Senator Chuck Hagel argues that, as America’s influence declines,  “we will need to turn our receivers on and our transmitters off.”

Hagel made that statement in his keynote address to the Atlantic Council’s Global Trends 2030 conference, which launched the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report and the Council’s companion report,  Envisioning 2030: US Strategy for a Post-Western World.

The Atlantic Council chairman noted the consensus of both reports that the rise of China and other powers will further undermine the United States’ unipolar status, declaring, “These big, complicated issues—whether it’s Egypt or what’s going in Syria today—are beyond the control of any great nation or any great leader.” Indeed, “The United States has minimal ability to influence the outcomes in those countries.”

Even so, Hagel urged, “Great powers have the responsibility to engage.” 

Since the United States will retain global interests even as it faces up to these limitations, Hagel argued that solving problems will require working with allies, partners, and even strategic competitors. “It’s only through engagement that we’ll find the ability to move these great issues up to higher ground, to some solution and, ultimately, resolution,” Hagel urged.

The former Republican Senator from Nebraska could have been speaking to his former colleagues when he insisted, “Engagement won’t fix all problems, but engagement isn’t appeasement or surrender or even negotiation—it’s a bridge-building process, an opportunity to better understand,”  others on the basis of “mutual self respect.” 

In order to achieve this, Hagel added, “we will need to turn our receivers on and our transmitters off.”

Of course, being chairman of the Atlantic Council, Hagel couldn’t pass up the opportunity to remind the audience that “the transatlantic Alliance—NATO—is the only real security institution in the world today.” It’s only natural, then, that this renewed emphasis on engagement begin there, given seven decades of history and a foundation of shared values and interests.

Still, Hagel observed, “Everybody is not like America. Everybody is not like the West.”  While that brings some challenges, Hagel declared, ” I find that good. I find diversity healthy and strong.”

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. This is part of a New Atlanticist series exploring Envisioning 2030. 

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