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  • Sam Merritt

The Lost Art of Diplomacy

Entering 2020 the United States already faces great adversity. An almost overwhelmed healthcare system, the glaring question rising from conservative circles over the punishment of China, and an election amidst perhaps the most polarized time in contemporary America. Regardless of political alignment the next American president will govern in a time that will define the role the United States will play in the coming decade and remainder of the century. One shaping feature of this next leader will be how their views on foreign policy and diplomacy develop in the coming epoch.

American diplomacy has never been conventional. Upon the founding of the United States the first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, inherited a rather unique position. As the United States continued to expand Jefferson led the movement to consolidate American power in the lands westward. After this goal was completed by the early 1850’s the United States empire was only contained by the Pacific, Atlantic, Canada, and Mexico. Thus the United States felt no obligation to conform to the European system of creating a balance of power between nation states. Instead the stage was set for the United States to become the economic and commercial powerhouse we know today.

The impact of diplomacy throughout American history cannot be understated. From the establishment of a sphere of influence in the western hemisphere to the end of both World Wars it has shaped not only the views and policies of the United States but nation states worldwide. Although popular support for diplomacy has faded considerably in the last decade its potential for the future is immeasurable.

In January of 2020, the United States used targeted missile strikes to strike a Shiite militia at the Baghdad Airport, killing Iranian military General Qassem Soleimani. The strike was unknown to Congress and rose tensions between the United State and Iran. The following day in a press conference President Trump gave the warrant for the attack that the Iranian military leader posed an imminent threat towards the national security of the United States. This statement still stands without justification or evidence. Conveniently, the strike fell during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump leaving analysts to conclude the strike served merely as a means to galvanize a waning political base. Instead of using military weaponry as a political tool the United States must instead use their global political power to help solve dynamic crises without escalating tensions. Even more troubling, in May of 2018 President Trump pulled the United States from the Iran Nuclear Deal; leaving analysts and members of the Foreign Service alike in shock. Trump justified the act by claiming the deal to be “an embarrassment”, despite inspectors verifying the progress being made by the historic deal. If the 2020’s continue with this trend of reckless crash and burn actions kinetic conflict is sure to ensue.

Unfortunately this is not the only tension mounting in the status quo. Since 2016 speculation over Russian meddling in U.S. elections has risen. The regime led by Vladimir Putin has utilized cyber operations not only on the United States but also in Estonia, Germany, France, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, and Ukraine. The potential for the escalation of cyber conflicts is enormous as leading cyber powers are able to use them while maintaining complete deniability. This is problematic as cyber attacks can take many forms. In 2015 Russian forces deployed a cyber attack strong enough to shut off the power in Ukraine for several hours. Additionally, Russian troll farms can be traced to social media postings in the United States. In 2016 a troll farm in St. Petersburg was traced to a social media account promoting then presidential candidate Donald Trump while advancing propaganda against the opposing candidate. Even more recently Russian involvement has been detected promoting the campaigns of select candidates for president such as Bernie Sanders. If the United States continues to allow this encroachment of privacy and security the conflict is sure to spiral out of control. Instead the United States should hold diplomatic conferences to ensure that there is an effective system in place to regulate acceptable actions regarding cyber technology just as the Geneva Convention regulates military technology.

In the end the United States must prioritize diplomatic action over the escalation of conflict. The era of unilateral military intervention by the United States must come to a close. With a defense budget larger than the next 7 countries the focus of U.S foreign policy should be centered around developing soft power, strengthening the International Liberal Order, and holding all nations of the world to a moral imperative through leading by example.

To read more articles from Sam Merritt click here.

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