*This paper was written prior to the 2016 general election, offering policy recommendations for the National Security Strategy of one of the presidential candidates. As the present administration has not yet released a national security strategy, these recommendations hold particular relevance for the policy direction necessary to fulfill US priorities in the global order.
In 2017, the new administration faced a complex security environment with global challenges and a greater diffusion of power internationally. In drafting the 2017 National Security Strategy, it is imperative that President Clinton* and her advisors consider the following themes as critical elements of America’s international leadership: effective use of “smart power,” rebalancing of US priorities and engagements, and firm protection of American values.
Over the next four years, the US must implement a “clear-eyed” national strategy that shrewdly assesses the unique factors in each international conflict and “integrates all of our foreign policy tools”—diplomatic, information, economic, and military power—with the goal of advancing American values and the rule of law. 1 Primary reliance on military power “further[s] dark warnings about the potentially harmful effects of… rebalanc[ing] US national security spending or trim[ming] the massive military budget” instead of providing an objective view of US capabilities within the international environment; thus, a balanced smart power approach is necessary to deploy tools that can fulfill American goals on a case-by-case basis.2
Effective implementation of a smart power approach requires investing in and reinforcing domestic sources of power. The US should dedicate increased funding to the education of regional American experts, allowing for more informed and impactful intervention in regional crises. It is also recommended that the administration allocate more funds to conflict assessment efforts, in partnership with the efforts of think tanks, in order to assess the consequences of possible US actions and select the course with the least amount of conflict. Recognizing the increasing importance of the information domain, the administration should invest in advanced cyber capabilities so as to prevent non-state or state actors from developing unchecked influence in the digital sphere.
Smart power, based on the above national capabilities, must guide the Clinton administration’s strategy for engagement in different regional crises. In South Asia, region-specific experts should guide India and Pakistan to expand bilateral cooperation based on shared historical experiences and cultural traditions, with the end goal of a regional security framework. 3 In Europe, the administration must guide the UK’s process of exiting the EU, developing the economic structures necessary to mitigate the regional and global effects of short-term economic instability. By ensuring a smooth and “amicable split” and reassuring allies of the US’s commitment to NATO, America can continue to cooperate with member states in deterring Russian aggression. 4 Regarding the JCPOA, the US should continue Obama’s policy of lifting nuclear-related economic sanctions on Iran while strengthening cooperation between intelligence agencies and nuclear inspectors to ensure treaty compliance.5 American officials must analyze the future economic effects of lifting sanctions and restrict Iran’s future nuclear ambitions without constraining its ability to bring about regional peace. The Clinton administration should also continue the policy of addressing radical terrorism by curtailing its extensive online influence and empowering local troops.6
As Secretary of State, Clinton led the “pivot” to Asia, or realist shift in foreign policy towards regions that are increasingly important to American security and economic interests.7 This entailed “innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches” to general regional crises in order to fulfill security objectives in a sustainable manner, while avoiding endless commitments to regions with little strategic importance to the US.8 The principle of rebalancing American regional commitments should continue to guide international engagement under President Clinton. The US should engage in the Middle East in a smarter and more effective manner, while deepening trade and defense cooperation with emerging regions such as East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America. “Surging economic growth” and “aggressive military modernization” in East Asia have made the region an important and capable partner for the US in addressing international crises.9 China’s growing sphere of influence makes necessary American regional intervention as a counterbalance. Sub-Saharan Africa is developing into a strong potential market for American investors due to its high population growth, rapid urbanization, and expanding middle class. As a result of normalization of relations with Cuba, the US can stimulate its economic ties with Latin America and support the expansion of commodity production, labor, and services in the region.10
Implementation of an “undisciplined… strategy of liberal hegemony” encourages allies to free-ride on US defense capabilities and provides opposing states with a rationale to acquire greater military power.11 While some argue that American deep engagement helps to “maintain an open world economy,” general exercise of American leadership prevents the government from dedicating adequate resources to resolve the most pressing international threats.12 In the globalized world, international threats come from both regional conflicts and international challenges. Strategic rebalancing should therefore apply not only to engagement within regions, but also to engagement among different international issues, to ensure effective allocation of resources and power in all of the US’s foreign commitments, according to national interests.
Implementation of this policy requires balancing of domestic processes and international actions. Despite the US’s leadership in the effort to combat climate change, popular domestic opposition to energy and emission regulations obstructs quick ratification and implementation of international climate agreements by Congress. The US must therefore invest in rebalancing the public-government relationship and expanding public awareness of the benefits of climate change-related regulations—such as job growth in clean energy markets. Free trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership cause similar public concerns regarding job loss. In order to move workers from negatively-affected, low-wage fields to areas where they can productively contribute to the national economy, the US government must provide greater technical education opportunities for unskilled laborers displaced by foreign competition.
Firm protection of American values
As elaborated in founding documents, America is built on the values of democracy and universal human rights, a foundation that should be clearly represented in US foreign engagements. However, the US can only extend its values abroad when it implements them fully at home, a stance that the new NSS should clearly uphold.13 To this end, the US government must remain diligent in its prohibition of inhumane practices such as torture and racial discrimination. The executive should also restore the “constitutional dynamic between the executive and legislative branches of government” in order to strengthen democratic participation in major national decisions.14
Acting in accordance with these values, the US must acknowledge its responsibility to alleviate human suffering and respect human dignity by accepting up to 65,000 Syrian refugees into the country over four years, prioritizing human capital and those who can contribute productively to the national economy. Internationally, the administration should help local governments in Syria build the infrastructure necessary to provide civilians with basic services. This region wide effort should be carried out multilaterally, through international organizations such as the UN and regional partners such as the European Union. This approach embodies the US’s liberal internationalist responsibilities, but realist assessment and implementation of these responsibilities.15
The Hillary Doctrine states that women’s political and economic empowerment is an underestimated force for domestic and international peace, and should therefore be an essential national security priority for the US.16 Accordingly, the administration should devote more of the security budget to the Office of Global Women’s Issues, which ensures that consideration of women’s rights is fully integrated in foreign policy formulation and implementation.17 Through the Office of Global Women’s Issues, the US government should reach out to countries in which women are denied the most fundamental rights and offer economic assistance such as microfinance loans to encourage economic independence and stability. The Office should also convene forums for women leaders throughout the world to raise awareness of the need for women’s active participation in civil society.
Finally, commitment to American values implies that the US must urge other states to protect human rights and adopt democratic processes, strategically and in the most impactful manner. While the US seeks diplomacy and cooperation on shared concerns with authoritarian powers, it should promote these values, leading to the preservation of the universal rights of their citizens and a more stable political structure. In negotiations with China over mutual concerns such as climate change or robust and sustainable economic growth, the US should quietly pressure China to respect the freedom of speech and avoid imprisoning dissidents. This method is to be preferred over publicly confronting China, which has historically been ineffective in expanding American values and strengthening bilateral cooperation. The US faces a similar situation with Russia, whose frequent military expansionism in neighboring countries has violated the international rule of law. To restore democratic processes in regional matters, the administration should stand with powerful allies and pressure Russia to resume peace talks.
Over the past eight years, President Obama’s national security strategy successfully restored American leadership. By applying a smart power approach, rebalancing foreign commitments and domestic processes, and promoting national values, the Clinton administration must maintain the US’s influence as a firm, clear-eyed, and collaborative power in the international sphere.
1 “Clinton’s Speech on the ‘Smart Power Approach to Counterterrorism,’ September 2011,” Council on Foreign Relations, 9 Sept. 2011.
2 Zenko, M.A, “Clear and Present Safety,” Foreign Affairs 91.2 (2012): 81.
3 National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds (Washington DC: National Intelligence Council, 2012) 75.
4 Oliver, Tim and Michael John Williams, “Special Relationship in flux: Brexit and the future of the US-EU and US-UK relationships,” International Affairs 92.3 (2016): 559.
5 Sanger, David, and Michael Gordon, “Future Risks of an Iran Nuclear Deal,” New York Times 23 Aug. 2015.
6 LA Times staff, “Transcript: Hillary Clinton’s Democratic National Convention speech, annotated,” Los Angeles Times 28 July 2016.
7 Kay, Sean, America’s Search for Security: The Triumph of Idealism and the Return of Realism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield) 183.
8 Kay 187.
9 National Intelligence Council 74.
10 National Intelligence Council 74.
11 Posen, Barry, “Pull Back: The Case for a Less Activist Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs 92.1 (2013): 116-117.
12 Brooks, Stephen, et al. “Lean Forward: In Defense of American Engagement,” Foreign Affairs 92.1 (2013): 3.
13 Obama, Barack, National Security Strategy (Washington DC: The White House, 2015): 19.
14 Kay 275.
15 Zenko 83.
16 Traub, James, “The Hillary Clinton Doctrine,” Foreign Policy 6 Nov. 2015.
17 Kerry, John” “Why Women are Central to US Foreign Policy,” op-ed. US Dept. of State 8 March 2013.