We asked some foreign policy experts around the country what they’d like to see the State Department prioritize in order to Build Back Better on a global scale. Here’s what they had to say:
Scott Radnitz, Associate Professor of Russian and Eurasian Studies in the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, and author of “Revealing Schemes: The Politics of Conspiracy in Russia and the Post-Soviet Region”
In general, the State Department needs to be reinforced, if not rebuilt. During the last administration, many senior diplomats retired or were forced out, and Tillerson's hiring freeze stopped the growth of the corps of foreign service officers. A longer-term structural problem is State's miniscule budget, as well as USAID's, in comparison with the Defense budget. The disconnect has grown over time. One facet of the starving of State is the lack of expertise on world areas, and Russian experts are in especially short supply since the end of the Cold War. In general, the U.S. would benefit by having greater insight into the Kremlin's perceived interests, foreign policy views, and motivations, yet such expertise from area experts, who speak Russian and have lived in Russia, is in short supply. When tensions rise with Russia, policy makers often make decisions based on military perspectives rather than a broader and more realistic assessment of U.S. national interests. The current impasse and intermittent tensions over Ukraine are one symptom of an American approach that rests on inertia from the early post-Cold War years rather than an updated and nuanced analysis of Russia's current place in the international system.
Larry Dohrs, Visiting Scholar in Southeast Asian Studies at Texas Christian University, strategic analyst working on Asian issues, and a frequent commentator in a variety of media outlets throughout the Asia-Pacific region
President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have a full slate of foreign policy challenges in Asia. China is clearly the most difficult, above and beyond the ordinary economic, trade and political competitions to be expected. The dismantling of Hong Kong's supposedly guaranteed rights and freedoms, constant threats and pressure toward Taiwan, aggressive behavior throughout the strategically vital South China Sea, global disinformation campaigns, and the cultural destruction (labeled by many as genocide) of the Uyghur and Tibetan populations, are just a few of the many contentious issues demanding attention. North Korea continues its efforts to build a nuclear arsenal and the missile systems meant to threaten the US and others, and has vexed U.S. presidents for decades, Donald Trump's strange claims to have "fallen in love" with dictator Kim Jong-Un notwithstanding. Finally, just days after Biden's inauguration, Myanmar's military staged a coup against the country's overwhelmingly popular democratically elected government, and has subsequently unleashed a shocking, violent campaign of terror against its own citizens, creating a challenge to the Biden administration's claims to have put democratic values and human rights back at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.
Maureen Meyer, Vice President for Programs, Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
One pressing foreign policy issue the Biden administration should prioritize in Latin America is developing a regional response to address regional migration flows. The region is experiencing an unprecedented number of people on the move, from the 5.9 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants living abroad, primarily in Latin America and the Caribbean, to the high levels of migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. This includes Mexicans and Central Americans as well as more migrants from Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Cuba, and a large number of Haitians, most of whom left their country several years ago, who are now migrating from Brazil, Chile and other countries due to the lack of work in the face of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and a persistent context of racism and discrimination against them. While restoring access to asylum at the U.S. border and providing assistance to address the drivers of migration should be a priority, the Biden administration must also work with other countries in the region to provide protection to those fleeing violence and persecution and to develop labor-based migration opportunities.