Restoring America's Leadership of the Democratic World
Deputy Secretary of State
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DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Thank you, Bob. I’m just going to stand up here briefly and then I’ll come back and sit down again to answer questions.
It’s great to be here and, as Bob said, it’s a reflection of a strong personal commitment he and I have had over the years to work together in areas where we’ve found, despite differences on some issues, that there has been a lot of convergence. And I think a lot of what you’re about at the Foreign Policy Initiative is a reflection of the fact that, despite the typical wars that we experience in Washington, that there is actually a tremendous amount of common ground and there’s a particularly compelling need now for us to identify those areas of common ground moving forward.
I had a chance to read Senator McCain’s remarks before you the other day, and also Senator Lieberman’s op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today, and I think it really reflects a strong conviction on all of our part, and certainly on President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s part, that on the core issues of our time, particularly the posture of the United States in the world, the need for strong for U.S. leadership and the need for sustained engagement, the principles that you talk about in your mission statement, are ones that we share very much. And I think there is an important opportunity to emphasize this, because if the United States is going to be successful in the world, we are at – most successful when there is a sense abroad of unity of purpose and commitment. Which is not to say we aren’t going to have differences, and I don’t think there is any need for us to gloss over them where we have them, but I think it is important to identify those areas of shared vision and shared commitment are particularly important.
And I want to, in addition to emphasizing the importance that we attach to leadership – and as I think many of you know, this was the theme of Secretary Clinton’s most recent Council on Foreign Relations Speech – I want to focus just briefly on three areas today where there is an opportunity for a bipartisan, common approach that will serve the interests of the United States over the long run. The first is on the Asia Pacific, East Asia. The second is on Iraq and Afghanistan. And the third is on the START treaty.
On East Asia, from the beginning of this Administration, we’ve placed an enormous importance on restoring a strong and sustained commitment by the United States into the Asia Pacific on the full range of issues: security, political, economic, and human. And this was symbolized by the fact that Secretary Clinton made her very first visit as Secretary of State to East Asia, which was a first in U.S. diplomacy. And just in the past three weeks, as you’ve seen, we’ve flooded the zone, as it were, with the Secretary’s trip to Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, New Zealand Australia, and Papua New Guinea, and then the President’s visit to India, South Korea, Indonesia, and Japan, which is a pretty comprehensive evidence of the importance that we attach to the region as a whole and the opportunities that we see for building a strong engagement there.
I think most of you know that Secretary Gates famously referred to the United States as a resident power in East Asia. And part of being a resident power is the level of sustained engagement and the sense that Americans are there, are participating across the full spectrum of issues. I had an opportunity to represent the United States at the APEC ministerial leading up to the President’s participation in the APEC leaders meeting. The Secretary at the East Asia summit for the first time, with the anticipation that the President will participate next year. And throughout the trip, we emphasized the importance of core engagement with important bilateral partners as well as building these multilateral institutions like APEC and the EAS.
And in India, he saw an important elevation of the relationship, which began earlier in this Administration with the inauguration of our Strategic Dialogue, and how through a number of important initiatives, including our decisions to lift some of the export controls on India and to welcome India as a participant in the key multilateral nonproliferation regimes, a real reflection of the importance that we place on India as a global actor.
In South Korea, a reaffirmation of the core value and centrality of that bilateral alliance and the strong solidarity we have shown together, whether it’s dealing with the North Korean sinking of the Cheonan or our common approach towards North Korea, which is a willingness to engage in diplomacy, but only if we see real evidence that the North Koreans are serious, and not to reward them simply for talking.
In Japan, a continued effort to strengthen the alliance for the 21st century, including an important agreement which we reached for multiyear funding of host nation support for our troops there and the continued commitment of the Kan Administration to work with us to deal with the base relocation issue in Okinawa.
And, of course, in Indonesia, the launching of the Strategic Dialogue are all reflections of the strong importance that we attach to this region.
Although there were no visits to China by the President on this trip, I want to say just a word about our approach to China. I think our approach is one that I would characterize as clear-eyed. We recognize that China is not a democratic government, that we have important differences, especially in the area of human rights. But at the same time, we recognize that there are important areas of convergence and common interests, and that if we can find ways to work together where our interests converge, both countries will be better off. I think it’s important in formulating our own strategy to recognize that China is not destined to be our enemy. But at the same time, we have to look very carefully and make sure that as China makes its own decisions about its future and how it’s going to both treat its own people and how it’s going to interact with the rest of the world, that we will respond accordingly.
And I think that we’ve seen the evidence of that strategy, whether it’s in our discussions of the South China Sea, or our expectation that on issues like cyber. China needs to take responsibility for actions coming from its own territory or to our insistence that if China wants to sustain global economic growth, it has to do its part by pursuing a balanced economic strategy on its own part.
So let me now briefly switch to Afghanistan and Iraq. I think, again, this is another area where sustained U.S. engagement and bipartisan commitment is enormously important. On Iraq, we’ve been very gratified, after a prolonged period of time in the messy way that democracies act, to see the decisions of the past week for government formation in Iraq, an inclusive government that brings together all of the major constituencies in important roles and that guarantees that each constituency will have a voice in the government going forward, and particularly the important role that Iraqiya will play in this new government. It’s been part of a patient but diligent engagement on our part.
But we also recognize that in order for this to be sustained going forward and to give the Iraqis the confidence to build a tolerant and inclusive society that respects the interests of all the communities, including minority communities like the Christians, that there needs to be a sustained U.S. civilian presence. And there’s only one way we’re going to get that sustained U.S. presence, which is with adequate funding for the activities that we need to do to conduct our continued engagement, our building of the rule of law, of strengthening institutions, police training and the like. And in that respect, it is absolutely critical that we receive the funding that we need, not just for the military and support for the Iraqi security forces but also for our civilian efforts. And we face a big challenge today, frankly. And the current marks in the appropriations committees are significantly below what we’ve requested and raise a serious question about whether we can show a sustained engagement. And that matters not just to the people of Iraq and to continuing the good progress we’ve seen there but to the region as a whole, which is looking to see whether the United States can sustain our engagement.
And similarly, with respect to Afghanistan, there’s no doubt that the price tag is high. But as you’ve heard from other speakers, we have huge stakes there. There is, I think, a bipartisan commitment to achieving the objectives that the President has set out. But both on the military and the civilian side, we need adequate funding to carry out this important mission. This is an area where I think bipartisanship and a sense of the need to stay engaged is really critical, and we look forward to working with you on those issues as well.
Finally, on the START treaty, as you know, the Foreign Relations Committee, by a 14 to 4 vote, voted to endorse the treaty and send it to the floor of the Senate. The treaty has the bipartisan support of leading figures, from the foreign policy, national security, and military establishments of both Republican and Democratic administrations, and it is critical to our long-term national security. It’s important to recognize what happens if we don’t have that treaty, which is we don’t have inspectors on the ground, we don’t have the ways to verify and monitor what’s going on with the Russian missile program. And it’s now been almost a year since our opportunity for these kinds of activities has been interrupted by the expiration of the previous treaty.
So time is important. This is not something that we can put off without cost. And the treaty provides very important guarantees to us of predictability and certainty and understanding about Russian modernization and the opportunity to have an insight into what’s going on in their program. As you all know, and you’ve heard it from many people before me, the treaty puts no constraints on our missile defenses. And it allows for us to proceed with our own program and sustain our own program in ways that have convinced chairmen of the Joint Chiefs and former Defense secretaries as well as a host of senior officials that this provides important support for our security.
So it’s really critical that we do move forward. It is a bipartisan issue. I know that important spokespeople here on the podium have spoken out on this issue. And I hope that, when the air is cleared, that we can move forward. We are going to do this in conjunction with a very significant commitment to the modernization of our nuclear weapons establishment so that we can have the capacity to make sure that we can sustain the stockpile and have the capacity to deal with whatever contingencies should emerge in the future. And frankly, the ability for us to have a robust stockpile stewardship program is much more sustainable in the context of having the treaty, where we can demonstrate that, on the one hand, we are prepared to do what we need to do to maintain our deterrent, but at the same time that this is not – can’t be seen as a backdoor attempt to enter into a new nuclear arms race.
So it’s important that we move forward. The President and the Secretary are very actively involved in this. We’re looking forward to meeting with the congressional leadership and moving forward during the upcoming weeks of the Senate session.
So, Bob, with that, I’ll start and sit down, talk to you.
MODERATOR: Great. Thanks, Jim. Really appreciate it. And again, let me thank you for coming. And you do come in a spirit of bipartisanship, which has sometimes been lacking in Washington. I had a Rip van Winkle experience. I was away in the wonderful land of Belgium for many years. When I left, it was sort of the late 1990s, and there was a lot of controversy, political things going on, but it was always possible to have a foreign policy dialogue across partisan lines. When I got back in 2008, I found that that had kind of broken down. And I think it’s very important to restore it, and I appreciate the fact that the Administration is trying to do that. I think if you read Senator McCain’s comments yesterday, I think he made a strong statement of support for bipartisanship in foreign policy, and I think that there really is the capacity to do that, with obvious – there’ll be times when it isn’t.
And let me just start with the last one that you addressed, which is START. I don’t know whether you saw today – you may not have; I think it just came out – that Senator Kyl has said that he really doesn’t think this is going to happen in a lame duck session. I wonder if you could look – you probably don’t want to acknowledge that that’s not going to happen in a lame duck session, but if it doesn’t happen in a lame duck session, how do you see things unfolding over the course of the next – as we – if they’re going to vote on it in the next Senate?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I mean, I don’t want to be difficult in not answering, but I do think we are determined to try to move forward. And I haven’t seen Senator Kyl’s remarks. I know that there are going to be conversations with Senator Kyl, and I think it’s important to focus on the fact that the areas that he’s identified as areas of concern, which is the modernization of our nuclear weapons establishment, is critical. And this is an unprecedented level of support that the President and Secretary Gates and Secretary Chu have offered to do this. And frankly, I don’t think we’re going to be able to get that in the absence of a treaty. I think that the bipartisan support comes from seeing this as a package, as a whole, in which we’re seen as sustaining the credibility of our deterrent at the same time we’re meeting our international responsibilities to try to bring down the level and number of – and roles of nuclear weapons. And they’re a mirror image of each other, so that for people who are concerned about the risk of a new arms race, their willingness to support a dramatic increase in funding at a time of great budgetary stringency is going to be inhibited, shall we say, if they don’t feel that there are people willing to show a willingness to work on the arms control side.
And frankly, this is a very strong treaty. I mean, arguably it isn’t a very ambitious treaty, but for that reason, there’s been very little controversy about the specific terms of it because it’s a solid treaty that re-establishes strong verification. It provides a predictable future going forward on both sides that doesn’t interfere with any of our other unrelated programs like missile defense or conventional precision strike. And so for us not to do this now is a little hard to understand, and it’s a little hard to understand what the message will be if we put it off. There’s not more to be known. We’ve had full hearings about this. We’ve had thousands of pages of documents and the like. And so I think the question marks will arise, if not now, when? And so I think it is important that we try to do this now. And I think deferring it to later loses – keeps a further window where we don’t have inspections on the ground and then raises questions about what other obstacles will be raised in the future. So I think we are very focused now on the coming weeks and we’re going to go all out. There will be an important meeting at the White House with former secretaries of Defense and State and national security advisors to highlight the bipartisanship behind this.
MODERATOR: Okay. I guess this takes place in the – within the context, at least, of the Russia – of U.S.-Russia policy. And I know that, I mean, even I’ve expressed concerns about this – what effect this might have on internal developments in Russia. But turning to those kinds of issues, you may know or – I don’t know whether you know, we had Boris Nemtsov here yesterday and he gave the keynote speech at lunch. And he was very forceful, but – and he made – he was very clear on one point, which was even though he feels that he was very grateful that President Obama met with him when President Obama visited Moscow and met with the opposition, he said very clearly that the Russian people don’t really know where President Obama stands on the issue of democracy and human rights in Russia. He points to – he objected again openly to the continuance of the Surkov-McFaul Commission, when, in Nemtsov’s view, Surkov is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He’s in charge of a lot of the repression of civil society that that commission is supposed to be addressing. Should he have a better sense of where President Obama stands on these issues than he claims he does?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think it’s pretty clear, and I think we’ve been pretty outspoken on it, whether it’s on the beatings of journalists or the imprisonment of political figures, that we do speak out on these things and that , notwithstanding, the reset –has not muted our voice on any of these issues. And in particular, an area that I’ve been involved in, which is, through the OSCE, the importance of insisting that all three baskets of the Helsinki process be sustained despite some reservations on the Russian part about the continued vitality of the human dimension. And that is a red line for us, that that’s been a big focus, is to make sure that we do keep that sustained because it is the fundamental basis for our moving forward, is to be able to address these issues as well. And so the value and the credibility of our engagement with Russia does depend on our being able to speak out on those issues. And I think the track record is pretty strong that, notwithstanding, as you say, that the President meets with other voices, is not afraid to do that. We’re not afraid to comment on areas where there are continued detentions as we’re marking an anniversary today and had something to say about that.
And so I think there’s a very strong message. I understand one always expects opposition figures and democracy campaigners to want more, and that’s their job. At the same time, we hear a lot from the other side of the spectrum, among not just leaders in Russia, but that we are too forceful. So I think we need to be clear about where we are. I think the President has spoken more broadly about the role of democracy and human rights in his General Assembly speech just a few weeks ago and the critical importance that he and the Secretary place on these.
MODERATOR: Well, I’m glad you raise that because it has been notable. The President devoted, I think, roughly a third of his UNGA speech to democracy, which was certainly more than he had in the past. And Secretary Clinton’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations was also very heavily focused on democracy, so there’s certainly an impression out there that the issue of democracy is receiving a higher priority than it may have in the past. I know the Administration’s view is they’re always consistent. Administrations never change; I understand that. They never adjust; they’re always right all the time.
But the question is as the emphasis has been placed on democracy, now, of course, the problem always is you have to show what you’re going to do in specific instances. And one instance that I know has been on some people’s mind is we have the elections coming up in Egypt in two weeks, the parliamentary elections, and there was some – I know people have raised concern. I personally have raised concern, but so have others, that in Secretary Clinton’s meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, she didn’t mention the issue of internal politics and the domestic situation or even make any statement about the elections. So there are people who wonder what kind of signal that sends to Egypt, when the rest of the rhetoric seems to be so much about democracy.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: If you look, including in the last couple of days, we made a number of statements about the parliamentary elections and the importance that we attach to them. And I don’t think – I mean, there’s – to be frank, there’s almost a rote quality. I mean, you can go to every meeting and just say, I ticked the box and I said something about democracy to prove that every meeting has it. But I think what’s important is that you say it when it matters and the people understand what your position is on it. And I don’t think the litmus test is to make sure that every meeting is a discussion about that. We have some very other important issues, like the Middle East peace process, which is at a very delicate moment right now. And these meetings were – obviously, the particular meeting was focused on how do we move forward on that, which is critical for Israel’s security and critical for a whole other set of issues which I know you’re very interested in, which is including regional security issues. So – and we had to talk to them about Lebanon; we had to talk about a lot of other things. But I --
MODERATOR: It’s a full plate is what you guys say. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: It is a full plate. It’s a full plate. But I – and I think the – I mean, there’s no doubt that how – the democracy agenda is always a challenging agenda because, on the one hand, we need to be clear about what our position is. We need to provide moral support and encouragement to those forces who are encouraging it. But at the same time, just saying it for the sake of saying it doesn’t help the agenda. So it is a part of statecraft and diplomacy is to understand how you tailor your strategy to each case, to recognize that these are usually long-term projects. What are the most successful examples of long-term democracy-building? I, as you know, spent a lot of time in East Asia and I look at East Asia today and I say let’s look at Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia. These were 40, 50-year projects, and they began with authoritarian governments that were friendly to us but authoritarian governments, whether South Korea or other parts of the region. And we got there through having a sense of not being your adversary or not being there to harm you but to support the idea, in a gradual and evolutionary way, that democracy will come about. And that proved enormously successful and durable.
Each country is different and each region has its own challenges, but that long-term perspective, the sense that you need to do this in a way that doesn’t dishearten the democracy movements within countries but doesn’t allow the United States just to be seen as hectoring without trying to build. And I think we do need to look at lessons from our history to embrace the successful strategies we’ve had, to be clear about what we think the end point is, but to recognize that each journey takes a different path. And that’s what the President identified in his Cairo speech and in his Accra speech even during the first year of the Administration.
MODERATOR: Well, just to continue along that, because I think that’s – those are good points, you might also say that as you look at some of those instances that you refer to, whether it’s South Korea or the Philippines, there are also critical moments that occur. Obviously, the elections that went the wrong way from Marcos’s point of view, in which the United States sort of pushed him into holding those elections. And in South Korea, when Gaston Sigur, old friend of ours, late lamented, really made it clear to the South Korean Government that they had to make a change. There were those who would say – I count myself among them – Egypt may be coming up to one of those turning points as well. Setting aside the current parliamentary elections, Mubarak’s not going to be president forever. Setting aside issues of his health, the next election in Egypt could be one of those moments.
And I guess the question would be: Even within a kind of long-term strategy, what is the outcome that you want to see in those next elections, and what kind of strategy can the U.S. Administration have toward getting toward that goal?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think the key is opening up the process and letting the leadership feel comfortable that they can achieve their national interests consistent with a more open process, with more open political competition, with a more open press, and that this is something that ultimately will strengthen their society. I mean, at the end of the day, even in the cases where we did play a strong role and where we had a lot of influence and some leverage, these are ultimately decisions that the countries make for themselves. And I think we have to recognize this, that if leadership believe it’s fundamentally against their national interest to move in that direction, they’re just not going to do it, however much pressure you put on them. So I think that it’s – having the – building the trust and confidence that allows you to say you need to do this for you, not just for us, that ultimately is where we get there.
MODERATOR: You started with East Asia, and I happen to think that the geo-strategic side of the President’s trip was very successful. And I think that, as you suggested, his visit to India, Indonesia, Japan, and Korea provided, I think, a useful and a wanted reassurance by the United States. And it’s funny; I’m sure you have the same experience that I do. As I’ve been in Southeast Asia and Colombia and the Middle East recently, I hear a constant refrain that they want the United States to be more involved. But there’s also doubt about American staying power. In fact, no matter how active we are, there is this lingering doubt. And this doubt kind of crystallized at the G-20. So I wanted to ask you a couple of – that’s been on, obviously, the reporting about the G-20, which is always sensationalist, talked about what an unfortunate or unsuccessful trip that was.
But I wanted to ask you in a general sense about the structure of the G-20 and whether – how hard is it to adjust to this new approach? One of the things that I was struck by was that when we – that going into the summit, we had a traditional ally in Europe, Germany, pretty much attacking U.S. policy as vehemently as the Chinese were. I would have thought in the old days of the G-7 and the G-8, we’d have worked that out before we got to the G-20. Before we get to the summit, we’d have done the kind of transatlantic communications that’s necessary to keep that on a – keep a lid on that so that we come in with a more unified position. I mean, what happened in this summit that led to that kind of fracas?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: You’re a historian and I’m a partial historian, and I think we kind of forget how economic issues have always been like this.
MODERATOR: True enough.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Look at the balance of payments crises of the ’50s and ’60s and into the ’70s, and the enormous rows that we had with our European partners over those issues at the time, including with Germany, In some ways, it’s easier to fight in the economic realm because, first of all, our leaders are political leaders and they have to protect the national interests of their people, and sometimes, there are – particularly in short-term economic moves, there tend to be frictions about how people meet their near-term needs.
So even in the heyday of the Cold War that we were together on economic issues. I mean, if you think about the Nixon economic shock – when – in ’71, this was one which, the world, including our allies, were totally opposed– think about Japan and what that did there. So I think we shouldn’t underestimate the historical consistency of – even with close allies on issues like this that we often run into substantial difficulties. And I’ve been in plenty, including being a sherpa in G-7, G-8s. And so I don’t think what happened --
MODERATOR: But you fixed everything before you got to the summit. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: No, we didn’t always fix things before they got to the summit. These issues are difficult. It’s a complex world. We’re in unchartered territory in some respect. I mean, we have some strong views of our own about what’s needed to sustain long-term economic growth.
In general, what we saw coming out of the G-20 was an acceptance of that basic template, which is that we needed to have rebalancing with responsibility on all sides, which is to have the export economies take some responsibility for making sure that they have sustained domestic demand and the like, and for us to deal with our own fiscal challenges and our own deficits, which also put strains on the global economic system. And I think the reason – some of the ideas that were floated were an attempt to try to get a conversation going about how we do this. And I think every time we’ve had to do this, with the currency crises of the ‘80s, as you’ll recall, there was a lot of back and forth before we were able to get to some kind of sustained engagement. And there were sustained problems with Japan from the late ‘80s through the ‘90s, so – and this was a good, strong ally.
What makes the press reporting about these things is kind of turning this into a sporting contest. But I think when it comes to something as complicated as dealing with this very difficult, challenging, unprecedented world of extraordinary global financial flows and tremendous volatility in the system, the fact that everybody doesn’t have precisely the same analysis, shouldn’t be seen as a concern.
What is positive is that we’ve brought a whole range of people to the table and a lot of voices to the table to try to work through this, that we’re making progress on renovating the IMF to make it more credible as a long-term instrument to deal with not the past kinds of economic crises, but the contemporary kinds of crises.
So I don’t view this at all as a bad outcome of the G-20. I think this is – can be seen as important steps forward, not as a resolution of the issue. There’s a lot more to discuss. But I think it was – which – from the perspective of what we were trying to achieve, an important recognition of the basic principles that we think are critical to going forward.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, I’m always sympathetic to the argument that things are never as good as we think they used to be. (Laughter.) So, China for a second. You’re an expert on China, been studying it for a long time. There’s a general sense – and I think the United States is – the Obama Administration has responded to this – a general sense that China has been a little bit more bullying in its behavior over the past few months. And I read a report today that even sort of foreign policy think tankers in China are wondering what’s going on.
The Chinese policy used to be the Deng Xiaoping, keep a low profile, don’t look menacing to anyone. And I don’t want to overstate their menace recently, but it’s pretty clear that their neighbors have come to the United States looking for a little bit more reassurance in light of Chinese activities. How do you explain, how do you understand what China’s been up to over the past year or so?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I like that word, “reassurance.” (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: I know you do.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think that China is in a period of transition and it’s in a political transition; they’ll have new leadership in 2012. It’s in a transition in which it’s trying to understand the consequences and the significance of its increased economic clout. And I think that there are – like in any society which is going through a lot of change, there are competing voices and competing views. And I think that part of the purpose of our engagement both bilaterally with China and regionally is to try to define for China the choices that are available to it, the different paths that it might choose, and what the consequences will be of the different paths that it choose.
And as China works its way through trying to understand maritime issues, broader issues, cyber issues and the like, what’s critical is for us to be clear about what we think would be reassuring, what would– give confidence to the rest of the international community to accept the idea that this is a country which is obviously going to be influential because of its economic clout, and to use these as learning experiences, frankly, in which we have a dialogue about why these activities raise concern; why, if they believe they’re benign or not threatening to the interests of our neighbors, our friends, our partners, or ourselves that they come to the table and explain that; and that they take steps to reassure, like through the declaration of conduct with respect to maritime activities in the South China Sea.
This is an opportunity, at a time when we don’t face direct threats, to have this very open and candid discussion. It’s why we’ve put so much emphasis on the military-to-military dialogue, because we think that China needs to hear from us about why we’re concerned. And if they’ve got answers, we really want to hear them. And it’s because we believe that there’s a positive way forward. That’s not guaranteed, but possible. But each of these incidents are – we have to hear from them why they think they’re justified in doing what they’re doing, but they need to hear from us and their neighbors. And we do think that it’s important, because a lot of these activities affect the region as a whole, that we have multilateral fora in which to do it, whether it’s the ASEAN Regional Forum, whether it’s the EAS, whether it’s APEC or the G-20. These are all opportunities where it doesn’t become just a bilateral issue between the United States and China, but an opportunity for everybody to have a voice in this.
And so I think we’ll see how this comes out. I mean, this could be part of a very constructive period in which there’s a better understanding of why certain activities cause concern, or it may not, and we have to be prepared for both answers. But the more we’re clear to China about what we expect from them, the better chance we have of getting a good outcome.
MODERATOR: I mean, it’s an interesting shift that’s occurred, at least on the surface. There was a time when it was the Chinese who were always talking about multilateral fora out there, and we were kind of stuck with our bilateral relationships. Now we’re the ones talking about multilateral fora, and the Chinese, at least last I heard, were insisting on dealing with these problems bilaterally. Have they moved off of that? I mean, are they – or is that still their position?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Again, I think part of it is that it’s – we’re living this in the day-to-day part and not in the perspective that we’ll ultimately see this --
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: -- five or ten years forward. And this may be a short-term move in which they then come back and see that it’s in their interest. I mean, I do think it’s important and significant that they were quite effusive in welcoming the decision of the United States and Russia to join the East Asia Summit. It’s a very important forum. It has a lot of attractions for both of us, frankly, because it’s ASEAN-centric, so we’re not competing for leadership there, but it’s a place for us to come together. And the more we can do this and their participation in APEC and these other fora. Territorial disputes are uniquely complicated and problems, but I would hope that – we’ve even heard more recently on the code of conduct issues with respect to the South China Sea that they may be more willing to have a multilateral conversation.
So I don’t want to try to call where we are based on each day’s efforts, but to try to look at this in a slightly longer-term perspective and hope that our own efforts and our efforts with others will be persuasive with the Chinese that there is a more constructive way to deal with it.
MODERATOR: Okay. Getting back to Afghanistan and Iraq, which is the third area that you identified as an area of bipartisan support, which I think is certainly true – that if there’s a problem, it’s more on the left wing of the Democratic Party than in the Republican Party, although there was a right – there was a part of the --
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, you heard what Senator McCain had to say yesterday about that too --
MODERATOR: Yes, right, okay.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: -- so I think we should hold hands and --
MODERATOR: Fair enough.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: -- against – both sides.
MODERATOR: Okay, fair enough. On Afghanistan, since I know you read Senator McCain’s comments and I’m sure you heard Lindsey Graham’s comments on the This Week, the Christiane Amanpour show – and Fred Hiatt wrote a column which you probably saw also, in which he said 2014 is the new 2011. And one of the things that both Senator McCain and Senator Graham, who are firm supporters of the Administration’s policy in Afghanistan, is that the President needs to make it clearer that July 2011 is not some massive turning point where the United States is going to start pulling it out – pulling out, that the cabinet secretaries have made this point, but the complaint is that the President hasn’t quite made it, so the American people may not be focused yet on the reality that there’s probably going to be a fairly minor drawdown beginning in 2011, and the real date that people should be focused on is 2014. And I imagine this is going to come up at the Lisbon summit as well.
Do you have any thoughts on all these issues?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I mean, one thing I’ve long learned not to fight is --
MODERATOR: Not to speak for the President. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: No, no, I’m definitely not going to speak for the President, but also that – to try to fight arguments about what perception is --
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Whether we’re always right or not, we always feel that we’re doing our best to communicate what we’re trying to do,– but if people perceive that we’re not, then we have something we need to address.
And I do believe, from our perspective and those who are involved in the policy, there is no ambiguity about– 2011. It was the beginning of a transition. It was not a drop dead, it was not a fall off the cliff. It was a point at which we believed our efforts to train the Afghan security forces – army and police – would reach the point where we could begin, in a gradual way, to transfer responsibility. And in fact, we’re beginning to see that that can happen. And there was never any intention to see this as a kind of dramatic moment.
But it was also important, I think, as I best understand what the President’s thinking was on this, to make clear that this was not an open-ended commitment where the Afghans could just sit back and rely on us to take care of it. It was important to give some perspective on a timeline to give impetus to moving this training process forward. And frankly, one of the things we do understand – and I think our military and our political leaders as well as the Afghans understand it – that in the long run, without Afghan ownership of this thing, we will not be successful. This has to be something that the Afghan people feel that they own and want to be part of.
And I think we will get there. I mean, I think that does happen. But if you just sort of say we’re going to be there forever and we’re – then all of a sudden, it’s not ours and they don’t – it isn’t something that they feel ownership of. And that’s obviously something that President Karzai stresses a lot. So if we need to do a better job of messaging that, we should do a better job of messaging that. And I am confident that we’ll hear a very explicit discussion and outcome in Lisbon that will talk about it, as ISAF, as NATO, in terms of how we see the way forward.
I think we need a clearer understanding among our publics and our Congress, because we need to sustain that support. And as you know, I’m particularly focused on the civilian side. And when there’s been a lot of talk and worry that somehow the State Department and AID weren’t prepared to step up, we’ve been stepping up. The numbers are dramatically increased, but we need the funds to do it. We can’t keep people there without it. And we are not there at the current level of support; that’s just not there. The biggest danger is that we won’t get the financial support and the resources that we need to do this, which is why the dialogue is so important and the bipartisanship is so important.
But I think there will be a strong message coming out of Lisbon not just on our intentions, but of NATO as a whole about how to see this going forward with the idea that 2014 is something we should be aiming for, but that – and that like all journeys, they begin with a first step. And so we see 2011 as a place in which we can begin on a path towards that longer objective.
MODERATOR: I hesitate to raise this because your immediate answer’s going to be what’s new. But the question of NATO capabilities is a perennial question; you were dealing with it in the 1990s and now you’re dealing with it again. But in light particularly of the recent British Government budget cuts, which have a fairly substantial impact on – at least in the coming years on their military capacities, I mean, is the trajectory one, in your view, that will allow our European allies to sort of continue to play the role that they have played in Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere? Or are we moving back toward what people use to talk about, a kind of burden sharing – a division of labor, not a burden sharing – more of a division of labor where we do the heavy work and they come in and do the police work, et cetera, et cetera? I mean, what is this looking like to you right now?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, I mean, I can’t resist, as you know --
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: -- it is a familiar thing. The first sort of national security piece I wrote was when I went to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in 1985 and wrote about the burden-sharing debate in the alliance and the attempt to keep the 3 percent – (laughter) – which is a long way in the past.
The British have fiscal difficulties. We have fiscal difficulties. And in a situation like that, nothing is sacrosanct. And Senator McCain made that point the other day. But I applaud the British because, although they didn’t totally exempt defense, they certainly treated it differently than they treated other elements of expenditure. And I have to say, as a kind of policy planner, I give them a lot of credit for a very thoughtful exercise in which they thought about the kinds of capabilities that were important, particularly expeditionary capabilities, special operations-type capabilities – cyber and counterterrorism, which are, I think, the right places to put the emphasis. They have shrunk the size of the military overall, but they’ve sustained an expeditionary capability, and that was an important touchstone in their own planning, including the decision to continue with the carriers to be able to project power.
So I think within the constraints that they face, they were very responsive to the concern that you address, which is are they going to be able to be expeditionary and deploy. This is a big problem, and Secretary Gates has been very eloquent on this and we need to keep after it, that the alliance is not going to be viable if people can’t come and participate in it. And we don’t – there can be divisions of labor among alliance members, and I think some of the joint work that the British and the French have agreed on is welcome. There’s no reason to have duplication if you can avoid that, and so specialization is not necessarily a bad thing. But there can’t be a division of labor between Europe becoming a dad’s army and the United States being the global power. I think – and that’s what Afghanistan is about.
And frankly, for all the discussion about this, I mean, let’s not forget there are 40,000 non-U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which is a very significant contribution. Most of them are NATO. They’re not all NATO. Australia and a few others are there. But it is – they have sustained that despite very, very difficult political debates in Europe. And so I see this as a challenge but not as a – but also at core a success in our ability to sustain this, and we’ll just need to keep the pressure on to do that.
MODERATOR: One of the issues that came up at the same time of the G-20 was the South Korean Free Trade Agreement, which gets into free trade. And I actually would have expected you, and I’m sure you would mention free trade as another area where you could have pretty strong bipartisan consensus. And I hesitate to say this because McCain also – Senator McCain also went in the other direction making the other point as well. But mostly difficulties in free trade have to do with Democratic Party constituencies. Republicans tend to be more pro free trade, although Senator McCain did warn that that could also be a problem with some portions of the party. But nevertheless, I think it’s a strong area where the Administration and a more Republican Congress are likely to agree.
The first question is: What is the future fate of the South Korean Free Trade Agreement? The second is: There are other free trade agreements out there hanging, particularly – and one that I’m – obviously there’s Panama, but the one that I’m most concerned with is the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. After successful elections in Colombia, successful efforts against terrorists in Colombia, and I would say a substantially improved human rights situation, I’m wondering whether we can finally get moving forward on that as well. But just your general views on these.
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, first on Korea. Meetings are a good impetus to try to accelerate things, but sometimes the work is just not finished. And I think this was just a case that both sides recognize that it was better to have a good agreement that passed and was acceptable both in Seoul and in Washington than to try to artificially rush it for the President’s meeting.
Obviously, we would have liked it. It would have been a nice thing to do while the President was there. But we have committed to have our ministers work, and I’m hopeful. I can’t guarantee that we’ll reach an agreement, but I’m hopeful that we will. I think there’s a strong will on both sides to do this and a determination on the two presidents’ part to try to get there. And I think this is one that would have enormous benefits for both countries.
On Colombia, as you know, I’ve spent – I’ve had two trips to Colombia and it’s been an issue that’s of great interest to me. And we are very, very encouraged by President Santos and his new administration. We had a strong relationship with President Uribe. We think there’s even a greater possibility now with some of the leadership that President Santos has had in depoliticizing some of the human rights and institutional issues, doing the reforms to get rid of the old security apparatus that had engaged in surveillance that everybody accepts was not appropriate; a better dialogue with the human rights community in Colombia, including more reassurance to the human rights community that they will be protected against threats from the paramilitaries, former paramilitaries, and others, better engagement with the labor unions there, and the like. The message that President Santos has given from the beginning is a very strong one, and the personal engagement of Vice President Garzon, who has his own personal background in this area, is very encouraging. And I think that does help create a better climate. The President has said that he wants to move forward with these. We obviously need to take the temperature of what it’s going to look like in the new Congress in terms of the exact strategy going forward, but I do think we’re – I think we’re hopeful that with some – the kinds of steps that are taking place both in terms of our discussions with Korea, particularly on automobiles and then dealing with some of the related concerns around the Colombia agreement, that we’ll be in a position to move forward on this.
MODERATOR: This summer? Next summer?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I don’t – can’t control the legislative calendar and it’s going to depend on not just what the President wants to do but what the new leadership of the House wants to do and the like. So I think we need to have a dialogue with them about it.
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, I guess getting back to Afghanistan, one of the things that people got – there was a big sensation about the Woodward book. The one thing I wanted to ask you, the Woodward book left the impression – I think Woodward deliberately left the impression – that the debates that he was writing about are ongoing, that yes, he was writing about the discussion that took place in the fall of 2009, but I think Woodward made it very clear outside the book in his own interviews that President Obama wants out and there’s still a lot of fighting going on in the Administration. And the press, it seems to me, has stoked this notion that there’s a big fight going on. Can you tell us whether there was a continuing debate about policy in Afghanistan or whether there’s a pretty settled position across the Administration at this point?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: First, (inaudible) I have not read the book, so I can’t comment on it. (Laughter.)
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I think you would be disappointed if we didn’t have policy debates, right? The worst thing that can happen is for views and ideas not to be explored. I think there’s an obligation even when you come into it with a fairly broad consensus to test out the ideas and to put – what’s the red cell version of this, what’s the alternative? I think I feel very strongly as a former policy planner that without a strong airing – and I have to say – I’m not going to get into whatever kind of details Bob did – I found the discussion to be extraordinarily impressive in the sense there was a serious debate, it was not deeply acrimonious. It was passionate because people had different views. But in the end of the day, that’s what you want. You don’t want a cabinet of yes people and a team that only has one view of the world. I think that would be very dangerous. So there were different perspectives, there were different ideas, and they were synthesized by the President. And I have to say – this won’t surprise you, but I’ve been in a lot of meetings with now – this is the third president I’ve worked for. This was as impressive a performance by a president who got into the brief, understood, participated in an extended way in listening to the arguments and talking to the participants, and probing, challenging, and coming up with his own synthesis.
And the other thing about it is that once the President decides, we have a policy. And I think we understand that there’s a policy. There will be an opportunity – I think right now, what we anticipate for the so-called review that we’re undertaking now is what we’re calling more of a diagnostic than – we’re not anticipating there’s going to be a fundamental review of what we’re doing. That will be later down the road. But we do want to kind of collect some data and sort of see where we are to see if we’re on the path that we thought we were on.
But it would be healthy at the time that we do do it to ask the tough fundamental questions. We should zero-base some of these things. It doesn't undermine the policy to ask the tough questions and say do we really have this right and to bring in the other voices. And sometimes you have to actually just gin them up just to make sure that you do have those other voices there, that you’re not getting into a group think mode.
So I don’t sense any sort of deep concern except that this is so important, and frankly – I mean, you know this too – anytime you’re asking young men and women to put their lives on the line, you owe it to them to ask these questions every day and to make sure that you have the confidence that when you’re asking them to make the ultimate sacrifice, that you, in your very best judgment, your heart of heart, that this is the right thing to do. And this is so compelling in this context. So I don’t – I’m not at all troubled by the discussions. I think it’s a very professional, informed, and important discussion for any administration to have.
MODERATOR: Well, that’s great. Let me ask – let me just leave one final question and then let you go. You’ve been very generous with your time. Again, in my own travels, and I’m sure you get the same thing, there is this general desire in a lot of countries that the United States pay as much attention to their problems as possible. There is also a sense both here and abroad that the President is going to have to focus on domestic issues, both economic issues – well, primarily dealing with the economy. And there is a doubt that the United States can be as involved as it professes to want to be and as many people want it to be while it is dealing with this economic crisis. What is your answer to those concerns that people raise?
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: Well, first, as was clear from this last trip, we’re not going to deal with the domestic economic crisis without dealing with the international context. So there’s no dividing line here. So I don’t quite understand the argument as to what it would be that would lead you to be – to less care about what’s happening in the rest of the world.
MODERATOR: Just that there’s only 24 hours in a day, the President has to – he has only so much political capital, those kinds of – it’s not a silly question, but --
DEPUTY SECRETARY STEINBERG: I agree it’s not a silly question. We all know that as you move closer to an election, the ability of the President to travel abroad and things, obviously that will be constrained. He’ll need to be here more.
But I think first of all, what you need the President for are the strategic interventions, both in terms of deciding policy and dealing when you have to interact with key leaders and others to participate. We’ve got a pretty strong team out there of people who can work the President’s agenda who have a lot of respect. I happen to work for a Secretary of State who has convening power beyond any Secretary of State that I’ve ever seen, who can interact with heads of state and leaders and be taken seriously at that level. We’ve had that leadership from Secretary Gates and others.
So I don’t feel any anxiety – the only anxiety that I feel is the one we were talking about before, is will we sustain the resources that we need to do these things, which could become caught up in this. But in terms of that focus of the Administration, I have every confidence that we can continue to sustain the pace of our activity. What I do worry is that people will think and read the tea leaves of our elections or other things as somehow a retrenchment thing that you’ve talked about. That would send the wrong signal.
But I don’t think it will be because we need to deal with these challenges at home, because, most of the challenges at home that we need to deal with – this is not like there’s some deep domestic problem that is unconnected to the rest of the world that would require us as a policy matter to focus on something here at the expense of other things.
MODERATOR: Okay, great. Well, as you can all see, Jim is someone who is capable of dealing not only at great breadth but at great depth with a huge variety of issues. I can’t imagine what else I could have thrown at him that he wouldn't be able to go in as much detail. And again, let me thank you very much for coming here, for expressing the kind of bipartisan approach. And please join me. Thank you very much. (Applause.)