Senior Fellow, CFR; Professor of International Affairs, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Department of Government, Georgetown University
Deputy Director-General, International Institute for Strategic Studies
Director, Security Studies Program, and Ford International Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor of International Politics, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Pepperdine University
Charles A. Kupchan, Barry R. Posen, Kori Schake, and Daniel W. Drezner discuss the illiberal turn and shifting geopolitical alignments as part of CFR's lunch event at the 2019 International Studies Association Annual Convention.
CALDWELL: If I could have your attention. My name is Dan Caldwell. I’m the chairperson of the Academic Outreach Committee for the Council on Foreign Relations. And on behalf of Richard Haass, the president, and Vice President Irina Faskianos, I’d like to welcome all of you to this—what has become an annual meeting at the International Studies Association convention.
Fifteen years ago, under Richard’s direction and Irina’s leadership, the Council established an outreach effort for universities and colleges. And so this is part of that. And let me just encourage you to go by the Council on Foreign Relations booth at the exhibit hall. You can see a number of the resources that the Council has, starting with its flagship publication, Foreign Affairs. But there are a number of other educational products that I know a number of you used. And those of you who haven’t, you, I think, would be interested in seeing them. You can also review them at the Council’s website, which is www.CFR.org. So you can take a look at those.
Before I turn things over to the moderator for this afternoon, Dan Drezner, I want to recognize Irina Faskianos and her staff who organized this. So, Irina. (Cheers, applause.) This literally wouldn’t happen without their efforts, so thank you very much.
I’m going to turn things over to Dan Drezner, who is currently professor of political science at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. And I’m not going to waste time by going through the bios that you have at your seats, but I will just say that Dan—if you have any zombie questions—(laughter)—Dan is undoubtably the world’s expert on international relations and zombies. So, with that, Dan.
DREZNER: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very—oh, good, the mic is working. It’s lovely to see all of you. And thankfully you’re all far away so I don’t need to stare at your placards in order to remember what your name is. So this is excellent.
But I should introduce the people to my left. Going from my far left, we have Kori Schake, who is the deputy-director for the International Institute for Strategic Studies. We have Charlie Kupchan, who is a professor at Georgetown and also a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. And to my immediate left is Barry Posen, who’s a guy at MIT. (Laughter.) Professor of political science there.
So we’re supposed to be talking about—let me just check the title here—The Illiberal Turn: Shifting Geopolitical Alignments. And I’m supposed to set the stage. And I guess I would set the stage in the following way: I was on Twitter, as one is, and I saw a tweet that was supposed to be extremely alarming, that said something to the effect of 70 percent of the GDP of the G-20 countries is now either populist or authoritarian, with the idea that this is obviously supposed to be a very disconcerting message, and it’s supposed to be disorienting to those of us who presumably hold some attachment to, A, liberalism and, B, the liberal international order more generally.
Of course, if you actually look at where they get this from, it’s not quite the ominous thing that it seems. It’s basically, you know, in 2016 Donald Trump gets elected president and suddenly that share goes from, like, 25-30 percent to 70 percent. And so, you know, this gives rise to the question of on the one hand it’s easy if, you know, presumably someone holds dear what we would call small-L liberal values—the kind of trend we’re talking about. But it’s also worth asking whether or not we are exaggerating and/or looking at a boogieman, or trying to even generate boogieman, that might be somewhat outsized.
So I will start by asking all three of you a very simple question. So illiberalism is a great word, because it conceals all kinds of sins on the other side. It includes populists, it includes authoritarians. There’s no denying that these groups might be hostile to liberalism. I guess my question is, can we think of it as a single axis? You know, we have John Bolton talking about the troika of tyranny in Latin America. We have others, you know, referring to—Bernie Sanders even talking about the sort of axis of kleptocracy, you know, internationally. Are we in danger of lumping disparate groups together?
Kori, I want—I’m going to you.
SCHAKE: OK. Yes, we are at risking of lumping all sorts of things in the same category, when they don’t have the same risks that they pose to us, nor do they have the same policy tools that ought to be used towards effecting them. For example, another term for populism is democratic rule, right? We have to be worried about populists now when you have large participation and holding political systems accountable. We only need to be worried about it if the rule of law begins to be corroded or if protections for minority rights cease to be respected. So precision actually matters in this. And I do think we’re being incredibly sloppy, not just in defining illiberalism, but even in defining liberalism. I mean, the liberal international order, we talk about it, first of all, with reification, but also with a whole bunch of bad mythology and sloppy terminology.
DREZNER: And nostalgia, yeah.
SCHAKE: And it’s not helping.
KUPCHAN: I would disagree with Kori, maybe respectfully maybe not. (Laughter.)
DREZNER: That remains to be seen.
KUPCHAN: Yeah. Because I think that there is a commonality to what we’re witnessing across the globe. That is to say that at the largest macro historical level, we’re passing through a transition from the industrial era, to the digital era. It is causing societies around the world to go through profound transitions. People feel disoriented, they feel scared, they’re living with economic insecurity, they’re feeling that traditional communal groupings are being diluted, and they’re revolting. And it is causing a challenge to the political establishments, particularly among the Atlantic democracies, but it’s not restricted to the Atlantic democracies. And so I do think that this is something that we can see as a systemic or programmatic development.
That having been said, I would agree with Kori that the geopolitical implications should not be exaggerated, largely because the way that these populist governments are conducting themselves does not lend to common purpose and common foreign policy. In fact, I’m struck by the degree to which there hasn’t really been a consequential geopolitical realignment, despite the powerful forces of populism bubbling up from below. Despite Trump, I think NATO is in strong shape. Look at public opinion. Look at what Congress has been doing. I can’t find anyone else, other than the president himself, who thinks we should scuttle NATO. If you look at Europe, Erdogan, Kaczynski—
SCHAKE: Someone sitting to your right.
KUPCHAN: I mean, someone who’s in a position of responsibility. (Laughter.)
POSEN: And now we know why.
KUPCHAN: But take Kaczynski. Take Luigi Di Maio or Salvini, take Erdogan, take the Brexit people—they are not forming a serious political alignment. In fact, they are in different groupings in the European Parliament. Orbán, they’re not—they’re not forming some kind of united front, as one might have expected. Take the BRICs. India, Brazil, China, Russia, they’re going in every—all directions. Sometimes the Chinese are in alliance with the Russians, sometimes not. The Indians and the Brazilians go this way, they go that way. The one thing where I think we do see a kind of inkling of geopolitical alliance is Russia-China. And I think we need to take that seriously. I don’t think that’s going to last. I think the Chinese are going to wake up—I’m sorry—the Russians are going to wake up sometime soon, realize that the real threat that they face doesn’t come from the West. They should stop worrying about Ukraine. They should realize that China just took over South and Central Asia and is eating their lunch. And when they realize that, I think they’re going to tilt to the West and start worrying about the East.
POSEN: Well, without getting into the question of, you know, terminology, I think one can—on the basis of—simply of observation, one is struck by the evolution and intensity of different kinds of identity politics since the Cold War ended. When NATO got involved in the Balkan Wars, the general perception was that nationalism was an animism that had been locked in third-world basements for a long time and that somehow it was trying to creep out. And through power, we would crush it. The liberal—U.S.-led liberal world order, you would not have forecast a rise in identity politics of the intensity and the breadth that we have seen. And it’s become very important in terms of the operating of alliances, the operating of international institutions, the focus of security policy. There’s some sort of new wave of identity-focused energy in which politics is being organized around groups not around the liberal ideal, which is individual rational needs, desires, wants, and utilities, right?
This is—this strikes me as a very important fact. Now, Charlie’s observation that we—is correct, that we, in point of fact, do not see a world authoritarian or a world nationalist alliance. And the reason is because this is—these are inherently particularist identities, right? But what you will see, I think, is shifting alliances among groups of this kind and coalitions against what they perceive to be the more cohesive and, I would say—I’ll use the word expansionist, but maybe that’s wrong—but certainly the aggrandizing perception that has been created by the coalition that involves the United States and the European Union, and some of the Asian democracies. We were the revolutionary states of the last thirty years, right? We were the revolutionary force. And I think what we’re seeing is enormous pushback organized around identity, nation, religion, sovereignty, right? And I think that’s going to be a permanent problem. Well, who knows, permanent. It’s going to be a problem for us for some time to come. And it’s a problem that has already affected and infiltrated the liberal coalition.
DREZNER: Well, in some ways this need to naturally the next question, which is, you know, if you want to talk about the rise of populism, the rise of authoritarians, the question is: What are they rising against? And presumably they are rising against what some people refer to as the liberal international order—although, I take Kori’s point that we’re sometimes reifying this. We wind up throwing words around that in some ways are abused more than necessarily have meaning, like neoliberalism or what have you. But there is a question to be asked. I’ve had to read and review a lot of books about foreign policy in the age of Trump, or about where America’s going in the age of Trump. And they all follow a similar pattern. First, yes, Trump is really bad. Second, but Trump touched—you know, touched some deep-seated, you know, discontent.
And the problem for that discontent is, in fact, the elites that executed the Washington consensus or that have pursued, you know, American foreign policy in the aggrandizing way, to use Barry’s language, you know, since the post-Cold War era. And therefore, we need to turn inward and repent for our sins before we can go forward. So I guess the question is: How much introspection is—you know, do you think people in this room are—well, not you. You’re all fine people. But, like, people in Washington—(laughter)—need to engage in in terms of learning how to do this better? Or how much of this is, for lack of another way of putting it, sort of policy entrepreneurs taking advantage of this sort of populist nationalism to accuse foreign policy folks of sins that might be somewhat exaggerated?
SCHAKE: I don’t think the sins are exaggerated, to be honest. It seems to me that—two things. First, what President Trump is genuinely brilliant at is asking first-order questions: Why don’t allies do more for their own defense? Isn’t it true that trade is sending jobs to less-expensive places than our own neighborhoods? Isn’t it true that immigrants drive down wages for American workers? And he asks—he raises questions that if people like me were doing our jobs really well my mom would already know the answers to. But—so there is a failure of elites. And it’s a failure of arrogance on our part, that not enough of us—including me—are spending enough time talking to Rotary Clubs all over the country and making sure that foreign policy isn’t what Richard Armitage described as, you know, a priesthood engaged in private rights.
And I also think we have a lot to answer for about American foreign policy choices after the end of the Cold War. Those of you who were in the panel we had on the liberal order yesterday, when John Mearsheimer was trying to define the liberal order as starting in 1991, because that’s when the mistakes start, instead of seeing the continuity of systems and structures and alliances after 1945. The choices that we make after 1991, we—you know, when you remove the restraints that a competitor, in the form of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, created, we made a lot of sloppy, lazy choices. And not just in the immediate decade afterwards but overreacting to 9/11. And so we actually—the financial crisis. We actually have a lot to answer for. There’s a reason people are questioning elite opinions and elite justifications, because if we’re so smart how did all these things happen on our watch?
And so I do think we need to explain our judgements, acknowledge our failures, explain what we’re going to do different and better going forward, and why we still merit—you know, that math class is still hard. And people trained in the skills and practicing the skills to refute Sarah Palin actually do have something specific to offer. As I learned from a book called The Ideas Industry. (Laughter.)
KUPCHAN: This time I agree with Kori. I think that—(laughter)—you know, Dan, if you were to say: What’s the main national security threat that the U.S. faces? Is it Russia, China, al-Qaida? I’d say none of the above. It’s all at home. It’s the future of work. What are Americans and others going to be doing ten years from now to earn a living wage? It’s having an immigration policy that actually works. We don’t have an immigration policy now. It’s dealing with socioeconomic fragmentation and inequality. If we don’t get those problems resolved and bring our institutions back to life, we’re not going to be able to deal with external problems.
And then the second thing I’d say is, again agreeing with Kori, Trump should not be dismissed as some freakshow. We know that in part because we see this as a phenomenon that’s occurring elsewhere, and in part because he is good at what he does. He has been able to communicate to Americans who feel down and out that he’s their guy.
DREZNER: Wait, Charlie, can I push you on this? Because I’m not sure I buy that claim. If you take a look at public opinion polling in the United States on attitudes about NATO, on attitudes about trade, on attitudes about basing U.S. troops overseas, on almost every sort of—on immigration. On almost every foreign policy issue that Trump has actually used the bully pulpit, or the bully Twitter handle, you know, as much as possible, public opinion has trended in a clear direction, and that direction is away from Trump. So, you know, you might be right that he’s speaking to a certain segment of the population, but that segment is shrinking and not growing.
KUPCHAN: I would agree with that, but he still has a very strong core of support that is holding at around 35 percent. I think that for those of us who are not wild about him, the trendlines look positive because he’s losing moderates and he’s losing educated women. But keep in mind that 45 percent of the American electorate is white with only a high school education. That is a big number. That’s Trump’s core of support. And he’s asking questions that everybody, including myself, want asked. His answers are terrible. But I want to know what the hell we’re doing in Afghanistan and Syria, right? I want to know how we’re going to deal with an immigration system that’s broken.
And then the final comment I’d make, picking up on something that Barry said, he’s very good at playing identity politics. He is tapping into a slice of American—the American narrative, American political culture, American identity that has very deep roots in the nation’s past. And he’s very good at exploiting that. And he is—he’s a political force to be reckoned with.
POSEN: Well, in some sense we’re coming back to the question of, you know, what’s the problem, right? And it’s hard to talk about causes without talking about effects, and vice-versa. The conversation quickly turned to the turn in U.S. domestic politics. But if we look at this as a subset of some larger phenomena happening in the world, we want to say that widespread concerns in the West about income inequality are simply a problem of American elites. Are they a problem of transnational elites? Do we want to attribute most of this to elites? If we see identity politics in the Middle East that’s anti-Western, do we want to attribute that to the decisions made by elites or to the policies of the United States that have been, in often cases, you know, intrusive and militarized? I would say yes, somewhat.
But—and here I express my own ignorance. There are some big social forces happening in the world. And social forces are not independent of elite decisions, but elite decisions produce systemic forces that are not necessarily intended by any individual elites. So my perception is that we are in a phase a little bit like the mid-to-late 19th century. You know, we’re—you know, think back to Karl Deutsch talking about social mobilization and that sort of thing. There’s just relentless, powerful, omni-directional changes in economics, in technology, that are affecting the average person in both the West and the rest. And in the West, as a consequence of political decisions made, I think, years ago, individuals have been left to confront these social forces on their own, without all that much help from the state. And they’re mad, right? They feel like something is pressing in on them, they have to adapt to it, they want help, they’re not getting it.
And, you know, if we’re going to talk about Trump, or we’re going to talk about Brexit, or we’re going to talk about the yellow vests in France, right, this is—this is what it looks like to me. But that’s about as much as I feel comfortable saying. And I’m not confident that this analysis is right. It’s just the way I package it up in my own head.
DREZNER: So, actually, I wasn’t going to ask this, but it’s remarkably how quickly we’ve turned to the state of the U.S. and, you know, the degree to which, as you say, these sort of social forces have been unleashed. I have to ask a terribly awkward question, which is: We, who study international relations or study American foreign policy, are used to—we’re very comfortable talking about other countries’ problems. We’re, you know, happy to talk about, you know, problems in the Middle East, or in the Pacific Rim, or Latin America, or what have you, and sort of great power relations that might go there. But what you’re telling me is that the things we need to focus on, the things that are going to be the biggest systemic drivers in world politics in the next decade or two are domestic to the United States, or domestic to the West more generally. And it’s these structural forces that, frankly, don’t have a ton to do with politics. They have a lot to do with economics, with demography, and so on and so forth. Are we in the ISA even equipped to talk about this stuff? (Laughter.)
POSEN: Well, we’re here and somebody bought lunch, so we’re doing it. (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: So one of the things I was learning from Michael Robinson, a professor at West Point, just this morning was that—he’s an expert on civil-military relations. And it used to be that the scholarship on civil-military relations, the United States was a distinct case study and problematic elements of civil-military relations happened over there. And now, comparativists and Americanists need to read the same literature and we need to study the same kind of phenomenon. So I do think that multidisciplinary education actually matters more, and more, and more because problems feel more intertwined than perhaps they did in the past. Or, at least, the sophistication of the solutions—the tools and solutions we need to apply to them require a greater diversity of expertise and the kind of humility that comes with trying to master a very broad portfolio.
KUPCHAN: I agree. I mean, I think that—
DREZNER: Kori, you’re two for three, nicely done.
KUPCHAN: Yeah. (Laughter.) That we—
SCHAKE: How’s that a batting average on day one, my friends?
KUPCHAN: You know, we can’t afford to ignore our bread and butter issues. You know, the rise of China is an international relations issue that is going to be one of the great challenges of the next several decades. But I think we collectively as a community know more about that issue and how to think about that issue than we do about how to think about what I think is the more urgent priority, and that is how to get our own house in order. And so just personally speaking, I’m spending a lot more time reading about the United States, about American history, about 19th century American foreign policy, about the debates between internationalists and isolationists—this might scare you a little bit—about German history in the 1930s, right? Because I think that that’s where we ought to be investing our intellectual firepower for now because, as I said, if we don’t get these domestic questions right, there’s no way in hell we’re going to get right dealing with the rise of China.
POSEN: Well, I guess I’m a classicist. When the Cold War ended I had friends call me up and say: Well, so what are you going to do now with the rest of your life—(laughter)—now that security issues just don’t matter. (Laughter.)
SCHAKE: It’s solved! (Laughs.)
POSEN: And though I am not a particularly literary person, my mentor, Kenneth Waltz, was. And he used to like the quote from Mother Courage: War, like love, will always find a way, right? So I guess my view is that there are many of us who pretty much—if there’s an expertise we’ve arrived at over the course of our careers, it’s in understanding international politics. And, to some extent, understanding something about the politics of other countries. And I think that given what has been said about the political firmament within our own country, it’s very important for the interpretation of the external world to have—to be somewhat curated, right? Otherwise, it’s going to be hijacked by different political actors.
And it may lead to policies that are, let’s say, worsen that problem. And you may think that domestic problems are, you know, front and center now, but you—if you—if you leave international problems unattended or, if the reverse happens, you address them in ways that are designed to appeal to particular domestic audiences, you may find yourself getting bit. And, you know, there’s plenty of work to go around here, I guess is what I’m saying.
DREZNER: No, and I like the idea that you buy low on international problems, because while everyone is obsessed domestically they’ll crop up again, which lead to a later question.
This next question, though, is just for Barry because—no offense to Kori and Charlie, you—I would define both of you are stout defenders of the liberal international order.
SCHAKE: Indeed I am.
DREZNER: Exactly. I would describe Barry as not a—as not that. (Laughter.) But perhaps a friendly skeptic. And indeed, as someone who’s read your work, as everyone here should, you know, you’ve advocated for a retrenchment of U.S.—you know, U.S. military—the U.S. military footprint in the world, you know, a healthy skepticism to international entanglements, things that in fact the president of the United States has articulated at various points. So my question is, why aren’t you smiling more? Why aren’t you happier that Trump, at least in a first-order question kind of way, is asking in some ways the very same questions you have asked?
POSEN: Well, one of the reasons I’m not smiling more is because I can’t hold my liquor anymore, so I can’t—(laughter)—I can’t drink enough to get happy before I fall asleep. (Laughter.) But the—
DREZNER: And I’m sorry to make it in a glib way, but there’s a way you can argue that Trump at least in a crude way—
POSEN: I’ll try and be responsive to your question.
KUPCHAN: Irina, could we get a bottle of something? (Laughter.)
POSEN: You want to see me fall asleep?
In part because of this charge—you know, I did a piece in Foreign Affairs about a year ago, where I called Trump’s grand strategy illiberal hegemony, right? Now, I am neither a liberal nor an illiberal hegemonist, right? Now, it may be a cheap shot, but the president seems to view international politics kind of like a game of Monopoly. And everyone sitting on the pieces we’ve occupied is meant to be paying us rent, right? So this is a—this is—in a way, it’s sort of, you know, John Mearsheimer, offensive realism, as interpreted by Donald Trump, right? (Laughter.)
DREZNER: We’re going to need two bottles, Irina. Actually, maybe three. (Laughter.)
POSEN: Turns out you don’t need it. (Laughter.) You don’t need any liquor at all. So when Donald Trump and I agree, it’s usually on a diagnosis which says one or another of our coalition partners isn’t holding up their end. But on the whole, the president seems to want to have a very forward and active U.S. presence in the world. He wants to liquidate bad investments. He wants to extract more rent from clients. But he wants—he clearly wants to be the big dog and thinks that American should be the big dog. And some of his chosen enemies, interestingly enough, are the most liberal collectives, right?
So I don’t think the EU is an enemy—in Trump’s mind an adversary, you know, simply for eccentric reasons. It’s a challenge to his authority. And he wants followers. That’s what he wants from the allies—followers, right? Now, I have a—I have a different view. I mean, those of you who know—I mean, at various times in my past I’ve actually trafficked in European Union security analysis, right? You know, ESDP and all that good stuff, which came to nothing. But since I believe the United States should practice a more restrained grand strategy, and I believe we need to consolidate resources for the larger challenges, we need—we need to get coalition partners to pick up significant chunks of the slack for their own defense. And we have to find, in the first case, the ones who are able to.
And the ones who are able to are the Europeans, who are rich, right, especially relative to their most—their most plausible challenger. They’re rich. They have all the basics of military power. They just have no incentive to glue it together, right? No incentive to glue it together. I would like to give them the incentive to glue it together. And I would be perfectly happy if the European Union were the vehicle for that. I would have no problem with that, right? So I think there’s just a very different focus on what Trump wants from the world and what advocates of a more restrained or retrenched U.S. grand strategy want from the world. It’s just a very different worldview.
From time to time we have a coincidence of interests on what I would consider to be a tactical matter, right? And I find it interesting that those coincidences of interest are always called to my attention, right? And I think there’s a reason for that, because I—I’ll be quite candid—I think that in conversation, in political debate, you know, in our world, right, in the hurly-burly of politics, people sometimes will take a shot that I consider to be a cheap shot. And no offense to you, but I consider the general charge—which is often made—to be a cheap shot.
KUPCHAN: Can I jump in here, Dan? Because I think there are important distinctions that need to be on the table. I mean, I’m a supporter of the liberal international order, if that means that I believe that at core values of democracy, of openness, of free trade, on balance, are better than the alternative. But I also believe that we have gotten way ahead of ourselves and bitten off much more than we can chew. And as a consequence, the United States needs to be in retrenchment mode and husband its resources. And I completely agree with Barry that we should lean on allies to do more. But we don’t have to insult them. We can do so in a respectful way.
But where I—where I disagree with Barry, and I think Kori would as well—is how far to go, right? I think we should get out of Afghanistan. We should get out of Syria. And we should stop trying to turn countries like Iraq into Ohio, right? It’s not working. Let’s give it up. But I think Barry—and correct me if I’m wrong here, and John, and some of these other people that call themselves offshore balancers like Steve Walt, don’t want to just stop by going back to core issues. They want to come home. They want to pull out of core alliance commitments in Europe and in Asia. That I don’t understand, especially, Barry, as someone who’s read a lot of history. Why would we want to get—we got only, what, 60,000 troops in Europe? It’s relatively small share of our—of our global defense spending. Why would we want to run the risk of pulling out of Europe and seeing it go down the toilet?
POSEN: That question was directed at me, correct?
KUPCHAN: Yes, it was. (Laughter.)
POSEN: A, there’s a diversity of views among people who, you know, support retrenchment or support restraint. I think if you—no one could read John Mearsheimer’s work and believe that he doesn’t want to be, you know, in a pretty major competition with China. So I don’t think it’s a fair charge. I think John is probably more hawkish on China than I am. Not that I’m unworried about China, right? I think our problems are bigger than Band-aid problems. And it’s—to me, it’s—the easy way to say—is essentially to put words on President Obama’s, stop doing stupid bleep, and make “stupid bleep” be interventions in the third world. And if we just stop doing those, everything is going to be just fine.
Everything’s—I don’t think is going to be just fine, right? I think we need a much bolder strategy of retrenchment. And therefore, we have to look to the places that can either—that either are almost entirely losers for us, which the Middle East has been, where I think you and I agree—or look to the places that—that have not been entirely losers for us, but where there are adequate resources to look after themselves relative to the extant threat. That’s my issue with Europe.
Now, I would like to see instead of 70th anniversary celebrations of NATO that talk about how swimmingly everything is going, when it isn’t and it hasn’t, right, but instead talk about what are the ways that we could reorganized the transatlantic relationship for the future. Now, I happen to be probably at the far end of the spectrum on preferences for how to reorganize that. But it seems to me that there’s many possible solutions that are different from continuation of the present arrangement. And the present arrangement we can see antagonizes the Russians, demobilizes the richest Europeans from either spending on their military or spending seriously on their military, right? And produces in the United States desires for more defense spending, for more destabilizing nuclear strategies, right, to counter the Russians, right?
So I don’t see this as an inexpensive, you know, high-payoff activity in terms of the way it’s organized. It needs significant critical attention. And if after that significant, critical attention has happened, somebody comes—you come to the conclusion that, you know, Barry, you’re just dead wrong. All we can really do is tweak this thing around the edges, then I’ll just say, well, I’ve lost another one, right? But I would really like to see a serious discussion, which has barely begun.
SCHAKE: So I actually think we’re having a pretty good discussion, because we’re all dusting it up about what the liberal order is, who’s going to sustain it, what role we should play in that. And even in the discussion of allied burden sharing, where I think—there, I think we are asking the wrong questions, because it seems to me an obvious point that the answer to the question of are America’s allies doing enough for their own defense, the answer is obviously no, right? I don’t know anybody who thinks the answer is yes. The questions that are more pertinent are what is the array of American policies that produces greater allied contributions than we have now? Second, has any dominant power ever had the amount of voluntary cooperation that the United States receives?
And, third, can we tolerate failures by others if we are not involved in the policy? That is, so if we step back—President Trump’s philosophy is that if we step back, allies will step forward. And my personal experience of allied policymaking is that that—the dynamic works the other direction. That when we step back, allies step back further. And I think we just saw the most recent examples of it with when the president called into question whether we were going to remain in Afghanistan, everybody else said: We’re leaving if you’re leaving. Nobody else said: We’re going to double down because Afghanistan really matters to us. The exact same thing happened with the flare over Syria.
So that suggests to me that actually we are the ones dragging allies into things we think are important, not allies dragging us into things they think important. So I’d love to have a conversation about what is the—like, I think we should do this, Barry. I think we should have a conversation about what it is we want a transatlantic defense relationship to entail, and how does it produce a better outcome than we have? Because I would love for us to have a better outcome than we have. I just don’t—perhaps it’s a failure of imagination on my part—but I don’t see how we get there.
KUPCHAN: And I would just say that I think that the transatlantic relationship is the bright spot.
SCHAKE: Yeah, it’s downhill from there.
KUPCHAN: It’s down—once you go to other areas, the Middle East and East Asia, it’s much more dire. The transatlantic relationship needs fixing. Obviously the Europeans and Canadians need to spend more on defense. But it’s not broken, right? We should stop expanding NATO and—you know, it does alienate the Russians. But the core is intact. You want to dismantle it when it’s not broken.
POSEN: It’s because we disagree on the extent to which it is broken.
KUPCHAN: I agree that we disagree.
DREZNER: OK, I’m going to—(laughter)—
POSEN: And we’re not going to solve that disagreement—we’re not going to solve that disagreement—
KUPCHAN: And I’m right and you’re wrong.
DREZNER: Now I’m exercising moderator powers. Quiet. (Laughter.)
POSEN: You are?
DREZNER: (Laughter.) I’m going to—I am the hegemon. No. (Laughter.)
I’m going to ask one last question, and then I’m going to go to the audience—because we have a lot of smart people here and I want to hear what they have to say. I guess my last question is a very simple one, which is, you know, the things we’ve talked about are things that, you know, if you’ve been to any panel on this kind of theme for the last year or so all these issues are going to come up. You know, one of the things that I do think the current moment is causing us to do is to shorter our time horizon and not thinking about threats that are—you know, we have to worry about five, ten years from now. So just in your own opinion, what is the threat that you think the sort of—is important, but the urgent is crowding it out? In other words, what are we not talking about, that we should be talking about?
SCHAKE: I can think of two threats and one missed opportunity. One threat is we take for granted the primacy of the dollar zone. And I think that extraterritorial sanctions and a recklessness that is attributed to us because of the financial crisis in 2008 are causing the Chinese to experiment with a petro-yuan, the Europeans to see if they can come up with a payment clearing system that skirts the dollar zone, to keep the Iranian nuclear agreement in place. I think that has the potential for enormous systemic perturbation in the longer run. And we’re not nearly as worried about it as we should be.
And it connects to the second thing that we’re not worried about that we should be, which is the insolvency of our country. That the rate at which we are accruing national debt is only possible because of dollar primacy. And so if the first goes, the second becomes unsustainable. And we ought to solve the second anyway. And then the opportunity that we’re missing, the possibilities for consolidation of North America, for an immigration and labor force across Canada, the United States, and Mexico, for integrated energy grids—there’s so many things that would be advantageous to us and cement the good neighborhood that we are fortunate enough to have, that we are just not paying any attention to. And we really should.
KUPCHAN: I’m still thinking, so Barry should go.
POSEN: Well, I’ll betray my stuck-in-the-rut 1990s self. I think we’ve only begun to discuss the question of how to address China, presuming that China’s GDP and overall material power situation begins to improve at some rate. It could be two, three, ten. Whatever it is but presuming that it continues. And I don’t think that we’ve laid out the various alternatives. But I think we’re moving like cows onto a particular hill, right? So one question is, are we going to approach the competition with China not only as a security competition but as this economic, technical competition? And some question there is, are we really going to let ourselves to drawn into running the economic, technical competition in a neo-mercantilist fashion rather than some other fashion?
I think we’re already drifting towards a kind of neo-mercantilist view of how we’re going to have to compete with China, where we have—you know, every dollar spent on AI has to be matched, every, you know, bankrupt railroad built in Africa has to be met. You know, it’s getting to be that kind of consensus. And there’s barely been a discussion, as far as I can tell, about whether this is a reasonable way to go.
And the second, from the more traditional security point of view, is if you need some sort of coalition to deal with China. And if you extrapolate power growth of any sort, you can begin to think that you would need a coalition in Asia, because the Americans might alone not be up to it. What should that coalition look like? I mean, is it the second coming of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization? Is it a continuation of what I consider to be largely failed hub-and-spoke kind of system? Or is there some other system, some more 19th century-ish looking system? But we have to—we have to think these things through. And it’s not like you get to think about it once, and then start working towards it, because the other side, China’s trajectory is—we don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. And it may turn out that the whole project is not really necessary, right? So I think that’s a big—that’s a big area that we really need to think through.
I think the second thing is we have to go back to thinking about strategic nuclear weapons. And we are embarked on a major modernization program in this country. It’s not clear what the Russians are going to be able to sustain. The Chinese have been remarkably, dare I say, restrained in their own nuclear strategy, right? But we’re on the verge of pouring very large quantity of resources into this project. And our nature is to try to take other people’s secure second-strike capability away from them. That’s what we do, right? Now, I think it would be better if somehow we could manage great power nuclear relations. But we know next to nothing about multilateral strategic nuclear arms control, because we didn’t do it. We’ve never tried it. I’m guessing if there’s game theorist in the room they’ll stick their head up and say, wow, I could make my whole living off this for the rest of my life, right? So that—the strategic nuclear role is another role that I think requires a lot of attention.
KUPCHAN: I would say there are two things that keep me up night. One is—well, three things, if you include my kids.
KUPCHAN: But, you know, IR stuff, the implications of automation and AI for employment, because I think we are just—we’re just at the tip of the iceberg here. And in ten years, are we going to have Uber drivers? Are we going to have truck drivers? Are fast-food restaurants going to have any human beings behind the counter? I don’t know. But you read some things, and they’re pretty scary. And we need to get ahead of that problem.
And then the second thing is that, you know, I have a very politically incorrect view of the last couple hundred years, which is that international politics has basically been run by white Anglo-Saxon men, first under Pax Britannica and then under Pax Americana. For the last couple hundred years, you know, the two Anglo-Saxon countries built and defended the kind of globalized, modern international order that we have been lucky enough to participate in. And I think that’s coming to an end. And just as a snapshot, you know, Britain is basically closed for business. And my country has become politically unrecognizable. And the West has how fallen below 50 percent of global GDP. In other words, we are now moving into a world which for the first time in history will be integrated, globalized, multipolar, but no long with a captain at the helm. No center of power that is creating a rules-based order. We need to figure out how to prepare for that world.
DREZNER: OK. So before my power in this room wanes completely, it is now time to get questions from you. So if you have one, please raise your hand. And I believe there are people with mics who are going to come over. So don’t ask until you see someone with a mic come over.
You, right there. Yes. Yes. So front table, right here. Mic is coming, right behind you.
Q: I first would just like to make a statement. Do you know who I am? No, it’s not a statement-statement. It’s just—
DREZNER: OK, but if you’d identify who you are.
Q: Regina Axelrod, Adelphi University.
I remember when there were Russian generals walking in the halls of NATO in the early ’90s. They had an office of public information. And it was really quite unusual. It was referred to as twenty-plus-one, or twenty-two, however NATO members there were. And I think it was soon after that the Russians pulled out of that enterprise. But I want to ask that you—you’ve mentioned populism in the U.S., populism in other parts of the world. Is there some kind of understanding of the difference of what we’re talking about when we do talk about populism? And so my question is, I guess directed also to Professor Kupchan, on what would—how do we get our house in order? You said we need to get our domestic house in order. Does that require some kind of social engineering? How is it that we—what do we have to do to do that, is my question, for anyone to answer.
KUPCHAN: Do you want to collect questions, or?
DREZNER: No. Let’s go—let’s start with this. And then when we get closer to the end we’ll start collecting questions.
KUPCHAN: OK. No, I mean, I think that we have a pretty good sense of the core problems. I think President Trump is good at identifying them. As Kori said, he asks good questions that Americans want to hear. We just haven’t come up with good answers. But I do think that figuring out the future of work in an era of digital automation, getting control over immigration policy so that people feel like they know who’s coming and who’s going, creating a sense of common purpose and identity—I mean, I worry in my own country about the degree to which we are becoming Balkanized, right? There is only one institution left in the United States of America that creates a kind of sense of commonality. And that’s the public school system.
KUPCHAN: No, we don’t have conscription anymore. A tiny, tiny slice of the American population goes into the military. And so what’s going to kind of make us feel like we all belong? I would like to see national service. Not necessarily military, but something that brings people together. I think all of our societies need to have that debate, because we are moving into a world in which on ethnic lines, on socioeconomic lines, we are becoming more and more Balkanized.
DREZNER: Questions. Right here. Wait, wait, wait. Wait for the mic. Hold on. Because otherwise, no one else can hear you.
Q: Thank you. This is Halien Soraitum (ph) from Istanbul Medeniyet University.
I wonder the ideological aspects of the U.S.-China competition. We are all talking about the economic, the military side, the technological side, as you mentioned, of the competition. What about the ideological side of the competition that will be—we will be facing in the future, in coming future especially? What about the U.S. grand strategy that we have been talking about in the last couple of days? Do we think that the grand strategy also contains the ideological side of the issue as well? Thank you.
SCHAKE: Can I take a swing at that?
SCHAKE: So ideology has tended to be an overwhelming American advantage internationally. That is, who we are as a political culture has driven down the costs of what we are trying to do in the world, because the institutions and the rules that the United States fostered after World War II created a dynamism where prosperity and, to some extent, values caused others to want to opt into the liberal international order. The United States is a pretty poor example of that at the moment. And I think you can see the costs going up to us of what we are trying to do in the world.
Just to take one example, you know, Germany committed in 2014, along with all the other NATO allies, that by 2024 we were all going to reach 2 percent of GDP for defense spending. The big discussion in German politics now is we don’t want to do that because we don’t want to give into American bullying. That’s having a material effect, right? The German government has just decreased its defense spending across a five-year time horizon. That means it gets harder for us to have capable allies to do what we want to do. So, yeah, ideology matters. It’s traditionally been an enormous American advantage. It’s still a Chinese disadvantage. But you do also have the potential of the emergence of an authoritarian coalition, right? Countries that China may be able to make prosperous with authoritarian capitalism that don’t want to hear it from us about values. And you can also see those kind of relationships forming, I think perhaps even possibly with Turkish participation.
DREZNER: All right. Let’s go over here. There’s two questions right here from, I believe, two Canadian political scientists. So let’s hear them. (Laughter.)
Q: So I’m Yves Tiberghien from University of British Columbia.
I wanted to bring a bit of the non-American voice. And if we look at what Merkel said, Angela Merkel, last week in Berlin, or yesterday the Macron-Merkel-EU Commission-Xi Jinping meeting, essentially what we find is for defenders of the liberal international order outside the U.S., maybe the number—the two number-one threats are climate change and maintaining the multilateral system. And on those two major threats, China is seen as a partner, not as the problem. And Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Koreans, many other partners in a way see that one of the number-one problem today is the amplification of the Chinese threat in Washington, which leads the world to a cycle of action-reactions, strategic interactions, which then doesn’t help solve anything.
So what explains this lack of diversity of views in Washington, this lack of attention to what’s happening in China to understand the Chinese trajectory and see where there is actually—I would argue China is two-third converted to the international rules-based order, one-third not. But maybe if that’s the case, it’s better to work with allies, understanding the dark area, to work on it, constrain China, while accepting the parts where China has gotten converted. And if China wants a 15 percent share in the IMF, because they are 15 percent of world GDP, does it mean the end of the liberal international order? Isn’t that, in fact, protecting the liberal international order, to protect the IMF? Thank you.
DREZNER: Before you answer, pass the mic onto Janice Gross Stein, who I very much want to hear from.
Q: It’s—so we in Canada live in the downdrafts that come out of the United States. Sometimes we only manage to do so when we’re clinging by the very edge of our fingertips. So we’re into survival mode right now in this country.
The questions are to Barry and to Charlie in tandem. Charlie, you talked about AI, future of work as one of the determining things, a major disruptive factor. Historically that is not new. That is not a new problem. This is the fourth time, if you think about this as the fourth industrial revolution, that we’ve faced these challenges. But we’ve always faced them when there’s been a liberal hegemon—either Britain, as you just said, or the United States. Is there something then that makes this extraordinarily difficult because we are starting—we’re at the verge of the fourth industrial revolution without a liberal hegemon to reinforce the structure?
For Barry, is defense spending really the right measure here? Because that’s really been the conversation. Is that—should that be the single—and let’s not get into arguments about how do we—because we Canadians are just brilliant at telling you that we’re spending more. And we have found infinite numbers of ways to tell you that. This goes to a bigger question than that. Is defense spending the right measure for the value of allies of the United States? Seems to me, there’s a whole series of integrated measures that we would want to look at. And that’s why your closest allies are taking umbrage, because the alliance has been reduced at the rhetoric level to just a single measure.
DREZNER: Why don’t you start?
POSEN: Well, I guess I’ll be flip, no. Defense spending, per se, in the alliance is—it’s just become a kind of handy measure for something else, right? And by the way, my problem with NATO is not just what they don’t do. It’s what it causes us to do, right? I have a double problem here, right? So, you know, I grew up in the force planning business. You know, I worked at the Pentagon for a year. So we used to have another way of looking at these things. But we don’t—we don’t actually look at the forces we need anymore. And I’m not sure if it’s indolence or if it’s a kind of a tacit understanding that that makes things worse even worse, right? The Germans look—as poor as the Germans look on defense spending, they look much worse in terms of capabilities, right? And to talk about—
Q: They’re pretty good at sustaining the euro, though.
POSEN: I’m sorry?
Q: They look pretty good on sustaining the euro, though.
POSEN: They almost wrecked the EU with their idea—their financial ideas, right? They haven’t proven to be, you know, great exponents of European solidarity, right? But I’m trying to answer your question here, which is—which is ostensibly—I mean, the alliance is a military alliance. It’s purpose—no, it’s not. This is—this is—see, this is a question of—this is really a question of religion, right? This is part of the—you know, the narrative of the liberal international order. NATO was a military alliance until the Cold War ended. And then after it ended, different groups within NATO had an interest in keeping it alive, and they invented all these other projects. But we have come back to square one, right? The issue really is the Russians. That’s the issue, OK? And the contributions that the allies are making to their own defense on this problem are poor. And they’re poor in the—in terms of the level of effort, and they’re poor in terms of the quality of effort.
And the outputs we get should not be as low as they are. There’s an inattention to the problem. And my hypothesis is that part of that inattention arises from the extravagant and extremely agile promises that we make to the allies whenever they feel afraid. They feel afraid and we’re Johnny-on-the-spot. Now, the question was asked a long time ago: How do we get the allies to do more? Well, I don’t know. But the only example that I have of getting any progress here was the LTDP, which happened in the—in the Carter administration. And it followed the American war in Vietnam, a terrific public disinterest in being abroad, a major American senator talking about—Mike Mansfield talked about putting American troops out, and the president of the United States talking about the Nixon doctrine.
Now, I think we put the fear of God in the allies, and I think that helped get some actual efforts from them. And our policies since the Cold War ended had been exactly the reverse. And if we continue to offer these extravagant assurances, we’re going to get exactly the same outcome. And we’re not going to—we’re not on a good path right now from the point of view of the overall effort. Now, you could say it really doesn’t matter. If you want to talk about that—in other words that there isn’t really a threat, that it would never happen, these capabilities don’t matter, these other things matter more—we could have that conversation. But the alliance that I know is first and foremost a military alliance. And it’s failing in that. It’s just failing.
SCHAKE: May I take a swing at Yves’ question?
DREZNER: Yeah, please.
SCHAKE: Because I agree with everything you said, which is that the United States leads best when we listen best and when we actually help allies solve problems that they’re concerned about, rather than demanding that they acknowledge the problems that we are concerned about, because to most countries in the world, including America’s closest friends, most of them would much rather have the problems we have than the problems they have. And so I always go back to the 1958 novel, The Ugly American. It has a passage that says: To the extent that American policy is humble and focused on solving people’s problems, it will succeed. And to the extent it is grandiose and ideological, it will fail.
And I think that’s actually a pretty good guide for thinking about how to manage a rising China, because you’re right. China isn’t just rising for the United States. It’s rising for everybody else too. And that creates the opportunity for an enormous community of common interest if we will be patient and sensible enough to solve problems allies are worried about and have them thus help us solve the problems that we are worried about.
KUPCHAN: Just following up on the China question, I would probably code it differently. I would say it’s one-third part of the rules-based system and two-thirds not. Maybe in the economic realm it’s where you put it, but on other issues I’d flip it because, particularly on South China Sea, ignoring the findings of the Court of Justice, domestic political issues, they’re not on the same page. And I would also suggest that you may have exaggerated the degree to which the Europeans see China as a partner. They’ve been all over Italy for moving out alone and signing a memo to participate in Belt and Road. They were supposed to have a council meeting focused exclusively on how to deal with China’s arrival in Europe, and it got sidetracked by a Brexit debate. So everybody is not happy and calm other than the United States. I think everybody is trying to figure out what to make of China as it grows stronger and stronger.
To your question, Janice, you know, yes, we’ve been through this before. And every time we go through it, we kill each other, right? It’s very disruptive. You know, let’s go back to the printing press. Well, what did the printing press do? It gave rise to the reformation. What happened as a result of the reformation? Half of Germany’s population was killed because Protestants and Catholics went after each other. The industrial revolution was really the basis for World War I and World War II. So I’m sure that we will figure out how to adapt to AI. It’s going to take decades. And the question is, between now and the time that we figure it out, are we going to kill each other? And I don’t know.
DREZNER: Speaking of which, other questions.
That gentleman standing in the back.
Q: Hi. I’m Richard Rosecrance. And I’m delighted to be here.
I’m probably the oldest person in the room, but that doesn’t mean I’m yet senile, especially with the people who are speaking. Not only are they colleagues, several of them have actually been my students, or been very closely associated. Usually I agree with everything that they all say, particularly Barry because you get into big trouble if you disagree with Barry. (Laughter.) That’s also true about Charlie.
But I’d like to say one of the major issues we didn’t fully deal with is staying power. Not who’s ahead now, but how long is it going to last. I’d like to give you a culinary analogy. Vladimir Putin is a pie crust that will crack through before too long, and it will not turn out to be nearly as great of a problem as it’s been made out. Secondly, Xi Jinping is a Big Mac. Now, a Big Mac is fairly powerful, but you occasionally get indigestion from a Big Mac and you need something else. And I think the Chinese ability to swallow everything that’s happened is limited. Not as limited as Russia’s, but definitely limited.
What is the United States? The United States is an igneous piece of rock. It’s built by earthquakes, But on the other hand, geologically, it has a very, very long time period of influence. And that influence isn’t going away. If you look at all the things that the United States has transcended, it is still there. And in many areas, it is still number one. Thank you.
DREZNER: Do you want to respond to this or try to swallow—(laughter)—OK, I was going to say.
Other questions? Right here, the gentleman in the blue sweater.
Q: Thank you. Elan Cumming (sp), University College London. And thank you so much for an insightful, deep, and thoughtful discussion—which are not typical descriptors for the public debate these days.
So I fully agree, we need to get to the people not in this room, to the Rotary Clubs, to Twitter. My concern is, I’m not trained for this. So when we call to get out to the public with openness, self-reflexivity and honesty, how do we do without causing even more damage? Thank you.
SCHAKE: I feel like what you just modeled is the perfect answer to that, right? And openness to other people’s ideas, the invitation into a conversation in which you wear your education and expertise lightly, but generously. I think you’ve just modeled it. Go do it. We need it done. (Laughter.)
KUPCHAN: It is a—it is a problem in the sense that even when people like us go to the world affairs council of Missoula or Galveston, or places that are not on the beaten path, we tend to speak to people who belong, who are internationalists. And I’ve always felt somewhat vexed by the inability to go out and sort of transcend those boundaries. And I’m not quite sure how to do that, because I do think that we really are, as I said earlier, in a world in which we are living in bubbles of one sort or another. And somehow we need to—we need to have that conversation, because it’s going to get worse. It’s not going to get better.
DREZNER: All right. In the interest making sure that everyone can make their panel, I’m going to take one last round of questions. So raise those hands up. That gentleman right there.
Q: Thank you. I’m pretty sure I’m the youngest person in the room, so I’ll try to be brief.
One of the things that I think the panel is in agreement on is the fact that if Donald Trump is anything good, he’s sort of a crash-course civics lesson. What can or can’t the U.S. president do? I don’t know, but we’re all finding out together, right? And I think for the most part, both the U.S. domestic and international institutions have weathered this fairly well. The thing that concerns me is that throughout all this, his approval rating has remained more or less steady, right? So I guess what I’m wondering is if this is going to be perhaps not a dominant strain, but a present strain for the next several decades, is there a way to maintain the public goods of the liberal international order without the U.S. in the driver’s seat, necessarily?
SCHAKE: Oh, oh, oh, I want to take this one.
DREZNER: Hold on. I want to get the other question. So gentleman over there in the beard with the purple shirt. Yeah. Right behind you. The mic is right there.
Q: Thank you. Thank you for a very interesting discussion. My name is Bruce Parrott. I’m from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
When you asked the question about what keeps people up at night, what keeps me up at night is climate change and global warming. I think this is a huge existential threat to the United States and to the world. And my question is, how do you integrate planning for this eventuality into American grand strategy? That may sound like a ridiculous question, but it’s really a crucial question. We can’t think about nuclear issues and other strategic issues, which are extremely important, but not think about this issue.
DREZNER: We’ll close with that. I apologize. I was not mocking the question. What I was laughing at is that I’ve got something coming out in Foreign Affairs in two weeks that basically says we’re incapable of doing that. So, you know, welcome to the future.
But why don’t we go—start from Kori and go this way and last thoughts in terms of the two questions.
SCHAKE: So I love the question about how do you sustain the liberal order if the United States, that has been its architect and its guarantor, steps back from the doing of that? And I think there are two ways, both of which look, to me, to be active and, you know, at least above the Mendoza Line with the possibility of success. The first is that the middle-powered states, who are also enormous beneficiaries of this order, shed this sense of incapacity and actually realize their strength, and their power, and their ability to cooperate to do this.
So for example, the way that Japan is helping train the coast guards of Vietnam and the Philippines in order to help police Chinese infringement on fishing in those countries, the way Japan and India are cooperating to create an infrastructure fund that is consistent with the Bretton Woods standards, to give competition to the BRI initiative that China has. So I think there is interesting and creative work that begins to happen. So that’s one way, middle powers stepping forward with us helping underwrite their success and encouraging and rewarding their success.
My favorite example of it is the way that we underwrote Australian success during the East Timor U.N. operation during the Carter administration, where we underwrote their success and it helped encourage a much more activist Australian international security role. So I think there are good models out there, and we should help make them work, because they have an enormous amount of potential.
The second one is one of the characteristics—
SCHAKE: I promise. One of the characteristics of the liberal societies is the porousness of them. And we are currently thinking about that as a vulnerability of Russia and other countries’ ability to meddle. But it also has positive effects, right? The Canadian government, working with the State of California and the City of Chicago on climate change initiatives. That kind of reaching in is also a great way to strengthen the liberal order.
DREZNER: Charlie, quickly.
KUPCHAN: I would—I would add that us stepping back is inevitable. I mean, if there is a sweet spot in American politics when it comes to foreign policy, I think it’s doing less and having others do more. (Laughter.) Uh-oh. (Laughter.) Uh-oh.
SCHAKE: When we step back, they step back further. We just saw it. (Laughter.)
DREZNER: OK, that was a really hack symbolic move by the screenwriters and I’m going to protest that. But go ahead, very quickly, Charlie.
KUPCHAN: And so it is imperative that we reach out and get others to do more. And not just the middle powers, everybody, including the Chinese. You know, I was in the NSC in the Clinton administration. And it was kind of an Atlantic world. When you had a problem, you called the Europeans. I was then there again under Obama. And it was the same thing. And that’s because when there’s an Ebola crisis, or you need contributions to the counter-ISIL campaign and you call the Chinese, or you call the Indians, or you call the Indonesians, they hang up. When you call Brussels, and Berlin, and Paris, they listen. They don’t give you everything that you need, but they step up to the plate. We can’t live with that. We need the Chinese and others to start making major significant contributions to public goods. Otherwise, we’re going to fall short, because the demand for public goods is getting greater and greater, and the supply is getting lower and lower. Which brings me to the climate change problem.
Yeah. I mean, I agree with you. The one thing I would say is that—and, again, this is a kind of a secular change in American politics that’s irreversible—we are not going back to the multilateralism of the—of the post-World War II Cold War era. That is gone. If the three of us went to Capitol Hill today and said: Here is the post-World War II order—the U.N., GATT, Bretton Woods, right—they would chase us off the Hill with a baseball bat. And so going forward, we’re going to need flexibility, executive agreements rather than ratified agreements—which are much more vulnerable, as we’re finding out with Paris and with the Iran deal. But I just think we’re moving into a world in which multilateralism is going to have to be much more ad hoc and flexible, and much less institutionalized, because countries aren’t going to go with the latter.
DREZNER: OK. Barry, quickly.
POSEN: Basically what he said. And without, you know, belaboring it, you know, hegemonic stability theory was an interesting theory, but, you know, not that many people work with it anymore because it’s not—it’s not decisively shown to be the only explanation for cooperation. Cooperation happens when small groups of capable actors have a problem, right? So the groups need to be small, they have to be powerful, right? There’s a handful of great powers in the world. They make most of the trouble. They make most of the wealth. Some issues they can agree on, some issues they won’t. On the issues they agree on, I think you can get some progress. One way to not get the progress is to call it part of the liberal international order. The way to get progress is to say: This is a problem for all of us. And to respect one another’s sovereignty when you do it.
And as far as the climate change, I’m like you. I don’t know. But I have observed this one oddly optimistic problem, which is the American military is starting to experience problems with climate change. (Laughs.) And it costs them a great deal of money. And at least you have one powerful conservative institution that now seems to have to admit that this actually exists, and actually has to go to the Congress every year and says: Give us a few billion to sort of this base that just got flooded. It’s not a—it’s not a strong rede upon which to rest one’s hope for this sort of thing, but it is an actual change that I’ve observed in the last couple years. It could amount to something.
DREZNER: So the toughest thing in my experience that academics have to do is to be quiet and listen to other academics. You have done that remarkably well, and I thank you for that. And I now release you from your obligation. Thank you very much. Please help me congratulate everyone. (Applause.) And thank you to the Council on Foreign Relations.