Executive Director, Lowy Institute (Australia)
President, Council on Foreign Relations
Chief Executive, South African Institute of International Affairs (South Africa)
Chairman, Institute of Contemporary Development (Russia)
Chief Content Officer, Time Inc.
James H. Binger Senior Fellow in Global Governance and Director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program, Council on Foreign Relations
Michael Fullilove, Richard N. Haass, Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, and Igor Yurgens speak about the mounting challenges to global governance and international cooperation, and launch of the Council of Councils (CoC) Report Card on International Cooperation, which evaluates multilateral efforts to address ten of the world’s most pressing global challenges, including nuclear proliferation, transnational terrorism, climate change, pandemic disease, mass migration, financial volatility, and cybercrime.
This Report Card on International Cooperation surveyed the Council of Councils, a CFR initiative connecting leading foreign policy institutes from twenty-five countries around the world, to provide a benchmark measure of international cooperation year after year, and to help policymakers identify opportunities for breakthrough and prioritize today’s critical issues. The event presents the findings of the 2017–2018 Report Card and discuss implications for global cooperation.
PATRICK: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations, where this evening we’re launching the fourth edition of the Report Card on International Cooperation, which is a product of the Council of Councils.
I’m Stewart Patrick. I’m a senior fellow here at the Council on Foreign Relations, where I direct the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance.
In a few minutes I’ll be turning over the microphone to Alan Murray, who will engage four heads of this global think-tank network on the challenge of global order. But before we turn to the main event, I wanted to give you some background on the Council of Councils, and in particular on the 2018 Report Card.
I want to remind everyone that this meeting is on the record.
Created in 2012, the COC convenes 29 prominent policy institutes from around the world to discuss and seek multilateral—and to seek multilateral solutions to the most pressing transnational challenges. The COC’s composition is roughly equivalent to the national membership of the Group of 20, and its rationale is similar: to bridge gaps between established and emerging powers on the requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in the 21st century.
In completing the Report Card survey this year, the COC leaders had a lot to consider. At the top of that agenda was how President Donald Trump would approach international cooperation during his first year in office. In this sense, the Report Card provides a snapshot not only on the state of global governance, but on global reactions to what has been a revolution in American foreign policy.
U.S. President Donald Trump moved quickly after his inauguration to deliver on his campaign pledge to put America first. This included removing the United States from a number of multilateral agreements—from the Paris Climate Accord to the Trans-Pacific Partnership—which he saw as overly constraining, as intruding on American sovereignty, or simply as stacked against the United States of America. So doing, he called into question America’s commitment to the liberal international order.
But it’s important to remember and to recognize that the United States has hardly been alone in challenging the aspects of that order. Populist nationalism has risen in many countries around the world as publics and citizens complain about a global system that in their mind cannot deliver prosperity, cannot keep them safe, and cannot safeguard their identities. As nations turn inward, as values diverge, and as geopolitical frictions rise, the world often seems adrift, in the words of my boss, Richard Haass, lacking a strong institutional anchor and a firm hand at the tiller.
So this naturally raises two questions: Can the rules-based multilateral system adapt to new powers and problems? And, second, can governments reconcile the demands of domestic governance with the demands of global governance?
And this is where the 2018 Report Card comes in. We asked the heads of our COC institutions to assess cooperation on 10 critical areas of international activity. You can see these challenges up on the slide. They include preventing nuclear proliferation, managing the global economy, mitigating and adapting to climate change, advancing development, promoting global health, expanding global trade, managing cyber governance, combating transnational terrorism, and preventing and responding to conflict both within and between states.
We asked the think-tank leaders to do three things. First, grade international cooperation during 2017 overall and in each issue area. Second, to rank these challenges in terms of their importance—what are the priorities? Third, to assess opportunities for breakthrough in 2018—what areas are most fruitful?
So what did our network conclude? Overall, the world earned a barely passing C-minus in 2017. This was the same grade as in 2016. And that continuity may at first glance strike one as counterintuitive, given President Trump’s anti-globalist rhetoric and attacks on the multilateral system, and increasing geopolitical tensions around the world.
So what gives? Well, in part, Donald Trump’s bark was often worse than his bite. Beyond trade and climate, which I mentioned as two areas where the president did pull the United States back, U.S. policies in some areas have changed less than expected. This includes U.S. posture towards the U.N., at least for now; NATO; and the international financial institutions. In addition, the U.S. retreat from leadership has sometimes prompted other countries to step up. We’ve seen this from China with respect to the Paris agreement. And we’ve also seen it with the remaining 11 countries in Trans-Pacific Partnership, which have moved or declared their intention to move full speed ahead even without the United States. So we’re witnessing in real time an experiment about what happens when the dominant power abandons global leadership.
Digging deeper, we see that cooperation is better in some spheres than others. The COC, for instance, gave higher grades last year to international efforts to manage the global economy and to promote global trade, notwithstanding some of the moves that President Trump took. Grades for counterterrorism also rose dramatically thanks to success against the Islamic State, obviously in part by a coalition led by the United States itself.
The lower-performing areas will come as no surprise to this group. The COC again gave poor grades to global efforts to prevent and respond to violent internal conflict, with of course Syria’s civil war front and center in their minds, as well as to moderate conflict between countries with the situation, for instance, in Ukraine being at a stalemate. The COC also gave low marks to cyber governance, and this judgment was no doubt magnified by the revelations about the weaponization of social media, including to influence elections.
But the COC reserved its lowest mark, a D-plus, for efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. And the reason certainly at the time was clear: 2017, after all, saw North Korea conduct its sixth nuclear weapons test, as well as launch no fewer than 23 ballistic missiles over the course of the year. And, of course, Washington and Pyongyang during that time traded increasingly bellicose rhetoric and nicknames. (Laughter.)
In terms of relative importance, the Council of Councils urges policymakers to identify and implement actions to counter nuclear proliferation above all, as well as to prevent and respond to violent conflict, and to continue the gains that have been made in transnational terrorism.
What about opportunities for breakthrough? Here, the COC identified promoting global health as the area most primed for success in 2018. But this is a bit ironic because the COC network also judged it to be the least important area in a crowded portfolio of priorities.
In contrast, the Council of Councils was most pessimistic when it came to nuclear proliferation. Indeed, nuclear weapons earned a dubious trifecta. The COC voted it the most important global priority, the area where cooperation has been poorest, and dead last in terms of opportunities for breakthrough in the coming year. Now, this may change over the next few days and weeks. The weeks since the COC leaders completed the survey has sharpened the importance of nuclear weapons on the one hand, but they’ve also changed the landscape quite a bit.
Tomorrow, President Trump is scheduled to announce whether or not he will decertify the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, of which the United States is not the only power I should—I should note. And in the coming weeks he will also meet with supreme leader Kim in a high-stakes summit that may or may not go some distance to resolving what has been an extraordinarily tense standoff with respect to North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
COC leaders were also pessimistic about resolving internal conflict as the—as the Syrian slaughterhouse ground into its eighth year; and as wars in Afghanistan, South Sudan, and elsewhere dragged on with no apparent resolution.
I’m coming to the end of my allotted time, but I want to point out that the interactive web-based version has a lot more compelling features than just what you see in the eight-page document that you can pick up here tonight. We’ve got—each issue description, for instance, has a section called “By The Numbers” that has a number of revealing statistics that help provide some additional context to the issue area and the challenge. We’ve also got more in-depth analysis that places the grades and rankings into context in a narrative fashion. And there’s also a graph showing the distribution of grades assigned by the COC network. We also have an interactive map displaying comments from leaders of the Council of Councils which you can filter by either the issue in question or by the institution—the relevant institution. So we encourage you to explore the Report Card and let us know what you think.
Now it’s my great privilege to introduce Alan Murray. He is the chief content officer at Time Inc. and also the president of Fortune Meredith Company. Alan will introduce the fellow—his fellow panelists and lead them in a discussion on the Council of Councils Report Card. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
MURRAY: Can we get the screen up, please?
Panel up here first, and then we’ll dive into this report: Michael Fullilove, who is the executive director of the Lowy Institute from Australia; Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations; Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, who is chief executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs; and Igor Yurgens, chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Development.
And thank you all for doing this. I just want to say I’m glad that the COC was never my teacher in school because this is pretty tough. No grading on a curve. No A’s here. I think B-minus is the best you can hope for.
But let’s start with the nuclear proliferation issue because that’s the one that really stands out: an almost failing grade, most important priority in the coming year, and no optimism about the ability to make progress on it. Richard, I’m going to put you on the spot first because I heard—I heard you on—I don’t know if it was this morning or yesterday morning say it’s not a good idea to have two nuclear crises at the same time. It’s been decades since we’ve been in as precarious a nuclear situation as we’re in right now.
HAASS: Sure. And I think what the Report Card reflected more than anything else was the situation between the United States and North Korea, and that’s what more than anything else drove the grade. Added to that was the uncertainty of what the United States will do vis-à-vis Iran, and we’ll know a lot more by tomorrow afternoon. So that’s essentially behind it.
But if you—and I think—even with the advantage now of where we are, I think it’s way, way, way too soon to conclude that somehow the concerns here are overblown, that the North Korea issue is on its way to being resolved satisfactorily. Maybe, but I can imagine several scenarios where diplomacy is tried, fails, and then we’re right back where we were but even worse, in a full-blown nuclear crisis. I suppose there’s also possibilities where diplomacy, quote/unquote, “works,” but with the details raising at least as many questions as it resolves. So it’s way too soon to somehow put that on the no longer need to worry about burner on your stove.
And if the reports are right, we’re about to take the Iran situation, which, while it never resolved the nuclear situation with Iran, for a moment at least parked it and temporarily constrained it. And what—depending on what specifically is announced tomorrow and what the reactions are to the American announcement, we could find things suddenly changing quite fundamentally there.
And neither one of those, I would add—and I’ll stop with this—what happens with North Korea and what happens with Iran, neither one of those situations is one that will be local. For example, if Iran were to be able to move down the path towards gaining nuclear weapons, the Saudi crown prince has made clear that they would not lag much. Other countries in the region—Turkey, Egypt—might be tempted to follow suit. And depending upon what happens with North Korea—North Korea, that was permitted to proliferate large numbers of nuclear weapons and missiles—I think it would only be a matter of time before nuclear debates arose in both Japan and South—and South Korea. A lot of the world has, shall we say, internalized the lessons of what happened with Ukraine, Libya, and Iraq when leadership gave up nuclear weapons.
So I think the concerns, shall we say, are justified. And also, just given the nature of nuclear weapons, if mistakes are made or if opportunities squandered in other dimensions of international relations, there’s costs. But the dangers of proliferation and the dangers, obviously, of nuclear use dwarf everything else that we looked at.
MURRAY: Elizabeth, from where you’re watching the nuclear issue, do you agree this is the most important issue? And are you as pessimistic about the outcome?
SIDIROPOULOS: Yes, it is one of the most important issues. I think we’re sort of sitting at the bottom of the African continent, and it seems far away. But certainly South Africa has always taken a very strong—well, it’s the only country that denuclearized voluntarily, for one. And while it believes that—
HAASS: Ukraine did as well.
SIDIROPOULOS: Yeah. (Laughs.) But clearly this is something that can engulf the world if it moves in the wrong direction.
In addition, I would add, I would agree with what Richard is saying is that we’re still not, by a long shot, out of the woods as far as North Korea is concerned. And secondly, what happened—you know, you can’t look at North Korea in isolation from Iran and what that means for the broader global nuclear nonproliferation regime, which is, I think, at stake.
In fact, this is not a new development. I think the issue—the NPT has been on dodgy ground for a long time in terms of the extent to which it actually acts as a deterrent or keeps certain countries out of the nuclear club.
MURRAY: Igor, the other issue that got an almost failing grade on the Report Card was internal conflict within countries, and specific reference to what’s going on in Syria and also Myanmar. Can you—can you talk about that?
YURGENS: Well, the situation is worse than Caribbean crisis for us, I think. Russian media is preparing people for the all-out war. There’s no question about that. So it’s becoming scary, because the leaders of Russia and the United States, Soviet Union and the United States, at that time they had about 20 minutes to think, when the missile is launched, how to respond. Now, with hypersonic weaponry, it’s two minutes.
So they already announced the so-called perimeter system, which means that automatic launch of the missile, nuclear missile, is a given. So from this point of view it is very scary, number one. Number two, any internal conflict, as you said, or this conflict between states, can degenerate into something similar.
So from this point of view, it is the time when we have—and I now try to, you know, tease my people, my colleagues and friends from the Council of Councils—it is the time when we have to think about new program of détente, how to do that, when to do that. Timing is right. The 100th anniversary of the First World War is good. To the best of my understanding, the president of France, Macron, wants to have big peace forum in mid-November in Paris. Probably this is the time when Council of Councils has to come out with some very serious proposals, being G-20 opinion leaders, on something like détente.
Official position of Russian Federation is, of course, we are very much for nonproliferation. But the strategists in the deep state of Russia use all kind of weaponry, ideological and what not, against the United States. So anything which is bad for the United States, including situation in North Korea, in Iran, is good for Russia. So this zero-sum game has to be stopped. We have to start talking. And we don’t have any channels of talk at the moment. And that’s depressing.
MURRAY: So you are as pessimistic as the report is on—
YURGENS: I’m pessimistic as the report on the status quo. I’m pretty optimistic, if we put all our brains together, you know, before this peace forum in Paris, we probably can push things in the right direction.
MURRAY: Michael, give us some of the good news here. (Laughter.)
FULLILOVE: Well, you’ve asked the wrong person, because when you were saying we are hard graders, I was thinking actually there’s some grade inflation going on here.
MURRAY: Are you talking about the overall grade?
FULLILOVE: The overall grade. I mean—
MURRAY: You wouldn’t give it a C-minus.
FULLILOVE: Well, if this is a C-minus, what do you have to do to get a D?
FULLILOVE: I mean, we have a leader of the free world who doesn’t believe in the free world and doesn’t want to lead it. We have the United States inching back from its commitments. We have other powers stepping into the breach, sometimes in positive ways in relation to China and climate change, but other times in negative ways. I mean, if you look at how China comports itself in Asia, in the South China Sea, the rules-based order in my part of the world is really breaking down.
You know, so, I mean, I really struggle to think about—to find the good news, because to me it seems that if the international order isn’t finished, it’s definitely fraying. Now, there have been some developments, of course, since the report was done, and we see that, you know, Kim Jong-un—we’re going to see this big summit, wherever it is, between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump is spending a lot of time tweeting about where it’s going to be.
But again, you’ve got the underlying dynamic here, which is that the person in the cockpit of the liberal order doesn’t really believe in it. And, I mean, to pick up Richard’s point, I mean, even if a deal is done between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump, what kind of deal is that going to be? What will Mr. Trump trade away in return for looking like a big success? What sort of peace dividend would he be—would he be willing—would he be keen to take?
MURRAY: Do you want to answer that question, Richard?
HAASS: Well, again, the short answer is we don’t know. But in the last week, for example, we’ve seen suggestions that the American troop presence on the Korean Peninsula is potentially in play. It’s 28,500 American troops there. And one would say, even if—imagine there were an ambitious nuclear deal. Well, that would still mean that all of North Korea’s conventional military threat would still be arrayed against the South. So one question would be why would you put that in play in exchange for even, again, a demanding definition of denuclearization?
Another question would be, gee, do U.S. troop presences help keep the peace on the Korean Peninsula for nearly three quarters of a century? Why wouldn’t we continue that investment? And it might also dampen down some of the possibilities of conventional war, of militarization, even nuclearization, throughout the region.
And building on something Michael said, I think the president continues to look at America’s commitments around the world and sees—how shall I put it generously?—he sees far more costs than returns on investment. And I think it’s an erroneous view of the world, but it’s his.
So rather than—you know, if I were advising, I wouldn’t be looking for opportunities to pull American troops back. The last time we did that in a big way was in Europe. Then three quarters or more of the American conventional military presence in Europe was removed after the end of the Cold War. And I would simply say what we’ve seen since then in many ways is the return of geopolitics to Europe.
So I would just be very, very careful about removing some of the foundation stones of what has been a remarkably peaceful and orderly world for, again, the bulk of three quarters of a century.
MURRAY: So you talk about the return of geopolitics. It feels to me like that’s something possibly underlying the Report Card and kind of missing from the Report Card. You have, Michael, as you said, the leader of the free world, who doesn’t necessarily believe in it. You have an ascendant China. You have a Russia that is flexing its muscles.
Igor, we were talking earlier about we really are returning to kind of a bipolar geopolitical world, which underlies everything else that’s talked about in this Report Card. What are the implications of that?
YURGENS: Well, we keep talking about multipolarity. And yesterday the secretary general of United Nations very convincingly told us about multipolarity and how much this organization is in support of it.
But I do remember Condoleezza Rice, like, five years ago saying that, you know, multipolar world brought us to the First World War. Bipolar world never did it, because we had the checks and balance of two—system of two strong players who put people under their own influence and check.
So from this point of view, the return to the bipolar, which is democrats against autocrats, democracy against autocracy, more or less, to me is much more understandable structure. And if we, as a junior partner to our big brother China, become the axis of this autocracy—enlightened autocracy; I’ll put it this way—to me, it’s OK. But from this point of view, you have to start thinking about what our forebears thought out about, the convergence of the system. Otherwise, the clash now, because of what I said earlier, would be—would be terrible.
And this convergence of two systems, I think that China is on the way. China actually wants to combine the centrally planned economy with the capitalist efficiency. And it’s doing so. Russia wants to do more or less of the same thing. Definitely the free market system, which prevails in the Western Europe and the United States, and Australia, for that matter, is long forward modal for everybody. But in the meanwhile, you can have to think about the convergence of the two. Otherwise, the philosophical and dialectal change would be the clash, negation, which we have to avoid. From this point of view, people like Nobel Prize Andrei Sakharov from Russia, or Galbraith from the United States, they thought about this convergence. And we, as the Council of Councils, have to think very seriously about the same thing. It’s the better option and variant than the overall confrontation.
MURRAY: Elizabeth, autocracy versus democracy and the geopolitical challenge that’s underlying all of this.
SIDIROPOULOS: I’m not quite sure I agree that the—
MURRAY: You see the convergence?
SIDIROPOULOS: —the bipolarities about democracy.
YURGENS: We’re from BRICS. You don’t remember.
SIDIROPOULOS: (Laughs.) So I have to express solidarity here. (Laughter.) I think it’s a little bit more complicated than that. you know, and we talk about the relative decline of the liberal international order. You know, the person who’s supposed to build the country, who’s supposed to be upholding it and protecting it sort of not really interested in it anymore, at least in the White House. But I think there is another dimension which certainly countries in the developed—in the developing world have felt, that while at the same time the liberal international order has been very important, it’s been a force of stability. And certainly since the end of the Cold War and the emergence of a much more global set of rules, ranging from issues, you know, on human rights to—and human security and related, it’s also a system that has actually disadvantaged many.
And it’s probably not about sort of looking at it through a democratic or an autocratic prism as we move forward. I think we’re in an interim—I think we’re in a transition phase. It’s a transition phase which for smaller countries in the world is actually quite dangerous. I think, you know, smaller countries cannot afford not to have—not to have the big countries playing at least nominally by a set of rules that protect the smaller countries. But if I think of South Africa, which is a democratic state, with all its flaws, its approach probably to the liberal international order and to bipolarity would be there are certain issues in the current system that actually need to be revised, that need to be modernized, that need to be more equitable.
And in that process, you know, we align with other countries from the developing world or Russia—is always a bit of a—not quite sure its developing—because we see them as being able to push certain changes to that order. So we’re both of it, but also wanting to change it. And so it’s a little bit more complex than democracy versus autocracy.
MURRAY: Michael, you wanted to jump in.
FULLILOVE: Well, just that—I mean, one of the interesting things that Australia’s been grappling with—and I think a lot of Council of Councils countries have been thinking about—is what can we do to support the international order while—until the fever in Washington passes, if you like. I mean, there’s been this order that has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of peace and prosperity for the world, I would argue. The United States has been at the center of it. It’s not going to be as central to it for the next few years at least. What can the rest of us do to try to buttress the order? And if you’re looking for good news there, there is occasional good news.
I mean, I think the efforts of the 11 economies to proceed with TPP, even after President Trump engaged in this perverse act of self-harm of withdrawing the United States from the TPP, was actually pretty impressive. You see in Asia—you see middle powers, like Australia, and South Korea, and Japan starting to feel each other out. You know, there was an old—there is a hub and spoke system of alliances we often talk about in Asia, where the United States is the hub and there’s, you know, five or six allies in the region. But now some of those spokes are working together more. And you’re seeing more military exercises between middle-sized countries as a—as a means of thickening the multilateral organizations and complicating the region and making it harder for China to dominate. But just to finish the thought, it’s very hard. And we find this constantly. We’re reaching out to other countries trying to do more, but we very much feel the absence of the United States. It’s like oxygen. You don’t worry about it until it’s gone. And then you really notice it.
MURRAY: I want to go to Richard on that, but before I do I just want to push a little bit on this. You talked—you focused very much on what’s happening in Washington and the fever breaking in Washington. But you sit in Asia, close to—you know, watching closely what’s happening in China, the consolidation of power in China, the increasing aggressiveness, hard power and soft power, around the world. How do you view that in the balance?
FULLILOVE: Well, it’s of great concern, because a country like Australia is extremely exposed, in terms of trade, to China. In fact, I mean, almost all Asian countries are. But we are dealing with a country that has a lot of positives to it. But ultimately, it’s run by a Leninist regime. And not only that, it is increasingly centralizing power in one individual, Xi Jinping. And we know from history that the more power you put into one—the hands of one person, the fewer checks and balances on that person, the more likely you will see rashness and recklessness and mistakes. So—and this is all tied up with the increasing forward sort of leaning posture of China on—in territorial matters.
So it’s a great—it’s a great concern. And Australia is—you know, we put out a foreign policy white paper at the end of last year, where we said Australia is going to try to stand up for the rules-based order in Asia. And that’s something I very much believe in. But, gee, it’s hard. It’s hard to say no to country like China, when you don’t necessarily know the United States has your back. It’s hard to—you can do it sometimes—but to keep pushing back against China is difficult because they have the ability to impose costs on the rest of us that democracies don’t really like bearing.
MURRAY: Yeah. Richard.
HAASS: Well, true. In a world in which the United States does less, whatever set of calculations, other countries will tend to calculate—to move in one of two ways. Either they will assuage or, to use a more loaded term, appease the strongest power in the neighborhood with all the consequences of that, or they will determine to take matters into their own hands. We’ve seen versions of that in the Middle East, say with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, which is arguably the worst now internal conflict in the world. And we could see it in parts of Asia or elsewhere, where the United States can no longer—can be counted on. If old American alliance commitments don’t count for as much countries will, in some cases, then say: Well, we’ve got to militarize in certain ways and act more independently.
So if we move towards a world in which you have far more capacity and far more hands, far more decentralized decision-making, almost by definition it’s going to become a messier world. And then it goes back to this report card. Through all of this, there is an overlay where you have all these global challenges. And the ability and willingness of the world to come together to meet them is, shall we say, modest. And I actually agree with Michael. I think the grades are somewhat generous in some cases. I mean, I would have given the world an F on cyber governance. There is no cyber governance worth speaking of. It goes way beyond Russian interference, but essentially we don’t have any rules of the road for what is desirable or permissible behavior. There’s no mechanism for enforcing it or penalizing those who violate it.
We’re about to have major tests about whether there’s global consensus and a willingness to act on proliferation. There clearly is zero or virtually zero global appetite to deal with some of these really costly, messy internal struggles. Half a million people in Syria have lost their lives. More than half the country has been rendered homeless. Again, look what’s going on in Yemen and other places. So the world—it’s not simply that we have this revival, Alan, of great power rivalry, which is true. But what we have is a large and growing gap between, again, many of the regional and global challenges that define this era, and the willingness and ability of the world to come together. American abdication is part of that.
But what’s also part of it is Russian strategic behavior, Chinese behavior. You know, Britain’s distracted by Brexit. Germany is much weaker now than it was given its internal politics. Emmanuel Macron would like to play a larger role, but it lacks for partners. And this is what makes the—this, again, I think Michael’s criticism is fair. I don’t think you can argue that the grading was too tough. I actually think you can argue that the grading was too generous. And in that case, it is much more like Harvard than it ought to be. (Laughter.)
MURRAY: (Laughs.) So let’s just spend a minute on the three areas that got what, for this report, was relatively decent grades, B-minuses. That was global health, the global economy, and the reduction in transnational terrorism. Elizabeth, why don’t you start with health? There is a sense of that we are making some—
HAASS: Yeah, why don’t I take health? Because that’s one that—give Elizabeth one of the others, because that’s not an area of her specialty.
MURRAY: What would you like Elizabeth. (Laughter.) Well, you can do international terrorism if you like. Richard, health.
HAASS: Health is—look, there’s been tremendous gains against infectious disease. If one looks at HIV/AIDS, one looks at tuberculosis, one looks at—indeed, the world actually can say a lot of people are alive who, without all sorts of interventions, would not have been. And last year there was nothing even remotely on the scale of an Ebola or Zika-type outbreak. You know, I think there’s real risk out there in the sense of there could be a pandemic. There’s a need to build up local health systems. I think there’s an understanding that outside intervention to build up capacities against individual diseases is not the ideal way to go. You’ve got build up health care systems, so countries can deal with challenges.
The emerging challenge is increasingly non-infectious or non-communicable diseases. And there, in many ways, we know what to do. The real question is whether there’s the willingness to put in either money or in some cases laws, things to discourage smoking, to discourage alcoholism, drug use, and so forth. So there, I actually think—you know, look at life expectancy. Life expectancy around the world is going up. You know, United States is unfortunately an outlier there recently.
But overall, life expectancy has gone up dramatically. The developing world has caught up in important ways with the developed world. It’s one of the arguments that, I think, the Steven Pinkers and others would say: You’ve never had it so good. That there are indices of our quality of life and longevity of life that set records. So you’d have to say that global health, on balance, has improved markedly, despite the fact that we could and should do a lot more and despite the fact that we remain vulnerable.
MURRAY: And the fact that it’s not seen as a terribly important issue right now is a reflection of that, right? it’s not—
HAASS: Well, it’s two things. It’s a reflection that we haven’t been hit by a crisis, and one isn’t necessarily coming. It’s also a reflection of some of these other things. It’s—you look at proliferation, you look at what’s going on in a Yemen or a Syria, it’s hard not to feel the need to do something. The tragedy with something like—or, not tragedy—the risk of an issue like global health is that it doesn’t get the priority it deserves until the crisis hits.
MURRAY: Until it happens.
HAASS: And that is, in many ways, the way of the world. And so many—and one of the other things we look at here and don’t give particularly good grades to is climate change, another one of those. It’s easy to run after things and to ignore the things that are, if you will, deteriorating gradually. And it’s harder to galvanize the world to deal with those.
MURRAY: Elizabeth, the reduction in transnational terrorism.
SIDIROPOULOS: Before I move to that, just one point. I think it is important to look—you know, when we look at all of these indicators, there are some—there are some themes that actually need immediately attention, because they take much longer to actually play out. So climate change, health, development—these are fundamental. These underpin and are at the basis of—they are the causes of some of the—of what we are discussing in terms of the symptoms of transnational terrorism, et cetera, et cetera. But what we—
MURRAY: Before we—yeah, there was a sense in the report that in spite of the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, that there actually is an opportunity for progress on the climate front. Can you talk about that a little bit?
SIDIROPOULOS: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I think it is—it’s a reflection really of the fact that they’re also—that the federal government, we were talking about that a little earlier, is not the only and the most important player on many of these issues. There are across the world, not only in the U.S. but across the world, you are seeing actors who are coming who are increasingly playing a role in combatting climate change, whether that is at a subnational level or nonstate actors, whether it’s in the private—in the private domain or elsewhere. So I think that’s also important in the context of the role of states, and how important states are in some of these—in some of these dimensions.
Just one thing around health, which I think is a sort of a worrying issue related to HIV/AIDS and support for these initiatives in the developing world from the U.S., which has been, I think, a very important player in that area. Certainly, in South Africa has made a significant dent in what has been one of our biggest health crises. And I think that’s something to watch.
MURRAY: Could be pulled back.
SIDIROPOULOS: Yeah. So that’s the one point. Right, can I answer the transnational—(laughs)—
MURRAY: Yeah, OK. That was what I asked you. Yeah, go ahead. (Laughter.)
SIDIROPOULOS: I think the—you know, last year there were some good gains made. This largely reflects what happened in the Middle East around ISIS in Syria and Iraq. But it doesn’t actually—you know, while we reflect on some of these developments as positive, it doesn’t mean that the scourge has actually been addressed significantly or fatally. And certainly not only in the Middle East, but also if you look at—if you look at large swaths of Africa, whether it’s in the horn or whether it’s in the Sahel. I think these are constant—you know, there are—there are battles that are won. But the war is still far from over.
If you look at Nigeria, for example, and Boko Haram there, we’re now going in Nigeria into a—the president thought that, you know, this is—we’ve resolved this. But I think, or to a large extent, but I think it reflects—not reflects, but I think as they go into an election period, where also the president has been largely absent, I think these are underlying issues that haven’t gone away in terms of fighting Boko Haram. And the same I think would be said for Somalia and Al-Shabaab, who sort every now and again say, hello, I’m here. And I’ve not been eradicated, yeah.
MURRAY: Could come back quite—
SIDIROPOULOS: And then of course, Libya, which is—
MURRAY: Michael, the economy and trade. Trade was one of the things a year ago people thought was one of the great risks. And in fact, trade has expanded in the last year. Can you talk about that?
FULLILOVE: Well, I think, you know, the economy continues—the real economy continues to barrel along. I know Mr. Trump takes credit or that, but the truth is it’s not really, I don’t think, much to do with him. I think it got a pretty good grade here because the fundamentals of the economy, fueled by low interest rates in general, it’s doing pretty well. I would just say be careful, because, I mean, you think back to the scale of the challenge in the global financial crisis, lots of economists I know are worried about imbalances in the international system. Imagine if we had another global financial crisis and all eyes turned to Washington at the moment. How do we feel about that? How do we feel about—I mean, at the moment—I mean, one of Mr. Trump’s core beliefs in relation to trade is that—is that America is getting duped. He has never seen a free trade agreement he likes. And America is getting duped all the time. We hear about potentially trade sanctions against China.
But the truth is, that because of the global supply chains that wrap around Asia, and because of the fact that many Asian countries are much more trade-exposed than China, the truth is a trade war with China would be a trade war with Asia. So I don’t want to be the harbinger of doom the whole time—
MURRAY: But you’re doing a pretty good job at it. (Laughter.)
FULLILOVE: I’m doing a pretty good job, yeah.
SIDIROPOULOS: A-plus. (Laughter.)
HAASS: Just quickly on trade, though, Alan, the reason it got the grade it did was in some ways parallel to global growth, between 3 ½ and 4 percent. Trade grew—trade volume grew at roughly a similar amount. TPP of 11 came into existence. NAFTA wasn’t trashed, despite all the statements. So one would say the world trading regime, shall we say, survived another year. The volume was good, which is not to say there aren’t any number of things that, you know, can well go wrong this year. But just as a one-year measurement, OK. I think that’s all that it meant.
FULLILOVE: And also, just to add one sentence, I think also there’s a sense that we dodged a bullet, because we were so concerned about the trade rhetoric from the Trump administration. Turns out you can’t do everything in a year. (Laughter.)
MURRAY: So I want to open it up to questions and comments from the audience in a minute, but before I do that I want to ask you each to do this. Tell me the—looking ahead to the coming year, the one thing that makes you the most optimistic and the one thing that makes you the most pessimistic. And I’ll let whoever is ready first go first. Richard, you’re always ready. (Laughter.)
HAASS: The thing that makes me most pessimistic will probably be proliferation, and the combination of what I believe we’re likely to do vis-à-vis Iran, and my concerns about what’s going to happen with North Korea. So—and I don’t see anything changing that. The—
MURRAY: You don’t see any likelihood of a positive development in either?
HAASS: Certainly not on Iran. On the case of North Korea, possible. But I would say more likely—it’s not the most likely outcome. And indeed, a lot of people seem to be ignoring the possibility that the reason North Korea seems—and I emphasize the word seems—to be as prepared to entertain diplomacy as it is, is it might have reached the level of development and maturity with its nuclear and missile assets that allows it to pause there. So I just, I guess, put that out.
MURRAY: Yeah. I’m going to make you be optimistic.
HAASS: OK, yeah, no. Optimism—I think the economy will continue—is likely to do OK globally, again, for the year. I think certain individual countries, like India, are doing—are doing—are doing quite well there. And, again, I think in health I continue to be impressed by what relatively small investments of effort can do in terms of—in terms of saving lives. There was a piece in—one statistic I thought was fascinating in The Economist this week, that $3 billion—which, in terms of government or global expenditure, is rather modest—if simply applied to improving surgical procedures and treatment, could save over a million and a half lives a year. That’s a—it seems to me, there’s low-hanging fruit there for the world to do better.
MURRAY: So that wasn’t one good thing. That was three good things. So I mark you down a little for failure to follow directions, but it’s still a—(laughter)—you know, a—
HAASS: But uncharacteristically (positive ?).
MURRAY: —a decent B. Who wants to go next?
FULLILOVE: Just be careful because we might start marking you too. (Laughter.)
MURRAY: Richard’s already said that’s on the agenda, so I’m prepared. (Laughter.) Who wants to—who wants to go next? One thing for—one reason to be optimistic, one reason to be pessimistic. Elizabeth.
SIDIROPOULOS: Climate change, despite—
SIDIROPOULOS: Yes. And in terms of being pessimistic, I think nuclear nonproliferation, partly because—as the consequences of it going wrong.
MURRAY: Yep. Igor.
YURGENS: I am pretty optimistic on global economy. I’m very pessimistic on cyber governance, because this is a proxy war, because just people who try to play that game instead of the all-out nuclear. And they will keep doing that. And there are no format or instrumentalization of even talking about this thing. But I would like to end up with the one thing: We should all take it holistically. You take global health, it’s the function of global economy. You take global economy, it could be disarrayed by transnational terrorism. And climate change will be—so if you take this—
MURRAY: They’re interrelated.
YURGENS: Either you take optimistic view on all of this holistically, and you work to this end, or you take the very optimistic—pessimistically. And then I want to add one thing on transnational terrorism. We are just treating it in a very straightforward way. Well, we’ll kill some people here, and we’ll keep going—and we’ll keep some—and then that’s the end of terrorism. No way. I am from the Bolshevik country. (Laughter.) Bolsheviks were terrorists because of the social injustice in the Russian empire. So if we don’t treat the roots of the terrorism—which is social justice in the countries that are much worse than we are, and the whole people and populations who live much worse than we are—they’re looking for social justice. The moderates among them tried to put their, you know, arguments on the table, the radicals go to terrorism. So terrorism is not just what we’re—
HAASS: Igor, you really think groups like ISIS are looking for social justice?
HAASS: They’re looking for social tyranny.
YURGENS: They look for social terror when they’ve exhausted other ways.
HAASS: Well, we have a disagreement on that.
YURGENS: Yeah. No, no, no, you have to kill terrorists, there’s no question about that. But if you don’t look at the roots why terrorism came about in certain nations, in certain countries, then you are missing the point.
FULLILOVE: You really want to hear from me on more pessimism, or? (Laughter.)
MURRAY: Yeah, well you can do one pessimism. I’m really looking forward—I’m really looking forward to you finding a reason for optimism.
FULLILOVE: Fine. Well, all I would say is that the U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world. And the Chinese have been very smart with Donald Trump. So far they have not risen to his bait. They probably feel they know—the CCP knows how to deal with nouveau riche billionaires. (Laughter.) But they have not responded to a number of slights from Mr. Trump. And the—and I think that’s been very smart. But what my pessimism—you know, where the pessimism comes from, is eventually they will respond. And you can imagine an escalatory situation that may not necessarily lead to violent conflict but could lead to a real clash between the two countries, which would be ruinous for lots of us.
In terms of optimism, I would actually nominate a couple of personalities actually, and sort of get away from the themes. I think part of the reason the West has lost a bit of its mojo is that it’s been hard in the last 12-24 months to see people in—Western leaders that you can really believe in. And we hosted Macron last week in Australia. And was really impressive, actually. And he was really thoughtful. And it really gave me more of a pip up than I thought I would get. So a couple more Macrons would be useful. We also last—
MURRAY: I would just say, it will be difficult for him to leave the world if he can’t lead France. You got to start with France, right? (Laughs.)
FULLILOVE: Well, he’s doing all right. (Laughter.) But the other person we saw last night, due to Richard’s genius, was we were lucky enough to have an hour or so with Antonio Guterres. And I was very impressed by him. And, you know, no reflection—no reflection on his predecessor, but to have somebody that was so across the issues, that was energetic, that was optimistic, that was knowledgeable, given the importance of the international organization, also gave me a little bit of a pip up.
MURRAY: Yeah, well good. I feel very good about the fact that I was actually able to extract some optimism from you, so I will give myself an A. (Laughter.)
FULLILOVE: Another hard one.
MURRAY: (Laughs.) Questions. Yes, sir. Right here, and then back there.
Q: Hello. My name is Larry Bridwill. And I teach international business at Pace University.
And I just came back less than a month ago from Singapore. And my question is primarily to the Australian. When you take—(laughter)—ASEAN, China, India, Japan, an argument can be made that the 21st century belongs to Asia. And when you look at the United States and Europe, which is only 11-12 percent of the world’s population, you have, despite Macron, malaise in Europe, and you have Donald Trump in America. So I think a case can be made that Europe and the United States are, to use a phrase maybe from the second President Bush, deep doo-doo. And so you could—my argument would be that Asia looks like the future. And then we’ve got this wild card called Russia, because I don’t know if Russia is part of the West, what it’s going to do, or is it aligned with China and Asia. So—
MURRAY: The question is?
Q: To him and then to the Russian to respond.
FULLILOVE: And if you could just one more time, the question in one sentence?
Q: The 21st century belongs to Asia rather than the malaise of the United States and Europe.
MURRAY: Discuss. That’s the question. (Laughter.)
FULLILOVE: No, I’m—well, look, I think there’s no question that many of the opportunities and challenges of the next century come from Asia. That’s where most of the economic growth is going to come from. That’s where America’s only peer competitor resides. That’s where the North Koreans live. There’s a lot of pros and there’s a lot of cons in Asia. But I would actually be—I wouldn’t be so quick to write off the United States in Asia. The United States is still the preeminent power in Asia. It’s still got a military that’s much more capable than any other military. And it has a lot of strengths that the Chinese can’t compete with. For example, there’s half a million Chinese students—Asian university students in U.S. universities at the moment. There are tens of thousands only of Asian university students in Chinese universities. The American press is still the most influential press throughout Asia.
The problem is—and I don’t want to keep harping on Mr. Trump—but the problem is that Mr. Trump—Mr. Trump’s worldviews undermine the strengths that the United States has in Asia. The U.S. alliance system is incredibly valuable to the United States’ position in Asia, but he’s skeptical about alliances. Trade is strategy in Asia, but he doesn’t really believe in trade. Newspapers, the media matters in Asia, and yet Mr. Trump lambasts it as fake news. So rather than make this a Trumpalooza, let me just say that the United States has enormous in-built advantages that come from your system, that come from our values and our systems as democracies, and from lots of other strengths that you have. But you need to stop undermining your own strengths. I believe that the United States can play a critically important role in Asia, but only if it doubles down on its strengths.
MURRAY: Igor, did you want to add anything to that?
YURGENS: I should. I was asked. (Laughter.) A famous Russian writer, Dostoyevsky, about 150 years ago, wrote: OK, I’m going to Europe. It’s a beautiful area. But this is a cemetery, because they are doomed. They are—150 year ago, Mr. Dostoyevsky, as well as a lot of other Russian intellectuals, wrote off Europe altogether. So and then Einstein, on the other hand, said: Listen, the most serious weapon existing in the world is not hard weapon, is not soft power, it’s intellect. So I don’t think that Western Europe and the United States should be written off. Yeah, Asia will come up. Then probably Africa, which is developing at 8 percent growth, sub-Saharan. But what is created by creator will live. And I don’t think that we should be as doomed as my Australian, friend, because, you know, he—the pessimism which I heard from him, and the criticism. I thought Russians were anti-Americans, but now I know that—(laughter)—hands up.
MURRAY: So, Richard, you weren’t—you weren’t asked a question, but it’s your hall. So go ahead, you get to say.
HAASS: I’ll volunteer. Always wrong to write off the United States. And I think one of the big historical questions is to what extent is Mr. Trump—is Trumpism a phenomenon that will endure, with what intensity, after Mr. Trump or not. I also think, with Asia, it’s a mistake to underestimate its challenges. There are more territorial and non-territorial disputes that have not been resolved. There are all sorts of nationalisms, a lack of regional architecture to deal with political military challenges. You’ve got, I think, any number of questions about, among other things, the Chinese-Indian relationship over time.
There’s also questions about China itself. And to simply extrapolate Chinese success going forward in a linear fashion seems to me to ignore the difficulties that the party faces. Indeed, they know they face those difficulties, which is one of the reasons they’ve consolidated power the way they have. The problem is power consolidation will cause as many problems as it solves. So this idea of the inevitably of Asia, I think one has to be very careful about.
MURRAY: So I failed at a couple of my responsibilities as a moderator. First of all, to tell you that this session is an on the record session. I know there are a couple of reporters in the room, and that’s fine. And the other is just to remind you that when you ask your question to identify yourself. And there was a question—
FULLILOVE: C-minus, Alan. C-minus. (Laughter.)
MURRAY: Geez, you are brutal. (Laughter.) Right there.
Q: Thank you. This has—
Q: This has been fascinating. I’m Cathy Gay.
And I’m a little surprised that not one of you used the word “corruption” in talking about either the themes or the governments. And I think corruption has been with us since time immemorial. But it seems to me that it is so much worse now. And I mean, even—I think of Netanyahu, our ally, and I don’t think one can deny he’s corrupt. Trump is corrupt. Maduro is corrupt. Assad is corrupt. Putin is corrupt. You can keep going.
MURRAY: And so—and the question is: Agree or disagree? (Laughter.)
Q: The question—I’d like—I’d like to go one step further. Is there any way to resolve that? Are we going down a road that leads us to hell, or is there a way to get out of this muck?
YURGENS: Well, the modal of the world should change. If anybody wrote—I mean—read the report of the very famous Club of Rome, led by ex-president of Germany, it’s called “Come On!” And the people came to the conclusion finally that, yeah, we have to change both the global economy, the distribution of income, social justice, and all of that stuff. And 27 percent of everything we produce is owned by 1 percent of the population. And hence, corruption. Hence all of this stuff. I would say that the immediate short-term answer is keep corruption as inflation, one digit, and it will be all right. We can muddle through with this. (Laughter.)
But then—but then you have to do the rethinking of the modal in which we are living. How much is enough? How much of the redistribution should be made by the state? Where is Keynes and neo-Keynesian models on this? Where is the social democracy versus free market? All of that stuff. Very, very difficult philosophical questions. And that’s why I mentioned in my first answer convergence of economic efficiency of the systems and social justice of the systems.
HAASS: Look, I think you—there’s certain laws in effect, like the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the rest, which are helpful. But at the end of the day, corruption is going to have to be limited by national means. And the two most important means are powerful, independent media and powerful independent judiciary. And that’s one of the problems with the democratic recession we’re seeing around the world. The principal institutions and tools to keep corruption at bay are getting systematically weakened. And that is a danger for societies, economies, and governments.
MURRAY: A question right there in the back, and the right up here, up front.
Q: Hi. I’m Robert Nelson, Gibson Dunn and the U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum.
A question for President Haass’ three counterparts and then coming back to him. From the standpoint of your respective regions or countries, what’s one thing that you think that the U.S. is getting wrong that by means of a—let’s say, a modest, achievable policy correction, could be addressed? So no grandiose wish list, but one thing that we’re—the U.S. simply has been viewing the wrong way that you think could be turned around. And then, for President Haass, to comment on the answers. Thank you.
MURRAY: Did everyone understand the directions? (Laughter.) Elizabeth.
SIDIROPOULOS: Just one? (Laughter.)
HAASS: Your soundbite.
Q: In the current administration.
SIDIROPOULOS: Well, speaking sort of from a very South African perspective, with the announcement a couple of days ago, I think last week, on the steel tariffs and whether South Africa would be exempt, I mean, some of—you know, a slight policy correction on some of those would be probably be—go a long way. I think sort of having—you know, it reminds me of the Gilbert and Sullivan musical, what was it, the Mikado. I have a little list of society offenders. You know, having—sort of having such a list and telling countries, well, you know, you voted with so many times on X, Y, and Zed, and so many times against us on that, is probably not extremely helpful. But that’s not likely to be a policy correction. But I think certainly on issues of trade, I would say, is one dimension. Let me leave it there.
FULLILOVE: How about nominating and confirming some ambassadors? I think that’s a good start. I was telling—
HAASS: Including Australia.
FULLILOVE: Including Australia. (Laughter.) A couple of weeks ago I was in Honolulu. And I had the chance to visit with Admiral Harry Harris, the PACOM commander. A very impressive chap who President Trump had nominated as ambassador to Australia. Would have had a big impact, I think, in the country. And I flew back for my lunch workup the next day. Turned on the radio. And the night before his confirmation hearings, the Trump administration had withdrawn his nomination in order to send him to South Korea. Now, maybe he’ll do—I’m sure he’ll do a really fine job in South Korea, but it doesn’t send much of a signal to us that he can be redeployed at that—at such short notice. So that’s—I mean, it’s hard to do good foreign policy if you don’t have ambassadors in the field.
YURGENS: I’m not from a Puritan country—(laughter)—but when you started giving away your moral beacon of democracy and moral leadership, you know, you start doing a very bad job for civilization and for us too. And here, I want to protect Mr. Trump because my friend, Michael, attacked him so hard. And here I’m talking, it didn’t start with Stormy Daniels. It started with Monica Lewinsky. And if you don’t want to punish your guys who are in the White House, in the Oval Office do what they do, then what do you expect from us non-Puritans? (Laughter, applause.)
MURRAY: Richard, you’re supposed to have an opportunity to comment on that, but—
HAASS: I will not comment in detail on that last one. (Laughter.) I actually would agree, though, in general, with all three comments. Michael’s point—not just ambassadors. But I think Mike Pompeo understands that we have got to recreate the strength of the State Department and American diplomacy. That was a self-inflicted wound. That’s something that should and could be done. Trade, I still—you know, not wrecking NAFTA and finding a way into TPP, and essentially giving—moving away from some of the unilateralism on trade. I mean, the critique of China, by the way, on trade, a lot of Mr. Trump’s critique is spot-on. The problem is the remedies are way off base.
And lastly, I’ll follow up on one aspect of it. One of the most important things we do in foreign policy is the example we set. The strength and character of American society, or how our economy works, the prosperity that we create and share, the quality of our democracy, those, to me, are as important as anything we do. So what’s wrong is not—to me, it’s not simply that we no longer talk about these issues as a goal of foreign policy, we’ve almost got an amoral foreign policy, but we no longer set an example that others want to emulate. And that is a—that is a real self-inflicted loss.
MURRAY: Question right here, in the second row. And then I’m going to go all the way to the back again.
Q: Robyn Meredith with JPMorgan.
I want to come back to the U.S.-China relationship, because it’s very easy when we’re sitting in the U.S. looking at China, to look at it from a U.S. perspective. And we’re lucky to have such a great, you know, group of people around the world to talk about it. To Richard’s point, a lot of the things that Trump has said about China-U.S. trade are not controversial. And in fact, you know, many people think that the problem was we haven’t stood up to China until now. But what I wanted to get at is, are we too late? And if you look at not just the economic issues, the trade issues, but also South China Sea, East China Sea, the security issues. China now has for the first time in 500 years a blue water navy, for instance. So are—you know, China’s probably thinking of those two things moving in the same direction. U.S. might not have done quite so well. So is the U.S. too late to challenge the power dynamic that has changed so much?
HAASS: I’ll speak as an American. No, though it’s—the situation we face now is far more challenging and difficult than it was five or 10 years ago. But, no, if we were to enter TPP and force China ultimately in its economic relationships to race to the top rather than the bottom, that would make a difference. If we strengthened our relationships in the—our alliances and non-alliance relationships in the region, that would—that would push back. Also, China, unlike Russia in many ways, China has incentive to have good relations with the United States and the rest of the world, because China is an integrated economy. So all the leverage is not one-directional. So I believe we still—we still possess significant leverage to influence not China’s domestic nature, but its external behavior. And I believe we should use it.
FULLILOVE: Can I—can I say—can I add something there? I think here, to be sort of bipartisan in my criticism, I think that—I think Obama gave China a bit of a free pass. And you mentioned the South China Sea for example. I mean, the United States used to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, like it does around the rest of the world. But Obama was very niggardly on authorizing FONOPS, because he had other intentions. And really, the Chinese saw weakness and they saw some space. And they moved in. And now FONOPS has become this thing that’s very difficult for the United States to run. So I think it is actually quite hard to turn the clock back in relation to South China Sea. And I don’t think that’s on Mr. Trump. I think that’s on Mr. Obama.
But I guess, to come back to something—sort of something that Richard was hinting at, I would say this: There are hundreds of millions of Asians in Asia who don’t want to live in someone else’s shadow. None of us do. We all want the right to make our own way. And the advantage of having the United States in the region is that it creates a balance of forces. You know, the United States is a country that’s not resident in the region, is not looking over our shoulders, breathing on our necks, but it’s just there. And it complicates things for China. It makes it harder for them to dominate, harder for them to achieve what they want to achieve, which is a region that’s focused on them. And that would not be a region that would be particularly pleasant for the rest of us.
So I think—I think a lot of Asian countries want the United States to be present. And that’s an advantage that America can take advantage of. And I hope they do.
Q: Steve Hellman, Energy Impact Partners.
I wanted to come back to Igor’s earlier comment, quoting Condi Rice about bipolar versus multipolar, and then commenting that maybe today’s world is indeed bipolar, meaning autocracy versus democratic systems. And ask the other three of you, or any of you, to comment on that. Is that a—is that a realist—is that a real comparison? Is there—isn’t that more an ideological abstraction? Aren’t we looking at more of a genuinely fragmented—a world in terms of nation-states and potentially, you know, sources—potential sources of conflict, and not a somehow 2.0 version of the bipolar world we had with the United States and Soviet Union?
YURGENS: Well, first of all, I would like to say that, again, I think Tocqueville in his very famous book L’Ancien Regime el la Revolution was writing about the process when democracy could degenerate into autocracy, even in 1840 when he wrote it, by saying that there is a large democratic—the human being of the democratic inclination, but who doesn’t want others to live better than himself. And for doing this, he delegates this to someone else. And he was talking about American system, who might degenerate into something else. So from this point of view, autocracy versus democracy is something which is not given. And we saw now, in the United States of America, certain elements of the degeneration of the system, to which we all aspired as a role model, OK? So that’s number one.
Number two, bipolar world—what I meant in terms of geopolitics is more understandable, and I think it’s more Hegelian in terms of contradictions and negation than the world of multipolarity, when everybody stands for its own purpose and reason, with no allies—I mean, firm allies, in terms of geopolitics. A military, NATO, Warsaw Pact, something like this. And then it brings much more misunderstanding problems and chaos. So, long story short, autocracy versus democracy is the primitivization of what’s going to happen, but it’s happening.
And you push us. You, the West, you pushed us into the quite unnatural alliance with China. Now we’re strategic allies. We are all smiles and—there are—we have difficulties. Historically, we are not so homogeneous, at all, you know? But, you know, Mr. Putin was—in 2003, I do remember this conversation. Why do you push us in that direction? Dual containment, the theory which was developed by some people here, or rather in Washington, contained both Russia and China. So you created the bipolar system, if you wish. And then you push people like Erdogan, Duterte in this camp, by not taking care of some of the interests, out of political correctness, of interests of the people who are less—feel less secure than you are, firstly, in the developing world.
MURRAY: Richard, you used a different phrase. You talked about the democratic recession.
HAASS: Well, I think it’s going on. I mean, Russia, China, Turkey, Philippines, Eastern Europe—
MURRAY: Hungary, yeah.
HAASS: And to some extent there’s elements of it in this country. So we see it. It’s not universal. We see democracy quite robust in other places—parts of Latin America, parts of Africa, and so forth. But, look, I think these things are somewhat cyclical. I’d also say that I don’t see the domestic nature of countries, up to a point, as determining their foreign policy. We’ve had perfectly acceptable relations with authoritarian regimes at various times in our history and could again. I don’t think our—I don’t think our foreign policy can or should be based upon the domestic nature of others. We have limited abilities to shape it.
And we have the requirements to get along to a certain degree regardless of the internal nature. So I don’t see this—I mean, I’m worried about the democratic recession for their own reasons. I think people are better off in more open societies. But I don’t see this axis or this line as somehow the key driving point of history or of international relations going forward. I still think we could—coming back to this report card theme—you could get far better grades on a report card, even if the domestic nature of a lot of these countries did not significantly improve. And that ought to be the principal goal of American foreign policy.
MURRAY: So we—unfortunately, we’re out of time. But before we—before we leave, I want to ask a question of all of you. I think it’s only fair under the circumstances that you have the opportunity to grade the panel. (Laughter.) So everyone who thinks the panel deserves an A, please raise your hand. (Applause.) All right.
HAASS: Don’t ask a B now. (Laughter.)
MURRAY: Thank you.