Following on former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to serve as President Obama’s third secretary of defense, Foreign Affairs has made available his 2004 essay “A Republican Foreign Policy.” Reading it with the benefit of eight years of hindsight, the essay reveals how Sen. Hagel’s worldview appeals to the Obama Administration. His views on the foundational role the U.S. economy plays in providing for its contributions to global security, and on prioritizing the U.S.-EU relationship, are even more pertinent now than when they were written.
First published when the Iraq War had been underway for over a year, the piece aims to reconnect U.S. foreign policy to the international institutions that were largely ignored during its planning and launch (e.g., “The United States’ long-term security interests are connected to alliances, coalitions, and international institutions.”) More telling, however, is how the article begins with an emphasis on U.S. economic health as a precondition for its ability to ensure its own security. Unchecked deficits and entitlement programs, Hagel writes, will “erode our position as a world economic leader. U.S. policymakers will then be forced to make hard choices between national security and domestic priorities.” The current debate over the debt ceiling and the potential for forced cuts to defense spending under sequestration is beginning to force those hard choices now.
For those following Europe, Hagel’s prioritization of the EU as one of four “vital relationships” (Russia, India and China round out the list) is significant. The EU’s position at the head of this group is surprising, given its absence — and the prevalence of discussion of U.S. relations with Russia and China – in the foreign policy debates during the recent presidential campaign. “The EU will represent one of the most significant power blocs of the twenty-first century,” Hagel writes. He continues:
U.S. foreign policy should recognize the EU as a geopolitical force in its own right, distinct from, although connected to, the NATO security alliance. Washington’s relationship with NATO will in fact be strengthened through recognition of the diplomatic and economic significance of the U.S.-EU relationship…U.S.-EU commerce constitutes the largest trade and investment relationship in the world, with more than $1 trillion exchanged annually.
Since Hagel wrote those words, the EU has plunged into debt-driven economic turmoil. By his own reasoning, the EU’s capacity to serve as a “geopolitical force in its own right” is, like the U.S., tied to its economic vitality. The course of Europe’s economic future and the future of monetary (and potentially fiscal?) union in Europe is not only of global economic, but strategic, importance. The current issue of Foreign Policy magazine echoes this idea. While considering the “Ten Problems Obama Could Solve Right Now” in its current issue, it cites the need to pursue a U.S.-EU free trade agreement to bolster both economies.
The EU faces additional governance challenges in implementing a common foreign and security policy. For both the U.S. and EU, however, a steady drumbeat of thought leaders are emphasizing the fact that sound economic policy is foundational to both.