Newscast Media WASHINGTON—The curtailment of overseas military commitments enables the United States to pursue a broader strategy of diplomatic and political international engagement.
Speaking to a gathering of international journalists on January 29, Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, outlined a course strengthening global relationships through a step-by-step political process.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress made,” Rhodes said. “We’ve seen relations improve between the United States and countries that in the past we’ve had tensions with. We’ve seen countries pursue democratic reforms. We’ve seen countries reach out to the United States.”
Remaining, however, is the uncertainty of continued U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, which has not yet agreed to a proposed bilateral security agreement. “We’re awaiting their signature so that the president then can make decisions about the nature of a potential follow-on force to do the two missions of counterterrorism against al-Qaida and training and assisting Afghan forces,” he said.
The U.S. approach to combating terrorism will shift to helping other countries strengthen their capabilities through political support. The United States is moving from “dealing with this issue through large military deployments to more focused capacity-building efforts,” Rhodes said.
This shift away from the “permanent war footing” that evolved after the 9/11 terrorist attacks includes limiting the use of drones, reforming U.S. surveillance activities and refocusing on one of President Obama’s longtime goals: closing the military detention center at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.
The devastating conflict in Syria stands out in the Middle East, Rhodes said. Efforts continue to eliminate chemical weapon stores, pressure the government to allow delivery of medical supplies and food and, above all, negotiate a transitional governing body to end the conflict. Negotiations with Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks remain priorities.
Iran is “certainly a front-and-center priority … as we enter the six-month period of negotiation with the Iranian government, and the Middle East peace effort that Secretary Kerry is leading, and talks with the Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. Rhodes also announced that King Abdullah II of Jordan will visit the United States in February to discuss these issues.
Also in the coming year, “the pivot to the Asia-Pacific region continues to be a defining focus,” particularly in regard to enhancing commercial activity through the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement under negotiation, involving several countries in the region. Security efforts include supporting democratic reform in Burma.
Another primary concern is the territorial dispute between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The islands are prime fishing grounds, are close to shipping lanes and are near potential oil and gas reserves. Ensuring “maritime security … will continue to be an issue,” Rhodes said.
Other important topics regarding China include cybersecurity and the protection of intellectual property rights, maintaining strong economic ties, and cooperating to avoid destabilization in North Korea.
In Latin America, Rhodes highlighted commercial development, cooperation with Mexico on border security, and enhancing people-people contact through exchange programs. He also emphasized that the United States is committed to resolving any concerns, particularly in Brazil, about U.S. surveillance activities. Rhodes cited the importance of continued economic ties with Brazil.
“So we don’t want to see this surveillance debate impede progress on all those other issues,” he said.
Rhodes highlighted plans for increased attention to Africa, where a number of initiatives are planned or in place to enhance commercial trade and investment relationships and promote democratic progress. Economic development efforts include a program to double access to electricity. The United States also will host a summit of African heads of state in August. “This is a very significant event, first of its kind
for the United States,” Rhodes said.
In Europe, the concerted effort will be on negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Other highlights are the third Nuclear Security Summit in March at The Hague, a meeting with the European Union, the September NATO Summit in Wales, and a visit from French President François Hollande.
As always, U.S. engagement with the world revolves around core beliefs, Rhodes said: “We speak out for certain values. We’ll make clear that our support for the rule of law, our support for independent media applies to any country in the world.”