Print

Transitions 2009 conference to focus on action plan for President-elect Obama

Photo credits: Rafael Marchante, Marshall Burke FSI

The Freeman Spogli Institute will host its fourth annual conference, scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 13. Scholars from the Brookings Institution, New York University and Stanford will discuss opportunities for change in the wake of the recent presidential election. The conference is by invitation only.

BY LISA TREI

America's standing in the world has been damaged by eight years of unilateralism and it must cooperate with rising powers to tackle emerging transnational threats, according to a major research project to be unveiled Thursday, Nov. 13, at a conference hosted by Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI).

The directors of "Managing Global Insecurity" (MGI) from Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), New York University and the Brookings Institution will use the conference to present their "plan for action" for the next U.S. president.

"President-elect Obama should take advantage of the current financial crisis and the goodwill engendered by his election to reestablish American leadership, and use it to rebuild international order," said CISAC's Stephen Stedman. "Part of that is to recalibrate international institutions to reflect today's distribution of power. If you could find a way for constructive engagement between the G-7 and Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa—that reflects the reality of world power today—you could actually animate a lot of cooperation."

Stedman, Bruce Jones from New York University's Center on International Cooperation and Carlos Pascual from Brookings will discuss concrete actions for the incoming administration to restore American credibility, galvanize action against transnational threats ranging from global warming to nuclear proliferation and rejuvenate international institutions such as the United Nations.

"You find in American foreign policy a blanket dismissal of international institutions, especially regarding security," Stedman said. "But if you eliminate them, you don't have a prayer of recreating the kind of cooperation that exists in the U.N. There actually is a pretty good basis of cooperation on which to build."

The nonpartisan project also will be presented Nov. 20 at a high-profile event at the Brookings Institution that will feature leaders such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Brookings President Strobe Talbott. That in turn will take place on the heels of the upcoming G-20 emergency summit to discuss measures to stave off a global recession and give a greater voice to developing nations. MGI's "plan for action" includes a series of policy papers on hot-button topics such as economic security.

"The big thing we talk about is if you institutionalize cooperation with the existing and rising powers you can hope to build a common understanding of shared long-term interests," Jones said. "If you approach issues only through the lens of the hottest crises, you will find different interests in the very short term on how [problems] are handled."

Transitions 2009

The 20-month-long project, which incorporated feedback and direction from nonpartisan U.S. and international advisory boards, dovetails closely with the theme of FSI's fourth annual conference: "Transitions 2009."

"There has rarely been a moment more fraught with danger and opportunity, as new administrations in the United States and abroad face the interlocking challenges of terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, hunger, soaring food prices, pandemic disease, energy security, an assertive Russia and the grave implications of failed and failing states," FSI Director Coit D. Blacker said. "This conference will examine what we need to do to prepare our own citizens for the formidable challenges we face and America's own evolving role in the world."

Timothy Garton Ash, an Oxford professor and Hoover Institution senior fellow, will deliver the conference's keynote address, titled, "Beyond the West? New Administrations in the United States and Europe Face the Challenge of a Multi-Polar World."

Blacker, who served in the first Clinton administration; Stephen D. Krasner, who worked in the current Bush administration; medical Professor Alan M. Garber; and Stanford President Emeritus Gerhard Casper will open the conference with a reflection on the past and future and the watershed moment presented by Obama's presidency. The conference also will include breakout sessions with FSI faculty such as "Rethinking the War on Terror," led by Martha Crenshaw of CISAC; "Toward Regional Security in Northeast Asia," chaired by former Ambassador Michael J. Armacost, acting director of the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center; and "Is African Society in Transition?" led by economist Roz Naylor of the Program on Food Security and the Environment.

Long-term security

For MGI project leaders Stedman, Jones and Pascual, the zeitgeist of the moment is America's relationship with the emerging powers. "The good news from an American perspective is, despite the financial crisis, despite everything else, sober leadership in China, India, Brazil and elsewhere understand, in the immediate term, there is no alternative to American leadership, as long as [it] is geared toward cooperation and not 'do as you please-ism,'" Jones said. "On the other side, the financial crisis highlights that U.S. foreign policy has to come to terms with the fact that it does not have the power to dictate outcomes. It has to build cooperation with emerging powers, with international institutions, into the front burner of American foreign policy." More broadly, international cooperation must be built on what Stedman calls the principle of "responsible sovereignty," the notion that sovereignty entails obligations and duties toward other states as well as to one's own citizens.

In addition to MGI's "plan for action," the three men have coauthored Power and Responsibility: International Order in an Era of Transnational Threats, to be published in 2009. The book criticizes both the Bush and Clinton administrations for failing to take advantage of the moment of U.S. dominance after the fall of the Soviet Union to build enduring cooperative structures. "We're in a much tougher position than we were five years ago and 10 years ago," Jones said. "There still is an opportunity, but time is getting away from us."

If revitalizing international cooperation fails, Jones said, transnational threats will gain the upper hand. "We will not be able to come to terms with climate change, transnational terrorism, spreading nuclear proliferation," he said. "U.S. national security and global security will deteriorate. [We] have a moment of opportunity to do this now."

Lisa Trei is public affairs manager at the Center for International Security and Cooperation.