Joe Biden on US foreign policy 2020, 2016 and on Russia

Joe Biden on US foreign policy 2020, 2016 and on Russia

Global Review reposts 3 articles from Foreign Affairs by US president-elect Joseph Biden jr. to give an idea about his new foreign policy after 4 years of Trumpism.

Why America Must Lead Again

Rescuing U.S. Foreign Policy After Trump

By Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

March/April 2020

By nearly every measure, the credibility and influence of the United States in the world have diminished since President Barack Obama and I left office on January 20, 2017. President Donald Trump has belittled, undermined, and in some cases abandoned U.S. allies and partners. He has turned on our own intelligence professionals, diplomats, and troops. He has emboldened our adversaries and squandered our leverage to contend with national security challenges from North Korea to Iran, from Syria to Afghanistan to Venezuela, with practically nothing to show for it. He has launched ill-advised trade wars, against the United States’ friends and foes alike, that are hurting the American middle class. He has abdicated American leadership in mobilizing collective action to meet new threats, especially those unique to this century. Most profoundly, he has turned away from the democratic values that give strength to our nation and unify us as a people.

Meanwhile, the global challenges facing the United States—from climate change and mass migration to technological disruption and infectious diseases—have grown more complex and more urgent, while the rapid advance of authoritarianism, nationalism, and illiberalism has undermined our ability to collectively meet them. Democracies—paralyzed by hyperpartisanship, hobbled by corruption, weighed down by extreme inequality—are having a harder time delivering for their people. Trust in democratic institutions is down. Fear of the Other is up. And the international system that the United States so carefully constructed is coming apart at the seams. Trump and demagogues around the world are leaning into these forces for their own personal and political gain.

The next U.S. president will have to address the world as it is in January 2021, and picking up the pieces will be an enormous task. He or she will have to salvage our reputation, rebuild confidence in our leadership, and mobilize our country and our allies to rapidly meet new challenges. There will be no time to lose.

As president, I will take immediate steps to renew U.S. democracy and alliances, protect the United States’ economic future, and once more have America lead the world. This is not a moment for fear. This is the time to tap the strength and audacity that took us to victory in two world wars and brought down the Iron Curtain.

The triumph of democracy and liberalism over fascism and autocracy created the free world. But this contest does not just define our past. It will define our future, as well.


First and foremost, we must repair and reinvigorate our own democracy, even as we strengthen the coalition of democracies that stand with us around the world. The United States’ ability to be a force for progress in the world and to mobilize collective action starts at home. That is why I will remake our educational system so that a child’s opportunity in life isn’t determined by his or her zip code or race, reform the criminal justice system to eliminate inequitable disparities and end the epidemic of mass incarceration, restore the Voting Rights Act to ensure that everyone can be heard, and return transparency and accountability to our government. 

But democracy is not just the foundation of American society. It is also the wellspring of our power. It strengthens and amplifies our leadership to keep us safe in the world. It is the engine of our ingenuity that drives our economic prosperity. It is the heart of who we are and how we see the world—and how the world sees us. It allows us to self-correct and keep striving to reach our ideals over time.

As a nation, we have to prove to the world that the United States is prepared to lead again—not just with the example of our power but also with the power of our example. To that end, as president, I will take decisive steps to renew our core values. I will immediately reverse the Trump administration’s cruel and senseless policies that separate parents from their children at our border; end Trump’s detrimental asylum policies; terminate the travel ban; order a review of Temporary Protected Status, for vulnerable populations; and set our annual refugee admissions at 125,000, and seek to raise it over time, commensurate with our responsibility and our values.

I will reaffirm the ban on torture and restore greater transparency in U.S. military operations, including policies instituted during the Obama-Biden administration to reduce civilian casualties. I will restore a government-wide focus on lifting up women and girls around the world. And I will ensure that the White House is once again the great defender—not the chief assailant—of the core pillars and institutions of our democratic values, from respecting freedom of the press, to protecting and securing the sacred right to vote, to upholding judicial independence. These changes are just a start, a day-one down payment on our commitment to living up to democratic values at home.

I will enforce U.S. laws without targeting particular communities, violating due process, or tearing apart families, as Trump has done. I will secure our borders while ensuring the dignity of migrants and upholding their legal right to seek asylum. I have released plans that outline these policies in detail and describe how the United States will focus on the root causes driving immigrants to our southwestern border. As vice president, I secured bipartisan support for a $750 million aid program to back up commitments from the leaders of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras to take on the corruption, violence, and endemic poverty driving people to leave their homes there. Security improved and migration flows began to decrease in countries such as El Salvador. As president, I will build on that initiative with a comprehensive four-year, $4 billion regional strategy that requires countries to contribute their own resources and undertake significant, concrete, verifiable reforms.

I will also take steps to tackle the self-dealing, conflicts of interest, dark money, and rank corruption that are serving narrow, private, or foreign agendas and undermining our democracy. That starts by fighting for a constitutional amendment to completely eliminate private dollars from federal elections. In addition, I will propose a law to strengthen prohibitions on foreign nationals or governments trying to influence U.S. federal, state, or local elections and direct a new independent agency—the Commission on Federal Ethics—to ensure vigorous and unified enforcement of this and other anticorruption laws. The lack of transparency in our campaign finance system, combined with extensive foreign money laundering, creates a significant vulnerability. We need to close the loopholes that corrupt our democracy.

Having taken these essential steps to reinforce the democratic foundation of the United States and inspire action in others, I will invite my fellow democratic leaders around the world to put strengthening democracy back on the global agenda. Today, democracy is under more pressure than at any time since the 1930s. Freedom House has reported that of the 41 countries consistently ranked “free” from 1985 to 2005, 22 have registered net declines in freedom over the last five years.

From Hong Kong to Sudan, Chile to Lebanon, citizens are once more reminding us of the common yearning for honest governance and the universal abhorrence of corruption. An insidious pandemic, corruption is fueling oppression, corroding human dignity, and equipping authoritarian leaders with a powerful tool to divide and weaken democracies across the world. Yet when the world’s democracies look to the United States to stand for the values that unite the country—to truly lead the free world—Trump seems to be on the other team, taking the word of autocrats while showing disdain for democrats. By presiding over the most corrupt administration in modern American history, he has given license to kleptocrats everywhere.

During my first year in office, the United States will organize and host a global Summit for Democracy to renew the spirit and shared purpose of the nations of the free world. It will bring together the world’s democracies to strengthen our democratic institutions, honestly confront nations that are backsliding, and forge a common agenda. Building on the successful model instituted during the Obama-Biden administration with the Nuclear Security Summit, the United States will prioritize results by galvanizing significant new country commitments in three areas: fighting corruption, defending against authoritarianism, and advancing human rights in their own nations and abroad. As a summit commitment of the United States, I will issue a presidential policy directive that establishes combating corruption as a core national security interest and democratic responsibility, and I will lead efforts internationally to bring transparency to the global financial system, go after illicit tax havens, seize stolen assets, and make it more difficult for leaders who steal from their people to hide behind anonymous front companies.

The Summit for Democracy will also include civil society organizations from around the world that stand on the frontlines in defense of democracy. And the summit members will issue a call to action for the private sector, including technology companies and social media giants, which must recognize their responsibilities and overwhelming interest in preserving democratic societies and protecting free speech. At the same time, free speech cannot serve as a license for technology and social media companies to facilitate the spread of malicious lies. Those companies must act to ensure that their tools and platforms are not empowering the surveillance state, gutting privacy, facilitating repression in China and elsewhere, spreading hate and misinformation, spurring people to violence, or remaining susceptible to other misuse.


Second, my administration will equip Americans to succeed in the global economy—with a foreign policy for the middle class. To win the competition for the future against China or anyone else, the United States must sharpen its innovative edge and unite the economic might of democracies around the world to counter abusive economic practices and reduce inequality.

Economic security is national security. Our trade policy has to start at home, by strengthening our greatest asset—our middle class—and making sure that everyone can share in the success of the country, no matter one’s race, gender, zip code, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. That will require enormous investments in our infrastructure—broadband, highways, rail, the energy grid, smart cities—and in education. We must give every student the skills necessary to obtain a good twenty-first-century job; make sure every single American has access to quality, affordable health care; raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour; and lead the clean economy revolution to create ten million good new jobs—including union jobs—in the United States.

I will make investment in research and development a cornerstone of my presidency, so that the United States is leading the charge in innovation. There is no reason we should be falling behind China or anyone else when it comes to clean energy, quantum computing, artificial intelligence, 5G, high-speed rail, or the race to end cancer as we know it. We have the greatest research universities in the world. We have a strong tradition of the rule of law. And most important, we have an extraordinary population of workers and innovators who have never let our country down.

A foreign policy for the middle class will also work to make sure the rules of the international economy are not rigged against the United States—because when American businesses compete on a fair playing field, they win. I believe in fair trade. More than 95 percent of the world’s population lives beyond our borders—we want to tap those markets. We need to be able to build the very best in the United States and sell the very best around the world. That means taking down trade barriers that penalize Americans and resisting a dangerous global slide toward protectionism. That’s what happened a century ago, after World War I—and it exacerbated the Great Depression and helped lead to World War II.

The wrong thing to do is to put our heads in the sand and say no more trade deals. Countries will trade with or without the United States. The question is, Who writes the rules that govern trade? Who will make sure they protect workers, the environment, transparency, and middle-class wages? The United States, not China, should be leading that effort.

As president, I will not enter into any new trade agreements until we have invested in Americans and equipped them to succeed in the global economy. And I will not negotiate new deals without having labor and environmental leaders at the table in a meaningful way and without including strong enforcement provisions to hold our partners to the deals they sign.

China represents a special challenge. I have spent many hours with its leaders, and I understand what we are up against. China is playing the long game by extending its global reach, promoting its own political model, and investing in the technologies of the future. Meanwhile, Trump has designated imports from the United States’ closest allies—from Canada to the European Union—as national security threats in order to impose damaging and reckless tariffs. By cutting us off from the economic clout of our partners, Trump has kneecapped our country’s capacity to take on the real economic threat.

The United States does need to get tough with China. If China has its way, it will keep robbing the United States and American companies of their technology and intellectual property. It will also keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage—and a leg up on dominating the technologies and industries of the future.

The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations, even as we seek to cooperate with Beijing on issues where our interests converge, such as climate change, nonproliferation, and global health security. On its own, the United States represents about a quarter of global GDP. When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles. China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy. That gives us substantial leverage to shape the rules of the road on everything from the environment to labor, trade, technology, and transparency, so they continue to reflect democratic interests and values.


The Biden foreign policy agenda will place the United States back at the head of the table, in a position to work with its allies and partners to mobilize collective action on global threats. The world does not organize itself. For 70 years, the United States, under Democratic and Republican presidents, played a leading role in writing the rules, forging the agreements, and animating the institutions that guide relations among nations and advance collective security and prosperity—until Trump. If we continue his abdication of that responsibility, then one of two things will happen: either someone else will take the United States’ place, but not in a way that advances our interests and values, or no one will, and chaos will ensue. Either way, that’s not good for America.

American leadership is not infallible; we have made missteps and mistakes. Too often, we have relied solely on the might of our military instead of drawing on our full array of strengths. Trump’s disastrous foreign policy record reminds us every day of the dangers of an unbalanced and incoherent approach, and one that defunds and denigrates the role of diplomacy.

I will never hesitate to protect the American people, including, when necessary, by using force. Of all the roles a president of the United States must fill, none is more consequential than that of commander in chief. The United States has the strongest military in the world, and as president, I will ensure it stays that way, making the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of this century, not the last one. But the use of force should be the last resort, not the first. It should be used only to defend U.S. vital interests, when the objective is clear and achievable, and with the informed consent of the American people.

It is past time to end the forever wars, which have cost the United States untold blood and treasure. As I have long argued, we should bring the vast majority of our troops home from the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East and narrowly define our mission as defeating al Qaeda and the Islamic State (or ISIS). We should also end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. We must maintain our focus on counterterrorism, around the world and at home, but staying entrenched in unwinnable conflicts drains our capacity to lead on other issues that require our attention, and it prevents us from rebuilding the other instruments of American power.

We can be strong and smart at the same time. There is a big difference between large-scale, open-ended deployments of tens of thousands of American combat troops, which must end, and using a few hundred Special Forces soldiers and intelligence assets to support local partners against a common enemy. Those smaller-scale missions are sustainable militarily, economically, and politically, and they advance the national interest.

Yet diplomacy should be the first instrument of American power. I am proud of what American diplomacy achieved during the Obama-Biden administration, from driving global efforts to bring the Paris climate agreement into force, to leading the international response to end the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, to securing the landmark multilateral deal to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Diplomacy is not just a series of handshakes and photo ops. It is building and tending relationships and working to identify areas of common interest while managing points of conflict. It requires discipline, a coherent policymaking process, and a team of experienced and empowered professionals. As president, I will elevate diplomacy as the United States’ principal tool of foreign policy. I will reinvest in the diplomatic corps, which this administration has hollowed out, and put U.S. diplomacy back in the hands of genuine professionals.

Diplomacy also requires credibility, and Trump has shattered ours. In the conduct of foreign policy, and especially in times of crisis, a nation’s word is its most valuable asset. By pulling out of treaty after treaty, reneging on policy after policy, walking away from U.S. responsibilities, and lying about matters big and small, Trump has bankrupted the United States’ word in the world.

He has also alienated the United States from the very democratic allies it needs most. He has taken a battering ram to the NATO alliance, treating it like an American-run protection racket. Our allies should do their fair share, which is why I’m proud of the commitments the Obama-Biden administration negotiated to ensure that NATO members increase their defense spending (a move Trump now claims credit for). But the alliance transcends dollars and cents; the United States’ commitment is sacred, not transactional. NATO is at the very heart of the United States’ national security, and it is the bulwark of the liberal democratic ideal—an alliance of values, which makes it far more durable, reliable, and powerful than partnerships built by coercion or cash. 

As president, I will do more than just restore our historic partnerships; I will lead the effort to reimagine them for the world we face today. The Kremlin fears a strong NATO, the most effective political-military alliance in modern history. To counter Russian aggression, we must keep the alliance’s military capabilities sharp while also expanding its capacity to take on nontraditional threats, such as weaponized corruption, disinformation, and cybertheft. We must impose real costs on Russia for its violations of international norms and stand with Russian civil society, which has bravely stood up time and again against President Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic authoritarian system.

Working cooperatively with other nations that share our values and goals does not make the United States a chump. It makes us more secure and more successful. We amplify our own strength, extend our presence around the globe, and magnify our impact while sharing global responsibilities with willing partners. We need to fortify our collective capabilities with democratic friends beyond North America and Europe by reinvesting in our treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, and South Korea and deepening partnerships from India to Indonesia to advance shared values in a region that will determine the United States’ future. We need to sustain our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security. And we need to do more to integrate our friends in Latin America and Africa into the broader network of democracies and to seize opportunities for cooperation in those regions.

In order to regain the confidence of the world, we are going to have to prove that the United States says what it means and means what it says. This is especially important when it comes to the challenges that will define our time: climate change, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and disruptive technology.

The United States must lead the world to take on the existential threat we face—climate change. If we don’t get this right, nothing else will matter. I will make massive, urgent investments at home that put the United States on track to have a clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. Equally important, because the United States creates only 15 percent of global emissions, I will leverage our economic and moral authority to push the world to determined action. I will rejoin the Paris climate agreement on day one of a Biden administration and then convene a summit of the world’s major carbon emitters, rallying nations to raise their ambitions and push progress further and faster. We will lock in enforceable commitments that will reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation, and we will pursue strong measures to make sure other nations can’t undercut the United States economically as we meet our own commitments. That includes insisting that China—the world’s largest emitter of carbon—stop subsidizing coal exports and outsourcing pollution to other countries by financing billions of dollars’ worth of dirty fossil fuel energy projects through its Belt and Road Initiative.

On nonproliferation and nuclear security, the United States cannot be a credible voice while it is abandoning the deals it negotiated. From Iran to North Korea, Russia to Saudi Arabia, Trump has made the prospect of nuclear proliferation, a new nuclear arms race, and even the use of nuclear weapons more likely. As president, I will renew our commitment to arms control for a new era. The historic Iran nuclear deal that the Obama-Biden administration negotiated blocked Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Yet Trump rashly cast the deal aside, prompting Iran to restart its nuclear program and become more provocative, raising the risk of another disastrous war in the region. I’m under no illusions about the Iranian regime, which has engaged in destabilizing behavior across the Middle East, brutally cracked down on protesters at home, and unjustly detained Americans. But there is a smart way to counter the threat that Iran poses to our interests and a self-defeating way—and Trump has chosen the latter. The recent killing of Qasem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, removed a dangerous actor but also raised the prospect of an ever-escalating cycle of violence in the region, and it has prompted Tehran to jettison the nuclear limits established under the nuclear deal. Tehran must return to strict compliance with the deal. If it does so, I would rejoin the agreement and use our renewed commitment to diplomacy to work with our allies to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilizing activities.

With North Korea, I will empower our negotiators and jump-start a sustained, coordinated campaign with our allies and others, including China, to advance our shared objective of a denuclearized North Korea. I will also pursue an extension of the New START treaty, an anchor of strategic stability between the United States and Russia, and use that as a foundation for new arms control arrangements. And I will take other steps to demonstrate our commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons. As I said in 2017, I believe that the sole purpose of the U.S. nuclear arsenal should be deterring—and, if necessary, retaliating against—a nuclear attack. As president, I will work to put that belief into practice, in consultation with the U.S. military and U.S. allies.

When it comes to technologies of the future, such as 5G and artificial intelligence, other nations are devoting national resources to dominating their development and determining how they are used. The United States needs to do more to ensure that these technologies are used to promote greater democracy and shared prosperity, not to curb freedom and opportunity at home and abroad. For example, a Biden administration will join together with the United States’ democratic allies to develop secure, private-sector-led 5G networks that do not leave any community, rural or low income, behind. As new technologies reshape our economy and society, we must ensure that these engines of progress are bound by laws and ethics, as we have done at previous technological turning points in history, and avoid a race to the bottom, where the rules of the digital age are written by China and Russia. It is time for the United States to lead in forging a technological future that enables democratic societies to thrive and prosperity to be shared broadly.

These are ambitious goals, and none of them can be reached without the United States—flanked by fellow democracies—leading the way. We are facing adversaries, both externally and internally, hoping to exploit the fissures in our society, undermine our democracy, break up our alliances, and bring about the return of an international system where might determines right. The answer to this threat is more openness, not less: more friendships, more cooperation, more alliances, more democracy.


Putin wants to tell himself, and anyone else he can dupe into believing him, that the liberal idea is “obsolete.” But he does so because he is afraid of its power. No army on earth can match the way the electric idea of liberty passes freely from person to person, jumps borders, transcends languages and cultures, and supercharges communities of ordinary citizens into activists and organizers and change agents.

We must once more harness that power and rally the free world to meet the challenges facing the world today. It falls to the United States to lead the way. No other nation has that capacity. No other nation is built on that idea. We have to champion liberty and democracy, reclaim our credibility, and look with unrelenting optimism and determination toward our future.

Building on Success

Opportunities for the Next Administration

By Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

September/October 2016

The next administration will take the reins of American foreign policy in a world that is more complex than at any point in our modern history, including the twilight of the Cold War and the years that followed the 9/11 attacks. But it is also the case that despite the proliferation of threats and challenges—some old, some new—by almost any measure, we are stronger and more secure today than when President Barack Obama and I took office in January 2009. Because of our investments at home and engagement overseas, the United States is primed to remain the world’s preeminent power for decades to come. In more than 40 years of public service, I have never been more optimistic about America’s future—if only we continue to lead.


From the outset, our administration has been guided by the belief that the foundations of U.S. global leadership reside first and foremost in our dynamic economy, peerless military, and universal values. We have built on these core strengths by expanding and modernizing the United States’ unrivaled network of alliances and partnerships and embedding them within a wider international order of rules and institutions.

Having inherited a deep economic recession, our administration first sought to steer an economy in collapse through an arduous recovery. In doing so, we have reestablished our standing as the world’s strongest and most innovative major economy, undergirded by the rule of law, the finest research universities, and an unparalleled culture of entrepreneur­ship. Smart investments coupled with American ingenuity have also made the United States the epicenter of a global energy revolution, both in renewables and in fossil fuels.

And we are seeing the results of a revitalized economy—in sustained job growth, a shift from outsourcing to insourcing, and a renewed consensus that the United States is once again the best place for businesses to invest worldwide, with the consulting firm A. T. Kearney ranking it now four years running as the top destination for foreign direct investment.

This vibrant economy is essential to sustaining our unrivaled military. We continue to outpace our competitors, spending more on our overall defense than the next eight countries combined. We have the most capable ground forces in the history of the world and an unmatched ability to project naval and air power to any corner of the globe. And thanks in no small part to our efforts to bolster U.S. special operations forces, enhance our cyberspace and space capabilities, and invest in unmanned systems and other game-changing technologies, we’re well positioned to maintain our qualitative edge for years to come.

This is part of a layered defense that has only grown stronger with our laser focus on homeland security, making our borders safer, improving security and inspections at ports, and strengthening screening procedures at airports. Our intelligence and law enforcement professionals are coordinating at an unprecedented level among themselves and with partners around the world, foiling countless would-be attackers. And with U.S. assistance, our partners are now reciprocating by sharing more information, such as passenger records, enhancing security while protecting civil liberties.

This speaks to another reality: America’s greatest strength is not the example of our power but the power of our example. More than anything, it is our adherence to our values and our commitment to tolerance that sets us apart from other great powers. I have no doubt that future generations of Americans will be proud of the way we have doubled down over the last seven and a half years to uphold basic human dignity by banning torture, calling for a more enlightened immigration system, expanding opportunities for women, and defending the rights of the LGBT community at home and abroad.

This is not only the right thing to do; it is also the right strategy, because our commitment to defend what is best in us inspires others to stand with us. That’s vital, since our unrivaled network of allies and partners—from our core democratic alliances in Europe and Asia to our growing partnerships in Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East—multiplies our ability to lead. It’s how we mobilize collective action to address just about every major challenge, from the Islamic State (or ISIS) to Ebola to climate change.

Equally critical has been our commitment to strengthening the open international system, embracing the time-tested approach that spurred America’s rise in the previous century. The United States built the basic architecture of the international order after the devastation of World War II, and it has served us and the world well ever since. That’s why we have invested so much energy to defend and extend the rules of the road, signing historic arms control and nonproliferation agreements and leading worldwide efforts to lock down nuclear materials, expand trade, protect the environment, and promote new norms to address emergent challenges at sea and in cyberspace.

As a result, no country is better positioned than the United States to lead in the twenty-first century. But it is worth remembering that our indispensable role in the world is not inevitable. If the next administration chooses to turn inward, it could very well squander the hard-earned progress we’ve made not just over the past seven and a half years but also over the past seven decades.

Although the next president will be confronted with innumerable issues, four tasks loom large: seizing transformative opportunities on both sides of the Pacific, managing relations with regional powers, leading the world to address complex transnational challenges, and defeating violent extremism.


The next president should deepen U.S. engagement with the most dynamic regions of the world by seizing possibilities on both sides of the Pacific, starting right here in the Western Hemisphere. Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean have an outsize impact on our domestic security and prosperity, and in the twenty-first century, the Western Hemisphere should figure prominently among our top foreign policy priorities.

We’re already seeing the returns of a renewed focus on the region. Because of the way President Obama and I have prioritized improving relations with our neighbors, including the opening to Cuba, the United States’ standing in the hemisphere has never been higher. The next administration should build on this momentum to strengthen the security and prosperity of people throughout the Americas. The table is set to deepen cooperation with Canada and Mexico, capitalize on renewed ties with Argentina, sustain unprecedented engagement with Central America, and expand our partnerships with regional leaders such as Brazil, Chile, and Colombia.

Challenges surely remain, including undocumented immigration, drug trafficking, widespread corruption, and fragile democratic insti­tutions, but today the region is defined more by opportunities than crises. The opportunities include the possibilities for stronger trade and investment, greater energy integration, and a more peaceful hemisphere in which the United States helps end long-running conflicts, as we have done in Colombia. Indeed, for the first time in history, it’s possible to imagine a hemisphere that is middle class, democratic, and secure from the northern reaches of Canada to the southern tip of Chile.

On the other side of the Pacific, we’ve recharged our engagement with Asia. The next administration will inherit treaty alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea that are the strongest they’ve ever been. It isn’t always easy to explain on a bumper sticker, but it’s common sense that the United States is wealthier and safer because the world’s advanced democracies are in our corner. It’s also true that being the principal security provider in Asia doesn’t come for free. But we should never underestimate the extraordinary economic costs to the American people if Asia devolved into conflict—something that is far more likely to occur in the absence of sustained U.S. leadership there.

The next administration will be charged with continuing to expand our network of relationships beyond our core alliances, building on the historic opportunities we’ve created to support the democratic transition in Burma (also called Myanmar), deepen ties with Vietnam, manage relations with China, expand the strategic partnership with India, and work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to advance a rules-based order.

And because Asia is home to half the world’s population and many of the world’s fastest-growing markets, we simply cannot afford to ignore the economic opportunities there. That’s why securing the Trans-Pacific Partnership remains a top priority for our administration. The 12 economies of the TPP account for 30 percent of global trade, 40 percent of global GDP, and 50 percent of projected global economic growth. Thanks to U.S. leadership, the deal includes provisions that will raise international standards for the protection of workers’ rights, the environment, and intellectual property. Absent these rules, the region will likely witness a race to the bottom in the form of weak, low-standard regional trade agreements that exclude the United States. This deal is as much about geopolitics as economics: when it comes to trade, maritime security in the South China Sea, or nuclear nonpro­liferation in Northeast Asia, the United States has to take the lead in writing and enforcing the rules of the road, or else we will leave a vacuum that our competitors will surely rush to fill.


Indeed, in nearly every part of the world, the United States contends with regional powers that have an enormous capacity to contribute to the international order—or to undermine it. Much will rest on how America chooses to lead.

Nowhere is this truer than in our relationship with China. The United States and China are the world’s two largest economies, so our fates are inescapably intertwined. President Obama and I have sought to define this relationship through enhanced cooperation and responsible competition. We have found common ground with Beijing and made historic progress to address such global challenges as climate change, pandemic disease, poverty, and nuclear proliferation. At the same time, we have stood firm on such issues as human rights, intellectual property, and freedom of navigation.

This balancing act will only grow more difficult in the context of China’s economic slowdown and the worrying steps Beijing is taking to reverse course on more than three decades of economic reform and opening up to the world. As a result, the next administration will have to steer a relationship with China that encompasses both breakthrough cooperation and, potentially, intensified competition. And sometimes, as when facing the mounting threat from North Korea, cooperation and competition with China will coexist. The notion that it will be all one or the other is shortsighted and self-defeating.

The same is true with regard to Russia, with which the United States should continue to pursue a policy that combines the urgent need for deterrence, on the one hand, with the prudent pursuit of tactical cooperation and strategic stability, on the other. Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea and its continued aggression in eastern Ukraine violate foundational principles of the post–Cold War order: sovereignty and the inviolability of borders in Europe. In response, we have rallied our allies in Europe and elsewhere to impose real costs on Moscow, making clear that this pressure will continue until Russia upholds its commitments under the agreements reached in Minsk aimed at ending the conflict.

Meanwhile, the combination of our $3.4 billion European Reassurance Initiative and NATO’s new forward deployments in Poland and the Baltics will strengthen our European allies and provide a bulwark against further Russian aggression. For years, we’ve also encouraged Europe to spend more on defense and to diversify its energy supplies in order to reduce its susceptibility to coercion. Now we’re starting to see progress on these fronts. And the next administration should redouble the United States’ commitment to strengthening NATO and our partnership with the EU, even as London and Brussels negotiate their ongoing relationship.

Investing in the core institutions of the West does not require reverting back to simplistic Cold War thinking, however. The United States should remain open to cooperation with Russia where our interests overlap, as we demonstrated with the Iran nuclear deal, as well as with the New START agreement on nuclear weapons. It is also difficult to envision how the war in Syria will ultimately end without some modus vivendi between Washington and Moscow. And as new military technologies raise the stakes of miscalculation and escalation, we will need functional and stable channels with Russia to clearly communicate our intentions and maintain strategic stability.

There’s an appealing moral clarity in dividing the world into friend and foe. But in reality, progress in international affairs so often demands working with those with whom we do not see eye to eye. That’s why our administration seized the possibility to move beyond three decades of conflict with Iran to lock in a nuclear agreement. Tehran is neither a friend nor a partner. But our willingness to break taboos and engage the regime directly, combined with our success in mobilizing unprece­dented international pressure on Iran to negotiate, peacefully removed one of the greatest threats to global security: the specter of Iran gaining a nuclear weapon.

One year on, the deal speaks for itself: the agreement is working. Iran has verifiably removed two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out of the country 98 percent of its low-enriched uranium (enough for about ten nuclear weapons), removed the core of its plutonium reactor at Arak and filled it with cement, and provided international inspectors unprecedented access to its entire nuclear supply chain to ensure compliance. The deal blocks every pathway through which Iran might seek to develop nuclear weapons, while opening up the possibility for further engagement with Tehran down the road if the regime moderates its behavior. Tearing up the deal now, as some have proposed, would leave Iran’s nuclear program unconstrained, increase the threat to Israel and our partners in the Gulf, turn the international community against the United States, and sharply raise the prospect of another major war in the Middle East.

Critics of engagement should remember that the nuclear deal was never meant to resolve all our problems with Tehran. Engaging Iran need not come at the expense of our ironclad commitments to our allies and partners in the Middle East, including Israel. The United States has retained all the means necessary, including targeted sanctions, to hold Iran accountable for its ballistic missile activities, support for terrorism, and human rights violations, and we are committed to working with our allies and partners to push back against Iran’s destabilizing behavior.


Transnational threats such as pathogens, environmental disruptions, computer viruses, and malicious ideologies don’t respect borders. Even in simpler times, isolationism never offered more than a false sense of security. And now, more than ever, we cannot wall ourselves off from these dangers or sit back and wait for others to solve the world’s problems for us. As the columnist Thomas Friedman aptly wrote, “If you don’t visit a bad neighborhood, it might visit you.”

We’ve learned that true security requires finding solutions that span borders, as when we rallied the world to address the Ebola epidemic in West Africa in 2014. In the face of a terrifying disease, we resisted hysterical calls for quarantines and travel bans and instead followed the science. We drew on all our strengths, from our military to our health-care and development professionals. And with tireless diplomacy, we brought the world along with us to provide urgent, coordinated assistance that ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Beyond Ebola, we have made significant investments and built new partnerships to fight HIV/AIDS, turn the tide against malaria, and improve the health of women and children across Africa. And through our Global Health Security Agenda, a partnership between the United States and some 50 other countries that our administration launched in 2014, we are strengthening the capacity of vulnerable countries in Africa and around the world to combat future outbreaks. Improving health security represents just one facet of our growing relationship with Africa. Through such forums as the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit and the Young African Leaders Initiative, we have engaged with African leaders on all levels, from heads of state to civil society, expanding and deepening partnerships that contribute to the continent’s increasingly bright future.

American leadership has also proved decisive in addressing climate change. Our administration’s landmark investments at home have tripled the amount of electricity we harness from the wind and increased our solar power 20-fold since 2008. We’ve put in place rules that will double the fuel efficiency of our cars by 2025, and we’ve set forth an unprecedented plan to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that our power plants emit. These are the most significant steps the United States has ever taken domestically to combat climate change, and because our actions proved that we take this threat seriously, we were able to rally other countries to make concrete commitments of their own—starting with China, the world’s leading emitter. That’s how we achieved last year’s historic Paris agreement to combat climate change.

At the same time, we’re working to increase the resilience of com­munities that are already being affected by rising temperatures and extreme weather, at home and around the world. We’re implementing strategies to address the increased risk of flooding in coastal communities and improving our national resilience in the face of long-term droughts. We’re also building climate considerations into all our efforts to promote sustainable development around the world, including aid programs such as Feed the Future, which supports climate-smart agriculture. Our $3 billion pledge to the UN’s Green Climate Fund will help the poorest and most vulnerable nations become more resilient to climate change. And through a bold initiative called Power Africa, we’ve set a goal of doubling access to electricity on the continent through clean and sustainable methods.

Through all these efforts, we’ve laid the groundwork to protect our planet. But the resulting opportunities can be seized only if the next president follows the science, recognizes the dangers of doing nothing, and musters the political will to address the threat.

Other transnational threats are only a keystroke away, whether it be state actors pilfering commercial or government data or North Korean, Iranian, or anonymous criminal hackers perpetrating cyberattacks against American companies. That is why we’ve fortified our cyber­defenses, expanded partnerships with the private sector and with other governments, authorized the Treasury Department to impose sanctions against malicious hackers, enhanced our technical and attributional capabilities, and worked to improve our ability to respond to and recover from cyberattacks.

Meanwhile, we have secured a number of important commitments from China on its actions online, including an agreement not to conduct cyber-enabled economic espionage for commercial gain, and a number of other states are following our lead and securing similar commitments of their own. We continue to support an open, trans­parent, and interoperable Internet as an engine of economic growth and civil society. Finally, we are building a growing coalition of like-minded states around a set of voluntary norms of responsible state behavior in peacetime, an important effort to enhance stability in cyberspace, which has been endorsed by leaders from a number of the most capable countries, including those of the G-7 and the G-20.

The next administration should pick up this baton and run with it, further refining principles to guide the digital revolution as part of a broader effort to shape new rules of the road for space, the sea, and the other critical domains that will define commerce and competition in the decades ahead.


Terrorism and violent extremism provide perhaps the most vexing example of a virulent transnational danger that demands sustained U.S. leadership. Al Qaeda, ISIS, and their offshoots represent real threats, and the attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, Orlando, Istanbul, and elsewhere have reminded us over and over again that terrorism can happen anywhere. At the same time, even amid a climate of fear and uncertainty, we must remember that terrorists cannot destroy the United States or our civilization. They are significant, but not existential, threats—and we should never underestimate the strength and resilience of the American people.

Terrorism must—and will—be defeated. But more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq has taught us some hard lessons about when and how to deploy military power to address this danger. Even as we have removed more than 165,000 U.S. troops from combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Obama has never hesitated to use force to defend the American people when necessary. Just ask Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s top operatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the leaders of al Qaeda’s affiliates in Somalia and Yemen, and more than 120 of ISIS’ top leaders and commanders. Our administration has not been hamstrung by an ideology of restraint, as our most vocal critics allege. Rather, we carefully consider the use of force because we understand the tremendous human costs and unfore­seen consequences of war. We must ensure that when we do use force, it is effective. Accordingly, we have taken precise and proportional military actions, guided by a clear mission that advances U.S. interests.

When­ever possible, we have acted alongside allies and partners so that they will share the burden and become invested in the mission’s success.

And perhaps most important, we have used force in a manner that is sustainable. We’ve learned in no uncertain terms that success on the battlefield will not endure if U.S. military involvement outpaces political developments on the ground or the ability of local partners to control their own territory. Lasting victory against al Qaeda and ISIS will therefore require viable indigenous forces to hold liberated areas, rebuild shattered communities, and govern effectively. That’s why we’ve worked with more than three dozen nations to train Afghan forces to hunt down al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. And that’s why we’ve invested so much in building a partnership with the Government of National Accord in Libya and with other African governments—from Nigeria to Somalia to Tunisia—to go after al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates.

In Iraq and Syria, we’ve built a 66-member coalition to train local forces, and we’ve provided afflicted communities with critical humani­tarian and stabilization assistance. We’ve deployed special operations forces, and as of July 2016, our coalition has carried out more than 13,000 air strikes in support of local ground forces. With enhanced intelligence sharing and law enforcement cooperation, we have worked with our partners to improve their border security, reduce the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq and Syria by 50 percent, and strangle ISIS’ finances. The result: ISIS is losing. Over the past two years, the group has been under siege from western Iraq to northern Syria, losing approx­imately 50 percent of the populated territory it once held in Iraq and more than 20 percent in Syria. We’ve taken thousands of ISIS’ frontline fighters off the battlefield, and the group has lost a quarter of its overall manpower. Its morale is plummeting, and its hold over local populations is loosening.

Meanwhile, we’re working with the international community to provide billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to displaced people in Iraq and Syria and refugees across the region and billions more to stabilize and rebuild communities liberated from ISIS. To address the grievances that give such groups oxygen, we are engaged at the highest levels in Iraq to encourage greater political inclusivity and reconciliation across that country’s ethnosectarian divide. And we are aggressively pursuing a diplomatic settlement to produce a political transition in Syria—because not only is there no military solution to the conflict; there is also no way to end it so long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power.

It is worth recalling that what initially set ISIS apart in 2014 was the group’s attempt to carve out both a state and a self-described caliphate in the heart of the Arab world. This risked creating a territorial platform for attacks on the West. This is the threat we are systematically dismantling in Iraq and Syria, and the one we are making progress in undoing in Libya.

But even when ISIS’ would-be caliphate is destroyed, the jihadist challenge will continue. Other violent jihadist movements with localized agendas—some that are distinct from ISIS and others that have appro­priated its brand—will likely continue to exploit ungoverned spaces and threaten stability in key countries. Boko Haram was a threat to Nigeria long before it renamed itself the Islamic State’s West African Province, for example, and it will still have to be addressed even if ISIS’ core is destroyed. More broadly, the Salafi jihadist ideology that underpins such groups does not require territory to radicalize lone wolves to carry out attacks like those in San Bernardino, Orlando, and Nice. And foreign fighters returning home from the front may continue to attempt attacks like those in Paris and Brussels.

Even when ISIS’ would-be caliphate is destroyed, the jihadist challenge will continue.

The next administration will have to continue to address this challenge in a smart, sustainable, and holistic manner. This will require the disciplined application of military force, alongside the best efforts of our intelligence and law enforcement communities, diplomats, and development professionals. It will require working with local partners and the international community to improve governance in fragile and failing states. And it will involve countering toxic ideologies online.But this comprehensive campaign against violent extremism will succeed only if it is carried out in a manner that is consistent with our values and keeps the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims—the vast majority of whom reject Salafi jihadist views—on our side. We know that al Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk want to manufacture a clash of civilizations in which Americans think of Muslims in us-versus-them terms. Last year, ISIS’ top leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, revealed the goal of his group’s attacks: “Compel the crusaders to actively destroy the gray zone themselves. Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices: either apostatize or emigrate to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution.”

We should never let these groups win by giving in to the religious war they want. This only raises the premium on adhering to our values and spurning the tactics of our enemies: torture, indiscriminate violence, and religious intolerance. Doing otherwise not only violates our values but also deeply damages our security.


The next administration will have a lot on its plate: uniting the Western Hemisphere, deepening our alliances and partnerships in Asia, managing complex relationships with regional powers, and addressing severe transnational challenges such as climate change and terrorism. But because of the actions we’ve taken and the boundless energy and resilience of the American people, I’ve never been more optimistic about our capacity to guide the international community to a more peaceful and prosperous future. It bears under­scoring, however, that U.S. leadership has never sprung from some inherent American magic. Instead, we have earned it over and over again through hard work, discipline, and sacrifice.There is simply too much at stake for the United States to draw back from our responsibilities now. The choices we make today will steer the future of our planet. In the face of enormous challenges and unprecedented opportunities, the world needs steady American leadership more than ever.

How to Stand Up to the Kremlin

Defending Democracy Against Its Enemies

By Joseph R. Biden, Jr., and Michael Carpenter

January/February 2018

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union faced off in an existential struggle between two antithetical systems. Either the Soviet bloc would “bury” the West, as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev threatened in 1956, or Western principles of democratic accountability, individual rights, and the rule of law would triumph over Soviet totalitarianism. The eventual outcome—the demise of the Soviet system and the expansion of the U.S.-led international order—showed that military power is essential to American national security but also that the United States must advance its goals through the quiet resilience of democratic institutions and the attractive pull of alliances.

After the Cold War, Western democracy became the model of choice for postcommunist countries in central and eastern Europe. Guided by the enlightened hands of NATO and the EU, many of those countries boldly embarked on the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Remarkably, most succeeded. Post-Soviet Russia also had an opportunity to reinvent itself. Many in Europe and the United States hoped that by integrating Russia into international organizations (such as the Council of Europe, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), they could help Russia become a responsible member of the rules-based international order and develop a domestic constituency for democratic reforms. Many Russians also dreamed of creating a democratic, stable, and prosperous Russia. But that dream is now more distant than at any time since the Cold War’s end.

Today, the Russian government is brazenly assaulting the foundations of Western democracy around the world. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has launched a coordinated attack across many domains—military, political, economic, informational—using a variety of overt and covert means. At the extreme, in the cases of Georgia and Ukraine, Russia has invaded neighboring countries to block their integration into NATO or the EU and to send a message to other governments in the region that pursuing Western-backed democratic reform will bring dire consequences. More frequently and more insidiously, it has sought to weaken and subvert Western democracies from the inside by weaponizing information, cyberspace, energy, and corruption.

At its core, this assault is motivated by the Kremlin’s desire to protect its wealth and power. The Russian regime that emerged from the ashes of the Soviet collapse consolidated immense authority and privilege in the hands of a small cabal of former intelligence officials and oligarchs. They appear strong from the outside, but their power remains brittle at the core—a fact that Putin and the top members of his regime understand better than anyone. Without a chokehold on civil society, the adoring applause and sky-high approval ratings they generally enjoy could quickly descend into a storm of boos and whistles, as Putin has discovered on more than one occasion. The regime projects an aura of invincibility that masks the shallow roots of its public support, particularly among younger, urban, and educated Russians.

To safeguard its kleptocratic system, the Kremlin has decided to take the fight beyond Russia’s borders to attack what it perceives as the greatest external threat to its survival: Western democracy. By attacking the West, the Kremlin shifts attention away from corruption and economic malaise at home, activates nationalist passions to stifle internal dissent, and keeps Western democracies on the defensive and preoccupied with internal divisions. This allows Moscow to consolidate its power at home and exert untrammeled influence over its “near abroad.” 

To fight back, the United States must lead its democratic allies and partners in increasing their resilience, expanding their capabilities to defend against Russian subversion, and rooting out the Kremlin’s networks of malign influence. The United States has the capacity to counter this assault and emerge stronger, provided that Washington demonstrates the political will to confront the threat. However, since the Trump administration has shown that it does not take the Russian threat seriously, the responsibility for protecting Western democracy will rest more than ever on Congress, the private sector, civil society, and ordinary Americans.


The first victim of the Kremlin’s assault on democratic institutions was Russia itself. Opposition politicians have been harassed, poisoned, and even murdered. Basic freedoms of expression and assembly have been restricted, and Russian elections have become choreographed performances that are neither free nor fair. In recent years, Russian human rights groups have even claimed that the horrific Soviet-era practice of using psychiatric institutions to imprison dissidents has been quietly revived. 

In contrast to the Soviet Union, however, contemporary Russia offers no clear ideological alternative to Western democracy. Russia’s leaders invoke nationalist, populist, and statist slogans or themes, but the Kremlin’s propaganda machine shies away from directly challenging the core precepts of Western democracy: competitive elections, accountability for those in power, constitutionally guaranteed rights, and the rule of law. Instead, the Kremlin carefully cultivates a democratic façade, paying lip service to those principles even as it subverts them. Thus, it grants nominal opposition parties representation in the Russian parliament but thoroughly co-opts and controls them. It allows independent media to operate (although not in broadcast television), but journalists are regularly threatened and sometimes beaten or killed if they report on taboo subjects. It permits civil society groups to exist but brands them as “foreign agents” and crushes them if they demonstrate political independence. It oversees a vast repressive apparatus —recently augmented by the creation of a new National Guard force of around 350,000 members—to deter and respond to dissent. In short, Russia’s leaders have built a Potemkin democracy in which democratic form masks authoritarian content.

This cynical and heavy-handed approach is driven by intense anxiety. Having watched with a mix of shock, horror, and sorrow as the Soviet Union disintegrated, today’s Russian leaders worry that their own system could meet a similar fate. The Russian economy is utterly dependent on hydrocarbon exports, so its health is tied to the price of oil and gas; as those prices have plummeted in recent years, the state-owned gas giant Gazprom’s market capitalization has shrunk, from about $368 billion in 2008 to around $52 billion today. Meanwhile, long-term demographic decline is sapping Russian society; the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration has projected a 20 percent decrease in the population by 2050. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, life expectancy in Russia ranks 153rd in the world, far below the world’s developed democracies and lower even than developing countries such as Nicaragua and Uzbekistan. Finally, endemic corruption has stunted Russia’s potential for economic growth based on innovation and integration into global value chains, portending a period of prolonged stagnation. 


In the face of these negative trends and the possibility that they could contribute to organized resistance, the Kremlin appears to have concluded that its best defense is a strong offense. But not content to merely crush dissent at home, it is now taking the fight to Western democracies, and especially the United States, on their turf. From the Kremlin’s perspective, the United States and its democratic allies pose three distinct threats. First, Russia harbors an erroneous but stubborn—perhaps even obsessive—belief that Washington is actively pursuing regime change in Russia. There is no truth to that idea; the United States has never sought to remove Putin. But Putin and his associates have long peddled a conspiracy theory that accuses the United States of engineering popular uprisings in Serbia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, Ukraine in 2004 and 2014, Kyrgyzstan in 2005, and throughout the Arab world in 2010–11. And they have apparently come to believe their own propaganda, perceiving Washington’s hand behind the mass protests that erupted in Moscow and other Russian cities in 2011–12. Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets before and after elections that returned Putin to the presidency after four years in which he had ruled from the sidelines as prime minster. Putin was apparently unable to comprehend that his attempt to remain in power indefinitely might alienate some constituents or that widely shared smartphone videos of ballot stuffing during the parliamentary election held in December 2011 would offend Russian citizens. 

Second, the regime fears that Western support for democratic reforms among Russia’s neighbors, particularly measures to boost transparency and fight corruption, will undermine the patronage networks that allow Kremlin cronies to extract enormous rents in the “near abroad.” 

Third, democratic transformation in Russia’s neighborhood would serve as a powerful counterexample to Moscow’s kleptocratic and authoritarian rule and would delegitimize its authority over the long run. So Russia waged wars against Georgia in 2008 and against Ukraine in 2014 in order to undermine governments determined to pursue further integration with NATO and the EU. Meanwhile, a third country in the region, Moldova, has been partially occupied by Russian forces since the early 1990s as leverage against any sudden movement toward the West (despite a provision of constitutional neutrality that precludes Moldova from joining foreign military alliances). 

The Kremlin has justified its violations of these countries’ sovereignty on the grounds that they form part of Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests,” as Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s then president and Putin’s junior partner, explained shortly after Russia’s invasion of Georgia. That term is telling. Kremlin insiders have long benefited from privileged status in these three countries. For example, murky gas-trading ventures with Kremlin-linked oligarchs in Ukraine have netted billions of dollars in profits for Putin’s cronies at the expense of the Russian state.

The small Balkan nation of Montenegro lies almost a thousand miles from the nearest Russian border and was never part of the Russian or the Soviet empire. But it, too, finds itself tangled in Putin’s web. Montenegro became enveloped in Russia’s “sphere of privileged interests” not owing to proximity but because Kremlin-linked oligarchs and criminal groups invested their wealth and expanded their influence there following the dissolution of Yugoslavia. After Montenegro became independent from Serbia in 2006, these Russian interests came under threat as the Montenegrin government began to lobby for NATO and EU membership. As a precondition for membership, Montenegro was pressed by both organizations to establish a firmer rule of law. Western officials pushed the country to appoint an independent special prosecutor to combat organized crime and corruption and demanded that it clean house in the defense and intelligence sectors. Correctly perceiving these reforms as a direct threat to its interests, the Kremlin responded almost immediately, coordinating a campaign funded by Russian oligarchs to oppose Montenegro’s NATO membership and subsidizing a small anti-NATO and pro-Russian political party in the country.

When that failed to slow Montenegro’s march toward integration with NATO, the Kremlin resorted to more coercive tactics. In the weeks prior to Montenegro’s parliamentary elections in October 2016, a small group of Russian military intelligence agents hatched a plot to carry out an armed coup d’état using mercenaries recruited from extremist nationalist groups in the region. The scheme unraveled when one of the plotters tipped off the authorities, forcing the Kremlin to dispatch an envoy to Serbia to bring home the stranded conspirators.


The Kremlin has relied on subtler tools to subvert democracies in western Europe and the United States. Although Russian operatives have carried out at least one politically motivated assassination in the West (and possibly more), Moscow’s intelligence services are generally more cautious when operating on NATO territory, relying instead on information operations and cyberattacks. Whereas Soviet intelligence operatives occasionally tried to plant false stories in Western media outlets, today the Kremlin subcontracts the task to proxies, who spread customized disinformation using fake accounts on social media. These proxies need not even reside in Russia since they can be contacted and compensated via the so-called Dark Web (a parallel, closed-off internet) wherever they live.

Different messages can be tailored to specific demographic groups, depending on the Kremlin’s goals, which have ranged from discouraging voter turnout to boosting attendance at political rallies held by Russia’s preferred candidates. To maintain a modicum of plausible deniability, Russia’s “patriotic hackers” and trolls are typically employed by entities loosely connected to the Kremlin rather than directly by the government. For example, the Internet Research Agency, a notorious “troll farm” based in St. Petersburg that reportedly purchased thousands of ads on Facebook during the 2016 U.S. presidential race, relies on the financial support of a close Putin associate. 

During the 2016 U.S. campaign and the 2017 presidential contest in France, Russia’s intelligence services cultivated similar online intermediaries to hack private e-mails and distribute the stolen information to organizations such as WikiLeaks, which in turn disseminated it more widely. Although Western cybersecurity experts and intelligence agencies were able to identify the Russian military intelligence agency as the main culprit behind both attacks, the disinformation had already penetrated the mainstream media by the time it was attributed to Russia.

In France, the widespread knowledge of Russia’s prior involvement in the U.S. campaign somewhat lessened the Kremlin’s first-mover advantage. But Russia has hardly given up, and it has taken similar steps to sway political campaigns in a wide range of European countries, including for referendums in the Netherlands (on Ukraine’s integration with Europe), Italy (on governance reforms), and Spain (on Catalonia’s secession). Russian support for Alternative for Germany, a far-right party, aimed to increase the group’s vote totals in last fall’s parliamentary elections by amplifying its messaging on social media. A similar Russian effort is now under way to support the nationalist Northern League and the populist Five Star Movement in Italy’s upcoming parliamentary elections. Further down the road, the U.S. midterm elections in 2018 and the presidential election in 2020 will present fresh opportunities for Russian meddling.

The manipulation of energy markets is another important tool that Russia uses for coercion and influence peddling. Russia has repeatedly threatened to cut off gas to Ukraine, and in 2006 and 2009, Moscow actually stopped the flow in the middle of winter. The clear message was that leaders who crossed the Kremlin could literally see their populations freeze to death. Russia again made threats to cut off gas deliveries following its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, but thanks to intense diplomacy by the United States and the EU, Kiev’s neighbors helped avert a crisis by ensuring an adequate supply.

Since then, new liquefied natural gas terminals in Lithuania and Poland have helped diversify Europe’s natural gas supplies, but this has not stopped the Kremlin from continuing to use energy to pressure European governments, particularly in the Baltic states, the Balkans, and central Europe. Currently, for example, Russia is building a nuclear power plant in close proximity to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, giving Moscow a powerful psychological weapon should it choose to foment rumors of an accident.

In addition to using energy to coerce its neighbors, the Kremlin is adept at using energy deals to curry influence with European political and business leaders. The fruits of these influence operations can be seen in Putin’s close personal relationships with a host of current and former European officials, many of which were facilitated by Western political advisers with ties to the Russian energy sector. 


Russia’s disinformation operations, cyberattacks, and energy politics have received a good deal of attention. Less well covered are the ways in which Russia has managed to effectively export the corruption that has warped its own politics and economy—weaponizing it, in a sense, and aiming it at vulnerable societies elsewhere. 

In Russia’s crony capitalist system, success and survival in business depend on the protection of powerful patrons who can shelter a businessperson or a company from raids by bigger competitors or overzealous tax officials. Kremlin authorities and Russian intelligence officials sit at the top of this pyramid, receiving bribes and payoffs in exchange for such protection. But the state itself also benefits from this arrangement, which gives the Kremlin enormous leverage over wealthy Russians who do business in the West and over Western companies that do business in Russia. Moscow can ask (or pressure) such businesspeople and companies to help finance its subversion of political processes elsewhere—by making contributions to an anti-NATO organization in Sweden, for example, or establishing anti-fracking groups in Bulgaria and Romania to fight developments that might threaten Russia’s dominance of the eastern European gas market.

What makes corruption such an effective weapon is the difficulty of proving that it even exists, or that its purpose is political. Occasionally, however, cases appear that illuminate how Russia weaponizes corrupt relationships to achieve its political goals. Consider, for example, the fact that the far-right candidate in last year’s French presidential race, Marine Le Pen, secured (albeit legally) a multimillion-dollar loan for her campaign from a Russian bank with alleged links to the Kremlin while advocating a policy of lifting sanctions on Russia. (Le Pen, of course, has denied that the funding influenced her positions.)

Money laundering is another example of how the Kremlin seeks to infect Western democracies with the corruption virus. Western financial institutions launder staggering amounts of illicit Russian money. In January 2017, New York State banking regulators revealed that Germany-based Deutsche Bank had helped Russian clients launder $10 billion; the state hit the bank with a $425 million fine. Two months later, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international network of investigative reporters, uncovered a complex scheme that moved more than $20 billion of illicit Russian money through numerous Western financial institutions. After being “cleaned,” some of the money went to groups that advocated closer relations between EU countries and Russia, including a Polish nongovernmental organization run by the political activist Mateusz Piskorski, who also heads a pro-Kremlin political party—and who was arrested by Polish authorities in 2016 on charges of spying for Russia. (He remains detained and has yet to be tried.)

The scope of Russian corrupt influence is exceptionally wide, particularly since Russian oligarchs who made vast sums of money over the last several decades have parked much of this wealth in the West, including in luxury real estate markets in London, Miami, and New York. These billions of dollars of investments have been used in many cases to secure access to Western political and business elites. They also serve as a ready source of financing for the Kremlin’s influence operations abroad. A good deal of this money has gone to support antiestablishment candidates or movements in Europe—on both the far right and the far left—that support closer partnership with Russia or that publicly question the value of membership in NATO or the EU. For the Kremlin, it hardly matters what specific ideology these candidates or movements espouse; the more important goal is to weaken and divide Western democracies internally


Russia’s assault on democracy and subversion of democratic political systems calls for a strong response. The United States and its allies must improve their ability to deter Russian military aggression and work together more closely to strengthen their energy security and prevent Russia’s nonmilitary forms of coercion. They must also reduce the vulnerability of their political systems, media environments, financial sectors, and cyber-infrastructure. Every country in the Kremlin’s cross hairs must also better coordinate its intelligence and law enforcement activities to root out Russian disinformation and subversion and find ways for authorities to cooperate with the private sector to counteract such meddling. 

But Washington and its partners cannot only play defense. They also must agree to impose meaningful costs on Russia when they discover evidence of its misdeeds. At the same time, to prevent miscalculations, Washington needs to keep talking to Moscow.

The Kremlin would like nothing more than for Western leaders to declare NATO obsolete and cut investments in collective defense. Given Russia’s aggression in Georgia and Ukraine, NATO must continue to forward-deploy troops and military capabilities to eastern Europe to deter and, if necessary, defeat a Russian attack against one of the alliance’s member states. But the threat of unconventional and nonmilitary coercion now looms larger than ever. More than a decade has passed since Estonia became the first NATO country to see its government institutions and media organizations attacked by hackers based in Russia. In the intervening period, the risk of a far more debilitating attack has increased, but planning for how to defend against it has lagged. One step NATO members can take would be to broaden the responsibility for such planning beyond their militaries and defense ministries. The EU and the private sector need to be part of such efforts, so that Russian strikes on infrastructure can be isolated and backup systems can be put in place. Although much of the responsibility for cyberdefense currently rests with individual countries, the interconnectedness of allied infrastructure makes greater coordination imperative.

Republicans in equal measure. 

The United States also needs more transparency in its financial and real estate markets, which have become havens for corrupt foreign capital, some of which undoubtedly seeps into politics. To expose and prevent the money laundering behind that trend, Congress should pass new legislation to require greater transparency in high-end real estate investments and tighten loopholes that allow money to be laundered through opaque law-firm bank accounts or shell companies. Authorities in Washington and other Western capitals must also integrate law enforcement and intelligence tools to neutralize corrupt networks linked to Russia. The Kremlin has successfully fused organized criminal groups, intelligence agencies, and corrupt businesses, as revealed in great detail by a recent investigation carried out by Spanish authorities.

Nothing illustrates the tangled web linking organized crime, Russian government officials, and the Kremlin’s foreign influence operations more clearly than the ongoing lobbying efforts in the United States on behalf of the criminal syndicate responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who was killed in a Moscow prison after he uncovered a corrupt scheme to steal $230 million from the Russian Treasury. In the United States, a dedicated interagency body should be charged with coordinating efforts to neutralize such malign networks. 

Western democracies must also address glaring vulnerabilities in their electoral systems, financial sectors, cyber-infrastructure, and media ecosystems. The U.S. campaign finance system, for example, needs to be reformed to deny foreign actors—from Russia and elsewhere—the ability to interfere in American elections. Authorities can no longer turn a blind eye to the secretive bundling of donations that allows foreign money to flow to U.S. organizations (such as “ghost corporations”) that in turn contribute to super PACs and other putatively independent political organizations, such as trade associations and so-called 501(c)(4) groups. Congress must get serious about campaign finance reform now; doing so should be a matter of bipartisan consensus since this vulnerability affects Democrats and Republicans in equal measure.

The United States’ cyber-infrastructure, most of which is owned and managed by the private sector, remains vulnerable to foreign hacking—or, worse, a crippling systemwide attack. To protect the networks that operate power plants, for example, or those that manage train and airline traffic, government regulatory bodies and private operators must raise their standards and apply them consistently. This means, among other measures, ensuring that there are no back doors into networks that remain isolated from the public Internet, mandating that software patches and updates be installed as soon as they become available, and conducting regular network diagnostics. Similarly, state and local governments that maintain electronic voting machines must address lapses in network security that have left open too many back doors to intrusion and potential manipulation. Some immediate steps that authorities should take include mandating an auditable paper trail of every ballot cast and protecting voter registration rolls with the same vigor as vote tabulation systems. 

The United States also needs more transparency in its financial and real estate markets, which have become havens for corrupt foreign capital, some of which undoubtedly seeps into politics. To expose and prevent the money laundering behind that trend, Congress should pass new legislation to require greater transparency in high-end real estate investments and tighten loopholes that allow money to be laundered through opaque law-firm bank accounts or shell companies. Authorities in Washington and other Western capitals must also integrate law enforcement and intelligence tools to neutralize corrupt networks linked to Russia. The Kremlin has successfully fused organized criminal groups, intelligence agencies, and corrupt businesses, as revealed in great detail by a recent investigation carried out by Spanish authorities. Nothing illustrates the tangled web linking organized crime, Russian government officials, and the Kremlin’s foreign influence

operations more clearly than the ongoing lobbying efforts in the United States on behalf of the criminal syndicate responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the Russian lawyer who was killed in a Moscow prison after he uncovered a corrupt scheme to steal $230 million from the Russian Treasury. In the United States, a dedicated interagency body should be charged with coordinating efforts to neutralize such malign networks. 

The United States’ cyber-infrastructure, most of which is owned and managed by the private sector, remains vulnerable to foreign hacking—or, worse, a crippling systemwide attack. To protect the networks that operate power plants, for example, or those that manage train and airline traffic, government regulatory bodies and private operators must raise their standards and apply them consistently. This means, among other measures, ensuring that there are no back doors into networks that remain isolated from the public Internet, mandating that software patches and updates be installed as soon as they become available, and conducting regular network diagnostics. Similarly, state and local governments that maintain electronic voting machines must address lapses in network security that have left open too many back doors to intrusion and potential manipulation. Some immediate steps that authorities should take include mandating an auditable paper trail of every ballot cast and protecting voter registration rolls with the same vigor as vote tabulation systems.

U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020 will present fresh opportunities for Russian meddling.

Meanwhile, journalists and activists in the United States and Europe must do more to expose and root out disinformation, especially on social media. Civil society initiatives have taken the lead on this: the University of Pennsylvania’s, Ukraine’s, and the German Marshall Fund’s Hamilton 68 have all exposed propaganda by debunking falsehoods and shedding light on the sources propagating them. Social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google must provide greater transparency about who funds the political advertisements on their platforms, work harder to eliminate automated and bot-generated content, and invest in the technological and human resources to root out fake foreign accounts that spread disinformation. In countries with extensive experience of Russian information warfare, such as Estonia and Finland, officials and media professionals alike have learned that the more light they shine on the methods foreign actors use to sow disinformation, the less successful the propaganda becomes. 


In the short term, Putin and his allies are likely to continue their assault on Western democracy. So Washington and its allies must stand firm and impose costs on Russia for its violations of international law and other countries’ sovereignty—those it has already committed and those it is likely planning. Maintaining the sanctions that the United States and the EU levied on Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine has been important not only in pressuring Moscow to resolve the conflict in the near term but also as a signal to the Kremlin that the costs of such behavior will eventually outweigh any perceived benefits. Having suffered few lasting consequences for its 2007 cyberattack on Estonia and only a short financial decline following its 2008 invasion of Georgia, the Kremlin erroneously concluded that it could act with relative impunity. It did so in spite of the clear marker that the Obama administration laid down from the very start. As one of us, Joe Biden, noted in a speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2009, “We will not recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.” So when Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States led the way by imposing tough sanctions. Fortunately, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a bill that Congress passed last August, codified the sanctions on Russia that were put in place by the Obama administration and gave the current administration enhanced authorities to impose lasting consequences on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election. 

Even while defending U.S. interests and safeguarding liberal democracy elsewhere, Washington must keep the channels of communication open with Moscow. At the height of the Cold War, American and Soviet leaders recognized that, whatever their differences, they could not afford a miscalculation that might lead to war. They had to keep talking. The same is true today: as two nuclear superpowers with military assets deployed in close proximity in many different parts of the globe, the United States and Russia have a mutual obligation to maintain strategic stability. That means not only regulating the development and deployment of strategic weapons but also communicating clearly to avoid misunderstandings about what each side perceives as a strategic threat. For its part, Washington needs to spell out clear consequences for interfering in the U.S. democratic process or tampering with critical U.S. infrastructure.


As two former government officials, we are, of course, no longer in a position to implement such policies, which raises the question: What if these recommendations are ignored? The White House seems unlikely to act. Too many times, President Donald Trump has equivocated on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 election, even after he received briefings from top intelligence officials on precisely how Moscow did it. After meeting privately with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last November, Trump told reporters that Putin “said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.” Pressed about whether he accepted Putin’s denials, Trump replied: “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” Trump has made a habit of lavishing praise on Putin and even reportedly sought to lift sanctions against Russia shortly after his inauguration. We are not questioning Trump’s motives, but his behavior forces us to question his judgment. 

If this administration cannot or will not stand up to Russia, other democratic institutions, including Congress and civil society organizations, must mobilize. A starting point would be the creation of an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine Russia’s assault on American democracy, establish a common understanding of the scope and complexity of the Russian threat, and identify the tools required to combat it. The 9/11 Commission allowed the United States to come to terms with and address the vulnerabilities that made al Qaeda’s attacks possible. Today, Americans need a thorough, detailed inquest into how Russia’s strike on their democratic institutions was carried out and how another one might be prevented.

In the absence of an independent commission with a broad mandate, the United States will be left with only the relatively narrow investigations led by the special counsel Robert Mueller, the congressional intelligence committees, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. The good news is that Congress has already demonstrated its clear understanding of the Russian threat: in an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner, it passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act by a margin of 419 to 3 in the House of Representatives and by 98 to 2 in the Senate. Congress should continue to rigorously exercise its oversight responsibilities to ensure that the administration applies the letter and spirit of the legislation—and, if it does not, to make sure the American people find out.

And finally, as more news breaks each day about the extent of Russia’s disinformation campaign and the tactics that Moscow used to manipulate public opinion and exploit the fault lines within U.S. society, it falls on all Americans to be aware and informed citizens. We must collectively reject foreign influence over our democratic institutions and do more to address the challenges within our own communities, rather than allowing demagogues at home and tyrants abroad to drive us apart. Putin and his cronies do not understand that the greatest strength of American democracy is an engaged citizenry. Even if the president refuses to act, we can.

Kommentare sind geschlossen.