National Security Network

Global Challenges Need Global Solutions

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Report 12 April 2010

Diplomacy Diplomacy International Engagement Obama Administration

Today, leaders from around the world are gathering in Washington for the Nuclear Security Summit in order to discuss the global challenge of nuclear terrorism, which President Obama has described as "The single-biggest threat to U.S. security."  The summit, the first of its kind, is the largest meeting of leaders to assemble in Washington since the meeting that formed the United Nations in 1945, demonstrating the global nature of the challenge and the need to address it accordingly.  This event clearly demonstrates that President Obama, who has made promoting American leadership through engagement with the world and through multilateral institutions a foundation of his Administration's foreign and national security policy, is delivering on this approach.  National security experts agree that 21st century global challenges, such as preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials, require global solutions like the one that the President is pursuing, an approach that is popular both at home and abroad.

Obama administration convenes Nuclear Security Summit, demonstrating strong American leadership and a commitment to multi-lateral problem solving. "The leaders of 47 nations gather in Washington today at President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit to discuss how to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists," reported the New York Times.  Speaking on Sunday, President Obama emphasized the seriousness of the nuclear weapons threat to both U.S. and global security: "The single-biggest threat to U.S. security, both short term, medium term and long term, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon...If there was ever a detonation in New York City or London or Johannesburg, the ramifications economically, politically and from a security perspective would be devastating. And we know that organizations like al Qaeda are in the process of trying to secure a ... weapon of mass destruction that they have no compunction at using."

The summit is a nearly unprecedented instance of multilateral engagement and demonstrates the Obama administration's desire to tackle transnational challenges through international cooperation.  According to the Times, "[t]he two-day meeting is the largest called by an American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt organized the 1945 meeting that created the United Nations."  After a meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, Obama expressed confidence in the multi-lateral cooperation being demonstrated by the participating countries. "I feel very good at this stage in the degree of commitment and sense of urgency that I've seen from the world leaders so far on this issue...We think we can make enormous progress on this," said the President.  The Washington Post described the diplomatic activities scheduled on the side of the main summit.  According to the Post, on Sunday "Obama spent four hours in intensive meetings at Blair House, talking with heads of state from India, Kazakhstan, South Africa and Pakistan," and "[o]n Monday, he is to meet individually with heads of government from Armenia, China, Jordan, Malaysia and Ukraine before holding a working dinner with the leaders of the 46 delegations."  [NY Times, 4/12/10. President Obama, via the WSJ, 4/12/10. President Obama, via the Washington Post, 4/12/10. Washington Post, 4/12/10]

21st Century global problems require global solutions.  The challenges of the 21st century are global in nature, and the Obama administration has demonstrated its ability to work with national partners as well as multilateral institutions on a wide range of challenges. 

Tackling the global financial crisis.  The G-20 was essential to a coordinated response to the global financial crisis.  Colin I. Bradford and Johannes F. Linn of the Brookings Institution write that "...the London Summit looks to have been an enormous success in stopping the drop in the global economy, in strengthening the financial and institutional capacity of the international community to address future crises, and in pushing for national and global financial regulatory reform. Our prediction would be that in coming years, the London G-20 Summit will be seen as the most successful summit in history, eclipsing the G8."  And Bradford explains how President Obama helped to rebalance the global governance structure to enhance the G-20's role: "As a consequence of Obama's leadership, global summitry has been transformed from a parochial Western-dominated G8 with false pretenses to act as a global steering committee, to a more inclusive, representative and now proven-to-be more effective G-20 summit that restructures global leadership into a new grouping... The emergence of the G-20 as the world's global steering committee is a blockbuster reform, which will now become a more powerful driver of other international reforms." [Colin I. Bradford and Johannes F. Linn, Brookings, 4/5/10. Colin I. Bradford, Brookings, 9/09]

Working with national partners on counterterrorism.  Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball reported that in late January, while cooperating with a number of countries, that "U.S. intelligence officials appear to have obtained access to what could turn out to be a significant trove of phone numbers, photographs and documents detailing the links between Al Qaeda's leaders in northwest Pakistan and the terror group's increasingly menacing affiliate in Yemen." The Washington Times has also reported that the "U.S. and allied counterterrorism authorities have launched a global manhunt for English-speaking terrorists trained in Yemen who are planning attacks on the United States, based on intelligence provided by the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day bombing after he began cooperating."  In addition, working with allies has proven vital, and will continue to be so, in the efforts to close Guantanamo Bay prison, an essential part of the Administration's counterterrorism policy.  This was demonstrated in February when Spain agreed to take five more prisoners. [Newsweek, 2/14/10. Washington Times, 2/15/10. Washington Post, 2/16/10]

Global progress to address climate change.  Andrew Light of the Center for American Progress discusses the progress that countries have made since the Copenhagen Accord: "The agreement that emerged from December's U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen continues to attract support from a growing number of nations despite naysayers who still insist that the meeting ended in failure. A recent Reuters article shows that there are now 110 countries on board, including the world's major carbon emitters, representing more than 80 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. These countries' collective commitments will not yet achieve the accord's stated goal of holding temperature rise over pre-industrial levels at 2 degrees Celsius, but achieving these commitments could hold us to a 3-degree increase rather than the 4.8 degree rise we would see by 2100 under a business as usual scenario. These commitments also represent a vital first step toward achieving the 2-degree goal." [CAP, 3/29/10]

Strong support for the Obama administration's efforts to engage with the world, both at home and abroad.  There is strong support for President Obama's efforts to revitalize U.S. leadership through international engagement, both here in the U.S. and abroad.  According to a new poll conducted by Democracy Corps, Third Way and Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner, Americans approve of the President's push to improve the U.S. standing in the world, 55% to 42%.  This domestic approval is mirrored by international polling, which has found a dramatic improvement in perceptions of U.S. leadership. The U.S. - Global Leadership Project sponsored by Gallup and the Meridian International Center found that while approval for the U.S. remained low from 2005 to 2008, "[i]n 2009, a bare median majority approves of the job performance of U.S. leadership (51%) -- a first since Gallup began asking the question worldwide." According to the findings of the project, "Significant improvements in sentiment toward U.S. leadership are evident in all four major global regions, with the largest year-over-year increase in approval measured in Europe."  In addition, "[a]mong the Group of Twenty (G-20) members, approval of U.S. leadership changed significantly in 16 of 17 countries where Gallup collected data before and after the Obama administration took office early last year" and "In 15 of these countries, approval ratings increased substantially."  A separate Gallup poll found that the American public recognizes this change in perceptions.  "Fifty-one percent now say the U.S. is viewed favorably, up from 45% a year ago," according to the poll.

In addition, there is broad demand among the American people for a cooperative approach to foreign policy.  Asked whether the U.S. government "should be more ready to act cooperatively to achieve mutual gains when their country negotiates with other countries" or, alternatively, whether their government "tends to be too willing to compromise and is often taken advantage of," 54 percent of Americans agreed with the first statement and only 44 percent agreed with the second.  [GQRR, 3/8/10. U.S. - Global Leadership Project, 2/9/10. Gallup, 2/15/10. WPA, 12/9/09]

What We're Reading

After days of discord, U.S. officials acknowledged  the pressure that President Hamid Karzai faces and promoted him as commander in chief of the warring nation.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva is considering calling elections for October, following violent clashes between security forces and antigovernment protesters -- but such a move may not be enough to satisfy protesters in Bangkok, who are seeking elections for September.

European governments said they were prepared to extend Greece a €30 billion bailout, if needed, in an effort to deliver the country from a debt crisis that has rattled markets for months and tested Europe's monetary union.

Shifting policy, the Iranian government called for any new Iraqi government to include Sunni parties; the move is seen as an effort to distance itself from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Sudan's first multiparty elections in more than 20 years began Sunday, but were hampered by accusations of fraud and a boycott by some opposition parties.

Investigators examining the crash of the Polish president's plane appeared to be focusing on why the pilot did not heed instructions from air traffic controllers to give up trying to land in bad weather in western Russia.

As the Nuclear Security Summit proceeds in Washington, an arms race is heating up in South Asia.

China posted its first monthly trade deficit since 2004, caused mainly by the import of raw materials.

An attacker threw an explosive device over the wall around the U.S. consulate in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, breaking windows and startling employees inside but causing no injuries.

Ousted Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev addressed supporters for the first time since fleeing violent protests last week, warning of "further bloodshed" should his opponents attempt to seize him.


Fareed Zakaria argues for curtailing public criticism of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, saying Karzai is the least-bad option America has in the country and "venting is not foreign policy."

Max Bergmann, Peter Juul and Sam Charap say the new START treaty consolidates progress in the US-Russia relationship and gives America leverage in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.

Paul Quinn-Judge writes that the case of Kyrgyzstan demonstrates that authoritarian regimes are not only unpalatable allies, they are unreliable ones.