A Conversation with General Raymond
January 2, 2020
Beverly Kirk: This is Smart Women, Smart Power. A podcast that features conversations with some of the world's most powerful women.
INTRO: I do think when you look at the world that we're living in today and how much change there is, anybody with a half decent strategy and some core capabilities can really reinvent themselves.
Beverly Kirk: We feature women who are breaking barriers and shaping the future of foreign policy, national security, international business and development. I'm Beverly Kirk, the director of the Smart Women, Smart Power initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
Beverly Kirk: As one year ends and a new one begins, it's time to take a look back at 2019s biggest security and foreign policy issues and a look ahead to issues likely to make an impact in 2020. I sat down with three of CSIS's preeminent scholars to assess the old years challenges and the ones likely to remain in the headlines in the new year. Dr. Kathleen Hicks, the senior vice president, Kissinger Chair and director of the International Security Program. Sarah Ladislaw is senior vice president and director of the Energy and National Security Program and Stephanie Segal is a senior fellow in the Simon Chair and political economy. Kath, Sarah, Stephanie, thank you so much for joining me on what is my favorite podcast of the year. The look back in the look ahead.
Kath Hicks: Thanks Bev.
Stephanie Segal: Thanks for having us.
Beverly Kirk: I'm going to start with an easy question. What do you think were the three biggest foreign policy and security issues in each of your areas? I'm going to start with you, Stephanie.
Stephanie Segal: Well, my initial response to this is China, China, China, but I'll say China is kind of the big issue that's actually impacting other areas, but related to China, I'd say technology and kind of the view on technology. The strategy with regard to technology is a second area. And then I'd say the third area, which is true on economic issues where I focus, but I think it's true more generally is the U.S. let's say maybe withdrawal from engagement multilaterally. And kind of what is the role with regard to leadership in the international system of the United States? I think kind of question marks around that. We're there in this current year and I think looking ahead, that's a big issue that remains unanswered.
Beverly Kirk: Kath?
Kath Hicks: I think that China, China, China is a good overarching theme. I think there were some sleeper issues perhaps for the average listener though that really will resonate over time from 2019. The first is the president's announcement of the U.S. withdrawal of forces from Northern Syria. He said from Syria, but from Northern Syria, which is somewhat short lived because we have forces back there now, but sent I think a really strong shockwave, if you will. Depending on how you view the issue. It was a good shockwave or a bad shockwave. But certainly resonated both with allies in the region, partners in the region and well beyond.
Kath Hicks: And of course we had the Mattis resignation that sort of accompanied it. So also had some implications inside the administration. I think another big one is the roller coaster ride that has been the British Brexit discussion most recently. As we are closing out the year with a pretty resounding victory for the conservatives electorally, which seems to shore up Boris Johnson space for his version of the Brexit agreement.
Kath Hicks: But of course don't forget we had Theresa May's resignation over her Brexit Agreement being unable to get through back in May. And then the last thing, I think coming back to Stephanie's theme, I think I pick Hong Kong of the many issues that have surrounded China from trade to the Uyghurs. There's so many, but I think the ability for the images to carry forward into the global domain of what's happening in Hong Kong. And the reaction of the Chinese government has really resonated well beyond. I think it will really resonate well beyond 2019 into how we think about China and the implications of its rise beyond its own borders.
Beverly Kirk: Sarah?
Sarah Ladislaw: Yeah. I think maybe some cross cutting themes here with some of what Kath, and Stephanie talked about, but definitely for the energy sector and my world trade and sanctions continued to be sort of the defining features of the way in which economic statecraft is sort of being dealt with in this day and age. And really not only affecting sort of the drag on growth and sort of this turn from being generally optimistic about the trajectory of the global economy. To being kind of pessimistic and looking at that sort of what the headwinds would deliver. But then also for folks in the energy sector, just thinking like where do I invest my money? How do I position strategically? Will we be living in a decoupled world? Like really big questions that they haven't considered in a long period of time. Really framing how they thought about things this year.
Sarah Ladislaw: I would say the other big one is still populism. People don't really know what to do with it. We're seeing it manifest itself in lots and lots of different ways. I mean it's affecting politics everywhere. And so that's been something that has been sort of a cross cutting theme, whether people actually recognize it or don't recognize it. Two major global summits actually moved out of Chile because they couldn't have them because of popular protest. I mean really just affecting a lot of different things.
Sarah Ladislaw: And then finally in my world, climate impacts. I mean I think this is one of those years where people realize that not only are we going to see more and more of these types of severe storms or weather patterns happening. But they can bankrupt utilities, they can change the way we think about how you rebuild in certain parts of California or different coastlines around the world. And so I think that there's really just been a change in 2019 about how people think about climate impacts aren't just something that happened and you get over them. There's something that you're going to really have to change how you live. And I think that this has been a pivotal year in those terms.
Beverly Kirk: You've all touched on issues that kind of transcend the different areas in which you work. Let me follow up initially by asking were the issues that we've just heard here. The issues you thought would be the dominant issues for 2019. Think back to January of this year. Any surprises in any of these issues that they've come to the forefront now that we're at the close of the year?
Kath Hicks: I would just say from my perspective, the one that I didn't mention that I would have thought would be up there this year is North Korea. It's certainly still a problem. They are-
Beverly Kirk: They promised a Christmas gift.
Kath Hicks: Yes, correct. And the president is not inaccurate. President Trump is not inaccurate of his statement of rocket man. We continue to see a lot of launch activity from North Korea, but we also have seen very little movement toward denuclearization. That piece of it doesn't necessarily surprise me, but it is interesting that there hasn't been any real culmination in any direction. We've just sort of begun to get used to I think. We're a nerd a bit to the frequency of these sort of aggressive actions from the North Koreans. So that's surprised me that it didn't quite culminate, if you will this year in any direction.
Beverly Kirk: Other issues?
Stephanie Segal: Well, I was actually looking back, we made predictions at the beginning of this year, kind of highlighting five issues to pay attention to. And I'd say we were kind of four out of five, but the one that we really missed, if you think back to January and where we were on economic issues. People were quite favorable about the outlook for the U.S. economy. And there was a lot of talk about tightening of monetary policy in the U.S. and that interest rates would be going up and what that would mean for emerging markets in particular. So we were particularly worried about vulnerabilities in emerging markets and because that sentiment really switched pretty rapidly and an optimistic outlook changed pretty quickly to a much more pessimistic outlook. We went from a cycle of rate hikes to one of rate cuts. So that was good for financing of emerging markets in a way, but now there's another vulnerability that they're presented with and that relates to what it means to have slower global growth for emerging markets. And that still is very much, I think a risk looking ahead. And it's a risk, I'll go back to my China, China, China. It's a risk because the growth outlook in China is actually much weaker than it has been over the past decade or so.
Stephanie Segal: And the world has become incredibly dependent on high rates of growth in China to fuel global growth. Those rates are actually coming down in China and the rest of the world I think is going to feel it and it's probably under appreciating the extent to which it is going to feel that.
Beverly Kirk: Sarah?
Sarah Ladislaw: Yeah, I feel somewhat obligated to the surprise of 2019 for oil market watchers. Was the attack Abqaiq-Khurais in Saudi Arabia. And not so much that the attack happened, but to recognize the significance of the attack, which is when you think about oil supply and security globally and you think of a worst case scenario, that's the one that you come up with. And so the fact that it happened and the fact that oil prices barely acknowledged it. Just sort of solidified for so many people what a very different place we're in, in terms of just oil markets and energy security and how we think about all of those things. There's a great many reasons why that happened, but for many of us who've been doing this for a while, like in your soul, that was supposed to be a pivotal thing and it kind of wasn't. And that's really quite surprising.
Sarah Ladislaw: And so I think it's kind of changed the way that people think about oil markets and security in the middle East and all of those things in a much more concrete way than people have been paying lip service to over the last several years. So that was quite surprising for us.
Kath Hicks: I do think this idea of just the unthinkable happening and things continuing is itself sort of a theme. I mentioned North Korea. Yeah, obviously the Syria example, the example that Sarah just raised on the attack against the oil infrastructure. But you can think about New Zealand, where we had the mosque attack. You can think about Venezuela, which is just in an absolute spiral and they don't seem to be moving the needle individually, but it is a question. I think, how much things are just slowly shifting in the landscape, internationally, in ways that we just haven't quite figured out what they mean.
Beverly Kirk: And that makes me think of the point that Sarah brought up about global protests. And you've seen this, I don't know if you call it a wave of protests around the world. You mentioned Chile, you mentioned Hong Kong and there have been protests in other places. And you wonder what that pretends for 2020 if we all look in our crystal ball. Is there something going on globally where there is this increasing unrest among populations and that we might see more of this?
Kath Hicks: Yeah. And I think the challenge is, is probably not one thing going on and it's manifesting so differently in different countries from the yellow vests in France to pro-Brexit, to your protests to, you know, alt right, you name it. It happens differently in different countries. But there does seem to be this overarching sense, again, too simplistic but of authoritarian trends and anti-authoritarian trends battling it out in different contexts, in different regions. And the outcome is different in different places.
Stephanie Segal: I think that you're onto something there as far as what are the protests? What do they actually represent? And I think part of it is, well, a discontent in the way things are and a mistrust of the authorities or the systems that have left people feeling quite insecure. And I think that is something that is of concern and the fact that you're seeing it, whether it's in the UK, you're seeing it here, you're seeing it in Chile. And I think that sense of insecurity and mistrust is also what is leading people to find a more authoritarian approach quite attractive. You, you don't know quite why you're in the situation that you're in or why you feel particularly insecure, but you want somebody who will reassure you by saying it, well we're going to make it better and I have the solution.
Stephanie Segal: That's great if that's the case. But I think history shows us that the solution is not quite that easy. But I think getting at the fundamental causes of that insecurity is what's really critical. And that would bring me back to one of my main themes there of, I think technology is actually a main source of this insecurity. We know that it's impacting all of our lives. We don't quite understand how it's impacting our lives, but I think it does manifest in things like income inequality and a feeling that your information is being used in ways that you don't quite understand and I think that does leave people susceptible to looking to ultimate solutions.
Beverly Kirk: And that makes me think the thread that I am hearing in everything that you're talking about here is uncertainty. Could we say 2019 has been the year where uncertainty about several different facets of life on this planet kind of pushed through and pushed to the forefront. And since people feel uncertainty, maybe that is why they are turning to more authoritarian forms of government or at least it appears that people are turning toward that.
Sarah Ladislaw: Yeah, I think that's fair. I tend to find that uncertainty feels sort of dissatisfying. So in my own sort of analytical brain, I've had to put it in somewhat different terms, which is…I do feel like we're living in a time that is akin to the last turn of the century between 1800s and the 1900s, where there was so much societal, technological, political upheaval that people were essentially refiguring some things out. And so if you take that lens on things, you go, "Well, maybe we're going to break a lot of China before we get to whatever's next." But there's no other good human process for doing that, right? So I called this the things-fall-apart era and things are going to need to keep falling apart a little bit more because we haven't figured out what the new thrusts are.
Sarah Ladislaw: And I think it could take a little bit of time, but at least analytically, it helps you go, "Okay, well maybe it's not so bad that everything we've recognized as being the way things should be in foreign policy or security or economic terms isn't the way that it has been. But that wasn't perfect either." And so it allows you at least to go, "Well maybe we have to figure out how to steer whatever's coming next." And so yeah, it's uncertainty but it's a little bit more like, "Well, maybe there's more fluidity in the system now than there has been in a long time." So being opportunistic about how to harness that is a great opportunity.
Kath Hicks: Yeah, and I think I would probably use a term like transition or system transformation. And I think Sarah's right that there's many strands, many trendlines that contribute to that. No one thing, but it is absolutely the case that they contribute collectively to an individual sense of uncertainty that people are feeling. So I think these are very connected ideas. The only thing I would add is, 2018 also felt uncertain. 2020 is probably also going to feel like we're still in transition and uncertain and I do think it's going to take a number of years that feel a little like this year, even if it manifests differently in coming years, before we can put a name and a set of terms to the set of trends that we're seeing out in the world.
Beverly Kirk: Before I ask you to look ahead to what worries you for 2020, let me ask about something Stephanie mentioned as one of her three biggest foreign policy and security issues of 2019 and that's a US multilateral engagement or some might say disengagement, the NATO leaders conference that just happened in early December. It kind of put that front and center in a lot of people's minds. Going forward, do you think that this is something that has captured the attention of the public or is the public not really worried about that and that's just something that those of us here in Washington think about and talk about in terms of US engagement on the global stage?
Stephanie Segal: I would bet that there's probably less focus on multilateralism just in general, than there might be in our small world here in Washington, DC when I was referencing kind of potential for US withdrawal or are we witnessing US withdrawal? I was thinking narrowly in an economic sense, but I think you could play it out in lots of different spheres. In the economic sense, I think we saw over the last couple of years, a willingness to use unilateral tools and not necessarily worrying about what the potential spillover effects of those tools might be, nor what the signal is that the country at the center of the system, who is kind of setting the standard that others will follow to withdraw from that leadership role. And I think the most recent example that we're seeing is just in the context of the WTO. And what does it mean if we're withdrawing from a system, one that we helped to create, but two, talking about all these challenges that we're facing going forward.
Stephanie Segal: What or where are we going to actually organize and try and get others to go along with us if we are not proving that we are setting that example. So I'd be actually interested to hear what Sarah and Kath have to say about their areas.
Kath Hicks: Yeah, I mean, I think this is another place where the transition to what is next is unfolding before our eyes. There's no snap back to a world where the United States is an unquestioned leader. No matter what happens next, I think there is no question that the world has different expectations of the United States than it did, perhaps, five-plus years ago. So I think the question is, what does that mean? I think right now what we're seeing is a lot of opportunism. Some of that opportunism may be to the advantage of Americans. So this can take the form, for instance, of what we often call burden sharing. So others picking up part of the security costs for common challenges, but it can be quite nefarious in terms of the opportunities others feel.
Kath Hicks: And this is where you get into the norms, breaking sovereignty, violating, sort of, Russians. They are the best example of that. But we've seen, of course, the Chinese and others undertake activities that don't seem to conform in any way to the conventions that the United States believes in. And I think we're going to keep seeing that. You even see in India, for instance, right now as a country that the United States generally has viewed either as benign or in a very positive light where they're cracking down on Muslim, significant minorities, minority, but it's very large and I think we're going to continue to see those shifts in ways that we can't predict or control and that may ultimately reshape the stage on which we can play, even if we wanted to get back in the game of trying to lead broad coalitions or standing up for alliance networks. Sarah?
Sarah Ladislaw: Yeah. We've been talking about the new multilateral order or the unraveling of them. I mean these have been themes now for a couple of years and it really got me thinking about how much of that is purposeful US policy leading versus other countries just doing the stuff that they think makes the United States happy. And which I think is interesting, because we tend to think about this as being a very deliberate US strategy to engage and extract things it wants out of the system and all of that sort of thing. I think maybe we've overplayed that. I think we've underplayed the influence of just people and countries trying to assume what the US wants and doing things to make us happy. And now we're not the only people to make happy. People are doing that with China now. And so what I find interesting is we're sort of learning what that feels like precisely at the same time that we've got an administration that wants to stand up for the United States in that system. So it's sort of a, let's overplay our hand on a leverage that is actually weakening relative to others. And then what I've heard so many times this year, which I think people feel very brave when they say it, but they're concerned, is the United States has gone from being a pillar of stability to a vector of instability. And like the idea that the fact that they don't know what direction we're headed in and they can't count on sort of the durability of that direction is probably the biggest risk to their own strategy development.
Sarah Ladislaw: And so I think this year by and large was sort of this continuation of countries going, "Oh, wait a minute, we have to recalibrate how we're going to act relative to the United States, not just because of how this administration conducts itself, but because the next administration might be completely different." And so there's no real durability in the U.S. position. How do we do that? And I think we're going to continue to see that play out next year in a more sophisticated way.
Stephanie Segal: Yeah, and if I could just add on to one aspect of my earlier comment, which is the U.S. has withdrawn from this multilateral system and from a leadership role in that multilateral system, but part of that withdrawal is a function of those multilateral organizations not being able to deliver on what is really needed, and keeping up with the times. So, I think the U.S. actually has a responsibility here, but I also think that the rest of the world needs to look at why these multilateral organizations have not kept up with the times. And so I think there's some work that needs to be done on both sides to get back to a place that's actually functioning.
Beverly Kirk: As we look ahead to 2020, it's a presidential election year and that's going to pretty much overshadow everything we've just talked about here. So, a couple of questions here. What worries you for 2020, and what do you want to see people who want to be the next president, including the current occupant of the White House, what do you want to see them talking about in terms of security and foreign policy and economic policy and energy policy?
Kath Hicks: I'll start where Sarah sort of had left off her comments, which is I worry most about our own internal stability and coherence, which is the biggest risk factor, frankly, for our national security no matter where you are on the political spectrum in the United States. I mean, I think we have a real challenge trying to demonstrate that the security of the United States is really diminished when we aren't seen to have a sort of a general consensus, a very general consensus. There's always been disagreement around what we think our role in the world is, how we want to execute on that role and are we living up to whatever those values are that we're expressing?
Kath Hicks: And we're really challenged right now, and that can also be then exploited by foreign powers. We already know from FBI Director Wray that the Chinese and the Iranians, and of course most importantly, most profoundly so far to date has been the Russians, are very much interested in manipulating the election for 2020 and they're not all on the same side as each other, and for all we know like the Russians did last time, they're going to play multiple sides.
Beverly Kirk: Play both sides, yeah.
Kath Hicks: All the Russians had a clear preference. They were playing all kinds of angles. So we should expect that, and that will make it even harder for us. So that's the risk factor I worry about, and I wish security people would talk more about that. And then of course that candidates will then try to reflect the importance of that coherence for security.
Beverly Kirk: Sarah? Stephanie?
Stephanie Segal: We were having a conversation in my office recently about crisis and that the nature of crisis is that you can't really predict it, so I'm not going to be so bold as to predict what the next crisis might be, but I think the fact that it is unpredictable and then when you think about, okay, who is going to then kind of take the reins, if we're talking about a global crisis, who's going to take the reins and have the credibility and have the trust to deal with that crisis? I think that's the biggest concern that I have, that there's trust that's lacking in the international system right now, and it's not clear who would step up in a role that traditionally the United States would have played.
Stephanie Segal: As far as what I'd be hoping a new administration would bring, I think so much of the rhetoric over the past few years has been very defensive, the U.S. as victim. And I think there are certainly areas where the U.S. has been taken advantage of. And I just kind of repeat my earlier comments about the multilateral system not always delivering what's been promised. So there is a lot of area for criticism and improvement and us playing defense, but I think we also need to play offense, and so I would hope that our leaders would actually focus a lot more on what we need to do to win. And this is, you know, investing in ourselves that are really basic level. I think we're talking about things like education and what we need to do to compete with other countries that might be leading in certain areas, not because they're cheating but because they're making better decisions than we are. And so I hope that we would hear a lot more focus on those issues.
Beverly Kirk: Sarah?
Sarah Ladislaw: Yeah, I think both what Kath and Stephanie said are right on, and I think it's not super surprising from a productive can-do central story into think tank that we would want those things for the country. I think they're really important. I think ... I do worry. You said it's an election year and god, we waste time. I mean, we've been electioning for two years. There's so much money in the stupid system that we just sort of keep these conversations going, and they could be about a third as long as they are, and we can get this over much more quickly and then get about the business of actually doing something. And so I worry because next year I see a protracted election cycle where we spend like eight or nine new cycles on something no one actually gives a damn about anyway because somebody is finding it interesting to talk about that.
Sarah Ladislaw: And then we don't talk about the big structural problems that we have as a country, that Stephanie and I think Kath were both talking about, that we should probably be clearing through in a much more pragmatic way. I also worry about this on the climate front. Next year is a really big year for increasing the ambition of global action to reduce emissions. To be honest with you, after watching the COP, the UN climate meetings over the last two weeks, I kind of want to vomit just at the thought of going through another one of these expectation-raising exercises.
Sarah Ladislaw: I would give my left arm for people just to do better on what they've pledged to do so far, rather than setting another target for what they'd like to do better in the future. And so I don't mean to sound like a Debbie Downer for 2020, but there's so many aspirant discussions about who and what we could be and so much ignoring what we could do absolutely right now to fix some of these problems if we just stopped arguing with each other. And so I viewed that as like the big 2020 threat in my world.
Beverly Kirk: On that happy note-
Sarah Ladislaw: Sorry. Bah humbug.
Beverly Kirk: -is there anything, any one word, positive thing you have for 2020? I'd like to end this podcast on a happy note.
Sarah Ladislaw: Let me give it a shot and then my colleagues can jump in. I do think when you look at the world that we're living in today and how much change there is, anybody with a half decent strategy and some core capabilities can really reinvent themselves. And so while I was sort of down on the we're going to waste time on that front, we might not. There are lots of things going on, again, just in my little space. There's one way of thinking about this, we're either going to re-engineer the world economy under clean energy or we're not, and a bunch of really smart people are going to invent these new things that we're going to uptake and they're going to help us do that.
Sarah Ladislaw: There's so much dynamic change out there in the technology space and people and their intersection with technology and policy. It's almost hard to see it all and get far enough away from it to see where all of the positive change comes from. I think we live in that space, and if you can trust that a little bit, I think we could get surprised to the upside in some very good ways.
Kath Hicks: I'm just happy it's the five-year anniversary of Smart Women, Smart Power, and your podcast, Bev.
Beverly Kirk: Why, thank you. Yes, 2020 is the fifth anniversary of Smart Women, Smart Power, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to have this program and have this podcast. So thank you, Kath. Stephanie, last word.
Stephanie Segal: I think that was a perfect last word.
Beverly Kirk: Well, thank you all for being with us here, and thank you for joining us. Subscribe to the Smart Women Smart Power podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen to good content. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @smartwomen and I'm @BeverlyKirk.