Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

The Crisis in U.S.-Turkish Relations

April 2, 2018

J. William Middendorf II (Netherlands, 1969-1973; European Communities, 1985)

Dan Negrea (Managing Partner, MTN Capital Partners LLC)

Cross posted from The Washington Times

Few U.S. allies have a more important strategic position than Turkey. None has a more troubled relationship with the U.S. Both countries must use prudence, patience and perseverance to repair their alliance.

Turkey is the size of Texas, has a population of 80 million, and an economy that ranks 17th in the world. Its military is the second largest in NATO, with more personnel than Germany, the U.K. and France combined.

Its strategic location is exceptional. On land it neighbors the Balkans, the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq and Syria. To its north, across the Black Sea, is Russia. Turkey’s Bosporus and Dardanelles straits control Russian naval transit from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. To its south, across the Mediterranean Sea, are Lebanon, Israel, Egypt and the Suez Canal.

Modern Turkey emerged in the 1920s from the wreckage of the Ottoman empire through the reforms of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He replaced Islamic law with legal codes from European countries. He introduced economic and educational reforms. And he established a parliamentary democracy with the armed forces as the guardian of secularism.

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Politics, NAFTA and Security Make for a Bumpy Ride

February 16, 2018

Antonio Garza (Mexico, 2002-2009)

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s newsletter

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In two weeks, North America’s NAFTA negotiators will sit down for the seventh round of negotiations in Mexico City, and Presidents Trump and Pena Nieto have announced that they too will be meeting. The teams will have a lot on their plates, as previous rounds have eked out only slow progress on all the major issues. It is a far cry from this summer’s initial ambitious agenda that promised a modernized agreement by early 2018. Although, it’s not particularly surprising, since opening up an agreement that touches almost every sector in North America’s economies is no simple task and especially so with a U.S. team that is navigating its own domestic landmines and political risk (as I’ve written about previously). We should be preparing ourselves for a much longer timeline than initially expected, with negotiations likely stretching at least through the coming months and potentially into the coming year.

Yet, time is not on the NAFTA negotiations’ side. On July 1st, Mexicans will head to the polls to elect their next president and the pre-campaigns are already in full swing. The top three candidates have been traveling the country to meet with voters and share their campaign promises. Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) is the current leader with 23 percent of the vote. Best known for his populist platforms and discourse against the political establishment, AMLO has indirectly taken a more moderate position on NAFTA. His proposed economy minister promised to continue NAFTA negotiations and not to trash or restart the modernization process. The other top contenders—PAN party candidate Ricardo Anaya and PRI candidate José Antonio Meade (with 20.4 and 18.2 percent of the vote respectively)—have also made it clear that they would continue the talks. Yet, negotiating a thorny agreement through a political transition is sure to be a precarious endeavor.

Another controversial political issue has been the future of Mexico’s 2013 energy sector opening. While Anaya and Meade have supported the reform, AMLO has been a critical opponent, previously saying that he would roll it back or put it to a referendum. Yet AMLO’s proposed Energy Minister has adopted a less extreme path, outlining his plan to build a Mexican refinery and saying that he wouldn’t tear up existing contracts. Despite the political uncertainty, private sector interest in Mexico’s energy sector has surged. The January 31 deepwater oil and gas round was the largest to date, with investors claiming 19 of the 29 fields and pledging half a billion dollars in cash-signing bonuses. Overall, investment in the sector is estimated to reach $150 billion over the course of the current contracts.

However, while NAFTA and the energy reform are two major policy concerns, Mexicans are likely paying more attention to corruption and violence levels around the country. In the latest saga, Chihuahua Governor Javier Corral recently emerged as a national voice on corruption after his team began investigating the alleged embezzlement of more than US$12 million in state funds. The money was siphoned off under the previous (and now fugitive) governor Cesar Duarte and allegedly used to fund other PRI politicians’ campaigns. The investigation into the missing money exploded onto the national scene when it began to ensnare top PRI officials and after the federal government responded by withholding from Chihuahua $36.5 million in promised funds. The standoff led Corral to criss-cross the country protesting with a “Caravan of Dignity” and with the federal government finally backing down this past Monday and delivering the money.

These corruption scandals are also taking place in the midst of Mexico’s most violent year in recorded history. The number of homicides in 2017 surged past even the bloodiest years of the Calderón administration with no signs of slowing down. The factors driving the rise in violence are likely sub-region-specific and include everything from group infighting between different factions of the Gulf Cartel in Reynosa, local groups jockeying over lucrative poppy production in Guerrero, or fighting over who gets to sell drugs where in Ciudad Juárez. Yet one thing is clear, there has not been a strong and united federal strategy for lowering the violence. Instead, the response has been reactionary, with security issues failing to garner the same high-level attention as the country’s economic issues.

In the United States, we’ve also been grappling with our own domestic issues that directly affect Mexico. This includes the DACA debate, which will go back in front of Congress next week, and the budget’s emergency funding for the United States’ opioid crisis. Two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson emphasized the importance of working together with Mexico on many issues. In a speech last week at my alma mater the University of Texas at Austin, Tillerson outlined how the United States can approach cross-border security issues by improving its own drug policies and also by providing Mexico with targeted funding and training. While bilateral discussions may get overheated at times, working together on these and other cross-border issues continues to be the best way to respond to both countries’ most pressing challenges.

North Korea’s Kim, China’s Xi both had a big year. Here’s why we should care about Asia’s 2017

January 3, 2018

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

and

Jose B. Collazo

Cross posted from Fox News

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Asia was much in the news in 2017, as North Korea’s brutal dictator Kim Jong Un surprised experts around the world with rapid progress in his weapons program, testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear bombs. The United Nations and U.S. imposed sanctions on the North, but didn’t deter Kim from continuing to make military advances.

Kim and President Trump traded insults and threats but, thankfully, avoided going to war. Hopefully, war between the two nuclear nations will be averted in the year ahead as well.

President Trump gave up on President Obama’s failed “pivot to Asia” and said the U.S. would not join the Trans Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, which had been a top priority of the Obama administration. The new U.S. president instead embraced an “America First” foreign policy that amounted to a “pivot to America.”

So who was up and who was down in Asia in 2017? Here’s our assessment:

Worst Year: Aung San Suu Kyi and the Rohingya people

Once touted as a successful example of U.S. diplomatic engagement, the country now known as Myanmar – but still called Burma by many – was plunged into ethnic conflict in 2017 when the military in the primarily Buddhist nation launched attacks on the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority.

One-time democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now serving as state councilor (akin to prime minister) has drawn international criticism for standing by as more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh following rapes, murders and the burning of their villages.

Whether a humanitarian and human rights nightmare or a clear case of “ethnic cleansing” – as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has described it – the world has failed to effectively respond to Myanmar’s brutal treatment of an entire people.

Unfortunately, the year ahead doesn’t yet look any better for Suu Kyi or the Rohingya – sadly, the joint “winners” of worst year in Asia in 2017.

Bad Year: The Political Opposition

Incumbent leaders and parties in much of Asia, from India to Japan, solidified their lock on power. Opposition parties fared badly.

One-party rule continued in China, Vietnam and Laos. And in Cambodia, a Supreme Court ruling has effectively dissolved the only credible major opposition party. The result? Cambodian leader Hun Sen is likely to continue as the world’s longest serving prime minister for some time.

Elsewhere, Thailand’s return to democracy remains on hold after a May 2014 coup. And in Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party scored impressive election results, swamping the nascent “Party of Hope” of popular Tokyo mayor Yuriko Koike. Incumbency does have its advantages.

A Mixed Year at Best: ASEAN

The year 2017 proved both good and bad for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asia Nations, or ASEAN. A visit by President Trump and a seemingly budding bromance between the U.S. and Filipino presidents helped mark 50th anniversary celebrations for ASEAN in Manila in November.

The Southeast Asian region, with a combined gross domestic product equivalent to $2.4 trillion, is now the seventh-largest economy in the world and on track to become the fourth-largest economy by 2050. That’s good news for American businesses from Texas to Washington investing in and selling to this booming region.

But 2017 also made clear that the association’s non-confrontational, consensus-building approach – deemed the “ASEAN Way” – may well be facing a mid-life crisis in the face of China’s growing investment and assertiveness.

While ASEAN celebrates 50 years of growing prosperity, some of the region’s most pressing problems, including the Rohingya crisis and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, have also continued to fester if not grow.

Good Year: Asia’s Fintech Pioneers

As in America, technology from e-commerce to mobile banking continues to transform Asia and create vast new fortunes. Not everyone though can be a Jack Ma, the storied Chinese billionaire and co-founder of Alibaba Group. Nor can every company be an Ant Financial Services Group, the Alibaba-affiliated payments company described by The Economist as “the world’s most valuable fintech firm.”

But 2017 proved to be a good year for Asia’s pioneers in fintech – a catch-all buzzword for the financial technology that is challenging and reshaping mainstream banking and finance companies.

In the third quarter of 2017 alone, according to consulting firm KPMG, Asia was the global leader in fintech investment, outpacing Europe and the Americas, with more than $1.21 billion raised.

And with companies looking to serve the region’s “unbanked” – only 27 percent of Southeast Asia’s 600 million people have a bank account – what was a good year for fintech is likely to only get better in 2018.

Best Year: Xi Jinping & Kim Jong Un

There’s a new Mao in town. “Best Year” in Asia goes to: the leader of the most populous nation, China; and the leader of arguably the region’s most frightening nation, North Korea.

In 2017, Xi Jinping solidified his rule as China’s most powerful leader in decades at the Communist Party Congress. Progress also continued on two landmark Xi initiatives. The first is the “One Belt One Road” or “new Silk Road” infrastructure and development program, which will better connect China to key markets. The second is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a Chinese-led rival to the World Bank.

The major uncertainty in 2017 for Xi Jinping was the behavior of the man dubbed “Little Rocket Man” by President Trump – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Kim’s continued survival may well rest on China’s support more than on his small nuclear arsenal. Yet the North Korean leader is likely to know that an erratic North Korea is the price that China accepts for fear of a united, democratic Korea on its border.

And so, in a year that saw Xi Jinping emerge as a voice for Chinese-style globalization and Kim Jong Un survive – if not thrive – as a nuclear-armed provocateur, we give “Best Year in Asia” to a less-than-dynamic duo linked on the world stage: Xi and Kim, frenemies in 2017.

As President Trump moves to make America great again, America would do well to pay attention to what the billions of people and their leaders on the other side of the world in Asia are up to. In an ever-shrinking world, what happens on one side of the Pacific inevitably will affect the other.

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.

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.