Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a longtime diplomat for the U.S. Department of State, gave his perspective on several critical areas of contemporary American foreign policy in a discussion with The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy Dean James Stavridis.
Sophomore Eva Kahan, a member of the Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship (EPIIC) Colloquium, introduced the event, which was co-sponsored by The Fletcher School, the Institute for Global Leadership and the International Relations Program. Haass was then presented with the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award.
Following opening remarks, Haass and Stavridis began by discussing the current state of the federal government. Haass argued that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is knowledgeable about the world due to his former position as Chief Executive Officer of ExxonMobil, but he does not have experience in government and his relationship with President Donald Trump was not particularly close at the beginning of his administration.
Likewise, Haass said that Secretary of Defense James Mattis is well-read but not familiar with political processes, and that Trump has almost no direct exposure to government or policy.
On the topic of North Korea’s nuclear program and missile testing, Haass called for the United States to take a diplomatic approach, possibly through collaboration with China, rather than a military approach or a more conciliatory and defensive strategy. He noted, though, that China does not want a unified Korea.
Haass then discussed the ongoing conflict in Syria, in which many different countries have a stake, most notably the United States and Russia. He emphasized the importance of having a clear goal in the conflict.
In previous years, Haass noted that the United States‘ foreign policy has frequently centered on the idea of removing Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s current president, from office. According to Haass, though, this is the wrong approach.
“The focus can’t be ‘Assad must go.’ It has to be ‘ISIS must go,’” Haass said.
Haass explained that, in his opinion, Syria is currently not ready for a full peace process. In particular, he warned that Syria’s Alawite minority community, of which Assad is a member, is not confident that it will be safe in a post-Assad government. He added that Iran views the survival of the Assad government as a vital national security interest.
Stavridis then transitioned away from the discussion on Syria and asked Haass about Russia, inquiring about whether we are on the brink of a second Cold War. Haass explained the historical incentives behind Russia’s recent behavior on the world stage and outlined foreign policy strategies for the United States to help quell Russian aggression.
He argued that the United States should be tougher on Russia by helping to strengthen and support North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries. Simultaneously, he said the United States should involve the Russian government in diplomatic negotiations to address issues of mutual interest, such as terrorism and arms control.
Stavridis echoed Haass’ points.
“Confront where we must, cooperate where we can,” Stavridis said.
The discussion concluded with an optimistic reminder from Stavridis that we are living in a far less chaotic era than that of the last century.
After his remarks, there was a question-and-answer session for members of the audience. Haass and Stavridis provided their thoughts in response to questions on many different issues in international relations, from the Iran nuclear deal to human rights.