Washington, D.C. – These “Smart Power Principles,” as laid out in an op-ed published today in Foreign Affairs, provide a clear alternative to the limited perspectives that often dominate American foreign policy conversations in the United States Senate.
A new, forward-looking foreign policy vision for America:
The United States faces unprecedented challenges abroad. The post-colonial status quo in the Middle East is breaking down, and in its wake, terrorist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda present a grave threat to U.S. national security. Threats that know no boundaries—like pandemic disease or global climate change—continue to grow. New regional powers are emerging in Asia and Latin America, and the United States must find ways to accommodate their rise without upending the existing international order. Meanwhile, new opportunities exist for partnerships in strategic regions like West Africa and Southeast Asia. These challenges and opportunities demand the United States to think anew about the tools that it will use to lead the world, including reaching beyond the military toolbox to work with partners and allies to achieve our shared goals. We offer these principles as guideposts for executing a new foreign policy vision for America that will help U.S. leaders confront the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead.
1. America needs a new Marshall Plan for at-risk regions
The Marshall Plan recognized that managing the challenges America confronted in a post-war world demanded a sizable investment in our development and diplomatic toolkit, and that the best way to cement allies and stabilize post-conflict regions was to promote economic development, rule of law, and educational advancement. Unfortunately, we are spending a disproportionate amount on defense, while ignoring the principle that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Population growth in the Middle East is expected to more than triple over the next twenty years, and the greater access that generation has to education, jobs, and a sense of human dignity, the less susceptible they will be to terrorist ideology and recruiters. Increased aid for a free press and anti-corruption efforts on Russia’s periphery will help blunt the influence of Moscow’s tools of intimidation and bribery. Strengthening the capacity of local governments to respond to health care crises in parts of rural Africa can help to reduce vulnerability to viruses like Ebola and other infectious diseases that require an international response. And with the Himalayan glacier in retreat due to climate change, the United States would do well to assist water-stressed countries in South and Southeast Asia in developing the techniques they need to cope with acute shortages that could undermine regional stability.
2. America is strongest when we work in collaboration with partners and allies
The most important challenges we face, from climate change to terrorism, cannot be solved by one nation working alone. Working bilaterally and through international organizations like NATO and the United Nations makes us more effective and costs us less. The United States always retains the right to act unilaterally to defend against imminent threats; however, in the wake of the Iraq War, America should be newly cognizant of the moral and practical risks of unilateral action. In most cases, if none of our allies are willing to join us in an international endeavor, our isolation should cause us to rethink our actions.
3. When we send our servicemembers to fight, we must have clear goals and exit strategies, act only with congressional authorization, and uphold our commitment to care for them when they return
Military actions should not be commenced without a clear set of objectives and a complete understanding of how and under what circumstances our military campaign ends. Endless wars can be avoided if we understand what our metric of success is before the fight starts. The costs of war are not borne by policymakers, but by the men and women who comprise our all-volunteer military force and their families, and our defense budget should prioritize their safety, health, and well-being. And Congress needs to reclaim its war making authority and not allow the executive branch to rely on broad interpretations of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after 9/11 to combat new threats anywhere around the world. Military action must be explicitly authorized and only in furtherance of clearly defined and achievable strategic objectives.
4. When military action is deemed necessary for reasons other than self-defense, it should serve as a shaping mechanism for local political solutions
Most violent conflicts ultimately require political, not solely military, solutions. Particularly in an era of unconventional warfare and diffuse threats, “total war”—complete annihilation of an enemy—is often unrealistic and counterproductive. U.S. military interventions, when necessary, should focus on creating space for local political answers to the underlying reasons for unrest.
5. Covert actions like unchecked domestic surveillance or large scale overseas CIA lethal operations must be constrained
The dramatic expansion of our intelligence apparatus post-9/11, which operates largely unseen and unchecked, requires greater oversight and restraint. Decisions about government surveillance, lethal drone strikes overseas, and interrogation techniques must be made in the light of day and subject to greater congressional oversight. We can start by consolidating authority for offensive counterterrorism operations at the Department of Defense instead of the CIA, which has more limited congressional oversight. We can also ensure that Congress has greater oversight of “crossover” operations that overlap committee jurisdictions by requiring briefings on operations to include members across all relevant committees.
6. We must practice what we preach regarding civil and human rights, and defend our values internationally
America’s reputation as a beacon of freedom and opportunity is a powerful asset – we must continue to honor our bedrock values of individual liberty and equal treatment under the law. Inadequate respect for civil rights domestically robs from America the moral authority to root out human rights abuses, corruption, and violence abroad. Actions abroad that are illegal under U.S. law and out of step with American values, like torture, must be absolutely prohibited. Human rights and gender equality should not be viewed as secondary to security issues, but appropriately recognized as essential to long-term global peace and stability. We can and should do more to support those who are working to create cultures of tolerance.
7. America’s strength abroad is rooted in strength at home
As we engage with the rest of the world, we must also recognize that America’s ability to project strength abroad depends on a thriving, prosperous foundation at home. The middle class—the backbone of American strength and prosperity—is increasingly being squeezed by stagnant wages and rising costs for everything from child care to education and housing, while much of our crumbling domestic infrastructure dates from the 1950s or earlier. We need significant new investments in infrastructure and education, and new policies to address the stagnant incomes and rising costs that are crippling too many American families if we are to maintain U.S. global leadership.
8. Climate change is an immediate, present threat to the world, and America must invest time, money, and global political capital to address this crisis
In 2007, a group of eleven retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals unequivocally stated that climate change is a “significant national security challenge” that can serve as a “threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” The Department of Defense concluded in 2014 that, “while climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world.” The United States must acknowledge what the science and our national security experts are already telling us—that climate change is real, it is happening now, and it is solvable if we act quickly. We must lead, both through our own actions and in partnership with other nations, to reduce carbon emissions and confront this challenge at all levels.