Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently met with his counterparts from India, Australia and Japan in Tokyo. This gathering of “The Quad” is another example of this administration “doing diplomacy different” and, in some ways, maybe even better than the old ways.
It’s fair to say President Trump doesn’t do old-fashioned diplomacy. But that’s because traditional statecraft won’t cut it in this era of great power competition. The U.S. must push back against countries like China, Russia and Iran and the threats they pose to regional stability, liberty and security.
Not all of our friends are comfortable with that. They’re comfortable with velvet glove diplomacy and little else. But when critics complain that the U.S. administration doesn’t do multilateralism, arrangements where multiple states cooperate together, it’s like the guy with a rotary phone telling the guy with the iPhone he doesn’t do telephony.
Multilateralism was all the rage in the 1990s. Like-minded nations would band together, advocating international norms for other states to follow. Back then, with the Cold War over, the commitment to participate may have been good enough, even if it produced more dialogue than results.
But in an age where serious competitors like China and Russia have no intention of following any rules that get in their way, talk alone isn’t enough.
This administration does not eschew multilateralism, but it does not restrict itself to multilateralism. And that approach has delivered some welcome results doesn’t look half bad.
When has it embraced multinational cooperation? When cooperating can yield results. NATO is a case point. The administration pressed for reforms and increased burden-sharing because it only makes sense for the U.S. to be part of a collective security alliance if the alliance is capable of delivering collective security.
NATO reform is not a one-off. The administration consistently seeks to participate in groupings that demonstrate they are capable of delivering real outcomes.
The Five Eyes partnership is a good example. The Anglo-American partners (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.) have long had an arrangement for intimate, almost seamless intelligence sharing. This administration concluded that if it works for intelligence, it could work for other matters. Consequently, it has expanded the format to include foreign affairs and other issues.
The Quad is another example of the administration being attracted to multinational activities that can enhance stability and security in the modern era. All four countries involved — Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. — are committed to a free and open Indo-Pacific. They reject the notion that China should have a hard sphere of influence that allows Beijing to bully its neighbors or decide who can and cannot operate in Asia. Bringing together the four nations together for regular, strategic discussions of common issues just makes sense.
No, it is not a formal military alliance as NATO is. The Quad doesn’t need to be. Collective arrangements in the Asia-Pacific need not mirror those in the trans-Atlantic community. What matters is forming associations that can deliver tangible results.
The Oct. 6 Quad meeting was the second time the foreign secretaries have met, a clear sign that this is a serious effort.
Critics were disappointed that the meeting didn’t produce a joint statement. That’s just old-think. Statements are the statesmen’s way of declaring, “See, we can talk to each other.” It appears that the Quad has already moved beyond such paper-deep diplomatic gestures.
By insider accounts, this was a roll-up-the-sleeves meeting where the ministers dug into serious issues: China’s behavior during the COVID outbreak to Taiwan, the Indo-Sino border dispute, the East China Sea, and Beijing’s malicious cyberactivity.
Expect more meetings. Expect the Quad framework to branch out into multilevel discussions that might include bringing in other ministers or national security advisers.
No matter what happens in November or what the Quad critics say, old-fashioned multilateralism doesn’t have much of a future. Without a commitment to real action and outcomes, diplomatic dialogue and joint statements won’t be enough to assure stability and security in today’s geopolitics.
• A Heritage Foundation vice president, James Jay Carafano directs the think tank’s research in matters of national security and foreign relations.
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