Transpartisan Opportunity In Foreign Policy

Transpartisan Note #91

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

President Trump’s national security shake-up — Mike Pompeo at State, John Bolton as National Security Advisor — is drawing huge criticism from both sides of the aisle, but it also creates an important opportunity to address an important security issue that recent policymakers have largely avoided.

When the planes hit the Twin Towers, it was commonly said that the major security challenges had shifted from ‘strong states’ — USSR, Nazi Germany, China, etc. — to ‘weak states’ influenced by strong non-state parties and forces.  At the time, analysts agreed, this seismic shift in the security environment required very different responses than in the past, before 9/11.

The new responses would focus on the non-state sector — local civil society organizations (CSOs), promoting economic, social, and political change from within the effected societies.  Despite the talk, little has changed in the foreign policy narrative, which continues to focus on relations between governments.

The failure to think in different ways — to add policy toward non-state actors and parties to traditional concerns about inter-government relations — is rooted in what foreign policy experts know: they know about relations between governments, and they know next to nothing about civil society organizations and non-state issues, including culture. We think this explains much of the policy ‘drift’ of this and the last two administrations especially in relation to the countries of greatest strategic concern, which are the Arab and Muslim countries in the greater Middle East.

The appointment of more ‘hawkish’ foreign policy officials does not address this new concern — it addresses more traditional challenges (from North Korea and Iran), which are solvable only by governmental action.  With all political and media attention on these high profile traditional issues, an unusual opportunity may arise to address these new issues and forces.

For a visceral sense of the power waiting to be harnessed, notice the ‘March For Our Lives’ rally in Washington, DC, on March 24.  Also notice, almost simultaneously, the Moscow march urging Putin to resign; rallies across Spanish Catalonia protesting the German arrest of the region’s separatist leader; the massive French protest against labor law reforms; and England’s Brexit struggle becoming known as ‘anti-politics’.  States everywhere are struggling to harness non-state energy.

The Transpartisan Matrix, proposing integration of freedom and order on both left and right, provides important clues about how to think about these non-state issues.  The central challenge in the traditional and tribal societies is to empower traditional people to advance beyond traditional order, which freezes people in passive concepts of self, to more entrepreneurial selves that can plan active roles in promoting change.  There are many examples of real experiences on how to do this so it works both politically and socially.  The task is to learn from them.

We propose that a Working Group be assembled, including both government and civil society members, bringing together a new breed of experts to examine non-state challenges such as ethnic conflict, strategies for promoting change in traditional cultures, and promotion of property rights for economic, social, and political development — and possible responses to them.

Since civil society organizations have developed the most successful examples of change on these issues, CSOs need to play a significant role in the Working Group, working with traditional foreign policy experts to explore integration of new and traditional policies.  Such an effort would represent the best application of transpartisan principles to issues that are both crucial for our security and resist solution by traditional principles alone.

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