On February 2, Foreign Policy at Brookings convened an event as part of the Brookings Blueprints for American Renewal & Prosperity series, which aims to provide actionable policy ideas for the new Congress and administration. Foreign policy experts discussed their recommendations for how to best handle the international security challenges facing the world today.
Following opening remarks from Vice President and Director of Foreign Policy Suzanne Maloney, Senior Fellow and Director of Research Michael O’Hanlon began the discussion by asking each panelist to outline their policy papers and to consider to what extent this moment in history calls for new mechanisms to address current challenges.
Contending that COVID-19 and zoonotic diseases are not a “one in a 100-year issue,” Senior Fellow Vanda Felbab-Brown focused her remarks on pandemic prevention. “We have to fundamentally change how we interact with nature” and concentrate on decreasing instances of zoonosis by minimizing human interaction with wild animals and preserving natural habitats, she urged. While this does not mean stopping all wildlife trade, it does mean phasing out unhygienic and dangerous wildlife farms and addressing subsistence use of wild animal meat. However, she cautioned that these efforts will be critically hampered without more robust funding for biodiversity. Coming to understand and design policy on the basis that human health is “intimately linked to the health of animals and biodiversity” is essential, she argued.
Senior Fellow David Dollar followed by analyzing some of the complex issues facing U.S.-China policy. From bullying U.S. allies to abusing human rights, China is “definitely challenging our security arrangement,” he said. Moreover, inhibiting investment and trade with China is bad for the economy and has done little to change China’s behavior. We need “to get back into the economic game,” he argued, which includes negotiating with China to reduce tariffs in exchange for various concessions. Dollar emphasized partnering with China on global issues such as climate change and toward financial resolution for heavily indebted countries affected by COVID-19, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and compromise with allies to achieve these objectives.
Likewise, Senior Visiting Fellow James Goldgeier underscored the importance of working with alliances, as well as increasing interoperability among America’s Asia-Pacific allies, learning some lessons from NATO. With diverse interests among the NATO member states, forging a consensus where there are disagreements on China is difficult. However, Goldgeier “didn’t really see a need for new institutions,” but rather a need for “new connectivity,” perhaps through a consultative body. Specifically, he highlighted the idea for a Center for Democratic Resilience within NATO to help strengthen democracy globally, which could be an avenue to foster greater connectivity.
Senior Fellow Bruce Jones echoed the need to connect U.S. allies in Asia and Europe, as well as other non-allied democracies, but also the need to leave open a window for cooperation with China and other powers on global public issues like disease control, finance, and climate change. He argued for doing “much more to organize effective cooperation among the democracies within the established institutions of the [international] order” rather than looking outside of the existing system — an approach that would mobilize democracies within a framework he calls “democratic multilateralism.” Additionally, he called for the United States to create a body — the “Partners Council on International Security” — which would parallel the U.N. Security Council.
Throughout the discussion, the importance of deciding how best to prioritize these challenges, approach U.S. relationships and means of communication with allies and partners, and look at international security issues holistically was a common thread. As Jones concluded: “You can’t separate the question of what it is to compete with China without looking at climate change, without looking at health, without looking at financial stability, and you can’t manage those issues without having a theory of how to deal with China’s increased influence in those issue domains.”
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