The Foreign Policy Generation project (hence FPGen), led by Abigail Stowe-Thurston and Matt Korda, proposes a set of directives for American foreign policy. They are based on progressive political philosophy and provide a partial remedy to the oft-recognized gap in foreign policy thinking among the modern left. Effective Altruists may be interested in foreign policy, and may be interested in deciding whether progressive political candidates are trustworthy in foreign policy.
In this article I evaluate their ideas. (A couple weeks ago, I emailed a draft to a lead member asking for feedback, but have not received a response.)
What I stand for and why you should be open-minded
My opinions are not based on merely serving the national interest, a moral disregard for people of a different religion or country, or anything like that. I am talking about Effective Altruism and the way to best improve global well-being.
Nor are my opinions based on any strong position regarding political progressivism. In domestic politics, I believe that the progressive left and the moderate Democrats – from Bernie Sanders to Michael Bennet – have their own relative advantages and disadvantages, neither faction is systematically better than the other, and both are better than conservatives and the radical left. And even if I’m wrong and wealth taxes and free college tuition are a good idea, that doesn’t really matter for judging these foreign policy issues.
You might be coming into foreign policy debates with an assumption that obviously the American military is bad and all our war efforts are bad and we have to cut spending, disarm, go home, etc. Rather than being so confident, consider that the other side of the story just hasn’t been communicated to you properly. The foreign policy center has a language that is closer to a Tom Clancy novel than the moral worldview of the left. The military has not had to justify its actions much because it can use patriotism as the narrative to justify its recruitment and funding. You also probably haven’t heard much from the leaders and people of the Middle East or seen things from their perspective, aside from poorly filtered fragments through ignorant or biased Western media (and leftist media is biased as well). And consider that the American working class and progressive-left elites already have strong incentives to oppose very many of our military operations. They want us to spend less on the military, and more on welfare and public goods. America is safe anyway, thanks to our nuclear weapons, our great economy and two big oceans. It’s perfectly logical that the progressive-left community would systematically churn out a steady narrative against all of America’s foreign adventures. However, such a narrative, ultimately motivated by domestic politics, should not be assumed to be unbiased or reliable when we are talking about how to improve the global system.
I’m also, like FPGen, part of the ‘next generation’ of American millennials/zoomers who will have to be the architects of a new foreign policy for the future.
Anyway, here is an evaluation of FPGen’s recommendations. The section titles are taken directly from their website and recommendations. Below their recommendations, I write my responses.
Using Force as a Last Resort
According to FPGen, the United States should:
Never intervene in a conflict unless specifically authorized to do so under international law
Presumably the idea is that we should never intervene militarily without either following the UN Article 51 right to collective self-defense or a UN Security Council Resolution. If I were a policymaker trying to follow their advice, this would be my interpretation. But FPGen could have made it clearer and more explicit. International law is generally pretty murky (note that we are still signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact).
This rule can also be too restrictive. It forbids the defense of nonstate actors, like ethnic minorities, unless China and Russia agree to a UNSCR. What happens when one of them or an ally of theirs (consider Syria or Iran) commits democide or some lesser crime? It may not be wise to intervene. But committing to a rule not to intervene goes too far. Consider that both of the retaliatory attacks against Syrian chemical weapons uses were opposed by Russia. No doubt there have been problems with US policy in the region, including doubts about some of the allegations of chemical strikes. But entirely eliminating the American capacity to exercise such force would be very troubling. It would embolden a variety of autocrats to take more aggressive moves.
Also, Taiwan is not a UN member state (because of Chinese objections), and China’s official policy is to acquire Taiwan. If they conduct military operations against Taiwan, America will have no UN legal basis to defend it. If America were perceived as committed to FPGen’s advice, China would be more likely to invade Taiwan, and almost guaranteed a battlefield victory. To prevent this, Taiwan would rapidly have to decide whether to cave into Chinese demands (they would have little negotiating power thanks to the lack of US backing, and would likely end up like Hong Kong or worse) or to try and obtain a nuclear deterrent. These are both very bad outcomes. To be sure, Taiwan’s vulnerability has been doubted, and the US commitment to defend Taiwan is arguably insolvent. But it’s hard to see who (aside from Chinese elites) would benefit from America completely, legally disavowing the right to defend Taiwan. We have the option to adjust and renew our commitment to Taiwan, or to push unification negotiations right away from a position of at least some credibility and strength.
In addition to being too restrictive in some ways, this rule is still not sufficient to restrict the use of force as much as we may want. Article 51 arguably justified the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan (as defense of the United States), and clearly justifies all subsequent operations of counterinsurgency in the region as defenses of UN member states like Iraq and Afghanistan against local militants. It would have justified military interventions to fight Russia in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. And the 2011 strikes on Libya, a dubious though not obviously bad move, were supported by UNSCR 1973. We cannnot intervene in every case where a nation is attacked. Therefore, some further kind of prudential or humanitarian method of judgment is necessary to determine when force should actually be used. But FPGen provides none to prepare us for future crises.
Repeal the existing Authorizations for the Use of Military Force and ensure that any future authorizations have firm limitations, including an expiration date, geographic constraints, a well-defined mission, and a clear definition of what constitutes a “combatant.”
There is little doubt that the AUMF needs reform and should not be repeated in the same sweeping manner.
Eliminating it entirely is dubious, and so are demands which would greatly restrict its scale and scope, but I will get to that in the next section where FPGen wants to end all operations associated with the Global War on Terror.
Authorizations for future conflicts would benefit from a greater degree of congressional scrutiny. An ideal legislator should carefully consider which temporal, geographic, and targeting boundaries to place on American military operations. Unfortunately FPGen’s recommendation basically amounts to “make them much tighter,” which is not great as a prescription for uncertain future scenarios. It is not obvious that all future authorizations should be much tighter; the situations will be different. Instead of just telling policymakers to make tighter authorizations, it would be better to articulate principles which the policymaker can use to determine just how tight these authorizations should be.
It is possible to imagine realistic cases where FPGen’s recommended restrictions could be undesirable. Expiration dates for military force could avoid bad wars and compel the President to put more effort into solving conflicts quickly and robustly, but they could also cause the President to withdraw the military too hastily with bad consequences, and could embolden enemies to just wait out the timeline (just like announcing timetables for withdrawal). Of course, authorizations can be adjusted or renewed, but relying on future adjustments and renewals is troubling given the dysfunctionalities in our legislative process.
Geographic constraints could unnecessarily limit operations: assuming that targets fit an AUMF definition of being a combatant and are relevant for the AUMF-defined mission, it’s hard to see why they should be ignored merely on the basis of their location, although legislators could have political reasons to prevent intervention in certain places. Geographical constraints seem attractive if you assume that the Global War on Terror has been too broad in venturing to places beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, but if the AUMF had been more rigorously defined in the first place with other sorts of constraints on mission and targets, such side ventures may not have happened at all. Specifying the type of combatant may not be feasible to any meaningful degree; Syria has shown the potential for conflict environments to contain a staggering variety of actors with different and unclear aims.
A well-defined mission is a good thing to insist on. However, I think it would be a mistake to say that the failures in Afghanistan or Iraq have stemmed from a lack of a well-defined mission. Our missions there are pretty well defined: establish stable democratic states which will not be used as bases for terrorism. Merely defining a mission clearly at the highest level does not solve the problems of thinking too much in operational terms or making policy choices inadequate to meet the strategic goals. It’s also dubious that narrowing our mission scope is the lesson we should take away from all this. Afghanistan would not be better if we had decided to ignore the opium production financing the Taliban, or if we didn’t provide schooling for girls, or if we had ignored insurgent operations in Pakistan, and so on. Counterinsurgency usually requires broad efforts, and even if it doesn’t, these side operations can be beneficial (though they divert important resources). On the other hand, a narrower mission scope could have been beneficial very early on because it could have implied other courses of action besides invasion.
Also, legislators should follow the military leadership wisdom of emphasizing a task and purpose (i.e. a well-defined mission) and leaving more leeway to subordinates (in this case, the President). Constraints should be used sparingly and micromanagement should be avoided. Congress does have an important role in providing oversight for the executive branch, but if they preemptively define details of how the mission is to be executed then they may wind up inserting too many ill-informed demands, leading to an overconstrained war by distant committee that ends in failure.
Overall, FPGen is correct to call for restrictions on military force authorizations and is correct to call for Congress to better define missions, but they are probably swinging the pendulum too far the other way. The wording of their demand suggests taking too much discretion away from both the executive branch and the legislative branch in favor of fixed rules that may be overly restrictive in practice.
Fully end military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other covert operations associated with the Global War on Terror––including the illegal US drone war and targeted assassination campaign.
Though FPGen does not provide more details, here I look more specifically at the different areas of US intervention, and see how they would be impacted by this planned general withdrawal.
As best as I can tell, we currently have about 7,000 troops and some air assets engaged in Afghanistan, with the task of reinforcing the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan government against the Taliban and other insurgent Islamist groups. One way to judge the value of their presence is to ask the Afghans what they think. 63% of Afghans polled in 2009 supported the presence of US forces and 36% disapproved, though the opponents held their opinions somewhat more strongly. However, a decade-old survey is not a very good indicator given how conditions have changed. Also, there may be some pro-ISAF response bias (locals in countries like Afghanistan might not understand that they don’t get punished or rewarded for their survey responses). Therefore, it’s not really clear what Afghans tend to prefer.
Instead, we can look more directly at the consequences of withdrawal. The main result would be rapid Taliban gains in territory, possibly leading to a general takeover of the country. This would cause a decline in healthcare and education quality, an increase in opium exports, and a decline in Afghan liberties. 82% of Afghans polled in 2009 preferred their current government and only 4% preferred the Taliban, again there may be some response bias but presumably not enough to change the general view.
Taliban takeover may increase the risk of interstate conflict with Pakistan (because autocracies are more likely to go to war with democracies than democracies are) and may increase Islamist terrorism abroad. On the plus side, withdrawal would save us some money, and would improve our military readiness (but this is of dubious importance given our very large army). It’s unclear if the amount of violence in the country will grow or fall in the aftermath of U.S. withdrawal.
To be fair, most familiar with the issue would say that the conflict is unwinnable given the current course. The country has over 32 million people, and NATO deployment used to be over 100,000; the current deployment (which is less than 5% the size of the Afghan National Army) is too small to win the conflict. It is ‘cheap order’ rather than a serious plan for victory. But maintaining a violent stalemate might still be better than allowing the violent stalemate to continue without US military assistance or allowing the Taliban to take over the country. Also, we don’t have to choose between cheap order and withdrawal. We can increase troop levels to a larger fraction of their previous numbers and actually win. This, complemented with a shift in focus away from maintaining short-term operational freedom and towards building long-term Afghan state capacity, would probably be the best course for the Afghan people. Withdrawal meanwhile seems like a poor option, possibly the worst one.
We currently have about 5,000 troops in Iraq, with the task of training and otherwise assisting Iraqi forces, plus aircraft used for some strikes. The results of withdrawal would be increased vulnerability to ISIS resurgence, increased vulnerability to Iran-backed insurgency or invasion, increased vulnerability to internal ethnic conflict, less confidence in America’s reliability as an ally, and greater fiscal strain on the Iraqi government. It would of course save America some money, but because Iraq is generally poorer and more violent than the US, spending money there is probably more impactful than spending money here. Operation Inherent Resolve airstrikes killed Islamic State fighters for less than $200,000 each, which seems favorable compared to typical domestic uses of similar amounts of money. Withdrawal would improve our military readiness but this is of dubious importance given our very large army. Overall, withdrawal looks like it would be a harmful move.
A complicating factor is possible Iraqi dissent. Iraq has not actually voted to remove US troops, as has been reported; most parliamentary members appear to support U.S. presence. And much of the opposition is caused by Iranian influence and threats, potentially undermining its legitimacy. However, using political leverage to discourage Iraqis from voting to remove US troops is a very poor choice which erodes our moral position over the Iranians. So depending on how things unfold and what Iraqis really want, FPGen's recommendation might be good, but of course the way they have worded it is too dogmatic.
FPGen would support a full withdrawal of troops from Rojava, the area in northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces. A partial withdrawal was conducted by President Trump in late 2019. Had they stayed, they might (or might not) have prevented the Turkish invasion of the area, which led to 300,000 persons displaced (now down to 100,000), the breakout of 100 ISIS militants, 150-250 civilian and 750 military deaths, decreased trust of American intentions and reliability, and increased Russian and Turkish autocratic influence in the region, including the establishment of Turkish autocracy in some areas which were previously governed by the democratic socialists of Rojava. The only benefit was a dubious reduction in the risk of PKK terrorism in Turkey. Just a small probability of averting this outcome would have been well worth the minimal human and financial costs of proper continued American involvement. And fully abandoning the SDF would increase the risk of some similar outcomes. It would also generally reduce efforts to combat ISIS in the region. Therefore, withdrawal from Rojava would be a bad idea.
The Saudi intervention in Yemen appears to be an outright humanitarian disaster, threatening miserable poverty and starvation for a country of 28 million people. The direct impacts of American involvement are more complex (our airstrikes are generally conducted with better precision and caution), but the operation may also be weakening the norm for states like Saudi Arabia to respect humanitarian issues. Combating Iranian influence in the Middle East is desirable, but Saudi influence is not much better. I think FPGen’s guidance to end our efforts in Yemen is correct.
America’s current operations in Libya generally consist of airstrikes against ISIS. Ending them would increase this Islamist insurgency, leading to an increase in violence and a decline in the quality of governance. There have been over 500 American strikes, causing between 6 and 13 “likely” civilian casualties and several dozen possible additional civilian casualties in total (Airwars). Meanwhile, just one of the largest strikes is claimed to have killed over 80 militants (CNN). This is a favorable tradeoff.
A few strikes have supported the Government of National Accord against Haftar’s faction, and ending them would probably allow for more trouble from Haftar’s rebellion and strongman form of governance, although peace talks are underway.
In summary, FPGen’s guidance to end our efforts in Libya is a bad idea.
Other minor efforts
America is involved to a minor degree in counterinsurgency and counterterror operations in Somalia, Nigeria, Niger and other countries, mostly (but not entirely) in the form of training and other noncombat assistance. Generally speaking, it’s hard to see how these efforts are harmful. Is it good for Nigeria or Somalia to spend blood and treasure on fighting Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab? Presumably the answer is yes. If so, why is it bad for America to do the same? It’s not a violation of these countries’ sovereignty – their governments are perfectly willing to get American assistance. It’s not like American troops are particularly ill-equipped to help: they do have less familiarity with the local society and other issues, but are also more professional, less corrupt, better trained and better led.
In summary, FPGen’s guidance to end our minor efforts in other areas is a bad idea.
There has been debate over the impacts of drone strikes, with evidence both for and against their utility and unintended consequences. Shah (2018) could not find evidence of radicalization from drone strikes in Pakistan, but Saeed et al (2019) and Mahmood and Jetter (2019) found that drone strikes did increase terrorism. The former study estimated an additional 20 deaths from terrorism in the month after a drone strike, and the latter study estimated that 16% of terror deaths in Pakistan are caused by drone strikes. This may or may not outweigh the civilian lives saved through militant deaths. But the strikes themselves kill both militants and civilians; exactly how many is a hotly contested issue with a notorious paucity of good data. In the absence of a good meta-analysis or literature review, I’d say that it seems like the majority of victims are in fact militants, but a worryingly large minority are civilians. Adding to this the political and legal problems attached to drone strikes, it appears that a retrenchment in the drone program is desirable. It is clearly appropriate to demand more oversight, transparency, and caution in the drone program.
That being said, it’s difficult to justify ending drone campaigns entirely. Given the unique circumstances of each mission, there will probably be a small number of cases where the expected consequences are very good. It's hard to set rules from the armchair about this. It is not clear whether FPGen’s recommendation is better or worse than the status quo, but it certainly leaves room for improvement.
Fully fund humanitarian, reconstructive, and reparative efforts in regions affected by US military engagement.
Foreign aid ideally ought to be directed to wherever it can do the most good – “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” – rather than doled out in the form of reparations. One could defend a reparations approach by saying it will heal grievances towards the United States. I don’t know of any relevant studies, but I feel that is extremely naïve thinking. People who blame the US for starting wars and seizing oil are not going to like us just because we channel tons of money and supplies through the hands of governments which are themselves corrupt and unpopular more often than not. And even if it is true, it is not worth the costs of death and poverty which stem from neglecting better aid opportunities.
Of course, more aid to troubled countries is still generally good, even if it’s not targeted as well as Effective Altruists would like. But I worry about the downsides of rushing to dump developmental aid on flawed, corrupt governments. This kind of debate about aid has long occurred in a more general context, and Effective Altruists have become well acquainted with the points on both sides; the general conclusion is that what works best is simple disease treatment and prevention efforts. Big developmental and reconstructive projects to place roads, wells, and schools everywhere are more problematic. And if we concentrate tons of money into three or four countries, we’re probably going to exhaust the opportunities for low-hanging fruits, and will be left directing lots of money towards the less beneficial programs.
And in Afghanistan at least, we’ve already been “fully funding” reconstructive efforts. As the Washington Post uncovered, lots of this aid gets misused due to local corruption and has little effect. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s report, “the U.S. overcorrected and poured billions of dollars into a weak economy that was unable to absorb it. Some studies suggest that the generally accepted amount of foreign aid a country’s economy can absorb at any given time is 15 to 45 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, or GDP. In Afghanistan’s weak economy, the percentage would be on the low end of that scale. Yet by 2004, U.S. aid to Afghanistan exceeded the 45 percent threshold. In 2007 and 2010, it totaled more than 100 percent. This massive influx of dollars distorted the Afghan economy, fueled corruption, bought a lot of real estate in Dubai and the United States, and built the many 'poppy palaces' you can see today in Kabul.” SIGAR also wrote, “In the future, we need to recognize the vital importance of addressing corruption from the outset. This means taking into account the amount of assistance a host country can absorb; being careful not to flood a small, weak economy with too much money, too fast; and ensuring that U.S. agencies can more effectively monitor assistance.” SIGAR recommends that aid efforts be fixed and streamlined, not increased.
Moreover, aid works better when there are more American troops on the ground to help quell fighting; assuming that FPGen’s recommendation for military withdrawals from these regions is followed, their idea would be more dubious. SIGAR wrote, “Successful reconstruction is incompatible with continuing insecurity. To have successful reconstruction in any given area, the fighting in that area must be largely contained. When that happens, U.S. agencies should be prepared to move quickly, in partnership with the host nation, to take advantage of the narrow window of opportunity before an insurgency can emerge or reconstitute itself. This holds true at both the national and local levels. In general, U.S. agencies should consider carrying out reconstruction activities in more secure areas first, and limit reconstruction in insecure areas to carefully tailored, small-scale efforts and humanitarian relief.”
FPGen isn’t just talking about aid, however. What do they mean by “restorative” efforts? It could be some kind of local dispute resolution, or formal apologies. It could be a good idea, but trying to think about it from their perspective, I have a hard time seeing local behavior or perceptions of the US improving meaningfully from this sort of thing – especially because half the time, we will be apologizing to people who are angry that we are leaving and won’t have time for our bullshit about how we’re sorry for George W. Bush. It has a perversely self-serving aura, that we are not really sacrificing to fix things but want their approval nonetheless, or that we believe that the conflicts are about us when in reality they are ancient grievances between people who have their own perfectly valid reasons to hate each other. But I don’t want to be polemical; more emphasis on dispute resolution and local dialogue seems like a nice step, apologizing for recent bad actions can be a good step forward, and it’s okay to leave policymakers with more leeway on how to see these things implemented (but they really should have provided more examples or relevant research backing up this point of view).
In summary, FPGen’s guidance for reconstruction here is probably a step forward, but it could be better. Note however that they also have a proper section on foreign aid, which explains their general approach to it in more comprehensive terms. I will respond to it as well.
Reinstate full casualty reporting as a way to fully understand the costs of armed conflict and to reduce civilian casualties as much as possible.
The only reason to disagree with this would be to cynically say that we need to mislead the public to support more military efforts. Given the way that the withdrawals desired by non-interventionists would probably bode ill for the people of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, as I have pointed out above, this is actually not a terrible perspective. Still, the various benefits from better data and oversight outweigh it in my opinion.
I would just say that we should make sure to track deaths from enemy combatants, and we should also have studies for mortality, morbidity and lives saved from indirect but crucially important things like healthcare provision, opium destruction, and depleted uranium poisoning. Full humanitarian analysis is necessary, as demonstrated by the large indirect costs of the liberation of Kuwait which, while possibly not as bad as the alternative of Iraqi rule, still should have merited more early attention.
In summary, this is a good recommendation, though I would like to amend it.
Close Guantánamo Bay and pay reparations to all tortured detainees, past and present.
Close the prison, and send the prisoners where? You could free them – but it may be wasteful to do that without getting some sort of deal, as with the Gilad Shalit or Bowe Bergdahl cases. I don’t know of any Americans currently held by Islamist groups, but release of Guantánamo detainees could be traded for other concessions. Still, releasing them could have bad effects. Probably 20-28% of detainees who have already been released went on to Jihadist activity by 2016, according to Obama’s DNI James Clapper. And because the most benign detainees are presumably the first to be released, further releases are more likely to return to Jihadist activity. The ACLU claims that national security agencies and the military have unanimously determined that the majority of detainees should be released. I can’t find further information, but if ACLU is right – I doubt that they would lie, but it might be outdated or slightly distorted – then presumably it would be a worthwhile move. But that doesn’t apply to all prisoners. Presumably the last worst few should still be detained, if we are serious about minimizing global violence.
We could send them abroad – but who will take them, and does FPGen have reason to believe that the prisoners will be better treated over there? Perhaps the idea is to send them to prisons in the United States with better regulations and supervision. But the ACLU thinks this will not be significantly legally or ethically better than Guantánamo, whereas National Review worries that this will lead to Islamist radicalization in prison. (Personally, I think both these objections can be addressed somewhat.)
A real implementation of Guantánamo closure would likely involve a bit of each of these solutions, spread among different detainees. It might be a good idea. Fully closing it would send a nice symbolic message and slightly increase American military legitimacy.
Still, FPGen’s request is both too vague and too inflexible. If we believe there is a problem with Guantánamo, we should provide policymakers with a detailed and workable proposal that closes the prison while also providing a viable alternative means to deal with captured terrorists, or failing that we should give them a general task and purpose (e.g., “ensure that captured terrorist suspects are treated humanely and within the bounds of the Geneva Convention,” or something along those lines) and allow them to figure out what reforms (if any) are needed to achieve our desired end state.
Reparations to torture victims is a pretty obviously good idea. Even if one supported the waterboarding program, one should still believe that some sort of compensation, however incapable of making up for the suffering, is important. My only reservation is the risk that they could use funds for further malicious actions (they certainly won’t begin to like us just because we paid them off), but the reparation program could be conducted with some oversight, or sent to their families, or restricted to those who are not currently a major risk of supporting further terror.
Overall, FPGen’s recommendation here has mixed value.
Note however that these issues are not as important as the others in this section. There are currently just 40 detainees in Guantánamo. The CIA has tortured probably 180-600 people, with much fewer being known and still alive. Major conflicts with hundreds or thousands of deaths and much greater numbers of displaced persons are more important.
Recognize that the overwhelming majority of domestic terrorism is rooted in white supremacist ideologies and formulate counter-terrorism policies on this basis.
Of course, if you start your dataset in 2001, then the overwhelming majority of terror deaths are from jihadist ideologies. Deciding who poses the threat for expected, future casualties is difficult, and while far-right terrorists do currently look like a greater threat to America than jihadists, FPGen could have expressed a bit more uncertainty and nuance here.
Much more worryingly, they are basing their position entirely on terror deaths in the United States, and ignore the perpetrators of terror in places like Western Europe and the Middle East. If you look at the whole world, then jihadism clearly causes (and will continue to cause, for at least 15 years I expect) the most deaths.
Also, the far-right does not have the international networks that Jihadism does, and so is not really a matter of foreign policy. It’s one thing to say that the DHS or FBI should focus more on far-right threats, but telling the CIA or military to focus on it could easily lead to wasted resources.
I have very mixed feelings about this recommendation: if understood charitably, it could be common sense, but one could take it as a mandate to broadly curtail efforts (including nonmilitary efforts) against global jihadism in order to focus on a domestic threat which kills a much smaller number of Americans. That would be a bad idea.
Prioritize and fund community-building as a fundamental aspect of US counter-terrorism policy.
I can imagine someone saying we should combat far-right extremism by revitalizing the (predominately white) communities in Middle America, using something like John Delaney’s Heartland Fair Deal. I doubt it would be an efficient way to reduce terror (have all these years of nation-building in Iraq and Afghanistan been an efficient way to reduce Islamist terror?) but it may be good for other reasons. But this definitely isn’t foreign policy, so I’m not sure if it’s what FPGen meant.
Presumably they think we should community-build in regions with Islamist problems. Should we prioritize it in Afghanistan? I hope they don’t mean that: I imagine Afghanistan already has some of the strongest communities in the entire world, certainly stronger communities than the ones we have. It would be nonsense to think that Westerners are going to come and help build their communities. Or are we to reshape their tribal relations into the Western conception of an ideal community? I dearly hope not, for obvious reasons. There may be similar problems involved in trying to community-build in other countries, but really this idea needs to be made clearer for us to judge.
Maybe something along these lines can work (and maybe we are already doing it). I’m skeptical of its utility against jihadist terror because such groups are often characterized by transnational flexible networks and often generated by political rather than local grievances. But it may be good for reducing more local problems of conflict and insurgency.
Overall, this is potentially a good recommendation, but FPGen should give more details/examples/research and perhaps be more realistic about its limitations as a counter-terror policy.
Fundamentally reorient the US understanding of national security to address the root drivers of violence, including climate change, economic instability, and the legacy of US intervention.
Most international relations experts, if asked to rank-order the root drivers of violence from biggest to smallest, would probably put something like international anarchy, bargaining failures, the security dilemma, or state failure (in Yemen, failure of the Gulf Cooperation Council to produce a viable consensus; in Libya, failure of the post-Qaddafi state to enforce a monopoly on violence; in Syria, Assad’s brutal repressive measures borne out of a fear of revolution; in Iraq, lack of government legitimacy and authority; in Afghanistan, lack of a strong government in the aftermath of the downfall of the Taliban) on top. They could also point to rough terrain and large populations, the presence of extremists, private information and inabilities to make commitments, or human irrationality. Economic instability could easily play a role, though I only know of research pointing to poverty. Climate change is likely though not robustly argued to increase conflict. American interventions surely led to further violence in Afghanistan and Iraq by creating power vacuums, but that is just a small minority of wars, and is really more of a proximate cause. Probably they mean the legacy of America’s Cold War activities in Iran (1953) and Afghanistan (1980s), but establishing a causal link to current instability from them may be difficult.
Note that everything in the above paragraph should be taken with a big grain of salt due to the inadequacy of our theoretical models and the difficulty of making causal inferences from our limited empirical data on wars.
I don’t know if US national security is paying inadequate attention to root causes of conflict broadly speaking. It makes for nice rhetoric about avoiding conflict, but you can’t change geography, human nature, or the past. Moreover, Americans in the defense and foreign policy arenas broadly understand that economic troubles and climate change can lead to conflict, that fragile and failed states are a recipe for further conflict, and so on. I think people pay too little attention to problems of credible commitment, although that’s my personal bias and I have a hard time thinking of good ways to address this root problem. I would also give a general warning against the monocausal explanations and overconfidence which can be all too comforting for politicians and activists. But broadly speaking it’s not clear why we should believe that root causes are generally too neglected by America in comparison to proximate causes, conflict solutions, and other priorities. Personally, I would probably say that we need to pay more attention to proximate causes. We shouldn’t try to reshape the nature of the international system, but we need better diplomacy, more prediction markets, and stronger empathy for how others will react to Western actions (e.g., Russia reacting to overtures to NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine). I would also like to increase our emphasis on the ability to finish wars, based on our recent problems in the Islamic world. So FPGen could really do with some arguments to support their prioritization here. Otherwise, it’s speculative and highly debatable.
Never physically or politically target the families of terrorists.
Anecdotes from Russia suggest that physically targeting families can obtain short-term results, but the direct collateral harms and especially the long-term consequences are presumably a different story. Opposing such policies is very sensible, although I’m not aware of any cases where the US physically attacked terrorist families anyway. During his campaign, Trump twice said he wanted to kill terrorists’ families, but later walked back the remarks and there is no indication that it has actually been done. Attempts by the White House to deliberately target civilians, even if they are related to terrorists, would likely result in refusals and/or whistleblowing by the relevant personnel. All liberals/leftists/apolitical careerists, plus many conservatives, presumably agree that physically targeting terrorist families is wrong.
It’s less clear what political targeting means. Sanctions? Condemnations? Prosecution? I would like to see some examples of what kinds of targeting Americans may pursue in practice, and an explanation for why they are wrong. If family members know of but don’t report terrorist activity, it could be beneficial to use political pressure to get them to report. So this rule is a bit dubious.
Never strip anyone of their citizenship.
Here is a list of notable Americans stripped of their citizenship. Most of the recent cases have been terrorists, terrorist affiliates and former Nazis. They often concealed their histories to American officials in order to get citizenship in the first place. Why does FPGen want these people to remain citizens? What purpose does that serve?
Others lose citizenship for more mundane reasons. In particular, the Trump administration has made moves to denaturalize more citizens, for having materially lied on their citizenship applications. I can’t find examples of this actually going through, but one pending case was a woman who failed to disclose her activity defrauding the Export-Import Bank when she initially applied for citizenship. Other cases involved people who had concealed their sexual abuse of minors. Vox argues that these moves are bad because they inspire general fears and send a message that American citizenship is all about behavior and identity.
But while this may apply to the Trump administration due to the general perceptions of their right-wing nativist orientation, it’s not pertinent for the progressive policymakers who would read FPGen’s advice. A progressive government is perfectly capable of prosecuting naturalized terrorists, Nazis, fraudsters and pedophiles without being perceived as terrifying white nationalists. Moreover, weakening legal policy in order to shift vague perceptions and fears is a dubious strategy which undermines rule of law. It cheapens the citizenship process, as one can materially lie to the government and get away with it.
Overall I cannot see a sound justification for FPGen’s recommendation. It may be sensible to reduce the number of people stripped of citizenship, but to go all the way with a rule to never take this action appears to be a bad idea.
However this is not a particularly important issue, as it only affects a small number of Americans.
Assume responsibility for US foreign fighters and prosecute them within the US legal system.
The problem here is I can’t find evidence that we aren’t already doing it. Here are profiles of 90 American foreign fighters, who generally seem to be prosecuted in the US legal system. America has generally urged other countries to take responsibility for their own foreign fighters. I don’t know of a reason to oppose this recommendation, but it seems superfluous.
FPGen’s stated rule for when to intervene prevents us from defending Taiwan and many minorities around the world, holding our military flexibility hostage to Russia and China. They also don’t provide meaningful guidance for when war is actually a wise course of action as opposed to merely being legally authorized.
Assuming that they don’t spend too much on foreign aid, their policies would no doubt free up more money to spend on things like single-payer healthcare and free tuition in the United States. But Afghan, Middle Eastern and African people would probably suffer as a result of American retrenchment, and the results would surely fall short of the possibilities of a revised, nuanced and serious approach to counterinsurgency. FPGen seems to ignore the threats faced by people living overseas, except for expressing a naïve idea that they can be solved with dialogue and (even more) foreign aid.
Why is there nothing about the composition and operational use of our forces? What weapons systems should be funded or defunded? How should we reform the OCO Fund and military procurement? What should the military budget be? Do we rely too much or too little on covert special operations? Should we sign the Ottawa Treaty?
The absence of focus on diplomacy to avoid war is also odd. Elizabeth Warren has produced a good plan for revitalizing the foreign service and ending the practice of giving ambassadorial appointments to wealthy donors. That should be incorporated here.
Finally, FPGen should also express support for peacekeeping to avoid war. See this post by Roland Paris for a compilation of research on the value of peacekeeping.
Tackling the Climate Emergency
Their section starts by saying that “Although climate change affects everyone, young people have the most to lose.” It’s not wrong, but personally, I would have led with a different side of the story: poorer countries in tropical and subtropical regions have the most to lose.
Ensure that the United States is leading global efforts to combat climate change. Asking industrializing countries who are less responsible for the climate crisis to transition away from fossil fuels before we do is both unjust and unnecessary. This includes immediately passing Green New Deal legislation, rejoining the Paris Accords, and ratifying the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Treaty to return to remedial levels of carbon emissions, recognizing that US climate policy must go above and beyond those very limited targets.
It would obviously be wrong for America to continue polluting while telling poorer countries to make a stricter transition, but I don’t know of a single prominent person in the United States who advocates that.
Exactly when and how does FPGen want us to push industrializing countries to be greener? Presumably – hopefully – they want us to work together, all transitioning as quickly as is reasonable. However this transition takes time. Democratic presidential candidates are calling for net-zero economies by 2045-2050, with very substantial progress made by 2030 or so. But these goals are dubious due to political obstacles, the most pressing ones being the 53% probability of Republicans winning the 2020 presidential election and the presence of so many Republicans and centrist Democrats in the Senate. The Democratic presidential candidates generally do not seem to prioritize climate change as highly as other issues, like health care (Bernie Sanders) and corporate and labor reform (Elizabeth Warren), so they may not expend much political capital on a Green New Deal. Jay Inslee built his presidential campaign around ambitious climate policy, but hardly any Democratic voters preferred him. Another practical obstacle to an ambitious transition is fiscal, as a Green New Deal would be expensive, voters are reluctant to accept most new taxes (including carbon taxes), and debt servicing payments are already getting quite high.
Note that a full transition takes more time and effort than transitioning most of the way – eliminating the last bit of fossil fuels from things like aircraft and electricity in cloudy/windless areas becomes much more difficult and expensive. And we do need to reduce emissions from industrializing countries. The five biggest industrializing offenders (China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Mexico) emit about 40% of global emissions, and the emissions from industrializing countries constitute an increasing share of the global total. Their lack of wealth makes transition more difficult, but they have a different advantage: while advanced countries are more reliant on existing fossil fuel infrastructure, new industrialization can be efficiently done with a more direct adoption of clean energy.
So while it is right to demand rapid domestic action, delaying international action would be a senseless jeopardization of human life across the planet – just for the sake of scoring nonsensical national moral points. I don’t know if FPGen means this, but it is a plausible interpretation of their recommendation. It is very plausible that we will find ourselves in a situation where we are politically obstructed from achieving all of FPGen’s wishes for domestic climate policy, but still have an opportunity to work on other actions to apply limited international pressure, and we would only be allowing climate change to worsen if we choose to ignore such opportunities.
Also, I wonder what they mean by saying that a Green New Deal and the Paris Accords are “extremely limited” and that we must go above and beyond. Maybe they are talking about some of the parallel issues discussed in the other points in their climate change section, which I will discuss below. But if they mean we must do even more to turn our economy green, that seems quite excessive. We should remember that climate change will not cause extinction of human civilization. The economic costs of likely (3°C) warming are variously estimated by metanalyses at 1.6%, 1-2%, or 9-10%, and economists themselves have guessed an average figure of about 10%. Now, because the damages probably rise superlinearly with the amount of temperature change, uncertainty about temperature change with small chances of extreme impacts can double the expected costs. These costs also disproportionately harm greater numbers of poorer people in the developing world. Global warming also implies a damaging temporary increase in temperature variance, and air pollution causes a variety of other problems like worsened public health and crop yields, worsened childhood learning, and increased crime. So it is a major problem. But it’s not clear what level of effort would be the right response. One could go into more detail about the costs of Green New Deal-type program and calculations of the social cost of carbon, plus how to address the limitations of economic estimates for setting priorities; to be brief, I doubt that it would be appropriate to go ‘above and beyond’ a Green New Deal and I believe that most policy experts would agree. I recognize that this is largely a tangent about domestic policy, but if FPGen wants us to implement such unwise (not to mention politically impossible) measures as a Super-Green-New-Deal before moving forward with any substantive international climate pressure, it is a bad foundation for our international climate policy.
Also, I'm not sure if FPGen recognizes that international efforts don’t have to be coercive or harmful. We can establish cooperative initiatives, and provide technical and financial assistance for deploying greener technology. Many industrializing countries would be more than willing to seek our help here, there is nothing ‘unjust’ about it. This will undoubtedly constitute the majority of our international engagement on climate policy, rather than anything strong-armed. Why is it not included? They do seem to mention something similar in their 'trade' section, which I will discuss later.
And why doesn’t FPGen point out that one of the principal benefits of the Green New Deal is not just the reduction in American emissions, but also the potential availability of clean energy technology as a global public good for other countries to freely adopt? This would be an important thing for policymakers to keep in mind as they decide which aspects of domestic climate policy should get the most priority.
Why is there no support for carbon taxation, including the question of international coordination on carbon taxes and border carbon adjustments (BCAs)? Market solutions (a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system) are the most efficient way promote cleaner energy, according to most economists. Carbon taxes are in turn better than cap-and-trade. Carbon taxes are less expensive than a collection of regulations and requirements, and they are widely agreed to be a more beneficial way of raising revenue than across-the-board hikes to income taxes. Having investigated the issue in more detail in the Candidate Scoring System section on air pollution, I determined that the economists’ position is correct. Not only are carbon taxes among the best policies for fighting climate change, but they are also something that should be done with a degree of international engagement, making it a particularly relevant thing to discuss here.
Institute “subsidy swaps” to reallocate government subsidies from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of energy, and to transition away from high-carbon factory farming and toward low-carbon methods of food production.
The subsidy swap is clearly a good idea. It should still be noted that neither fossil fuel subsidies nor renewable energy subsidies are as big of a climate priority as some people think. Ending all state and federal fossil fuel subsidies would only save $20.5B per year: almost enough to double global public investment in clean R&D, but subsidies are a lower priority than clean energy spending, and we should probably still go further. Maybe more ambitious energy R&D efforts would be included in a Green New Deal anyway.
Factory farming cannot be supported in good conscience and there is already a clear welfare reason to support this change. Replacing cattle feedlots with well-managed grazing will reduce emissions somewhat; presumably there will be similar trends for pork and poultry. Meat production will be lower and prices will be higher, but that’s acceptable (arguably even a good thing).
Actively anticipate and prepare for a large influx of climate refugees, and adjust refugee quotas to at least be proportionate to US CO2 emissions.
If we really care about collective human welfare, we’ll think more about refugees in a broad sense and will accept them based on humanitarian considerations rather than national responsibility for climate change. But generally speaking this is clearly a good recommendation, America needs to take more refugees.
Address the fact that the Department of Defense is the single greatest institutional carbon emitter on the planet by reducing overseas military bases and missions. At the same time, we should leverage the Department of Defense and Department of Energy’s substantial experience in environmental innovation to contribute to civil climate resilience.
Reducing bases has other operational and strategic consequences which need to be taken into consideration. Consider that our allies will increase their own military spending (and hence military their emissions) if we renege on commitments to them. The negative consequences of reducing our operations in the Middle East, which I pointed out previously, might indirectly increase long run greenhouse gas emissions through things like economic instability, autocracy and local conflict. The 400 million metric tons of emissions from all our overseas contingency operations will cause an estimated $60 billion in damages and 1,550 medium term health deaths; this is a lot, but is much smaller than the consequences of instability and violence in many areas of the world. There have been over 150,000 deaths in Afghanistan alone, and that doesn’t include indirect issues like healthcare and opium.
A notable omission here is the idea of making the armed forces more energy-efficient, as Warren has proposed. Leftists often have antipathy towards such moves because such greening can make people feel more inclined to support the military. This is brittle and specious reasoning. First it requires a dubious assumption that a smaller, weaker military is good. If a larger and more effective military is good, then greening the military is extra-important. Second, it requires an assumption that relevant policies will meaningfully change on the basis of how green the military is perceived. This is a questionable claim about America’s political system and popular motivations.
The idea for civil climate resilience seems good.
Ensure that US infrastructure and transportation is low-carbon and disaster-resilient, and provide low- or no-cost public transportation across the country.
Low-carbon infrastructure and transportation is good. We do need better public transit. Though we should also keep in mind that the biggest priority here, especially for the purposes of reducing global climate damages, is public transit that works, not public transit that is free.
Disaster resilience is a default aspect of modern civil construction. Additional emphasis on climate adaptation could well be worthwhile, but again this recommendation is going into issues which are purely a matter of domestic policy.
Defer to Indigenous communities for leadership on energy strategies and environmental conservation, and recognize their inherent sovereignty over their territories.
America is a democracy with input from a wide range of views. Why should national policy defer to the leadership of a minority on the basis of their race? Are non-indigenous people to be disadvantaged or barred from appointment and hiring at high positions in environmental and energy agencies? Indigenous people are not better than the rest of us at determining energy and environmental policy. “Deferring” goes well past liberal pluralism and into the territory of a new hegemony, where there would be a shortage of qualified people, groupthink among nondiverse leadership, distortion of the policy process to suit the narrow ends of a minority, and perceptions of unfairness. I don’t know how policymakers and other audiences would interpret this recommendation, but it could be interpreted as this bad approach.
Territorial issues are another matter. The most famous example of what FPGen is advocating is that we should have listened to Lakota wishes and refused to build Keystone XL. That’s all well and good when we are discussing fossil fuel development. It’s also good when talking about preserving forests, which tend to be good efficient carbon sinks.
But what happens when the project is something good for the climate? Both domestically and abroad, indigenous activists have opposed a number of projects that would reduce climate change. These include the Yucca Mountain repository for nuclear waste in Nevada, Rampart Dam in Alaska, the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in Honduras, wind turbines that kill eagles, and wind turbines that just ruin the view and worsen property values. One can find some local indigenous people who actually support the new projects, but there is a clear general trend. In these cases, there is a clear tradeoff between local indigenous wishes and the climate. Governments shouldn’t murder activists to get their way, of course. But that doesn’t answer the question: should the projects be built or not?
Canceling the projects could be good for the indigenous people, in various economic, social and aesthetic ways. These projects also often have downsides for local ecology and tourism. However, cancellation also means less progress on actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This means more people will die from climate change.
How many deaths? Consider the tiny Nā Pua Makani wind farm proposal, projected to save 70,000 tons of CO2. On a short timeframe (several decades) looking at relatively direct and well-understood health impacts of climate change, this much CO2 would cause an estimated 0.25 statistical deaths. But this does not include the lives saved from by reducing longer-run, more complex and difficult-to-quantify consequences of climate change. Assuming a social cost of carbon of $150/ton, it will also avert $105 million in global economic damages, which will disproportionately fall upon poor economies. This is enough money for governments to save many more lives through other means. Now let’s think bigger: Rampart Dam. It would have generated 5872MW. Assuming a capacity factor of 57%, and assuming that it would operate for 50 years, it would generate 51 million MWh or 185 million GJ. If that electricity were instead generated using fuel oil, it would create 14 million tons of CO2 emissions. This would soon kill an estimated 55 people through near-term health impacts and cause over $2 billion in global economic damages.
This is napkin math, and there are complexities to adjust the costs up or down. In particular, if you are very afraid of climate change being an existential threat to our way of life, then you should substantially increase the estimates of these deaths and costs. But generally speaking, it seems clear that these controversial projects have more climate benefits than local costs.
One could respond that we just need to build all of our clean energy stations and infrastructure somewhere else. It’s a nice aspiration. In reality, there are political, logistic, financial, and technical difficulties associated with putting various sources of power in various places, and these difficulties will not disappear just because we elect more left-wing leaders. If we oppose these projects, there will be more fossil fuel burning in the time it takes for alternative options to be put together. We will have to spend more of our limited budgets on less-effective projects. And more people will suffer and die from climate change.
In summary, their recommendation for greater indigenous leadership is troubling. Such a recommendation could be alright, but only if defined as inclusion rather than hierarchy and defined alongside an understanding of the importance of getting new energy construction completed on time and under budget.
Work with the World Health Organization to develop a Fossil Fuel Control Playbook––along the lines of the Tobacco Control Playbook––to combat the lobbying tactics of fossil fuel companies.
Good and unique recommendation.
Ensure a "just transition” for workers away from high carbon-emitting jobs towards low carbon-emitting jobs, with an economic guarantee to ensure that no community is negatively impacted by the transition to renewable energy.
Does that guarantee mean that we won’t transition to renewable energy if we can’t ensure that none of our communities are negatively impacted? If that’s the idea, there will definitely be negative impacts for the billions of people around the world who will be hit hard by climate change.
Is it a good idea to dole out reparations to coal miners and the like? Individual compensation on this basis is sort of inefficient (again, from each according to his inability, to each according to his need), though tolerable as one of the minor costs of living in a harmonious diverse republic.
If we fix ourselves to communities then we have bigger problems. A coal mining town will decline. It will lose jobs and people will move away. Are we going to funnel lots of money into futile attempts to revitalize areas that are simply not economically viable anymore?
And what about the top 1% who are presumably going to be taxed for the Green New Deal? What about the investment bankers in Houston who make six or seven figures doing oil and gas exploration deals? How are we supposed to make sure that they come away from all this with more than they started (and why would we)? I presume that FPGen doesn’t care about compensating them, but this shows how the written recommendation is flawed. Rigid demands for everyone to come away a winner are not a realistic foundation for policymaking, and can be abused by pernicious interest groups.
Isn’t it better to just rely on having a strong dynamic economy with a good social safety net, so that all people who are disemployed for whatever reason can still find a good life? If we pass policies like Medicare-for-All and free college tuition, why would we also need to add these kinds of handouts? It’s excessive.
In any case, this is a matter of domestic policy.
Invest in research to mitigate public health crises that are exacerbated by climate change, such as the spread of air-, food-, and water-based diseases; the rise of superbugs; worsening air pollution; and food and water shortages.
This is good, but we need more than research. There are already shovel-ready opportunities to reduce many of these problems worldwide.
But FPGen has a humanitarian aid section with more details on their goals, and I will evaluate that down below.
This section is about domestic policy at least as much as it is about foreign policy. As a plan for reducing US emissions, it’s pretty vague, but that’s okay given that there are other, better contexts for discussing that.
There are two main problems here. First, FPGen doesn’t have any serious plan for international engagement aside from ratifying a couple of existing treaties. For a foreign policy platform, this is disappointing. They don’t provide policymakers with guidance to support global use of clean technology. They also don’t mention the opportunity for international coordination on carbon taxes.
Second, FPGen places too much emphasis on their unique conception of justice, wanting to make sure that the United States bears the most costs and that certain groups like Native Americans and coal miners should come out as winners, while neglecting the great global harms imposed by delays and inefficiencies in our climate policy.
Engaging Strategic Competitors
FPGen’s introductory comments here conflate American hegemonic aspirations with zero-sum, security-minded thinking. In reality, the opposite is closer to the truth (though there is no direct link either way). The American pursuit of hegemony has been largely based on the attractiveness of soft power and liberal institutions, whereas the realist zero-sum perspective better lends itself to restrained balancing. This misconception is perhaps why FPGen’s first recommendation is presented as an alternative to current policy, when in reality it largely describes the status quo.
Their prescription that we should think and understand the world without a hard security lens is troubling. It’s one thing to advocate a course of action such as engagement or containment. But to understand the world, we need to break away from attachment to narrow grand paradigms and be more electic and more interested in practical mid-level theories. The traditional big theories like realism and liberalism are really not as important as people often think. We should be willing and able to think about the world through the lenses of all big theories, including but not limited to the zero-sum security mindset, and also maintain creativity and flexibility to generate new ideas and frameworks to answer a given problem. The foreign policy establishment has not done very well here, but their biggest failure is arguably that they focused too much on the liberal understanding and too little on the realist understanding.
Approach conflict prevention on a case-by-case basis, prioritizing “soft” tools like proactive diplomacy, investment, trade, and education over “hard” tools like military engagement.
The only problem with this recommendation is that we’re already doing it. Towards China, we led with soft engagement since the 1970s while hedging with some military power. Recent troubling behavior from China has prompted a reevaluation of this strategy, as Washington is now using more forceful diplomatic and trade actions (still soft tools) alongside an increasing focus on deterrence. Engagement has not led China down a path of liberalism or respecting human rights; indeed they have recently begun widespread crackdowns on Hong Kong and submitted the Uyghur minority to brutal concentration camps and a campaign of sexual coercion. Nor has it prompted China to abandon their aims to take Taiwan and to become the dominant military and economic power in Africa and the Indo-Pacific. But engagement wasn’t really intended to achieve these things anyway. On the plus side, it has helped many Chinese people escape poverty while enriching us through trade, and may have done something to moderate China’s international behavior. It has not been a bad approach overall. But America’s is pivoting to a sterner line against China in response to recent problems which were not avoided by the soft tools. This is a sound case-by-case approach. FPGen may want us to maintain a more relaxed approach as suggested by Zakaria, but either one would be consistent with the recommendation.
The US has similarly engaged with Russia through soft tools. In fact, Russia’s recent invasions arguably could have been avoided were it not for Western liberal ideas and institutions expanding to Ukraine and Georgia. America has also mainly stuck to soft responses to Russia’s invasions of Georgia and Ukraine, assassinations, election interference, and support for the Syrian regime. (An exception is military aid to Ukraine, which started more recently.) Of course we also maintain deterrence with Russia, but it has not been the lead tool for addressing recent conflicts.
America has also used soft tools such as diplomacy and sanctions as the foremost tactics with Iran and North Korea, backed up by a constant deterrent ability.
Meanwhile, with countries that do not threaten American interests so explicitly, we broadly rely on soft power.
Maybe FPGen thinks we are generally being too hard on China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. But that would be more like a sweeping recommendation, not looking at them on a case-by-case basis.
A hard-edged realist like Mearsheimer, or perhaps a neoconservative hawk, would disagree with this recommendation. I am fine with it. But it hardly provides substantive guidance.
Close superfluous overseas military bases, which are obsolete, expensive, environmentally harmful, and imperial in nature.
The linked recommendation to cautiously reduce the number of Middle Eastern bases appears good.
The further rhetoric of FPGen’s recommendation makes it sound like they actually want to close a lot of other bases too. They link to a reasonably credible, though one-sided, source. I don’t know enough about this issue to really say whether OBRACC is correct.
Never cut off diplomatic relations with other states under any circumstances. Voluntarily ceding our ability to communicate with other countries makes it much more difficult to resolve disputes and mitigate crises.
I don’t think we’ve ever refused entirely to communicate with another state. We have lacked formal diplomatic relations in some cases, like with Germany and Japan during World War II and with North Korea for a while after the Korean War.
I don’t know much about the details and norms of diplomacy, and I doubt that insisting on formal rather than informal communication would accomplish anything significant, but it seems like a good recommendation to me.
Offer the District of Columbia and the remnants of US empire––namely Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, the US Virgin Islands––immediate binding referenda regarding their status within the United States. The combined five million US citizens who live in these territories cannot vote for President and are not fully represented in Congress.
Again I would not call this foreign policy, but I'll continue for the sake of completeness.
They lack representation in Washington, but have additional internal autonomy and freedom from many of our regular taxes. Still, that does not mean that proper self-determination is a bad idea.
Two things to keep in mind: first, many of these territories are very small, so it would be inappropriate to give them statehood with a full two senators and a congressperson – in fact even a single representative would be disproportionate representation for the smallest territories, so they should have to merge with each other and/or with existing states in order to get representation. Second, the military base on Guam is of high importance; Guamanians won’t want to remove it, but it may be important to preserve some federal authority for defense-related issues.
Aside from their views on how to analyze the nature of the international system, this section does not get anything wrong. But it’s very insubstantive for such a critically important topic.
One of the major omissions is how the United States is should respond to human rights violations in autocratic countries, especially the concentration camp system in Xinjiang.
Fixing the Broken Immigration System
This is broadly something for domestic policy, but again I'll address it for completeness.
FPGen's introductory statement correctly identifies the importance of making the US live up to its narrative of being a refuge and a nation of immigrants. A comprehensive review of the value of immigration can be found in the Candidate Scoring System.
FPGen claims that the United States played and plays an outsized role in creating instability around the world and, for this reason, must be willing to play an essential role in taking immigrants. The moral and historical/geopolitical flaws in this general argument are straightforward, but America’s failure to accept Iraqi refugees (even interpreters who helped us at great personal risk) after the war and chaos that we caused really is uniquely distressing.
Immediately end family separation and close all concentration camps located within the United States.
This is redundant given a subsequent section about decriminalizing border crossing and ending migrant detention, which I address below.
Dismantle Immigration and Customs Enforcement––an unnecessary, unaccountable, and cruel agency that has only existed since 2003 and preys upon the most vulnerable members of society.
Their functions were previously performed by other agencies, and it’s not clear that we can do with entirely dispensing with those functions, even if we want to accept all immigrants. So perhaps a more detailed plan should be presented, but maybe it's fine to allow policymakers more leeway to figure it out.
But this is domestic rather than foreign policy, so I won’t worry much about it.
Decriminalize attempts to cross the US border, and end migrant detention. This will promote safe border crossings, rather than incentivizing people to venture through dangerous territory.
This has obvious benefits of increasing immigration and reducing the problems associated with border enforcement.
This would however greatly exacerbate the long-running trend in American inability to control the border. This chronic failure in American governance and rule of law provokes increased opposition to legal immigration and has created a political obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform. It also weakens the general credibility of the government’s authority and may exacerbate other types of crime (although immigrants themselves do not commit more crimes on average). Consider that Dominic Cummings’ rationale for Brexit was the idea that European (as opposed to British) control of immigration policies was leading to backlash that threatened the broader project of European international cooperation; open borders could pose similar problems for the robustness of American political liberalism. In fact, the election of Trump partially on the basis of anti-immigrant sentiment may have already vindicated this worry.
So it’s not clear whether this is the right course of action, although it’s certainly better than the status quo under Trump.
Establish a pathway to citizenship for all undocumented people, and ensure that undocumented people are legally protected so that they are not forced into labor.
Perfectly good recommendation.
Recognize that individuals fleeing deteriorating climate conditions are refugees––not migrants––and should therefore be afforded the same rights as refugees.
A refugee is a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her home country because of a “well-founded fear of persecution”. I feel this is usually a more important case for rescue than rising temperatures or floods. If we changed the definition, we would have fewer slots and resources to allocate to those who are persecuted. (Unless we accept all refugees, which genuinely might be a good idea, but would likely be politically impossible.)
It may be good to broaden the definition of refugees, but why focus on climate refugees? What about those who flee severe poverty, devastating diseases, droughts, famines, and other problems? Whether these problems are caused by climate change or by anything else, they hurt people just the same. FPGen’s emphasis is bizarre, seemingly driven by a political obsession with climate change rather than genuine humanitarian concern.
Ensure that those who enlisted in the US military as a pathway to citizenship are actually able to become US citizens. The current system has betrayed these individuals by making the already complicated process even more stringent, and actually denying military members' applications at a higher rate than civilians. While we question the morality of continuing to use the US military as an incentive for citizenship, in the short term these individuals should still be granted what was initially promised to them.
Fixing the process seems like a perfectly good recommendation.
I don’t see who would benefit from ending the process for enlistees to become citizens.
Ensure that foreign citizens who aided US troops during wartime are able to obtain citizenship, as promised. These individuals often wait years for their visas while they and their families remain in danger, due to their cooperation with US troops.
Absolutely good recommendation.
End the illegal practice of forcing asylum applicants to wait for rulings on their cases outside the United States.
If implemented over the status quo, it seems like a perfectly good recommendation.
In FPGen’s broader context, this seems like it would create an opportunity for anyone to falsely claim asylum, then stay in the country and become a naturalized citizen thanks to their other recommendations in this section. This is just another road to an open border, and therefore can further exacerbate the political problems of inept border control, as I described above. But as I said earlier, it’s not clear whether these problems outweigh the benefits of expediting more quick migration.
Allow naturalized citizens to apply for citizenship for all family members, not just their parents and children.
I am not well informed about this issue, but I don’t see the problem with requiring people of different nuclear families to separately apply for citizenship. There could easily be cases where some relatives qualify for citizenship and others don’t. Maybe the goal here is to just make as many people citizens as possible, but then this recommendation is a rather arbitrary and inefficient way of doing that.
Shorten the length of time that one is required to be a green card holder in order to apply for US citizenship.
A clearly good recommendation.
Their recommendations are alright, though subject to some doubts about the political consequences of turning America into an open-borders state for most practical intents and purposes. I would personally opt to increase immigration and refugee acceptance while also maintaining some control of the border, but I can see that there are valid arguments on both sides here.
The main problem is their omissions. They say nothing about increasing high-skilled immigration to boost our economy and technology – even though this is of great importance for maintaining America’s edge in global competition. High skilled immigration is less of an immediate humanitarian priority, but it also has the best economic and political results. In fact they say little about broadly increasing legal immigration or making the process easier. Maybe legal immigration opportunities won’t matter if everyone can enter the country free of criminal prosecution and then follow a process to citizenship, but I feel that it would be unwise to rely on this in practice.
Worst of all, they omit mention of the global crumbling in asylum rights. 2019 was the year that the world shuttered its doors to refugees. This is not just an American problem. Aside from setting a personal example, what concrete steps can and should we take to rectify this tragedy?
Reshaping Nuclear Weapons Policy
Cancel all plans to build and deploy new nuclear weapons.
We certainly don’t need a greater number of warheads, but it’s not clear what to do about nuclear modernization. It can increase arms races, though there is some doubt on whether arms races actually increase the risk of conflict. It could give us a better ability to deter aggression and survive nuclear wars with our strategic competitors. And if we modernize with lower-yield precision nuclear weapons, we may reduce the amount of fallout and catastrophe from nuclear war. Of course it would also cost money, but not much in comparison to the huge stakes: perhaps a few tens of billions of dollars, depending on the scope of the program.
I don’t know enough to really have an opinion on this. FPGen’s recommendation seems fine, at least for the time being.
Vow never to use nuclear weapons first––a position overwhelmingly supported by American Democrats.
NFU is basically feasible for the United States because of its conventional military superiority and its political risk-aversion and ethics, and it would reduce crisis instability without weakening military capability. It could also expand conventional military flexibility, as capabilities like the planned Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) are limited by the risk of being perceived as impending nuclear strikes. Tyler Cowen argued against NFU, but his concerns are generally covered or outweighed by points made by Gerson. The primary obstacle to NFU, as argued by Gerson and experienced by the Obama administration in 2016, is that it could weaken America’s ability to provide credible assurances to protect its allies from nonnuclear threats. Experts were split over the significance of this issue in 2016 – see Miller and Payne (2016), Reif and Kimball (2016), and Miller and Payne (2016).
Obama decided against NFU apparently for this reason, but 2021 will be a different context. Unfortunately, the credibility of US commitment to allies has waned because of populism and economic nationalism in American politics, a trend exemplified not only by President Donald Trump but also by the increased popularity of Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren. There is a high chance that one of these candidates will win the 2020 election, and the underlying drivers of populism and economic nationalism in America – the perception of growing inequality due to globalization, and opposition to illegal immigration and multiculturalism – do not seem to be changing much. The foreign policy views of FPGen also echo a general idea of American retrenchment and weakened military commitments to allies.
Second, the severity of the Chinese nonnuclear threat facing American allies in the Indo-Pacific has greatly increased, and America cannot count on conventional forces for a straightforward victory. China has consistently prevailed in Pentagon wargames about Taiwan.
Thus, the US is in a worse position both politically and militarily to give assurances to allies than it was in 2016. NFU would weaken both the perception and the reality of the American ability to provide collective defense. Nuclear policy researcher James Acton similarly argues that our nuclear policy should allow first use, though just in the specific circumstance that we or an ally are under an “existential threat.” NFU could lead to heightened tensions between China and other nuclear or potentially-nuclear powers such as India, Japan and Indonesia.
NFU could still be good if we improve credible conventional assurance and work towards reasonable implementation of the new nuclear policy policy. But unilaterally asserting NFU without preparatory and compensatory work is a bad idea. And doing it alongside a broad reduction in American military capabilities is worse.
This is a poor recommendation, though the status quo is not very good either. It should be replaced with Acton’s proposal for nuclear weapons to only be used as a response to a nuclear or existential threat against us or our allies.
Attempt to reconstruct and extend valuable arms control agreements like the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, New START, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (otherwise known as the Iran Nuclear Deal).
Good recommendation. That they write “attempt” shows they understand the complexities and difficulties of this.
Work with other nuclear-weapon states to develop new agreements to reduce global arsenals and limit the chances that nuclear weapons are ever used again.
Also a good recommendation.
Pledge to not test nuclear weapons in the future.
Take steps to adopt a minimum deterrence nuclear posture, akin to that of the United Kingdom. This would entail reducing bomber and submarine forces, and decommissioning the obsolete intercontinental ballistic missile force.
I am not informed on the complexities of this issue, but it seems OK at first glance, and they link to a strong source.
Provide environmental remediation and humanitarian assistance to frontline communities harmed by nuclear testing, both domestically and abroad.
Leverage the technical expertise of its weapons manufacturers to promote disarmament, placing an emphasis on warhead dismantlement and verification, rather than on production.
This seems like they’re just throwing a bone to nuclear weapons contractors. I’m skeptical that dismantlement and verification require any concerted effort by the government to make sure that talent is reallocated in the right manner. Let employers and agencies figure out whatever works best for them. I don’t see what this recommendation would actually mean in practice. Seems benign.
I am not very confident making judgments here, due to the complexity of nuclear deterrence. The No-First-Use pledge seems bad, but some of their other recommendations seem good. Unfortunately they omit discussion of nuclear command-and-control.
Perhaps the most objectionable part is their omission of any ideas for increasing conventional deterrence in order to reduce reliance on nuclear capabilities. We should probably develop Long Range Precision Fires, Conventional Prompt Global Strike, and/or similar tools to allow us to inflict high costs against enemies with strong area defense-and-denial capabilities. This would probably reduce the risk of escalating to nuclear war.
Limiting the Role of Economic Sanctions
Ensure that sanctions are targeted and precise (i.e. directed at individuals, offshore accounts, or tax havens). This can be an effective method to modify individual behavior, especially in cases involving human rights violations.
It’s absolutely a good idea to put personal sanctions on individual actors who are responsible for vicious behavior. But I’m skeptical that it will cause them to change much. I would like to see the evidence for its effectiveness.
Being more cautious about placing sweeping sanctions against countries is probably a good move. Forswearing them entirely is dubious: we can target richer goods and generally avoid humanitarian problems. They are not always ineffective. The linked Defense Priorities post says not to forswear sanctions entirely.
Also, consider this in the context of FPGen’s wishes to generally reduce American military strength, deterrence capabilities and assurances for collective defense. Reducing multiple capabilities at the same time could create a troubling shortage of viable options. If a country is behaving in a troubling manner but isn’t actively attacking another UN member, FPGen seems to leave us with just two direct “sticks”: we can put personal sanctions on their government leaders and institutions, and we can try to get combined French-British-Russian-Chinese approval for a UNSCR. Otherwise we’d have to rely on carrots. This really seems inadequate.
Carve out legitimate and functional humanitarian exemptions to reduce the impacts of sanctions on civilians.
This seems to imply that they do still want to place some broad economic sanctions. Unless they want humanitarian exemptions from targeted and precise sanctions?
We already refrain from sanctioning humanitarian goods. For instance, the embargo on Cuba has still allowed food and medicine. However, sanctions on some things like machinery can worsen agricultural productivity, as is apparently happening in North Korea.
Seems like a good recommendation.
FPGen’s recommendations should make clear that broad sanctions may still be okay, especially if we are largely reducing our military presence. Otherwise, they’re fine.
However, it would be good to pull more recommendations out of Defense Priorities and perhaps other research. Their platform here is still relatively vague.
Reforming Humanitarian Aid and Development Assistance
This section opens with the claim that aid is most important “where the United States has previously created and exacerbated suffering.” Like other moralistic demands made by FPGen, this neglects the actual humanitarian priorities of people across the world in favor of a punitive point of view. It also weakens the prospects for international cooperation in funding. If aid is justified by countries’ historically badness, then countries which have been historically weak or benign won’t be pressured to pay. And a mere change in historical narrative would absolve the US of these aid demands. So much the worse for the global poor.
Invest in developing local communities and economies around the world. Investments should only be subject to limited conditions, like certain human rights and anti-corruption standards. Aid should not be restricted to serve domestic political interests, including restricting access to abortion.
I’m not sure if the first sentence means anything other than the basic idea of giving aid. Giving aid is good, of course, but we already do it.
Limiting aid on the basis of human rights is often a bad idea. Poor and weak states are not going to turn into liberal LGBT-accepting democracies just to obtain aid. This policy could prolongue suffering and death in the developing world.
It’s also incoherent: FPGen objects to economic sanctions, because they find it unfair to cause humanitarian problems, even if we are trying to correct countries whose behavior is aggressive and oppressive. But we should not provide aid to countries unless their behavior is benign and tolerant? These two stances seem badly inconsistent. If anything, it would be better to continue providing humanitarian aid to solve the most basic tragedies of disease and starvation no matter how a government behaves, while worrying less about the general economic instability caused by economic sanctions.
Refusing to provide aid to countries which don’t meet anti-corruption standards can also be a bad idea. Of course, we should be very cautious about giving aid to corrupt officials and governments where it will likely be misused, and funneling too much money into a corrupt country could lead to nowhere, as I argued when FPGen recommended “fully funding” reparative, reconstructive efforts in the Middle East. But regular amounts of aid can also be conducted with adequate oversight, often by trustworthy IGOs/NGOs or foreign countries, despite local government corruption. Plus, even if there is (say) a 50% chance that the aid gets misused, is that not worth it to alleviate humanitarian crises? Successful foreign aid can be so much better than domestic spending that it is worth the risk.
Generally speaking, we should probably distinguish between humanitarian relief and simple anti-disease initiatives, which should be provided unconditionally, and more complex forms of reconstructive and developmental assistance, which should come with more strings attached for rights and corruption.
FPGen is right that we shouldn’t try to restrain foreign birth control and abortions, although to be fair to conservatives, this issue is really based on a universal moral question (is a fetus a human life?) rather than ‘domestic political interests.’ There is some rhetorical sleight of hand in demanding that aid come with strings attached to make sure other countries follow our conception of ‘human rights’ while implying that anti-abortion measures are merely a matter of ‘domestic political interests.’ But since this is kind of a manifesto, maybe we can forgive the slanted rhetoric.
At this part they also should mention repealing the Mexico City Policy, which I’m sure they would like to do.
A bigger omission is the lack of any point about what kinds of aid are actually best. There is no discussion of the critical effectiveness and importance of disease treatment and prevention programs, most notably PEPFAR.
Enact reparations policies to address past and continuing harms, both at home and abroad. Domestically, the United States must repair the harms done to Black people through colonialism, slavery, food and housing redlining, mass incarceration, and surveillance. Internationally, reparations are due to formerly colonized nations that underwent stunted processes of decolonization by the United States. Reparations and debt forgiveness should be offered without conditions to communities to which they are owed.
There remains active debate about whether domestic racial reparations would be a good idea, both on consequentialist and on nonconsequentialist grounds. Most Americans oppose it, but a mild majority of blacks support it. Robin Hanson supports it. Others worry that just talking about the issue will create more division. But as this is domestic policy, I won’t bother to discuss it in detail or really judge it.
America has colonized the Philippines, Cuba, and some small Pacific islands. Since they are generally poorer than us, sending them money would be a positive form of redistribution, better than domestic social spending. But it would still be a worse use of money than spending it on the greatest humanitarian crises such as malaria and extreme poverty.
It would be pretty weird to give reparations with strings attached. But this shows an additional downside of international reparations besides their poor targeting. Regular aid can come with some conditions, perhaps not sweeping requirements for all countries to meet tough corruption and human rights standards, but milder requirements tailored for improving the particular recipient country in realistic ways. Reparations don’t give us this opportunity.
Offer clear assurances that sanctions will be lifted if the harmful actions cease, and provide a road-map for doing so. Sanctions should never be indefinite.
I would like to know if there have actually been cases where states didn’t or couldn’t know what they needed to do to lift US sanctions.
Still seems like a good recommendation, however.
Promote multinational development mechanisms that acknowledge and support existing anti-corruption practices, in addition to incorporating grievance systems into their operating practices.
FPGen shockingly makes no direct recommendations increase or improve aid for combating the most tragic problems of tropical diseases and extreme poverty. Nor does it explicitly demand a general increase in spending on foreign aid.
Some of their comments in other sections might be considered relevant. Elsewhere, they say they support more research into preventing global diseases, and that they want more aid for countries that America has invaded.
Tying aid to strict rules for corruption and human rights could weaken it, but repealing the Mexico City Policy and other restrictions on contraception and abortion would slightly strengthen it. A more reparations-focused policy would reduce the effectiveness of aid, but might compel policymakers to give more of it.
Strengthening International Institutions
FPGen believes that we should:
Never impose austerity measures as a condition of economic support.
This seems a bit too strong. It’s true that austerity measures are a bad response to recessions. But if a nation has a strong economy alongside severe fiscal problems, austerity measures to prevent debt problems and ensure loan repayment might be prudent.
Uphold and further develop standards by which global economic institutions are legally accountable for their actions.
I don’t have a good basis to judge this as good or bad.
Participate fully in international organizations, particularly the United Nations and the United Nations Security Council. This means paying dues and applying U.S. values evenly in these fora and avoiding acting on convenience. Good faith efforts to improve conflictual relationships may create the necessary space to prevent the UNSC process from being a dead end.
Fully paying the dues seems like a good idea. However, the reason some dues haven't been paid is that the US government has been pushing for reform of the UN. There is an important question of whether these or other UN reforms should be pursued. “Applying U.S. values evenly” and “good faith efforts to improve conflictual relationships” are nice rhetoric, but without details or examples it’s hard to say what kind of real difference they are looking for.
Austerity is usually bad but FPGen’s absolutism may go too far. Their recommendation for better US participation in the UN is good.
Unfortunately they make significant omissions. Reforming the UN might be a good idea, but they don’t mention it. The most obvious omission is the absence of demands for new participation in economic institutions. Poor developing countries should get a better seat at the table, and it may be appropriate to incorporate China as well.
Pursuing Responsible Trade Agreements
FPGen’s introduction here seems to assume that trade is nothing but a tool to prod other countries into changing their policies. They don’t mention the fact that trade broadly grows the economy and provides jobs which are better than alternatives, thereby generally improving quality of life in the developing world. They don’t mention that, as of a year ago at least, youth unemployment was recognized as one of the biggest political and economic challenges for Africa.
They claim that trade exploitation harms vulnerable workers, but only by linking to a think tank piece on NAFTA’s effects in America – it’s troubling that their focus seems to be Americans rather than foreign workers who don’t enjoy our nation’s productivity, wealth and social safety net. Even for America, they fail to note that top economists universally agree that NAFTA was beneficial on average, that major trade deals in general have benefited most Americans, that job losses from US-China trade were offset by job increases in other sectors, and that US-China trade makes most Americans better off. There is of course a wide literature here to be explored and I suspect one could find criticisms of the claims made in FPGen’s citation.
FPGen also neglects the way that trade promotes international peace, as well as the strategic benefit of increasing trade with America’s allies through deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
FPGen’s failure to accept that trade is simply better than the absence of trade distorts their recommendations.
Not perpetuate or promote unfair, unsafe, and unprotected work, and should not prioritize the deregulation of industries over standards that protect people and the environment. Collective human wellbeing should always be the central principle guiding US trade policy.
Collective human wellbeing should in fact be the central principle guiding US trade policy. Labor and environmental standards can assist with this goal. But there is a tradeoff with job creation and growth, especially in poorer countries which are less capable of affording the kinds of labor and environmental standards that Americans have come to expect. If nations cannot meet our standards, this policy would restrict trade. Even if they can meet our standards, it’s possible that in some cases we may be doing more harm than good, by overwriting the judgments of their own government in favor of overly strong Western ideas. Top economists are very split on this issue, with a small plurality saying that we should not refuse to trade with less-liberal states. Really we should look at things on a more nuanced case-by-case basis to see what policy will best improve collective human welfare, not assert that one rule will always be the most beneficial course.
This point of view is also inconsistent with their view on sanctions. Refusing to trade with countries who aren’t meeting labor and environmental standards is a broad economic sanction with humanitarian costs. FPGen is fine with this if states aren’t meeting the right labor and environmental standards. But if states are guilty of human rights violations, military aggression or nuclear proliferation, then FPGen is not.
Ensure that trade agreements do not enforce undemocratic decision-making practices, especially in lower GDP/capita countries.
If they’re referring to fast-track authority in the US, it is something that helps pass new trade deals. Maybe part of it is that it hides trade deals from a more hostile public, but part of it is the very legitimate problem that it is very difficult to hold negotiations when you are committing to having a vote on everything. The leader has little credibility to make promises or threats.
From the perspective of poorer countries, it is certainly true that they should have flexibility and freedom to trade how they wish. However, this conflicts with FPGen’s previous recommendation. If we go to Brazil with demands that they have to increase their minimum wage and renewable energy in order to get access to American trade, then we are using our leverage to decide something that would ordinarily be left to Brazilian democracy.
FPGen’s insistence on democratic decision-making could be interpreted as a recommendation to sidestep the authority of foreign political leaders, for instance in the many flawed democracies of Africa, in favor of democratic referenda to decide trade agreements. This would make trade negotiations difficult, and is a dangerous violation of the legitimacy and sovereignty of governments in the developing world. Also, just as American voters often have a poor understanding of the economics of trade, such as maintaining the folk-economic belief that trade is zero-sum, the same can be said of citizens elsewhere in the world, and they may support policies which ultimately hurt them and their descendants. Finally, voters on both sides of the ocean can be excessively nationalist and dismissive of the progressive goal of improving collective human welfare. Governments have their problems too, but democratic-republican governance – even if it takes some time to root out corruption and abuse – is still better here than direct democracy.
The insistence on democracy could instead be interpreted as more democratic control over the economy: for instance, demanding that a particular corporation should not be allowed to move into a country unless most people vote for it. This now violates the legitimacy and sovereignty of local individuals to choose which companies they will work for and buy from. Individual decisions to improve the lives of themselves and their families will be held hostile to capricious whims of a more distant and less-informed general public. In some cases, it may be appropriate to establish this sort of democratic decision making. But it’s a tough tradeoff and shouldn’t be ensured all the time. And it’s something that other countries should usually decide for themselves, free of American leverage.
Interpreted charitably, this is not really a bad recommendation. However, it would be better to talk about empowering lower GDP/capita countries to get what they want, rather than to insist on spreading democratic values around the world.
Require historically high polluting states to help subsidize energy and other transitions when crafting environmental standards.
If FPGen really cares about collective human welfare, they would want the wealthiest countries to pay for subsidies, not whoever was a historical polluter. Fortunately, these two divisions line up pretty closely for most practical intents and purposes.
Of course, if we are demanding that other countries update their environmental standards, we should help pay for it.
Going to other wealthy states and demanding that they help pay poor countries for environmental standards that we impose seems like a terrible idea as a matter of prudent international politics.
Include a clause in every trade agreement that mandates a commitment to addressing climate change in a globally cooperative way.
Such clauses could be seen as value-signaling, which is fine I suppose.
The clauses could also be seen as a kind of environmental standard, and the same pros and cons apply.
Ensure that US economic engagement with tax havens is contingent on compliance with the Banking Secrecy Act.
I don’t know the details of this issue but cracking down on tax havens is presumably a good thing.
Encourage and promote internet openness and high standards of privacy among US trade partners.
Internet openness sounds nice though I’m not sure what they mean exactly. If they mean ISPs should be “transparent about their business practices” that sounds good to me. Pushing back on internet censorship is also good.
Our trade deals should maximize human welfare. Not minimize the efficiency of ad targeting, or protect people from having their metadata used for corporate research, or other little things. Human welfare is not served by needlessly inconveniencing millions of people. Of course, maybe there are current privacy issues which do matter for human welfare. But we should be pretty cautious and specific in identifying and promoting them, especially when we are trying to tell another country how they should operate.
Supporting internet freedom and privacy in repressive regimes like China is good in theory, but we should remember that such efforts will often be perceived – and often are – threatening attempts to precipitate regime change. So it’s unclear how we should really approach it. Fortunately, FPGen’s recommendation is just to “encourage and promote” these standards, so it has adequate flexibility for the policymaker.
FPGen fails to account for the broad economic benefits of trade, and hence is broadly too restrictive. They also don’t quite discuss the importance of giving developing countries a better seat at the table for trade negotiations, although they come sort of close. Otherwise, their recommendations are rather mixed.
Transforming Military Alliances into Progressive Partnerships
FPGen’s introduction here seems to imply that they want to end military partnerships. Should we abrogate our defensive guarantees to NATO states, South Korea, Taiwan, and other states? If so, they should state that more clearly. If not, they should be sure to deny it. This kind of vagueness is a bad thing in international politics.
Primarily engage its allies with the goal of collectively solving global challenges. For example, the United States is uniquely positioned to take the lead on kickstarting a global Green New Deal, multilateral arms control, or a global anti-poverty campaign.
It is good to work on global environmental progress, arms control and anti-poverty campaigns. But foreign citizens and governments – who are often not so progressive – may be pretty resistant. If America says we will withdraw from NATO or abandon Taiwan so long as they don’t contribute enough money to these global projects, there could be grave security consequences. It’s already been troublesome enough to just get other NATO members to pull equal weight in defense spending. Trump has endangered NATO in doing so; adding progressive political demands on top of that will not go better.
Never offer a blank check to its allies. Alliances should be viewed as true partnerships, not necessarily security guarantees. The United States lends a portion of its legitimacy to its allies, and therefore these allies should exemplify behavior in line with aspirational US values.
Our allies largely behave adequately with respect to US values.
One exception to this rule is Israel, and military aid to them should be conditional on steps in the peace process. Another exception to this rule is the Philippines, and we should continue Obama’s policy of prodding them to change their approach in their war on drugs.
It’s good to promote US values, but it should be done carefully to avoid a state of doubt or insolvency where our allies or enemies have false, uncertain or differing perceptions on whether America will come to collective defense. If our defensive assurances actively include a conditional clause – “we’ll defend you, but only if we decide you’ve recently been decent” – then that will create this problem.
Maintain consistent dialogue with US allies, and avoid making unilateral decisions that will impact those allies without their consent.
Consistent dialogue is good and we already do it, as far as I know.
“Impact” is a pretty broad term, and in the fast-paced international setting, I don’t know if this rule will be practical. Inaction impacts our allies too. Ending the excessive unilateralism of the Bush (43) and Trump administrations would at least be a good thing.
Recognize that alliances can pose valid security threats to competing states, and therefore take steps to reduce the direct and perceived threats to competitors that feed counterproductive dynamics, such as arms races and conflict escalation.
The basic idea is already recognized. For instance, America has already maintained a toned-down approach to our relationship with Taiwan in order to placate the PRC.
Perhaps it’s not recognized well enough. NATO was expanded to a degree that was perceived as threatening by Russia, breaking our private post-Cold-War promise that we wouldn’t take NATO into Eastern Europe. This was not really a valid threat, as NATO is a defensive pact and its expansion in the 1990s was based on a genuine belief in the broad value of liberal institutions, not an attempt to contain Russia or lay a foundation for invading it. But the failure does speak to the importance of empathy.
This is an OK recommendation.
FPGen is inclined to generally compromise assurances for collective defense in order to leverage greater efforts on international progressive policies. With more caution and careful focus on highly-efficient efforts, this might be a good idea. However, their vague, blunt recommendations in service of more ambitious policies are troubling.
Enhancing Oversight and Accountability
Repeal the PATRIOT Act and the Espionage Act, which erode collective privacy, civil liberties, and free speech.
I don’t have a personal view on this.
Reform the classification and clearance systems, which are overburdened, inefficient, and naturally lead to widespread unaccountability.
I don’t know details about the need for reforms for efficiency, but it seems like a neat idea.
FPGen also seems to generally want more transparency from the government, with fewer restrictions on classified info. I don’t have a good enough understanding to make a judgment here.
Abolish cash bail, civil asset forfeiture, and private prisons--which profit from keeping human beings behind bars. Strengthen regulations by which predatory lending institutions can be prevented from inflicting abuse and held accountable when they do.
Cash bail should be abolished or at least reformed to be progressive. Don’t know about the other things here. Note that public prisons have powerful employee unions which similarly profit from keeping people behind bars and exert pernicious political influence, so it’s not clear to me that they are better than private prisons. But this is domestic policy.
Subject all private government contractors to the Freedom of Information Act. If a private company is providing government services, it should be treated and regulated as an extension of the government.
I’m not informed about this.
Improve legal protections and reporting channels for whistleblowers, and provide independent due process.
I’m not informed about this. Casual thoughts: I don’t see what’s inadequate with the current system. Even with Trump attempting suppression and intimidation, the whistleblower on Ukraine seems to have been protected and reported adequately. But I’ve heard that the report would have been buried if not for Democratic control of Congress, which seems like a bad liability.
Never torture anyone, US citizens or otherwise, including the use of solitary confinement.
Seems like a good recommendation.
Delineate between intelligence-gathering organizations and law enforcement organizations. Intelligence-gathering organizations should be prohibited from carrying out law enforcement activity.
This would only apply to the FBI – and it would take away its main strength. Its status allows it to easily forward results from law enforcement investigations to aid the rest of the Intelligence Community, and allows it to use findings from the Intelligence Community to go after domestic threats. Seems like a poor recommendation. If you just want to weaken the IC, it would be better to simply downsize and do something good with the money saved, rather than deliberately making these agencies less efficient. But I don’t see why we should weaken the IC at all. Seems like a bad recommendation, though perhaps there is some upside which I am not seeing.
The FBI is mostly an issue for domestic policy, but they do have some mild overseas activities.
End the Department of Defense 1033 and 1122 Programs, which allow state and local police forces across the country to acquire high-tech and dangerous military equipment from the Pentagon at little or no cost. These programs have triggered a significant increase in police violence and civilian deaths, particularly against vulnerable and racialized communities.
I’m not informed or sure about this. Their linked source does not satisfy me because it is not a serious look at the net benefits and costs for local communities. I do lean sympathetic to FPGen here because saving a few officer lives and police budgets with this equipment could be outweighed if militarization increases broad community violence, murders, fear and other impacts.
This is mainly domestic policy, however.
End the systemic FBI practice of entrapping American Muslims in aggressive sting operations that facilitate––and sometimes fabricate––the victim’s ability and willingness to act.
Note that entrapment is a specific legal term which goes beyond sting operations. It is already forbidden for the government to prosecute someone on the basis of entrapment.
Criminals who are convicted through sting operations, such as FPGen’s example of Harlem Suarez, have a preexisting willingness to engage in terrorism or other criminal activity. The sting operation on Suarez seems like a waste of money and resources, but that doesn’t mean the practice in general is bad.
Require that the Pentagon pass an audit.
I’m not informed about this.
Many of these issues are about areas of domestic policy, and I generally have weak opinions here. Overall their recommendations here appear mixed in value, erring on the side of restricting government powers too much.
Overall conclusion and judgments
There are various pros and cons to their platform, but these are the general aspects which I would highlight.
FPGen preserves a good international role for America
Fortunately, FPGen does not support isolationism or the naïve belief that the best we can do is to merely serve as a shining city atop a hill to inspire others (who will subsequently be crushed by autocrats). Nor do they advocate any harmful or wasteful foreign engagements. What global engagement they do support is generally a good use of money. They maintain some focus on reducing global humanitarian problems.
FPGen puts insufficient priority on defense
FPGen’s recommendations would broadly undermine American military power. This would reduce competition and fear with America’s adversaries, and would no doubt save money for publicly-funded advanced medical procedures and university credentialing in the United States. However, negative consequences would fall upon other countries. European and Indo-Pacific allies would have to increase their defense spending and would see increased tensions, both with America’s adversaries and with each other. They would be increasingly compelled to cave into illiberal demands. Meanwhile, fragile nations in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East would see increased problems of insurgency and terrorism, and possibly more interstate tension as well.
FPGen neglects global disease and poverty
FPGen does not promote effective policies to stop the biggest sources of human suffering. Their commentary on foreign aid does not highlight valuable disease prevention efforts such as PEPFAR. They place a high emphasis on reshaping aid in service of human rights standards, anticorruption efforts, and anti-colonial ideology, but the predictable result of this insistence – if not executed very thoughtfully – is a weakening of important aid efforts for dubious gain.
FPGen correctly identifies that economic sanctions have adverse effects on foreign economies and should be used more sparingly. However, they do not extend this insight to their views on trade deals. They are too willing to insist on costly high labor and environmental standards for trade deals, which will likely be failed by poor states, and might be harmful even if they are adopted; this would have the unintended consequence of weakening foreign economies and labor markets in particular.
FPGen’s platform is incomplete
There are many important issues left unaddressed by this policy platform. A foreign policy platform should include peacekeeping, military force structure, the OCO Fund, military procurement, asylum settlement in other countries besides the US, certain areas of international climate action, specific US policies towards Russia, China and other competitors, moral atrocities in Xinjiang and elsewhere, and membership in international economic institutions.
FPGen’s plans are a step down from the liberal foreign policy establishment
While the foreign policy establishment in America is flawed, I feel that they are still a better approach than the kind of progressive policymaking FPGen proposes here.
However, FPGen’s plans are still better than Trumpist nationalism.