On March 19, Foreign Policy at Brookings hosted a joint event with the Brookings-Robert Bosch Foundation Trans-Atlantic Initiative and the Bridging the Gap New Voices in National Security Initiative.
The event opened with a keynote conversation between Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Brookings Robert Bosch Senior Visiting Fellow and Bridging the Gap Senior Advisor James Goldgeier. Goldgeier began by highlighting that Kim had been one of several national security professionals elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018.
As the United States begins to reengage abroad, allies and partners are concerned about American reliability. What, Goldgeier asked, is Congress’s role in securing international relationships and preventing future U.S. administrations from retreating? Kim responded that the United States must begin by seeking to better understand the motivations of its partners and allies. From the House, he said he works to build trust and mutual understanding with partners by communicating laterally with legislators around the world.
The congressman identified three categories of congressional foreign policy responsibility: 1) structural, meaning working with agencies on organizational issues, such as diversity initiatives and budget allocation; 2) immediate, involving decisions that require congressional authorization, like drone strikes; and 3) systemic or strategic, in terms of creating a long-term U.S. foreign policy vision. Kim said Congress is currently too focused on “immediate” decisions; he hopes it can “think forward” to work on strategic issues. He explained that members are well-placed to convey U.S. foreign policy to their communities, and by explaining how and why the U.S. engages with global partners, they can prevent xenophobic narratives from taking root.
An expert panel discussion moderated by Senior Fellow Tanvi Madan followed. Madan asked the panelists to reflect on the Biden administration’s approach to alliances. Victor Cha, senior vice president and Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, described Biden’s current Asia strategy as a “one-two punch”: first, meeting with allies; second, addressing key problems in the region. From a European perspective, Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer, director of research for trans-Atlantic security at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, stated that Biden has shown the United States is ready to consult with allies again.
On NATO engagement, Sara Bjerg Moller, assistant professor at Seton Hall University, said she would give the Biden administration an “incomplete” grade, because the first developments will come at the end of 2021 when the alliance begins writing its New Strategic Concept.
Zack Cooper, research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, called the recent “Quad” meeting a success — in part because the group’s focus on tangible results, like COVID-19 vaccine procurement and distribution, enabled it to push-back against criticisms that it is “anti-China,” doesn’t produce results, and distracts from other regional institutions, namely the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
As the United States reengages existing relationships and builds new ones, de Hoop Scheffer believes we have entered an era of “flexible multilateralism” where countries will join ad hoc coalitions to tackle specific issues. For Cha, this form of alliance- and coalition-building requires reformatting American diplomacy.
Madan closed by asking the panelists to identify the biggest challenges the United States will face in rebuilding alliances. According to Cha, the Japan-Korea relationship, which is currently at an all-time low, threatens coalition diplomacy in Asia and affects Washington’s ability to deal with China and North Korea. Regarding NATO, Moller argued, the biggest challenge is internal cohesion. Cooper and de Hoop Scheffer agreed that to build resilient, lasting alliances, the United States must prove that it will be a trustworthy partner even after the current administration leaves office.
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