New American Arsenal

New American Arsenal I attended a briefing today at the National Press Club featuring some board members of the American Security Project promoting what they have dubbed “A New American Arsenal.” The bipartisan group, headed by Gary Hart and featuring the likes of John Kerry, Ken Duberstein, Richard Armitage, and several retired flag officers urges a return of a bipartisan foreign policy consensus and, more concretely, a rethinking of “national security policy” to encompass more than just military issues.

It was an interesting talk and I look forward to reading the report in detail. There are, however, two basic problems that need to be overcome.

First, the panel shares an undue fondness for the past, which they mistakenly recall as a time when “politics stopped at the water’s edge” and policy could be debated in a spirit of bipartisan comity. The reality, of course, is different. As bitter as the fight over Iraq is, it pales in comparison to the split over Vietnam. Foreign policy has been a tool of political campaigns for decades; certainly, it has been key to most Republican victories over the last 30-odd years. And the idea that the past was a golden era where everyone abroad loved the United States and looked to us for guidance is simply absurd. Ronald Reagan had every bit as many problems selling missile defense, the placement of Pershing IIs in Germany, and so forth as George W. Bush is having now.

Second, a bipartisan approach to foreign policy — which I heartily support in principle — can often be platitudinous. Here is the outline of the Arsenal:

Terrorism:

    • Building new alliances and international frameworks to fight extremists by coordinating military, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and creating a sustainable international legal framework to combat terrorist movements;
    • Countering and undermining jihadist ideology in a more effective battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world by expanding development assistance, trade and investment opportunities and health and education programs to raise economic prospects and increasing public diplomacy; and
    • Investing in alternative energy to begin to diversify energy sources for us and our allies.

Energy:

    • Strengthening the international concert of oil importing nations by encouraging the International Energy Association to admit China and India to its ranks;
    • Diversifying U.S. energy supplies by encouraging investment in environmentally responsible development of new oil and gas fields and renewable energy and expanding domestic refining capacity; and
    • Doubling annual U.S. investment in research and development of alternative energy, including hydrogen, clean coal and renewables.

Climate Change:

    • Actively leading the negotiation of an enforceable international framework to reverse global warming that is compatible with continued economic development;
    • Leading by example by adopting rigorous climate policies and investing in clean energy; and
    • Preparing now for the global consequences associated with predicted climate change, such as climate refugees and tropical disease migration.

Nuclear Proliferation:

    • Taking the lead in creating a new international consensus opposed to nuclear proliferation that can mount meaningful economic, political, and even military sanctions to deter and dissuade would-be proliferators;
    • Strengthening existing international frameworks, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
    • Changing the calculation states make of the cost and benefit in the pursuit of nuclear arms; and
    • Preventing terrorist organizations from acquiring and using nuclear weapons.

With the possible exception of IEA expansion, a topic that’s sufficiently obscure as to be off my radar screen, this is all incredibly uncontroversial. There’s some genuine debate on how to deal with terrorism and whether change is something that requires substantial government action but there’s plenty of consensus at the level of these bullet points.

The problem, as Kerry himself admits, is actually building the political consensus to formulate and enact public policy surrounding these things. That’s much, much harder than agreeing on an outline. The hope, I suppose, is that having people of such high profile reaching across the aisle to speak on these issues will help forge consensus for action. I hope that’s the case.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    Gary Hart and featuring the likes of John Kerry, Ken Duberstein, Richard Armitage

    And

    The problem, as Kerry himself admits, is actually building the political consensus to formulate and enact public policy surrounding these things. That’s much, much harder than agreeing on an outline

    Well, I’d think they’d need to bring in s fair number of center to right folks, as well. It’s comparatively easy to get agreement among the people you’ve listed here.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Well, Armitage was a senior official in Bush’s State Dept from 2001-2005. But, yeah, it’s fairly moderate-left with Chuck Hegel and Ken Duberstein (Reagan’s former Chief of Staff) the most recognizable Republican names.

  3. Bithead says:

    I’m not at all convinced of Armitage’s bona fides, frankly. A seperate subtopic, I guess.

  4. Full disclosure moment — I work for the American Security Project. But let me suggest a couple of points.

    (1) I don’t think there is as much disagreement over many foreign policy issues as James suggests, even when you get into details. The challenge is that many issues are exploitable, and highlighting the divides is often good politics. Case in point — domestic surveillance. Both Republicans and Democrats want the intelligence community to have greater capabilities. But there is a lot of political mileage to be had from Republicans claiming Democrats don’t want to keep America safe, while Democrats gain a lot with their base by accusing the Republicans of being against civil liberties and being in the pocket of big business. So, just getting people from opposite sides of the aisle to say, “enough” and just refrain from exploiting relatively minor difference in policy would be a huge first step. When I see Armitage and Duberstein signing a document along with Gary Hart and John Kerry, I see at least the possibility of that kind of simple responsibility and decency.

    (2) All documents look like platitudes until you compare them to one another. Compare the ASP document to something from, say, the Project for a New America Century circa 2000. Both documents are full of generalities by themselves, but when you compare them you can see the differences. I would urge people to just read the document, and I happy to have an on-going conversation about the content.

    –BF

  5. James Joyner says:

    The challenge is that many issues are exploitable, and highlighting the divides is often good politics. . . . So, just getting people from opposite sides of the aisle to say, “enough” and just refrain from exploiting relatively minor difference in policy would be a huge first step.

    Agreed. That’s basically where I was going with the last paragraph.

    And fair enough on the platitudes. I plan to read the doc tomorrow and will comment more.

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    Countering and undermining jihadist ideology in a more effective battle for hearts and minds in the Islamic world by expanding development assistance, trade and investment opportunities and health and education programs to raise economic prospects and increasing public diplomacy;

    While I agree wholeheartedly with what might be called the “meta-policy” of this notion, i.e. sticking to what we’re good at and fostering economic growth in the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East, I’m skeptical whether “development assistance” will do much in that regard. I’d like to see more in the way of opening up trade with the region and encouraging American businesses to get involved.

    I guess I’ll need to hear more policy details before I can make a reasonable assessment but much of what’s being proposed is what hasn’t worked over the period of the last 30 years.

  7. Bithead says:

    While I agree wholeheartedly with what might be called the “meta-policy” of this notion, i.e. sticking to what we’re good at and fostering economic growth in the Muslim world, particularly in the Middle East, I’m skeptical whether “development assistance” will do much in that regard.

    Mmmmphf.
    When you have a group of people who prefer as a rule to live in the 14th century, being seen as the one who offers the 21st century might just be counter-productive.

  8. Dave: Yup… it has to be driven by the private sector somehow… though in the end you may need governmental seed money and/or security assurances to make it work. But you are absolutely right, the traditional development models do not work.

    Bithead: You are right as well. I am not at all sure that offering modernity to people who consider it an existential threat is a winning approach. The question is whether the fallback is military coercion or isolation. I can’t speak for the board of ASP, but I’ll tell you, that it is a tremendously difficult issue. What if you offer modernity and people reject it?

  9. DL says:

    Sounds okay in part – the devil as always, is in the details -I would wonder (with the names involved) about bipartisanship (to often an ugly substitute for compromising ones values)

    I do have to laugh at the continuation of the acceptance of global warming/cooling/climate change as reality. It belongs under one heading -global politics: the manipulation of sovereign nations through propaganda techniques.

    How long before dissenters are whisked off to climate Siberia? (William Gray is the latest to suffer the soviet type reeducation game)

  10. Bithead says:

    Bernie;

    I am not at all sure that offering modernity to people who consider it an existential threat is a winning approach. The question is whether the fallback is military coercion or isolation.

    Until recently Isolation was the option because they wanted it that way. All that has changed recently and their about imposing the 14th century on US.

    And given what we see of Sharia slipping into the laws of the west, they’re successful at it.

    There’s a moral question on both sides of that wall, of course, from our point of view.(The wall only has ONE side from their POV, of course)

    I need some time to sort out the words for this, which I’ll add here when I get time, today, or tonight. But it occurs to me the discussion of whose morality prevails needs be discussed, and would get far deeper than can be properly discussed in a comments section. And since isolation, as demonstrated by 9/11, is no longer an option, it’s a question we can no longer avoid.

    And guess what? I vote US.