John Kerry, the newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State, will have quite a few challenges before him as he steps into office. Between North Korean nuclear tests, continued anti-Semitic and anti-Western rhetoric from Iran, the Eurozone spiraling into collapse and the last remnants of old revolutions and the brewing of new ones in the Middle East, there is hardly time for Kerry to catch his breath and become acquainted with the job.
Consequently, Kerry must encourage fragile and failing states to adapt to democracy, a policy former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocated in her time in office. By providing key stability now, the United States can move transitioning states toward stable democracies.
In the current climate of political upheaval, various Arab nations are experiencing increased public discord during a period of governmental transition. Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen have all experienced some sort of governmental change. During this process of new leadership, these states are at their most vulnerable and most chaotic.
Anarchy tends to breed autocracy. As Ian Bremmer writes in The J Curve, anarchy is the lowest point of stability for a country. From anarchy, countries either move toward democracy, which is more stable in the long run but requires a longer process to achieve relative stability, or autocracy, which provides more immediate results but is less stable and less open in the long run.
In keeping with U.S. interests, Kerry should push countries experiencing governmental change toward democracy while assisting in alleviating some of the pressures of the temporary anarchy.
Kerry also needs to step up in his role as the lead diplomat for the most powerful country in the world. Kerry already has a long record as a successful peace activist. Following his brave service for this country during the Vietnam War and as an elected senator for the state of Massachusetts, Kerry has consistently advocated using peaceful means wherever possible to change the political climate around the world. Kerry also chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving him valuable experience in world diplomacy.
Kerry would be correct to help other nations in this regard. In these instances, newly formed governments are unable to act with the haste necessary to protect their citizens from the pressures of anarchy and political upheaval. During these periods, the would-be leaders are often not in sufficient control of their own countries, mandating U.S. action to help stop discord by providing some of the basic needs for law and order, border protection and the possibility for economic development and growth.
Kerry has already shown that he is willing to turn to the United Nations for assistance. Before the first Gulf War, Kerry often argued that the international sanctions placed upon Saddam Hussein and supported by the U.N. should be given time to work before the U.S. stepped in with full-scale military intervention.
Kerry realizes the value of international cooperation, especially with the U.N. Cooperation will help legitimize the actions of the United States, which is especially necessary coming off two bloody and unilateral engagements. The United States, consequently, has had to rethink counter-terrorism strategies to preserve the lives of civilians while simultaneously reducing the threat of terrorism to the U.S. and the international community.
If the U.S. government were to assist in this matter, it would also help limit the spread of terrorism. As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated in an article entitled “Helping Others Defend Themselves” published in the journal Foreign Affairs in 2010, the threat of terrorism now comes mostly from unstable states.
After recent government changes, states such as Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia and Libya after recent governmental changes fit Gates’ definition. The United States, as a leader in the global War on Terror, should make sure that the elimination of terrorism is a central part of our foreign policy mission.
With the War in Afghanistan winding down, the United States would do best to turn its attentions to stopping terrorism in fragile states with transitioning governments.
Kerry consistently advocated world cooperation during his time in elected office. His appointment by President Barack Obama as Secretary of State gives Kerry ample opportunity to exercise the power of the United States in stopping terrorism and advancing its policy goals.
In his first year in office, Kerry needs to help create stability and democracy in troubled regions. Without peace and stability, there is little room to focus on the human interests that are otherwise lacking in troubled regions.
Dan Morgan-Russell is a freshman majoring in international relations.