Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

Will Ron Johnson learn to love the bomb or start worrying?

December 14, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross posted from Madison.com

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Today in Oslo the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its role in getting the U.N. General Assembly to propose for ratification a treaty to outlaw the use of nuclear weapons — a move approved in July by 122 nonnuclear nations.

Today in Washington a staff person at the White House is busy dotting i’s and crossing t’s to finish an update of the Nuclear Posture Review ordered by President Trump. It will endorse a new class of more “usable” weapons and, couched in benign language, a new rationale for a president to order a first strike.

Today in the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate there is a proposal to limit the president’s power to launch a first strike by requiring that he consult in advance with the secretaries of Defense and State and the attorney general, who would have to state that the first strike is legal. Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson is a member of the committee.

Today the president could alone launch Armageddon and announce it in a tweet.

The movement in the Foreign Relations Committee is prompted by the mercurial nature of President Trump. It is the first time in 40 years there is a discussion in Congress on the use and utility of nuclear weapons.

New weapons, like a low-yield warhead for a ballistic missile or nuclear-tipped Tomahawk sea-launched cruise missiles, will increase the “thinkability” of their use because fewer people would be killed.

To understand, watch the war room scene on YouTube of the film “Dr. Stangelove Or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb,” in which General Buck Turgidson (played by George C. Scott) is pitching a first strike on the Soviet Union to President Merkin Muffley (played by Peter Sellers) and promises “10 to 20 million casualties tops.”

Sen. Johnson is a Republican and I am a Democrat, but we share Norwegian heritage and a Lutheran upbringing and with that comes an optimism that prevails in the face of all facts to the contrary.

The Nobel Peace Prize being given to ICAN today provides hope. My friend former Defense Secretary William J. Perry at age 90 is vigorously advocating for the control of nuclear weapons (www.wjperryproject.org). And the new Outrider Foundation in Madison will soon launch a public education interactive website on the threat of nuclear weapons. I am a board member (www.outriderfoundation.org).

Nuclear weapons policy is rarely presented to voters, but it has been. I was one of many members of the Wisconsin Legislature to sponsor a resolution to put on the ballot in September 1982 a referendum in support of a freeze on nuclear weapons.

It read: “Shall the Secretary of State of Wisconsin inform the President and the Congress of the United States that it is the desire of the people of Wisconsin to have the government of the United States work vigorously to negotiate a mutual nuclear weapons moratorium and reduction, with appropriate verification, with the Soviet Union and other nations?”

The referendum passed with a 75 percent vote. Much of what it called for came to pass in the START treaties.

I urge Sen. Johnson to recognize the need to restrain the power of the president to launch a first strike, and the peril of any policy that would create more “usable” nuclear weapons. Instead, I hope he is inspired by the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize being awarded today to a group seeking to abolish nuclear weapons from the face of the earth.

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The National Security Emergency We’re Not Talking About

November 30, 2017

Madeleine K. Albright (Secretary of State, 1997-2001; United Nations, 1993-1997)

Cross posted from the New York Times

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America’s diplomatic professionals have issued a dire warning about the crisis facing the State Department: Scores of top diplomats, including some of our highest-ranked career Foreign Service officers, have left the agency at “a dizzying speed” over the past 10 months.

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” wrote former ambassador Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA).

As a former secretary of state, I agree. This is not a story that has two sides. It is simply a fact that the United States relies on diplomacy as our first line of defense — to cement alliances, build coalitions, address global problems and find ways to protect our interests without resorting to military force. When we must use force, as in the fight against the Islamic State, our diplomats ensure that we can do so effectively and with the cooperation of other countries.

Change within the Foreign Service and the State Department’s civil service is not unusual. In fact, the system is designed to bring in fresh blood on a regular basis. There is, however, a big difference between a transfusion and an open wound. There is nothing normal about the current exodus. President Trump is aware of the situation and has made clear that he doesn’t care: “I’m the only one that matters,” he told Fox News.

Sadly, the official who should be highlighting the State Department’s vital role has not done so. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson denied that the department is being hollowed out even while defending the president’s plan for a massive reduction in his agency’s budget. Meanwhile, for reasons that make sense only to him, Tillerson has delayed filling many of the most important diplomatic posts in Washington and overseas. All too often, foreign officials have sought to engage the department at a high level only to find no one with whom they can speak.

The administration’s disdain for diplomacy would be alarming under any circumstances, but two factors make it worse. First, while the United States is tying a rope around its feet, our competitors are running ahead. Trump’s recent trip to Asia was considered by many a success because there were no obvious disasters, but that is hardly a reassuring standard by which to judge the performance of an American commander in chief. The fact is that on trade and climate change, the U.S. government is now irrelevant; on security issues, we are ineffective; and on the use of cybertools to undercut democracy, we have a president who believes Vladimir Putin.

Second, the damage being done to America’s diplomatic readiness is both intentional and long-term. The administration isn’t hurting the State Department by accident. Tillerson maintained a freeze on hiring long after most other Cabinet officials had stopped. The number of promotions has been cut in half and the quantity of incoming Foreign Service officers by more than two-thirds. He is effectively shutting down the State Department’s pipeline for new talent.

As a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, I see the consequences of all this firsthand. In the past, my best students have come to me seeking advice on how to enter public service. Now, more and more are telling me they do not see a future for themselves in government. In some cases, this is because they disagree with administration policies, but more often it is because they fear that their efforts and pursuit of excellence would not be valued.

This was never a problem under President Barack Obama or President George W. Bush, but it is a problem now. According to AFSA, the number of individuals taking the Foreign Service exam this year is on track to plummet by more than 50 percent.

If the U.S. military were facing a recruitment and retention crisis of this magnitude, few would hesitate to call it a national security emergency. Well, that is what we are facing. And while it saddens me to criticize one of my successors, I have to speak out because the stakes are so high.

What can we do? We can support bipartisan-minded leaders in Congress who have rejected the reckless cuts the administration proposed in our country’s budget for international affairs. We can amplify these warnings about the hollowing out of the State Department. We can strengthen our case by enlisting business leaders who understand the importance of the work our embassies do across the globe. We can help young people understand that time is sure to bring new leaders with more enlightened ideas about the importance of diplomacy and development to the interests and values of the American people.

Whenever my students ask me whether they should serve in government under this administration, I remind them that the reason we love America so much is that, here, the government is not one man or woman. The government is us, and public service is both a great privilege and a shared responsibility. This is our republic. We must do all we can to keep it strong.

Dismantling the Foreign Service

November 28, 2017

R. Nicholas Burns (Greece, 1997-2001; NATO, 2001-2005; Under Secretary for Political Affairs, 2005-2008)

Ryan Crocker (Lebanon, 1990-1993; Kuwait, 1994-1997; Syria, 1998-2001; Pakistan, 2004-2007; Iraq, 2007-2009; Afghanistan, 2011-2012)

Cross posted from The New York Times

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The Foreign Service, our country’s irreplaceable asset for understanding and interacting with a complex and dangerous world, is facing perhaps its greatest crisis. President Trump’s draconian budget cuts for the State Department and his dismissive attitude toward our diplomats and diplomacy itself threaten to dismantle a great foreign service just when we need it most.

The United States is facing an extraordinary set of national security challenges. While we count on our military ultimately to defend the country, our diplomats are with it on front lines and in dangerous places around the world. They are our lead negotiators as we work with our European allies in NATO to contain growing Russian power on the Continent. They are our lead negotiators seeking a peaceful end to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Our diplomats are assembling the coalition of countries in East Asia to counter the irresponsible regime of the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un.

Foreign Service officers in more than 280 embassies and consulates aid American citizens in trouble overseas, help American companies overcome unfair barriers to trade and investment, coordinate counterterrorism and narcotics programs and manage development and humanitarian aid to distressed countries.

Diplomats negotiate the landing and basing arrangements for American troops overseas, such as at Central Command’s major Middle East base in Qatar. Our strongest and smartest presidents have known that integrating our diplomatic and military strategies is the most effective way to succeed in the world today.

Both of us served overseas and in Washington for decades as career diplomats. We were ambassadors during both Republican and Democratic administrations. We are proud of the nonpartisan culture of our brethren at the State Department. President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson can count on them to work tirelessly, loyally and with great skill for our country.

But we are concerned the Trump administration is weakening the Foreign Service by a series of misguided decisions since taking office. It has proposed a 31 percent budget reduction for the State Department that would cripple its global reach. It has failed to fill the majority of the most senior ambassadorial positions in Washington and overseas. It is on track to take the lowest number of new officers into the service in years.

It has even nominated a former officer with a scant eight years of experience to be the director general of the Foreign Service, the chief of its personnel system. The nonpartisan American Academy of Diplomacy (of which we both are members) advised Congress that this would be “like making a former Army captain the chief of staff of the Army.”

As a result, many of our most experienced diplomats are leaving the department. Along with the senior diplomats who were summarily fired by the Trump team early this year, we are witnessing the most significant departure of diplomatic talent in generations. The drop in morale among those who remain behind is obvious to both of us. The number of young Americans who applied to take the Foreign Service officer entry test declined by 33 percent in the past year. This is particularly discouraging and will weaken the service for years.

We are not arguing that the State Department is a perfectly functioning agency that requires no improvements. We support creating a culture of reform and renewal at the department. The Trump administration is right to look for budget and operational inefficiencies to ensure the best use of taxpayers’ money. We also agree with the American academy’s support for the elimination of more than 60 special envoy positions to save money and improve effectiveness. The Trump team should additionally consider shifting more positions from Washington to diplomatic posts overseas.

The recent decision by Mr. Tillerson to downsize the Foreign Service by up to 8 percent of the entire officer corps, however, is particularly dangerous. The Foreign Service, which has about 8,000 officers who do core diplomatic work, is a fraction of the size of the military. The service is already overwhelmed by the growing challenges to the United States on every continent. In our view, Mr. Tillerson has failed to make a convincing case as to why deep cuts will strengthen, rather than weaken, the service, and thus the nation. This is not about belt tightening. It is a deliberate effort to deconstruct the State Department and the Foreign Service.

That is why Congress must now exercise its constitutional responsibilities to overrule the most dangerous aspects of the administration’s plans. House and Senate committees must continue to oppose the huge budget cuts. Congressional committee chairmen should block the appointments of Trump nominees clearly unqualified for service. And Congress should ensure that there are sufficient funds to entice patriotic young Americans to join the Foreign Service. Senators John McCain, Republican of Arizona, and Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, are leading the bipartisan questioning of Mr. Tillerson’s hiring freeze and warning of its dire consequences.

We are ringing the village bell in alarm because Mr. Trump’s neglect of the State Department will harm our country at an already dangerous time. The Foreign Service is a jewel of the American national security establishment, with the deepest and most effective diplomatic corps in the world. All that is now at risk.

Big Lessons for Japan and America from three small countries

November 14, 2017

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

Cross posted from The Japan Times

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When Prince Akishino and his wife Princess Kiko visited Bankok late last month to attend the royal cremation of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, they joined representatives of nations large and small. Together, they all bid a final farewell to a monarch whose remarkable 70-year reign coincided with the transformation of a nation and a continent.

The destruction of World War II and that of the Korean and Vietnam Wars, as well as the tremendous economic troubles that once swept large parts of Asia starting in 1997 beginning in Thailand seemed a world away.

The story of Asia today is one driven by its largest nations and economies. A slow-growing Japan and an increasingly assertive China dominate headlines, as do the mounting tensions that continue to be a major focus of U.S. President Donald Trump’s ongoing visit to Asia.

Yet, three of the region’s smallest countries each offer up a lesson for all of “Asia rising” as well as for the United States and Japan.

First: environment matters. “Going green” is a phrase embraced for many years by both countries and companies — in words, if not action.

The small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan — 750,000 people in a nation of only 17,500 square kilometers — offers, however, an example that large nations 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.

Second, democracy must be nurtured. Another of Asia’s smallest countries, with 1.2 million people and 14,875 square kilometers, offers an example of how people can move forward post-conflict and take control of their own destinies, when given the chance.

The former Portuguese colony of Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, this year held its first parliamentary elections administered without U.N. oversight since the country regained independence in 2002 from Indonesia. The results were a peaceful and powerful example to many nations, big and small, increasingly doubtful of the wisdom of entrusting their citizens with the power to vote.

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. Timor-Leste 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.

Third, rule of law powers business. The densely populated city-state of Singapore, 5.6 million people in an area of only 719 square kilometers, is a leading example of a small nation that thinks big — and succeeds big. With one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, Singapore showcases the economic benefits of transparency and the embrace of free markets and free trade.

Singapore has not reached global prosperity by conforming to “small-country guidelines” or “thinking small.” This prosperous “Lion City” is ranked the second easiest place in the world to do business in the World Bank’s just released Doing Business 2018 report, behind New Zealand, and the seventh least corrupt economy in the world according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2016.

As small fish in the big pond that is Asia, these three nations’ futures are by no means certain in a region that will continue to transform in the decades ahead.

According to United Nations estimates, India is on track to replace China as the world’s most populous nation. Wealth and inequality likely also will continue to grow across Asia, as will the risk of military conflict amidst competing demands for energy, water and other resources, including in the South China Sea.

As Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump underscored in Tokyo, Japan and the U.S. share a vision for an Asia-Pacific that is both prosperous and at peace. Much though will depend on their actions and that of others, including China and North Korea.

Countries will continue to apply economic or military pressure to shape their smaller neighbors’ behaviors and policies — no different than today. Traditions will also endure in places such as Thailand and Japan, with their embrace of centuries-old traditions and institutions.

Asia and the Pacific, however, will be better off if all nations adopt some modern-day, “small-state ideas” offered up by Bhutan, Timor-Leste and Singapore — namely the embrace of a greener, more representative and more transparent future for all their citizens.

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.

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.

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.

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.