Rebuilding the Narrative: Recreating the Rationale for U.S. Leadership of the Democratic Community of Nations
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This event took place on Wednesday, May 22, 2019
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Good morning, and thank you all for coming. I'm Nick Gvosdev, senior fellow here at the Carnegie Council.
While this is a standalone event in the sense that you don't need to have attended any of the previous events—and I know there are some familiar faces of people who have been coming over the last year and a half—I did want to give a bit of background to what we're doing in the U.S. Global Engagement project that will situate what Ash Jain will be speaking with us about today.
One of the results of the 2016 election that was very noticeable to us was the collapse of the narrative that sustains U.S. engagement in the world. For the last 30 years, since the end of the Cold War, there was a sense of the U.S. mission in the world, what the United States ought to be doing. This was broadly—even if the policy prescriptions differed from party to party—a sense of underlying agreement about the role the United States should be playing in the world.
It was something that voters seemed to endorse in elections, 1992, 1996, and so on, and then in 2016 both from the left and from the right critiques were sounded as to whether or not this narrative still held any salience, was meeting needs. A counternarrative was developing that somehow average Americans were losing out, that the global order was not designed to benefit them, and in fact the U.S. leadership role in the world was making them less secure and less prosperous, and therefore you had politicians both on the left and the right beginning to question what role the United States should be playing in the world.
This was the subject after the 2016 election that the U.S. Global Engagement project here at the Council began to tackle. For the last year, year and a half, we have spent a lot of time looking at diagnosis: What is the source of narrative collapse? Why are the narratives about U.S. global engagement weakening?
If you have been able to attend—and for those of you who are watching on the stream, you can go back and visit some of the previous events we've had when we've had Kori Schake and Colin Dueck looking at the crisis of expertise leading to narrative collapse; Asha Castleberry and Ali Wyne looking at questions about policy failure and that perceived sense that things have not been working out; and then the debate between Tom Nichols and Ian Bremmer, looking at the question of populism, looking at this question of the purpose of policy and how does this meet the needs of the "average citizen."
Having done all of that, one of the things we have been worried about and has come out in our discussions and in your questions and comments is, are we moving into a period where we are going to define policy in transactional and perhaps, daresay "mercenary" terms, that what we do in the world, what the United States does in the world, is simply based on, "Well, what can we get out of it?" It's just a basis of transactionalism, "We do this for you, and we expect you to do certain things for us," or as it has been more crudely, put in some cases even by the president himself, that we "expect people to pay" for the United States to provide global goods or to provide protection through alliances or maintaining international institutions.
That doesn't also seem to be a sustainable approach. Transactionalism might have a short-term appeal, but it's not a basis on which to construct a strong foundation for U.S. policy.
So what we're beginning now to do is shift from diagnosis to what the new narratives should be. What is a compelling story for what the United States ought to be doing in the world that can appeal to voters, appealing both to pocketbooks and hearts and minds?
I'm very happy that we have Ash Jain with us from the Atlantic Council, who has been spearheading a project under the aegis of the Council that looks at this question of can we renovate and create a new narrative for American policy that is not transactional but comes back to core American values, that looks at the question of the democratic community of nations, and that this democratic community of nations is bound together not simply by values but also by shared interests that can work for the benefit of their citizenry, because this crisis of narrative is not simply in the United States. We're seeing it across Europe and in other places in the world as well. All the advanced democracies are going through this period of questioning.
Is there a new narrative based upon this question of democratic community? That's something we're going to explore today.
In order to set up the discussion, what we would like to do is show a short video produced under the aegis of the Atlantic Council that helps to illuminate this declaration, which I hope many of you picked up when you came in this morning, which is the foundation of this project that Ash is working on, and certainly also you have Ash's biography with you.
For those of you who are streaming, you can click on his bio link, but Ash is one of those people who straddles the world of government and the world of academia, so both in his work at the Atlantic Council, previous work at the State Department's policy planning staff, as a senior staffer for senators on the Hill, and as a professor at American University. So he's in a unique position to be able to see both sides of the aisle, the thought side but also the practical nuts and bolts of policy and of reaching out to voters.
So we'll start with this video to frame our conversation, and when that's done, Ash, the floor will be yours.
VIDEO: We face a time of extraordinary challenges. For seven decades the world's democracies have relied on common principles to advance freedom, foster prosperity, and defend the security of our nations. The result has been a better life for millions around the world.
But today these principles are under attack. Stagnant wages, inequality, and uneven trade benefits have left many behind; increased migration is fueling concerns about jobs and national identity. In many of our nations politicians are denigrating the rule of law, and faith in our institutions has been shaken.
At the same time, dictators around the world are undermining our values, meddling in elections, and interfering with their neighbors while oppressing their own people. Rogue states and violent extremists are threatening the world with terrorism and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. There is a danger that we could go back to a world without rules and where might makes right.
Now is the time for us to act together. It's time for us to defend our values, to make clear what we stand for, and what kind of world we want to live in. It's time for a new declaration, seven fundamental principles. People have a right:
(1) To live in freedom;
(2) To choose their own leaders;
(3) To live in peaceful and secure societies;
(4) To free and open markets and equal opportunity;
(5) To a safe and healthy climate;
(6) To assist others who need help in defending these principles;
(7) And to work together to advance these principles.
Now is the time for like-minded citizens around the world to embrace these principles and for democratic nations to defend them. We have overcome challenges like these before. If we work together, we can succeed again.
Let's push back against tyranny and extremism, and let's stand up for freedom and defend our values. Let's work to expand free markets and include those left behind. Let's reaffirm the strength of a free world, a rules-based world, our world, and make it work for everyone.
ASH JAIN: Good morning, everyone, and thanks for being here today. Thank you, Nick, for the very kind introduction and for the opportunity to come to New York and have a chance to talk at the Carnegie Council.
I'm pleased to have a chance to talk to you a little bit about this initiative. The video I think sets the premise for what this is all about. But before I get to that, let me just step back a little bit and take you back a few years to another recent time period in American history.
Just three decades ago, 1989 specifically, we witnessed a fundamental transformative event in American history and in global history, the fall of the Berlin Wall, which led to the downfall of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and ultimately the end of the Cold War.
Just a few years before then, President Reagan had talked and engaged the American people about the threat that the Soviet Union posed to democratic nations worldwide. He represented what at the time had been a bipartisan tradition of American leadership coming together to stand up and commit in a decades-long struggle against communism and support for democratic allies, democratic institutions, and shared values that had been the basis for an American commitment to a certain global order.
That bipartisan consensus around democracy, open markets, and alliances led us to victory in the Cold War and beyond. Democracy spread across Eastern Europe. Even in Russia, under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, we began to see what looked like a genuine transition to democratic governments and clearly a more open opportunity for friendly and peaceful relations with the rest of the world.
At the same time, China at the time looked like it was beginning to go down a path of economic liberalization and more cooperative relations with the West. Just as with the Soviet Union, many hoped that this economic opening, the embrace of free markets, would then lead to an opening in terms of political liberalization and greater openness and transparency and freedoms for its own people.
Things were looking good. Democracy was flourishing. It was a time when, although certainly threats and challenges remained both here at home and around the world, the United States and its democratic allies were feeling pretty good about where they stood in an increasingly prosperous world.
Times have certainly changed. We're now today facing a world that looks very, very different.
The euphoria that had marked the end of the Cold War has faded. Instead we're in a period of very deep anxiety with the return of great-power competition, the threat of rogue regimes, and as the video pointed out, a fundamental questioning of what it is that we stand for, the basis on which our own leadership wishes to engage across the world. I think we need to start with the premise that the world we face today presents serious and fundamental challenges, unprecedented really, in terms of the range of threats and challenges that we're looking at today.
Russia, which had seemed to be on a genuine path toward democracy, has fallen under the control of a clever autocratic strongman, Vladimir Putin, someone who himself had referred to the fall of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in history." Under Putin's leadership Russia has found itself once again directly challenging the United States, its European allies, and others around the world in ways that are undermining those core values that have been the basis of the global order in the past.
We all know that Russia has seized territory, taken control of Crimea, and has interfered in elections around the world, of course in the United States and Europe. It has supported anti-Western dictatorships including in Syria, the regime in Iran, and we're seeing now most acutely what it has been doing in Venezuela to ensure that its strongmen are still in power in places that are important to it.
At the same time, China has reemerged as another source of challenge to the global order. Its so-called "Nine-Dash line" across the South China Sea has tried to suggest that there is a regional sphere of influence that the Chinese control, that the One Belt, One Road or the Belt-and-Road Initiative that we've heard so much about, China is using as a lever to expand its influence and control in regions across the world, and Xi Jinping, who continues to rule China as a communist one-party monopoly, recently repealed a law that now allows him to potentially serve as president for life if he so chooses.
At the same time, we're seeing continued threats from rogue states like Iran, which has been continuously supporting terrorist groups across the region and has undermined the security of our allies and has nuclear weapons on its potential list of ambitions as we see the threat that it poses to stability in that part of the world.
We know that North Korea, despite Kim Jong-un's love letters to President Trump, has remained in possession of nuclear weapons and remains very much a potential threat to our allies, most notably South Korea and Japan.
The world is fragmenting. Just when we might expect that the United States would be stepping up to rally the international community to confront these challenges, instead we have an administration today that has gone in the opposite direction, embracing this notion of an "America First" foreign policy that comes with it these new ideas that Nick referenced, imposing tariffs, new forms of protectionism, questioning the value of alliances, and embracing at least rhetorically some of the strongmen in ways that are starting to create doubts about what exactly the United States intends to do.
This skepticism about the core values of American policy stem from both sides of the aisle. We've seen with many of the presidential candidates in the Democratic Party as well, real skepticism about global markets, about free trade agreements, about some of the core tenets of an open economic order that have also built and been part of this bipartisan consensus in years past.
This consensus that underpinned American global leadership for seven decades is in jeopardy. The democratic alliances that have been built around sustaining a rules-based order is in peril, and we are facing a set of challenges that are quite extraordinary and potentially very dangerous.
That brings me to this initiative that we have been engaged in at the Atlantic Council. Analysts and commentators have been wringing their hands over the challenges that I just described, the unraveling of the democratic order, and the question we have been asking is: Is there anything that can be done to try to stem this tide? Is there a role that citizens, that civic and business leaders, that others outside of government can play in terms of helping to rebuild this consensus and try to drive and rebuild support for some of those core values, even at a time when our own government may not be in the same position in terms of extending that kind of leadership?
I just want to spend a couple of minutes telling you about this effort and where it's headed, hopefully as a prompt to get your thoughts and input because this is very much about engaging citizens who are not steeped in the policy discussions that take place where policymakers tend to talk to each other in Washington on a regular basis. Instead, we're eager to get out and try to find the right narratives, the right kinds of engagement opportunities to begin to drive a wider conversation.
We began by establishing a high-level bipartisan task force that we thought could help galvanize a course of action, starting with an articulation of some of these core principles that many of you have in front of you. The task force is led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Steve Hadley, the former national security advisor under George W. Bush. Carl Bildt, former Swedish prime minister, and a former Japanese prime minister are also part of the task force, including many, many countries and former leaders from democracies around the world.
The idea was that by bringing together a bipartisan group we demonstrate that there is an interest and a commitment to upholding some set of values that can continue to play a role in advancing a narrative for American leadership and global leadership in framing the future of the global order.
These efforts, after rounds of discussion, led to a declaration, a set of core principles, for freedom, prosperity, and peace, a document that we released a couple of months ago, which reflects seven basic principles that have been at the heart of a free and open world. Essentially, this is a campaign around what do we stand for, what are we for, rather than simply lamenting what we're against or what the challenges are that we're facing.
You saw in the video—I won't repeat them—the seven core principles that have played a role in shaping our engagement in the past, those that we believe, and that the folks who signed on to this document believe, should continue to play a role in grounding our engagement in the world. The declaration provides a powerful and compelling statement of values, sort of a North Star, around which political leaders in the United States and elsewhere can coalesce.
We see it as serving two purposes: First, it provides a rallying cry to mobilize bipartisan support within our own publics to sustain those values, even at a time when they're being questioned; and second, to rally the democratic world, to try to rebuild the democratic community which for many years thought it had a grounding around a certain set of values and a certain set of rules and norms for global engagement.
The first part of our approach is to build this kind of a campaign with endorsements and engagements from private sector leaders, from legislators, from citizens and students here in the United States and elsewhere. The youth are particularly important, we believe, because the future and our future will very much depend on sustaining a commitment to a set of core principles that have to be embraced by the next generation.
The second part of our approach is to ensure that we have a coalition of democracies that continue to support and favor these principles. That's why we started with a high-level group of former senior leaders from democracies that have influence in their own countries.
We're seeking to back that with a legislative caucus of leaders from these countries that are in positions of influence from where they sit in their parliaments. The notion is that even if the executive leadership is unwilling, unable, or uncertain as to where it stands, having a core network and a core commitment by legislators remains fundamentally important.
We've seen that in action here in our own country. Congress recently passed a resolution endorsing the NATO alliance by wide margins on both sides of the aisle, making it much more difficult if the administration decided at some point that it wanted to scale back its commitments to NATO. That kind of legislative support we believe is essential, especially at a time like this.
In sum, we believe that the world's democracies, starting with the United States, are suffering a crisis of confidence. People are questioning those basic principles. They're questioning the value of global engagement and how we should be positioning ourselves in the world, the basis of free societies, and the adoption of this declaration, as Secretary Albright has put it, is an opportunity "to renew our vows, to create greater understanding of what these mean, why they're important both here at home and to citizens elsewhere."
Principles, of course, are just a starting point. The real question is what do we do with them: How do we implement them? How do we create action around them at a time when we're not likely to see a lot of that action coming from our own government?
At the same time, there are many, many new challenges that have to be addressed, from the rise of new technologies and their impacts on our societies, from wealth and income disparities that have led to a lot of the fragmenting of support for the order, migration pressures, climate change—the list of challenges has only expanded and not diminished over the years.
Having said that, having a set of values and principles to orient and provide direction is fundamentally important before developing a strategy and a plan of action to implement them, especially when we know, I think, at a time like this we're not likely to see proactive executive action in terms of creating or reorienting a global order that's conducive to some of these principles.
In the meantime, our sense is what we ought to be doing is looking for ways to reconnect with our own publics, with legislators, rebuilding a narrative, recreating a bipartisan commitment to a values-based foreign policy so that elected leaders the next time there's an election those who are running for office know that there is a constituency, there are people who care about what America's role in the world should be, and to have that reflected in a document and a notion of where we should be leading.
There's a lot more we could get into in terms of the specifics of a strategy and elements of what a revitalized global order might look like, but rather than spend the time going into that right now, I think I'll stop with that. I'd love to hear thoughts and engage in a discussion on whether these principles sound like the ones that would be supported by large segments of the population, whether there are others that ought to be reflected in this instead.
Obviously, this is the document that has status in terms of buy-in from a number of non-governmental signatories, and we've asked and are building signatories from legislators to leaders to citizens on our website, but ultimately the goal would be to have this be embraced by governments as an instrument that can drive policy action, so there's very much work to be done in this space.
I'll stop there. Thanks.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: If I may take the privilege of just throwing out a first question, then I'll collect questions and comments from the audience as well.
Let me hit you directly with a tough one, which is the China question. I think you're right to suggest that we gambled—and it was a good gamble to take in the 1990s—about taking China in, inducing them to join the rules-based order, hoping that this would lead to gradual domestic transformation. After all, that happened in other parts of East Asia, so there was a pattern that suggested it might work.
Probably now in 2019 we might say it was a good gamble; it's not turning out the way we wanted it to.
Coming to this question of the democratic community, there has been talk in the national security community about the need now to "decouple," that the United States and China have an economic interdependence that is unhealthy and that it's not necessary that we're going to cut China off but that we should decouple some of that economic relations and that the democratic community of states should actually be prepared to decouple from China and couple with each other more. The question of course is that there are expenses involved with that and China's ability to make it worth the while, as we've seen now with Italy signing up for Belt and Road: "Hey, here's our democratic principles, democratic community. On the other hand, this looks like a good economic deal."
How are we going to reconcile that as we move into the future with a China that says, "We want to change the rules, and we'll make it worth your while" with investment, loans, for Americans a whole bunch of cheaper consumer goods, versus getting people to sign up that maybe I'll be willing to pay more for goods and services if they're made domestically or coming from a democratic community? Is there a sense of how we might move forward with that as part of a strategy of dealing with China being essentially now outside of the democratic community?
ASH JAIN: I think the challenge that China poses to the global order is certainly the most complex that we face, and I think you've described the strategic approach that was taken for many years, really since the end of the Cold War, as China began to embrace free markets, which is, "Let's continue to encourage China's economic connectivity to the world by bringing it in to the international economic order and by grounding it and giving it a stake in the international system."
For a while that seemed to be the right way to approach it. China has used its engagement, its access to global markets, to drive its own prosperity and to create a sense that it benefits and has a stake in a stable global order. So I think that story has produced partial success.
But what didn't happen and what we haven't seen is the political openness that we and many people hoped would also come as part of the package, that the Chinese government would loosen the strings, would open up its political system to give people greater autonomy, greater authority, and greater decision-making power over their own lives, ultimately maybe even moving toward democratic elections.
Instead, what the Chinese have done is they've leveraged their access to the global markets to reap the rewards economically and then used that to actually entrench, I think, their Communist Party monopoly, and now we're seeing them, as they gain influence, challenge and deepen their engagement in the world that has run contrary to many of the norms that we've been talking about.
So what do we do? I think that's right, that in terms of the economic interdependence that the United States and China have created, and China certainly much more with other nations across the world, gives China a huge advantage in the sense that they also know that any steps that might be taken to try to constrain or limit China's freedom of action will come with some very high costs.
Ultimately, one of the strategic challenges we face is to come up with a new strategic approach to China, not just run by the United States or initiated, but very much in conjunction with our democratic allies as the community of democratic nations because a strategy with China can only succeed if it's coordinated and if it has buy-in and support from a number of other influential countries, and I think part of it has to involve decoupling, limiting, or constraining how much dependence we have in terms of our economic engagement with China.
At the same time, I think it's important to try to make sure the dialogue with China remains open and that there is a pathway for China to stay connected to the global order and not overtly challenge it or undermine it, at least in terms of security. So I think there's a nuanced approach that needs to be considered as we try to tackle the China challenge.
QUESTION: James Starkman.
What is the constitutional balance of power between the executive branch, not only here, and the legislative branch to really embrace these principles? Or are we going to have to go to the ballot box to really effect a meaningful change?
ASH JAIN: That's a good question. What is the role of the legislatures? We've talked a lot about parliamentarians and legislators and members of Congress.
I think it's both. There is a significant role for members of Congress to play, for Congress to play, in terms of shaping and influencing foreign policy. Certainly under our system the executive branch has primary authority over the conduct of foreign affairs, but Congress has the power to ratify any kinds of treaties and agreements that reflect our commitment to alliances and these kinds of global commitments. It's responsible for implementing trade agreements of any sort.
It can shape the political atmosphere, and I think what's really important here is that if members of Congress are coming together and voicing an opinion that reflects a certain point of view, that by its nature limits what actions a presidential administration could take without facing some severe political pushback. So I think Congress has a very important role to play.
The vote that I mentioned on NATO, the Russia sanctions legislation that Congress passed last year, even at a time when it wasn't clear where the administration stood on that issue, is another clear indication that Congress can assert itself if it chooses.
But your point I think is well taken, that ultimately part of the goal here is to have those who are running for office, those who are vying for being those political actors in the future, need to know that there's a constituency, that the American public is going to support candidates who reflect the kinds of principles that are in this document.
QUESTION: My name is George Bulow. I'm an independent historian looking at exactly the question of China and alliances, so I hope you'll allow me a second just to talk about the early part of it.
What you describe in the document that we've looked at is in effect what has kept NATO together for 70 years. It's an alliance of democracies believing in the rule of law and protection of human rights, essentially.
China poses a different problem because the area in which it operates is a different problem. Clearly, the Europeans could go along with us in creating NATO because the threat was obvious. It was at their borders. There was a major military power right there, and they needed to be defended when they were prostrate. That's what allowed the alliance to work as well as it did.
If you look in Asia now, you have Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and I guess you could say the Philippines, that could be considered democracies. Most of those other countries are not. So how do you go about in the context of Asia and in the context of, let us say in general terms some type of containment of Chinese power—that they continue to look at themselves not only as the Middle Kingdom and a major regional power but not try to upset the apple cart, as it were, in a larger sense—what do we have to do in terms of adjusting our looking at the question of having an alliance of democracies when we have so many who are not to accomplish the same goals, stating what we feel are our values?
ASH JAIN: This is a question that we've been grappling with as well. Even as we try to redouble our engagement in building alliances and partnerships with democracies, how do we continue to engage with other non-democracies or fledgling democracies or partial democracies, a whole range of ways in which governments are constituted, because we need to create a network of partners that helps us contain the challenges that China, that Russia, that others pose.
Iran in the Middle East I think is another very similar kind of dynamic where most of the countries surrounding Iran that are under threat are certainly not democratic allies, the Saudis and the Emirates, etc.
It's similar in Asia. Our alliances are built around the foundation of democratic partnerships with powerful players like Japan and South Korea and Taiwan, but there is a need to continue to work cooperatively with other states in the region. Singapore is a good example of a partner that has been closely linked with a strategy for success in Asia while still not quite a democracy, Malaysia, and certainly others.
I think there's a way to do both. The most important focus of what we're suggesting here is that we need to make it clear that democratic alliances are the foundation of the global system, but that doesn't exclude the opportunity and the imperative to work with others who share or who are willing to contribute to a rules-based order and help at least advance some of those principles even while they may resist implementing some of those same principles at home.
So I think it's a little bit of a dual-track approach, but there should be no mistake about a commitment to democracy, freedom, and the fundamental values reflected in this document as being the aspiration of where we're headed, knowing that we've got to be practical in terms of the way we implement.
QUESTION: Krishen Mehta with the Aspen Institute. I have a two-part question.
One could also argue perhaps that the rationale for U.S. leadership in the democratic community of nations is also what got us into the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, the 17 years of bombing in Afghanistan, and so on, which was not only bloody and unnecessary, but also a betrayal of our values as a nation, something that the world would be slow to forgive and we as a nation should be slow to forget. My first part of the question is, what is the risk because of the mistakes we have made as a result of this?
My second part of the question is: If these values are so strong as you have outlined, why is it that the United States needs 800 military bases in 70 countries when Russia, Britain, and France together have only 30 military bases in five countries?
ASH JAIN: The big question, a very important one, especially I think your question about the commitment of military forces that has undermined in some ways the kinds of efforts to build a consensus around these principles, because I think that's what explains in part a lot of the dissatisfaction with the status quo. People felt like we had committed to these long, extended conflicts in the Middle East, which drew both resources and military commitments and led us into these conflicts that seemed to be ongoing without clear success at the end of the road.
There's a lot that one could talk about in terms of whether or not the Iraq War was the right thing to do or whether it made sense to engage in that kind of conflict at the time. Clearly, the outcome of that effort has been mixed: Saddam Hussein is gone, one of the world's most notorious dictators and tyrants, responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of his own people and menacing the region, but in its place has come another relatively unstable or uncertain future for Iraq, while we've committed blood and treasure over the course of more than a decade to get there.
I think the point is, however, that both of those—Iraq and Afghanistan—represented, yes, a commitment to try to uphold certain values and extend those values, but we have to be mindful of what is the most successful pathway to advancing and defending those values. This isn't a recipe to say it's time to march in everywhere around the world with troops and begin conflicts militarily. Certainly not. In fact, I think as you're suggesting, many times that could be counterproductive or could end up with results that are going to take us further away from the goal, not get us closer toward the goal.
There is no formula—at least not here that we're prescribing—for how to engage, but I think the important point is defending democracy, standing up for those shared values, and working at effective strategies that help us ensure that those values are defended is important and is part of the framework here, defending or helping the Iraqi people or the people in Venezuela or the people of Iran today stand up for those freedoms and to fight for their own—because I think ultimately we've seen that we're better off in a world where governments reflect the consent of their people, where democracies, which are much more likely to cooperate and create a more stable regional and global order, that's in our interest.
To your question of having military presence around the world, I think this is in keeping with the spirit of where this is headed, which is to say countries in Europe, countries across other parts of the world, are looking to the United States for leadership. That leadership in part comes by having the stability that a projection of military power provides. These forces aren't being imposed on anyone. They're there as part of a mutually beneficial arrangement to try to secure and defend a global order that is in our common interest.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
As you've been portraying this, the basis of our democratic alliances began after the Second World War with Europe, but now there are crises, there are fissures within so many of the European countries beginning with Brexit and, thinking of France, internal disturbances.
At the same time, you mentioned autocratic leaders in Hungary, in Poland, many places in Europe. How does the European Union stay together? How do we help them? And what about the rest of our allies? Are they still our allies in Europe?
ASH JAIN: I didn't talk much about Europe in the overview, but the fracturing of Europe and the rise of populism and nationalism in Europe is really a big part of the story here. It is what has led to the fragmentation of support for a rules-based order, even prior to the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Brexit happened a few months before that, and we had already started to see the rise of some of these populist forces gathering steam in other parts of Europe.
It's a huge challenge because Europe has been the anchor around which this trans-Atlantic alliance has been built, the shared common commitment to uphold certain values and certain rules institutionalized since the end of World War II through various global institutions and regional institutions with Europe as a key partner.
Particularly the British, I should say, the United States and the United Kingdom, the "special relationship" and the alliance that was built over the decades is nowhere near where it had been as a powerful force in the world. The British are preoccupied and have been now for the last two to three years with their own status, their own political internal disputes and conflicts. What it has meant is that the British are no longer able to play an active role on the global stage. Instead, Germany, France, and other leaders have taken the mantle.
It's a difficult time. These are decisions in terms of how Europe engages that are going to have be made by leaders on the Continent, but the role that we hope to play with the document and with a set of principles like this is to suggest that there is a way to build and rebuild a consensus that extends into Europe and that European leaders can embrace as well and that ought to be part of the grounding in terms of the values that should animate political discourse. Ultimately, it's going to be the people in these democracies in Europe that will determine the course of action for Europe and its role in the world.
The last point on that I'd say is that there is a risk that we're certainly facing in Europe with the potential unraveling of the European Union or at least the weakening of the European Union as an institution. For many years, this was part and parcel of America's strategy in Europe, to promote and produce a unified Europe, after which had suffered decades and centuries really of conflict. This European project has been in America's interest, and I think it's counterproductive to suggest that fracturing or unraveling of the European Union would somehow be to America's benefit over the long run.
QUESTION: So you mentioned the tendency of policymakers and the international foreign policy community to talk to each other. You mentioned the orthodox conception after the Cold War about free trade. What do you think about the concept that rather than a retreat from leadership, what we're actually seeing now is actual leadership after the foreign policy community has failed in its leadership duties?
What I mean particularly by that is you talked about a gamble with China. You could also see that as a fundamental misreading of the nature of power of the Communist Party and its plan. You could say that now, basically, recent democratic elections are bringing into power a new administration that, although existing bodies look at it as a retreat from globalization, you could say it's actually a rejection of the orthodoxy, moving away from regimes, and when they look at trade policy and tariff policy, they say, "Oh, it's going after China." In reality, you could say it's leadership to engage the single greatest threat to democracy, which is the Communist Party of China and not China itself.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
I think the underlying assumption of this kind of declaration is based on the premises that go back to 1648 of basically a Westphalian system of countries within Europe and a premise on which the United Nations itself was based in its Charter in 1945.
Unfortunately, I don't see that as being the case here. I think there's an assumption of the coherence of the political systems of these individual units, particularly inside of Europe. When you said Britain or the United Kingdom has retreated and that it now depends on France and Germany, well, how united are they, particularly in light of what we read about the upcoming EU parliamentary elections?
There's a lack of coherent units of nation-states, and the EU founders saw the solution to this as being European integration that in effect would keep Germany, France, and Spain satisfied with the piece of the action they had. But that's falling apart, so I don't see how you can depend on individual countries as we have historically understood them within our lifetime to sustain this kind of momentum.
QUESTION: Allen Young.
Many people would suggest the reason for the destruction of the existing order is the fact that there are so many problems facing every country—inequality of wealth; migration, which threatens the national identity of so many people; trade agreements which result in the closing down of industries in the industrialized West.
I know that this declaration of principles does make references here and there to these problems, but I just wonder whether there isn't enough emphasis on how those problems can be addressed and how it would be impossible for something like this to become effective if we don't face the real problems that everyday people face.
ASH JAIN: Let me take the third one first because I think that's a critical question and one that is certainly reflected in the document, in the premise of the document, and in some of the principles themselves. That is to say that the sustainability of this democratic order depends on nations, particularly democracies, being able to address those kinds of ills, those kinds of dysfunctions that have caused a lot of people to question these very values.
I think dealing with the impacts of global trade is particularly important if we're going to be advocating for support of a free and open global trading system because there are certain sectors, certain industries, workers who are going to be adversely impacted, and yet it's important to make sure that they also feel like they have a stake in an open economy.
I think there has been not enough emphasis put on the narrative and the policies that can help soften the impacts of those kinds of trade agreements. That has to be built into the fabric of the free trade system in a much more coherent way. We do trade adjustment assistance here and there, but it hasn't created the outcomes that we need to see happen if we're going to sustain the global trade regime.
Migration I think is another huge issue, another major challenge that particularly has driven Europeans to back away in many cases for support of this kind of European integration project and the kinds of values that underpin the system. In part, it's because people are worried about what the impact is of new migrants coming into the country to the fabric of their national and cultural identities, and I think a lot of those migration pressures have to be addressed through dialogue and through national engagement and having open conversations about what kind of a country, whether it's in France or in Britain or here in the United States, that we want to have.
I would think part of the goal would be to create forums where those kinds of discussions and dialogues can take place without just politicians actually diminishing the space for dialogue because this is such an emotionally charged set of issues. Migration is going to be one of the drivers of undermining support among many people across the country in terms of the kind of global order that we're advocating for.
Again, the document doesn't take a position as to whether migration is good or bad or whether it should be increased or decreased or whether we should be building walls or not building walls. The idea is that an open global order does depend and requires interaction among people across national boundaries. We should preserve and encourage that. But where people should be allowed to live and work, those are decisions that individual countries need to make for themselves.
Just quickly on a couple of the others. The future order depends on governments. Ultimately, there's no way around that.
Efforts like this, think tanks, and even legislators can play a role and have an influence, but ultimately we do have to have an administration or we have to have policymakers in place both here in Washington and in capitals across countries in Europe and elsewhere that are committed to policies that extend and advance and implement these principles. That has to ultimately be the goal.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Mindful of the time and knowing that we break at 9:15 to let people leave, particularly people who need to get work—this doesn't mean that Ash is disappearing. We will continue conversations and the like, but I do want to call the formal program at this point to a halt with three concluding points.
The first is, things like this are important. I was honored to be at the Wichita Committee on Foreign Relations last week, and one of the points that comes across is that people say, "Look, we can't be experts on every foreign policy issue." Even members of Congress can't be experts on everything. But what people do want to know is that people have guideposts, that they have guidelines for how they're going to conduct policy: How do they assess risk, how do they set priorities?
Things like this project are important because they give a sense of principles, they give a sense of guideposts, North Star, lodestars for doing policy. And then that can be debated. This is one proposal moving forward, and then there can be others.
With that in mind, just to alert everyone. On the 5th of June we will continue this conversation with Ali Wyne from the RAND Corporation talking about whether or not great-power competition provides a sufficient narrative. So we have restoring America's leadership of a community of democracies as a way to restore global leadership, then does this formulation of great-power competition, is that a narrative that is likely to gain traction as we move forward? That will be on the 5th of June, and I hope that you'll all be able to join us. [Editor's note: Attend in person in New York City, or watch the event live online here: https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/live]
Finally, we have these events but the conversation doesn't end here. It continues, certainly on the Carnegie site and also through the journal, through Ethics & International Affairs, both in terms of the articles and the blog, which also allow for comments. That's an interactive site, so as you hear things you can then not only be a passive recipient of thoughts but then be a contributor yourselves into that ongoing conversation.
We are at 9:15. We will, as I said, bring the formal meeting to a close, and then I invite people to continue your conversation with Ash, to continue to have breakfast for those of you who can stay, but for those of you who need to leave, we'll call an end here at this point, and let's give our vote of thanks to Ash.