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Rosa Brooks, Georgetown University Law Center, moderated a program on The U.S. Role in Preserving Global Security, which the Lieber Society International Group co-sponsored. The panel focused on the role the United States should play in maintaining or establishing international peace and security.
Jake Sullivan, Yale Law School and senior advisor to the United States on the Iran negotiations, discussed the framework agreement with Iran. It gives shape to the verification requirements although the devil is in the details. Hence, the challenge is to be able to verify effectively Iranian compliance. Kori Schake, Stanford University, Hoover Institution and a former high-level official in national security and defense for former Republican Administrations, supports the agreement because it forces Iran to come clean with prior military operations. She believes inspection provisions are worthwhile. She believes there is a gap in current U.S. policy of U.S. preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Most importantly, if the United States walks away, the current sanctions regime will disintegrate because the Europeans will no longer support sanctions.
In the sense of major threats to security, Sullivan said cyber threats are important because of the gaps between the threats and the knowledge that people have in terms of deterrence and response. It is so complicated and technology is transforming so much faster than policy can undertake.
Schake believes the biggest security threat is the U.S. inability to bring spending under control and the concomitant undermining of the U.S. ability to make discretionary spending (e.g., defense). The United States is missing the potential opportunity of North American cooperation, such as a common energy grid. Sullivan sees a huge challenge to the Western democratic countries in cooperating to build a new world order. Sullivan agreed that the U.S. debt problem presents a reputational issue and that a platform of North American democratic states does have an opportunity to act in areas such as energy.
Schake believes a useful component of the Obama Administration has been the strategic patience in its policy planning. Sullivan said, as the crisis in the Middle East continues to unfold, the challenge is whether the U.S. can keep its rebalance to Asia. Sullivan observes that the U.S. political system prevents it from being nimble in responding to crises.
On the biggest mistake of Obama administration, Schake said there is a need to play team sports. For instance, Kerry’s press conference on the Iran framework agreement should have been a joint one with the European. Sullivan said the biggest mistake was in 2009, the Obama Administration avoided supporting the Iranian protestors because it thought such support would be counterproductive. In the next two years, the Administration will have the challenge of closing the Iran deal and successfully managing the climate deal. He said that trying to bringing the world together on cooperating in responding to cyber threats will be a major challenge.
Because of the U.S. government’s large stake in the international system and its unique capabilities and strengths, there is no significant problem that can be solved without the involvement of the United States (this is the “spiderman thesis”) although the United States cannot do it alone. It means that the United States has to try to mobilize coalitions. The United States has a moral obligation to lead. Schake disagreed. If the United States is obligated to intervene in every situation, we should not do it. The gap between moral understanding in the United States and its actions, such as in Syria, undermines the brand. The United States has allowed enormous responsibility to accrue to it when it should do more burden sharing. An example of what the United States should do more is setting up the Australians to undertake an East Timor mission without trumpeting the fact. Sullivan agreed with Schake.
Schake said the lack of a responsible withdrawal from Iraq was one of the biggest mistakes of the Obama Administration and will remain a problem for a long time. The initial invasion of the Bush Administration was an enormous blunder. The lack of Iraqi state control over its territory is major problem. The United States is doing too little of engaging in humanitarian relief and supporting countries in the region making good choices, such as Tunisia and Jordan. Sullivan agreed the United States cannot solve every problem and bring multiethnic and diversity democracy in all countries. An increasingly adult conversation with the U.S. people on national security is required. Schake says the U.S. public is increasingly asking whether the U.S. government is capable of achieving solutions, especially the use of military to undertake what are civilian task. The DOD plans to undertake civilian activities after the Iraq invasion.
Schake believes Cuba has been a success for the Obama Administration and should help in bringing change in Cuba. Sullivan observes that the Cuba policy has been an obstacle to taking a leadership role in the Western Hemisphere.
Given the polarity in Congress and between the Congress and the executive branch on global security issue, the discussion showed substantial agreement between the panelists on the key issues.
Bruce Zagaris is a partner at Berliner Corcoran & Rowe, LLP, Washington, D.C., as well as founder and editor of the International Enforcement Law Reporter.