In the last two years, the U.S. has stepped away from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Nuclear agreement, and the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia. It’s fair to argue about the merits of any of these agreements. It’s fair to argue about whether other nations have been living up to their commitments. It would be hard to deny, though, that these actions represent anything but an inward-looking, go-it-alone approach for the U.S.
Can we continue stepping away from engagement with other nations and still pass on a stable, prosperous world to our kids and grandkids? Can we solve global-sized problems by ourselves?
- We can’t solve the problem of pollution drifting in from other countries by changing U.S. laws.
- We can’t have military security without exchanging intelligence with other friendly nations.
- We can’t put a lid on foreign terrorism without going to its source.
- We can’t calm the waves of refugees breaking on our shores unless we join with others to help them stabilize their home countries.
- We can’t have international trade without rules of the game listed in international agreements.
- Our ships can’t safely navigate the high seas without international maritime agreements about shipping lanes.
- Our planes can’t fly safely without international agreements on airport security and air traffic control.
- We can’t prevent collisions of satellites in space without international agreements allocating orbits.
- We can’t protect patent holders from the theft of their intellectual property without international agreements.
- We can’t have an operating Internet without agreeing to international technical standards.
- We can’t shut down dangerous genetic engineering experiments without international agreements.
- We can’t shut down international epidemics without international cooperation.
- We can’t control international crime without the help of other nations.
- We can’t solve the problem of greenhouse gases heating up the atmosphere by ourselves when 80% of the gases are generated in other nations.
- We can’t stop nuclear weapons from spreading without arms control agreements.
What can we do? We can make sure the U.S. has people on the job, working on these issues with other nations. Normally, you would expect the U.S. Department of State to be staffed up and working on them. Sadly, if you poke around its “Alphabetical List of Bureaus and Offices” to find out who is in charge of these areas, you will find many top positions with no names listed or with just “acting” employees. Somewhere between staff turnover, a lack of appointments, or a lack of Senate confirmations, we are not getting responsible, talented people in place to provide leadership.
The next generation will face many issues bigger than what one nation, or even what a small group of nations can handle. We are actors on the world stage whether we like it or not. If the U.S. has made some bad agreements in the past, or other nations have not fulfilled their obligations, it is not realistic to simply walk away and hope we can isolate ourselves. The answer is to become more effective at making agreements and holding other nations accountable to them. If we want to pass on a stable, prosperous world to the next generation, our generation has to put the right people in place and give them the resources to make it happen.