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Engagement Reframed

January 26, 2022

Engagement Reframed: Introduction

By Robert A. Manning and Christopher Preble

The Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security’s New American Engagement Initiative (NAEI) has a twofold mission: to challenge prevailing assumptions underpinning US foreign policy; and to point to alternative paths, different priorities, and a re-allocation of resources when needed to support new modes of US global engagement with allies and partners to shape the global future.

Our work is premised on the view that the United States—indeed, the world—is at a notably disruptive moment in history. An unprecedented technological revolution has accelerated the redistribution of global wealth and power in a multipolar world. Global institutions have frayed and fragmented, and America’s military and economic preeminence has begun to erode. By questioning underlying assumptions, the NAEI team will stimulate new ways of thinking about US foreign policy and recommend solutions that employ all elements of American power and influence.

NAEI’s Assumptions Testing series of issue briefs delves into major assumptions guiding US policies, including the motivations and behavior of revisionist powers; the US role in sustaining the global order; the effectiveness of coercion and deterrence; and the importance of democracy promotion. These in-depth briefs in turn inform two types of short policy briefs aimed at busy policymakers and opinion leaders:

  • The first, NAEI’s Reality Check series, focuses on specific flaws in current policy. The series has covered a range of issues—from the US military posture in the Persian Gulf to the provision of security-sector assistance to foreign partners—and identifies specific needed reforms as well as pitfalls to avoid.
  • NAEI’s newest publication series, Engagement Reframed, will suggest new ways to frame and execute America’s global role. As the title implies, the series will reimagine and reframe US engagement in the world beyond traditional, narrow notions of US military dominance to fashion a viable type of leadership in a world of many capable actors.

The Engagement Reframed series will develop new approaches for nonmilitary engagement with allies and partners, including rethinking the institutions of US foreign policy making and implementation, the specific issues and problems the United States faces, and the ways in which the scaffolding of the international system might be renovated or reengineered. These concise policy briefs will address how to employ the full range of tools at the disposal of the United States and its like-minded network. All follow a basic structure:

  1. What are the challenges and opportunities? What opportunities for engagement are US policymakers currently missing? How might different modes of engagement—or new methods of interacting with others—alter or improve existing US policy?
  2. Why now? The field of debate on US foreign policy is crowded with urgent problems. The Engagement Reframed series will stress important issues, explain the critical need for change, and highlight why a particular opportunity is worthy of policymakers’ attention.
  3. How to make it happen. The United States is no longer the world’s sole dominant power; this series is aimed at operationalizing the concept of primus inter pares (first among equals). Learning how to operate in this multipolar world of many capable actors involves making choices. Engagement Reframed will inform these choices by considering when to take the lead or share burdens with others—solving collective-action problems through diplomacy and identifying how to enfranchise other actors to find a stable balance of interests.

The Engagement Reframed briefs planned for 2022 include:

Vaccinate the world by Mathew Burrows and Evan Cooper

The United States remains the best-positioned country to lead a global vaccination drive to counter the spread of COVID-19. With poor countries in serious need of vaccines, and China’s Sinopharm, Russia’s Sputnik, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines deemed ineffective in initial trials at fighting the Omicron variant, the United States could reap a significant diplomatic, economic, and public health windfall if it contributes to the global vaccination effort more aggressively by donating its effective vaccines, increasing foreign production capacity of such vaccines, and bringing together donor countries to revamp the global health system. In the short-to-medium term, such measures could significantly help stem the financial costs of the pandemic by preventing economies from shutting down. Over the longer term, such an effort would yield diplomatic gains by establishing the United States as a responsible leader in global health and as the premier developer of medical innovations.


Appoint a European SACEUR by Kelly Grieco

Like every American president for six decades, President Joe Biden has called for Europe to shoulder a larger part of the defense burden. US efforts to press Washington’s European allies to do more have largely fixated on one measure: defense spending levels. At the 2014 NATO summit in Wales, NATO members pledged to spend at least two percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Despite demanding that its European allies contribute more to their own defense, Washington has thus far refused to seriously consider a more equitable distribution of leading positions in NATO’s military organization. Put differently, the United States cannot have it both ways; it cannot demand that Europe do more yet still retain full military leadership of the alliance. This paper explores arguments for the appointment of a European Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) and offers recommendations for rebalancing NATO responsibilities and commands.


Engage on Ukraine’s Future by Emma Ashford

In recent years, Ukraine has become a core flashpoint between Russia on the one hand and the United States, as well as Washington’s European allies, on the other. From the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 attempt to bring Ukraine into the NATO membership process, to the 2014 dispute over a European Union (EU) association agreement that prompted the Maidan Revolution, the question of whether Ukraine will move toward the West or retain its traditionally close ties to Russia has been fraught with controversy. The end result has been a war on Ukrainian soil and political and economic limbo for Ukraine, which cannot benefit fully from its ties with either Russia or the West. This paper steps back from security questions to explore novel ideas for economic integration of Ukraine into Western markets—giving the country the access it desires—while reassuring Russia that this will not necessarily entail full EU membership or the cessation of trade with Russia itself.


Move beyond great-power competition in Africa by Aude Darnal and Ambassador Rama Yade

Following two decades of US foreign policy primarily dominated by the global war on terrorism, Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing has motivated a shift in US engagement with the rest of the world. In Africa, the United States retains its military and security approach toward armed conflicts and instability, but the US government has increasingly framed its exchanges with the continent within the concept of great-power competition. Though the Biden administration recently affirmed that it will not ask African countries to choose between China and the United States, it has also warned some of them about their partnerships with the Asian power. Framing US engagement with the continent through the lens of great-power competition is a mistake because it implies that African countries are merely pawns in the international system. This brief explores opportunities for greater US engagement with African countries in such sectors as diplomacy, technological innovation, trade, global health, and climate change—all issues where they are valuable partners.


Bring back America’s diplomatic superstars by Evan Cooper

American culture has tremendous influence around the world, but successfully leveraging that power for diplomatic gain requires that the US government work strategically with American artists and businesses. The Jazz Ambassadors program of the 1950s and 60s—sponsored by the Department of State to promote US values globally—provides a useful model that should be applied to how the department approaches cultural diplomacy today. By partnering with some of the most popular American artists and companies, the State Department could facilitate exhibitions of American freedom of expression and artistic talent, advancing US values while helping to improve damaged perceptions of the United States abroad.


Rethink space governance by Robert A. Manning

We have entered a new era in space that is racing ahead of the world’s ability to govern it. 2021 marked an inflection point, as US and Chinese rovers explored Mars, and a Russian anti-satellite weapons test created 15,000 pieces of space debris. Private sector activities ramped up, too, including Elon Musk’s Space X activities and the Starlink mini-satellites nearly colliding with a Chinese space station. Not least, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched the spectacular Webb telescope. In short, the already explosive growth of activities in space will only accelerate in this decade. Yet the only universally subscribed law governing space is the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, now outdated by both technology and politics. Meanwhile, nations are passing laws to grant claims on moon real estate and resources, the private sector is gearing up to mine asteroids and the moon, and increasing space debris threatens space assets on which the functioning of civilization increasingly depends—from global positioning systems and military command and control to the Internet and automatic teller machines. NASA has embarked on a noble effort to update rules for operations in space, the Artemis Accords, signed by thirteen US allies and partners, but the agreement omits major space powers: China, France, Germany, India, and Russia. All parties should begin with a recognition of their mutual vulnerability and admit the urgent need to manage and remove space debris. Beyond that, the United States has an opportunity to lead efforts with partners and allies to update global space governance before space becomes a Wild West free-for-all.


Expand US relations with the Caribbean by Aude Darnal and Wazim Mowla

In recent years, the United States’ engagement in the Caribbean has been largely inconsistent and limited to only a handful of countries. From the limited and delayed collaboration during the COVID-19 crisis, to the poor response to migration flows from the Caribbean, Washington has shown the limits of its current strategy to partner with the region. In parallel, increased engagement in the region by rival powers has raised the Caribbean’s profile inside the Beltway. Although the Biden administration should not look at Caribbean countries through the prism of great-power competition, it should seize the opportunity to strengthen and redefine, when necessary, a comprehensive strategy grounded in mutual interests. From climate change to trade, investment, and diplomacy, the Caribbean and the United States share common challenges and opportunities that can only be addressed or transformed into gains through cooperation.


Get creative on European security architecture by Emma Ashford

Six months ago, the Biden administration began the process of re-engaging with Russia on questions of strategic stability, including the core issues of arms control and cyber warfare. Talks have been ongoing, and a number of working groups have been set up on specific topics. Recent events, however, suggest the need for engagement on a broader set of issues rather than exclusively on arms control. Repeated Russian military buildups near Ukraine—and Moscow’s proposed outline of a revised European security architecture—suggest that the time might be ripe for revisiting the conversations from the 1990s about conventional security in Europe. Nonetheless, Moscow’s proposed language for such an agreement is likely to be largely unacceptable to Western states. This paper explores the Russian proposal for a new European security architecture and suggests areas where compromise might be found.

Other topics to be explored in the series include demographics and immigration, a plan for improving global infrastructure, relations with North Korea, governance in space, and US public attitudes toward trade, while working with allies and partners to build leverage to reshape world order.

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Engage with us: the New American Engagement Initiative welcomes feedback. Its success or failure hinges on the willingness of leading experts to scrutinize prior assumptions, consider alternative explanations, and be open to new approaches that collectively rethink, reshape, and reinvigorate US global engagement. Explore our program by navigating through our content, past and future events and experts pages.

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