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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Foreign Policy in the Next Administration

Foreign Press Center Panel With David l. Phillips, Kimberly Marten, Christopher Sabatini, David Denoon, Columbia and NYU Professors
New York, NY
November 8, 2016


MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome. The Foreign Press Center is very pleased to welcome four distinguished scholars to discuss U.S. foreign policy and the global challenges that will confront the next administration, whatever the outcome of today’s election.

Our speakers today have extremely long and impressive CVs, so please forgive me as I will just introduce them in brief. On the far end we have Dr. Kimberly Marten, a professor of political science at Barnard College and a faculty member at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs. Professor Marten has written extensively on U.S.-Russia relations and is the director of the Program for U.S.-Russia Relations at the Harriman Institute.

Next to her we have Professor David L. Phillips. He is currently director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He publishes frequently on ISIS, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey, and has held a number of high-level positions focused on humanitarian affairs, conflict prevention and resolution.

Next we have Professor Christopher Sabatini, a lecturer of international relations and policy at Columbia University. He has a great deal of experience working on U.S. policy toward Cuba, has written extensively on Latin American politics, and is formerly the senior director of policy at the American Society and Council of the Americas.

Last but not least, we have Professor David Denoon, professor of politics and economics at New York University and director of the NYU Center on U.S.-China Relations. Professor Denoon is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, among many other esteemed organizations.

A reminder that this briefing is on the record. Our guests will each speak briefly on the future of U.S. policy toward their region of focus. We will then open for questions. We will start with Professor Marten.

MS MARTEN: Thank you. Can you all hear me if I speak like this? Is this the right distance from the microphone? Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be here today and thank you all for sharing your time with us today. It’s obviously a very exciting day, and I think all of us will be very glad when it is over.

I am going to be talking about U.S.-Russia relations and the election. And obviously, in one sense, those don’t need any introduction. We all know that relations with Russia are a crucial area of interest in this election. Many people argue that we are in the worst situation in U.S.-Russia relations than we have been in since the middle of the Cold War, and I am sure you’re all familiar with all of the conflict areas that involve U.S.-Russia relations, as well as the fact that the U.S. still needs Russia for resolving many problems in the world such as nuclear proliferation, access to the Arctic as the ice is melting, and space exploration, among other things.

But I want to say a few words today about what Russia calls information war and what the U.S. and its allies in NATO call hybrid war. And this would include things like the cyber attacks that we know occurred on the Democratic National Committee and probably other cyber attacks, including against John Podesta and Colin Powell. It includes other efforts to rile up instability in allied countries, for example in NATO members located in the Baltics or the Balkans. It includes a propaganda war with lies coming from Russia and from the Russian media about what Russia has actually been doing in Ukraine and Syria, and it includes a style of what the Russians have been doing in Ukraine since early 2014, where the actions are always kind of masked and deceptive and leading to deniability.

Well, one of the issues that we face in the United States in dealing with this information war or hybrid war coming from Russia is that we know that Putin is acting hostile and we know that Putin is acting in a threatening way, but we don’t really know why. So it’s possible that Putin actually has aggressive intentions and would be considering launching some kind of an attack against a piece of NATO territory. Or it could be that he is taking these actions to make himself seem more popular inside Russia and to get public opinion on his side, to show that Russia is great again, and to try to undermine the perceptions that Russians citizens have about the U.S. democracy. Or it also could be a form of deterrent to the incoming administration, saying we know that you are bigger and stronger and wealthier than we are in Russia, but you better watch out because look what we can do to you and don’t forget it. So we don’t know what the purpose is behind what Mr. Putin has been doing.

So what kinds of challenges does this create for the incoming administration, whoever that administration might be? I think that the challenges fall into two basic categories. The first is that Russia will always have an edge over the United States and its Western allies in waging information war or hybrid war, and that’s for a couple of reasons. The first is that Russia does not have to worry about international law in the kinds of choices that it makes. It has made very clear in actions that it has taken domestically in Chechnya and then more recently in Ukraine and also in Syria that, for example, it really doesn’t care about the Geneva Conventions that say that its military is supposed to make a distinction between civilians or noncombatants and combatants who are actually involved in fighting.

But the U.S. does have to worry about these things and its allies in NATO do have to worry about these things, and that means that the U.S. is limited in the kinds of responses that it can take in the event of a cyber attack. It’s perfectly fine for Russia to get away with attacking somebody who is not an elected official, not yet a representative officially of the United States, but the United States could not turn around and attack someone who was not directly responsible as a Russian official for what had happened with the Russian attack on the U.S. So that’s the first reason that it’s challenging.

The second reason it’s challenging is that the U.S. and its NATO allies have to worry a great deal about public opinion, whereas I would argue that the Putin administration doesn’t have to worry very much about Russian public opinion at all. And that is in part because the mainstream Russian media, especially the television media in Russia, is so much in line behind the direction that Putin wants the media to take that he doesn’t have to worry about that television media, which is where most people get their news in Russia, challenging him. And it’s also because there is a nasty new tendency over the last several years in Russia where people who are Russian citizens who disagree strongly with Putin are called traitors. And so if you disagree with him, if you try to argue against him, you face social consequences as well as not having people pay much attention to what you say. So for those two reasons, Russia is going to be in a stronger position to do what it wishes than the United States has the flexibility to do anything in return.

And finally, it’s a challenge because it’s not really clear what the U.S. can do in response to cyber attacks that would be effective. And one thing that I think we have to remember and that the advice that I would give to the incoming administration, whoever it is, is that we don’t have to think about cyber attacks as being responded to only with cyber attacks. Cyber attacks are one domain of conflict, but the United States has all kinds of additional domains of actions to consider; for example, sanctions and so forth that don’t necessarily require an exact one-for-one response to what Russia does.

So that’s the first challenge for the incoming administration is how to deal with cyber attacks and this information warfare that we now see being waged, given U.S. disadvantages in fighting that war.

The second challenge is: How can the U.S. both deter President Putin from doing further damaging things to the United States and its allies in NATO without provoking Russia to take further harmful actions, or without making Russia feel threatened, so that Russia feels that it needs to take stronger actions in response to whatever the U.S. might do in a situation where the tensions were escalating and building on each other? And political scientists have a term for this. It’s called the security dilemma. When you don’t know what the actual intentions of your opponent are, it’s very difficult to know whether what they’re doing is trying to harm you, trying to get an advantage over you, trying to defeat you, or whether instead, as I mentioned earlier, they’re acting in a way that they’re just trying to build up their own defenses and have a deterrent against whatever you might do.

So some people in the United States have been calling for an enormous new buildup of U.S. and NATO conventional forces, for example, in the Baltic States, especially in Latvia and Estonia. But I think we have to keep in mind that those kinds of very strong responses to what’s happening from Russia really contain within them the danger of making the conflict worse, of making the conflict something that it wouldn’t otherwise be, and that means that the new administration has to be very careful to take actions that deter Russia without threatening Russia or without provoking Russia.

So let me just close – I’ve been told to speak just for a few minutes to you, and I’m happy to take whatever questions you have. Let me just close a little bit in talking about what we might think about actions that would be taken about whoever wins the elections – which we’ll know, hopefully, very soon.

What we know about Hillary Clinton is that she has a track record in the policy world. She was secretary of state and she dealt with Russia as secretary of state. Now, for most of the time that she was secretary of state, it was a different Russia in some ways because the president of Russia at that time was not President Putin; it was Dmitry Medvedev. And Dmitry Medvedev was somebody who seemed to be genuinely interested in being more cooperative towards the West. And so we saw significant arms control negotiations having success at that time. We saw Russia enter the World Trade Organization. We saw the start of what became the Iran sanctions and the Iran nuclear policy cooperation between the U.S. and Russia. We also saw the Russian intervention in Georgia. So there was hostility coming from Russia at that time too, but there was a lot more cooperation.

Nonetheless, we have a basic sense of the direction that Hillary Clinton might take because she is also a representative of the mainstream Democratic Party, and we have a pretty good sense of who her advisers will be and what kinds of directions they will take based on the track record of the Democratic Party.

Donald Trump has no policy experience. That means that his policy choices would be completely relying on who his advisers would be, and we don’t even know who those advisers would be, because many people who are mainstream advisers coming from the Republican Party have said they’re not interested in working with him. We do know that a couple of his former advisers on Russia issues are now under investigation for their close ties to Russia. But maybe he would learn from that and not choose those sort of advisers in the future? We just don’t know.

So the one thing that I will leave you with in closing is that Hillary Clinton is a known quantity. We can make pretty good guesses about what would happen in relations with Russia under a Hillary Clinton presidency. With a Donald Trump presidency, everything is up for grabs. And I’ll leave it there.

MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll move to Dr. David L. Phillips.

MR PHILLIPS: Thanks very much, Shana. Nice to follow you again.

I’m going to speak about the Middle East – in particular, the fight against terrorism, the effort to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. I’m going to put that in the context of what’s happening in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. And because the Middle East is a broad sweep, I’ll touch also on Israel and Palestine and on Iran. I’m going to do all of that in five to seven minutes. (Laughter.)

So on day one, the incoming administration is going to have to deal with the problem in Syria. Syria has become a slaughterhouse. There are a quarter million people in eastern Aleppo that have been presented with an option: either surrender or starve. In the past, we’ve had conversations with the candidates about creating humanitarian corridors, about establishing no-fly zones, about safe areas. Whoever is elected is going to have to think in practical terms about how we deal with an urgent humanitarian crisis – already 400,000 people dead, 11 million displaced. If you’re going to enforce a no-fly zone, it’s something that requires a strong commitment. You have to clear the skies of other aircraft, you have to destroy surface-to-air missile capability, creating a security area – not something that you do with the flick of a switch. It requires a major military engagement, so the incoming president is going to have to think about this humanitarian crisis in Syria.

If we do establish a no-fly zone, we also have to develop a protocol for de-conflicting with some of the other aircraft that are in Syria’s skies – namely Russian aircraft, Syrian aircraft. Turkey has been known to have its F-16s flying in Syria as well. So what kind of a protocol would be developed, how would we apply it?

And of course, humanitarian assistance is only part of a broader strategy to re-engage in Geneva through the UN with a political dialogue. I think the big question here will be Russia’s role. We’ve indicated that Russian leaders are culpable of war crimes for their command-and-control responsibility and attacking Syrians in Aleppo. So far, Russia hasn’t played a helpful role. If we’re going to restart a diplomatic process, are we going to do that with Russia? Are we going to envision an end state and then work with the combatants in Syria without the engagement of Russia and other members of the international community? These are big challenges – humanitarian, security, and diplomatic.

On the subject of Iraq, there are going to be a million displaced persons out of Mosul. So how are going to provide for these IDPs? Are they going to end up in the Kurdistan region of Iraq? Will we be supporting them through local organizations, through UN agencies? Are there enough materials that have been stockpiled? We shouldn’t underestimate the humanitarian consequences to the battle for Mosul.

On the security front, there are a range of complicated and interconnected challenges focusing on sectarian relations. What are we going to do with the Popular Mobilization Forces, who are Shiite militias? Will they be able to function in Sunni-majority areas?

The broader question about Iraq’s viability can’t be ignored. Can Iraq exist within its current frontiers? I submit to you that Iraq as we know it today will not exist in the future. Premier Abadi has already said that the Kurds in Iraq have a right to self-determination. There’s been a committee set up in Baghdad and in Erbil to negotiate the terms of a friendly divorce. How’s that committee going to work? What’s the timetable for the Kurds to conduct a referendum on independence and then declare independence? If there’s a deal with Baghdad, will the U.S. recognize Iraqi Kurdistan? And how does recognition – what’s the response to recognition by other countries in the region, namely Turkey?

So Turkey is a major problem country. It is a NATO ally. We’re often reminded of the U.S. historical relationship of cooperation with Turkey. Let me be crystal clear: If NATO were established today, because Turkey has become Islamist, anti-Western, and anti-democratic, Turkey would simply not be invited to join. Turkey has invaded Syria, seizing Jarablus. It’s occupied parts of Iraq over the objections of the Iraqi Government. President Erdogan has been targeting members of parliament in a bid to gain a supermajority and establish an executive presidency.

So how’s the U.S. going to react to a NATO ally which has gone rogue, which has become anti-democratic and is actively undermining U.S. interests in the region? I know that my view is that we can’t see Turkey as it was; we have to see Turkey as it is, not how we wish it to be. And a steely-eyed approach is going to be necessary, particularly if we have hope of defeating Daesh and stabilizing countries in the region.

On the subject of Israel and Palestine, this is always a perennial challenge to an incoming president. I don't think it’s something that either of the candidates wants to deal with. President Obama could give them a gift by making a major address articulating U.S. policy towards a peace settlement for Israel and Palestine and then supporting the principles of that address in a UN Security Council resolution. That would address the need for action on Israel and Palestine over the next year. It would move the discussion forward and it would take off the top tier of foreign policy challenges in the Middle East the creation of a Palestinian state for the incoming president.

On the subject of Iran, we have a Iran nuclear deal. The deal is predicated on the assumption that after a certain number of years there will be a process in Iran that will make the country more moderate, make its leaders more committed to abiding by international norms. This was a gamble in the Iran nuclear deal that President Obama made. He’s been criticized for giving money to Iran without knowing how it will behave after 15 years. So we have to think from a policy perspective what we can do to create a civil society in Iran, how we can bring Iran into the mainstream. If the Iran nuclear deal is going to work, it’ll work because the government and the people are abiding by international norms and have moved forward with a reform agenda in country.

So the Middle East is never an easy part of the world. The incoming president is going to have some serious problems with counterterrorism, with the Islamic State, with America’s tried and true ally in the region Israel, and changes in Iran that are hard to predict unless we’re actively engaged.

I’ll leave it there and welcome your questions.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you. Next we have professor Christopher Sabatini.

MR. SABATINI: Thank you. Well, Latin America rarely figures prominently in any sort of discussion of president foreign policy. It’s sort of an afterthought. But obviously, it’s figured prominently in large part because of a number of statements that Donald Trump has made about its citizens and their arrival.

But it will be important in the following ways, just overall, before I touch on the individual policies of the candidates. First of all, Latin America represents a market for about 20 percent of U.S. exports. It is large. We have free trade agreements with NAFTA, which is, of course, Mexico and Canada, as well as the Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, a free trade agreement with Chile, with Colombia, with Panama, and with Peru. In fact, free trade has been really one of the major fulcrums of our policy in the region.

Obviously, again, it’s the source of – major source of immigrants that have become a real hot button issue right now in the United States. And of course, that is really one of those what they call in political science and intermestic issue. It’s a domestic issue, but it has implications internationally. A friend of mine, who’s Obama’s adviser for Latin America, once told me that in every meeting with a president – it didn’t matter whether it was the president of Uruguay or the president of Mexico, president of Paraguay – basically the U.S. treatment of Latin American citizens that come to the United States was really one of the top line items on the agenda. How we treat our immigrants or their citizens in our borders is of utmost importance in building goodwill and also being able to leverage broader policies.

Obviously still we have the issue of drugs, which continue to flow north, and the violence that they create. In addition, the – now with the more overland drug routes that are going through Central America, we’re seeing effectively the hollowing out of states in Guatemala and Honduras and El Salvador, in places where people talk about – at least certainly in parts of these countries – narco-states that are effectively run by narcotics interests, as well as few of the states in Mexico. That violence will continue. That has also driven, as we’ve seen recently, a large outflow of primarily women and children to the United States to escape the violence.

We also have the issue of Venezuela, which is going to be huge – or, as Donald Trump would say, huge. And that has really been brewing for a long time. We’ve had 16, 17 years of a government under Chavismo, first Hugo Chavez and then Nicolas Maduro, and that government has systematically not just closed down the checks and balances and most recently closed off the option of a popular recall referendum, it has also destroyed the economy.

Venezuela has one of the worst economies in the world right now. Inflation is, at best, supposed to reach 700 percent this year. It may reach 1,000 percent. It’s going through its third year of contraction. The economy has contracted by 20 percent in the last four years. There are massive shortages of food, of medicine. People are incredibly desperate, and the government is refusing to budge.

At the same time, there are very credible reports of narcotics, trafficking, and traffickers within the government, all forms of illicit activities by the government. This is not just an obstreperous state south of the border; this could become very much a black hole, should it collapse or should it come to a potential conflict that the president is going to find on his or her desk shortly after arriving in the Oval Office. And how to deal with it is, I think, really unprecedented. We really don’t know.

At the same time, there’s also Cuba. We believe, at some point, the Castros will eventually pass some power. We’re not clear yet, but in 2018, Raul Castro said he’ll no longer run as president. Cuba’s – we’ve had a change under Obama of our Cuba policy. Donald Trump has promised to return it back to pre-Obama to – president Trump is – candidate Trump – to impose an embargo again. Hillary Clinton has endorsed that, but we also face a country that needs between $2 to $2.5 billion worth of foreign direct investment to stay afloat.

It’s a country of 11 million people in which the average wage is $20 to $30 a month. I mean, it has huge shortages also in medicine. There is a growing racial divide between Cubans of more European extraction and those more of African extraction, the reason being those of more European extraction have access to remittances, which account for almost $2 billion of the inflow in capital in Cuba. That will – there will be a change in how that will be affected. How it will affect U.S. politics will be very, very important.

And then there’s also – Latin America increasingly has become a partner or not a partner in U.S. foreign policy. Brazil, particularly in the last government, was kind of a problematic, prickly partner for the United States, particularly the UN when it tried to broker a last minute deal with Iran. There’s obviously a new government now, but that – Hillary Clinton, she still feels and has complained privately about the prickliness of the Brazilians. And so that will sort of hold over I think in a Hillary Clinton administration, should she be elected.

And then last, because of Venezuela, because of Cuba, because of the rise of Saint Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and his consolidation of power – he was just reelected on Sunday. It was a foregone conclusion; he won with 90 percent of the vote. The – but basically what needs to be done is – Latin America had a very robust set of human rights standards and institutions. Those have been eroded. Democratic standards have been sort of basically sort of weakened. The next president will have to begin to try to reinforce and create a consensus around those institutions.

So let me just talk briefly about – well, let me add one more thing about the region generally is what’s happened in the last 10 years has been the growth of China’s presence in Latin America. I had the honor of writing – contributing a chapter to a book David Denoon edited about China’s involvement in Latin America. There’s good reason to believe most of that is economic, but it has come to China’s primary economic focus in the region has been sort of with those governments that don’t like the United States too much: Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela. So the question is: What ultimately is their long game? I’m not arguing for an alarmist overreaction, but there is a certain need that there are – to recognize the fact that Putin or in times even Ahmadinejad, at one point, traveled to the region. It’s a region that is seeking outside partners and in some cases, outside partners to leverage their position relative to the United States.

Let me just say a few things about the candidates and what we know. On the first point, we know who Hillary Clinton is. We – I think we will find a much of a continuation of Obama’s policy, but I think she will be a lot harder on issues of human rights. She attended a number of events in Latin America, the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, the General Assembly in Honduras. She left the General Assembly in Honduras actually feeling that she had been broadsided by a vote that she did not expect. So she has a little bit of reticence when it comes to trusting Latin American governments and large – these large forums.

She will place a greater emphasis on social inclusion and development as being a component of her foreign policy. She’s written about this in Foreign Affairs, but I know it personally, is whether its issues of – and she started an initiative in the State Department on social inclusion that works with Afro-descendant communities, indigenous communities, women, the disabled, and LGBT communities. That will become a much stronger focus of her foreign policy in the region.

The issue, of course, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership – she’s sort of renounced it. I suspect it is going to be such an important component of U.S. foreign policy that it is not approved in the lame duck period. What will happen is something very similar to what happened with Obama and the Colombia and Panama free trade agreements, is they will bring in a number of the critics of those free trade agreements and will fix it and renegotiate, fix those problems, and then we’ll get there in premature and then be resold if you will to the U.S. Congress; although, obviously, the context in trade is very, very important.

And let me say, Latin American countries depend to a huge extent to the United – on the U.S. market. Mexico’s – 80 percent of Mexico’s exports are destined to – over 80 percent are destined to the United States. Ironically, if we close off NAFTA and we close off that market for Mexico, as Trump proposes to do, we’re going to have to build that wall higher and deeper and longer, because it’s going to provoke a massive up flow of economic refugees, if you will, from Mexico.

What do we know about Trump and his Latin American policy? Well, first of all, we know he doesn’t like Mexicans much or at least the ones they’re sending here. That has really soured our relationship with Mexico; in fact, when he traveled to Mexico, the guy who invited him was actually fired. It’s so – the resentment is so deep. Trump pinatas are huge sellers in Mexican markets for children to basically get to swat at him with a bat. He’s not well liked, and as a friend of mine, who’s a politician, said – I asked him, “What happens? Is the damage done in our relations with Mexico?” And he says, “The damage is done.” The fact that Trump has been allowed to say these things in the United States in public and no serious member of the Republican Party has stood up and said, “No, you can’t do that.” And I think it’s very telling that no one has really had the courage to do that, and it is deeply troubling to Mexicans.

The other thing is basically, we don’t know who Obama’s – I mean, rather Trump’s Latin America advisors are. His main advisor, this guy Joe, in a statement in the State Department, someone asked him about what Obama – Trump’s policies were for Latin America and he said, “Trump knows that there are all different countries down there. He knows it’s just not a blob.” That makes me feel better; he knows it’s not a blob, but he doesn’t really know much else. So – and his main advisor is this guy by the name – which – who no one knows, by the name of Michael Socarras who is a law – has a small law practice in northern Virginia, has no background at all in foreign policy. So really, again, if you can judge them by their advisors, it’s very difficult to judge what Trump will do.

But I will just – and on this point, the problem is, is that he has attacked sort of the two basic tenets or pillars of our policy towards the region. The first is trade. As I mentioned, we are deeply tied to trade in the region. That has really become one of our major foreign policy tools. If he were to roll that back, it would have devastating consequences not just in the United States, given our own market relationship, but in those countries that depend on the U.S. market for manufactured goods, low-end goods, agriculture, and the like. We would see an increase in immigration, ironically enough.

The second is that – the immigration issue itself. Should he be elected, it would really be a confirmation of all of Latin Americans’ worst fears about the ugly American. So I hate to sound so dire, but it’s difficult when you’re looking at this from the south to hear the way he’s spoken about Mexicans and Mexican immigrants and the need to deport them and not feel a certain level of urgency and, I’ll be honest, disgust. Thank you.

MR PHILLIPS: We could see a spike in the export of pinatas – (laughter) – depending upon the election result.

MR SABATINI: Maybe they could have a booming economy as they send pinatas to us and we can whack them, yes.


MODERATOR: Thank you. We’ll now hear from Professor Denoon.

MR DENOON: Well, I think it’s not unreasonable to say that other than Canada and Mexico, the country which is most important to the United States at the present is China, and for very good reason. China is the world’s second largest economy and China is the only country in the world – I mean specifically to exclude Russia – that can directly challenge the United States across a wide range of economic and strategic arenas. So I hope that during the questions we can get into some of that. But given China’s importance, the question then is what are the issues that are going to come to the fore. I’m just going to talk about three.

I’m not going to talk about any specific candidates because I think Mr. Trump’s views have been so broad and sweeping that I can’t imagine he would actually try to implement them if he were elected. He might, but I imagine there would be a whole set of people trying to convince him otherwise. And Secretary Clinton took a number of very bold steps when she was secretary of state in Pacific policy, but they haven’t been a central feature of the campaign. So I think we’re in a position, as Kimberly mentioned, where we really don’t know what the next steps are likely to be. And in this case it applies to both Clinton and to Trump.

The three topics that I think are likely to achieve the greatest attention are North Korea, the South China Sea, and economic issues, and so I’ll just say a little bit about each of the three.

On North Korea, as many of you who follow Asia know, for a long time – probably 50 years after World War II – the line that the Chinese would use is that their relationship with North Korea was like teeth and gums, that they were so close they couldn’t be separated. That’s clearly no longer the case. There’s a great deal of frustration in Beijing with the way North Korea operates, and the reason it’s becoming increasingly critical is that North Korea has both a very successful nuclear program and is going ahead with missile tests of intermediate range, and they’re trying to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. So it doesn’t matter who is elected; the President will have to deal with those issues. And both the George W. Bush administration, which emphasized the Six-Party Talks, and the Obama Administration, which emphasized a term called strategic patience, I would say have been unsuccessful at changing the behavior of North Korea. So during the questions maybe we can get into that.

The Chinese have been willing to move to a slightly more interventionist stance. They supported the UN Security Council Resolution 2270 last May, and the U.S. is going ahead with the implementation of the sanctions, and so that route will be started. I would assume that either Trump or Clinton would continue with those sanctions. There is another school of thought that we should try to engage North Korea, but they have been somewhat discredited because of the difficulties in getting North Korea to make any concessions at all.

So let me turn to the South China Sea. The South China Sea is a different type of issue because the U.S. does not have troops directly stationed there. We have a small deployment of Marines in Darwin in Australia, but that’s over a thousand miles away. The issue in the South China Sea is that the U.S. has the principle of supporting freedom of navigation, and we’ve done various what are called freedom of navigation operations in the region, but we haven’t been notably successful at getting China to change its behavior.

I’ll just say a couple things that are important about the decision by the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The Permanent Court of Arbitration essentially said that none of the atolls that China has occupied would qualify for sovereignty. To get sovereignty you have to have the ability to sustain human life, which basically means water, and you have to be above sea level. So most of the atolls that they have occupied and where they’ve built ports and airstrips don’t qualify for sovereignty.

So the question is whether China will back down, begin to compromise what its options will be. If you look at the Chinese strategy in dealing with the Philippine president and the Malaysian prime minister, they clearly were offering attractive trade deals to try to get countries in Southeast Asia to take a less hostile stance towards them. But the – if China is allowed to occupy these islands and there’s no resolution, I think there will be serious criticism of countries that didn’t act and allowed China to move ahead.

I can go into more detail later, but I think the dilemma with the South China Sea is that it’s rather amorphous. There are various countries in Southeast Asia that have competing claims. China says that it wants to negotiate on a bilateral basis with each country, and so far it’s succeeding at getting both the Philippines and Malaysia at least to talk with them on that basis.

Let me turn to the third and the broadest issue of relations between the U.S. and China, and that’s clearly economic. There I think we have an idea of how both candidates would proceed. As you know, Secretary Clinton originally supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership and then backed away from it. And as you know, Trump took a position throughout the campaign that he opposed that and he opposed many of the prior trade deals, including NAFTA.

The dilemma for whoever is elected today is that we have an enormous trade deficit with China. Last year it was 367 billion, so more than a billion dollars a day, and there is no easy way to resolve that, because the corporations that have set up manufacturing in China are not going to cease and desist. The question then is what to do? Should you focus on currency? Should you focus on rebalancing the economy inside China? If – again, if there’s interest, I’m glad to get into that. Rebalancing could shift demand towards domestic production, which would make it harder for the Chinese to continue to focus on exports. But the trade deficit is going to continue and it’s going to be a volatile issue.

So as I look over these three issues, I think with North Korea, the likelihood that the North Koreans will give up nuclear weapons is extremely low, so the question is, will we be negotiating over setting up a nuclear state and recognizing it? And in South China Sea, it looks unlikely to me that China will back down. It looks like the question is what the other countries in the region will do, and that will affect the United States. And then on economic issues, I think we’re going to have continued standoffs and friction. I’m obviously glad to go into this in greater detail. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll open now for your questions. Please remember to state your name and your media affiliation.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Effi (ph). I’m working for based in China, Beijing. My just – my question is taken for David – Professor David is: Many Chinese people dread about Hillary Clinton’s presidency, because she is criticized China a lot during her time as the secretary of the state. My question is: What would you say the difference is between Hillary’s foreign policy on China with the President Obama? Thank you.

MR DENOON: Well, as I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, U.S.-China relations has not been a central part of the campaign other than the discussion about trade. I think that some people believe that Secretary Clinton, if elected, would actually find some way to modify TPP and move ahead on trade, so that’s one area where she may take a position which is not that different than President Obama.

On the other hand, on the broader issue of the U.S. pivot to Asia or rebalancing, that was a principal policy initiative that she pushed. Her top person on East Asia was Kurt Campbell. If Kurt Campbell were to get an appointment in the administration, my guess is they would continue to push that. As you may know, at the ASEAN summit in 2010, she and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had a very lively exchange. I think that means that she knows those issues well. I think it’s unlikely that she’s going to modify her position greatly, so I think it probably would be pretty similar to what President Obama has been trying to do.

Now, just to be clear, though this may have upset many people in China, there are many people in Asia who are upset with President Obama, who think that he’s been weak and has not been willing to use American power to force the Chinese to back down. Now, since President Obama has taken many opportunities to avoid getting involved in the Middle East, I think he felt he was not willing to get involved in the South China Sea. So – but that obviously would be debated. I’m sure that would be one of the top issues in the next administration.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Yeah, my name is (inaudible) Kamau Cush. I’m with New Africa magazine. I have two questions for Professor Marten and David Phillips and one for Professor Sabatini. On Syria, Candidate Clinton has stated quite clearly that she will, if elected, declare a no-fly zone over in Syria. Candidate Trump is – has declared that he will not do that. My question to both of you is: If there is a declaration of a no-fly zone over Syria, what will be the endgame? I mean, we’re talking about shooting down Russian planes, Russia shooting down American planes and taking out surface-to-air missiles. What do you envisions will be the endgame if something like that happens should Secretary Clinton be elected?

And for Professor Sabatini, you said that Secretary Clinton, if elected, will be harder on human rights and will pursue a social inclusion focus as far as her foreign policy is concerned. Do you think as president, Hillary Clinton will perhaps have a harder position on, let’s say, Saudi Arabia, given that country’s, well, unenlightened approach with regards to women and – women can’t drive, you have to stand behind your man, that kind of thing? So how do you see that playing out if Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States?

MS MARTEN: I’ll take a crack at that first. In terms of statements that are made during the campaigns, I think we need to keep in mind when those statements were made and the context in which they were made. And as I think several of the speakers have said, just because something is said in a campaign doesn’t mean that it’s going to be implemented once someone is in office, because it’s different audiences that are involved.

On the no-fly zone in Syria, as far as I know, Secretary Clinton has not been talking about that very recently. Maybe I’m wrong. But I think that the situation in Syria has changed so much as time has gone by that talk of creating a no-fly zone now is very different from what creating a no-fly zone would have been, let’s say, a year ago. And so I would think that anybody who is in the president’s shoes would have a very difficult time figuring out exactly how to establish a no-fly zone given the complexity of the people who are on the ground and in the air already. I would be surprised if one of Hillary Clinton’s first acts as president would in fact be to establish a no-fly zone in Syria, because as you mentioned it would indeed involve the real possibility of direct armed confrontation with Russia, which I don’t think anybody wants.

Let me also just say something about human rights and Hillary Clinton. Obviously, she has spoken out in favor of human rights and in favor of civil society in many ways. But I think when you see the actions that she took as secretary of state, there’s also a fair degree of we might call realism in her actions, which is that she recognizes places where the U.S. can have an impact and where the U.S. cannot have an impact. And she understands the importance of making cooperative efforts with countries that are not countries that share American values. And so I think that also would be something that we would have to see.

MR PHILLIPS: On the subject of Syria, it’s been some time since Mrs. Clinton has talked about a no-fly zone. If she were to go forward with one, it would need to be driven by a diplomatic and political agenda. The purpose of a no-fly zone would be to catalyze a humanitarian pause, to revive UN-led peace talks in Geneva. The question there will be Russia’s role – can it be counted upon as a helpful participant in negotiations or will Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump see Russia as a strategic adversary? So far there is no reason to think that Russia is going to be helpful in bringing Syria’s long national nightmare to a close.

And you raised a question about Saudi Arabia. Since that’s in the broader Middle East, let me see if I can address it. With the price of oil where it is and the growing production of U.S. fossil fuels, the dependence that the U.S. has had on Saudi energy supplies historically is greatly diminished. The crimes that the Saudis have committed in Yemen will certainly be a concern. With the tilt towards a Shiite crescent, the U.S. is going to have a much more balanced policy toward Saudi Arabia in the future. Mrs. Clinton is familiar with that part of the world; I think she is going to seek that balance. It’s less predictable how Mr. Trump will approach it.

MR SABATINI: And I would just say Hillary Clinton as a foreign policy mind, if you will, is sort of an interesting character. I mean, she is very much a realist in many ways, but she’s also very much of an idealist in ways that Obama is not – in both ways. So yeah, she will not pursue idealistic goals that undermine U.S. national interests, but having said that, even since her time as first lady, when she joined the women’s conference in Beijing, she has been an advocate. I think it would not be – the number one thing that she would raise, especially among allies, but I would – to be honest, given even her long history in fighting for women’s rights as a college student, it may be very difficult for her to go to Saudi Arabia and not push some of these issues given who she represents and what she represents. So it may not be publically aired, but I believe firmly that she will – a lot of these issues on human rights – I mean, she’s very much also a creature of the human rights community within Washington – an active member of the National Democratic Institute, which has its program on women called Win with Women. I think she would pursue it. It may not – she won’t use it as a bludgeon – a stick, but I think it will be pursued. It would almost be impossible for her not to given her own profile.

MR PHILLIPS: I can’t even remember the last time we heard an Obama Administration official even mention the word human rights.


MS MARTEN: Mike McFaul did all the time.


MR SABATINI: Yes, yes, but he --

MR PHILLIPS: -- look where he ended up.

MR SABATINI: Yeah. (Laughter.) Back at Stanford.

MR PHILLIPS: So we’re going to hear a little bit more about human rights --


MR PHILLIPS: -- in a coming administration.

MR SABATINI: Just to give one example on that: The speech she gave on Cuba in FIU a year and a half ago, which I helped an early draft of. It actually set a couple of the Obama Administration officials’ teeth on edge because she referred to the Cuban Government as the regime, which the Cuban Government hates. And she talked very forcefully about human rights, and the Obama policy has been sort of full steam ahead to try to push changes without talking about human rights in that. And so she’s – even in some of I would say Obama’s legacy issues, she’s going to be a lot more out there talking about human rights.

QUESTION: Hello. Sheikh Elusi (ph) from Morocco. You talk about the relationship between the U.S. and the countries of Middle East. What about the countries of North Africa? Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya? Another question: Who is, in your opinion, the favorite candidates for these country to develop the relation between the U.S. and these country? Thank you.

MR PHILLIPS: Morocco has been a leading country in the field of preventing violent extremism. It’s been a standard bearer focusing on education as a way of draining the swamp of extremism. I participated in a UN General Assembly panel that was co-sponsored by Morocco, so I believe Morocco is going to continue to play a leading role to finding elements of soft power, education, economic development as a tool for PVE.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Manik Mehta. I’m a syndicated journalist. On the question of South China Sea, I would like to address something. I don’t know if you share my view, but it appears to me that the Philippines, after having gained an advantage through the Hague Tribunal, which rejected China’s claims of the shoal, seems to have gone back on this particular issue. It seems to be losing interest in that. Do you share this view?

Secondly, on the TPP, many of the countries of the region, particularly in the ASEAN community, they are wondering if it was worth pushing for the TPP considering that we have a lame duck Congress and the future is uncertain about it. Do you think the RCEP agreement which is being proposed by China would gain somehow ascendency over the TPP? Thank you.

MR DENOON: Let me deal with the TPP question first. The TPP was started under the George W. Bush Administration. The negotiations were very long and intricate. Under the Obama Administration. I think President Obama was truly committed to free trade and he spoke eloquently about it on many occasions. However, it became very clear during this campaign, particularly in the Republican primaries, that Trump was going to concentrate on the job loss element that comes out of various kind of free trade agreements.

I will also say, as someone who has looked at the academic literature on this, it is fair to criticize the mainstream academic literature on free trade for not looking at the distributional effects of free trade – in other words, which people gain the benefits, which people lose. And clearly Trump identified sort of a sensitive nerve in the American public, particularly among people who were in the manufacturing sector and over the last 20 years had lost jobs.

So that’s what led to Secretary Clinton to reverse her position. She originally said TPP was the gold standard for trade agreements – which was obviously endorsing it – and then she subsequently decided she was going to oppose it. But as I mentioned earlier, I – there’s some people who think that she will find some way to back off that position.

In terms of ARSEP, which the Chinese have proposed, ARSEP is not really about free trade. ARSEP is essentially a loose set of agreements that China is proposing which would essentially allow bilateral agreements to be in a sort of multilateral context. But I don’t think the two things are similar. If Trump were to be elected, he clearly would oppose TPP. If Mrs. Clinton is elected, the question is: Will she find some way to maneuver around it?

Now, on the South China Sea, if it’s difficult to try to predict Mr. Trump, it’s even more difficult to predict Mr. Duterte. So I really don’t want to be in the position of trying to predict how he would behave. There are some people who think that he is clever and that he is essentially just trying to negotiate and play China against the United States, and that he thinks he can keep the United States as the Philippines’ most important ally while insulting the American President and saying a number of very rash things. The foreign ministry in the Philippines has tried to back down from some of the things he said in Beijing, when he said he wanted to break off the relationship with the U.S.

I don’t think we know what he’s going to do. I think he’s very, very hard to predict. I would say the Philippines would be an absolutely critical country for anyone who believed in the original concept that Secretary Clinton put forth in terms of rebalancing towards Asia. Because if the Philippines turns out to be pro-China or hostile to the U.S., given its location close to Taiwan and given its location close to Malaysia and Indonesia, that would change the strategic balance.

The same thing is true of Malaysia, however. Malaysia is much smaller, but if you look at its location, the eastern provinces of Malaysia are next to Indonesia and next to the Philippines. If Malaysia becomes pro-China, then it’s going to have a dramatic effect within the region. The only country that has moved in the other direction and become more critical of China in the last few years is Indonesia, where the president has become extremely antagonistic to the Chinese role in Indonesian waters. In fact, Indonesians are the only people in Asia who have sunk Chinese fishing boats and have captured Chinese civilians.

So I would say the problem with trying to predict Duterte is that we don’t know whether he’s just bargaining or whether this is his true set of views. But certainly the mainstream public in the Philippines is very positive towards the United States, and they’re all scratching their heads over what he’s trying to do.

So you put me in a difficult position; I can’t really answer what’s in his thinking.

QUESTION: So I wish to continue, if you allow me?


QUESTION: But I was actually interested to know your views about The Hague Tribunal. How do you read that? Is it still valid?

MR DENOON: Well, it’s – of course it’s valid. The Hague Tribunal took very, very careful analytic steps, allowed anyone who wanted to make a presentation to make a presentation, had really eminent jurists, and basically China lost on 14 of the 15 items that were being discussed. So if you care about international law, China should back down. But China has already said, when the tribunal was proceeding, that they weren’t going to pay any attention to it, and they’re not paying attention now.

But what I’m trying to get at by mentioning the issue of sovereignty is that – I have an article on this which is more than 15 years old, so I’ve been following this issue for a long time. What I believe the Chinese strategy was was to try to get a series of different atolls that they control, then claim sovereignty, and then get exclusive economic zones of 200 miles around each of these atolls. But The Hague Tribunal has undercut that strategy.

Now, the Chinese still have airstrips and still have naval ports there. But if you think of any of the experience in World War II, if you can’t protect the aircraft and the ships that are at these little atolls, because they’re all so vulnerable, during an actual conflict they wouldn’t be of much value. So in the peacetime period, having control of those atolls is important because it allows China to project its power. But in a military situation, any reasonable opponent could crater those runways first afternoon of a conflict.

So China has taken a very high-risk strategy. They’ve occupied lands that the Southeast Asian countries want, they’ve antagonized the Southeast Asians, and they’re violating international law. The question is: Are they going to back down?

MR PHILLIPS: David, I would just add that Duterte and Trump are very similar personalities, and they could probably get along famously. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: We have time for just two more quick ones.

QUESTION: Hi. Professor, the next president shall be more determinate with the topic Venezuela? I am from Venezuela. Thank you.

MR SABATINI: So is that a question, or you’re just --

QUESTION: It’s a question.

MR SABATINI: Should he or she? The problem – the challenge for Venezuela is the United States, for various reasons, has to sort of tread lightly in Venezuela because of its support for what later turned out to be a coup d’etat in 2002. It is something that the government of Maduro and Chavez use very effectively in trying to sort of justify their crackdown.

Having said that, I think to be honest, I think this Administration, the Obama Administration, hasn’t let – sometimes when the situation is as dire as Venezuela is, it is a humanitarian – approaching a humanitarian disaster with very little short-term means for an exit, thanks to the closing down of the popular referendum. This Administration has been quietly trying to get other governments in the region to step up. They haven’t.

I think it’s time that basically – well, I have an article in Foreign Affairs about this last week, so you can read that. But basically, I think it needs to work in concert with, especially now, Argentina, Peru, Brazil, the new governments there, and stop hoping that a toothless mediation effort will somehow yield results when it hasn’t – a mediation effort that is amoral in its basis. There are no demands that – before the parties sit down that the government be held accountable for human rights abuses and the holding of over a hundred political prisoners. The U.S. has to say this. It’s not saying it. I realize it’s trying to be quiet, but sometimes you need to state the principles to move things along.

And I can’t – and I don’t mean to sound dire, but the fallout of the – of a potential collapse in Venezuela will be – have effects that will – could even have effects on other Latin American countries’ economies. We all know that Wall Street is not particularly sophisticated or savvy when it comes to understanding Latin American capital markets. Should Venezuela default on its sovereign debt, which looks probable, that could have ripple effects across the region, as well as effects of mass migration, as well as an unprecedented challenge of rebuilding what has been a near-failed state. The U.S. has to deal with this now and I think it has to be a much – take a much more public, constructive stance than it has.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I’m from Poland. I have a question to Professor Marten. We know that the policy of Hillary Clinton would be much more predictable, but how would a Hillary Clinton administration react in the case of Russian provocation against Central and Eastern European NATO members? We in Central Europe do not have a firm belief that in case of Russian aggression against, for example, Baltic states, American – United States will act military. What would be critical point when expanding sanction would be not enough?

MS MARTEN: So I’m not clear exactly what your question is. I think your question is would Hillary Clinton keep to Article 5 of the NATO charter, and I think the answer is, without question, yes. So if a NATO state were militarily attacked by Russia, there is, I think, no doubt that the United States would come to the defense of its NATO allies. My own belief is that you don’t need a huge number of U.S. troops to make that clear. What you need is what was, in fact, agreed to at the 2016 Warsaw Summit of having a tripwire of U.S. and other strong allied troops be present both in the Baltics and in the Balkans to make it clear that the U.S. would be affected by any attempt at military invasion.

I think it is less clear what would happen in the event of something that is more like what we’ve already seen in terms of cyber conflict. And I think that there are limits to – certainly, NATO now considers cyber conflict to be within a domain of warfare, and so there would be justification for the United States and NATO to take action in the event of some kind of very serious cyber attack on one of the NATO states that’s located in Central and Eastern Europe. But I would guess that it would have to be at the level of doing significant damage to civilians or significant damage to military forces in those countries for there to be a response, but that’s just guessing. It’s going to – I mean, that’s one thing that the incoming administration, whoever it is, is really going to have to put some thought into is now that we are clearly in information war or cyber war, what are the steps that can be taken, under what circumstances. And I think NATO has to talk about that more as well.

MODERATOR: Unfortunately, we need to conclude this very interesting and wide-ranging discussion. I want to thank all of our speakers, and I also want to note that the transcript of this discussion will be made available shortly to all of you. Thank you. Some of our speakers may be able to speak to you after the conclusion of this briefing. Thanks.