New Deals

Nina Hachigian writes a very thoughtful essay in The New Republic arguing that the next administration should connect its domestic political agenda to a foreign policy predicated on international institutionalism in a way similar to how Franklin Roosevelt used momentum from the New Deal to build the international architecture of today.

To create political space for these steps, the Obama administration must, as Roosevelt did, connect for the American people its foreign policy goals with its domestic agenda. The administration should begin in four discrete areas–the economy, health care, energy, and terrorism. Americans’ well-being is directly at stake in all of these policy areas, and in each, the administration can leverage the domestic debate to draw the linkages between our welfare at home and architectures abroad.

This is an idea well worth exploring a bit further. Take terrorism for example. On September 28 2001, the Security Council passed resolution 1373, one of its most sweeping resolutions ever. It ordered, under Chapter VII authority, UN member states to enact national legislation to criminalize terrorism and terrorist financing and to cooperate with each other on counter-terrorism issues. The resolution also created the so-called Counter-terrorism Committee (CTC) to monitor the implementation of the resolution. The CTC got off to a rough start–at first it had no budget–but it eventually came to life. In 2006, the General Assembly adopted a Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. Though notably lacking a definition of terrorism, the Strategy is significant for the fact that it is essentially a global endorsement of Resolution 1373 (which, after all, was only voted on by 15 members of the Security Council).

These are all positive steps toward a global counter-terrorism regime. Still, they are a pittance compared to what is required for sustained international cooperation on counter-terrorism. A more long term solution may be the creation of a separate international structure dedicated exclusively to counter-terrorism.

This is not as far off as it may seem. In an earlier era, with most of civilization living under the threat of nuclear apocalypse, the world banded together to create the International Atomic Energy Agency. Like the IAEA an international counter-terrorism agency would mostly be a technical agency, meaning that its staffers would help countries deal with day-to-day law enforcement work like customs and forensic accounting. It would also, like the IAEA (which monitors compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty) oversee compliance with 1373–which as a Chapter VII resolution carries the force of international law. Finally, to enforce compliance, the new International Counter Terrorism agency could recommend action to the Security Council. This is precisely what the IAEA did when faced with a recalcitrant North Korea and Iran.

This may seem pie-in-the sky for now. But I imagine that so too did the establishment of the IAEA when President Eisenhower gave his famous Atoms for Peace speech to the General Assembly back in 1953. As Hachigian rightly observes, the time is right for this kind of bold policy making.