Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

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

—–

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.

Advertisements

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

—–

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

—–

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

—–

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

—–

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

—–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 14, 2017

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

Cross posted from Ambassador Chin’s LinkedIn Page.

______

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

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

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

Time to Get Creative with Diplomacy

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

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

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

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

Soft Power Has Its Advantages

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

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

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

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

Beyond “Ping Pong Diplomacy” in Asia

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

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

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

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

Cultural Diplomacy at Work: Dancing to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Linchpin of Public Diplomacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhancing Security through Cultural Diplomacy

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

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

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

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

April 20, 2017

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

Cross posted from Ambassador Garza’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Could Possibly Go Wrong When Dealing with the Russians?

February 22, 2017

Thomas A. Loftus (Norway, 1993-1998)

Cross-posted from The Cap Times of Madison, Wisconsin

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appropriate U.S. Response to Russia

November 1, 2016

Thomas F. Stephenson (Ambassador to Portugal, 2007-2009)

___

Post World War II history suggests convincingly that the best way to deal with Russian aggression is by demonstrating the strength and will to respond in a forceful fashion. Obvious examples are the strong manner in which President Kennedy dealt with Premier Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the way President Reagan interacted with Mr. Gorbachev at Reykjavik and in its aftermath as he laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War and critical arms reduction agreements. Interacting with Mr. Putin, however, may well be even more challenging than dealing with either Khrushchev or Gorbachev as Putin gives all the indications of being the consummate bully. The only thing he understands or respects is strength and force, and little so far in the conduct of this Administration demonstrates the will power to take strong action. In fact time and again, the approach of “leading from behind” and “too little too late” has undermined whatever credibility we had with Mr. Putin at the beginning of 2009. Let’s review how we got to where we are currently in Ukraine and Syria.

To be fair to the current Administration, the preceding Administration had not provided a strong precedent, as it did little to prevent Russia under Medvedev from carving out South Ossetia and Abkhazia from the sovereign country of Georgia. But as Mr. Putin reclaimed the presidency of Russia in 2012, he had already observed 1) the absence of any supportive response from the Obama Administration to the Green Revolution in Iran in 2009, 2) the cancellation, under pressure from Russia, of a promised missile defense system in Poland, 3) very modest support for the French led actions surrounding the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya in 2011, and 4) the total failure to enforce the red line drawn in Syria regarding the use by Assad of chemical weapons in 2012. Why wouldn’t Mr. Putin doubt our resolve and have no compunction or concern about taking the actions that he has in Ukraine and Syria?

Clear commitment to and demonstration of strength with only very judicious actual use of force are critical to convince the bullies of this world like Mr. Putin that the United States has the resolve and the ability to turn back inappropriate and irresponsible acts of aggression. I’ve had the privilege of listening many times to former Secretary of State George Shultz talk about how he and President Reagan chose to deal with such acts of unwanted aggression during the Reagan Administration. They, of course, took steps to restore our military strength, but they used very limited force only three times following the tragic bombing of our marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. We used a very modest amount of military force in Grenada very shortly after the Beirut bombing to rescue 300 Americans being held hostage there, we executed a surgical strike against Gadhafi in retaliation for an attack on our forces in Berlin in 1986, and in a very crisp response to mining activities by Iran in the Persian Gulf in 1987 we sank an Iranian ship that was deploying illegal mines after removing and immediately freeing all Iranian sailors on board. In all three instances a clear message was delivered. An attack on the United States and its allies will receive a proportionate response quickly and decisively.

Unfortunately, little that we have done so far with regard to Russian aggression in Ukraine or Syria has been either timely or appropriately proportionate. In Syria there was a point in time when one could discern the good guys from the bad guys and provide equipment, training, and support sufficient perhaps to enable the opposition to overthrow Assad. Creation of a “no fly zone” was an option recommended by a number of foreign policy experts, including former Secretary Clinton, but was never acted upon by the Administration. By the time we’d fiddled around for months and allowed the Russians to play the key role in negotiating the removal, supposedly, of all chemical weapons from Syria, we’d lost most of the leverage we might have had or been able to obtain, and Russia was in the driver’s seat in terms of protecting their friend Assad. ISIL/Islamic State has obviously complicated enormously the situation in Syria and clearly in Aleppo, but Russia has a very strong presence in Syria today and will be very hard to dislodge, largely because of “too little, too late” on our part. There is still some possibility, however, that it’s not too late to change the current course of events in Syria. A ‘no fly zone” and some sort of “safe-haven” enforcement could still improve the situation in Syria, but it will take resolve on our part and create risk of escalation that we have been unwilling to assume to date.

The situation in Ukraine is clearly very different. Putin’s aggressive actions to carve up and usurp as much of Ukraine as he can is all part of his longer range aspiration to recreate substantial parts of the Soviet Union or at least reestablish Russian influence, if not total dominance, in these neighboring countries. Our pathetically weak response to these actions in Ukraine have or will only encourage this type of aggression in the Baltic States initially and prospectively in other parts of Eastern Europe. Once again the impact of “too little, too late” is clearly being demonstrated. While our diplomats continue to participate in agonizingly unproductive discussions, Mr. Putin is shoring up his military positions in this greater theatre and will no doubt continue to use the excuse of protecting native Russians as he pursues his goals of territorial reclamation. As the remaining areas of Ukraine not yet under Russian control observe the lack of serious U.S. assistance in their plight, it must appear as though it is only a matter of time before they too are annexed by Russia.

Diplomacy and negotiation have been only very modestly successful at best to date with Russia relating to the terribly troubling developments in both Syria and the Ukraine. What incentive does Mr. Putin have to negotiate with us and our allies, when we demonstrate little evidence that we will back up our periodic threats with force. Recent shoring up and redeployment of NATO forces in the Baltics and Poland is a positive step, but we need to return to the Reagan-Shultz approach of saying what we mean in our interactions with Mr. Putin and being prepared to show that we mean what we say with decisive use of measured and proportionate force.