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Regular version of the site

Rethinking American Foreign Policy for a New Era

On March 17, 2015, Dr Thomas Graham, a managing director at Kissinger Associates, an international business consulting firm, spoke at a seminar on Rethinking American Foreign Policy for a New Era conducted jointly by HSE’s Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs and the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. Dr Graham has been working with HSE for quite some time, visiting the university in 2013.

Among those participating in the seminar were Andrew Kolosovsky and Alexander Gabuev, members of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, MGIMO Professor Mikhail Troitsky, HSE Professor Dmitry Suslov, and many other prominent experts. Professor Karaganov, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, moderated the discussion.

In his talk, Dr Graham focused on the impending changes in US foreign policy due to the shifting nature of global dynamism where the balance of power is gradually moving from the west to regions ‘where the values are not necessarily those that are shared by the US and the European partners; where the relationship between state and society is different’. This transition comes at a time when not only Russia but a host of other countries are facing growing disillusionment over the way global politics has turned out following the Cold War. Moreover, different types of systems are now emerging in various parts of the world, leading to the creation of a multi-polar and multi-dimensional global environment.

The American public is showing greater concern over domestic affairs, economic development, infrastructural problems, education and so forth. Americans understand that this requires a tremendous amount of resources, which means that fewer will be available for international affairs. 

New era in American foreign policy

According to Dr Graham, US foreign policy has traditionally been based on the idea of an ‘existential threat’ and a certain ‘overarching principle’. During World War II, Nazi Germany was the single threat and ‘unconditional surrender’ was the overarching principle. Later on, foreign policy was focused on the threat of the USSR and the policy of containment. After the Cold War, various presidential administrations have tried to present international terrorism as such a single threat, although it is now obvious that this has not worked.

It has become very difficult for the US to come up with that single existential threat. ‘Some people talk about China, but it is hard to think about the country with which US is so mutually dependent – certainly on the economic side and to a lesser extent on the security side – as an existential threat’, says Graham. ‘You can’t eliminate this existential threat without eliminating yourself. Russia, despite the rise in anti-Russian rhetoric, is not a strategic threat to the United States. That’s something that much of the political establishment senses.’

Nevertheless, Dr Graham maintains that the US continues to be the most secure major power in the world today. However, in the face of new global challenges a much greater focus on setting priorities for American foreign policy is needed, as is more discipline in pursuing them given the country’s limited resources. The American public is showing greater concern over domestic affairs, economic development, infrastructural problems, education and so forth. Americans understand that this requires a tremendous amount of resources, which means that fewer will be available for international affairs.

We are effectively on the verge of being able to print human organs. It’s certainly thinkable within 15-20 years. You begin to think in a new way about what it means to be a human being. What’s more, globalization brings not only new capabilities, but also new vulnerabilities.

Global influences on international relations

Dr Graham highlighted other global trends that will fundamentally reshape American foreign policy in the coming decades. These include a greater focus on the darker side of globalization and the challenges that it poses to the international community, such as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, pandemic diseases, climate change, transnational crime and international terrorism. The lack of congruence between international flows of capital and the continuing efforts to regulate those flows on the national level have created considerable turbulence in the global economy. Finally, disruptive technologies such as 3D printing will reshape the way we think about the world, the relationship between the state and society and what humanity is capable of. ‘We are effectively on the verge of being able to print human organs. It’s certainly thinkable within 15-20 years. You begin to think in a new way about what it means to be a human being,’ says Dr Graham. ‘What’s more, globalization brings not only new capabilities, but also new vulnerabilities.’

US – Russia relations

On the subject of deteriorating US-Russia relations, Dr Graham noted that the relationship has been under stress for some time. Ukraine has been a catalyst that dramatically changed the public and political discourse in both Russia and the US. At the heart of US-Russia relations is the debate over the principles that should govern the emerging world order. Among these are the issue of sovereignty and what it means in the modern world, the issue of national self-determination and whether that is a principle that takes precedence over sovereignty, the question on the legitimate use of force in the emerging world, the role that spheres of influence will play in the modern world, and, finally, the big question on what group of countries will play the greatest role in determining the structure, substance and direction of global affairs.

The choices made on the political and domestic level, particularly in foreign policy, will shape the type of global environment that we will probably be dealing with well into the twenty-first century. Both countries need to think creatively on how to overcome their differences and come up with a solution that would be acceptable to both sides.

Dr Graham emphasized that both the US and Russia need to have dialogue at senior levels of government. Beyond that there must be a dialogue among experts from both countries on the likely scenarios for world affairs, their impact on national interests and whether there is enough common ground for the United States and Russia to find a compromise that would work for both countries and lead to stability, security and global prosperity. ‘The choices made on the political and domestic level, particularly in foreign policy, will shape the type of global environment that we will probably be dealing with well into the twenty-first century. Both countries need to think creatively on how to overcome their differences and come up with a solution that would be acceptable to both sides.’

A lively debate

Dr Graham’s talk was well received and generated numerous insightful and challenging questions from the audience. Although participants in the seminar did not necessarily agree with the speaker, they were happy to discuss relevant political issues with him.

Prepared by Maria Besova, HSE English language website

See also:

‘We are Leaving the Door Open’ Australian Ambassador to Russia, Paul Myler

On November 15-16, Brisbane will be hosting the next G20 summit. At a meeting with HSE students the Australian Ambassador to Russia, Paul Myler talked about prospects for improvement of the world economy and how relations between Russia and the West can be normalised.

Uncertainty in the Global Economy

On October 9th, a seminar on the state of the global and monetary economy took place at the Higher School of Economics. Evgeniy Yasin shared his thoughts on this topic.

What will Capitalism in the 21st Century be Like?

On September 24th 2011, Craig Calhoun, new Director of the London School of Economics, gave an open lecture at the HSE International College of Economics and Finance on ‘Social and Political Challenges Facing Global Capitalism’.

Michael McFaul: ‘We Hope that We’ll Have a Normal Relationship’

On May 25th Michael McFaul, US Ambassador in Russia, professor at Stanford University, gave an open lecture to the students of the Higher School of Economics.