26 March 2014
Hillary's last words ... for the momentAsia was at the centre of Hillary Clinton's last major speech as US Secretary of State.
Highlights of Hillary Clinton's speechAsia was at the center of Hillary Clinton's last major speech as US Secretary of State. Clinton's remarks, on American leadership, provide an excellent overview of the state of American diplomacy.
Despite the great progress in US diplomacy under her watch, Clinton reminded us that "the world remains a dangerous and complicated place", and "we face a different world" from just a few decades ago.
Clinton noted that more countries than ever have a voice in global debates. Political and technological changes are empowering non-state actors, like activists, corporations, and terrorist networks. And global challenges are more complex and spill across borders -- challenges from financial contagion to climate change to human and wildlife trafficking.
In these circumstances, Clinton argued that America has to be smart about how it uses its power. The US has longstanding foundations of leadership, like its military and economic strength, traditional allies in Europe and East Asia, and international organizations (UN, IMF, World Bank and NATO).
But there are now new levers of power. These include technology, especially social media, which US diplomacy is using increasingly to bolster its traditional public diplomacy. The US is also leading efforts to defend internet freedom.
The nuclear nonproliferation agenda is also an area where the US is going beyond traditional diplomacy by enlisting banks, insurance companies, and high-tech international financial institutions to enforce sanctions.
Economics is another lever of diplomacy such as through free trade agreements, and arguing for common economic rules of the road, especially in Asia. Economic development is not only fostered by aid, but also through greater trade and investment, partnerships with the private sector, better governance, and more participation from women. The security and political transitions in Afghanistan are being complemented by an economic transition that boosts the private sector and increases regional economic integration.
High-level international diplomacy and grassroots partnerships work to curb carbon emissions. Then there’s human rights, especially for women and girls, and support for democracy and the rule of law. "If women and girls everywhere were treated as equal to men in rights, dignity, and opportunity, we would see political and economic progress everywhere."
Clinton argues that these "soft", diplomatic levers of power should work in tandem with America’s military might, in what she calls "smart power". Clinton stressed the US cannot lead alone but should also build coalitions and networks that will share responsibility with others and expect them to play their role in a rules-based global order.
The work of America's smart power, using all the levers of power, is evident in its engagement in the Asia Pacific. Military presence is being strengthened in the region, but the US has also ratified the Korea Free Trade Agreement, and its response to Japan's triple disaster has involved government, business, and not-for-profits.
When the US signed ASEAN's treaty of amity and cooperation, it opened the door to membership of the East Asian Forum, a key forum for high-stakes issues like the South China Sea. The US has encouraged India’s “Look East” policy as a way to weave it into the Asia Pacific. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are helping find common ground with Vietnam.
Supporting Burma's historic opening is taking a blend of economic, diplomatic, and political tools. In particular, the US has pressed for the release of political prisoners and additional reforms while boosting investment and upgrading diplomatic relations.
And navigating America's relationship with China is uniquely consequential and complex, because "we are trying to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet". Thus, the US must use every lever at its disposal all the time. So the Strategic & Economic Dialogue now covers both traditional strategic issues like North Korea and maritime security, and emerging challenges like climate change, cyber security, intellectual property concerns, as well as human rights. According to Clinton, "the future of this relationship depends on our ability to engage across all these issues at once".
Some issues looking aheadMany observers today minimize the importance of Hillary Clinton's term of office as US Secretary of State. There is no great achievement like a Middle East peace agreement, for example. But it is easy to forget the state of disarray she inherited, with two messy wars, alliances fraying, diplomatic standing damaged, and a lack of sensible global leadership.
In this Asian Century, continued wise American foreign policy leadership will be needed more than ever. Protracted European weakness and preoccupation with internal problems will mean even less European global leadership. China will encounter growing political and social instability, as authoritarian rule clashes even more with prosperity, and a well-informed, well-educated and well-connected populace. And disputes (often involving China) are likely to grow between Asian countries which have not achieved historical reconciliation, and whose relative power positions are changing.
The world needs and will need American leadership more than ever -- and leadership like that of Hillary Clinton, constructive, pre-emptive and preventative. The main barrier to continued American leadership is America itself, especially if a future leadership decides to seek simplistic solutions to complex problems and tries to impose its will on other countries, rather than work through partnership and dialogue.
Asian Century Institute