James Lindsay: ‘Biden’s foreign policy is not simply a restoration’

In this Eastern Focus interview, dr. James M. Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), explains that Joe Biden sees his core global challenge as being less about promoting democracy than preserving it. 

What would you expect to fundamentally change under a Biden administration in terms of foreign policy vision? To use the vivid image of the book you co-authored together with Ivo Daalder – “the Empty Throne” – will we be present at a restoration? To what foreign policy traditions are we going back?

I would frame President Biden’s approach like this: He is looking to recover a tradition of American leadership in the world that Donald Trump turned his back on. From Truman to Obama, American presidents believed that American leadership served not just its own interests, but the interests of others. The United States led the creation of a world order that Americans believed advanced and protected their interests even as it helped others. Donald Trump’s America First rejected that idea, arguing instead that America’s engagement in the world produced costs that greatly exceeded any benefits. That’s why America First morphed into America alone. 

From Truman to Obama, American presidents believed that American leadership served not just its own interests, but the interests of others.

Joe Biden, like almost all post WW2 presidents, believes in the virtue of American leadership. But it is important to note that his foreign policy is not simply a restoration. He understands that “you can’t step into the same river twice”. Things have changed. You can’t ignore the fact that we had 4 years of America First foreign policy and America’s relations with many of its closest friends, allies and partners have been damaged and are in need of repair. The Biden team – composed of serious, seasoned, experienced foreign policy hands – understands that they face a very different situation compared to when they were last in government. They know that America’s diplomatic relationships need to be repaired. They also recognise that many US partners worry that a Biden presidency will represent only a temporary return to a traditional US foreign policy. An old saying applies here: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Can Biden deliver on his agenda and on his promises? A skeptic can reasonably say that Americans voted for Donald Trump once, so what’s to stop them from voting for him again?

‘The policy of engagement with China hasn’t worked’  

Let’s discuss the different strands existing in the Democratic Party vis-à-vis the great power competition. In the end the return of the great power competition has become a core feature of the contemporary international relations. It is no longer the 1990s or 2000s. The Democratic Party is no longer the one of the 1990s or 2000s. For example on Asia in particular “there is a new generation that emerged” in the words of Eric Sayers that displays a competitive-minded approach to Beijing (and here I would include Kurt Campbell, Ely Ratner, Kathleen Hicks, Mira Rapp-Hooper. 

When we talk about the Democratic Party we first need to recognise that there are divisions within the party, including on foreign policy with splits between doves and hawks. Second, for many and perhaps most Democrats, job number one is not foreign policy, it is not restoring American leadership abroad. Instead it is about getting America’s domestic house in order. Indeed, many Democrats see two reasons why a successful foreign policy depends on fixing domestic problems.  One is to persuade the American public that investments and actions overseas are worthwhile and not detracting from success at home. That is why the Biden Administration quite consciously uses the phrase a ‘foreign policy for the middle class’. The second reason is that America’s ability to lead has historically rested on American power, on the appeal of American values (soft-power), and on a reputation for competence. The United States was always the can-do country. It was the country where the president said on the Inauguration Day that in 10 years we would land a man on the moon and then did just that. It is safe to say that over the last dozen years the reputation of the US as a can-do power, as a competent power, has taken a blow. That happened first with the financial crisis in 2008-2009 and then again with the bugled response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For many and perhaps most Democrats, job number one is not foreign policy, it is not restoring American leadership abroad. Instead it is about getting America’s domestic house in order.

At the same time there has been a sea change in foreign policy thinking over the last decade among both Democrats and Republicans. A consensus has formed in Washington that the policy of engagement with China hasn’t worked.  Visions of what the engagement policy was supposed to produce varied, but the core belief was that we would invite China into this rules-based international order and that China would over time benefit from joining, realise the benefits, and then become a responsible stakeholder. The conclusion today– and this is a broadly held view in the United States – is that this bet didn’t pay off. We have witnessed particularly since Xi Jinping came to power a more assertive China that is seeking not to blend into the existing order, but to revamp it in a number of ways.  Beijing’s engagement with that order, particularly on trade, has been strategic in the sense of exploiting the rules to benefit China economically, while not actually embracing them.  This view of Chinese behaviour is something that unites the American firsters with a Biden return to American leadership. So the question becomes one of how you act on this changed perception. 

Donald Trump’s answer was America First: we exert our power, we are the most important economy in the world and we can force China to bend to our demands. After 4 years the results are in on that experiment, and I would suggest it failed. China is stronger because the basic premise of Trump’s strategy of an America that can do it alone was wrong. Trump ran against allies saying they didn’t do enough, and then pursued a foreign policy which asked the US to deliver more. It didn’t work. So the Biden response is to work with our friends, partners and allies to come up with common responses to actions by China, whether in the military sphere, the economic sphere or on human rights. This is easier said than done, because even if you are going to get people to agree that China needs to be deflected or challenged, you get disagreements over where it should be challenged, how it should be challenged, who should do the challenging and who should foot the bill.

Biden argument isn’t we can contain China, but to persuade the Chinese not to do things to challenge our interests and our values. So the policy is not containment, but challenging Chinese behaviour that violates international norms.

It is certainly the case that the Biden foreign policy is going to look different than Trump’s on a number of issues – think climate change, human rights – but in other areas it is going to be similar. Of course not in tone. We’ve left behind the time when foreign policy is made by tweets at 3 a.m., we’ve left behind the time when senior administration officials disagree publicly over what the policy is, and we’ve left behind the time when the president makes foreign policy on the fly. Now we have a more disciplined, coherent, methodical administration. But the premise remains that China remains the challenge. We need to be very careful here. The Biden argument isn’t we can contain China, but to persuade the Chinese not to do things to challenge our interests and our values. So the policy is not containment, but challenging Chinese behaviour that violates international norms. We see that when we are talking about Taiwan, freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS) in the South China Sea, and China’s human rights abuses. In this context the big question becomes – can the U.S. marshal sufficient support from its traditional friends, allies and partners? 

But in these diplomatic efforts it is not just what the US does that matters. What others do also matters, particularly the Chinese. And they are clearly following a strategy of divide and rule that seeks to prevent Biden from building a coalition of states that will pressure China.

‘Reaganism doesn’t fit the situation the US finds itself in today’

Are we on the verge of a paradigm change or rethinking in terms of the role of state/government domestically? A Reagan in reverse? Or a Rooseveltian New Deal 2.0? Trillions will be spent on infrastructure, social benefits, green economy. Not long ago, the national debt used to be understood as the biggest threat to the US national security. Are you worried by the skyrocketing debt levels? Isn’t this spending spree financed through a large deficit a danger for the US strategic solvency?

It’s too early to say whether we will talk about Biden’s presidency as we do about Reagan’s or FDR’s. President Biden certainly hopes to usher in a paradigm shift at home even as he reinvigorates the US approach to the world abroad. Americans have lived for four decades under the echoes of Reaganism and its insistence that Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. Reagan prefaced that claim, however, with the words “in the present crisis.” Biden and his supporters argue that whatever the wisdom of Reagan’s advice four decades ago, it doesn’t fit the situation the US finds itself in today. Forty years of disdaining government action has left America’s infrastructure in tatters, weakened its social safety net, and accelerated economic inequality. The solution, especially during a pandemic, cannot be turning to the same set of failed policies. Rather, government must act, and it must act boldly.

Of course, big actions come with big price tags. Growing public debt is a concern, even if deficit hawks have been wrong for decades in insisting that fiscal ruin lies just around the corner. And for all the talk about Biden’s spending plans, it is worth remembering that the US national debt jumped by more than a third on Donald Trump’s watch while  America’s pressing infrastructure and social needs went unaddressed. 

Forty years of disdaining government action has left America’s infrastructure in tatters, weakened its social safety net, and accelerated economic inequality. The solution, especially during a pandemic, cannot be turning to the same set of failed policies. Rather, government must act, and it must act boldly.

Biden’s argument is that the greater risk at the present moment is doing too little than too much. That is a bold bet to make. If it pays off, the US economy will grow faster, making the debt easier to carry, solving a lot of domestic problems along the way, and putting US foreign policy on firmer footing. If the bet fails, then the national debt could pose a future danger. But should the US should ever reach that day of financial reckoning, a succession of presidents and Congresses who ducked America’s fiscal challenges rather than address them would need to share in the blame. 

While there is a new awareness on the disruptive rise of China, including in projecting its power and influence in Europe through companies, strategic assets and regional formats, there is no particular hurry in embracing a great power competition mindset in Europe. The recent investment accord with China is a case in point. What are implications for the transatlantic relationship? Do you see any potential strategic convergence between the Europe and the US in counterbalancing Chinese influence and projecting a common euro-Atlantic front?

I always worry about making generalisations about Europe. Europe has a robust set of countries that see some things alike and see some things differently. My sense is that overall, many Europeans are reluctant to get caught up in a great power competition. They believe that if they can minimise their exposure that they will maximise their benefits. But Europeans will find it difficult to avoid choosing sides. At the end of the day there are some issues that they can’t avoid. There are a number of Chinese policies that do concern people in Europe: human rights, Hong Kong, climate change – where the contribution of the Chinese power plants is a huge part of the problem – or regional intimidation. There are also European concerns about China’s predatory economic policies, namely, that China doesn’t play by the rules of the game but rather uses the rules to exploit others and create dependencies. 

Many Europeans are reluctant to get caught up in a great power competition. They believe that if they can minimise their exposure that they will maximise their benefits. But Europeans will find it difficult to avoid choosing sides.

Some European leaders recognise that Europe has to confront the reality of China. But will Europe embrace the challenge? This will be influenced by several things: one is how well Europe is doing in tackling its own internal problems. 

Another is how well the US plays its hand. The reality is, much as we extoll the transatlantic relationship, it has been buffeted over the years by all kinds of spats–on trade, the Iraq War, and the Vietnam War to name a few. So disagreement among friends is not unknown or uncommon and we should not idealise the past. We never had a moment of pure consensus, there always have been divisions. One of the tests will be how well the Biden administration understands the current state of relations–how adept are they working with their counterparts in Europe? Part of the success there is going to require the US not only to ask others to do something, but for the US to be willing to listen and give something. 

Another factor to have in mind over the next 6 to 12 months is what is China going to do? Is Xi Jinping going to moderate his behaviour? One obvious strategy for a great power facing a potential opposing coalition is to create divisions in that coalition – whether by offering investments to Greece or the Czech Republic or negotiating favourable deals with the EU as a whole.

‘The West was built around the notion that we were democracies and that we shared several core beliefs’

Do you see the ‘alliance of democracies’, in itself a very Wilsonian concept, at the core of the Biden vision the way to restore US leadership and defend the liberal international order? Is this a realistic construct? The theoretical democratic solidarity is often trumped by pragmatic commercial interests. 

The conversation we are having on Joe Biden’s call for a summit of democracies suggests that democracies working together is a novel idea.  I would argue that for the last 75 years, the United States has led an informal league of democracies. The commitment between the United States and Europe, the transatlantic relationship, was never simply about shared interests. It was also about shared values and shared governmental approaches. This is not to say that NATO always had countries that were democracies – the outliers were for a time countries like Greece, Portugal or Spain. 

But the general thrust of the West was built around the notion that we were democracies and that we shared several core beliefs: first, allowing people to change who governs them is a fundamental, universal value; two, it is the best way to arrange public affairs; three, we have an obligation to enable others to enjoy the benefits of democratic government. To me this is not something far-fetched, it is something we’ve been doing all along. We’ve been engaged in working with our fellow democracies on a whole range of issues.

The commitment between the United States and Europe, the transatlantic relationship, was never simply about shared interests. It was also about shared values and shared governmental approaches.

There is also this naïve assumption that you can only have a universal organisation like the UN, or a condominium of great powers like the Congress of Vienna, or regional organisations. The reality is that you can have a multiplicity of approaches. There is nothing wrong with having different forums, in part because you are trying to mobilise different people around different issues. I don’t accept this technocratic approach in which we have neat organisational lines and a hierarchy.

I will note that the importance of thinking about ourselves as being democracies is that it reminds us – whatever differences we have over digital taxes, subsidies, and the like – is that we share a fundamental commitment to a way of governing ourselves that we should not lose sight of. There is a tendency in human affairs to let small details take away from understanding what your common humanity is. It is important for us to work together. 

Organisations remind people of common interests or create them. When China goes about selling the BRICs it is consciously trying to create a conception that these countries – different in so many ways in terms of economic interests, culture and political systems – share something in common and can thereby forge some common bases of action. That same logic applies even more strongly to building around the democratic core. It is more a philosophy that we need to recognise that as democracies, for all the differences that we might have on some particulars, we share core assumptions about the world and the international order.

‘It is hard to argue that US foreign policy interests would be better served by abandoning a commitment to democracy’

Is it too much to say that there are echoes of a Truman-esque moment in terms of US grand strategy? And I am thinking here to the emphasis of democracy vs. autocracy as an inflection point and as the contest of our times. The interim NSS guidance published in March talks in these broad terms and it suggests a grand strategy that aims at consolidating the democratic/free core. In the end, it was the core message that Biden himself projected during the recent Quad, G7 and NATO summits.

There are echoes of Truman’s foreign policy in Biden’s. Today, as then, the United States finds itself embroiled in a great power competition. Today, as then, that peer competitor insists that its political and economic model is superior to democracy and free-market capitalism. And today, as then, that peer competitor stirs alarm among many of its neighbours with its ambitions. 

There are, of course, also important difference between the world today and the world of the late 1940s. The US and Chinese economies are deeply intertwined, whereas the US and Soviet economies were essentially disconnected. Both Beijing and Washington might like to reduce their mutual interdependence, but that will be hard to do. As a result, each capital has important economic incentives to favour cooperation over conflict. 

Biden sees his challenge as being less promoting democracy than preserving it. That is why he has repeatedly framed his task as leading “the world in fighting to defend democracy.”

Another important difference is that democracies are far more common today than they were seven decades ago – and they have shown that they can prosper. True, we have witnessed a significant democratic regression over the past dozen years, including in the US, as January 6 attests. So Biden sees his challenge as being less promoting democracy than preserving it. That is why he has repeatedly framed his task as leading “the world in fighting to defend democracy.”

That task is easier to state than to accomplish. An immediate problem is the obvious deficiencies in America’s own democracy. It’s hard to lead a cause when others doubt your virtue. Beyond that, Washington’s ability to influence the success of democracies elsewhere has always been limited, and it has often sacrificed its democracy goals to secure other foreign policy ends. Biden is already confronting these limitations and trade-offs in places like Haiti, Myanmar, and Tunisia. Like many of his predecessors in the Oval Office, he will be criticised for fecklessness and hypocrisy because his rhetoric and actions won’t always align. But it is hard to argue that US foreign policy interests would be better served by abandoning a commitment to democracy. 

There is a major debate about Taiwan these days in both US and US alliance system in the Indo-Pacific (especially Japan). We’ve seen even calls of ending US strategic ambiguity vis-à-vis Taiwan. To some extent the whole debate echoes the one that we’ve seen after WW2 about including/excluding South Korea in the perimeter of the American national security. And we know how that particular one ended. What has changed in the US perception and how important is Taiwan for the US security?

For all of the talk on Taiwan, US policy has not changed on a fundamental level and isn’t likely to change any time soon. The core principle, which goes back to 1979, is that the US adheres to a One China policy: the US does not regard Taiwan as an independent country. That is why the US doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taipei. US relations with the island are governed instead by a piece of Congressional legislation – the ‘Taiwan Relations Act’– which essentially requires the US to support Taiwan and to work to ensure that any reunification with the mainland happens peacefully.  

But tensions have risen in recent years because of the confluence of two things. 

One is that Taiwan has emerged as a model of democratic evolution: from what had been an authoritarian system to a flourishing vibrant democracy that is not just successful in terms of elections but as a flourishing economy with incredibly competent leadership. Just look at how effective Taiwan  – despite its close ties with China – was in preventing the COVID-19 pandemic from upending its society. If the US is at one end of the spectrum with a flawed response to the pandemic, Taiwan gets the gold star as top of the class. 

How do you deter Beijing? What are the right steps to prevent an escalation in conflict? What steps should you avoid because they will accelerate a conflict? Sometimes acting can provoke.

The other element has been the increased aggressiveness of China. As Chinese rhetoric has increased and as Chinese actions have become more threatening – crossing the ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) and testing the Taiwanese defense perimeter – the question arose over whether the United States is sufficiently signalling its support for Taiwan. The Trump administration moved away from a 30 year policy of keeping official contacts at a low level and Beijing obviously reacted harshly to that. The United States also stepped up arms sales to Taiwan. I anticipate that the Biden administration will continue that policy. That said, the Biden administration, like all the American presidencies, seems set to abide by the One China policy. It will say that reunification should take place on peaceful terms, and in no way should China coerce, intimidate or force Taiwan into a reunification. Of course that raises a major question. Xi Jinping has intimated if not said outright that China may consider non-peaceful means for achieving reunification.  What will Washington do if China does move forcefully against Taiwan?One of the challenges for the US government is to figure out how to prevent that situation from happening. How do you deter Beijing? What are the right steps to prevent an escalation in conflict? What steps should you avoid because they will accelerate a conflict? Sometimes acting can provoke. On the other hand, not acting can invite aggression. Trying to find the sweet spot or the Goldilocks spot – something that is not too hot and not too cold, not too big and not too small – is a test of diplomatic skill. 

Dr. James M. Lindsay is senior vice president, director of studies, and Maurice R. Greenberg chair at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is a leading authority on the American foreign policymaking process and the domestic politics of American foreign policy.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff (GMFUS): “We need a robust German-American relationship at the core of NATO”

Dr. Karen Donfried, president of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) of the United States was nominated Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs in the Biden administration last week. Several other GMF experts have already taken up key positions: Derek Chollet (counselor to the State Department), Laura Rosenberger (director for China on the National Security Council) or Julianne Smith (senior advisor to the Secretary of State). Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, vice president of the GMF, shares his insights about the future of the transatlantic relationship under the Biden administration and the need to reinvent NATO’s conventional defence around German contributions.

Revisionism in Romania, in the Context of the Centennial

This article is summarising the conclusions of a research conducted over the Romanian mainstream and social media, seeking to identify the presence of secessionist and revisionist narratives, what are the conditions facilitating their presence, and who are the actors benefiting. The research was part of the project Revealing Russian disinformation networks and active measures fuelling secessionism and border revisionism in the CEEconducted under the supervision of Political Capital, Budapest

Disinformation about Romanian-Hungarian relations as presented in Romanian mainstream and social media is primarily an illustration of home-grown mistrust between two communities lacking proper dialogue and knowledge of each other, a mistrust that, in addition, was historically cultivated as an instrument of manipulation during the decades of communism. External interference merely amplifies domestic content and provides every now and then the additional spin that serves the interests of – most often – Russia. 

Given the highly negative track-record of relations between Bucharest and Moscow, the population on the whole tends to be quite resilient in front of openly promoted pro-Russian narratives (interaction rates with Russian media outlets such as sputnik.md or RT also remain low); however, Russian-backed local actors or ‘useful idiots’ whose agendas largely overlap with the Kremlin’s and who embrace similar rhetoric can be quite successful in their presentation of Romanian-Hungarian relations as irreconcilable. These also feed the Russian efforts to present Romania as a hypocrite, revisionist and interventionist state, aiming to reunite with the Republic of Moldova, and permanently interfering in Moldovan politics for that purpose – which is most often the focus of Russian propaganda. Only in isolated cases (such as a relatively recent interethnic incident in the Uz Valley over a war cemetery) are there signs of coordination between Russian outlets and the internal groups that are behind the flare in Romanian-Hungarian tensions. 

Thus, the most frequent producers (and at the same time beneficiaries) of disinformation about Romanian-Hungarian relations are the (multiplying) far-right, nationalist, anti-liberal groups; political actors do jump on board when they identify an opportunity to harness interethnic tensions to collect votes, but generally refrain from translating inflammatory rhetoric into political action. Until recently, the theme mostly featured in the discourse of the more populistic Social-Democrats (absent any major far-right or otherwise radical political party in Romania, the PSD has tried to appeal to this particular electorate as well). Paradoxically, liberal and German ethnic president Klaus Iohannis tried to use the same language to recapture some of this audience not long ago, by playing on the requests for enhanced autonomy advanced by the Hungarian minority – but with mixed results, as he got a lot of negative fallout from some of his own core electorate.

In a sample of articles covering relevant events (Romania’s anniversary of its 1918 Great Unification, i.e. the reintegration of territories once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the above-mentioned inter-ethnic incident in Uz Valley followed by a row of rather undiplomatic exchanges) and containing key words signaling potential inflammatory content, less than half of the articles were in fact presenting positions against Hungary /the Hungarian minority in Romania. The general number of press articles containing unequivocal chauvinistic/ xenophobic assertions is rather low in Romanian media – which should not be mistaken, however, for the absence of such attitudes in the collective mindset.

The mutual social and cultural disconnect between the Romanian and Hungarian minorities are, on the one hand, the result of short-sighted government policies on both sides, which have generated socio-economic cleavages and inequality, and on the other side of occasionally deliberate attempts by both Bucharest and Budapest to maintain control over their respective communities in Transylvania and be able to use the rhetoric of secessionism when that served their interests. With the population in the rest of the country being rather ignorant of local realities in the counties with a sizeable Hungarian populations, perceptions were largely formed by government or political communication and the media. This has led to historically-based stereotypes, shaped both in the past (by the socialist regime) and at the present time (by nationalists and populists), whereby a common Romanian identity and the feeling of national solidarity are largely shaped by the rallying call to unity against a plethora of external enemies that have forever coveted Romanian territories – Hungary among them, also through its ‘internal agents’: Hungarian ethnics living in Romania. Calls for secession from the Hungarian minority and the interference of Budapest-backed elements in stirring local tensions have provided the element of truth that has strengthened the credibility of such narratives.

Looking at the discourse around Romanian’s Centennial anniversary and that of the Treaty of Trianon (2018), one can easily note that most disinformation/ misinformation revolved around the nationalistic, ethno-centrist narratives exaggerating the unique role that the Romanian population have played in achieving the Great Unification and romanticising the events surrounding it. This amounts, as described, to the creation (or continuation) of an alternative national history meant to use rather widely-shared feelings of victimisation to generate commonality of identity and purpose: ‘The Great Unification was made by the Romanian people. The help received during the process was not crucial or decisive’, ‘there are external, and internal occult forces acting to diminish/deny the importance of the 1918 Great Unification’, ‘reunification between Romania and the Republic of Moldova is of the greatest importance’, ‘Russia is aggressively promoting its policy of maintaining its sphere of influence/vassal states’, ‘there are important resentments among the European states (especially those who were on the losing side of the WWI) towards Romania’s Great Unification’.

These are further facilitated by the rise of nationalism, nativism and the irresponsibility of political discourse, whose populist tones cater to these audiences. Such topics are picked up by mainstream media – including those that overestimate the role that Romania played in WWI and the Great Unification, or calls for reunification with the Republic of Moldova, a kind of ‘border revisionism’, which continues to be seen by a significant part of the population as acceptable and thus forces politicians to at least not oppose it openly (thus adding more fuel to the fire and feeding the Russian messaging about Romanian revisionism).

More fringe nationalist media will also distribute a set of narratives about Hungary’s alleged subversive behaviour, its hidden agenda in dividing Romania by supporting the secession of the Hungarian majority Szekler Land, and generally its actions as a regional disruptor. Among these, ‘Hungary is supporting territorial revisionism in Szekler Land’, ‘Hungary has a hidden, historical plan to annex the territories it has lost as a consequence of the Trianon Treaty’, ‘Hungary is a vile state predisposed to mingling in Romania’s internal affairs’, ‘the ethnic Hungarian population in Transylvania (and their political representatives) are hostile to the Romanian population’, ‘Romania holds military superiority over Hungary’. These fringe media republish one another intensively and fuel an ecosystem gathering anti-liberal, orthodox groups together with far-right and xenophobic ones. The vocabulary used in promoting the narratives in this set is usually xenophobic and chauvinistic.

In a context where fringe social and online media increasingly influence mainstream media and radical political positions often push the agenda of centrist parties more to the extremes, dialogue on thorny issues like Romanian – Hungarian relations, in a formal and considerate setting, as well as measures directed at reduction of inequalities among target populations are of paramount importance in helping bridge communities, while ensuring a healthy information space is also a key factor. And as the problem is not located only at a political level (which rather opportunistically uses its pre-existence and helps perpetuate the situation), civil society organisations have an essential role to play in addressing these issues at grassroots level.

‘If the EU fails, we can say goodbye to the liberal order’ – an interview with Samir Saran, President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi.

To what extent is Europe important for the future of the world order? Europeans feel like they count less and less on the world scene.

Europe is, paradoxically, the single most important geography that will define the future trajectory of the global order. If Europe remains rooted in its fundamental principles – of being democratic, open, liberal, plural, supporting a transparent and open market economy, defending rule of law, the rights of individuals, freedom of speech – the world will have a chance of being liberal. If the European Union is split between the north and south, east and west and we see a large part of it deciding to give up on the Atlantic project and align with more authoritarian regimes – which is quite tempting, due to the material side attached to the choice – that will be the end of the Atlantic project. An EU that is not united in its ethics is an EU that will eventually write its own demise. How will Europe swing? Will it be an actor, or will it be acted upon? 

I have the belief that post-pandemic EU, as a political actor, will see a new lease of life. A new political EU may be born as the pandemic ends. Unless that happens, I believe this is the end of the European Union itself. It is a do it or lose it moment. Unless Europe becomes strategically far more aggressive, far more expansive, aware of its role, obligations and destiny you will see an EU that fades. For me, the most important known unknown is the future of Europe. Will the EU hold? Will the 17+1 become more powerful than the EU 27? Which way will the wind blow on the continent? Will it really be the bastion of the liberal order or will the liberal order be buried in Europe?

The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety

We’ve been used to only existing as part of the transatlantic relationship. In the past few decades, Europe has never really seen itself as an individual actor, but rather in coordination with the US. That is something that is starting to shake now. Do you see Europe acting on its own terms, as a global actor, in the positive case in which the member states do get their act together? Are we rather going to continue to act together with the US? Or find some other partners?

I suspect that with Brexit, you might see a far more cohesive EU, organised around the French military doctrine and French military posture. With an absent UK, I have the feeling that the political cohesion of the EU will increase and that the EU will be far more coordinated in its approach to the geostrategic and geopolitical questions. France realises that by itself, without the size of the EU, it might not be a significant actor. A French military presence will be compelling only if it acts on behalf of the EU.

Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China.

In terms of other partners, Europe has made one error. Europe believed that it could change China by engaging with them, however I suspect China will change the EU before the EU changes China. The mistake that the EU makes is that it imagines that an economic and trading partnership will create a degree of political consensus in Beijing. Nevertheless, Beijing is not interested in politics, but in controlling European markets. 

What Europe should do is to consider the importance of India. If the European continent needs to retain its plural characteristics, South Asia is the frontline. What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. The Himalayan standoff is just the first of the many that are likely to happen unless this one is responded to. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path. If Europe needs to feel secure in its own existence it needs to create new strong local partnerships – with India, Australia, Indonesia, Japan. The EU needs to see itself as an Indo-Pacific power. The Indo-Pacific is the frontline for European safety. If the Indo-Pacific was to go the other way, the mainland is not going to be safe.

What do you think about the CEE’s role in the new emerging order? We see an increased competition for hearts and minds here. How could India help, in an environment of increased competition and active engagement of China in this space?

The Central Europeans are going to be the centre of attention for many actors. China will buy their love, America will give military assurances and so on. In the near future, many actors will realise the importance of the CEE, simply because it is these countries that will decide which way Europe finally turns. In some ways they are the swing countries, the swing nations that are going to decide whether Europe remains loyal to the ideals of its past or decides to have a new path. CEE countries are in many ways the decisive countries.

CEE has two important options and two important pressures. The options: will they be able to create a consensus (between the Chinese, the Russians, the Old Europe and the new countries like India) or will they be an arena for conflict? Can we create a ‘Bucharest consensus’, where the East and the West, North and the South build a new world order and the new rules for the next 7 decades? If you play it wrong you might become the place where the powers contest, compete and create a mess.

There are also two pressures. Firstly, there is an economic divide in Europe. You are at a lower per capita income, you need to find investment funds for the infrastructure, employment, livelihoods and growth, which results in an economic pressure that needs to be tackled. Therefore, Europe will have to decide if the provenence of the money matters. Does it matter if it is red or green? Does it matter if they come from the West or the East? That is one pressure that needs consideration. How do you meet your own aspirations, while being political about it? 

The other pressure is the road you want to take. How do you envisage the future? Is it going to be a future built on cheap manufacturing? Being an advanced technological society, are you going to be the rule-maker of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or its rule-taker? Secondly, the nature of the economic growth that you are investing in becomes another pressure. This is the second choice that the CEE will have to make. In that sense, I believe that India becomes an actor. As we have experienced this in the past 20 years, we are one of the swing nations that could decide the nature of the world order, thus we may share this experience with you. We have also decided that we don’t want to be a low-cost manufacturing economy like China, but rather a value-creating economy, building platforms. Even if we have a small economic size, we have a billion-people digital platforms, digital cash system, AI laboratories and solutions. 

What is happening today between India and China is actually a frontline debate on the future of the world order. If China is able to change the shape of Asia and recreate the hierarchical Confucian order, don’t be surprised if the fate of Europe will follow the same path.

As we move into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the tyranny of distance between Europe and India disappears. We don’t have to worry about trade links, land routes and shipping lines. Bits and bites can flow quite rapidly. As we move to the age of 3D printing, to the age of quantum computing, of big data and autonomous systems, the arena where we can cooperate becomes huge. 

India gives Europe room to manoeuvre, room to choose. When it comes to choosing, besides the traditional American and Chinese propositions, there is also a third one – India, a billion-people market.

Do you expect that there is going to be a shift in the EU toward reshoring and ensuring that manufacturing is not captive to Chinese interests or to Chinese belligerence?

I think that we are going to see a degree of reshoring everywhere. It is not going to be only a European phenomenon. Political trust is going to become important. Political trust and value-chains are going to affect one another. Countries are going to be more comfortable with partners who are like-minded. They don’t have to agree on everything, but they should be on the same ideological and political spectrum. 

There are two reasons for this. One is the pandemic that we are currently facing and in a way it exposed the fragility of globalisation as we know it. The hippie and gypsy styles of globalisation are over. I think that people are going to make far more political decisions. The second is that as we start becoming more digitalised societies, individual data and individual space are going to be essential, thus you don’t want those data sets to be shared with countries whose systems you don’t trust. Value is going to increasingly emerge through intimate industrial growth, far more intimate in character – it is going to be about the organs inside your body, it is going to be about the personal experiences, about how we live, transact, date or elect. They are all intimate value chains. The intimate value-chains will require far greater degree of thought than the mass production factories that created value in the XXth century.

The EU may be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation

You mention the rising value of trust, as a currency even. In Europe, we often point out that we are an alliance based on values. But even our closest partner, the US seems to be moving in a much more transactional direction, let alone China and others. You are describing a worldview that is relying increasingly on shared values, at least some capacity to negotiate some common ground, on predictability, whereas in many ways it seems that things are moving in the opposite direction, a much more Realpolitik one. Is this something that is going to last?

The pandemic has brought this trend to the fore. People are going to appreciate trust and value systems more than ever. But I think this was inevitable. If you would recall, India used to be quite dismissive of the EU, calling it “an Empire of gnomes”, with no strategic clout. But if you look at the last two years, India has started to absorb, and in a sense to propose solutions that the EU itself has implemented in the past. India came up with an investment infrastructure framework in the Indo-Pacific that should not create debt trap diplomacy, should create livelihoods, respect the environment and recognise the rights and sovereignty of the people. India came up with this when it saw that the Chinese were breaking all rules and all morality to capture industrial infrastructure spaces. The Americans under Donald Trump also came up with the Blue Dot American project for the Indo-Pacific – a framework that was based on values. Whenever you have to deal with a powerful political opponent you throw the rule book in there. If you don’t want to go to war with them, you will have to manage them through a framework of laws, rules and regulations. The value systems are a very political choice. They are practices and choices enshrined in our constitutions and foundational documents. Therefore, dismissing values and norms as being less political or less muscular is wrong. The EU, “the empire of gnomes” that was much criticised for the first two decades as weak and not geopolitical enough, may well become an example for other countries. If it remains solvent, a vibrant union, and if it is not salami-sliced by the Chinese in the next decade, the EU may well be setting the format for managing our contested globalisation.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing

How does India see the future of the Quad? Usually the Quad is associated with a certain vision of the Indo – Pacific, free from coercion and open to unhindered navigation and overflight. Are we going to see the emergence of a more formal geopolitical alignment or even an alliance to support a certain vision about Asia?

The Quad is going to acquire greater importance in the coming years. It is going to expand beyond its original 4 members. We’ve already seen South Korea and the Philippines joining the discussion recently. We are going to see greater emphasis by all members doing a number of manoeuvres, projects and initiatives together. The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The pandemic started this process. I see three areas where the Quad can be absolutely essential.

One is in delivering global public goods, keeping the sea lines open and uncontested so that trade, energy and people can move with a degree of safety and stability. In a sense, I see the Quad replacing the Pax Americana that was underwriting stability in certain parts of the world. 

The second area is going to be around infrastructure and investments in certain parts of the world. I see the Quad grouping many initiatives that will allow for big investments in countries which currently have only one option – China. The Quad will be able to spawn a whole new area of financial, infrastructure and technology instruments closer to the needs of Asians, South Asian, East African, West Asians including the Pacific Islands. The Quad will be the basis of this kind of relationships in the upcoming years.

Thirdly and most importantly, the role of the Quad will be to ensure that we won’t reach a stage where we have to reject the Chinese. None of us wants a ‘No China’ world, because all of us benefit from China’s growth and economic activities. Many of us have concluded that the only way to keep the Chinese honest in their engagements, economical or political, is to be able to put together a collective front in front of them, not negotiate individually. The EU has done that longer than anyone else and that’s why the Chinese don’t like the EU and apply a ‘divide and conquer’ methodology to get more favourable deals. The Quad is in many ways an expression of that reality, as well of that the middle powers in Asia and Pacific (Indonesia, Australia and Japan) will have to work together, sometimes without the Americans, to negotiate new terms of trade and new energy, or technological arrangements. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.  

The next 5 years will be the age of the Quad. The Quad in many ways is also the ‘make China responsible’ arrangement, an accountability framework which will keep the Chinese honest and responsible actors in the global system.

Do you also see this trend extending into the political sphere in a kind of collective endeavour both in Asia (through the Quad) and in the West (starting with Europe perhaps) to build a new kind of world order? Do you feel that this ‘middle powers concert’ is one possible way to go? Or do you believe that we are going to be disappointed, as we were by the BRICs, when some of the members drowned in their own domestic problems? 

We are part of a world that doesn’t have any superpowers. The last superpower was America, and that ended with the financial crisis ten years ago. Ever since, we have been literally in a world which had quasi-superpowers like the US, to some extent Russia, the Chinese, but there was no real hegemon that could punish people for bad behaviour and reward people for good behaviour. 

Some of the most interested actors in the Indo-Pacific in the last two to three years happened to be the UK and France. A few years ago, they sensed that if they want to be relevant in the future world order, as it is built and as it emerges, they need to be present in the debates that are unfolding in this part of the world. Both partnered with India – to do military manoeuvres, to create maritime domain awareness stations, to invest in infrastructure and to create clearly the beginnings of a new order that might emerge from here. We will have to create these coalitions to be able to get things done.

The pandemic tells us something which is also quite tragic. Ever since I was born I have never witnessed a global crisis that did not have America as a response leader. This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis. Hence, you have the old power, which is absent and engrossed in its own domestic realities, and the new power that has been irresponsible and has put us in this position. Both the previous incumbent and the new contender don’t have the capacity to take action in this world by themselves. This tells us that building a coalition of middle powers is absolutely essential. It is not a luxury, it is not a choice. This is something concerning our own existential reasons that we must invest in.

Do you see this coalition of middle powers as some sort of a ’league of democracies’? It is a concept that was previously advanced by John McCain and now Joe Biden is embracing as his overarching framework for foreign policy. Do you see the potential for creating this league of democracies as some sort of manager and defender of the liberal international order?

I think it is inevitable. Technology is so intimate that we are not going to trust our data with folks we have a suspicion about. Thus, it is this reality that makes this coalition of democracies and like-minded countries inevitable. Even if we may never call it that, it is going to become that. We are going to notice countries engaging in these intimate industries with others who are similar, who are like-minded, who have similar worldviews. Still, this process may take longer than we have. We do not have the luxury of time, because we are going to be destroyed, divided, decimated and sliced in the meantime.

A few countries will have to take leadership – either the French, the UK, the EU itself, or India, or all of them. Until there is an agreement on a big vision for the new world order we must agree to an interim arrangement and have to create a bridging mechanism that takes us from the turmoil of the first two decades of this century to a more stable second half of the century. We don’t want to go through two world wars in order to achieve this unity, as we did in the past century. We need to have some other mechanisms that will prevent conflict, but preserve ethics. 

In this context the EU-India and the CEE-India projects are essential. It is us who have the most at stake, because our future is on the line. The more the world is in turmoil, the less we will be able to grow sustainably. It is our interest to create and invest in institutions and informal institutions that could preserve a degree of values and allow for stability.

Such a coalition reuniting countries from Central Europe, Western Europe and from Asia (such as India, Australia, Japan) will normalise the behaviour of both America and China. I do not think that they behaved responsibly in the last few years – one because of its democratic insanity, and the second because of its absolutist medieval mindset. Along these lines, you have democratic failure at one end and a despotic emergence at the other end. We need to ensure that democracy will survive and that the middle powers will be able to normalise this moment.

What is Russia’s role in all this? Is Russia going to be on our side? Or is it going to be on China’s – considering that sometimes they seem to, although their agendas perhaps align only when it is opportune for both of them?

Russia has an odd reality. It is a country that has a very modest GDP (the second smallest within the BRICs) but it is also a country that is possibly the second most powerful military force in the world. A big military actor with a very small economic size. This is creates a policy asymmetry in Moscow. It has very little stakes in global economic stability or global economic progress, but it has huge clout in the political consequences of developments around the world. The Russians have somehow to be mainstreamed into our economic future. Unless Russia is going to have an active role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution or have real benefits, their economy will stay in the 20th century and therefore their politics is going to reflect a 20th century mindset. If they are included in the economic policies of the future, their politics will evolve too. It is not an easy transition. Nevertheless I would argue that the Russians have to be given more room in European thinking so that they don’t feel boxed into the Chinese corner. The last thing that we should be thinking of is giving Russia no option but to partner with the Chinese. Perhaps the immediate neighbours (the CEE) will not be open to a partnership, taking into account their political history. But countries like India would be able to offer space for manoeuvre. In that sense, India could be a market, a consumer, an investor in the Russian economic future and the CEE-India partnership could become important. Can we together play a role in normalising that relationship? Can we give the Russians an option other than China? If Russia’s economic future is linked to ours, it doesn’t have to be in the Chinese corner. The Russians are not the Chinese. The Chinese take hegemony to a whole new level; the Russians have this odd asymmetry that defines their place in the world. This asymmetry should be addressed with new economic possibilities and incentives. 

The rise of the Middle Kingdom

We’ve been discussing how to react to a world that is increasingly defined by China. But what are China’s plans? What does China want? 

I do not know their plans, but I can tell you how I see China’s emergence, from New Delhi. I define it through what I call the 3M framework.

Firstly, I see them increasingly becoming the Middle Kingdom. Chinese exceptionalism is defined in those terms. They believe they have a special place in the world – between heaven and earth. They will continue to defy the global rules and they will not allow the global pressures to alter their national behaviour or domestic choices.  So we will see the first M, the Middle Kingdom, emerge more strongly in the years ahead.

This pandemic is the first global crisis where Captain America is missing. What makes it even more complicated is that the successor to Captain America has caused the crisis.

Secondly, this Middle Kingdom will make use of modern tools. They see Modernity as a tool, not as an experience. In that sense they use it to strengthen the Middle Kingdom, not to reform and evolve. Such tools include digital platforms, the control of media and a modern army with modern weapons to control and dominate. 

Thirdly, the final M deals with a Medieval mindset. They are a Middle Kingdom with Modern tools and a Medieval mindset that believes in a hierarchical world. We are a world which has moved away from the hierarchies of the past. The world is more flat, people have equal relationships. The Chinese don’t see it like that. They see a hierarchical world, where countries must pay tribute to them. They sometimes use the Belt and Road Initiative to create the tribute system or the debt trap diplomacy to buy sovereignty. Likewise, they use other tools to ensure the subordination of the countries they deal with.

These three Ms are defining the China of today.

Samir Saran curates the Raisina Dialogue, India’s annual flagship platform on geopolitics and geo-economics, and chairs CyFy, India’s annual conference on cyber security and internet governance. He is also the Director of the Centre for Peace and Security at the Sardar Patel Police University, Jodhpur, India. He writes frequently on issues of global governance, climate change, energy policy, global development architecture, artificial intelligence, cyber security, internet governance, and India’s foreign policy and authored four books, the latest of which is called ‘The New World Disorder’. 

The interview was conducted by Oana Popescu and Octavian Manea, as part of the Central Europe-India Forum Initiative created by the Observer Research Foundation (India), Keynote (Czechia) and GlobalFocus Center (Romania).

“We didn’t think it was going to be a peaceful world:” Brent Scowcroft & the world he helped fashion

Almost exactly thirty years ago, on August 2, 1990, Brent Scowcroft sat on a small airplane. Crammed in the seat in front of him, their knees touching, sat George H.W. Bush, the President of the United States. Bush spent the flight on the phone, calling up leaders around the world.

Scowcroft, who was the American President’s principal foreign policy advisor, was madly revising the speech Bush was going to give at their destination in Colorado – he had to make it compatible with the things that had happened the day before. Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator, had sent his troops to invade neighboring Kuwait. The entire world was now watching the United States. The Cold War was almost over. The Berlin wall had fallen. Two Germanies would soon become one. Faced with naked aggression in a somewhat less-than-crucial context, would American leaders look the other way? Or would they conclude that it was in their country’s interest to intervene?

He had had “absolutely no doubt” about Bush’s determination, Scowcroft subsequently recalled (1). A few days later, after landing back at the White House, Bush told journalists that “this will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” And another few months later, an international coalition led by US military forces defeated Iraq’s army, with broad reverberations throughout the international system (2). Brent Scowcroft died a few weeks ago, on 6 August 2020. He was 95. Today, the question on many an analyst’s mind is whether America was very much a different country three decades ago, or whether Washington’s key policymakers back then were a different type of people.

Despite Bush’s clear words and Scowcroft apparent lack of doubt, the decision to intervene had not come easy. “Yours is a society which cannot accept [ten thousand] dead in one battle,” Iraq’s dictator had told the US envoy in Baghdad before his daring move. He was implying that Americans had no stomach for long wars in far-away places. For as long as America’s capitalist democracy had been engaged in a deadly battle with Soviet totalitarian communism, leaders in both Washington and Moscow had had little choice but to intervene. But now the Soviets were down and the Americans were surprised by their sudden success, the Iraqis reasoned. The world seemed remarkably unrestrained. These circumstances “will not happen again for fifty years,” an adviser told the Iraqi dictator. It was the “opportunity of a lifetime.” Moscow had its own fish to fry and Washington would swallow his land grabbing, Saddam concluded (3).

“We were trying to set up a method of behavior for the post-Cold War world,” Scowcroft later remembered, and this was the key moment where Washington needed to set the tone for the future.

The Iraqi despot was not alone with his assumption. Before boarding for Colorado, Bush and Scowcroft had attended a meeting that seemed to reach that very conclusion. The US government’s key policymakers had congregated for an hour at the White House. “There was sort of a fait acompli atmosphere,” Scowcroft later recalled (4). All gathered had agreed that they had to protect Saudi Arabia – it was inimical to US interests to permit any power to “gain dominance over Gulf oil supplies,” Pentagon planners had argued before. But the world needed oil, and Saddam would provide it, the officials at the meeting had concluded. Liberating Kuwait was “not viable,” budget officials concerned with the costs of a potential deployment had opined. Military leaders doubted whether their political masters possessed the resolve to go to war over Kuwait. Some had even argued that the crisis offered an “interesting opportunity” to boost production and drive down the global price of oil – to the benefit of US consumers. Dick Cheney, Bush’s Secretary of Defense at the time, later remembered that the general feeling had been that most citizens of Kuwait lived “in the south of France anyway.” (5)

Mere hours later, jam-packed on their small plane, Scowcroft told Bush that he was very disturbed at the tone of the morning meeting. It had skipped over “the enormous stake the United States had in the situation, or the ramification of the aggression on the emerging post-Cold War world.” (6) First, there was a regional dimension. Washington wanted to stabilize the Gulf, and Saddam’s actions were reinforcing old antagonisms. Also, neither Iraq nor Iran could be allowed to dominate the region, and Saddam’s incursion was threatening to start tilting the balance in his direction. However, the second – the global order – dimension was dominating. “We were trying to set up a method of behavior for the post-Cold War world,” Scowcroft later remembered, and this was the key moment where Washington needed to set the tone for the future. (7)

In other words, had the remaining superpower allowed a rogue dictator to do what he wanted, others would have registered the message. Scowcroft, together with his principal White House staffers, worked in the background. Luckily, upon further consideration, various other decisionmakers throughout the US government came to the same conclusion. By the time of the next meeting on the crisis, the tenor had changed. “This is the first test of the postwar system,” Larry Eagleburger, the Deputy Secretary of State, underlined. If Saddam succeeded, “others may try the same thing.” This would be a “bad lesson.” The world would become a more dangerous place – with long-term negative consequences for America’s goals of constructing a liberal and democratic global order. Both US security and prosperity would suffer (8). The bottom line was that the US leadership had to accept the costs of intervention now in order to prevent larger future threats to the national interest.

And yet, Bush’s choice – as preordained as it appears in the rearview mirror – was anything but easy (9). For instance, US military leaders were aware that high losses would once again damage their reputation and, hence, their position within the American society. Scarred by the war in Vietnam a few decades prior, military commanders wanted the armed forces to have the support of the population. Their “number one priority was to rearrange the relation with the American people,” a former official told me a few years ago. Thus, military leaders pushed the President to authorize an overpowering but very expensive deployment – they believed that decisive force would end the war quickly and save (American) lives. (10)

This type of military expedition ultimately delivered a crushing victory, but significantly increased Bush’s political costs in case of defeat. Towards the end of August 1990, Bush met Secretary of State James Baker – who was also his best friend – at the White House. Baker cautioned that the Iraq crisis had “all the ingredients that brought down three of the last five Presidents: A hostage crisis, body bags, and a full-fledged economic recession caused by [expensive] oil.” Bush replied: “I know that, Jimmy, I know that. But we’re doing what’s right; we’re doing what is clearly in the national interest of the United States. Whatever else happens, so be it.” (11) Thus, when the military leadership asked for very large forces to be dispatched to the Gulf, Bush – at Scowcroft’s advice – listened carefully and then stood up and said, “You’ve got it. Let me know if you need more.” He then promptly walked out of the room, leaving everyone stunned. (12)

Bush, Scowcroft, and many of their advisers believed that the international arena remained a highly competitive environment. Thus, they thought it was “romantic” and “wrong” to imagine that history could have ended.

Ultimately, Bush and Scowcroft’s choices were grounded in a particular reading of international affairs and, implicitly, of the post-Cold War era. “We didn’t think it was going to be a peaceful world,” Scowcroft later remembered his and the President’s thinking. “We thought it was going to be a messy world.” (13) Francis Fukuyama, who was at that point the deputy director of the State Department’s policy planning staff, had just advanced his famous and popular end-of-history thesis: With communism dead, nations would converge, and conflict would be avoided. But Bush, Scowcroft, and many of their advisers believed that the international arena remained a highly competitive environment. Thus, they thought it was “romantic” and “wrong” to imagine that history could have ended. Regional disputes, long suppressed by the US-Soviet competition, would be reawakened, and new “political and economic” forces would be “unleashed.” Without the US global engagement, Washington’s international politico-economic designs would be imperiled.(14)

Today, we face a chicken and the egg problem. We see how Donald Trump, the current US President, is abandoning long-held American responsibilities. Was America so different three decades ago that it brough people like Scowcroft and Bush to power to served its interests at that point in time? If this is the case, we should brace ourselves – any American President will be transactional, less interested in global order and stability, and more likely to question the utility of the transatlantic alliance. Conversely, maybe the United States did not change that much, but the people who governed it three decades ago were different individuals, with different priorities and different ideas. Should this be the case, there is hope. Maybe the next President will be able to go back on some of the steps this Administration has taken, especially towards mending Washington’s relationship to Western Europe. In any case, the future remains interesting and uncertain. What is certain is that Scowcroft wisdom will be sorely missed.


  1. Philip Zelikow and James H. McCall, “Interview #2 with Brent Scowcroft,” August 10, 2000, 61, University of Virginia, Miller Center, George H.W. Bush Oral History Project, released August 2020.
  2. The best overview is Richard N. Haass, War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010). For a more recent narrative, John Gans, White House Warriors (New York: Norton & Co, 2019), 89-114.
  3. Cited in Jeffrey A. Engel, When the World Seemed New: George H. W. Bush and the End of the Cold War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), 381 and 388.
  4. Zelikow and McCall, “Interview #2 with Brent Scowcroft,” August 10, 2000, 59.
  5. Sandra Charles, “Memo for Haass: Minutes from NSC/DCM, August 2, 1990, on Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait,” January 22, 1991, Bush Library, Richard N. Haass Presidential Meeting File CF0118-019, NSC Meeting – August 2, 1990 Re: Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait; Philip Zelikow, “Interview with Dick Cheney,” March 16, 2000, 55, University of Virginia, Miller Center, George H.W. Bush Oral History Project; and Norman Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (New York: Bantam, 1993), 297.
  6. George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998), 317–18; and Richard Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order (New York, New York: Penguin Press, 2017). Also, Derek Chollet and James Goldgeier, America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11 (New York: Public Affairs, 2009), 9.
  7. Zelikow and McCall, “Interview #2 with Brent Scowcroft,” August 10, 2000, 61 and 72–73.
  8. John Meacham, Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush (New York: Random House, 2015), 426; and Andrea Mitchell, “Interview with Brent Scowcroft,” November 7, 2007, Princeton University Library, James A. Baker Oral History Project.
  9. For the same conclusion, see Stephen Knott, “Interview with Richard Haass,” May 27, 2004, University of Virginia, Miller Center, George H.W. Bush Oral History Project.
  10. Interview with Joint Chiefs of Staff official, March 2018, Washington D.C. See also Schwarzkopf, It Doesn’t Take a Hero.
  11. James A. Baker and Thomas DeFrank, The Politics of Diplomacy (New York: Putnam, 1995), 277.
  12. Robert M. Gates, “The Scowcroft Model,” Foreign Affairs, August 13, 2020.
  13. Philip Zelikow, “Interview #1 with Brent Scowcroft,” November 12, 1999, 52, University of Virginia, Miller Center, George H.W. Bush Oral History Project.
  14. Brent Scowcroft, “Memo for Bush: US Diplomacy for the New Europe,” December 22, 1989, Bush Library, Scowcroft Collection, 91116 German Unification (December 1989). Also, “Memo for Bush: Your Meetings in Brussels with NATO Leaders,” November 29, 1989, and “US Policy in Eastern Europe in 1990,” January 1990, Bush Library, Scowcroft Collection, 91116 German Unification (November 1989) and NSC Collection, Robert D. Blackwill Chronological Files 30547-010, January 1990. For Francis Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?,” The National Interest, no. 16 (Summer 1989): 3–18.