The great challenge for the next American president will be to rebuild global institutions – the United Nations, security alliances, and multilateral mechanisms reorganized to tackle 21 st century problems. In this great endeavor, the United States has at least one indispensable partner, and that is Europe. The time is now to begin planning the agenda together.
Indeed, the most serious threat to American national security today is not a specific enemy but the erosion of the institutional foundations of the global order that the United States has commanded for half a century and through which it has pursued its interests and national security. America’s leadership position and authority within the global system is in serious crisis – and this puts American national security at risk. The grand strategy America needs to pursue in the years ahead is not one aimed at a particular threat but rather at restoring its role as the recognized and legitimate leader of the system – and rebuilding the institutions and partnerships upon which this leadership position is based. America’s global position is in crisis, but it is a crisis that is largely of its own making, and it is a crisis that can be overcome in a way that leaves the United States in a stronger position to meet the diffuse, shifting, and uncertain threats of the 21 st century.
If I were to pick three global institutional challenges, they would probably be alliances, climate change/low-carbon energy, and non-proliferation.
So first, the United States should recommit to and rebuild its security alliances. The idea is to update the old bargains that lie behind these security pacts. In NATO – but also in the East Asia bilateral partnerships – the United States has historically agreed to provide security protection to the other states and bring its partners into the process of decision making over the use of force. In return, these partners have agreed to work with the United States – providing manpower, logistics and other types of support – in wider theaters of action. The United States gives up some autonomy in strategic decision making – although it is a more informal than legal-binding restraint – and in exchange it gets cooperation and political support. These bargains should be modernized and expanded -- and American-led security cooperation should be reaffirmed.
These alliances are more than security pacts; they are political architecture that facilitates consultation and cooperation across security, economic, and political realms. The old bargains that existing in past decades need to be updated for the new global and regional security environments. The first step is for the United States to signal its embrace of the “deep logic” of security cooperation.
Second, the United States should work with Europe to develop a comprehensive strategy to cope with global warming – emphasizing movement toward low-carbon energy and technology sharing with the developing world.
Finally, the United States should use the first year of the new administration to rebuild the NPT. Europeans realize that the NPT is in crisis, but Americans typically do not. The NPT is too valuable a tool for security to let its norms, agreements, and administrative capacities erode. The NPT is a near-universal organization that can be reintroduced to the world as an organizing mechanism to deal with 21 st century nuclear proliferation challenges. Renewal of the NPT must include American and European leadership in charting a path toward reduction of nuclear weapons and safeguarding of nuclear materials. Article IV of the treaty will need to be modified to allow the establishment of a credible international fuel cycle regime. Non-nuclear states must have access to civilian nuclear technology while the international community safeguards the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel.
There is much more that needs to be on the transatlantic agenda – including United Nations reform and the development of new mechanisms for security cooperation in East Asia. New countries are rising up and seeking a voice in the international system. The renewal and rebuilding of global institutions must be a collective effort that is undertaken with the help of this growing array of stakeholders and with an eye on the diffuse and shifting security challenges of the 21 st century.