Second, develop an approach toward partners and potential partners who, though not currently allies, seek to cooperate with Washington against a common threat. In selected cases, the militaries of frontline states could be networked into the intelligence or operational systems of the United States and its allies.
Third, refine U.S. economic and political instruments of power to advance positive change in the world and bolster business and geopolitical interests. China, in particular, is employing its economic instruments on a massive scale, while the United States lags behind. Many other countries, including European allies, see their diplomacy as a legitimate means to support their economic and business interests internationally. The new administration needs to look at ways to address this gap. Here the business background of the new president can be helpful. An important early task should be to develop a proposal for a successor agreement to the TPP that addresses the concerns that Trump raised in the campaign, but that will prevent China from operating on an open field in the trade area.
Fourth, review the democratization agenda, which needs to become more selective, more nuanced and more cognizant of unintended consequences and more reliant on indigenous readiness. To date, Trump has given the impression of being more focused on state-to-state relations and less interested in the promotion of democracy or regime change. The goal of increasing prospects in the near term for stability may warrant such an approach in certain countries, but he will want to become more sensitized to internal rifts, subnational and transnational movements, and other substate fracture lines. Further, the United States does not and should not seek frontal military challenges to Russia, China or Iran, which would be costly and risky. The president-elect must acquire a deep understanding of his adversaries’ perceptions, beliefs, history and culture. He should also identify and understand their profound internal vulnerabilities—a lack of domestic political legitimacy, for instance. The spread of democracy can serve values and interests.
IN EUROPE, this four-part strategy should be applied to restore the continent’s “whole and free” aspiration. It requires congagement with Russia and guidance to European allies as they struggle with urgent problems such as mass migration from the Middle East. Washington might also encourage Europe to address the issues that led to Brexit and that might produce further defections, for example, by better adapting some of the institutions that led to this alienation.
With respect to Russia, America and its NATO allies will need to develop an approach that maintains deterrence against potential Russian aggression, but explores areas of potential cooperation and gives due respect to Russian legitimate concerns and sensitivities. On deterrence, America needs to take into account not only the potential for conventional conflict but also irregular warfare.
The United States should enhance engagement with Russia. The Trump administration should cooperate in areas such as space exploration and counterterrorism, explore political solutions to end the civil war in Syria and perhaps address crises in other countries, thereby creating a basis for broader ties. It should test the chance for an understanding over Ukraine.
Regarding the challenges emanating from the Greater Middle East, the NATO alliance must continue to evolve, as it did in taking on the out-of-area challenges of Afghanistan and security-force training in Iraq. NATO members should create a joint diplomatic, political, military and economic strategy to strengthen moderate states in the Middle East, especially those opposing Iranian hegemony. NATO should work to counter Iran’s proxy militias. Its European members should help Libya and Tunisia create internal political compacts to avoid slipping into chaos. It should lead security-force development. NATO has developed only a minimal counterterrorism capability; much can be done to improve information collection, information sharing and combat capabilities in dealing with the Islamic State and other extremist threats, in order to better disrupt their recruitment efforts and plots. Finally, it should develop an effective Mediterranean security strategy, including efforts to control unchecked migration.
IN EAST Asia, the United States should work with its strong and capable allies—Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand—to enhance deterrence against China’s aggressive conduct in the South China Sea. U.S. policy toward China must press Beijing on currency manipulation and dumping, check its regional ambitions and solve specific problems like North Korea’s nuclear program.
The United States should encourage and support allied efforts to establish and sustain a regional balance of power. The pursuit of a regional balance can benefit from increased security cooperation with current partners and allies but also with India and Vietnam.
To increase regional cooperation, crisis prevention and crisis management, the United States should also encourage the creation of an East Asian equivalent of the OSCE. This would be a multilateral forum, which would include China, to discuss security issues and to resolve disputes. Among the existing forums, the East Asia Summit might be the best candidate to evolve into such a role, because it has the right membership, but it will need to be properly institutionalized and provided with the right mandate.
At the same time, the United States should continue economic and civil-society engagement with the Chinese. Over the long haul, the tens of thousands of Chinese students who attend university in the United States hold perhaps the most promising key to an amicable and sustainable bilateral relationship. These kinds of exchanges, as well as business ties, have the potential to make the U.S.-China relationship a constructive axis.
In building these integrated allied capabilities, both in Europe and East Asia, the United States may have to play hardball on burden sharing; and this is something that Trump has already signaled a determination to do. While some allies are stepping up their defense efforts to deal with new threats, others prefer to rely on the United States. Washington must make clear that continuing U.S. security commitments are contingent on allies building an agreed set of specific forces, maintaining arsenals capable of sustaining operations over extended periods, and undertaking training to guarantee needed readiness and operating capability.
THE GREATER Middle East harbors two major challenges: a bid by Iran to achieve regional hegemony and the terrorist threat emanating from the Islamic State and the Afghanistan-Pakistan area. The United States should seek to avoid a major military intervention, which would be costly and protracted. It should not pick sides in the regional sectarian struggle. Instead, the United States should help create a balance of power against adversarial states. For this, Washington must find ways to leverage the capabilities and resources of its partners. In some instances, our partners have preferred the “good cop/bad cop” approach, conducting business with a problematic regime while the U.S. tries to impose sanctions and other pressures. The Trump administration will need to insist on coherent and unified policies within U.S. alliances.
To tackle Iran, Washington will need to strengthen ties with traditional frontline partners, whose confidence in the United States has diminished during the Obama administration. America should increase its ability to resist Iran’s pursuit of hegemony and to thwart extremist groups at home and across the region. It is in the national interest to see improved governance and economic growth in Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, and the states of Central Asia and the Caspian region. While they have to do the heavy lifting on these issues, Washington can contribute expertise to further their reform and development programs, as well as help secure assistance through bilateral and multilateral programs and investment from private markets. Washington should encourage Gulf states to help finance this assistance. It is a good sign that Michael Flynn, who has written about the imperative to win the ideological fight in the region, highlights the need to work with the many willing partners that the U.S. government can engage.
The United States should also keep an eye on the reform agenda of Saudi Arabia’s new leadership. Saudi leaders have at last admitted that in the past, individuals and organizations in their country supported the spread of radical Islam worldwide. They now need to take visible and verifiable steps to eliminate the flow of resources from the Gulf to radical mosques and movements. The Saudi government’s Vision 2030 program describes a platform to modernize the country. If it proves to be serious, the U.S. government may wish to incentivize American firms, universities and civil-society organizations to help ensure that it succeeds.
The United States certainly needs to help contain Iran, check its effort to dominate the region, strengthen the flawed nuclear agreement and penalize Tehran when it violates it, contain and counter its growing missile program, and highlight its human-rights violations. But Washington must also be open to enhanced engagement.
On Syria, the Trump administration would be well advised to proceed on two tracks. Given Trump’s known proclivities, he is likely to first attempt an agreement with Moscow. That makes sense, and there are sensible options regarding Bashar al-Assad’s future—such as becoming the president of an Alawite region in a decentralized Syria. But the president-elect should be ready with a second option: an intensified effort against ISIS in eastern Syria, with liberated areas brought under the control of Kurds and allied Arabs to avoid handing space to Iran-backed militias. Such zones, which could incrementally expand westward, would also provide secure areas for civilians and provide leverage in dealing with Russia, Assad’s regime and Iran.