President Obama's "Responsibility Doctrine"
Posted by David Shorr
In an article in the new issue of Foreign Service Journal, Nina Hachigian and I highlight a major thread of Obama foreign policy we think has been underappreciated:
Under a responsibility doctrine, foreign policy is driven by the need to solve global problems and strengthen the multilateral norms and structures on which a viable 21st-century, rules-based order depends. The aim is not simply to establish a balance of power, but to bring about a dynamic framework through which to practically address global challenges. The strategic premise is that emerging major and middle powers can become significant contributors to global peace and prosperity — whether co-opted or pressed into accepting responsibility along with influence.
A lot of of observers have weighed in on the question of whether Obama actually has a strategy. Much of the commentary has noted, correctly, President Obama's emphasis on interests the United States shares widely with other key international players. While the focus on common interests is a close cousin of the Responsibility Doctrine, it doesn't convey the Obama administration's persistent effort to rope others into doing their part.
The strategy is not about the United States stepping back but others stepping up. The U.S. must continue serving as leader, guarantor of the system and a catalyst of collective crisis-management, and Washington’s traditional alliances with nations sharing democratic values remain a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy. Yet there is a compelling case for bringing diverse emerging powers, including the BRICS countries, into closer alignment on global challenges, despite geostrategic rivalries.
Translation: never mind the ridiculous debate over so-called "declinism." Nina and I don't claim that cooperation is bursting out all over, but we do argue that Obama foreign policy is nudging others toward a new dynamic.
If the responsibility doctrine succeeds, emerging powers will internalize the duties that come with being a stakeholder. Here in the early stages of the process, these players are gradually gaining a sense of ownership over the major challenges confronting the world and a dawning awareness that shared problems must be solved. The internal debates in China, India and elsewhere about those nations’ global roles are positive signs.
To be sure the Responsibility Doctrine is about sharing the burden, but it's also about sharing ownership. I like to think of it as a matter of fulfilling civic duties "adhering to international laws and norms, contributing to global problem-solving, and enforcing norms when others flout them." That's why then-Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick's 2005 definition of a responsible stakeholder remains highly relevant to this day.
But as they say, read the whole thing.