Foreign Affairs January Issue Launch: Out of Order? The Future of the International System

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Kori Schake

Research Fellow, Hoover Institution; Editor, Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military

Joseph S. Nye

University Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard Kennedy School; Author, Is the American Century Over?


Peter G. Peterson Chair and Editor, Foreign Affairs

Gideon Rose discusses the January/February 2017 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine with contributors Joseph S. Nye Jr. and Kori Schake. The latest issue of Foreign Affairs takes an in-depth look at the future of the liberal international order, and the role of the United States within it.

ROSE: Welcome, everybody. So, my name is Gideon Rose; I’m the editor of Foreign Affairs. We have a great session tonight. We have an opportunity to talk about these extraordinary times with two extraordinary experts. Joe Nye, you all know; Kori Schake you all know. We basically have two top people who are legitimate, trained experts, intellectually and practically, in American foreign and security policy, who have written for our January-February issue about the liberal international order, America’s role in it, and what may or may not happen now. These questions are even more central than they were when we commissioned these things.

I remember when I first talked to Joe in, like, September or something like that—and I said, I want you to do a piece on, you know—a biography of the order. (Chuckles.) And he was like, “why?” I said, “trust me.” And we did it, and, you know, later it was—he was like, yeah, OK, now I think there’s a reason why you might be an editor, because we got the time right. We didn’t predict, necessarily, that—look, we’ve—the international order would be in trouble no matter who was president of the United States. We can all say that, because we all know that the system that has gone on for the last 70 years—that the United States and its allies put in place following World War II in order to prevent a recurrence of the troubles of the ’30s has generally worked quite well and successfully. It has helped prevent great power war, it has helped provide the basis to international stability and global economic progress and development. Lots of problem here and there along the way, but if you compare the last 70 years to world history in the previous 70 years, or any stretch of previous time, all those people who hate the experts would have to say, you know what? This crop of experts did a pretty damn good job in running the world in a way that actually is sensible.

But in recent years, for a lot of reasons that we all know, this order has failed to adapt itself dramatically—successfully to a more multipolar era in which there is distributed power outside the Atlantic littoral. The institutions have not necessarily maintained pace with the issues that now need to be addressed, and there is a general discontent with—not just American discontent with the costs and burdens of the order, but the people who are the subjects of the order don’t necessarily want Americans maintaining order on them.

So this all would have been something that a Hillary Clinton presidency would have had to deal with, and we planned the package in January-February assuming that the issues were important no matter who would be elected. The election of Trump has, of course, turbo-charged these questions, because this is somebody who doesn’t even seem to believe that the order is particularly successful or worth preserving. It’s not quite clear he understands the notion of international anarchy, and how the order was, essentially, a response to the dilemmas of anarchy to overcome them. He seems quite happy in an anarchic world, operating himself fairly anarchicly.

And so the question of what will happen now to U.S. foreign policy and global order more generally is more in play than it has ever been in my adult lifetime. And it’s astonishing to live through—you know, I closed the intro to the last issue with the old, you know, line about the Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.” I now realize that I never really had, except, maybe, a few months in 2001 and a few months in 1989. We’ve never really lived in interesting times the way that talked about. Now we actually are, and now, the question is, OK—you know, the whole point of that joke is, when things are placid, you can live. I was a child of the ’70s, OK? Not much happened in the U.S. You know, what was it—someone did a good novel—like, America in the Ford years, whatever. It was a nice time to be a child, because nothing, really, was happening, right?

But this is the equivalent of, you know, being a child of the ’60s, whatever—or, like, there’s—American foreign policy is now a giant, chaotic mess, as is the world. With that, the question of how bad the erosion will get—will the order fundamentally be damaged? Can it resuscitate itself or not? If so, how to do it? These are all live questions, and without any further ado, I want to get Joe and Kori to weigh in to discuss them, because they may or may not be as hysterical as I am; they may or may not be as frazzled I am, because I know they are not putting out an issue that’s supposed to go to the printer a few days ago, and is still actually waiting there right now as we do final tweaks to it. (Chuckles.)

We’re sending the Foreign Affairs—you know, an era in which you—you know, it’s funny. I started out working on quarterly magazines. Then we went to a bimonthly mode for FA; of course, a few years ago, we got a website, and now we do daily content as well. We still have bimonthly issues, but, you know, the idea that, sort of, anything other than—the visibility we have may be a matter of weeks, if that, or days, rather than months and years, and trying to put out a bimonthly magazine, in that regard, is very, very difficult. So without—that’s why it’s so frazzled and challenging to—the next issue of Foreign Affairs is going to be published after Trump’s election—after Trump’s inauguration, but going to press before the inauguration. You tell me how we’re supposed to discuss Trump’s foreign policy in that context in ways that’ll stand up over the next two or three months. I don’t know; we did our best. You’ll see the next issue and see.

But forget that, because we have real experts who can tell us. So, Joe, why don’t we start with you? Is—does the international order have a future?

NYE: I’m going to guess yes, but I—my guess is probably a little less certain than it would have been if we’d talked about it a year or so ago. I think it’s important to start with your baseline. And I don’t think that the Chinese were about to replace the United States as the most powerful country, as I say in my essay for you. And I think there have been a lot of exaggerations of this, and I also think the American position in—measured by real measures, as opposed to psychological things, is stronger than people think. For example, if you take American demographics, we’re the only rich country that is going to preserve its position in 2050. Russia, Japan, Europe, all going down. The United States is number three in world population today; it’s going to be number three, according to the U.N. demographers, in 2050. That’s important for a whole lot of reasons, including this whole question of whether you have a burden of too many people old supported by not enough young people who are working.

The second indicator I would give you is, if you look at the energy situation—if we talked about this a few years ago, we would have said we’re becoming hopelessly dependent on imported energy. And then came the shale revolution, and now the IEA in Paris projects that North America may be energy independent in the ’20s. And in addition to that, if you look at the technologies that are going to be crucial to the 21st century, biotechnology, nanotechnology and the third wave of information technology, everybody would agree that the United States is at the forefront of all three of these. And if you asked, what about the structure underneath that, in addition to vibrant entrepreneurial patterns, the university structure, as measured by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a Chinese institution—it takes the top 25 universities in the world and argues that 20 of them are in the United States.

So even—I mean, it’s true, there was a diffusion of power, even if Hillary had been elected, but the argument that we were, sort of, downhill, the Chinese were going to take over and that it was going to be like the ’30s, where—what I call the Kindleberger trap, over Charlie Kindleberger—Americans became the most powerful country after 1917, but we didn’t wake up to it until 1945. And the result was the ’30s; Britain could no longer provide global public goods, and we weren’t willing to. And that was a disaster. Some people think that China’s going to do the same thing. I don’t think so. If you look at China, what’s interesting is the extent to which China have bought into the order. Now, it’s not invented here, from Beijing’s point of view, but it’s been extremely useful to them. There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal today about how Xi Jinping is in Davos right now saying, we’re all in favor of free trade and this liberal international order.

ROSE: Are you heading off there after this?

NYE: (Chuckles.) Not this year. I’ve gone 25 times. That’s enough. But the—but the point is that I don’t think, from the baseline, that the United States—that the order was about to collapse. I think we’re going to have problems, but I think it was something which was to be preserved. So, to my mind, the threat is not from external forces, but from internal forces. And then, you have to ask, how much is this populist surge going to dominate in the future or not? And then you come back to how really close this election was. Before we see it as a huge populist surge, you’ve got to remember that it rested on 100,000 votes in three Rust Belt states. So it wasn’t that, you know, we had this—I mean, Trump likes to tweet all the time about his overwhelming victory. It wasn’t. He lost the popular vote, and he took advantage of a candidate who failed to take a good strategy toward these Rust Belt states. And that’s given us where we are.

So I don’t think the underlying internal trends, if you measure it by the closeness of the election or public opinion polls, which show the majority of the people still say they wanted an externally-oriented foreign policy, they still favor immigration—we haven’t gone through this total sea change. The key question, though, is, can he produce it? Can—you know, are the idiosyncrasies of this individual such that by picking a dispute which weakens NATO, by starting a trade war with China, by raising the Taiwan issue and linking it to trade, could he do a series of things which begin to—it’s like a sweater where you start picking the loose thread, and eventually you wind up on the stage, and your sweater’s gone. Is it possible for him to do that? I don’t think so, because I think the institutional constraints will prevent it.

ROSE: Which institutional constraints?

NYE: Well, let’s start with—you can go back to James Madison and talk about the Congress and the courts and the separation of powers, but for foreign policy, I was thinking more narrowly of something called the State Department, the Defense Department and the intelligence community, which—I’ve served in all three. And I’ve—and if you look at his appointments—Mattis and Tillerson—and I don’t know Pompeo, but he seems to have a reality principle. (Laughter.) There is a—I think these institutions are—I don’t see the—I don’t see them taking off in wild directions quickly.

ROSE: So you’re putting your bets on bureaucratic professionalism and general governmental inertia as a constraint—(laughter)—as opposed to domestic political constraints or international pushback, or necessarily, checks and balances in Congress.

NYE: Well, I think it’ll be—I think it’ll be—I think it’ll be all of the above, but I’ve—and I think you’ve got to take the Congress seriously on this, but the point is that I don’t—you know, the tweeter-in-chief—we don’t know whether he is going to actually try to guide these tweets into a coherent strategy, or basically keep people diverted with that at one level while others are running the ship, and I don’t know that.

ROSE: I basically—for what little it’s worth—and it’s not worth much—I basically agree with you, but I wonder whether that’s because we’re so knowledgeable about, in bed with and impressed with the professional community that we sort of assume there’s a lot of power there, and that it will be exercised wisely. I can’t think of a better person to, sort of, take the discussion from here than Kori, who is an example of the kind of professional resistance, you might call it, that you’re in effect counting on.

For those of who you don’t know, Kori is a serious, experienced conservative Republican national security policymaker, who joined the, sort of, “Never Trump” forces over the summer, and then, has continued to be so, and even having co-authored with Jim Mattis, still, is sort of not going in—but doing so for, sort of, professional reasons, I would say, essentially. And I guess my question to you, Kori, is, you and yours, by—despite your ideological confreres, right, felt—to talk about Joe’s point about the voluntaristic aspects of American foreign policy, America’s international agency—you felt that this was, in effect, waning a little bit, even during the Obama years, right? And the thrust of your piece was, we were already pulling back from global leadership and needed to be more engaged in order maintenance and in a, sort of, more active pose already. How worried are you—if you were worried about Obama’s pullback from the order, how worried are you—which, presumably, by the way, was done from diffidence rather than ideology, I think you’d probably agree, right—how worried are you that this will be turbo-charged in the Bush years? And do you—

NYE: The Trump years.

ROSE: What?

Q: Trump years.

ROSE: Sorry, in the Trump years—sorry, in the Trump years. How—

NYE: Could we please have Bush back? (Laughter.)

ROSE: I never thought I’d hear Joe Nye say that. (Laughter.) Which Bush?

NYE: Both. (Laughter.)

ROSE: Anyway, how worried are you about what’s going to happen?

SCHAKE: So I’m worried about a lot of things in the Trump administration, but I am less worried about the resilience of the international order than I am about other things. And while I basically agree with Joe’s points, I would make three additional ones. The first is that, Gideon, I think your recollection of the 1970s as an uninteresting time in American foreign policy—(laughter)—illustrates our tendency to believe that because things worked out all right, that they were uninteresting, when, in fact, the Vietnam War, the My Lai massacre, the end of the Bretton Woods agreement, Henry Kissinger and détente, and the end of a values-based American foreign policy. And yet, very many people consider the 1970s the zenith of American-guided international liberalism.

So I think it’s possible to overstate the case. And as Gideon said, in my article for Foreign Affairs, I argued that there’s actually a fair amount of continuity between President Obama’s belief that the United States did too much in the international order, that trade agreements were detrimental to the American economy—you’ll recall, in 2008, he campaigned on renegotiating NAFTA because the Canadians and Mexicans had gotten the better of us. During the Libya intervention, they not only left Europeans to do most of the work, the NATO ambassador and the SACEUR then wrote a New York Times op-ed piece explaining that we had done 80 percent of the important stuff, and nothing could be done without us.

So the gracelessness of expecting other people to run the risks and take the hard choices, but us to get the credit for their having done so, which seems to be characteristic of the president-elect, is actually not a huge sea change departure from many of the reflexes of the Obama administration. In fact, I would argue that had Secretary Clinton been elected, she would have represented more of a reversion to the norm from either the Trump administration or the Obama administration. So my second point is, there is a fair amount of continuity, and, of course, the reason there is continuity is that Americans are asking these basic questions, and those of us in the cognoscente have failed to satisfactorily answer their anxiety about the way the economy is changing and the turbulence associated with it.

And let me just end by saying, the very best guide I ever saw to thinking about how the international order is changing is an article Richard Rosecrance, the political science professor at UCLA, wrote in Foreign Affairs in about 1996, in which he argued that the way the order was changing—that population size didn’t matter in the way it used to, that manufacturing was going to change in ways that would make it unrecognizable, that Hong Kong was, in some ways, the right model, because an agile society that could create a sense of cohesion—political and social and economic cohesion, was going to matter hugely in the way the international order is changing—that is that states are in the business of competing for talent. And to go back to Joe’s magnificent book about soft power, American dominance of the international order—

NYE: Which? (Laughs.)

SCHAKE: Yes, one of—one of many of Joe’s great books on I’m studying.

NYE: Until the next. (Laughs.)

SCHAKE: The American dominance of the international has as much to do with our values, our innovation, our tolerance for risk and change as it does with the choices made in Washington, D.C. And that’s what makes me less worried about the international order than I am, for example, about corruption, conflicts of interests, protection of our Constitutional liberties in a Trump administration.

ROSE: OK, good. That’s actually really encouraging on both your parts, because you’re both wise, serious people I respect, so I sometimes get worried, and it’s nice to hear—the most encouraging experience that I’ve had in the last month and a half, I went—I was in D.C in December at one point, and I was talking with the staff of the Senate Intel Committee—and a long session with the staff of the Intel Committee, and I was expressing some of my concerns with them about, you know, what might happen, and I was trying to, you know, sense out what you were saying about the professional resistance. And they were smart, serious, self-confident, cocky, and they said to me, you know, I don’t think Trump’s going to like being president all that much—(laughter)—one of the (chief staff workers ?) said. And I said, “why not?” He said, well, you know, he’s going to come in thinking he can do X, and Y, and Z, and he’s going to find out that he can’t, and that Congress has power, and their people will say no, and he’s going to start getting very frustrated. And I don’t think he’s going to like that very much.

SCHAKE: And Republicans in Congress have an enormous incentive to craft policies that, kind of, achieve the basic thrust of the president’s campaign, but that protect the Republican brand from its worst excesses.

ROSE: Right. So I think I was encouraged, but I think it’s going to be interesting to see. I think they were a little naïve, because the professionals—whether the professional staff’s bosses will be as aggressive in the defense of things as the professional staffs themselves will be an interesting question to watch play out.

My point about the ’70s, by the way, was more about U.S. domestic time. You know, domestically, it was a little calmer than in foreign policy, I think.

SCHAKE: Watergate, and impeachment of a president!

ROSE: That’s the long ’60s—the long ’60s, I like to call it—you know.

SCHAKE: (Laughs.)

ROSE: You have to include ’73—you know, ’63 to ’73, you know—

NYE: My office at Harvard was bombed in ’71.

ROSE: Really? (Laughter.)

NYE: So I don’t quite share—(chuckles).

ROSE: Your office was bombed in ’75?

NYE: No, it was the invasion of Cambodia. It was after that, yeah.

ROSE: But this is actually an interesting point, because for people my generation—most of you guys are a little bit older than me, but there are some who are my age or younger—I’ve actually never really thought much about coming of age politically in the Ford years. I mean, I had some sporadic memories before that, but the reason why I think it’s now significant—because if you look—it’s like cherry-picking a time—it’s like everything since then has been relatively—you know, the last giant turmoil in America was the ’60s. But there was ’60s. There was Goldwater, the election in ’64. There was McGovern in ’72. There was a giant war—and having missed all that, and having, sort of—I had—I had two advisors who were notoriously known for never serving on each other’s committees because they were so at odds over Vietnam. And by the time that I was there, it’s like, oh, yeah, you can—you could have Stanley and Sam on the same committee.

So in some ways, it’s actually good to have an institutional memory going back further than mine, because you need it to know how anchored things actually can be. But let me press you both on an interesting question, which is, to follow up Joe’s point about the professionals, and your point about Congress—I think there’s an interesting distinction emerging between what we know about the White House in this new administration—the president and the people who have been chosen to surround him in the White House and the cabinet and the agencies, which have generally been staffed with people who are much more professionally reputable and experienced and people who one is not necessarily scared of. I mean—or scared of in any way that would matter.

So what do you guys think—however, in the last 50 years, the trend has been extraordinarily towards concentration of power in the White House at the expense of the agencies, right? So my question to you is, what will the relationship between the White House, with its rather idiosyncratic views on a number of issues regarding foreign policy, including order-based issues—and the agencies, many of whose new heads have been forced to ratify, in the last few days, existing major policies that are quite supportive of the order? What happens when the chairman of the Joint Chiefs says NATO is—the secretary of defense and all the chairmans of the Joint Chiefs say, NATO is fantastic, and the president says NATO is obsolete? How does U.S. foreign policy with such radically different centers of power and intellectual viewpoints represented in the same administration?

NYE: Well, the honest answer, Gideon, is, we don’t know. And—but if you look back historically, what’s interesting is that Ronald Reagan ran through six NSC advisors. It’s worth remembering that. I would suspect that this White House will run through quite a number of NSC advisors, and I don’t mean—I don’t know how the relationship with Flynn and Tillerson and Mattis will play out, but just historically, when you have a White House which has a desire to have an ideological control of that sort, it’s—it has produced problems in the past.

ROSE: Weak NSCs are bad for national security in this—you know, in the last 50 years we’ve seen that.

NYE: Well, no, I would say weak NSC advisors. Like, Kori and I were together and I—she served on the NSC, so I want to hear her view on this. But we were together at an Aspen strategy session this summer on NSC. There was a general consensus that the NSC should be cut way back in terms of size, that it’s become a little replica of the departments so that you have—you have, you know, 27-year-old kids who are trying to call the secretary of defense and tell him how to deploy troops in the Horn of Africa or something—I mean, that’s an exaggeration—only slightly.

SCHAKE: But not much.

NYE: But only slightly.

ROSE: Hey, I was 31. (Laughter.)

NYE: But the point is that if—and what we’ve heard is that the Trump administration intends to reduce the size of the NSC. If the NSC is cut back to a normal size—and Obama let this—Bush and Obama together let this metastasize, then I think you may wind up with something where the departments will, essentially, execute policy in the NSC will try to suggest ideas. What we don’t know—I mean, that’s a model based on previously bureaucracies and size and statements that have been made so far. What we don’t know, however, is how the president-elect, or soon-to-be-president is going to play his role. Ronald Reagan was superb in the sense of having a sense of direction and then delegating. The problem is, when he delegated to Jim Baker, it all worked very, very well. When he delegated to Don Regan, he got Iran Contra.

And what we don’t know is how Donald Trump will be as a delegator. In other words, will he choose people and delegate wisely or not? And there’s just not much evidence on that, that he has a skill for that. The description of his learning processes are that he doesn’t read—it’s oral, and it’s the last whisperer who counts. That would suggest that the NSC advisor will have a disproportionate influence. On the other hand, when the NSC advisor gets into a fight with a four-star general at Defense, I don’t know how that’s going to turn out. Matter of fact, Kori, you were—you were on the NSC. What’s your reaction?

SCHAKE: I share Gideon’s intimation that this is going to be the interesting question in the administration, that for all of the focus that has been on veterans serving in high policy administrations, I think the civilian-military divide is actually not going to be problematic in this administration, in part because, especially in the case John Kelly and Jim Mattis, these are extraordinarily well-qualified people taking these jobs out of a sense of civic duty. But the real important question will be that the president has surrounded himself in the White House with his most dedicated loyalists, and also the people who are most reckless on all of these issues. And to his great credit, the president has nominated quite a number of cabinet secretaries who are sensible, sober people who—and he chose them knowing they had different views than he did on these issues. That’s a really hopeful sign. Whether that will result in an NSC staff that, like the Scowcroft NSC, made the trains run on time, ensured that issues—that it was clear in the interagency what issues the president was going to decide versus the cabinet secretaries, and made sure that the president got the information he needed to make those decisions, that they were communicated effectively throughout the organization.

As Joe mentioned, I did a study with Will Wechsler from the Center for American Progress about how to make the—kind of, interagency best practices. And one of the most interesting people we interviewed was Ivo Daalder at the head of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, who had worked closely with the Obama campaign, and ran President Obama’s transition. And he pointed out that the reason the Scowcroft model of the interagency worked well is not just that Brent Scowcroft was fantastic at his job—that everybody was fantastic at their jobs.

And actually, Henry Kissinger reaffirmed that, you know, he wished he could have run a Scowcroft interagency, but the president didn’t trust his cabinet. And so everything migrated to who the president trusted. What we learned in this NSC best practices study is that you can organize the interagency any way you want; it won’t work unless it’s consistent with the way the president’s—the president’s decision-making, and given how scattershot that plot is for the president-elect, it’s actually going to be a genuinely difficult challenge to figure out how to understand how he takes on information, how to make his decisions clear, how to discipline the organizations, and how to give America’s friends and allies the kind of lead time so that they can coordinate activity that works in concert with this.

I actually think the greatest likelihood is that the system will grind to a halt, and nothing will get done, because folks in the bureaucracy won’t know what to do. Cabinet secretaries will be trying to figure out—everything’s going to get relitigated, because the people in the White House view themselves, rightly, as the guardian of the president’s mandate. And I’d give six in 10 odds that this is going to be really problematic, just getting anything done in the Trump administration. (Laughter.)

ROSE: So I think this is actually—I agree entirely.

SCHAKE: And therein may lie our safety. (Laughter.)

ROSE: No, it’s interesting. We’ve spent the last, almost, like, two years in this intense partisan fight over Democrats and Republicans, and the parties—now the democrats are almost irrelevant, but—and the assumption in a lot of the press and in a lot of Washington is, well, they are—the Democrats lost; the Republicans have Congress, they have the White House, they have the administration. I think you’re going to see a tripartite—a triangular thing with the White House, the agencies and Congress, and there are going to be furious battles among all those three, and they’ll all be intra-Republican battles, or intrapolitical battles on the winning side. And in some ways, you know, for all the talk of resistance, and all the Democratic opposition, unless and until there is some serious political deterioration, that’s not going to mean much to block anything. And so—but what the fights will be among Congress, the White House and the agencies is going to be absolutely fascinating. Do you guys agree with that? That that’s where the real stories are, in effect, going to be fought out?

SCHAKE: I think there’s an enormous opportunity for rebuilding the bipartisan center, especially of American foreign policy. On this, I would defer to my terrific sister, Kristina Schake, who was the deputy communications director on the Clinton campaign. But it doesn’t seem to me that Democrats are irrelevant, although, I agree, the fight in—the internecine fight among problems, but Republicans, particularly in Congress, and Republicans who are arguing for a continuation of traditional Conservative policies about trade and about the shape of the international order and America’s engagement in it—we have a huge opportunity to cooperate with Democrats to strengthen the center of these policies in a way that has not been done in quite some time in America.

ROSE: So I will now uncharacteristically shut up and invite members to join the conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record; wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Stand, state your name and affiliation and limit yourself to one question. So, Pamela.

Q: Thank you. Should I—

ROSE: Hold on one second, you’re going to get a mic.

Q: Oh, OK. Thank you all. It’s Pamela Falk from CBS News.

I was interested that the name Vladimir Putin didn’t come up and would love to hear—your article did talk something about it. And there has been a lot of very admiring tweets back and forth, but then there was this comment about strategic parity that that’s a dangerous thing to break. And it seems like nonproliferation may be an issue. And if you remember September—six months in, President Obama led—banged the gavel at the U.N. for a Security Council meeting on nonproliferation. President-elect Trump will have April as the president of the Security Council. So where do you think that’s going? Will he challenge that piece of the old order, or will he somehow let his bureaucrats run it? Thank you.

NYE: My guess is that in the first year of the Trump administration, you’re going to see improved relations with Russia. And in the second year, that will go away. Remember Bush 43 looked into Putin’s soul, and we had good relations, and it ended with the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and frosty relations. And Hillary Clinton on behalf of Obama handed Lavrov a reset button, and we ended with sanctions after Crimea and Ukraine.

I think the—I think—and I argue this in my little book on “Is the American Century Over?”—I think Russia is in decline. And I think Putin is a brilliant tactician, and if he had a red hat, it would say, “make Russia great again.” (Laughter.) And he—but he’s doing a lot of things which tactically seem great but aren’t. I mean, all you have to do to look at what’s really going on—everybody says, oh my God, Putin cleaned our clock in the Middle East, he’s now the superpower of the Middle East—look at the performance of the Soviet or Russian—and it’s both—aircraft carrier, the Kuznetsov, which was dismal. And remember that we have 10 real aircraft carriers. And, you know, they are—

ROSE: Do people know the story of the aircraft carrier? It’s actually kind of sad. They have one aircraft carrier, and it’s a really old model. It doesn’t even have the full ramp, so it has to have, like, a little ski jump kind of thing to get the planes up. And then a couple of the planes—actually, out of about 15 planes, two of them have actually just crashed, tried to take off or land?

NYE: Well, they’ve had to—but they’ve had to use them off land rather than off the carrier.

But the idea that Russia is now a superpower with global power projection is just ridiculous, and it indicates how thin press coverage of things like this are. I mean, some gesture in Aleppo is suddenly read as a transformation of the global balance of power. It isn’t.

But in any case, to go back to the main point that you raised, which is, I would expect that there is going to be a real difference of national interests between the U.S. and Russia and that something is going to happen where a volatile Trump does something either on his own or in response to a volatile Putin. And instead of this bromance, you’re going to have just the opposite.

So my prediction is that yes, for a year things are going to get better, and then I suspect they’re going to get worse again.

ROSE: Kori, what’s your take on Russia?

SCHAKE: I think it will be the first test of the Republican v. Republican internecine squabble. I worked on the McCain campaign in 2008. And when John was asked what he saw in Vladimir Putin’s eyes, he said he saw the initials KGB. (Laughter.) I thought Marco Rubio’s questioning of Rex Tillerson in the confirmation hearings was a very valuable antidote to President-elect Putin’s—(laughter)—oh my God, what a Freudian slip—(laughter)—to President-elect Trump’s bromance with President Putin. So I think Republicans in the Congress, who, after all, hold the—hold the power on sanctions relief, I am skeptical the president can convince them as easily as he has convinced himself and the people immediately around him about that.

Nonproliferation, Donald Trump as a candidate was talking quite recklessly about how the Japanese and the Saudis and the South Koreans all ought to get their own nuclear weapons, when in fact, the most valuable prevention of nuclear proliferation has been American security guarantees. Most of the countries that could have proliferated chose not to because they believed us when we said that we and they have common interests we will defend commonly. And President-elect Trump is already calling that into question in a way that’s setting a lot of boats rocking and is unnecessarily buying a lot of potential difficulty down the road.

ROSE: Mr. Secretary in the back, did you have a question?

Q: Yeah, a quick question. You haven’t mentioned trade or—

ROSE: Could you identify yourself, sir?

Q: What? (Laughter.)

ROSE: Could you identify yourself?

Q: Trade. Why isn’t that the single greatest threat at the moment to harmonious international relations? And what do you think Trump is likely to do having said that he wants to have a China-only tariff of some sort? And I presume—you were just in China, Joe; I assume they would notice that and perhaps even respond to it.

NYE: I think it is a real problem. I think there are two aspects of it, Bob. One is the economic aspect. I mean, as you cut—as you cut global value chains, are you going to make American companies less competitive? In other words, there’s a real economic effect.

But leave that aside for a bit. Leave aside comparative advantage and all the rest of what the economists say. Politically, I think the American position in the Pacific is weakened by the dumping of TPP. That would have been true under Hillary as well as under Trump, though there is some view that Hillary would have found some excuse, like Bill Clinton did, at which to say, yes, I’m going to have a really tough negotiation, and after a year, you save NAFTA in his case. I don’t know that Trump really wants that as the outcome. There’s not much indication of it. But we are weakened by the—by the collapse of TPP.

And then if you add to that taking—I mean, remember TPP wasn’t China; that was our bulwark against China. But then if you add to that a trade war against China—and China uses RCEP, the regional cooperation for the Pacific, to replace our leadership there—and we then wind up with a tit for tat with China, I think we’re going to be losers. I mean, it’s going to be very expensive for China. I think it’s going to be very expensive for us not just economically but politically.

So I think there’s a—I think this is an area that worries me a lot, without even getting to the question of NAFTA and what it does to the integration of North America and the argument that Dave Petraeus and Bob Zoellick made in their study for the Council here, which is if you think of North America as a region, and if we could really seriously integrate North America with its advantages demographically and economically and so forth, we are competitive with Asia as North America. But if you tear apart NAFTA, you’re tearing apart that advantage.

So there are many dimensions to the ways in which the trade policy of the—of the—or the alleged or probable trade policy based on prior statements of the administration and appointments will go. I think it’s going to be a real weakening and dangerous situation.

ROSE: Do you think this will be a second area of intra-Republican warfare?

SCHAKE: I doubt it.

ROSE: Really?

SCHAKE: I think Republicans have been weakening on free trade. Both political candidates talked complete nonsense about trade policy this electoral cycle. So that the public doesn’t understand that trade isn’t our enemy is a reflection of the failure of the political leadership to own up to the fact—there’s a lot of good research out there, including from the Peterson Institute for International Economics, suggesting that trade accounts for about 14 percent of American job losses across the last 15 years; technological innovation accounts for about 85 percent. So this is about economic change and the wave of the future.

And whoever can figure out how to—you know, the politician I have heard speak most poignantly to this is Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, who talked about his father who was a truck driver and, on a truck driver salary, could afford to have a stay-at-home mom and raise several children as—in a middle-class family. Those jobs are gone, and they’re never coming back. And nobody has answered, how are we going to figure out meaningful employment for people who used to do those kinds of jobs?

And the politician that can turn that key in the lock will defang the trade issue. But nobody’s even trying to do that. And it’s terrible for us economically. It’s terrible for us in terms of foreign policy for all the reasons that Joe said. But I would not bank on a Republican Congress to be the salvation on this.

ROSE: It’s actually going to get even worse with the 3 million truck drivers in the—people who drive for a living in the U.S. now at least and that once you get self-automated driving trucks and cars, those jobs go too, so actually—yes, over here.

Q: Stephen Schlesinger from the Century Foundation.

Can you discuss Donald Trump’s attitudes towards NATO and the European Union? Obviously, he’s fractured a lot of feelings of a lot of countries over there about what his attitude is. And does it have any meaning, or is he just sort of playing games to see what he can use as bargaining chips in the future?

NYE: That’s a good question. I’d be interested in Kori’s answer.

What intrigues me is the ability of Trump—it is a really unique style, and you’ve got to give the man credit for his ability to—you may not like it, but he can divert attention and say virtually contradictory things and get away with it. So you say we’re going to make countries live up to their defense commitments; they’ve going to have to increase their defense spending as a percent of GDP to 2 percent or else. And then you follow the statement with a statement, but I love NATO. What does that mean? I mean, what—and then you say about—you know, you entertain Nigel Farage, and you talk about the fact that we don’t care about what happens to Europe—and of course, that’s been Putin’s policy all along, to weaken Europe and NATO. And then you still say that, you know, we’re going to stick with our European allies. It’s very hard to pin Trump down because he says things which are contradictory. And when you express policy in 140 characters, you can’t get a—you know, you can say it in such a brief and cryptic way that the next tweet takes away half of what you said or all of what you said.

So I find it very hard to know what the situation will be with NATO. I—again, here’s where I fall back on my institutional arguments, which is I suspect NATO’s going to do better than we thought. You listen to Mattis’ testimony and Tillerson’s testimony. If you look at—when I was in the Pentagon, the saying used to be, NATO consists of a lot of boring committee meetings. But that’s important because it means there are a lot of people talking to each other all the time, creating rich networks. So yes, the statements of the commander in chief in the U.S. do make a difference. But they don’t immediately unravel this rich web that’s been built up over the years.

So I would suspect that he’s not going to be able to destroy NATO without a major effort to—and I’m not sure, from what he said, that he has a clear strategic sense as a priority to undo NATO. I think it’s more, I’m going to make these so-and-sos, you know, live up to what I think they should be spending on defense, and so I’m going to be really, really tough with them. But I don’t think he’s going to actually destroy the institution. I don’t think—but who knows, you know?

ROSE: Kori?

SCHAKE: I agree with Joe’s take on that. Donald Trump isn’t the first American elected politician to think that Europeans aren’t doing their fair share and that we have allowed to accrue to us too much responsibility for good outcomes for them. Just recall that Dwight Eisenhower advocated the stationing of American troops in Europe as a temporary measure until Europeans regained their strength. He would be turning over in his grave to see that American troops were still in Europe in the year 2016—in part because we will have failed to help our closest friends in the world understand how strong and vibrant they are and how capable of managing the threats that face them.

And even in the case of a Russia that is this aggressive, this criminal, this strongly attempting to pry the United States and its allies apart, I still think it’s maybe 50/50 whether Russia, Venezuela and some of the other worst governments in the world actually fall apart during Donald Trump’s four years as president because as Joe said, the Russians have a weak hand rapidly declining that they are playing shrewdly and aggressively, but the only reason they’re succeeding is largely our failures, not their successes and that in particular—I was just this weekend reading Marc Bloch’s book “Strange Defeat” about the capitulation of France in 1940. And he gives—bears powerful witness to the fact that the Nazis succeeded less because of strategic genius or the power of the Wehrmacht than because of the divisiveness of French society, where political parties wouldn't cooperate with each other. And I heard a very strong resonance of the Paris-ness of American politics right now, and would just encourage that our best defense against Russia is actually social cohesion.

ROSE: I wish my staff actually could have heard you say that because I forced them into a sort of FA movie afternoon last month to watch “Les Règles du jeu” precisely to make the point that—(laughter)—you know, the director, Renoir, talked about how this was a war movie with no war; it ends before—in 1939, but it’s about the divisions in French society, which help you understand what happened.

Speaking of which, by the way, since you mentioned World War II, we have a great new Foreign Affairs e-book that collects our coverage of World War II. And it’s really, really interesting. We edited a whole bunch of pieces from the ’30s to the early ’50s, essentially, that shows the transition of American foreign policy from the world of the ’30s to the order that we now have and maybe won’t have for too much longer. But it’s, if you—it was fascinating to me to go back and trace Hamilton Fish Armstrong’s efforts, look over his shoulder. Who knew that Foreign Affairs was writing about East European Jews in 1937? Who knew other kinds—a whole variety of other things. Actually, worth going, if you go to the Foreign Affairs website, or if you’re a subscriber, you can download it, it’s really kind of cool.

A couple more questions. In the back there. Yes, you.

Q: Laurie Garrett from the Council.

Gideon wisely started this asking about the world order. One key element of order is predictability. If North Korea does X, China is likely to do Y. Do we have any basis, if I am a head of state in—anywhere expect the United States, do we have any basis for predictability, predictions or opining how Trump would react to, oh, I don’t know, tanks go across the Narva River or genocide breaks out in Burundi or, in fact, an ICBM is launched from North Korea—do we have any—how do you have order if you don’t see predictability?

NYE: Well, it’s a great question, Laurie. And I—because of what I described earlier as Trump’s ability to sort of flit or twit above everything with partially contradictory statements, it’s very hard to say, I mean, what he would do. Ronald Reagan may not have known a lot about foreign affairs, but he had very clear ideas, a very clear sense of direction. Trump, as somebody said, is not a traditional Republican. He’s really an independent who is—who has learned to use the entertainment and mass media to—and social media to move back and forth, dodge and weave. So we don’t know. And that makes—that makes it very difficult.

Take an issue—not the biological issues, but another issue that you’re interested in, which is climate. You know, in the campaign, climate was described—climate change was described as a Chinese plot to destroy the American economy. And then in an interview after—with The New York Times after the campaign, after the election, he said that he might—there might be something real there after all. And then you have Rex Tillerson, who was head of Exxon, led Exxon into a more accepting position of the reality of climate change, and then you have his proposed nominee for EPA, who has the opposite view; how does that add up, and what is predictability in that?

I think at some stage, we’re going to—we’re going to get to the point where we look at what they do, not what they say, and what Trump does, not what he says, because if you go by what he says, it really—you—it’s very hard to get a sense of predictability, whether it’s North Korea or climate change or Burundi, as you put it.

ROSE: Kori?

SCHAKE: I agree with you about the value of predictability. It’s valuable because it drives down the cost of keeping order. It helps your friends figure out how to reinforce common positions. And it puts your adversaries on notice so that you avoid miscalculation or you minimize the likelihood of miscalculation.

I do, though, think that American governments aren’t nearly as predictable in foreign policy as we often give ourselves credit for being and that if I were in the Pakistani government, for example, or the Afghan government, the predictability I would think I saw about American foreign policy is we rush in and tell them our problems are urgent and they absolutely need to do what we want, and then we get bored and realize we have bigger concerns and leave them in the mess that they’re in. So predictability has two sides to it. And I’m not sure our predictability is always as beneficial to our friends or to the order itself, as we sometimes give ourselves credit for.

ROSE: OK. Get one last question. Yes, right here.

Q: My name is Steve Essrig. This is just a private citizen who’s interested in these concepts and read many books on the subject.

Your last comment I thought was really apropos. I’m going to be—I’m 68. I grew up in the Vietnam Era. I look back at the last 50 years of American foreign policy and domestic policy and just see a series of accidents and misadventures and not a lot of direction. I would even include that in terms of the economic policy—if we were such a leader, the agreement to go ahead with the euro and the destruction that that’s caused—and there has been savage criticism of the CIA and its misadventures. I’m struck by the fact that even after Vietnam, we made perhaps a decision to intervene with—aggressively against what the Russians were doing in Afghanistan. Do you believe that the U.S., if it was more concerted, would not continue to make the mistakes that it seems to have made in the last 50 years?

NYE: Well, I think the United States has made lots of mistakes in the last 50 or 70 years and will continue. But a lot of this depends on sort of the—what altitude are you taking the photo from. If you’re—if you’re 30,000 feet, there is something very important about American foreign policy for the last 70 years, which is that we have provided global public goods. And that, we didn’t do before World War II. In other words, after we replaced Britain as the strongest country in 1917, we didn’t make that transition to providing freedom of the seas, a stable international currency, a relatively open system of international trade—things that are good for us, but good for the world. Those global public goods are either produced by the largest country and a few key allies, or they’re not produced, because everybody else has a sense—an incentive to freeride.

And so if you look at it from that altitude, then American foreign policy since Harry Truman agreed to the Truman Doctrine when Britain couldn’t defend Greece and Turkey in ’46 has been pretty good and pretty consistent. It’s made huge mistakes. The mistakes I would argue have been intervening in the domestic politics of developing countries and thinking we could run them; Vietnam and Iraq I think were disasters. But on this larger question of providing global public goods and maintaining a stable international system, there has been a degree of consistency there.

And I think what we’re all talking about now is for the first time in 70 years, you have a candidate and now a president-elect of a major political party which is departing from that consensus. Americans have fought with each other over Vietnam, over Iraq and other things. We haven’t fought with each other over NATO, the U.S.-Japan alliance and so forth. For the first time, we’re starting to go back to this bedrock question of whether the largest country providing global public goods has led to a more stable world order. And as I conclude my essay for Gideon, it’s like oxygen; you don’t notice it until you begin to miss it, and then you won’t think of anything else.

ROSE: Kori, last word.

SCHAKE: I think the—I agree with you about the mistakes. But I also think the metric of American power in the international order is who misses it when it’s gone. And the countries that share our values, that contribute to our prosperity, that want the same things that we want in the world are, in fact, the countries most worried about this erosion of the American-led international order. And so the right measure of our success, despite all of our failures, is that for the most part the international order is a much safer place, a much more prosperous place, a much more welcoming place for human dignity and human opportunity than before the American order was established, or in my judgment is it likely to be any of those things under any of the potential competitors for the order that we have established.

ROSE: I told my staff the other day that if any of them didn’t come to work jazzed and energized and excited to go about what they were doing, then they were in the wrong jobs because they would never be in a professional situation as lively, as unpredictable, as fraught with significance as what they were currently doing. And so if this didn’t get them excited, then they were in the wrong profession.

I would say the same thing about members of the Council, readers of Foreign Affairs and all of us here, which is if these—we have had in—at least in decades, many decades, such uncertainty about, as Joe said, the basic principles and such questions as all of us are saying about what actually the government is going to do, if anything. And with the world already on shaky ground, these next few months and years will be the most interesting periods I think of our professional careers, or at least certainly mine. And I imagine following it and partaking it—discussions about it will be more interesting. If this kind of stuff doesn’t get you excited, then join a wine and food society instead with your spare time—(laughter)—because this is as interesting as it gets. And the fact that we can’t say anything conclusively and we don’t have good answers should make us, on the one hand, humble, but on the other hand, if we don’t have it, then nobody else certainly does, and watching everything very carefully and continuing to comment and read and discuss is what we’re here for. So thank you all for coming.

Thank you, Joe and Kori. To be continued. (Applause.)

NYE: Good. That was fun.


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