A Bipartisan Foreign Policy for the Trump Presidency

A leading foreign-policy Democrat lays out five areas in which he hopes for bipartisan consensus.

By Sen. Chris Coons

Tagged Donald TrumpForeign Policy

As soon as he is sworn in on January 20, 2017, President-elect Donald Trump will inherit a range of difficult foreign policy challenges, from Russian adventurism in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, to China’s continued rise as an economic and military power, to the threats posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other jihadist organizations, to the enforcement of the Iran nuclear deal. On the campaign trail, President-elect Trump said many outrageous and frightening things, including proposals that would violate international law, core American values, and our Constitution. To the extent that a Trump Administration attempts to ban Muslims from entering the United States, reinstates water-boarding or other forms of torture, or stands by complacently as Russia threatens NATO allies or tries to undermine European and transatlantic unity, I will tirelessly oppose him.

But the people of Delaware elected me to reach across the aisle. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the State Department’s operations and foreign assistance, I’m hopeful my congressional colleagues and I can work constructively with the President-elect to advance the United States as a force for good, a force for stability, and a leader in the world.

After a divisive campaign in which President-elect Trump left many partners around the world questioning our commitments to democratic values and decades-long alliances, I hope he will not wait until his inauguration to make it clear that his Administration will continue to support our allies and uphold our international obligations. I’m confident most of my Republican and Democratic colleagues share that sentiment and will do our part to exert congressional authority in world affairs.

Maintaining American leadership in the world also requires looking beyond immediate global crises to the wide range of challenges that don’t make daily headlines. It is important to highlight some of these international problems and demonstrate how each presents an opportunity for constructive, bipartisan cooperation with the next Administration.

Partisan gridlock remains a major hurdle facing our foreign policy and has gradually reduced congressional relevance in international affairs. As a result, our global policy has tilted away from the branch of government closest to the American people. Whether one is a constitutional conservative, a dyed-in-the-wool institutionalist, or a progressive multilateralist, it is in everyone’s interest for Congress to limit executive overreach and play a more meaningful role in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

Only if the President-elect and the next Congress cooperate can we demonstrate a broad-based commitment and ability to maintain our engagement in the world, achieve U.S. national interests, and keep the American people safe. Sustained bipartisan support for our global engagement sends a message of unity and strength to the international community.

In this piece, I outline five foreign policy areas in which President-elect Trump and a new Congress can work together.

First, we must restructure the tools of U.S. development finance in a way that makes us more competitive with our geopolitical rivals. Second, we must develop a strategy to prevent fragile states from descending into crisis. Third, we must redefine the legal underpinning for the war against ISIL, Al Qaeda, and other jihadist extremist groups by debating and passing a new Authorization for Use of Military Force. Fourth, we must better position the United States to address the root causes of terrorism by streamlining and empowering our government agencies and working with partners in the Muslim world to undermine extremist ideology. Finally, we should pursue “muscular multilateralism” based on targeted engagement, strong cooperation with our allies, and coordination with our rivals to realize progress in areas of mutual interest. This includes working with our partners to prepare for pandemics, uphold international law, and support nuclear nonproliferation.

Reform development finance

Development finance institutions (DFIs) support private sector investments throughout the developing world. Since its inception in 1971, the United States’ development finance institution, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), has offered financial services to help U.S. companies invest in low-income countries and emerging economies. OPIC has made great strides in achieving its mission in recent administrations, but it lacks long-term congressional authorization, and its business model, which relies in part on outdated financial instruments, needs modernizing.

When I meet with business leaders around the world, they regularly cite lack of access to capital as an important obstacle to economic growth. The tools used by DFIs, such as loans, guarantees, and risk insurance, are well suited to address this problem. As the goals for international development shift from grants and social services to job creation, more countries are turning to development finance to generate sustainable economic growth.

Other world powers are taking advantage of this need for project finance, and they are using development finance institutions to gain valuable geopolitical influence. China, in particular, aggressively exercises economic diplomacy as a tool of soft power in the developing world. The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Overseas Development Institute found that in 2014 the Export-Import Bank of China and the China Development Bank held outstanding loans of $684 billion. OPIC has just $18 billion outstanding.

The creation of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank also underscores China’s commitment in this area. In my travels throughout Africa, I have personally seen a steady loss of U.S. influence and an ascendancy of Chinese clout across countries with large, growing populations, in no small part because Beijing has dramatically outspent us using modern investment tools.

In the 114th Congress, my colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held two hearings on the role of the private sector in supporting development. Indeed, reforming our development finance institution to compete more effectively with China and others appeals to both Republicans who value free market principles and Democrats seeking to deploy more resources for poverty alleviation and to achieve the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals. It should be an issue on which both parties and a business-minded President can agree. Indeed, as the President-elect himself wrote in a letter to two anti-poverty organizations in September, the money the United States spends on foreign assistance “must do more to help impoverished nations become capable of taking care of themselves in the future.”

But here’s OPIC’s limitation: Unlike the multiple ways in which European and Asian development finance institutions work with the private sector in emerging economies, OPIC cannot invest in equity. Nor can it use the income generated by the bank to fund its operations. It relies on year-to-year congressional appropriations, making it difficult for the organization to think strategically about long-term investments. Moreover, investors must have a domestic connection to be eligible for its services.

What if the United States, with its sophisticated understanding of capitalism and private sector-led economic growth, exercised a more concerted effort to use development finance to promote innovation and entrepreneurship and to generate real economic growth in lower- and middle-income countries? Experts and former practitioners in Washington from both sides of the political aisle suggest a series of compelling options for the United States to better utilize development finance tools for our benefit.

Congress should create a U.S. development finance corporation with the authority to use a full suite of investment tools. Such an agency would be able to issue direct loans and direct guarantees, including those in local currencies. The corporation should provide political risk insurance and first-loss funding and support private equity investment funds through limited partnership authority and eventual equity investments. This new entity should have an increased maximum contingent liability, the ability to use its earnings to support its operations, and the ability to hire more staff, including those with private sector financial experience.

If a Trump Administration attempts to ban Muslims or stands by as Russia threatens NATO allies, I will tirelessly oppose him.

I propose a full-service, self-sustaining U.S. Development Finance Corporation to mobilize additional private capital to emerging economies to deliver development results and advance U.S. interests and values. Through this agency, we can reform development assistance by building long-term, sustainable partnerships with the private sector while actually competing with our geopolitical rivals in places like Latin America, Africa, and South Asia.

Our economy is prosperous because we have a vibrant private sector that thrives on competition and cultivates innovation and entrepreneurship. Americans conduct business around the world in ways that add value, while encouraging competition, transparency, and accountability. It is in our interest to promote these concepts globally and set an example in developing states and emerging markets that emphasizes the strengths of our capitalist model. If the United States intends to lead the world by promoting sustainable economic development, we must do more to harness the power of our private sector beyond our borders.

Address fragile and failed states

Sustainable private sector-led development is important because it can transform economies, create jobs, and build resiliency in the world’s most vulnerable countries. That brings me to the second policy issue that requires congressional action: addressing fragile and failed states.

Fragile countries have weak, ineffective, or illegitimate institutions that pose an increased risk of instability and conflict. Undemocratic governance, corruption, and entrenched power dynamics of fragile states aggravate societal divisions and often give rise to internal conflict as well as to extreme poverty and inequality.

The traditional course of action for addressing fragile and failed states too often leads to U.S. entanglement in intractable situations that are unlikely to succeed and leave behind a costly burden for taxpayers. The United States has spent a tremendous amount of resources on the stabilization or reconstruction of failed states with very little success, as we have seen all too clearly in cases like Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Libya and Syria. Though I disagree with some of the President-elect’s apparent isolationist leanings, he has identified the need for the United States to direct our efforts toward creating stability in the world. Accomplishing this goal will involve preemptive investment to prevent security vacuums from forming that threaten national security.

To that end, in his first 100 days the President-elect should convene a meeting with congressional leaders to identify and build consensus on how to tackle fragility. In the deployment of foreign assistance, Congress must utilize strategic foresight and selectivity in targeting cases where U.S. interests and leverage are greatest. This would involve identifying key states whose collapse would disrupt regional order and devoting resources to sustain long-range investment and engagement strategies with these countries.

Colombia’s transition from near state failure to a democracy with historically low levels of violence is a powerful case study of the effectiveness of sustained and coordinated engagement. Through Plan Colombia and ongoing support, the U.S. government invested $16 billion during the last 16 years to increase Colombia’s counter-narcotics capabilities, expand governance capacity, and contribute to social and economic opportunity.

In contrast, since 2003, the costs to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan is estimated at $60 billion and $109 billion, respectively. According to a special inspector general’s report, this is more than the U.S. government spent on the Marshall Plan, which cost about $103 billion in today’s dollars, to resuscitate the entire European continent after the Second World War. When the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in 1989, then-Congressman Charlie Wilson argued unsuccessfully for more foreign aid for education and sectoral rebuilding. Though a small amount of funds were provided for cross-border support, congressional inaction left a vacuum that allowed Afghanistan to deteriorate, which paved the way for the Taliban’s rise to power.

It is more cost-effective to prioritize fragile states and make preemptive investments to stabilize them before they fail. However, comprehensive and enduring engagement, like Plan Colombia, is not always possible and must be reserved for countries of top U.S. strategic importance where, vitally, there is political will on the ground for reform.

Addressing global fragility is critical to U.S. interests not only to ensure that the exorbitant cost of state recovery doesn’t land on the backs of American taxpayers, but also because these volatile regions are breeding grounds for extremism, insurgent groups, and organized crime. Furthermore, instability in the Middle East and across the African Sahel has fueled the current surge in refugees. A preventive approach to fragility would mitigate the human and financial cost of a reactive response to such challenges.

This strategy of proactive engagement with fragile states requires policymakers to break down jurisdictional or bureaucratic hurdles and routinely look over the horizon to regions where we can have strategic impact. A preventive approach will necessarily rely more on intelligence, diplomatic, and development experts working with local security forces, UN peacekeepers, or U.S. forces on the ground to execute a coordinated approach that considers relief, development, and security assistance spending in tandem.

Traditional U.S. responses—increased aid, administrative reforms, and even military intervention—in isolation are often insufficient and ineffective. Nor is simply funding expanded security efforts an effective solution to the violence caused by state failure. Research on fragility finds no correlation between increased security sector assistance and stability. Without societal inclusivity and sufficient governing capacity, security assistance often fails.

Conflict is a manifestation of complex political, economic, and social dynamics. Therefore, we must ensure U.S. security assistance in fragile states is embedded into a broader political and economic strategy to build, rather than undermine, state legitimacy and accountability. To that end, security assistance accounts and authorities must remain under the purview of the Secretary of State. At the same time, Congress should recognize that mandating levels of security assistance for our closest partners, such as Israel and Jordan, is essential, but such investments should not crowd out security assistance for other regions of the world.

Finally, we must couple prevention with resilience. The sustainability of U.S. efforts toward addressing state fragility will be improved through a model for foreign assistance that is more locally led and owned. This will mitigate the root causes of fragility, such as corrosive corruption and unequal access to resources, and also build state capacity to respond to shocks caused by conflict, pandemics, economic distress, or natural disasters. One way to pursue such resilience, as then-candidate Trump identified in the September letter referenced above, is by “[s]trengthening the rule of law and property rights in other countries.” That idea is worthy of congressional consideration.

With this framework in mind, the new President and Congress must work together to develop a funding package to address state fragility. Beyond the goals of building inclusive and accountable institutions and improving security, we must fund efforts around infrastructure projects, service delivery, and the promotion of broad-based economic growth. This will require significant increases in funding toward proactive security, diplomacy, and development assistance in six to eight targeted states that we view as potentially failing in the next decade. We should move past the Budget Control Act and sequestration to give our national security and foreign assistance agencies the resources and flexibility they require to address state fragility. The resource-intensity of this task is more reason for the President-elect to work with Congress to assemble a bipartisan group of leaders to build a shared preventive strategy.

Again, bipartisanship in this area is possible. I applaud the work of my colleague, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, chairman of the appropriations subcommittee in charge of foreign assistance, who has highlighted the need for a comprehensive assistance package to address fragile states. He understands that we must think about development efforts as security efforts.

Transitioning states out of fragility to stability is a long process that will take patient and flexible U.S. investment. The United States will be able to address this challenge successfully only if President-elect Trump works with Congress to make strategic choices to implement a well-crafted package of support with willing partners over multiple fiscal years.

Redefine the legal underpinning for American military action

While a strategic, targeted approach can help prevent failed states, it will sometimes be necessary to deploy American troops abroad to confront jihadist extremist groups that arise in the vacuums left by collapsed nations, political instability, and poor governance.

Congress and the President have no more important duty than protecting the United States and deciding if, when, and how to use military force to do so. For much of our history, the decision to go to war remained a congressional responsibility. The Founding Fathers, influenced by the endless campaigns of European monarchs, deliberately separated the powers to declare and wage war. But recently, Congress has avoided this responsibility. Our abdication is less a result of differences over the constitutional role of the legislature and more a consequence of political gridlock and acute disagreements over the proper strategy to effectively combat jihadist extremist organizations. Neither explanation justifies our failure to act.

Today’s national security challenges demand a public debate over our current strategy, and a new authorization for our operations. In recent years, several of my colleagues have made serious, good faith efforts to pass a new authorization. In the 114th Congress, a bipartisan effort led by Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia and Jeff Flake of Arizona led to discussion of, but no progress on, a new authorization. On the other side of Capitol Hill, Democratic Representative Adam Schiff of California, Republican Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia, and Democratic Representative Peter Welch of Vermont all introduced sensible authorizations, but House leadership failed to consider them.

Congress has a responsibility to work with the incoming President to consider, debate, and pass a new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) focused on the current nature of both our adversaries and our military campaigns to weaken them. That authorization must rest on six pillars.

First, it must authorize force against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIL, and “associated forces.” These are the entities currently targeted using the 2001 and 2002 authorizations, which we will continue to face in the coming years. Second, it must rescind the 2001 and 2002 authorizations, which are ill-suited to our contemporary enemies. To take military action against these terrorist groups, the President currently relies upon one authorization tailored to Al Qaeda, passed by Congress in 2001, and another targeting former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, passed in 2002. The nature and scope of U.S. efforts to counter jihadist extremist organizations—and the methods used and threats posed by these groups—have changed dramatically since the period following the September 11 attacks.

Moreover, most of the members of the incoming Congress did not vote on these authorizations. Only 164 of 535 expected members of the 115th Congress were in office during both the 2001 and 2002 AUMF votes, which poses a constitutional and moral quandary. The decision if and when to go to war is the most important and difficult question faced by an elected official. As we are the representatives of the American people, it is unacceptable that the majority of Congress, including myself, did not vote to authorize our current military operations. As our efforts continue, it is incumbent on members to reauthorize and reaffirm the support of Congress—and the American people—for our military engagements.

Third, a new AUMF must contain a relatively narrow definition of “associated forces” and a reporting requirement. “Associated forces” are extremist groups fighting or affiliated with Al Qaeda, ISIL, or the Taliban and engaged in hostilities against the United States or our allies and partners. A biannual reporting requirement is essential for Congress to stay informed of both our progress and any change in the adversaries we are targeting. This requirement will ensure congressional oversight of our military campaigns and awareness of any attempt to expand their scope.

Fourth, consistent with the two existing authorizations, a new AUMF must implicitly allow the President to deploy ground combat forces, defined as troops with a mission more expansive than those currently serving in Iraq and Syria. Those currently on the ground include Special Operations Forces and support units deployed for the purposes of advising, assisting, and training our local partners, or for intelligence gathering, search and rescue, and airstrike targeting missions.

Although the authorization should not explicitly prohibit the introduction of ground combat forces, it must provide for expedited congressional consideration of such a presidential decision. This could take the form of either explicit congressional approval, or required affirmative disapproval, of an expanded deployment. Either way, a new authorization must ensure that Congress votes on any deployment of troops with a mission beyond the scope of our current operations.

Fifth, like the 2001 authorization, a new AUMF should not limit the geographic reach of our military efforts. Although critics will claim this provision will authorize an expansive, open-ended conflict, the threat of jihadist extremist organizations is a global one. We must be clear-eyed about the challenges we face, which are not limited to Iraq and Syria but also exist in countries as disparate and disconnected as Somalia and the Philippines. A global challenge requires a global response.

Finally, a new AUMF must contain a “sunset clause” that expires the authorization—or subjects it to explicit reauthorization—in five years. I am not naïve enough to believe the threat of jihadism will disappear by that time, but such a clause would compel the President, Congress, and the American people to revisit the legal underpinnings of our military activities.

One of the lessons of the 2003 Iraq War is that we must fully debate the decision to engage in military action, a strategy to ensure victory, and our willingness to bear the costs of conflict. A regular review is necessary to ensure congressional oversight, bipartisan consensus, and, most importantly, public support for our efforts, which are crucial elements in the successful prosecution of any military conflict.

Simply authorizing military force is not sufficient, however. We must also find a way to pay for our conflicts. Presidents of both parties and Congress have used budget gimmicks to charge the cost of recent wars to our national credit card. Although this obligation should not, statutorily, be part of a new AUMF, as we reconsider and reauthorize our military efforts against jihadist extremist organizations, we cannot write another blank check for war. Paying for our military engagements is a matter of congressional responsibility and national security.

One of the lessons of the 2016 election is that a large part of the American public feels as though it has little influence over important policy choices made in Washington. Of all of the proposals I list in this piece, this authorization will be the most politically fraught and challenging decision for lawmakers. Yet political expediency and the temptation to avoid a difficult vote must no longer serve as excuses for ongoing congressional inaction on a matter of paramount importance to the American people and to our national security.

Undermine the root causes of terrorism

While military force and direct targeting of terrorist leaders are necessary to weaken the capabilities of jihadist extremist organizations, decisively defeating these groups requires a long-term effort to address the root causes of terrorism and undermine the ideologies that lead to radicalization.

The United States recently expanded efforts to undermine extremist ideologies. The Global Engagement Center, a multiagency platform located within the State Department that coordinates and integrates anti-extremist messaging, is a serious attempt to streamline U.S. government initiatives in this area. Its initial results are promising. According to The Wall Street Journal, a recent four-week Facebook advertising campaign targeted unmarried Moroccans, Tunisians, and Saudis between the ages of 13 and 34 believed to be interested in joining ISIL. The initiative, which sought to sow doubt about religious and ideological claims made by ISIL, reached 6.9 million people. The next phase will concentrate on at-risk communities in 12 countries, and future efforts will target select audiences based on their backgrounds and avowed interests.

Undermining terrorism means supporting Muslim leaders who offer a moderate, pluralistic vision of their faith.

While these efforts are admirable, we must not only deter young Muslims from joining jihadist extremist groups, but also offer them a positive, alternative vision of the future. As Farah Pandith, the first U.S. Special Representative to Muslim Communities, noted, “[E]xtremist narratives are answering the key questions millennial Muslims are asking about themselves and their purpose….Muslim youth have experienced a profound identity crisis unlike any in modern history. They have craved answers, seeking purpose and belonging.”

To meet this challenge, Congress must devote greater resources to work with local community and Islamic religious leaders—both in the United States and abroad—to counter extremist ideology. We also need to amplify the voices of those with life experiences that resonate with young Muslim youth, such as through peer networks and even former fighters. These leaders serve as a first, and best, line of defense against the threat of radicalization. They can undermine extremist ideology and teach parents and other community leaders about recruiting and radicalization tactics. These interlocutors are best positioned to serve as a credible voice and provide an affirmative vision for young Muslims.

While Congress must appropriate money to wage and win the war of ideas, just as we did during the Cold War, members of Congress and the next President must continue to vigorously denounce efforts to stigmatize the American Muslim community and make it clear these sentiments do not reflect our ideals. We do so not out of political correctness, but because such smears are fundamentally at odds with our values of openness, tolerance, and religious freedom. Furthermore, they serve only to isolate American Muslims, marginalize their communities, and inhibit the trust and cooperation required to counter radicalization.

Over the past 16 months, people around the world heard dangerous, divisive, and arguably un-American rhetoric emanating from the President-elect’s campaign, particularly with regard to religious tolerance. Congress must restrict any possible efforts by the new Administration to fulfill these campaign pledges, which would increase our vulnerability to terrorism and violate our Constitution.

Rather than pursue policies that alienate Muslims around the world without making us any safer, we should redouble efforts to support the courageous actions and statements made by our partners in the Islamic world and help them develop programs to counter radical ideology. Truly undermining the root causes of terrorism requires supporting Muslim leaders who offer a moderate and pluralistic vision of their faith.

We do not lack allies willing to denounce perverse interpretations of Islam. King Abdullah of Jordan has called the need to counter radical ideology “both a regional and international responsibility, but it is mainly our battle, us Muslims, against those who seek to hijack our societies and generations with intolerance.” The Senegalese government fiercely protects its Sufi brotherhoods, organizations that practice a mystic, non-violent version of Islam. We need to highlight these voices inside Islam that promote tolerant creeds. We also should encourage them to match their words with actions and institutionalize programs to prevent radicalization. We should help our Islamic partners expand existing, and build additional, imam training centers that tutor moderate religious leaders and reflect the true diversity of Islam.

A model for these efforts is the Muslim Council of Elders, established and supported by the United Arab Emirates. The Council, composed of moderate experts and scholars who propagate a tolerant vision of Islam, reconsiders Quranic commentaries, modernizes the teaching of Islam in schools, and develops new training programs for imams.

Morocco also plays a vital role in the fight against extremism. In August, King Mohammed IV of Morocco gave a speech harshly critical of jihadists who misrepresent Islam to justify terrorism and the murder of Christians, Jews, and, most frequently, other Muslims. It promotes moderation by hosting a training center for imams from North Africa, West Africa, and Europe. Morocco is also focused on generating jobs for young men with the goal of developing productive citizens and preventing them from joining ISIL. An Arab Muslim nation promoting moderate Islam and partnering with the international community to undermine the causes of terrorism is exactly the type of partner the United States depends on for our national security.

Other nations throughout the Muslim world should imitate and institutionalize these efforts. Moreover, rather than marginalizing former extremists, they must utilize them to counter radical ideology. These men can serve as effective deterrents to radicalization by undermining the mystique of jihadist extremist organizations that appeals to many young people. As Congress weighs our efforts to counter violent extremism, we should support these important initiatives through both our rhetoric and our appropriations.

Promote “muscular multilateralism”

Finally, and more broadly, the United States should promote foreign policies based on “muscular multilateralism.” That means targeted engagement, strong partnerships with our allies, and collaboration with our rivals to respond to challenges that threaten the entire international community.

The lessons of Ebola teach us that we have a largely failed multilateral structure for responding to pandemics.

We must continue to project strength and exhibit leadership abroad not just out of charity or moral compassion, but because an international order sustained by U.S. strength and leadership helps preserve our interests, too. The stability and security of foreign countries and regions has a direct impact on the strength of our economy and the safety of the American people. This engagement is particularly critical following a presidential primary and general election that saw candidates of both parties campaign actively against participation in world affairs.

One of these global challenges is how to prevent and respond to pandemics, which, of course, observe no national borders. President Obama’s decision to deploy thousands of health workers and members of our armed forces to West Africa in 2014 prevented the Ebola epidemic from becoming a full-on global pandemic—an important and underappreciated reminder of how targeted and timely American leadership can make a substantial difference in the world. I saw firsthand the impact of our efforts when I traveled to Liberia in December 2014.

But if the lessons of Ebola teach us anything, it’s that we have a largely failed multilateral structure for responding to pandemics. Right now, the only genuine solution is massive American intervention and unprecedented engagement by organizations and international bodies with no history of involvement in similar situations. That type of ad-hoc response will not always be feasible or effective. The United States should lead global efforts to create an international strategy for pandemic response.

We can also set a better example for preparation and coordination at home. Most important to the safety and security of the American people, Congress should pre-fund and pre-authorize the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to respond to health pandemics. Our response to the threat of the Zika virus is an instructive example of the importance of these reforms. President Obama first requested supplemental funding and support from Congress to address Zika in February 2016. CDC Director Tom Frieden testified before Congress multiple times, practically begging Congress to take action before it was too late. Yet, political divisions in Congress kept this funding from being authorized and appropriated until September.

Not every health crisis can wait seven months for congressional action. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is pre-authorized and pre-funded to respond to impending natural disasters, without having to wait for congressional action. There’s no reason the CDC shouldn’t have the same arrangement. More broadly, Congress should continue to make long-term, sustainable investments in medical research and the development of new treatments and cures.

We can pursue muscular multilateralism in other ways as well, including supporting strong efforts to establish and uphold the rule of law. Take the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which has set maritime rules around the world since the 1970s—and which the Senate has not yet ratified. The last time we tried, in the summer of 2012, misguided fears of a loss of sovereignty kept us from reaching the 67 votes necessary for ratification.

What’s changed since that vote? In short, what was framed as a hypothetical threat is now a reality. Prior to the 2012 vote, supporters of ratification argued that any risk to American sovereignty posed by the ratification of UNCLOS was worth taking because China might try to extend territorial claims in the South China Sea. At the time, some dismissed this claim as far-fetched. But the fundamental facts have changed since China asserted control over international waters in the South China Sea and the international court of arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, has led efforts to ratify UNCLOS. Senators of both parties rightfully express concerns about China’s maritime aggression. We should apply that same bipartisan spirit toward ratifying this treaty, sending a strong signal to China that we support the rule of law and also to the rest of the world that we will not tolerate Beijing’s attempts to revise the existing order by force. Congress cannot singlehandedly rein in Chinese behavior in the South China Sea, but we can take an important step by ratifying UNCLOS.

Bipartisan support for reforming and strengthening international peacekeeping operations already exists, offering another opportunity for Congress and the new President to work together to demonstrate strong multilateral leadership. The quality of troops involved in UN peacekeeping varies widely. In too many instances, UN peacekeeping operations are ineffective, unprofessional, and expensive. President-elect Trump and the next Congress should work together to make it clear to partner nations—too many of whom are resistant to reform—that the status quo is unsustainable by pushing for an independent, external audit of peacekeeping to take place outside the control of the UN.

At the same time, we have to do more to demonstrate that the United States has zero tolerance for sexual assault among peacekeepers. I commend Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, for holding a hearing on sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers in April. The next Congress needs to be prepared to act swiftly to impose real consequences upon those countries that fail to hold their peacekeepers accountable.

There is also room for progress on the issue of nuclear nonproliferation. For decades, U.S. policymakers maintained a bipartisan foreign policy consensus with regard to the importance of preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. Educating the American people about how and why nonproliferation advances U.S. interests is critical to sustaining its public support. Given some of the President-elect’s campaign statements with regard to nuclear weapons and proliferation, this issue is one in which Congress may have to play a particularly active role.

Republican presidents have long demonstrated a commitment to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. President Richard Nixon signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which limited strategic missile defense interceptors, and engaged in Strategic Arms Limitation Talks with the Soviet Union that curtailed the manufacture of strategic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Under President George H.W. Bush, the United States unilaterally reduced its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons—a move that led the Soviet Union, and later Russia, to take similar steps, and which helped reduce the size of America’s nuclear arsenal by almost 50 percent during his Administration.

Similarly, President George W. Bush took unilateral action to eliminate Peacekeeper missiles and Trident submarines from the nuclear force. Following in his father’s footsteps, he cut the nuclear stockpile by about half. These efforts reduced the prospects of both an accidental nuclear exchange and the theft of nuclear weapons by extremist organizations, making the world a safer place. I hope President-elect Trump can work with Congress to pursue new treaties in the area of nonproliferation.

In February, Congress came together to pass the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act in response to North Korean missile launches and nuclear tests—an example of bipartisan cooperation on a critical issue. The presidential campaign reminded Americans of the awesome responsibility leaders have when it comes to the use of nuclear weapons. Preventing their spread to any state or non-state actor, ally or antagonist, is crucial. Our policy of extended deterrence—a commitment to our allies in Asia, such as Japan and South Korea—isn’t a humanitarian effort. Rather, it is critical for our own national security.

Regardless of whether one supports or opposes the nuclear agreement with Iran, certain aspects of the deal are unquestionably positive. For example, one provision known as the Additional Protocol provides the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expanded access to information and Iranian nuclear sites. New online enrichment monitoring technology allows remote and continuous monitoring of the Iranian nuclear program. When it comes to accessing and inspecting nuclear sites, more information is always better. Congress should ensure the Additional Protocol and continuous monitoring are part of every future nuclear nonproliferation agreement, and we should help make sure the IAEA has reliable, sustainable funding to do its job.


The inauguration of President Trump will cap an eventful six months that has featured new leaders emerging elsewhere on the world stage, including a new British prime minister and a new UN Secretary General, and a rise in isolationist and populist sentiments in political parties around the world.

America’s political divisions will not heal overnight. Even if we faced no domestic policy challenges, I’m under no illusion that we could singlehandedly bring peace and stability to the international arena. Nor do I believe that Congress can or should be the sole determinant of American foreign policy. But despite our internal political divisions, on both measures—American leadership in the world and congressional leadership in our foreign policy—we must play a more constructive role in the years to come.

The five policy proposals I’ve described include specific actions Congress should take next year. Some already exist in the form of legislation and simply require bipartisan political will. Others are broader ideas, waiting to be shaped into a bill and then into law. Some will escape progress for another Congress, or two, or three. None will happen overnight.

Yet, as we enter a new era, I’m determined to pursue these ideas because Congress must play a constructive role in the direction of American foreign policy. Real collaboration between the executive and legislative branches has the potential to promote American interests and values and make a real difference for millions of people around the world and, most importantly, in the United States.

President-elect Trump will take office faced with daunting global challenges and deep political divisions at home. These rifts will take time to heal. If the President-elect seeks to follow through on campaign pledges that violate our Constitution and our core national values, members of Congress will have a moral responsibility to oppose his agenda. But I’m hopeful that the President-elect will seek to govern in a constructive way. If he does, I am determined to seek common ground with him and with Republican majorities in the Congress.

As we look ahead toward 2017, rather than regressing immediately into partisan acrimony, continuing a slide into irrelevance in U.S. foreign policy, and resigning ourselves to the cynicism and fear that has defined this election, members of Congress should focus on specific areas where we can find common ground. We won’t solve these challenges immediately, but the extent of our dysfunction makes it that much more important that we try. If we do, we may just find that there’s more agreement than we think.

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Sen. Chris Coons has represented Delaware in the U.S. Senate since 2010. He is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

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