The State of Global Governance in the Era of COVID-19: A Conversation With Richard Haass and the Council of Councils

Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Adnan Abidi/Reuters

President, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, The World: A Brief Introduction; @RichardHaass

Director, Institute of International Affairs (Italy)


Director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute

Richard N. Haass, Chen Dongxiao, and Nathalie Tocci discuss the mounting challenges to global governance and their implications for international cooperation, including rising climate concerns, economic volatility, and increasing great power tensions amid a global pandemic.

The Council of Councils (CoC) is an international initiative created by the Council on Foreign Relations to connect leading foreign policy institutes from around the world in a dialogue on issues of global governance and multilateral cooperation. The CoC is composed of twenty-eight major policy institutes from some of the world’s most influential countries. It is designed to facilitate candid, not-for-attribution dialogue and consensus-building among influential opinion leaders from both established and emerging nations, with the ultimate purpose of injecting the conclusions of its deliberations into high-level foreign policy circles within members' countries.

SCHAKE: Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting on the state of global governance in the era of COVID-19, a conversation with Richard Haass and the Council of Councils. I'm Kori Schake, director of foreign and defense policy at the American Enterprise Institute, and I have the pleasure of presiding over today's discussion. I'm joined by Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and Nathalie Tocci, the director of the Institute of International Affairs in Italy. Unfortunately, Chen Dongxiao, president of the Shanghai Institute for International Studies in China, is unable to be with us this morning as he's taken ill.


But we have the pleasure of more time with Dr. Tocci and Dr. Haass. Nathalie Tocci holds a PhD from the LSE, was advisor to the EU foreign policy chief, and leads the Institute for International Affairs in Rome. Dr. Haass holds a PhD from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, has been ambassador to Northern Ireland, the director of policy planning, and the author of some fourteen or fifteen books, a level of productivity all of us should hold against him. So let me start by asking you both what was the state of global governance before COVID-19, and how has COVID affected it? Richard, let's start with you.


HAASS: Well, thank you, Kori. It's great to be here with you and Nathalie. To make an important question and summarize the answer to make it short, the state of global governance before COVID-19, say a year and a half ago, was poor, and eighteen months later the state of global governance continues to be poor. This is true in the realm of global health, and it's true in virtually in every realm. There's a large gap between the scale of global challenges and the scale of the collective response. It doesn't mean there haven't been some small movements, say on climate. At least the statements or attentions of various parties looks a bit more positive.


We'll see what the performance is, but if we were going to go around from challenge to challenge, issue to issue, institution to institution, the bottom line is the inadequacy of global arrangements. And that reflects, I think, a certain lack of ideas, an institutional failure to either keep up or adapt, in some cases even institutions in cyber. And more than anything, Kori, I think it simply reflects a lack of collective thinking. The most overused phrase in our business might well be “international community.” And the deep, dark secret is that there isn't much international community, which explains why global governance is the way it is and the way it isn't.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, what would you add to that, my friend?


TOCCI: I mean, I would agree with Richard. I mean, the state was poor, and it was clear across the board. It was poor for the fact that, you know, the main cause of it was this, you know, we've known this for the last decade, the power in the international system have been shifting. Global governance had been constructed on a particular configuration of power. I mean, if we're thinking particularly of the post-Cold War period, it had been constructed, if you like, on the premise of U.S. hegemony. And as power started being sort of shifted and redistributed, and also as it started changing in nature in the sense that power started residing less in subjects and more in the flows between, if you like, different subjects and networks, if you like, in the sense of global governance that there started being an increasing mismatch between, if you like, power as the underlying premise, if you like, of a particular governance architecture and what that governance architecture was about.


So even before COVID we had a situation whereby, well, of course, there was a particular sort of moment in U.S. history where, if you like, the actor that had really been at the heart of that architecture started so that, you know, quite explicitly working against it. So there was obviously the sort of the Trump parenthesis in all of this. But then you had a series of other actors that perhaps taught sort of global governance and multilateralism but acted against it. And obviously here I'm thinking mainly China, mainly Russia, and so you've had others like Europeans that alone simply, you know, particularly without the United States, could not really move forward. So I think that was the picture prior to COVID.


We then, you know, sort of, and I would agree with Richard in a sense, well, I would agree that I think there's a story of shadows and not a story of potential light, if you like, from the pandemic and what this has taught us. I think certainly the shadow lies in the fact that now we know that the international system has crystallized not simply in a sense in a sort of more multipolar direction, which is basically what the debate between the global financial crisis and COVID was all about. But overlaying, if you like, that multipolar system is in a sense a new form of bipolarity, which is really a bipolarity of [inaudible].


And that inevitably complicates further the quest for global governance because at the end of the day if you end up with an international system where in a way, which in this respect does echo back, if you like, to the Cold War, but where there is a fundamental divergence of values, if you like, it becomes, you know, sort of difficult to find it and sort of simply concentrate on the policy solutions across different policy areas. So that inevitably has complicated the quest for global governance.


At the same time, I do think that the pandemic has also encouraged, if you'd like, to search for global governance solutions because it has made even more obvious that the main challenges of the twenty-first century are transnational in nature. And I don't think anyone really disputes that anymore. I mean, no one really disputes that we're talking about digital climate, demography in different shapes and forms, and public health, all of which are by definition, if you like, transnational in nature. So at least I think, you know, sort of look at the positive in all this, you know, that holds the seeds for a greater demand, if you like, to global governance than what we've seen sort of prior to the pandemic.


SCHAKE: Richard, you had such interesting expressions playing across your face as Nathalie was talking. I'd love to hear your reaction to her analysis.


HAASS: It's probably why I don't play poker for a living. I mean, let's just—look, let's just take the immediate challenge that the world is living with or in many cases dying from, which is COVID, and let's look at global health. This is a perfect case study of the inadequacy of global governance. The World Health Organization, which is the principal organization in the world and trusted with dealing with global health challenges has clearly failed. The world was not prepared for the pandemic in many cases. Its ability to monitor outbreaks of dangerous pathogens of diseases in individual countries is obviously limited.


Look at the ongoing dance for eighteen months now between the WHO and China. We still do not fully understand what happened, and there's growing belief, I would say, my consensus belief, that this disease started in a laboratory in Wuhan rather than just naturally occurring in markets because of animal-to-human transmission. We can't know for sure because a sovereign state that happens to be a major power is blocking the World Health Organization from performing its functions. We're seeing wildly uneven performance around the world in terms of dealing with COVID. Again, what matters is not global governance but national performance. And then when it comes to some of the principal treatments, equipment arrangements were inadequate in terms of sharing. They were ad hoc.


Most important look at the vaccine issue. Here we are at a situation where, say, the United States has an excess of supply over demand when it comes to vaccine. Much of the world has an excess of demand over supply. We don't have yet the mechanisms in place, or if we have the mechanisms, they're not working, either to generate sufficient funds or sufficient vaccines. There's not yet consensus on how to reform the World Health Organization so the world is better positioned for the inevitable next pandemic.


So I'm not saying we won't get finally on top of the vaccine issue. Hopefully we will. I'm not saying the world health machinery won't improve. Hopefully it will. All I'm saying is, Kori, you asked how is the world doing on its most pressing challenge right now—you have to give it failing marks. And my hunch is far, far more people have died around the world than the official numbers suggest. Even the counting is off. Because why? The counting is national.


Many countries refuse to count honestly because it's politically embarrassing for the leadership where they don't have the capacity to count accurately because they simply don't have the national capacities. So, again, you know, global governance is a function in many ways of national capability and national willingness to collaborate. And in global health this is just one area and—we can talk about any number of areas—clearly the world comes up short at a critical time. Look at the consequences.


SCHAKE: So before I go back to Nathalie, let me press you a little bit, Richard, on what global governance should look like to address pandemics. What would you like to see that we don't have in global governance that would help the so-called international community manage transnational crises like this?


HAASS: That's a great question. In part, my answer is influenced or informed by a task force that the Council sponsored that came out about six months ago on this issue. We'd obviously want to have in place better national capabilities. That means that we would want the world to do a better job of rating and then improving national capabilities. Every country should have a qualified equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control. So we want to build up national capabilities. So we'd want the world to pitch in with money or technology where countries need it. Even before this broke out, the international health regulations weren't being met by the lion's share of the world's countries. So that's one thing.


Second, we'd want to have all sorts of stocks and arrangements for sharing critical supplies. Thirdly, we'd want to have an independent mechanism for blowing the whistle. Host government should not have power over the ability to alert the world that something bad has happened, and that's the case now. Lots of countries don't want to alert the world, just the worry that tourists will stop coming. It'll, again, be politically awkward for a government. Investment will stop. Business travel will stop.


We need something that countries of the world have to either cooperate with or there's consequences. It might be sanctions. It might be that this independent agency says, “No one in their right mind should step foot and country X because we have reason to believe that XYZ has happened, and they have not opened themselves up to scrutiny.” So there will be immediate sanctions. Again, it's part of my larger argument, Kori, that with sovereignty has to come obligations as well as rights. And countries just focus on their rights: “Well, we have the right to not let in the World Health Organization.”


Well, no, they have obligations not just to their own citizens but to the world. And then lastly, the whole vaccine mechanism. We would need to have a much greater global capacity to produce vaccines, whether it's extra factories, whether it's technology sharing arrangements under patent licensing, whether, again, simply a lot of the countries have actual supply, and so forth. And guess what? We're going to have a chance to get this right because the one thing we know is COVID-19 isn’t the last.


For all I know there'll be COVID-22 or COVID-24 or something else. So we have a chance to get it right. There's lots of reports that are coming out on pandemic preparedness. But I think, again, it means changing in some ways the power balance between individual countries and the world, introducing obligations as well as rights to sovereign countries, including but not limited to China, and then building up stronger global machinery for both sounding the alarm and responding to it.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, the area of the world that has done the best in advancing multilateral governance is Europe through the European Union. How has the EU done in managing the pandemic? And what lessons can we take for global governance from what the EU has succeeded and failed at in the pandemic?


TOCCI: I mean, I think sort of internally, the EU has actually done quite well. It's going to sound a little bit odd to put it in these terms. But, I mean, if you think about it, we come from over a decade of, sort of, you know, going from one existential crisis to the other. And the sort of constant between these, I mean, if we just take, you know, the sovereign debt crisis and the so-called migration crisis, the one thing that connects these two and what made them existential in nature is that what went missing is the magic word that is really at the heart of European integration, which is solidarity.


Or at least there was a perceived sense of a lack of solidarity, which is something which was in a sense rediscovered over the course of this pandemic. I mean, not out of altruism of generosity, but out of—which is better connected to the broader point about global governance—out of a sense of there is no alternative. I mean, we can only get out of this, we can only exit the crisis via the health dimension of it and even more so the economic repercussions if we do it together. And, I mean, in all honesty, had there been a lack of solidarity as it appeared to be the case in the very first months of the pandemic, it probably would have been a crisis too many for the European Union to survive, but it didn't happen.


And I think internally what the EU did was, you know, through its program, Next Generation EU, it not only allowed itself the opportunity to pick up, if you like, the process left basically, sort of, you know, collecting dust on the shelf, basically, you know, the process of developing, if you like, European integration, particularly as far as moving towards the fiscal union is concerned. So that, if you like, through them at least has an opportunity to restart now, but it also refound a story to tell. It's a dream story. It's a digital story. So as far as, if you like, the EU internally, I'd say, well, you know, obviously, the proof is going to be in the pudding but relatively good marks.


Where I'm far more critical is in the EU in the world story. Now, in all honesty, this has been a moment of kind of navel gazing for us all, which is also part of the reason local governance has suffered so much. You know, I mean, it has been in this broader story about vaccine nationalism, etcetera. But in all honesty what we had seen in that period, if you like, I would say that it's going to be more or less 2014 to 2018-2019, in which, indeed, the European Union couldn't agree on Eurozone reform, couldn't agree on finding a common solution to migration, but all of a sudden they kind of found the sense of being able to be more present on a global scale.


We've got to take more responsibility, also, as far as security and defense are concerned. Now, that is gone. I mean that momentum has disappeared altogether. So, in a sense, this is a story about the European Union that we find in a sense more of an internal narrative, and through that sense of solidarity whereby itself understands itself as a community of fate. But whereas, you know, this European Commission has sort of come in talking about a “geopolitical commission,” that agenda for the time being is off the map, unfortunately.


SCHAKE: So we've seen a major provocation to a geopolitical Europe with events in Belarus in the last few days. You know, one of the area's least contested in global governance is international aviation safety and cooperation. And yet we saw a major violation of it with the government of Belarus interfering in the overflight of its territory by an airplane registered in a European country flying from one EU country to another EU country, and forcibly removing a dissident from the airplane. Richard, this seems to me a major challenge to one of the most effective areas of global governance. How big a problem do you think it is and what do you think should be done, especially by the advocates of greater global governance?


HAASS: Kori, you put your finger on a really interesting thing here. Global governance has tended historically to do best in areas that you would describe as quote-unquote “technical” rather than political. So certain communications areas, aviation is a perfect example. Everybody has an interest in air traffic controllers speaking common language, having certain rules of the road and so forth. There's a codependency, if you will. And yet what we've now seen is the intrusion of politics and force into this. This is piracy. This is hijacking.


Call it what you will, but again, it shows the vulnerability of even what we thought was the safe area, the apolitical area of global governance to politics and sovereignty. In this case an assertion of it by the government of Belarus. So you know, the reaction thus far has essentially been in the realm of aviation. The problem with that is it's a limited response, and anyone can hop on a flight, I'd expect, from Belarus to Moscow, and then from Moscow fly anywhere else in the world. So it's an hour and a half inconvenience is the sum total so far of the sanctions.


I would think the only thing that would make sense would be to escalate their response. And one is through sanctions not just to Belarus, but also Russia. And the question, particularly with Russia, is do you want to do it given the full agenda that we have with Russia? This is simply one of eighty-eight things that give us a real pause when it comes to Mr. Putin's behavior. So, you know, there's that question but other than that, other than, if you will, isolation, greater sanctions against the benefactor of Belarus, conceivably think about ways of supporting the Belarus opposition.


That's what this is really about. I don't have great answers for you. You know, again, there's not a mechanical answer to these things. To put it bluntly, it's not the idea that we could build a stronger convention against air piracy. The problem is what we have is an egregious violation of what conventions and rules we have. And the real question is our willingness and ability to inflict pain against the ability and willingness of others to endure pain. Right now I worry that the balances on behalf of the—it favors the bad guys.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, I'd love to know your reaction to that and whether you see a broader range of policy levers than Richard does for this case?


TOCCI: Yes, I mean, I [inaudible] analysis here. I mean, that I think, you know, sort of the reason why the technical is becoming political is because, I think, we are and we have already shifted in an international system where there is far greater normative contestation. And so in a sense this kind of greater sense of impunity that authoritarian countries have and feel and exercise is because they are increasingly trying to assert the line of there's nothing wrong with our political systems.


These are things that can be done. And I think it speaks to and about an international system, which in this respect is changing, which is why I sort of started off with, you know, sort of, in my answers to your first question, Kori, talking about, you know, the way in which the sense of the world is becoming more normatively contested and values are coming back, in a sense, to play a far more prominent role in many respects in foreign policy and not just foreign policy.


Now, having said that, the question, you know, the policy question that follows is and then what do we do about it. You know, what do liberal democracies do about it? Now, I don't have a great answer to the question, but I think that what is important is to reflect about the fact that the way in which we address it has to take into account the fact that the context has changed fundamentally. So we're no longer in a sense in that world in which we took for granted that there was one destination of travel.


And so when, if you like, countries deviated from that single destination, then we could encourage them, coerce them in different ways, if you like. But ultimately, there was only one possible good outcome to the good life. We as liberal democracies continue to think this way, but the point is that there are others that don't. And so how do we and others that don't also have segments within our own populations, which are questioning those values and hence the fragility of democracies, if you like, even within the liberal West.


So the sort of policy reflection from this is that in a sense the instruments and the methods that we used in the good old days in the international liberal order cannot be simply replicated in the same way. So yes, you know, instead about sanctions, and instead about, you know, is there a military component, an economic component, a diplomacy angle, it has to be done in a different way because the context has changed fundamentally. Now, what does this mean?


You know, how do we avoid in the sense that having greater appreciation, that we're living in a different context should not simply end up in pure cynicism and basically saying, “Well, you know, there are different political systems, you know, in the sense that the Chinese or Russians and therefore everyone's entitled to do it their own way.” You know, how do we respond when it comes to countries like Belarus where very clearly the majority of the population would like to go in a different direction? The regime doesn't. And how do we respond in a way which is sensitive and responsive to that but at the same time cognizant of the fact that we don't have the same levers as we had in that historical moment where we all believed in a sense that there was a single destination of travel.


SCHAKE: So, Richard, you talked about responsibilities in addition to rights internationally. And I think Nathalie was getting at that same issue. The challenge for global governance has always been who gets to set the rules and how do you enforce them. What I think I hear Nathalie saying is that who sets the rules is more contested now and our ability to enforce them diminished even as the values that underlie how Western countries would like to shape the order is becoming more pointed. That strikes me as a very dim prospect for the advance of global governance. Do you agree with that judgment, and what do we do about that?


HAASS: We do not fundamentally disagree there. And, again, the reason is that there is little, or in some cases, no international community. So to think that you can build norms, rules, and institutions in the absence of a political foundation or consensus is a fool's errand—you can't. But the corollary to that and I think it's important, and I think all of us would agree on this, is the alternative to global governance is not an absence of governance. And then so my view is we have to think about where is multilateral collective behavior possible.


So it won't be global. The model, I believe, for the world cannot be the UN General Assembly. If that's the model, then we're really up the creek. Instead, the model has to be to build as much effective multilateral collective action as is possible. Hopefully over time you can build on it. So in some cases you have concert groups. In some cases you have coalitions of the willing. In some cases you have alliances. In some cases elements of a regional trade agreement are either emulated in other agreements or they spill over into the WTO.


I think if you think of global governance not as a switch, but as somehow as a process, ideally, but given the backdrop that this entire conversation—and you brought it up, Kori, with Belarus—takes place at a moment thirty years after the end of the Cold War where great-power relations have deteriorated markedly in different ways but still markedly with Russia and China, I believe we have to accept the fact that global governance as a universal collective enterprise right now the prospects for it are extremely bad. What we have to do is where we can and with whom we can build arrangements, multilateral arrangements that make sense.


To me part of the challenge is how do we one way or another influence the behaviors of the Russias, the Chinas, and other outliers to either stop disruptive behavior or to perhaps take on what we would consider to be more responsible behavior. And I think the more, for example, we could collectively build certain types of trading arrangements, which is one of the reasons I'm against the fact that the United States has not entered regional trading arrangements in Asia. I think it's a major, major mistake because if we were to band together with those countries and we said to China, “Hey, you want your goods to have access, here's the standard you have to meet about labor and about climate,” that gives us a little bit of leverage.


So I don't know if you call that global governance or not, but that's a way to move it, I think, in a constructive direction. So it's going to come from, I would think, from the ground up, if you will, from greater degrees of effective multilateralism rather than from the top down, that the world is going to meet, negotiate, innovate, and execute some new set of global machinery. I don't think it's going to work that way. This is not a 1945-1946 moment.


The balance of power is not so distributed that the victors in the war can do that. We may have had an opportunity—I'll go on for thirty more seconds and I promise to stop—an interesting question for historians, such as yourself, is going to be whether we had such an opportunity and squandered it, whether we blew it thirty-odd years ago after the end of the Cold War. Because one would have thought that ought to have been present at the creation 2.0. And I would simply say there's not a lot to show for it. So I think now, thirty years on we have to accept the fact that this is not a great present at the creation moment given the distribution of power, the lack of common thinking, and that we have to find effective multilateralism where we can rather than thinking about quote-unquote “global governance” in most areas.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, I see you shaking your head affirmatively. So, please, before we go to questions, please add your perspective here.


TOCCI: Yes, I totally share it. Just to add a couple of points to what Richard was saying, I mean, I think that, yes, I mean, if global governance is understood as something that is universal and highly institutionalized, then no. If by global governance we mean something which is potentially messier, which is made of different contact groups or different groupings, which really start from sort of the question of, you know, what is the policy question to be addressed. And then from there, kind of, you know, build the coalition of actors, which is necessary to address it, then, you know, sort of perhaps in a rather fragmented way. But multilateral solutions can be found.


A final consideration that I wanted to add to this is that there are in some policy areas, at least, there is an element of potential sequencing here. I mean, if we take, I don't know, climate. Climate this year, in fact, you know, one can make the argument that you start building a consensus amongst the like-minded on whatever—climate financing or the G7—this then transits towards a broader setting like the G20. And it then finally ends up in COP26. Ideally, in a sense, this is, you know, I think as liberal democracies, this is the way we should be trying to think about it. I mean, there will be areas where liberal democracies will simply not be able to find agreement with others.


There may be areas where that agreement is necessary, otherwise solutions cannot be found. But in those areas it would probably be wiser to try and agree amongst ourselves, and then once that agreement is crystallized to try and push it forward in, sort of, you know, in formats where quantity starts trumping policy, if you see what I mean, up until getting to the more universal membership at COP26 to stick to the climate example.


HAASS: Can I ask you one thing on that, Kori, thirty seconds? I know you want—I think what Nathalie said is a really interesting example of a kind of incrementalist approach, but we're going to have to then accept, or deal with rather, the challenge of the outliers, whether it's in India that may lack certain means or a China that's more focused on economic growth than responsible economic behavior. So the advocates of global governance then have to think about—or what are the tools you would use to influence behavior. Might it be, for example, technology transfer of green technology on terms that countries could afford it? That's one sort of thing, the kind of thing we did with HIV/AIDS drugs.


You make some mechanism for certain things to be available. Is it shaman of a country that can afford to do things responsibly and doesn't, like a China? Is it example of denial of market access? Do we have carbon taxes and climate-related barriers to act? So if you're serious about global governance where there is a sense of norms, what you really have to ask yourself is how are we going to change national performance? Because what really matters is that rather than at some point thinking about the global institution, this is still a world in which national performance counts for most, and we have to be willing and able to address that.


SCHAKE: I love the momentum of this conversation, but I want to invite our members to join into the conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record, and the operator will remind you how to join the question queue.


STAFF: [Gives queuing instructions] We'll take our first question from Esther Brimmer.


Q: Good morning. Thank you so much for such a stimulating conversation. It's great to see all of you, and I'm delighted to be part of this conversation. In the conversation this morning we've talked about different areas including technical areas and global governance and public health. I'd like to ask about a different area, particularly telecommunications and information technology. These are the new technologies that are changing how we work. This very meeting is an example. But this is also an area which also touches on values such as free speech and privacy. It's also an area where there needs to be much greater discussion amongst the liberal democracies, particularly in the transatlantic community in the U.S.-EU conversation in this area. Could you comment on global governance and information technology? Thank you.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, why don't you start us?


TOCCI: Yes, well, I think, Esther, this is one of the areas, I mean, if one sort of takes the broader question, basically what I'm saying, you know, which are the policy areas where a convergence of values is more important than casting the net as wide as possible? And where instead does the reverse reasoning apply? I think that tech and digital definitely fall into that first category. I mean, it's to me becoming increasingly clear that this is really an area where there has to be a degree of like-mindedness, if you like, on values before one tries to enlarge, if you like, membership. So I think, you know, this really kind of boils down to the fact that in the transatlantic community there, you know, to an extent, I think that there has been, you know, quite a bit of progress. I mean, this really used to be an area where we were, in many respects, sort of bending far apart.


I think largely it's a consequence of how the world has been changing. I think that there has been significant movement on both sides of the Atlantic in a way which has actually created greater convergence to the extent that I think on the one end of the debate, which is basically that sort of privacy debate, I think, in many respects, the United States has come slightly closer to it to a more European, if you like, view given the greater appreciation of the security risks of simply sort of unlimited freedom. So that, on the one hand, there is I think that Europeans, particularly over the course of the pandemic, are far less starry eyed about opening up to different technological solutions.


I mean, just look at the way in which the debate in Europe on tech has hardened vis-a-vis China, for example. So, I mean, you know, to try and also find positive spins on this conversation, which has tended to become everyday rather pessimistic, I definitely see this is an area where, firstly, I would say that values, you know, sort of, as I said, you know, values trump quantity, if you like, quality trumps quantity, and to sort of look at the positive. I think there has been movement on both ends, if you like, in the transatlantic community to actually get to greater convergence in some of these themes.


SCHAKE: Richard, does it look the same to you?


HAASS: I agree with the idea that we need to build up from the bottom up with those who might be like-minded. I think this is going to be stunningly tough. Indeed, when I look at the world and if I have to think of domains, this whole area of not just telecommunications because it's almost an inadequate word now, but cyber is probably the gap is largest between the technology and the degree of regulation. And in part you've got fundamental differences about ideas and free movement and so forth. We may see it as a virtue, others see it as a threat. You've got regulatory issues and the question of how you involve these large companies that have an enormous role. It's not just a governmental challenge.


You've got the question of what constitutes legitimate free speech and at what point is a crossover as political interference in the political processes of other countries. You've got espionage, some forms of, shall we say, are accepted and other forms of which, such as economic espionage, are not always by ourselves. We have more offensive actions. This is a question of the militarization of cyber. Indeed, cyber has the potential to be a weapon of mass destruction depending upon against what it is targeted. And I think there's so many players, attribution is difficult.


I don't know, Kori, when I look at this, I find this probably intellectually the single most difficult challenge in some ways in the field. It's not just building political support for what we want to do. I actually think designing an international set of rules and norms, and then we can think about institutions. In this era, it's actually where our field, I would argue, has come up short. And it might be that there's so few people in our field who actually understand the technology and have a background in international relations and what some call regime theory. But I actually think that the ideas are not adequate, and not surprisingly, the politics and the institutions are woefully inadequate. But for anyone young who's watching this, this is a really good area to invest in and get smart on because you're good at this, you're going to be gainfully employed for about the next fifty years.


SCHAKE: [Laughs] Next question, please.


STAFF: We’ll take our next question from Mark Lagon.


Q: Hi, there. I'm chief policy officer at Friends of the Global Fight Against AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. But my questions about democratic governance and human rights. It picks up on Kori's discussion of Belarus and then also the question we just head on IT. Obviously, right now, there's a serious problem about human rights, impunity, and issues of governance within countries. What do you think about the, you know, the structure of global governance to deal with human rights, per se? President Biden has suggested bringing together the democracies of the world. What is the, you know, importance, salience, you know, or uselessness in your mind of an amalgam of the democracies working on these issues internally in countries? Thanks.


SCHAKE: Richard, why don't you take the first swing at that?


HAASS: Okay. Look, the first half of Mark's question was about what's on paper essentially. I think a lot of the rules on human rights, opposition to genocide, even responsibility to protect are fine. The problem is the lack, in some cases, absence of enforcement or implementation. And this is one of the areas where very quickly global governance types run up against sovereignty types and countries say, “Yes, that's all well in principle.” It's kind of like NIMBY, not in my backyard, not when it applies to me. So there's just a problem in translating norms into, again, enforcement or behavior.


My enthusiasm for groups of democracies is finite, particularly at this time. One is most global governance issues, in many cases, are going to require non-democracies to participate. Charlie Kupchan and I just wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs about calling for an international concert, a modern day one. Part of the argument is that values-based global governance in many areas is an inadequate formula for it. So I wonder a little bit about that. Second of all, how do I put this, before the United States starts calling the world's democracies together, we need to get our own house in order. American democracy has to be something that is functioning and that is something that others will respect and want to emulate.


So my advice to the administration would be to put this on the back burner until such a time that American democracy, again, is what you might call that shining city on a hill. We aren’t there now. I hope it's a question of when and not if we get there. But to use one of my favorite phrases, foreign policy begins at home in this case. Let address what, indeed, what could be the biggest single threat to American national security, which is the dysfunctionality of our own ability to govern ourselves.


SCHAKE: Nathalie, anything on human rights and global governance or on America as a threat to the global order?


TOCCI: Yes, I mean, I think, let me put it this way. There are three reflections. I mean, sort of the first is, in a sense, what is positive about the current moment, I mean, literally quite recent is that democracy and human rights are back as being an important theme in foreign policy. I mean, you know, I think that for basically sort of, you know, beginning with the Arab uprisings and sort of ending with Trump, there was sort of a long moment in which we kind of didn't really talk about democracy and human rights anymore.


I mean, either because we didn't really like the results of elections or because the world was becoming a big, bad, and ugly place and so we just simply had to toughen up rather than just kind of, you know, worry about this, you know, these soft issues. But there was a moment in which the democracy and human rights piece simply kind of exited the scene.


Now, I think what's positive now is that it's reentering the stream. But as I was mentioning earlier, the point is that we can't do it in exactly the way we used to do it in the good old days of democratization and democracy promotion. That moment has passed. So I think in a sense today we're far more in a mode of not simply, which connects to the West's point but even as much a European point, where not only in the world in which, you know, how do we promote these values, but it's as much if not even more how do we protect them at home?


And therefore how do we live up to them at home? Now, these two things, which has been connected to this whole point about, you know, the alliance of democracies could be seen as a source of weakness. I mean, it could be seen as, in a sense, I think it was finding the direction [inaudible] was taking now. I mean, let's suppose a model for thinking about getting democracies together so that we can, in a sense, lead by example. I think there's a certain power to that argument.


But one could also put it in a different way and basically say, “Well, democracy is a journey.” I'm all on this journey. We can go forwards. We can go backwards. And this is about, in a sense, you know, sort of sharing experiences, and ensuring that we do learn from one another and move forward together if we have those ideals. Now, this, I think, helps us or could potentially help us also navigate, I think, a real risk that we're running with democracy and human rights being back, in a sense, on the agenda.


And the risk is basically, you know, in this confrontation, particularly with China but also with Russia and more generally with authoritarian states, how do we deal with the so-called the gray zone? So how do we deal with those countries that are nominally democracies but very clearly moving in a different direction? You know, how do we deal globally with the Indias of this world or Turkeys, regionally speaking, of this world?


Are we, you know, if we go for the sort of black and white democracy, non-democracy, then very obviously we would either have to sort of cynically include them and therefore debase basically what values you're all about. Or we would have to be more coherent and [inaudible] in which case we would be simply pushing them, if you like, in the quote-unquote “other camp,” as opposed to sort of articulating this as a journey, which can go forwards and can go backwards, and therefore, we are in this basically altogether.


HAASS: Kori, I think Nathalie makes a really good point. I remember in government this question of who to include is a problematic one, the gray zone as she calls it—the Hungaries, the Polands, the Turkeys, what have you. But I also think there's a problem with what you might call the black and white zone and I'd say the Chinas and the Russias. There we have Hong Kong and China. We have Xinjiang. We have Navalny and what's going on in Russia. The question then is where does democracy fit in foreign policy? And I would say we're not going to settle that today.


But since this is a conference about global governance, I think we have to ask where does that fit? To what extent is that a step or a box that has to be checked? Or do we basically say in some areas, as we did with Russia a few months ago, we want to sign a New START extension agreement. And the fact that they are arresting, killing oppositionists is something that we can't allow to preclude the other simply because it's essential in its own right. And so part of my problem with the emphasis on human rights and democracy it's that we have, you know, we have limited influence in certain circumstances and that there's real trade-offs. And so before we make it a central theme, we had better think through exactly what does it mean to highlight it, and are we really prepared to see it through?


SCHAKE: I also think we have probably given too little thought to how international institutions can be used in a damaging way against free societies. You know, Nathalie raised the point about protection. And it was to me shocking that we allowed a Chinese head of Interpol given the way authoritarian countries are using Interpol red cards to terrorize dissidents and free voices. And it occurs to me that we have an assumption that we have the ability to control the actions of international institutions in which we are participating and that perhaps we should explore a little bit more the possibility of them being used as weapons against us, which we have traditionally not thought about. We have eight minutes and two more questions in the queue. So I'd like to go to the next of them, please.


STAFF: We'll take our next question from Jeffrey Rosen.


Q: Thank you. Interesting discussion, very interesting points. I'd like to come back to the point that Richard made a couple of moments ago about a foreign policy beginning at home and dealing with the challenges of our own democracy first. The question is this, the world won't stand still while we do. So what do you do? How do you proceed in parallel to both address the types of issues he had been discussing today, governance and so forth, and at the same time deal with the problems at home?


SCHAKE: Excellent question. Nathalie, I think I'll give you the first shot at this.


TOCCI: Yes, I mean, I could put it this way. I mean, in a sense, you know, that the answer, for instance, of the Biden administration has been given to that question, as you know, you have a foreign policy for the middle class. The European variant of this basically goes in the direction of we need to work on our own autonomy. So basically, I mean, sort of developing our autonomy is essentially the sort of European way of saying we need to think about ourselves first, in a sense, couched in European terms. I think, in a sense, there's obviously value to that approach because of course if you don't do it, well, no way you're going to end up in terms of domestic politics.


And so we've kind of had a sense of that in that decade of nationalist populism, if you like, which then in Europe had also the Eurosceptic, if you like, side of things. So we know what it leads to if we don't do it. And yet at the same time we have to bear in mind what it does lead to if we do to it, which is obviously the risk of, depending on policy area, but kind of protectionism closure. You know, be it trade protectionism, be it closer to migration, be it, you know, sort of straining transatlantic ties in terms of security. So there are various risks, if you like, to pursuing something, which in a sort of U.S. version and the European version, in a sense had to be done otherwise the political consequences are far too dire. But there's a balancing act in the sense there to be found.


SCHAKE: Richard?


HAASS: Well, thank you, Jeffrey. Look, it's a thoughtful question. The good news is that in some areas there's considerable—let me put it this way, it's good news if you agree with the thrust of the policy. The executive branch in the United States enjoys considerable latitude and discretion when it comes to foreign policy for more than it enjoys with domestic legislation, which is much more of a legislative, congressionally influenced process. So while we are sorting out things at home in certain areas, the president can still conduct an awful lot of foreign policy as he wishes.


But that said, I don't challenge your basic point that our ability to promote democracy will obviously be affected by what happens here at home. Those areas, which do have large legislative dimensions such as trade policy, immigration policy, there the president's hands will be tied. And there's one other, which affects, in a sense, the country Nathalie comes from, which is American continuity and predictability.


For most of the last three quarters of a century when we had rotations in power, one, they were automatic, and two, the differences, even between the most ardent Republicans and the most ardent Democrats, was fairly limited, say, within, I don't know what, the 35-yard line around midfield to the extent now that rotations in power in the United States are to, one, be disputed, and two, could lead to dramatic changes in America's relationship with the world. That actually works against our ability to influence the world dramatically. And as much as anything is a threat to the subject today, which is global governance.


SCHAKE: I think we can squeeze this last question in. Please do.


STAFF: We'll take our next question from Kilaparti Ramakrishna.


Q: Thank you very much for taking my question. It's a fascinating discussion, although a little bit dispiriting. I thought with the pandemic in the rearview mirror, at least in this country and in few other countries, it's time to really think about what had gone wrong and how to fix the global governance. It's not just global governance but the national governance system as well. But the message that I get is that, well, it was bad before and it is bad now. Am I reading that right? Is there any prospect for doing what needs to be done globally and not recur and not have a repeat of this in the future? Thank you.


SCHAKE: Richard?


HAASS: As the apostle of the dispiritedness here, look, I mean, you're right in your take, at least I won't speak for my two colleagues here, but yes, things were pretty bad before and they are pretty bad now. But there's nothing inevitable about what there'll be tomorrow. That's the dynamic of history. There's very little that's inevitable, very little that's baked into the cake. So the real question is, is there some collective learning? President Biden likes to say the United States is back. Well, we're not back yet, but maybe one day we will be. We could take a lead in doing certain things. We could create coalitions of the willing and like-minded.


And maybe over time if we did certain things we then could create a system of incentives and disincentives where the outliers would begin to move in a more responsible direction. So the takeaway from this should not be that better global machinery or governance is impossible. No, that's not the takeaway at all. We're just simply not there. We shouldn't assume it comes about automatically. Now we ought to think really hard and really practically about how to narrow the gap between where we are and where we need to be. That's not meant to be dispiriting. It's meant simply to be realistic.


SCHAKE: Dr. Tocci, you get the last word this morning.


TOCCI: Yes, I mean, I agree with Richard, I don't think that it's dispiriting. I mean, I think that, in fact, I think there is a greater realization now than there was just a couple of years ago that we need it because otherwise we'll not be able to navigate those transnational challenges that we were referring to. I think that there is also a greater understanding that the way to achieve it is probably not going to be, as Richard as putting it, in that sort of highly institutionalized top-down way, but that we have to go about it pragmatically when sort of, you know, start from the different challenges to start bottom-up from the different policy areas and kind of see what works. So you know, I think that there has been movement, if you like, both on the demand side and on, at least, an understanding of how the process on the supply side has to develop, which in a sense puts us in a slightly better position than we were only a few years ago.


SCHAKE: And on that note I'd like to thank you for joining today's virtual meeting. Thank you to Dr. Richard Haass and Dr. Nathalie Tocci for this informative discussion. The video and transcript of today's meeting are going to be posted on the CFR website in case there's anything you'd like to catch. Thank you, my friends, for joining in this conversation among the Council of Councils.


TOCCI: Thank you.


HAASS: Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Kori Schake.


TOCCI: Thank you, Kori.



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