The Biden administration has displayed initial deluded and antiquated thinking when it comes to foreign policy.
After the four-year interregnum of Donald Trump’s “Cirque du Stupide,” America’s foreign diplomacy should be undergoing a total facelift. Returning to the stodgy “business as usual” foreign policy of the past is not the answer. As the Biden administration began to nestle into office, there was a familiar refrain in press releases from the Department of State, otherwise known as “Foggy Bottom.” These included such old ditties as “The Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed ways to strengthen cooperation with allies and partners to address the [blah . . . blah . . . blah].” Or, if that was not monotonous enough, the White House returned to old form with read-outs like the following: “President Joseph R. Biden spoke today with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom. The President conveyed his intention to strengthen the special relationship between our countries and revitalize transatlantic ties, underscoring the critical role of NATO to our collective defense and shared values.”
News to Team Biden: The year is 2021, not 1951. Whatever “special relationship” the United States had in the past with the United Kingdom, that has long been overtaken by events, including the practical inevitability of Scotland becoming independent and rejoining the European Union and Northern Ireland being an effective part of a customs union, minus the rest of the UK, with the Republic Ireland. It would seem the old “special relationship” has devolved to new political entities.
It would do the State Department and White House well to reinvent the mechanisms of diplomacy. There is as much a need for Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Biden to be on the phone with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as there is for vapid phone conversations with England’s own version of “Trump,” Mr. Johnson.
There may be 193 member states of the United Nations, but around the world, newly-devolved regions, provinces, and areas – well over 100 – are taking on the trappings of statehood or autonomous status and more are planned. More than a handful of these autonomous entities even have their own ministries of foreign affairs or, as they are alternately known, ministries of international cooperation. That fact, alone, should change the face of modern diplomacy and a new subset of that discipline, known as paradiplomacy, as well as the very essence of statecraft. Nevertheless, it will be like pulling teeth to convince the State Department, so rooted in the traditions of the 19th century, to update its old and stale act.
As the result of information gathered by the Japanese intelligence service, the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office, or “Naichō,” in the 1990s, Japan is in the best position economically to deal with post-Brexit northwestern Europe. Japanese companies, at the urging of the government in Tokyo, began investing in and currying favor with the Celtic regions of Brittany, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland at a time when Washington only viewed London and Paris as the centers of political power in that particular part of Europe. For the Japanese and their early recognition of paradiplomacy, the regional Celtic capitals of Rennes in Brittany, Cardiff in Wales, Dublin in Ireland, Belfast in Ulster, and Edinburgh in Scotland became just as important as London and Paris. According to French intelligence specialist Roger Faligot’s book on Naichō – “Naisho: Enquête au cœur des services secrets japonais” – the Japanese reaped more than Celtic goodwill from their pioneer outreach to Celtic regions like Brittany, which has demanded increased autonomy from France. A French DPSD military intelligence report issued in the 1990s stated: “Attention is drawn to the fact that the Japanese are particularly interested in questions of research and development in the electronic field, especially activity a few kilometers from Bruz (Brittany), the headquarters of CELAR, the center of French electronic and information warfare.” By thinking outside of the standard diplomatic box, Japan achieved not only good will and economic inroads from the Celtic regions, but a handsome intelligence dividend in Brittany.
Unfortunately, for the recycled Obama and Clinton administration foreign officials the Biden administration is slotting into State Department, National Security Council, and Defense Department positions, it will be Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice style diplomacy. Under Obama, that took on embarrassing dimensions as Obama personally weighed in on Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, urging Scotland to remain within an unevenly ruled United Kingdom dominated by England. Obama, again, interfered in British domestic politics in 2016, urging the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union by rejecting Brexit. Had Obama remained neutral in the 2014 referendum, Scotland may have very well remained in the European Union as an independent nation. Failure to recognize current realities and cling on to arcane notions of “special relationships,” “traditional alliances,” and “shared bonds” will ensure Biden’s foreign policy will be mediocre to disastrous.
To prove that the Biden foreign policy team is looking behind and not ahead, Blinken had a phone call on January 27 with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. However, there was no contact with Scotland’s External Affairs Secretary Michael Russell, who has been more active with his Celtic counterpart in Dublin in reaching a post-Brexit accommodation with Ireland and Northern Ireland than Blinken’s friends, the Tories in London. Ireland responded to Scotland’s outreach by opening a Consulate General in Edinburgh. It is commonplace for Irish and Scottish government ministers jointly attending St. Patrick’s Day and St. Andrew’s Day events in each other’s capitals.
Autonomist governments bypass national capitals daily to deal with one another directly. The as yet unrecognized Republic of Somaliland has found a strong diplomatic and political supporter in the government and parliament of Wales. The United States continues to insist that Somaliland is part of Somalia, a country it has not been associated with for thirty years. The United States recognizes Somalian President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” a former taxi driver and registered Republican from Buffalo, New York, as holding authority over Somaliland. Even the presidents of the self-governing states of Puntland and Jubaland in Somalia do not recognize Farmaajo as president of their country. Meanwhile, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Turkey have opened Consulates-General and the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Taiwan have opened diplomatic offices in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland.
Other autonomous governments are adopting, to their maximum extent, the principle of “in foro interno, in foro externo.” That equates to using all the powers delegated to a government internally to project itself externally. Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Flanders, Wallonia, the Basque Country, Åland, Faroes, Corsica, and Okinawa are effectively using this principle to create their own unique foreign policies.
The Biden administration has displayed initial deluded and antiquated thinking when it comes to foreign policy. It should be remembered that Biden’s Senate career began when Mao Zedong was still in charge in China, a war with the U.S. as a main participant continued to rage in Southeast Asia, a country called the United Arab Republic was the center of political activity in the Middle East, white rule and apartheid was the name of the game in southern Africa, and right-wing dictatorships ruled throughout Latin America. Those who live in the past will never be prepared to face the future.