAFTA 2.0 by early next year they may still face the biggest challenge of all. As I wrote about for Texas Monthly, the toughest part of redesigning NAFTA may not be determining the agreement’s content but managing the political risk both during and after the process.

With the 23-year old NAFTA in a vulnerable position, it’s worth taking a step back and remembering what is at stake. While far from perfect, the trade agreement guides the cross-border exchange of billions of dollars in agricultural products, motor vehicles, and appliances. It underpins millions of jobs from California to Kansas to Maine, and is the framework for entire industries’ business models. If NAFTA suddenly disappears, it would be impossible for the three region’s economies to exit unscathed. The disruptions that come from businesses’ reshuffling their operations and absorbing higher costs would cause some to shut down and others to pass along the costs to consumers through higher prices. There are ways to gradually adjust the agreement to make it work better for all parties, but this requires using proverbial scalpels to adjust, finesse, and stabilize the agreement, rather than a hammer to smash the parts that aren’t working quite right.

Yet in Mexico, the NAFTA talks are only one of the big news stories, as the country is already beginning its 2018 presidential and congressional election preparations. While the campaigns don’t kick off until next year, Mexico’s National Electoral Institute and Congress have allocated funding for political parties (unlike the United States, Mexico uses public funds for campaign financing), capping off campaign financing at the highest levels ever. There is a general sense that Ándres Manuel López Obrador is the frontrunner, but the jockeying among presidential hopefuls in the PRI and PAN parties is just beginning. For those reading the political tea leaves, changes in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI will now allow individuals from outside the party to become a presidential candidate, in a move that would appear to favor the current Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade. But with just under a year to go and a deep bench of contenders, there surely will be many twists and turns to come.

For those of you in South Texas or interested in local border issues, it’s worth tuning in to two upcoming construction projects. The first project is for a section of border wall that will cut straight through cross-border Santa Ana Wildlife Reserve and the second are LNG export terminals set to be constructed in the Port of Brownsville. These projects raise significant economic and environmental issues, and unfortunately—as I write about here—local residents’ voices and concerns have so far been given short shrift.

Why Timor-Leste Deserves to Join ASEAN

August 23, 2017

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

Cross-posted from The Japan Times

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Fifty years since its establishment, it is time for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to welcome another member into its midst—with Japan’s support.

The recent meeting of Southeast Asian foreign ministers in the Philippines drew more attention than usual to its concluding communique. More so than in past versions, this year’s ASEAN concluding joint statement made clear the grouping of 10 nations’ hopes for a demilitarized South China Sea. In one paragraph, the communique also noted “the importance of maintaining and promoting peace, security, safety and freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea.” While not explicitly named, China was very clearly the focus of attention.

Garnering much less attention was the single paragraph that “noted Timor-Leste’s application for ASEAN membership and looked forward to the continued discussion” about reports and capacity building regarding that small Southeast Asian island nation’s longstanding efforts to join the regional bloc.

That’s unfortunate. ASEAN should welcome the accession of Timor-Leste, just as Laos and Myanmar were welcomed in 1997, and Cambodia in 1999.

I had the privilege of serving as an election monitor for Timor-Leste’s recent parliamentary election as part of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) election observation mission. I was struck by the passionate commitment of the Timorese people to the democratic process, and inspired by their optimism about their country’s future. I believe that the country is in a strong position to continue progressing in its own development and make a positive contribution to the development of Southeast Asia. Timor-Leste deserves ASEAN support for its efforts to further integrate and engage with the wider region.

After regaining independence from Indonesia in 2002, Timor-Leste declared its desire to join ASEAN and applied for membership in 2011. While its ultimate accession is likely, there is a chance that the delays that have arisen over the past six years may persist indefinitely. Such a development would not only deprive the Timorese of a chance for further development; ASEAN would forgo an opportunity to welcome a country that can serve as a valuable example of a successful democracy to fellow members.

Over the past 15 years, Timor-Leste has grown into a well-functioning democracy where citizens actively engage with their government. The country was ranked as the most democratic in Southeast Asia by the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2016 Democracy Index, and 43rd in the world—an impressive feat given the country’s traumatic experience during the 24-year Indonesian occupation.

One of the important ways Timor-Leste has been able to deliver sustainable democratic reforms has been through its openness to regional and international support. To this end, organizations like IRI have worked with civil society, government bodies and political parties to help them represent Timorese citizens responsively and effectively. IRI has worked in the country since 2002, and its assistance has been an important contributor to the country’s democratic consolidation.

Likewise, when I served as the U.S. ambassador to the Asian Development Bank and traveled to Timor-Leste in years past, I saw the importance of regional and international economic assistance to this and other developing countries first-hand. The ADB has supported infrastructure expansion, macroeconomic capacity-building and community-based development in Timor-Leste, and is well-positioned to assist not just in improving the country’s roads, but also its water supply and sanitation systems. I grew to appreciate the complementary nature of different types of development assistance, and found that the aid provided by the ADB complements the assistance provided by groups like IRI, and vice-versa.

As ASEAN continues to grow in importance, it is vital that its members collectively pursue policies that advance the region’s development in a sustainable manner. At a time when democracy is backsliding in the region, Timor-Leste’s accession to ASEAN would provide the region with a valuable example of how citizen-centered democracy can deliver a more prosperous and stable future.

Additionally, Timor-Leste’s accession to ASEAN would be economically beneficial to the region. Despite its small size, Timor represents a relatively untapped market for Southeast Asian trade; likewise, the region represents a largely untapped market for Timorese goods. In short, this would be a win-win situation for the region, and an important example for how inclusive economic development can sustain growth that benefits all.

During the lead-up to the election, election administrators, political parties and other stakeholders worked collaboratively to ensure a credible electoral process. This commitment to the rule of law and democratic institutions bodes extremely well for Timor-Leste’s potential as a cooperative and responsible member of ASEAN. My experience travelling through this small yet vibrant nation has driven home the benefits for all of proceeding with Timor-Leste’s accession.

Now is a time for coming together. We owe no less to the many people who across Asia’s newest nation proudly held up an indelibly-inked finger as a mark and proof of democracy in action.

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.