Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NYU Students: U.S. Should Lead by Example

This week I facilitated a class debate on U.S. foreign policy toward East Asia for a course I am teaching at NYU called Inside East Asia. At the Woolworth Building campus downtown, we critiqued George W. Bush's National Security and created our own priorities given the realities of the world today.

The big news was that the students felt the need to end tyranny and fight terrorism was overstated during the Bush administration and that the United States instead should lead by example. To repair U.S. image abroad, the students emphasized the need for fairer global institutions and a more equitable global economy.

Below are the impressions of student Shira Levine, who participated in the debate.

Debate: U.S. Policy toward East Asia at New York University

It took exactly 44 minutes for the Inside East Asia class at NYU's Summer Institute to determine the U.S.'s overall national security strategy. Our class led by Devin Stewart represented four East Asian regions: China, Japan, North and South Korea, and ASEAN.

Professor Stewart had us go over America's National Security Strategy issued by former President George W. Bush in 2006 and do a bit of prioritizing.

We reviewed the Bush administration's strategy and its order of importance because as Stewart told us, policymakers like to list things in order of what they like or prefer first. Here are Bush's priorities:

Human dignity
Alliances to defeat terrorism
Defuse regional conflict
Addressing weapons of mass destruction, etc
Economic opportunity
Increase and expand economic development
Cooperative action
Transform American national security institutions
Engage and confront challenges of globalization

It was quite clear that the order for Bush 2 didn't quite gel with our progressive thinking so we reprioritized and got... well it wasn't so easy. That took an hour alone to determine but chances are good it took us less time then the paid policymakers do.

First we started with repairing the image of the United States as the first on the to do list. Some classmates said this goal should be the top priority because people need to have trust the U.S. again. Plus, we unanimously recognized the kind of sway soft power garners.

The class was a bit divided on where to begin. Our Canadian comrade suggested it was to "engage globalization by creating more balanced trade agreements." He was pushing for "fairer" and "smarter" soft power diplomacy. By a fairer trader agreement, he wanted agreements that were balanced and where both parties receive true mutual gain.

Another classmate said, "Hey, it's not so easy. The interest groups are in control and need to change their goals to help." A Chinese American classmate then brought up the notion of reducing military spending since the U.S. has the biggest military budget. He felt reducing the military budget should be a priority.

A Coloradan classmate agreed and said, "Lets close the bases!" But our Iraqi war veteran classmate immediately spoke up and said, no way to closing bases--that there were a lot of jobs and livelihoods at stake. Why not instead get rid of F-22s she suggested.

Another classmate brought up how history is repeating itself, as Fareed Zakaria has argued. The U.S. was repeating all the mistakes Britain made before it fell. Our Mongolian classmate was understanding of U.S. mentality. In a debate over whether the U.S. should accept that it's not a global superpower, the class was divided. Surrender to the rest rising or stick to the history the U.S. has fought for? Bottom line says our Mongolian friend: The U.S. isn't actually in any danger. Where is the threat to America?

We spoke about restructuring global institutions as a key list topper too. An Indian classmate coined the phrase "a la carte coalitions." Another said: "Let's make a four-year checklist for what the U.S. wants for its future. Let's retool and reposition the U.S." A South Korean classmate was prepared to end tyranny with donuts. She brought in a box of the delectable treats for the debate. (If only that worked with Kim Jung Il!)

Ultimately, we decided the goal for the U.S. in East Asia was for the U.S. to exercise a form of global accountability that was best described as "leading by example" or "exemplarism."

So with examplarism the overall policy list changed to:

Examplarism, leading by example
Engage the opportunities and confront the challenges of globalization.
Transform America's national security institutions to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century
Economic development
Green development

So what is the U.S. goal in Asia? To maintain U.S. influence or relationships. We want economic growth and good relations.

So, the U.S. doesn't want to lose its stake in Asia. The U.S. wants to maintain influence. Meanwhile our Chinese classmate suggested the U.S. find a way to back off and give these countries space. An Australian classmate said let everyone do it on their own. But another said the U.S. should help when possible. The class wondered, what the consequences would be if the U.S. left the region. Would the region destabilize?

One classmate said keep the trade relations, secure the waters, and probe in that way but beyond that leave Asia alone. A Korean classmate said that the military is really important to Korea despite some emotional challenges. So the order the class listed the relationships in by importance was:


South Korea



We asked the question: Is Japan the cornerstone for U.S. Asia policy? We battled over saying which country was more important: Japan or China and left Japan first. Japan has a sensitivity issue and everyone knows China is important. It's smart to leave Japan our ally first, and place China last since everyone knows China really isn't last.

1. Japan – the pedestal nation light years ahead of China in democratic values. Japan can lead by example in Asia.

2. South Korea without a mention of DPRK because we determined we only work with allies.

3. ASEAN and talk about increasing military exercises with COBRA GOLD.

4. We discussed the idea of taking Australia out of the East Asian category and bringing in India, but even our Indian classmates ultimately said no, that it would be too hard.

5. China we say is a responsible stakeholder. We like Bob Zoellick's idea that China should feel that it has a stake in the status quo. As Stewart said, America's diplomacy is bipolar toward China: It is to persuade China to be peaceful and to dissuade China from being aggressive. We should take a hedging posture and use inclusive tactics with China in order to garner some transparency.

Who knows? Our Chinese classmate advised the U.S. to leave China alone and that China will never improve its transparency--not even 1,000 years from now.

Photo "Woolworth Building" by laverrue.


Anonymous said...

It is striking to me how the first list of Bush priorities are failures every last one of them. Was this list prepared in jest?

Noemí said...

To be honest, I'm not sure the US ever got over being dumped by Japan as an older brother after the Cold war. The US wants to maintain influence over Japan, not influence in Japan- the difference is the contrast between an advisory role and a commanding role.