The November 2011 issue of Foreign Policy carries an insightful article by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on America’s policy and place in the Pacific and Asian regions. It is an excellent read. I won’t reprint it in its entirety, but you can access the piece by clicking here.
In her usual direct and nuanced way, the Secretary articulates the mutual benefits of an active and engaged America, and clearly lays out the tenets of US strategy. She grounds her points in historical context often overlooked in much of today’s sound-bite-driven, faddish popular discourse:
Secretary of State Clinton.
“Just as Asia is critical to America’s future, an engaged America is vital to Asia’s future. The region is eager for our leadership and our business — perhaps more so than at any time in modern history.
“We are the only power with a network of strong alliances in the region, no territorial ambitions, and a long record of providing for the common good. Along with our allies, we have underwritten regional security for decades — patrolling Asia’s sea lanes and preserving stability — and that in turn has helped create the conditions for growth.
“We have helped integrate billions of people across the region into the global economy by spurring economic productivity, social empowerment, and greater people-to-people links. We are a major trade and investment partner, a source of innovation that benefits works and businesses on both sides of the Pacific, a host to 350,000 Asian students every year, a champion of open markets, and an advocate for universal human rights.”
The Secretary then proceeds to discuss in detail the Administration’s “multifacted and persistent effort to embrace fully our irreplaceable role in the Pacific, spanning the entire US government.” She notes that “[i]t has often been a quiet effort. A lot of our work has not been on the front pages, both because of its nature — long-term investment is less exciting than immediate crises — and because of competing headlines in other parts of the world.”
In the Secretary’s rubric, the strategy is one of forward-deployed diplomacy, which means engaging actively on the ground throughout the region and adapting in real time to the rapid and often dramatic shifts occurring in today’s interconnected world.
She reviews in detail the six key lines of action in American strategy: strengthening bilateral security alliances, deepening working relationships with emerging powers, engaging with regional multilateral institutions, expanding trade and investment opportunities, forging a broad-based military presence, and advancing democracy and human rights.
Auckland's Cloud, the site of several Pacific Island Forum events.
The views that the Secretary expresses are not theoretical or philosophical. They are practical, tangible, and operational. Just one excellent example was the nature and scope of US participation in this year’s Pacific Island Forum in Auckland.
The US sent its largest and highest-level delegation ever to attend the PIF’s Post-Forum Dialogue. Led by Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, the contingent included senior officials from the Department of State, USAID, White House, Department of Commerce, Peace Corps, Department of Defense, and Coast Guard.
Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides at the Pacific Island Forum.
Playing key roles along with Deputy Secretary Nides were Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, making his third visit to New Zealand in the past 12 months, and the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Togiola Tulafono, as well my fellow American Ambassadors from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Australia.
Our visitors came to work. The delegation split into several teams based on subject matter focus, and almost two dozen of my colleagues from the Embassy and Consulate General provided support and squired the teams through more than 110 separate meetings with their counterparts from the Government of New Zealand and/or other PIF attendees.
Deputy Secretary Nides and Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully meet the press after a productive bilateral meeting.
Our visitors also came to pony up, commit, and execute. Progress was made on a variety of matters including disaster preparedness, climate change, sustainable development, and fisheries. Several MOUs and agreements were signed.
For example, we signed partnership agreements with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme to advance climate change adaptation in the Pacific Small Island States. Those agreements are part of a larger, two-year US$ 21 million package to address climate change impact in the region.
We also signed ship-rider agreements with Nauru and Tuvalu, bringing the total number of those agreements in the Pacific to eight. Under those successful agreements, the US Coast Guard extends the reach and power of island nation law enforcement officers by hosting them on our vessels and aircraft to patrol national Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Such joint activity is essential to the economic health as well as the security of partner nations, given the large amount of illegal commercial fishing in the EEZs.
Deputy Secretary Nides signs an agreement with Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director of the General Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
Such collaboration is a natural part of our uninterrupted, generations-long engagement in the region. The United States is itself a Pacific nation with deep, enduring, and historic ties to our Pacific friends and neighbors. And that isn’t going to change. On that note, I’ll give the Secretary the final word:
“I’m well aware that there are those who question our staying power around the world. We’ve heard this talk before. At the end of the Vietnam War, there was a thriving industry of global commentators promoting the idea that America was in retreat, and it is a theme that repeats itself every few decades. But whenever the United States has experienced setbacks, we’ve overcome them through reinvention and innovation.
“Our capacity to come back stronger is unmatched in modern history. It flows from our model of free democracy and free enterprise, a model that remains the most powerful source of prosperity and progress known to humankind … So there should be no doubt that America has the capacity to secure and sustain our global leadership in this century as we did in the last.”