The largely unanticipated accession of Donald Trump to the American presidency has occasioned an explosive reaction from the commentariat.
Let us suspend disbelief and assume, if only for purposes of discussion, that civility and rationality will somehow re-assert themselves south of the border. In that spirit of impossible optimism, I offer the following five recommendations for the new administration:
- Launch a comprehensive international policy assessment, rolling in defence and development, and including politics, commerce and immigration. Engage Americans, who so evidently long to be heard, in a national conversation about grand strategy, identifying areas of both capacity and constraint. In the quest to chart where the USA is going – particularly in the wake of disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – propose concrete measures on how it might get there.
- Re-invest in diplomacy and development. Target inequality and polarization – and the tendency of globalization to privatize benefits while socializing costs – by assisting with governance, public administration, the rule of law, democratic institution-building and human rights support. Achieve this by getting back into public diplomacy. Multilaterally, find a way to salvage the US position on climate change and focus on the achievement of the UN SDGs.
- Recast the mandate, mission and structure of the State Department to create a central agency for the integration of international policy across government and the management of globalization. Functioning at a higher level will require some fundamental re-engineering, legislative action, and a more sophisticated approach to the use of social and digital media. To better generate intelligence and to take full advantage of the vital connection to place, the reform package should feature a more flexible approach towards overseas representation, and a more prominent role for US missions abroad. The State department is a singularly underutilized asset. Use it or lose it.
- Re-energize the “pivot” by accepting the inevitability of shifting power and re-building and reinforcing relationships in the Asia Pacific, which is re-emerging as the dynamic centre of the global political economy. America’s connection to this vital region has been mismanaged and neglected, not only with giants China and India, but also with the promising ASEAN countries. Jump start the reconnection by making better use of the USA’s large Asian diaspora communities. A variety of think tanks have produced some useful new thinking on future American strategy; a decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank would help to anchor a larger regional reset.
- Champion international science and technology. Today, the planet’s most pressing perils are rooted in science, driven by technology and have little to do with ideological rivalry, territorial ambition, religious extremism or political violence. Think climate change, diminishing biodiversity, pandemic disease, management of the global commons, and genomics, to name a few. Little is known about the Trump government’s approach to science advice or its commitment to science diplomacy. Both should be accorded a central role in American diplomatic activity.
This sweeping array of S&T-driven, transnational issues together constitute the new threat set, a distinctive group of complex and vexing problems for which there are no military solutions.
Expeditionary forces cannot occupy the alternatives to a carbon economy. Pandemic disease can overwhelm any garrison. Air strikes cannot save a warming planet.
Armed force is both too sharp, and too dull an international policy instrument with which to engage the swirling currents of globalization. The enduring lesson of the Cold War is that the military works best when it is not used. Evidence-based policy and decision making is the only way forward.
It would send a re-assuring signal to the planet if President-elect Trump actively supported an accelerated and intensified commitment on the part of the USA to knowledge-based, technologically-enabled problem-solving. The place to start would be to endorse whatever progress emerges from the COP 22 climate change negotiations which have just concluded in Marrakesh.
The argument in favour of concerted attention to the central challenge of our times is unassailable, and, unlike pipeline approvals, would be strongly advocated by the Trudeau government.
Trump seems given to rapid course corrections… but this is slender recompense for a jittery world. Don’t hold your breath waiting for a climate science epiphany in post-Obama Washington.