Responding to the Progressive Platform of “Foreign Policy Generation”

The For­eign Policy Gen­er­a­tion pro­ject (hence FPGen), led by Abi­gail Stowe-Thurston and Matt Korda, pro­poses a set of di­rec­tives for Amer­i­can for­eign policy. They are based on pro­gres­sive poli­ti­cal philos­o­phy and provide a par­tial rem­edy to the oft-rec­og­nized gap in for­eign policy think­ing among the mod­ern left. Effec­tive Altru­ists may be in­ter­ested in for­eign policy, and may be in­ter­ested in de­cid­ing whether pro­gres­sive poli­ti­cal can­di­dates are trust­wor­thy in for­eign policy.

In this ar­ti­cle I eval­u­ate their ideas. (A cou­ple weeks ago, I emailed a draft to a lead mem­ber ask­ing for feed­back, but have not re­ceived a re­sponse.)

What I stand for and why you should be open-minded

My opinions are not based on merely serv­ing the na­tional in­ter­est, a moral dis­re­gard for peo­ple of a differ­ent re­li­gion or coun­try, or any­thing like that. I am talk­ing about Effec­tive Altru­ism and the way to best im­prove global well-be­ing.

Nor are my opinions based on any strong po­si­tion re­gard­ing poli­ti­cal pro­gres­sivism. In do­mes­tic poli­tics, I be­lieve that the pro­gres­sive left and the mod­er­ate Democrats – from Bernie San­ders to Michael Ben­net – have their own rel­a­tive ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages, nei­ther fac­tion is sys­tem­at­i­cally bet­ter than the other, and both are bet­ter than con­ser­va­tives and the rad­i­cal left. And even if I’m wrong and wealth taxes and free col­lege tu­ition are a good idea, that doesn’t re­ally mat­ter for judg­ing these for­eign policy is­sues.

You might be com­ing into for­eign policy de­bates with an as­sump­tion that ob­vi­ously the Amer­i­can mil­i­tary is bad and all our war efforts are bad and we have to cut spend­ing, disarm, go home, etc. Rather than be­ing so con­fi­dent, con­sider that the other side of the story just hasn’t been com­mu­ni­cated to you prop­erly. The for­eign policy cen­ter has a lan­guage that is closer to a Tom Clancy novel than the moral wor­ld­view of the left. The mil­i­tary has not had to jus­tify its ac­tions much be­cause it can use pa­tri­o­tism as the nar­ra­tive to jus­tify its re­cruit­ment and fund­ing. You also prob­a­bly haven’t heard much from the lead­ers and peo­ple of the Mid­dle East or seen things from their per­spec­tive, aside from poorly filtered frag­ments through ig­no­rant or bi­ased Western me­dia (and leftist me­dia is bi­ased as well). And con­sider that the Amer­i­can work­ing class and pro­gres­sive-left elites already have strong in­cen­tives to op­pose very many of our mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. They want us to spend less on the mil­i­tary, and more on welfare and pub­lic goods. Amer­ica is safe any­way, thanks to our nu­clear weapons, our great econ­omy and two big oceans. It’s perfectly log­i­cal that the pro­gres­sive-left com­mu­nity would sys­tem­at­i­cally churn out a steady nar­ra­tive against all of Amer­ica’s for­eign ad­ven­tures. How­ever, such a nar­ra­tive, ul­ti­mately mo­ti­vated by do­mes­tic poli­tics, should not be as­sumed to be un­bi­ased or re­li­able when we are talk­ing about how to im­prove the global sys­tem.

I’m also, like FPGen, part of the ‘next gen­er­a­tion’ of Amer­i­can mil­len­ni­als/​zoomers who will have to be the ar­chi­tects of a new for­eign policy for the fu­ture.

Any­way, here is an eval­u­a­tion of FPGen’s recom­men­da­tions. The sec­tion ti­tles are taken di­rectly from their web­site and recom­men­da­tions. Below their recom­men­da­tions, I write my re­sponses.

Us­ing Force as a Last Resort

Ac­cord­ing to FPGen, the United States should:

Never in­ter­vene in a con­flict un­less speci­fi­cally au­tho­rized to do so un­der in­ter­na­tional law

Pre­sum­ably the idea is that we should never in­ter­vene mil­i­tar­ily with­out ei­ther fol­low­ing the UN Ar­ti­cle 51 right to col­lec­tive self-defense or a UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil Re­s­olu­tion. If I were a poli­cy­maker try­ing to fol­low their ad­vice, this would be my in­ter­pre­ta­tion. But FPGen could have made it clearer and more ex­plicit. In­ter­na­tional law is gen­er­ally pretty murky (note that we are still sig­na­tory to the Kel­logg-Briand Pact).

This rule can also be too re­stric­tive. It for­bids the defense of non­state ac­tors, like eth­nic minori­ties, un­less China and Rus­sia agree to a UNSCR. What hap­pens when one of them or an ally of theirs (con­sider Syria or Iran) com­mits de­mo­cide or some lesser crime? It may not be wise to in­ter­vene. But com­mit­ting to a rule not to in­ter­vene goes too far. Con­sider that both of the re­tal­i­a­tory at­tacks against Syr­ian chem­i­cal weapons uses were op­posed by Rus­sia. No doubt there have been prob­lems with US policy in the re­gion, in­clud­ing doubts about some of the alle­ga­tions of chem­i­cal strikes. But en­tirely elimi­nat­ing the Amer­i­can ca­pac­ity to ex­er­cise such force would be very trou­bling. It would em­bolden a va­ri­ety of au­to­crats to take more ag­gres­sive moves.

Also, Taiwan is not a UN mem­ber state (be­cause of Chi­nese ob­jec­tions), and China’s offi­cial policy is to ac­quire Taiwan. If they con­duct mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions against Taiwan, Amer­ica will have no UN le­gal ba­sis to defend it. If Amer­ica were per­ceived as com­mit­ted to FPGen’s ad­vice, China would be more likely to in­vade Taiwan, and al­most guaran­teed a bat­tlefield vic­tory. To pre­vent this, Taiwan would rapidly have to de­cide whether to cave into Chi­nese de­mands (they would have lit­tle ne­go­ti­at­ing power thanks to the lack of US back­ing, and would likely end up like Hong Kong or worse) or to try and ob­tain a nu­clear de­ter­rent. Th­ese are both very bad out­comes. To be sure, Taiwan’s vuln­er­a­bil­ity has been doubted, and the US com­mit­ment to defend Taiwan is ar­guably in­solvent. But it’s hard to see who (aside from Chi­nese elites) would benefit from Amer­ica com­pletely, legally dis­avow­ing the right to defend Taiwan. We have the op­tion to ad­just and re­new our com­mit­ment to Taiwan, or to push unifi­ca­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions right away from a po­si­tion of at least some cred­i­bil­ity and strength.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing too re­stric­tive in some ways, this rule is still not suffi­cient to re­strict the use of force as much as we may want. Ar­ti­cle 51 ar­guably jus­tified the 2001 in­va­sion of Afghanistan (as defense of the United States), and clearly jus­tifies all sub­se­quent op­er­a­tions of coun­ter­in­sur­gency in the re­gion as defenses of UN mem­ber states like Iraq and Afghanistan against lo­cal mil­i­tants. It would have jus­tified mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions to fight Rus­sia in Ge­or­gia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014. And the 2011 strikes on Libya, a du­bi­ous though not ob­vi­ously bad move, were sup­ported by UNSCR 1973. We cannnot in­ter­vene in ev­ery case where a na­tion is at­tacked. There­fore, some fur­ther kind of pru­den­tial or hu­man­i­tar­ian method of judg­ment is nec­es­sary to de­ter­mine when force should ac­tu­ally be used. But FPGen pro­vides none to pre­pare us for fu­ture crises.

Re­peal the ex­ist­ing Autho­riza­tions for the Use of Mili­tary Force and en­sure that any fu­ture au­tho­riza­tions have firm limi­ta­tions, in­clud­ing an ex­pira­tion date, ge­o­graphic con­straints, a well-defined mis­sion, and a clear defi­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes a “com­bat­ant.”

There is lit­tle doubt that the AUMF needs re­form and should not be re­peated in the same sweep­ing man­ner.

Elimi­nat­ing it en­tirely is du­bi­ous, and so are de­mands which would greatly re­strict its scale and scope, but I will get to that in the next sec­tion where FPGen wants to end all op­er­a­tions as­so­ci­ated with the Global War on Ter­ror.

Autho­riza­tions for fu­ture con­flicts would benefit from a greater de­gree of con­gres­sional scrutiny. An ideal leg­is­la­tor should care­fully con­sider which tem­po­ral, ge­o­graphic, and tar­get­ing bound­aries to place on Amer­i­can mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions. Un­for­tu­nately FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion ba­si­cally amounts to “make them much tighter,” which is not great as a pre­scrip­tion for un­cer­tain fu­ture sce­nar­ios. It is not ob­vi­ous that all fu­ture au­tho­riza­tions should be much tighter; the situ­a­tions will be differ­ent. In­stead of just tel­ling poli­cy­mak­ers to make tighter au­tho­riza­tions, it would be bet­ter to ar­tic­u­late prin­ci­ples which the poli­cy­maker can use to de­ter­mine just how tight these au­tho­riza­tions should be.

It is pos­si­ble to imag­ine re­al­is­tic cases where FPGen’s recom­mended re­stric­tions could be un­de­sir­able. Ex­pira­tion dates for mil­i­tary force could avoid bad wars and com­pel the Pres­i­dent to put more effort into solv­ing con­flicts quickly and ro­bustly, but they could also cause the Pres­i­dent to with­draw the mil­i­tary too hastily with bad con­se­quences, and could em­bolden en­e­mies to just wait out the timeline (just like an­nounc­ing timeta­bles for with­drawal). Of course, au­tho­riza­tions can be ad­justed or re­newed, but rely­ing on fu­ture ad­just­ments and re­newals is trou­bling given the dys­func­tion­al­ities in our leg­is­la­tive pro­cess.

Geo­graphic con­straints could un­nec­es­sar­ily limit op­er­a­tions: as­sum­ing that tar­gets fit an AUMF defi­ni­tion of be­ing a com­bat­ant and are rele­vant for the AUMF-defined mis­sion, it’s hard to see why they should be ig­nored merely on the ba­sis of their lo­ca­tion, al­though leg­is­la­tors could have poli­ti­cal rea­sons to pre­vent in­ter­ven­tion in cer­tain places. Geo­graph­i­cal con­straints seem at­trac­tive if you as­sume that the Global War on Ter­ror has been too broad in ven­tur­ing to places be­yond Iraq and Afghanistan, but if the AUMF had been more rigor­ously defined in the first place with other sorts of con­straints on mis­sion and tar­gets, such side ven­tures may not have hap­pened at all. Spec­i­fy­ing the type of com­bat­ant may not be fea­si­ble to any mean­ingful de­gree; Syria has shown the po­ten­tial for con­flict en­vi­ron­ments to con­tain a stag­ger­ing va­ri­ety of ac­tors with differ­ent and un­clear aims.

A well-defined mis­sion is a good thing to in­sist on. How­ever, I think it would be a mis­take to say that the failures in Afghanistan or Iraq have stemmed from a lack of a well-defined mis­sion. Our mis­sions there are pretty well defined: es­tab­lish sta­ble demo­cratic states which will not be used as bases for ter­ror­ism. Merely defin­ing a mis­sion clearly at the high­est level does not solve the prob­lems of think­ing too much in op­er­a­tional terms or mak­ing policy choices in­ad­e­quate to meet the strate­gic goals. It’s also du­bi­ous that nar­row­ing our mis­sion scope is the les­son we should take away from all this. Afghanistan would not be bet­ter if we had de­cided to ig­nore the opium pro­duc­tion fi­nanc­ing the Tal­iban, or if we didn’t provide school­ing for girls, or if we had ig­nored in­sur­gent op­er­a­tions in Pak­istan, and so on. Coun­ter­in­sur­gency usu­ally re­quires broad efforts, and even if it doesn’t, these side op­er­a­tions can be benefi­cial (though they di­vert im­por­tant re­sources). On the other hand, a nar­rower mis­sion scope could have been benefi­cial very early on be­cause it could have im­plied other courses of ac­tion be­sides in­va­sion.

Also, leg­is­la­tors should fol­low the mil­i­tary lead­er­ship wis­dom of em­pha­siz­ing a task and pur­pose (i.e. a well-defined mis­sion) and leav­ing more lee­way to sub­or­di­nates (in this case, the Pres­i­dent). Con­straints should be used spar­ingly and micro­man­age­ment should be avoided. Congress does have an im­por­tant role in pro­vid­ing over­sight for the ex­ec­u­tive branch, but if they pre­emp­tively define de­tails of how the mis­sion is to be ex­e­cuted then they may wind up in­sert­ing too many ill-in­formed de­mands, lead­ing to an over­con­strained war by dis­tant com­mit­tee that ends in failure.

Over­all, FPGen is cor­rect to call for re­stric­tions on mil­i­tary force au­tho­riza­tions and is cor­rect to call for Congress to bet­ter define mis­sions, but they are prob­a­bly swing­ing the pen­du­lum too far the other way. The word­ing of their de­mand sug­gests tak­ing too much dis­cre­tion away from both the ex­ec­u­tive branch and the leg­is­la­tive branch in fa­vor of fixed rules that may be overly re­stric­tive in prac­tice.

Fully end mil­i­tary in­volve­ment in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other covert op­er­a­tions as­so­ci­ated with the Global War on Ter­ror––in­clud­ing the ille­gal US drone war and tar­geted as­sas­si­na­tion cam­paign.

Though FPGen does not provide more de­tails, here I look more speci­fi­cally at the differ­ent ar­eas of US in­ter­ven­tion, and see how they would be im­pacted by this planned gen­eral with­drawal.


As best as I can tell, we cur­rently have about 7,000 troops and some air as­sets en­gaged in Afghanistan, with the task of re­in­forc­ing the Is­lamic Repub­lic of Afghanistan gov­ern­ment against the Tal­iban and other in­sur­gent Is­lamist groups. One way to judge the value of their pres­ence is to ask the Afghans what they think. 63% of Afghans pol­led in 2009 sup­ported the pres­ence of US forces and 36% dis­ap­proved, though the op­po­nents held their opinions some­what more strongly. How­ever, a decade-old sur­vey is not a very good in­di­ca­tor given how con­di­tions have changed. Also, there may be some pro-ISAF re­sponse bias (lo­cals in coun­tries like Afghanistan might not un­der­stand that they don’t get pun­ished or re­warded for their sur­vey re­sponses). There­fore, it’s not re­ally clear what Afghans tend to pre­fer.

In­stead, we can look more di­rectly at the con­se­quences of with­drawal. The main re­sult would be rapid Tal­iban gains in ter­ri­tory, pos­si­bly lead­ing to a gen­eral takeover of the coun­try. This would cause a de­cline in health­care and ed­u­ca­tion qual­ity, an in­crease in opium ex­ports, and a de­cline in Afghan liber­ties. 82% of Afghans pol­led in 2009 preferred their cur­rent gov­ern­ment and only 4% preferred the Tal­iban, again there may be some re­sponse bias but pre­sum­ably not enough to change the gen­eral view.

Tal­iban takeover may in­crease the risk of in­ter­state con­flict with Pak­istan (be­cause au­toc­ra­cies are more likely to go to war with democ­ra­cies than democ­ra­cies are) and may in­crease Is­lamist ter­ror­ism abroad. On the plus side, with­drawal would save us some money, and would im­prove our mil­i­tary readi­ness (but this is of du­bi­ous im­por­tance given our very large army). It’s un­clear if the amount of vi­o­lence in the coun­try will grow or fall in the af­ter­math of U.S. with­drawal.

To be fair, most fa­mil­iar with the is­sue would say that the con­flict is un­winnable given the cur­rent course. The coun­try has over 32 mil­lion peo­ple, and NATO de­ploy­ment used to be over 100,000; the cur­rent de­ploy­ment (which is less than 5% the size of the Afghan Na­tional Army) is too small to win the con­flict. It is ‘cheap or­der’ rather than a se­ri­ous plan for vic­tory. But main­tain­ing a vi­o­lent stale­mate might still be bet­ter than al­low­ing the vi­o­lent stale­mate to con­tinue with­out US mil­i­tary as­sis­tance or al­low­ing the Tal­iban to take over the coun­try. Also, we don’t have to choose be­tween cheap or­der and with­drawal. We can in­crease troop lev­els to a larger frac­tion of their pre­vi­ous num­bers and ac­tu­ally win. This, com­ple­mented with a shift in fo­cus away from main­tain­ing short-term op­er­a­tional free­dom and to­wards build­ing long-term Afghan state ca­pac­ity, would prob­a­bly be the best course for the Afghan peo­ple. With­drawal mean­while seems like a poor op­tion, pos­si­bly the worst one.


We cur­rently have about 5,000 troops in Iraq, with the task of train­ing and oth­er­wise as­sist­ing Iraqi forces, plus air­craft used for some strikes. The re­sults of with­drawal would be in­creased vuln­er­a­bil­ity to ISIS re­sur­gence, in­creased vuln­er­a­bil­ity to Iran-backed in­sur­gency or in­va­sion, in­creased vuln­er­a­bil­ity to in­ter­nal eth­nic con­flict, less con­fi­dence in Amer­ica’s re­li­a­bil­ity as an ally, and greater fis­cal strain on the Iraqi gov­ern­ment. It would of course save Amer­ica some money, but be­cause Iraq is gen­er­ally poorer and more vi­o­lent than the US, spend­ing money there is prob­a­bly more im­pact­ful than spend­ing money here. Oper­a­tion In­her­ent Re­solve airstrikes kil­led Is­lamic State fighters for less than $200,000 each, which seems fa­vor­able com­pared to typ­i­cal do­mes­tic uses of similar amounts of money. With­drawal would im­prove our mil­i­tary readi­ness but this is of du­bi­ous im­por­tance given our very large army. Over­all, with­drawal looks like it would be a harm­ful move.

A com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor is pos­si­ble Iraqi dis­sent. Iraq has not ac­tu­ally voted to re­move US troops, as has been re­ported; most par­li­a­men­tary mem­bers ap­pear to sup­port U.S. pres­ence. And much of the op­po­si­tion is caused by Ira­nian in­fluence and threats, po­ten­tially un­der­min­ing its le­gi­t­i­macy. How­ever, us­ing poli­ti­cal lev­er­age to dis­cour­age Iraqis from vot­ing to re­move US troops is a very poor choice which erodes our moral po­si­tion over the Ira­ni­ans. So de­pend­ing on how things un­fold and what Iraqis re­ally want, FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion might be good, but of course the way they have worded it is too dog­matic.


FPGen would sup­port a full with­drawal of troops from Ro­java, the area in north­ern Syria con­trol­led by the Syr­ian Demo­cratic Forces. A par­tial with­drawal was con­ducted by Pres­i­dent Trump in late 2019. Had they stayed, they might (or might not) have pre­vented the Turk­ish in­va­sion of the area, which led to 300,000 per­sons dis­placed (now down to 100,000), the break­out of 100 ISIS mil­i­tants, 150-250 civilian and 750 mil­i­tary deaths, de­creased trust of Amer­i­can in­ten­tions and re­li­a­bil­ity, and in­creased Rus­sian and Turk­ish au­to­cratic in­fluence in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the es­tab­lish­ment of Turk­ish au­toc­racy in some ar­eas which were pre­vi­ously gov­erned by the demo­cratic so­cial­ists of Ro­java. The only benefit was a du­bi­ous re­duc­tion in the risk of PKK ter­ror­ism in Turkey. Just a small prob­a­bil­ity of avert­ing this out­come would have been well worth the min­i­mal hu­man and fi­nan­cial costs of proper con­tinued Amer­i­can in­volve­ment. And fully aban­don­ing the SDF would in­crease the risk of some similar out­comes. It would also gen­er­ally re­duce efforts to com­bat ISIS in the re­gion. There­fore, with­drawal from Ro­java would be a bad idea.


The Saudi in­ter­ven­tion in Ye­men ap­pears to be an out­right hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­aster, threat­en­ing mis­er­able poverty and star­va­tion for a coun­try of 28 mil­lion peo­ple. The di­rect im­pacts of Amer­i­can in­volve­ment are more com­plex (our airstrikes are gen­er­ally con­ducted with bet­ter pre­ci­sion and cau­tion), but the op­er­a­tion may also be weak­en­ing the norm for states like Saudi Ara­bia to re­spect hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues. Com­bat­ing Ira­nian in­fluence in the Mid­dle East is de­sir­able, but Saudi in­fluence is not much bet­ter. I think FPGen’s guidance to end our efforts in Ye­men is cor­rect.


Amer­ica’s cur­rent op­er­a­tions in Libya gen­er­ally con­sist of airstrikes against ISIS. End­ing them would in­crease this Is­lamist in­sur­gency, lead­ing to an in­crease in vi­o­lence and a de­cline in the qual­ity of gov­er­nance. There have been over 500 Amer­i­can strikes, caus­ing be­tween 6 and 13 “likely” civilian ca­su­alties and sev­eral dozen pos­si­ble ad­di­tional civilian ca­su­alties in to­tal (Air­wars). Mean­while, just one of the largest strikes is claimed to have kil­led over 80 mil­i­tants (CNN). This is a fa­vor­able trade­off.

A few strikes have sup­ported the Govern­ment of Na­tional Ac­cord against Haf­tar’s fac­tion, and end­ing them would prob­a­bly al­low for more trou­ble from Haf­tar’s re­bel­lion and strong­man form of gov­er­nance, al­though peace talks are un­der­way.

In sum­mary, FPGen’s guidance to end our efforts in Libya is a bad idea.

Other minor efforts

Amer­ica is in­volved to a minor de­gree in coun­ter­in­sur­gency and coun­tert­er­ror op­er­a­tions in So­ma­lia, Nige­ria, Niger and other coun­tries, mostly (but not en­tirely) in the form of train­ing and other non­com­bat as­sis­tance. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, it’s hard to see how these efforts are harm­ful. Is it good for Nige­ria or So­ma­lia to spend blood and trea­sure on fight­ing Boko Haram or Al-Shabaab? Pre­sum­ably the an­swer is yes. If so, why is it bad for Amer­ica to do the same? It’s not a vi­o­la­tion of these coun­tries’ sovereignty – their gov­ern­ments are perfectly will­ing to get Amer­i­can as­sis­tance. It’s not like Amer­i­can troops are par­tic­u­larly ill-equipped to help: they do have less fa­mil­iar­ity with the lo­cal so­ciety and other is­sues, but are also more pro­fes­sional, less cor­rupt, bet­ter trained and bet­ter led.

In sum­mary, FPGen’s guidance to end our minor efforts in other ar­eas is a bad idea.

Drone strikes

There has been de­bate over the im­pacts of drone strikes, with ev­i­dence both for and against their util­ity and un­in­tended con­se­quences. Shah (2018) could not find ev­i­dence of rad­i­cal­iza­tion from drone strikes in Pak­istan, but Saeed et al (2019) and Mah­mood and Jet­ter (2019) found that drone strikes did in­crease ter­ror­ism. The former study es­ti­mated an ad­di­tional 20 deaths from ter­ror­ism in the month af­ter a drone strike, and the lat­ter study es­ti­mated that 16% of ter­ror deaths in Pak­istan are caused by drone strikes. This may or may not out­weigh the civilian lives saved through mil­i­tant deaths. But the strikes them­selves kill both mil­i­tants and civili­ans; ex­actly how many is a hotly con­tested is­sue with a no­to­ri­ous paucity of good data. In the ab­sence of a good meta-anal­y­sis or liter­a­ture re­view, I’d say that it seems like the ma­jor­ity of vic­tims are in fact mil­i­tants, but a wor­ry­ingly large minor­ity are civili­ans. Ad­ding to this the poli­ti­cal and le­gal prob­lems at­tached to drone strikes, it ap­pears that a re­trench­ment in the drone pro­gram is de­sir­able. It is clearly ap­pro­pri­ate to de­mand more over­sight, trans­parency, and cau­tion in the drone pro­gram.

That be­ing said, it’s difficult to jus­tify end­ing drone cam­paigns en­tirely. Given the unique cir­cum­stances of each mis­sion, there will prob­a­bly be a small num­ber of cases where the ex­pected con­se­quences are very good. It’s hard to set rules from the arm­chair about this. It is not clear whether FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion is bet­ter or worse than the sta­tus quo, but it cer­tainly leaves room for im­prove­ment.

Fully fund hu­man­i­tar­ian, re­con­struc­tive, and repar­a­tive efforts in re­gions af­fected by US mil­i­tary en­gage­ment.

For­eign aid ideally ought to be di­rected to wher­ever it can do the most good – “from each ac­cord­ing to his abil­ity, to each ac­cord­ing to his need” – rather than doled out in the form of repa­ra­tions. One could defend a repa­ra­tions ap­proach by say­ing it will heal grievances to­wards the United States. I don’t know of any rele­vant stud­ies, but I feel that is ex­tremely naïve think­ing. Peo­ple who blame the US for start­ing wars and seiz­ing oil are not go­ing to like us just be­cause we chan­nel tons of money and sup­plies through the hands of gov­ern­ments which are them­selves cor­rupt and un­pop­u­lar more of­ten than not. And even if it is true, it is not worth the costs of death and poverty which stem from ne­glect­ing bet­ter aid op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Of course, more aid to trou­bled coun­tries is still gen­er­ally good, even if it’s not tar­geted as well as Effec­tive Altru­ists would like. But I worry about the down­sides of rush­ing to dump de­vel­op­men­tal aid on flawed, cor­rupt gov­ern­ments. This kind of de­bate about aid has long oc­curred in a more gen­eral con­text, and Effec­tive Altru­ists have be­come well ac­quainted with the points on both sides; the gen­eral con­clu­sion is that what works best is sim­ple dis­ease treat­ment and pre­ven­tion efforts. Big de­vel­op­men­tal and re­con­struc­tive pro­jects to place roads, wells, and schools ev­ery­where are more prob­le­matic. And if we con­cen­trate tons of money into three or four coun­tries, we’re prob­a­bly go­ing to ex­haust the op­por­tu­ni­ties for low-hang­ing fruits, and will be left di­rect­ing lots of money to­wards the less benefi­cial pro­grams.

And in Afghanistan at least, we’ve already been “fully fund­ing” re­con­struc­tive efforts. As the Wash­ing­ton Post un­cov­ered, lots of this aid gets mi­sused due to lo­cal cor­rup­tion and has lit­tle effect. Ac­cord­ing to the Spe­cial In­spec­tor Gen­eral for Afghanistan Re­con­struc­tion’s re­port, “the U.S. over­cor­rected and poured billions of dol­lars into a weak econ­omy that was un­able to ab­sorb it. Some stud­ies sug­gest that the gen­er­ally ac­cepted amount of for­eign aid a coun­try’s econ­omy can ab­sorb at any given time is 15 to 45 per­cent of the coun­try’s gross do­mes­tic product, or GDP. In Afghanistan’s weak econ­omy, the per­centage would be on the low end of that scale. Yet by 2004, U.S. aid to Afghanistan ex­ceeded the 45 per­cent thresh­old. In 2007 and 2010, it to­taled more than 100 per­cent. This mas­sive in­flux of dol­lars dis­torted the Afghan econ­omy, fueled cor­rup­tion, bought a lot of real es­tate in Dubai and the United States, and built the many ‘poppy palaces’ you can see to­day in Kabul.” SIGAR also wrote, “In the fu­ture, we need to rec­og­nize the vi­tal im­por­tance of ad­dress­ing cor­rup­tion from the out­set. This means tak­ing into ac­count the amount of as­sis­tance a host coun­try can ab­sorb; be­ing care­ful not to flood a small, weak econ­omy with too much money, too fast; and en­sur­ing that U.S. agen­cies can more effec­tively mon­i­tor as­sis­tance.” SIGAR recom­mends that aid efforts be fixed and stream­lined, not in­creased.

More­over, aid works bet­ter when there are more Amer­i­can troops on the ground to help quell fight­ing; as­sum­ing that FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion for mil­i­tary with­drawals from these re­gions is fol­lowed, their idea would be more du­bi­ous. SIGAR wrote, “Suc­cess­ful re­con­struc­tion is in­com­pat­i­ble with con­tin­u­ing in­se­cu­rity. To have suc­cess­ful re­con­struc­tion in any given area, the fight­ing in that area must be largely con­tained. When that hap­pens, U.S. agen­cies should be pre­pared to move quickly, in part­ner­ship with the host na­tion, to take ad­van­tage of the nar­row win­dow of op­por­tu­nity be­fore an in­sur­gency can emerge or re­con­sti­tute it­self. This holds true at both the na­tional and lo­cal lev­els. In gen­eral, U.S. agen­cies should con­sider car­ry­ing out re­con­struc­tion ac­tivi­ties in more se­cure ar­eas first, and limit re­con­struc­tion in in­se­cure ar­eas to care­fully tai­lored, small-scale efforts and hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief.”

FPGen isn’t just talk­ing about aid, how­ever. What do they mean by “restora­tive” efforts? It could be some kind of lo­cal dis­pute re­s­olu­tion, or for­mal apolo­gies. It could be a good idea, but try­ing to think about it from their per­spec­tive, I have a hard time see­ing lo­cal be­hav­ior or per­cep­tions of the US im­prov­ing mean­ingfully from this sort of thing – es­pe­cially be­cause half the time, we will be apol­o­giz­ing to peo­ple who are an­gry that we are leav­ing and won’t have time for our bul­lshit about how we’re sorry for Ge­orge W. Bush. It has a per­versely self-serv­ing aura, that we are not re­ally sac­ri­fic­ing to fix things but want their ap­proval nonethe­less, or that we be­lieve that the con­flicts are about us when in re­al­ity they are an­cient grievances be­tween peo­ple who have their own perfectly valid rea­sons to hate each other. But I don’t want to be polem­i­cal; more em­pha­sis on dis­pute re­s­olu­tion and lo­cal di­alogue seems like a nice step, apol­o­giz­ing for re­cent bad ac­tions can be a good step for­ward, and it’s okay to leave poli­cy­mak­ers with more lee­way on how to see these things im­ple­mented (but they re­ally should have pro­vided more ex­am­ples or rele­vant re­search back­ing up this point of view).

In sum­mary, FPGen’s guidance for re­con­struc­tion here is prob­a­bly a step for­ward, but it could be bet­ter. Note how­ever that they also have a proper sec­tion on for­eign aid, which ex­plains their gen­eral ap­proach to it in more com­pre­hen­sive terms. I will re­spond to it as well.

Re­in­state full ca­su­alty re­port­ing as a way to fully un­der­stand the costs of armed con­flict and to re­duce civilian ca­su­alties as much as pos­si­ble.

The only rea­son to dis­agree with this would be to cyn­i­cally say that we need to mis­lead the pub­lic to sup­port more mil­i­tary efforts. Given the way that the with­drawals de­sired by non-in­ter­ven­tion­ists would prob­a­bly bode ill for the peo­ple of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and el­se­where, as I have pointed out above, this is ac­tu­ally not a ter­rible per­spec­tive. Still, the var­i­ous benefits from bet­ter data and over­sight out­weigh it in my opinion.

I would just say that we should make sure to track deaths from en­emy com­bat­ants, and we should also have stud­ies for mor­tal­ity, mor­bidity and lives saved from in­di­rect but cru­cially im­por­tant things like health­care pro­vi­sion, opium de­struc­tion, and de­pleted ura­nium poi­son­ing. Full hu­man­i­tar­ian anal­y­sis is nec­es­sary, as demon­strated by the large in­di­rect costs of the liber­a­tion of Kuwait which, while pos­si­bly not as bad as the al­ter­na­tive of Iraqi rule, still should have mer­ited more early at­ten­tion.

In sum­mary, this is a good recom­men­da­tion, though I would like to amend it.

Close Guan­tá­namo Bay and pay repa­ra­tions to all tor­tured de­tainees, past and pre­sent.

Close the prison, and send the pris­on­ers where? You could free them – but it may be waste­ful to do that with­out get­ting some sort of deal, as with the Gilad Shalit or Bowe Bergdahl cases. I don’t know of any Amer­i­cans cur­rently held by Is­lamist groups, but re­lease of Guan­tá­namo de­tainees could be traded for other con­ces­sions. Still, re­leas­ing them could have bad effects. Prob­a­bly 20-28% of de­tainees who have already been re­leased went on to Jihadist ac­tivity by 2016, ac­cord­ing to Obama’s DNI James Clap­per. And be­cause the most be­nign de­tainees are pre­sum­ably the first to be re­leased, fur­ther re­leases are more likely to re­turn to Jihadist ac­tivity. The ACLU claims that na­tional se­cu­rity agen­cies and the mil­i­tary have unan­i­mously de­ter­mined that the ma­jor­ity of de­tainees should be re­leased. I can’t find fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, but if ACLU is right – I doubt that they would lie, but it might be out­dated or slightly dis­torted – then pre­sum­ably it would be a worth­while move. But that doesn’t ap­ply to all pris­on­ers. Pre­sum­ably the last worst few should still be de­tained, if we are se­ri­ous about min­i­miz­ing global vi­o­lence.

We could send them abroad – but who will take them, and does FPGen have rea­son to be­lieve that the pris­on­ers will be bet­ter treated over there? Per­haps the idea is to send them to pris­ons in the United States with bet­ter reg­u­la­tions and su­per­vi­sion. But the ACLU thinks this will not be sig­nifi­cantly legally or eth­i­cally bet­ter than Guan­tá­namo, whereas Na­tional Re­view wor­ries that this will lead to Is­lamist rad­i­cal­iza­tion in prison. (Per­son­ally, I think both these ob­jec­tions can be ad­dressed some­what.)

A real im­ple­men­ta­tion of Guan­tá­namo clo­sure would likely in­volve a bit of each of these solu­tions, spread among differ­ent de­tainees. It might be a good idea. Fully clos­ing it would send a nice sym­bolic mes­sage and slightly in­crease Amer­i­can mil­i­tary le­gi­t­i­macy.

Still, FPGen’s re­quest is both too vague and too in­flex­ible. If we be­lieve there is a prob­lem with Guan­tá­namo, we should provide poli­cy­mak­ers with a de­tailed and work­able pro­posal that closes the prison while also pro­vid­ing a vi­able al­ter­na­tive means to deal with cap­tured ter­ror­ists, or failing that we should give them a gen­eral task and pur­pose (e.g., “en­sure that cap­tured ter­ror­ist sus­pects are treated hu­manely and within the bounds of the Geneva Con­ven­tion,” or some­thing along those lines) and al­low them to figure out what re­forms (if any) are needed to achieve our de­sired end state.

Repa­ra­tions to tor­ture vic­tims is a pretty ob­vi­ously good idea. Even if one sup­ported the wa­ter­board­ing pro­gram, one should still be­lieve that some sort of com­pen­sa­tion, how­ever in­ca­pable of mak­ing up for the suffer­ing, is im­por­tant. My only reser­va­tion is the risk that they could use funds for fur­ther mal­i­cious ac­tions (they cer­tainly won’t be­gin to like us just be­cause we paid them off), but the repa­ra­tion pro­gram could be con­ducted with some over­sight, or sent to their fam­i­lies, or re­stricted to those who are not cur­rently a ma­jor risk of sup­port­ing fur­ther ter­ror.

Over­all, FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion here has mixed value.

Note how­ever that these is­sues are not as im­por­tant as the oth­ers in this sec­tion. There are cur­rently just 40 de­tainees in Guan­tá­namo. The CIA has tor­tured prob­a­bly 180-600 peo­ple, with much fewer be­ing known and still al­ive. Ma­jor con­flicts with hun­dreds or thou­sands of deaths and much greater num­bers of dis­placed per­sons are more im­por­tant.

Rec­og­nize that the over­whelming ma­jor­ity of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism is rooted in white supremacist ide­olo­gies and for­mu­late counter-ter­ror­ism poli­cies on this ba­sis.

Of course, if you start your dataset in 2001, then the over­whelming ma­jor­ity of ter­ror deaths are from jihadist ide­olo­gies. De­cid­ing who poses the threat for ex­pected, fu­ture ca­su­alties is difficult, and while far-right ter­ror­ists do cur­rently look like a greater threat to Amer­ica than jihadists, FPGen could have ex­pressed a bit more un­cer­tainty and nu­ance here.

Much more wor­ry­ingly, they are bas­ing their po­si­tion en­tirely on ter­ror deaths in the United States, and ig­nore the per­pe­tra­tors of ter­ror in places like Western Europe and the Mid­dle East. If you look at the whole world, then jihadism clearly causes (and will con­tinue to cause, for at least 15 years I ex­pect) the most deaths.

Also, the far-right does not have the in­ter­na­tional net­works that Jihadism does, and so is not re­ally a mat­ter of for­eign policy. It’s one thing to say that the DHS or FBI should fo­cus more on far-right threats, but tel­ling the CIA or mil­i­tary to fo­cus on it could eas­ily lead to wasted re­sources.

I have very mixed feel­ings about this recom­men­da­tion: if un­der­stood char­i­ta­bly, it could be com­mon sense, but one could take it as a man­date to broadly cur­tail efforts (in­clud­ing non­mil­i­tary efforts) against global jihadism in or­der to fo­cus on a do­mes­tic threat which kills a much smaller num­ber of Amer­i­cans. That would be a bad idea.

Pri­ori­tize and fund com­mu­nity-build­ing as a fun­da­men­tal as­pect of US counter-ter­ror­ism policy.

I can imag­ine some­one say­ing we should com­bat far-right ex­trem­ism by re­vi­tal­iz­ing the (pre­dom­i­nately white) com­mu­ni­ties in Mid­dle Amer­ica, us­ing some­thing like John De­laney’s Heart­land Fair Deal. I doubt it would be an effi­cient way to re­duce ter­ror (have all these years of na­tion-build­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan been an effi­cient way to re­duce Is­lamist ter­ror?) but it may be good for other rea­sons. But this definitely isn’t for­eign policy, so I’m not sure if it’s what FPGen meant.

Pre­sum­ably they think we should com­mu­nity-build in re­gions with Is­lamist prob­lems. Should we pri­ori­tize it in Afghanistan? I hope they don’t mean that: I imag­ine Afghanistan already has some of the strongest com­mu­ni­ties in the en­tire world, cer­tainly stronger com­mu­ni­ties than the ones we have. It would be non­sense to think that Western­ers are go­ing to come and help build their com­mu­ni­ties. Or are we to re­shape their tribal re­la­tions into the Western con­cep­tion of an ideal com­mu­nity? I dearly hope not, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons. There may be similar prob­lems in­volved in try­ing to com­mu­nity-build in other coun­tries, but re­ally this idea needs to be made clearer for us to judge.

Maybe some­thing along these lines can work (and maybe we are already do­ing it). I’m skep­ti­cal of its util­ity against jihadist ter­ror be­cause such groups are of­ten char­ac­ter­ized by transna­tional flex­ible net­works and of­ten gen­er­ated by poli­ti­cal rather than lo­cal grievances. But it may be good for re­duc­ing more lo­cal prob­lems of con­flict and in­sur­gency.

Over­all, this is po­ten­tially a good recom­men­da­tion, but FPGen should give more de­tails/​ex­am­ples/​re­search and per­haps be more re­al­is­tic about its limi­ta­tions as a counter-ter­ror policy.

Fun­da­men­tally re­ori­ent the US un­der­stand­ing of na­tional se­cu­rity to ad­dress the root drivers of vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing cli­mate change, eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, and the legacy of US in­ter­ven­tion.

Most in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions ex­perts, if asked to rank-or­der the root drivers of vi­o­lence from biggest to small­est, would prob­a­bly put some­thing like in­ter­na­tional an­ar­chy, bar­gain­ing failures, the se­cu­rity dilemma, or state failure (in Ye­men, failure of the Gulf Co­op­er­a­tion Coun­cil to pro­duce a vi­able con­sen­sus; in Libya, failure of the post-Qaddafi state to en­force a monopoly on vi­o­lence; in Syria, As­sad’s bru­tal re­pres­sive mea­sures borne out of a fear of rev­olu­tion; in Iraq, lack of gov­ern­ment le­gi­t­i­macy and au­thor­ity; in Afghanistan, lack of a strong gov­ern­ment in the af­ter­math of the down­fall of the Tal­iban) on top. They could also point to rough ter­rain and large pop­u­la­tions, the pres­ence of ex­trem­ists, pri­vate in­for­ma­tion and in­abil­ities to make com­mit­ments, or hu­man ir­ra­tional­ity. Eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity could eas­ily play a role, though I only know of re­search point­ing to poverty. Cli­mate change is likely though not ro­bustly ar­gued to in­crease con­flict. Amer­i­can in­ter­ven­tions surely led to fur­ther vi­o­lence in Afghanistan and Iraq by cre­at­ing power vac­u­ums, but that is just a small minor­ity of wars, and is re­ally more of a prox­i­mate cause. Prob­a­bly they mean the legacy of Amer­ica’s Cold War ac­tivi­ties in Iran (1953) and Afghanistan (1980s), but es­tab­lish­ing a causal link to cur­rent in­sta­bil­ity from them may be difficult.

Note that ev­ery­thing in the above para­graph should be taken with a big grain of salt due to the in­ad­e­quacy of our the­o­ret­i­cal mod­els and the difficulty of mak­ing causal in­fer­ences from our limited em­piri­cal data on wars.

I don’t know if US na­tional se­cu­rity is pay­ing in­ad­e­quate at­ten­tion to root causes of con­flict broadly speak­ing. It makes for nice rhetoric about avoid­ing con­flict, but you can’t change ge­og­ra­phy, hu­man na­ture, or the past. More­over, Amer­i­cans in the defense and for­eign policy are­nas broadly un­der­stand that eco­nomic trou­bles and cli­mate change can lead to con­flict, that frag­ile and failed states are a recipe for fur­ther con­flict, and so on. I think peo­ple pay too lit­tle at­ten­tion to prob­lems of cred­ible com­mit­ment, al­though that’s my per­sonal bias and I have a hard time think­ing of good ways to ad­dress this root prob­lem. I would also give a gen­eral warn­ing against the mono­causal ex­pla­na­tions and over­con­fi­dence which can be all too com­fort­ing for poli­ti­ci­ans and ac­tivists. But broadly speak­ing it’s not clear why we should be­lieve that root causes are gen­er­ally too ne­glected by Amer­ica in com­par­i­son to prox­i­mate causes, con­flict solu­tions, and other pri­ori­ties. Per­son­ally, I would prob­a­bly say that we need to pay more at­ten­tion to prox­i­mate causes. We shouldn’t try to re­shape the na­ture of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem, but we need bet­ter diplo­macy, more pre­dic­tion mar­kets, and stronger em­pa­thy for how oth­ers will re­act to Western ac­tions (e.g., Rus­sia re­act­ing to over­tures to NATO ex­pan­sion to Ge­or­gia and Ukraine). I would also like to in­crease our em­pha­sis on the abil­ity to finish wars, based on our re­cent prob­lems in the Is­lamic world. So FPGen could re­ally do with some ar­gu­ments to sup­port their pri­ori­ti­za­tion here. Other­wise, it’s spec­u­la­tive and highly de­bat­able.

Never phys­i­cally or poli­ti­cally tar­get the fam­i­lies of ter­ror­ists.

Anec­dotes from Rus­sia sug­gest that phys­i­cally tar­get­ing fam­i­lies can ob­tain short-term re­sults, but the di­rect col­lat­eral harms and es­pe­cially the long-term con­se­quences are pre­sum­ably a differ­ent story. Op­pos­ing such poli­cies is very sen­si­ble, al­though I’m not aware of any cases where the US phys­i­cally at­tacked ter­ror­ist fam­i­lies any­way. Dur­ing his cam­paign, Trump twice said he wanted to kill ter­ror­ists’ fam­i­lies, but later walked back the re­marks and there is no in­di­ca­tion that it has ac­tu­ally been done. At­tempts by the White House to de­liber­ately tar­get civili­ans, even if they are re­lated to ter­ror­ists, would likely re­sult in re­fusals and/​or whistle­blow­ing by the rele­vant per­son­nel. All liber­als/​leftists/​apoli­ti­cal ca­reerists, plus many con­ser­va­tives, pre­sum­ably agree that phys­i­cally tar­get­ing ter­ror­ist fam­i­lies is wrong.

It’s less clear what poli­ti­cal tar­get­ing means. Sanc­tions? Con­dem­na­tions? Prose­cu­tion? I would like to see some ex­am­ples of what kinds of tar­get­ing Amer­i­cans may pur­sue in prac­tice, and an ex­pla­na­tion for why they are wrong. If fam­ily mem­bers know of but don’t re­port ter­ror­ist ac­tivity, it could be benefi­cial to use poli­ti­cal pres­sure to get them to re­port. So this rule is a bit du­bi­ous.

Never strip any­one of their cit­i­zen­ship.

Here is a list of no­table Amer­i­cans stripped of their cit­i­zen­ship. Most of the re­cent cases have been ter­ror­ists, ter­ror­ist af­fili­ates and former Nazis. They of­ten con­cealed their his­to­ries to Amer­i­can offi­cials in or­der to get cit­i­zen­ship in the first place. Why does FPGen want these peo­ple to re­main cit­i­zens? What pur­pose does that serve?

Others lose cit­i­zen­ship for more mun­dane rea­sons. In par­tic­u­lar, the Trump ad­minis­tra­tion has made moves to de­nat­u­ral­ize more cit­i­zens, for hav­ing ma­te­ri­ally lied on their cit­i­zen­ship ap­pli­ca­tions. I can’t find ex­am­ples of this ac­tu­ally go­ing through, but one pend­ing case was a woman who failed to dis­close her ac­tivity defraud­ing the Ex­port-Im­port Bank when she ini­tially ap­plied for cit­i­zen­ship. Other cases in­volved peo­ple who had con­cealed their sex­ual abuse of minors. Vox ar­gues that these moves are bad be­cause they in­spire gen­eral fears and send a mes­sage that Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship is all about be­hav­ior and iden­tity.

But while this may ap­ply to the Trump ad­minis­tra­tion due to the gen­eral per­cep­tions of their right-wing na­tivist ori­en­ta­tion, it’s not per­ti­nent for the pro­gres­sive poli­cy­mak­ers who would read FPGen’s ad­vice. A pro­gres­sive gov­ern­ment is perfectly ca­pa­ble of pros­e­cut­ing nat­u­ral­ized ter­ror­ists, Nazis, fraud­sters and pe­dophiles with­out be­ing per­ceived as ter­rify­ing white na­tion­al­ists. More­over, weak­en­ing le­gal policy in or­der to shift vague per­cep­tions and fears is a du­bi­ous strat­egy which un­der­mines rule of law. It cheap­ens the cit­i­zen­ship pro­cess, as one can ma­te­ri­ally lie to the gov­ern­ment and get away with it.

Over­all I can­not see a sound jus­tifi­ca­tion for FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion. It may be sen­si­ble to re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple stripped of cit­i­zen­ship, but to go all the way with a rule to never take this ac­tion ap­pears to be a bad idea.

How­ever this is not a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant is­sue, as it only af­fects a small num­ber of Amer­i­cans.

The prob­lem here is I can’t find ev­i­dence that we aren’t already do­ing it. Here are pro­files of 90 Amer­i­can for­eign fighters, who gen­er­ally seem to be pros­e­cuted in the US le­gal sys­tem. Amer­ica has gen­er­ally urged other coun­tries to take re­spon­si­bil­ity for their own for­eign fighters. I don’t know of a rea­son to op­pose this recom­men­da­tion, but it seems su­perflu­ous.


FPGen’s stated rule for when to in­ter­vene pre­vents us from defend­ing Taiwan and many minori­ties around the world, hold­ing our mil­i­tary flex­i­bil­ity hostage to Rus­sia and China. They also don’t provide mean­ingful guidance for when war is ac­tu­ally a wise course of ac­tion as op­posed to merely be­ing legally au­tho­rized.

As­sum­ing that they don’t spend too much on for­eign aid, their poli­cies would no doubt free up more money to spend on things like sin­gle-payer health­care and free tu­ition in the United States. But Afghan, Mid­dle Eastern and Afri­can peo­ple would prob­a­bly suffer as a re­sult of Amer­i­can re­trench­ment, and the re­sults would surely fall short of the pos­si­bil­ities of a re­vised, nu­anced and se­ri­ous ap­proach to coun­ter­in­sur­gency. FPGen seems to ig­nore the threats faced by peo­ple liv­ing over­seas, ex­cept for ex­press­ing a naïve idea that they can be solved with di­alogue and (even more) for­eign aid.

Why is there noth­ing about the com­po­si­tion and op­er­a­tional use of our forces? What weapons sys­tems should be funded or de­funded? How should we re­form the OCO Fund and mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment? What should the mil­i­tary bud­get be? Do we rely too much or too lit­tle on covert spe­cial op­er­a­tions? Should we sign the Ot­tawa Treaty?

The ab­sence of fo­cus on diplo­macy to avoid war is also odd. Eliz­a­beth War­ren has pro­duced a good plan for re­vi­tal­iz­ing the for­eign ser­vice and end­ing the prac­tice of giv­ing am­bas­sado­rial ap­point­ments to wealthy donors. That should be in­cor­po­rated here.

Fi­nally, FPGen should also ex­press sup­port for peace­keep­ing to avoid war. See this post by Roland Paris for a com­pila­tion of re­search on the value of peace­keep­ing.

Tack­ling the Cli­mate Emergency

Their sec­tion starts by say­ing that “Although cli­mate change af­fects ev­ery­one, young peo­ple have the most to lose.” It’s not wrong, but per­son­ally, I would have led with a differ­ent side of the story: poorer coun­tries in trop­i­cal and sub­trop­i­cal re­gions have the most to lose.

En­sure that the United States is lead­ing global efforts to com­bat cli­mate change. Ask­ing in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries who are less re­spon­si­ble for the cli­mate crisis to tran­si­tion away from fos­sil fuels be­fore we do is both un­just and un­nec­es­sary. This in­cludes im­me­di­ately pass­ing Green New Deal leg­is­la­tion, re­join­ing the Paris Ac­cords, and rat­ify­ing the Ki­gali Amend­ment to the Mon­treal Treaty to re­turn to re­me­dial lev­els of car­bon emis­sions, rec­og­niz­ing that US cli­mate policy must go above and be­yond those very limited tar­gets.

It would ob­vi­ously be wrong for Amer­ica to con­tinue pol­lut­ing while tel­ling poorer coun­tries to make a stric­ter tran­si­tion, but I don’t know of a sin­gle promi­nent per­son in the United States who ad­vo­cates that.

Ex­actly when and how does FPGen want us to push in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries to be greener? Pre­sum­ably – hope­fully – they want us to work to­gether, all tran­si­tion­ing as quickly as is rea­son­able. How­ever this tran­si­tion takes time. Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are call­ing for net-zero economies by 2045-2050, with very sub­stan­tial progress made by 2030 or so. But these goals are du­bi­ous due to poli­ti­cal ob­sta­cles, the most press­ing ones be­ing the 53% prob­a­bil­ity of Repub­li­cans win­ning the 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and the pres­ence of so many Repub­li­cans and cen­trist Democrats in the Se­nate. The Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates gen­er­ally do not seem to pri­ori­tize cli­mate change as highly as other is­sues, like health care (Bernie San­ders) and cor­po­rate and la­bor re­form (Eliz­a­beth War­ren), so they may not ex­pend much poli­ti­cal cap­i­tal on a Green New Deal. Jay Inslee built his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign around am­bi­tious cli­mate policy, but hardly any Demo­cratic vot­ers preferred him. Another prac­ti­cal ob­sta­cle to an am­bi­tious tran­si­tion is fis­cal, as a Green New Deal would be ex­pen­sive, vot­ers are re­luc­tant to ac­cept most new taxes (in­clud­ing car­bon taxes), and debt ser­vic­ing pay­ments are already get­ting quite high.

Note that a full tran­si­tion takes more time and effort than tran­si­tion­ing most of the way – elimi­nat­ing the last bit of fos­sil fuels from things like air­craft and elec­tric­ity in cloudy/​wind­less ar­eas be­comes much more difficult and ex­pen­sive. And we do need to re­duce emis­sions from in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries. The five biggest in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing offen­ders (China, In­dia, Brazil, In­done­sia, and Mex­ico) emit about 40% of global emis­sions, and the emis­sions from in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries con­sti­tute an in­creas­ing share of the global to­tal. Their lack of wealth makes tran­si­tion more difficult, but they have a differ­ent ad­van­tage: while ad­vanced coun­tries are more re­li­ant on ex­ist­ing fos­sil fuel in­fras­truc­ture, new in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion can be effi­ciently done with a more di­rect adop­tion of clean en­ergy.

So while it is right to de­mand rapid do­mes­tic ac­tion, de­lay­ing in­ter­na­tional ac­tion would be a sense­less jeop­ar­diza­tion of hu­man life across the planet – just for the sake of scor­ing non­sen­si­cal na­tional moral points. I don’t know if FPGen means this, but it is a plau­si­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tion of their recom­men­da­tion. It is very plau­si­ble that we will find our­selves in a situ­a­tion where we are poli­ti­cally ob­structed from achiev­ing all of FPGen’s wishes for do­mes­tic cli­mate policy, but still have an op­por­tu­nity to work on other ac­tions to ap­ply limited in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, and we would only be al­low­ing cli­mate change to worsen if we choose to ig­nore such op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Also, I won­der what they mean by say­ing that a Green New Deal and the Paris Ac­cords are “ex­tremely limited” and that we must go above and be­yond. Maybe they are talk­ing about some of the par­allel is­sues dis­cussed in the other points in their cli­mate change sec­tion, which I will dis­cuss be­low. But if they mean we must do even more to turn our econ­omy green, that seems quite ex­ces­sive. We should re­mem­ber that cli­mate change will not cause ex­tinc­tion of hu­man civ­i­liza­tion. The eco­nomic costs of likely (3°C) warm­ing are var­i­ously es­ti­mated by met­analy­ses at 1.6%, 1-2%, or 9-10%, and economists them­selves have guessed an av­er­age figure of about 10%. Now, be­cause the dam­ages prob­a­bly rise su­per­lin­early with the amount of tem­per­a­ture change, un­cer­tainty about tem­per­a­ture change with small chances of ex­treme im­pacts can dou­ble the ex­pected costs. Th­ese costs also dis­pro­por­tionately harm greater num­bers of poorer peo­ple in the de­vel­op­ing world. Global warm­ing also im­plies a dam­ag­ing tem­po­rary in­crease in tem­per­a­ture var­i­ance, and air pol­lu­tion causes a va­ri­ety of other prob­lems like wors­ened pub­lic health and crop yields, wors­ened child­hood learn­ing, and in­creased crime. So it is a ma­jor prob­lem. But it’s not clear what level of effort would be the right re­sponse. One could go into more de­tail about the costs of Green New Deal-type pro­gram and calcu­la­tions of the so­cial cost of car­bon, plus how to ad­dress the limi­ta­tions of eco­nomic es­ti­mates for set­ting pri­ori­ties; to be brief, I doubt that it would be ap­pro­pri­ate to go ‘above and be­yond’ a Green New Deal and I be­lieve that most policy ex­perts would agree. I rec­og­nize that this is largely a tan­gent about do­mes­tic policy, but if FPGen wants us to im­ple­ment such un­wise (not to men­tion poli­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble) mea­sures as a Su­per-Green-New-Deal be­fore mov­ing for­ward with any sub­stan­tive in­ter­na­tional cli­mate pres­sure, it is a bad foun­da­tion for our in­ter­na­tional cli­mate policy.

Also, I’m not sure if FPGen rec­og­nizes that in­ter­na­tional efforts don’t have to be co­er­cive or harm­ful. We can es­tab­lish co­op­er­a­tive ini­ti­a­tives, and provide tech­ni­cal and fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance for de­ploy­ing greener tech­nol­ogy. Many in­dus­tri­al­iz­ing coun­tries would be more than will­ing to seek our help here, there is noth­ing ‘un­just’ about it. This will un­doubt­edly con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of our in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment on cli­mate policy, rather than any­thing strong-armed. Why is it not in­cluded? They do seem to men­tion some­thing similar in their ‘trade’ sec­tion, which I will dis­cuss later.

And why doesn’t FPGen point out that one of the prin­ci­pal benefits of the Green New Deal is not just the re­duc­tion in Amer­i­can emis­sions, but also the po­ten­tial availa­bil­ity of clean en­ergy tech­nol­ogy as a global pub­lic good for other coun­tries to freely adopt? This would be an im­por­tant thing for poli­cy­mak­ers to keep in mind as they de­cide which as­pects of do­mes­tic cli­mate policy should get the most pri­or­ity.

Why is there no sup­port for car­bon tax­a­tion, in­clud­ing the ques­tion of in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tion on car­bon taxes and bor­der car­bon ad­just­ments (BCAs)? Mar­ket solu­tions (a car­bon tax or a cap-and-trade sys­tem) are the most effi­cient way pro­mote cleaner en­ergy, ac­cord­ing to most economists. Car­bon taxes are in turn bet­ter than cap-and-trade. Car­bon taxes are less ex­pen­sive than a col­lec­tion of reg­u­la­tions and re­quire­ments, and they are widely agreed to be a more benefi­cial way of rais­ing rev­enue than across-the-board hikes to in­come taxes. Hav­ing in­ves­ti­gated the is­sue in more de­tail in the Can­di­date Scor­ing Sys­tem sec­tion on air pol­lu­tion, I de­ter­mined that the economists’ po­si­tion is cor­rect. Not only are car­bon taxes among the best poli­cies for fight­ing cli­mate change, but they are also some­thing that should be done with a de­gree of in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment, mak­ing it a par­tic­u­larly rele­vant thing to dis­cuss here.

In­sti­tute “sub­sidy swaps” to re­al­lo­cate gov­ern­ment sub­sidies from fos­sil fuels to­wards re­new­able sources of en­ergy, and to tran­si­tion away from high-car­bon fac­tory farm­ing and to­ward low-car­bon meth­ods of food pro­duc­tion.

The sub­sidy swap is clearly a good idea. It should still be noted that nei­ther fos­sil fuel sub­sidies nor re­new­able en­ergy sub­sidies are as big of a cli­mate pri­or­ity as some peo­ple think. End­ing all state and fed­eral fos­sil fuel sub­sidies would only save $20.5B per year: al­most enough to dou­ble global pub­lic in­vest­ment in clean R&D, but sub­sidies are a lower pri­or­ity than clean en­ergy spend­ing, and we should prob­a­bly still go fur­ther. Maybe more am­bi­tious en­ergy R&D efforts would be in­cluded in a Green New Deal any­way.

Fac­tory farm­ing can­not be sup­ported in good con­science and there is already a clear welfare rea­son to sup­port this change. Re­plac­ing cat­tle feed­lots with well-man­aged graz­ing will re­duce emis­sions some­what; pre­sum­ably there will be similar trends for pork and poul­try. Meat pro­duc­tion will be lower and prices will be higher, but that’s ac­cept­able (ar­guably even a good thing).

Ac­tively an­ti­ci­pate and pre­pare for a large in­flux of cli­mate re­fugees, and ad­just re­fugee quo­tas to at least be pro­por­tionate to US CO2 emis­sions.

If we re­ally care about col­lec­tive hu­man welfare, we’ll think more about re­fugees in a broad sense and will ac­cept them based on hu­man­i­tar­ian con­sid­er­a­tions rather than na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity for cli­mate change. But gen­er­ally speak­ing this is clearly a good recom­men­da­tion, Amer­ica needs to take more re­fugees.

Ad­dress the fact that the Depart­ment of Defense is the sin­gle great­est in­sti­tu­tional car­bon emit­ter on the planet by re­duc­ing over­seas mil­i­tary bases and mis­sions. At the same time, we should lev­er­age the Depart­ment of Defense and Depart­ment of En­ergy’s sub­stan­tial ex­pe­rience in en­vi­ron­men­tal in­no­va­tion to con­tribute to civil cli­mate re­silience.

Re­duc­ing bases has other op­er­a­tional and strate­gic con­se­quences which need to be taken into con­sid­er­a­tion. Con­sider that our al­lies will in­crease their own mil­i­tary spend­ing (and hence mil­i­tary their emis­sions) if we re­nege on com­mit­ments to them. The nega­tive con­se­quences of re­duc­ing our op­er­a­tions in the Mid­dle East, which I pointed out pre­vi­ously, might in­di­rectly in­crease long run green­house gas emis­sions through things like eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity, au­toc­racy and lo­cal con­flict. The 400 mil­lion met­ric tons of emis­sions from all our over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions will cause an es­ti­mated $60 billion in dam­ages and 1,550 medium term health deaths; this is a lot, but is much smaller than the con­se­quences of in­sta­bil­ity and vi­o­lence in many ar­eas of the world. There have been over 150,000 deaths in Afghanistan alone, and that doesn’t in­clude in­di­rect is­sues like health­care and opium.

A no­table omis­sion here is the idea of mak­ing the armed forces more en­ergy-effi­cient, as War­ren has pro­posed. Leftists of­ten have an­tipa­thy to­wards such moves be­cause such green­ing can make peo­ple feel more in­clined to sup­port the mil­i­tary. This is brit­tle and specious rea­son­ing. First it re­quires a du­bi­ous as­sump­tion that a smaller, weaker mil­i­tary is good. If a larger and more effec­tive mil­i­tary is good, then green­ing the mil­i­tary is ex­tra-im­por­tant. Se­cond, it re­quires an as­sump­tion that rele­vant poli­cies will mean­ingfully change on the ba­sis of how green the mil­i­tary is per­ceived. This is a ques­tion­able claim about Amer­ica’s poli­ti­cal sys­tem and pop­u­lar mo­ti­va­tions.

The idea for civil cli­mate re­silience seems good.

En­sure that US in­fras­truc­ture and trans­porta­tion is low-car­bon and dis­aster-re­silient, and provide low- or no-cost pub­lic trans­porta­tion across the coun­try.

Low-car­bon in­fras­truc­ture and trans­porta­tion is good. We do need bet­ter pub­lic tran­sit. Though we should also keep in mind that the biggest pri­or­ity here, es­pe­cially for the pur­poses of re­duc­ing global cli­mate dam­ages, is pub­lic tran­sit that works, not pub­lic tran­sit that is free.

Disaster re­silience is a de­fault as­pect of mod­ern civil con­struc­tion. Ad­di­tional em­pha­sis on cli­mate adap­ta­tion could well be worth­while, but again this recom­men­da­tion is go­ing into is­sues which are purely a mat­ter of do­mes­tic policy.

Defer to Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties for lead­er­ship on en­ergy strate­gies and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion, and rec­og­nize their in­her­ent sovereignty over their ter­ri­to­ries.

Amer­ica is a democ­racy with in­put from a wide range of views. Why should na­tional policy defer to the lead­er­ship of a minor­ity on the ba­sis of their race? Are non-in­dige­nous peo­ple to be dis­ad­van­taged or barred from ap­point­ment and hiring at high po­si­tions in en­vi­ron­men­tal and en­ergy agen­cies? Indige­nous peo­ple are not bet­ter than the rest of us at de­ter­min­ing en­ergy and en­vi­ron­men­tal policy. “Defer­ring” goes well past liberal plu­ral­ism and into the ter­ri­tory of a new hege­mony, where there would be a short­age of qual­ified peo­ple, group­think among non­di­verse lead­er­ship, dis­tor­tion of the policy pro­cess to suit the nar­row ends of a minor­ity, and per­cep­tions of un­fair­ness. I don’t know how poli­cy­mak­ers and other au­di­ences would in­ter­pret this recom­men­da­tion, but it could be in­ter­preted as this bad ap­proach.

Ter­ri­to­rial is­sues are an­other mat­ter. The most fa­mous ex­am­ple of what FPGen is ad­vo­cat­ing is that we should have listened to Lakota wishes and re­fused to build Key­stone XL. That’s all well and good when we are dis­cussing fos­sil fuel de­vel­op­ment. It’s also good when talk­ing about pre­serv­ing forests, which tend to be good effi­cient car­bon sinks.

But what hap­pens when the pro­ject is some­thing good for the cli­mate? Both do­mes­ti­cally and abroad, in­dige­nous ac­tivists have op­posed a num­ber of pro­jects that would re­duce cli­mate change. Th­ese in­clude the Yucca Moun­tain repos­i­tory for nu­clear waste in Ne­vada, Ram­part Dam in Alaska, the Agua Zarca hy­dro­elec­tric dam in Hon­duras, wind tur­bines that kill ea­gles, and wind tur­bines that just ruin the view and worsen prop­erty val­ues. One can find some lo­cal in­dige­nous peo­ple who ac­tu­ally sup­port the new pro­jects, but there is a clear gen­eral trend. In these cases, there is a clear trade­off be­tween lo­cal in­dige­nous wishes and the cli­mate. Govern­ments shouldn’t mur­der ac­tivists to get their way, of course. But that doesn’t an­swer the ques­tion: should the pro­jects be built or not?

Cancel­ing the pro­jects could be good for the in­dige­nous peo­ple, in var­i­ous eco­nomic, so­cial and aes­thetic ways. Th­ese pro­jects also of­ten have down­sides for lo­cal ecol­ogy and tourism. How­ever, can­cel­la­tion also means less progress on ac­tu­ally re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions. This means more peo­ple will die from cli­mate change.

How many deaths? Con­sider the tiny Nā Pua Makani wind farm pro­posal, pro­jected to save 70,000 tons of CO2. On a short timeframe (sev­eral decades) look­ing at rel­a­tively di­rect and well-un­der­stood health im­pacts of cli­mate change, this much CO2 would cause an es­ti­mated 0.25 statis­ti­cal deaths. But this does not in­clude the lives saved from by re­duc­ing longer-run, more com­plex and difficult-to-quan­tify con­se­quences of cli­mate change. As­sum­ing a so­cial cost of car­bon of $150/​ton, it will also avert $105 mil­lion in global eco­nomic dam­ages, which will dis­pro­por­tionately fall upon poor economies. This is enough money for gov­ern­ments to save many more lives through other means. Now let’s think big­ger: Ram­part Dam. It would have gen­er­ated 5872MW. As­sum­ing a ca­pac­ity fac­tor of 57%, and as­sum­ing that it would op­er­ate for 50 years, it would gen­er­ate 51 mil­lion MWh or 185 mil­lion GJ. If that elec­tric­ity were in­stead gen­er­ated us­ing fuel oil, it would cre­ate 14 mil­lion tons of CO2 emis­sions. This would soon kill an es­ti­mated 55 peo­ple through near-term health im­pacts and cause over $2 billion in global eco­nomic dam­ages.

This is nap­kin math, and there are com­plex­ities to ad­just the costs up or down. In par­tic­u­lar, if you are very afraid of cli­mate change be­ing an ex­is­ten­tial threat to our way of life, then you should sub­stan­tially in­crease the es­ti­mates of these deaths and costs. But gen­er­ally speak­ing, it seems clear that these con­tro­ver­sial pro­jects have more cli­mate benefits than lo­cal costs.

One could re­spond that we just need to build all of our clean en­ergy sta­tions and in­fras­truc­ture some­where else. It’s a nice as­pira­tion. In re­al­ity, there are poli­ti­cal, lo­gis­tic, fi­nan­cial, and tech­ni­cal difficul­ties as­so­ci­ated with putting var­i­ous sources of power in var­i­ous places, and these difficul­ties will not dis­ap­pear just be­cause we elect more left-wing lead­ers. If we op­pose these pro­jects, there will be more fos­sil fuel burn­ing in the time it takes for al­ter­na­tive op­tions to be put to­gether. We will have to spend more of our limited bud­gets on less-effec­tive pro­jects. And more peo­ple will suffer and die from cli­mate change.

In sum­mary, their recom­men­da­tion for greater in­dige­nous lead­er­ship is trou­bling. Such a recom­men­da­tion could be alright, but only if defined as in­clu­sion rather than hi­er­ar­chy and defined alongside an un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of get­ting new en­ergy con­struc­tion com­pleted on time and un­der bud­get.

Work with the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion to de­velop a Fos­sil Fuel Con­trol Play­book––along the lines of the Tobacco Con­trol Play­book––to com­bat the lob­by­ing tac­tics of fos­sil fuel com­pa­nies.

Good and unique recom­men­da­tion.

En­sure a “just tran­si­tion” for work­ers away from high car­bon-emit­ting jobs to­wards low car­bon-emit­ting jobs, with an eco­nomic guaran­tee to en­sure that no com­mu­nity is nega­tively im­pacted by the tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­ergy.

Does that guaran­tee mean that we won’t tran­si­tion to re­new­able en­ergy if we can’t en­sure that none of our com­mu­ni­ties are nega­tively im­pacted? If that’s the idea, there will definitely be nega­tive im­pacts for the billions of peo­ple around the world who will be hit hard by cli­mate change.

Is it a good idea to dole out repa­ra­tions to coal min­ers and the like? In­di­vi­d­ual com­pen­sa­tion on this ba­sis is sort of in­effi­cient (again, from each ac­cord­ing to his in­abil­ity, to each ac­cord­ing to his need), though tol­er­able as one of the minor costs of liv­ing in a har­mo­nious di­verse re­pub­lic.

If we fix our­selves to com­mu­ni­ties then we have big­ger prob­lems. A coal min­ing town will de­cline. It will lose jobs and peo­ple will move away. Are we go­ing to fun­nel lots of money into fu­tile at­tempts to re­vi­tal­ize ar­eas that are sim­ply not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able any­more?

And what about the top 1% who are pre­sum­ably go­ing to be taxed for the Green New Deal? What about the in­vest­ment bankers in Hous­ton who make six or seven figures do­ing oil and gas ex­plo­ra­tion deals? How are we sup­posed to make sure that they come away from all this with more than they started (and why would we)? I pre­sume that FPGen doesn’t care about com­pen­sat­ing them, but this shows how the writ­ten recom­men­da­tion is flawed. Rigid de­mands for ev­ery­one to come away a win­ner are not a re­al­is­tic foun­da­tion for poli­cy­mak­ing, and can be abused by per­ni­cious in­ter­est groups.

Isn’t it bet­ter to just rely on hav­ing a strong dy­namic econ­omy with a good so­cial safety net, so that all peo­ple who are dis­em­ployed for what­ever rea­son can still find a good life? If we pass poli­cies like Med­i­care-for-All and free col­lege tu­ition, why would we also need to add these kinds of hand­outs? It’s ex­ces­sive.

In any case, this is a mat­ter of do­mes­tic policy.

In­vest in re­search to miti­gate pub­lic health crises that are ex­ac­er­bated by cli­mate change, such as the spread of air-, food-, and wa­ter-based dis­eases; the rise of su­per­bugs; wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion; and food and wa­ter short­ages.

This is good, but we need more than re­search. There are already shovel-ready op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­duce many of these prob­lems wor­ld­wide.

But FPGen has a hu­man­i­tar­ian aid sec­tion with more de­tails on their goals, and I will eval­u­ate that down be­low.


This sec­tion is about do­mes­tic policy at least as much as it is about for­eign policy. As a plan for re­duc­ing US emis­sions, it’s pretty vague, but that’s okay given that there are other, bet­ter con­texts for dis­cussing that.

There are two main prob­lems here. First, FPGen doesn’t have any se­ri­ous plan for in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment aside from rat­ify­ing a cou­ple of ex­ist­ing treaties. For a for­eign policy plat­form, this is dis­ap­point­ing. They don’t provide poli­cy­mak­ers with guidance to sup­port global use of clean tech­nol­ogy. They also don’t men­tion the op­por­tu­nity for in­ter­na­tional co­or­di­na­tion on car­bon taxes.

Se­cond, FPGen places too much em­pha­sis on their unique con­cep­tion of jus­tice, want­ing to make sure that the United States bears the most costs and that cer­tain groups like Na­tive Amer­i­cans and coal min­ers should come out as win­ners, while ne­glect­ing the great global harms im­posed by de­lays and in­effi­cien­cies in our cli­mate policy.

En­gag­ing Strate­gic Competitors

FPGen’s in­tro­duc­tory com­ments here con­flate Amer­i­can hege­monic as­pira­tions with zero-sum, se­cu­rity-minded think­ing. In re­al­ity, the op­po­site is closer to the truth (though there is no di­rect link ei­ther way). The Amer­i­can pur­suit of hege­mony has been largely based on the at­trac­tive­ness of soft power and liberal in­sti­tu­tions, whereas the re­al­ist zero-sum per­spec­tive bet­ter lends it­self to re­strained bal­anc­ing. This mis­con­cep­tion is per­haps why FPGen’s first recom­men­da­tion is pre­sented as an al­ter­na­tive to cur­rent policy, when in re­al­ity it largely de­scribes the sta­tus quo.

Their pre­scrip­tion that we should think and un­der­stand the world with­out a hard se­cu­rity lens is trou­bling. It’s one thing to ad­vo­cate a course of ac­tion such as en­gage­ment or con­tain­ment. But to un­der­stand the world, we need to break away from at­tach­ment to nar­row grand paradigms and be more elec­tic and more in­ter­ested in prac­ti­cal mid-level the­o­ries. The tra­di­tional big the­o­ries like re­al­ism and liber­al­ism are re­ally not as im­por­tant as peo­ple of­ten think. We should be will­ing and able to think about the world through the lenses of all big the­o­ries, in­clud­ing but not limited to the zero-sum se­cu­rity mind­set, and also main­tain cre­ativity and flex­i­bil­ity to gen­er­ate new ideas and frame­works to an­swer a given prob­lem. The for­eign policy es­tab­lish­ment has not done very well here, but their biggest failure is ar­guably that they fo­cused too much on the liberal un­der­stand­ing and too lit­tle on the re­al­ist un­der­stand­ing.

Ap­proach con­flict pre­ven­tion on a case-by-case ba­sis, pri­ori­tiz­ing “soft” tools like proac­tive diplo­macy, in­vest­ment, trade, and ed­u­ca­tion over “hard” tools like mil­i­tary en­gage­ment.

The only prob­lem with this recom­men­da­tion is that we’re already do­ing it. Towards China, we led with soft en­gage­ment since the 1970s while hedg­ing with some mil­i­tary power. Re­cent trou­bling be­hav­ior from China has prompted a reeval­u­a­tion of this strat­egy, as Wash­ing­ton is now us­ing more force­ful diplo­matic and trade ac­tions (still soft tools) alongside an in­creas­ing fo­cus on de­ter­rence. En­gage­ment has not led China down a path of liber­al­ism or re­spect­ing hu­man rights; in­deed they have re­cently be­gun wide­spread crack­downs on Hong Kong and sub­mit­ted the Uyghur minor­ity to bru­tal con­cen­tra­tion camps and a cam­paign of sex­ual co­er­cion. Nor has it prompted China to aban­don their aims to take Taiwan and to be­come the dom­i­nant mil­i­tary and eco­nomic power in Africa and the Indo-Pa­cific. But en­gage­ment wasn’t re­ally in­tended to achieve these things any­way. On the plus side, it has helped many Chi­nese peo­ple es­cape poverty while en­rich­ing us through trade, and may have done some­thing to mod­er­ate China’s in­ter­na­tional be­hav­ior. It has not been a bad ap­proach over­all. But Amer­ica’s is pivot­ing to a sterner line against China in re­sponse to re­cent prob­lems which were not avoided by the soft tools. This is a sound case-by-case ap­proach. FPGen may want us to main­tain a more re­laxed ap­proach as sug­gested by Zakaria, but ei­ther one would be con­sis­tent with the recom­men­da­tion.

The US has similarly en­gaged with Rus­sia through soft tools. In fact, Rus­sia’s re­cent in­va­sions ar­guably could have been avoided were it not for Western liberal ideas and in­sti­tu­tions ex­pand­ing to Ukraine and Ge­or­gia. Amer­ica has also mainly stuck to soft re­sponses to Rus­sia’s in­va­sions of Ge­or­gia and Ukraine, as­sas­si­na­tions, elec­tion in­terfer­ence, and sup­port for the Syr­ian regime. (An ex­cep­tion is mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine, which started more re­cently.) Of course we also main­tain de­ter­rence with Rus­sia, but it has not been the lead tool for ad­dress­ing re­cent con­flicts.

Amer­ica has also used soft tools such as diplo­macy and sanc­tions as the fore­most tac­tics with Iran and North Korea, backed up by a con­stant de­ter­rent abil­ity.

Mean­while, with coun­tries that do not threaten Amer­i­can in­ter­ests so ex­plic­itly, we broadly rely on soft power.

Maybe FPGen thinks we are gen­er­ally be­ing too hard on China, Rus­sia, Iran, and North Korea. But that would be more like a sweep­ing recom­men­da­tion, not look­ing at them on a case-by-case ba­sis.

A hard-edged re­al­ist like Mearsheimer, or per­haps a neo­con­ser­va­tive hawk, would dis­agree with this recom­men­da­tion. I am fine with it. But it hardly pro­vides sub­stan­tive guidance.

Close su­perflu­ous over­seas mil­i­tary bases, which are ob­so­lete, ex­pen­sive, en­vi­ron­men­tally harm­ful, and im­pe­rial in na­ture.

The linked recom­men­da­tion to cau­tiously re­duce the num­ber of Mid­dle Eastern bases ap­pears good.

The fur­ther rhetoric of FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion makes it sound like they ac­tu­ally want to close a lot of other bases too. They link to a rea­son­ably cred­ible, though one-sided, source. I don’t know enough about this is­sue to re­ally say whether OBRACC is cor­rect.

Never cut off diplo­matic re­la­tions with other states un­der any cir­cum­stances. Vol­un­tar­ily ced­ing our abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other coun­tries makes it much more difficult to re­solve dis­putes and miti­gate crises.

I don’t think we’ve ever re­fused en­tirely to com­mu­ni­cate with an­other state. We have lacked for­mal diplo­matic re­la­tions in some cases, like with Ger­many and Ja­pan dur­ing World War II and with North Korea for a while af­ter the Korean War.

I don’t know much about the de­tails and norms of diplo­macy, and I doubt that in­sist­ing on for­mal rather than in­for­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion would ac­com­plish any­thing sig­nifi­cant, but it seems like a good recom­men­da­tion to me.

Offer the District of Columbia and the rem­nants of US em­pire––namely Puerto Rico, Guam, Amer­i­can Samoa, the North­ern Mar­i­anas, the US Vir­gin Is­lands––im­me­di­ate bind­ing refer­enda re­gard­ing their sta­tus within the United States. The com­bined five mil­lion US cit­i­zens who live in these ter­ri­to­ries can­not vote for Pres­i­dent and are not fully rep­re­sented in Congress.

Again I would not call this for­eign policy, but I’ll con­tinue for the sake of com­plete­ness.

They lack rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Wash­ing­ton, but have ad­di­tional in­ter­nal au­ton­omy and free­dom from many of our reg­u­lar taxes. Still, that does not mean that proper self-de­ter­mi­na­tion is a bad idea.

Two things to keep in mind: first, many of these ter­ri­to­ries are very small, so it would be in­ap­pro­pri­ate to give them state­hood with a full two sen­a­tors and a con­gressper­son – in fact even a sin­gle rep­re­sen­ta­tive would be dis­pro­por­tionate rep­re­sen­ta­tion for the small­est ter­ri­to­ries, so they should have to merge with each other and/​or with ex­ist­ing states in or­der to get rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Se­cond, the mil­i­tary base on Guam is of high im­por­tance; Gua­ma­ni­ans won’t want to re­move it, but it may be im­por­tant to pre­serve some fed­eral au­thor­ity for defense-re­lated is­sues.


Aside from their views on how to an­a­lyze the na­ture of the in­ter­na­tional sys­tem, this sec­tion does not get any­thing wrong. But it’s very in­sub­stan­tive for such a crit­i­cally im­por­tant topic.

One of the ma­jor omis­sions is how the United States is should re­spond to hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in au­to­cratic coun­tries, es­pe­cially the con­cen­tra­tion camp sys­tem in Xin­jiang.

Fix­ing the Bro­ken Im­mi­gra­tion System

This is broadly some­thing for do­mes­tic policy, but again I’ll ad­dress it for com­plete­ness.

FPGen’s in­tro­duc­tory state­ment cor­rectly iden­ti­fies the im­por­tance of mak­ing the US live up to its nar­ra­tive of be­ing a re­fuge and a na­tion of im­mi­grants. A com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the value of im­mi­gra­tion can be found in the Can­di­date Scor­ing Sys­tem.

FPGen claims that the United States played and plays an out­sized role in cre­at­ing in­sta­bil­ity around the world and, for this rea­son, must be will­ing to play an es­sen­tial role in tak­ing im­mi­grants. The moral and his­tor­i­cal/​geopoli­ti­cal flaws in this gen­eral ar­gu­ment are straight­for­ward, but Amer­ica’s failure to ac­cept Iraqi re­fugees (even in­ter­preters who helped us at great per­sonal risk) af­ter the war and chaos that we caused re­ally is uniquely dis­tress­ing.

Im­me­di­ately end fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion and close all con­cen­tra­tion camps lo­cated within the United States.

This is re­dun­dant given a sub­se­quent sec­tion about de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing bor­der cross­ing and end­ing mi­grant de­ten­tion, which I ad­dress be­low.

Dis­man­tle Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment––an un­nec­es­sary, un­ac­countable, and cruel agency that has only ex­isted since 2003 and preys upon the most vuln­er­a­ble mem­bers of so­ciety.

Their func­tions were pre­vi­ously performed by other agen­cies, and it’s not clear that we can do with en­tirely dis­pens­ing with those func­tions, even if we want to ac­cept all im­mi­grants. So per­haps a more de­tailed plan should be pre­sented, but maybe it’s fine to al­low poli­cy­mak­ers more lee­way to figure it out.

But this is do­mes­tic rather than for­eign policy, so I won’t worry much about it.

De­crim­i­nal­ize at­tempts to cross the US bor­der, and end mi­grant de­ten­tion. This will pro­mote safe bor­der cross­ings, rather than in­cen­tiviz­ing peo­ple to ven­ture through dan­ger­ous ter­ri­tory.

This has ob­vi­ous benefits of in­creas­ing im­mi­gra­tion and re­duc­ing the prob­lems as­so­ci­ated with bor­der en­force­ment.

This would how­ever greatly ex­ac­er­bate the long-run­ning trend in Amer­i­can in­abil­ity to con­trol the bor­der. This chronic failure in Amer­i­can gov­er­nance and rule of law pro­vokes in­creased op­po­si­tion to le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and has cre­ated a poli­ti­cal ob­sta­cle to com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form. It also weak­ens the gen­eral cred­i­bil­ity of the gov­ern­ment’s au­thor­ity and may ex­ac­er­bate other types of crime (al­though im­mi­grants them­selves do not com­mit more crimes on av­er­age). Con­sider that Do­minic Cum­mings’ ra­tio­nale for Brexit was the idea that Euro­pean (as op­posed to Bri­tish) con­trol of im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies was lead­ing to back­lash that threat­ened the broader pro­ject of Euro­pean in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion; open bor­ders could pose similar prob­lems for the ro­bust­ness of Amer­i­can poli­ti­cal liber­al­ism. In fact, the elec­tion of Trump par­tially on the ba­sis of anti-im­mi­grant sen­ti­ment may have already vin­di­cated this worry.

So it’s not clear whether this is the right course of ac­tion, al­though it’s cer­tainly bet­ter than the sta­tus quo un­der Trump.

Estab­lish a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship for all un­doc­u­mented peo­ple, and en­sure that un­doc­u­mented peo­ple are legally pro­tected so that they are not forced into la­bor.

Perfectly good recom­men­da­tion.

Rec­og­nize that in­di­vi­d­u­als flee­ing de­te­ri­o­rat­ing cli­mate con­di­tions are re­fugees––not mi­grants––and should there­fore be af­forded the same rights as re­fugees.

A re­fugee is a per­son who is un­able or un­will­ing to re­turn to his or her home coun­try be­cause of a “well-founded fear of per­se­cu­tion”. I feel this is usu­ally a more im­por­tant case for res­cue than ris­ing tem­per­a­tures or floods. If we changed the defi­ni­tion, we would have fewer slots and re­sources to al­lo­cate to those who are per­se­cuted. (Un­less we ac­cept all re­fugees, which gen­uinely might be a good idea, but would likely be poli­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble.)

It may be good to broaden the defi­ni­tion of re­fugees, but why fo­cus on cli­mate re­fugees? What about those who flee se­vere poverty, dev­as­tat­ing dis­eases, droughts, famines, and other prob­lems? Whether these prob­lems are caused by cli­mate change or by any­thing else, they hurt peo­ple just the same. FPGen’s em­pha­sis is bizarre, seem­ingly driven by a poli­ti­cal ob­ses­sion with cli­mate change rather than gen­uine hu­man­i­tar­ian con­cern.

En­sure that those who en­listed in the US mil­i­tary as a path­way to cit­i­zen­ship are ac­tu­ally able to be­come US cit­i­zens. The cur­rent sys­tem has be­trayed these in­di­vi­d­u­als by mak­ing the already com­pli­cated pro­cess even more stringent, and ac­tu­ally deny­ing mil­i­tary mem­bers’ ap­pli­ca­tions at a higher rate than civili­ans. While we ques­tion the moral­ity of con­tin­u­ing to use the US mil­i­tary as an in­cen­tive for cit­i­zen­ship, in the short term these in­di­vi­d­u­als should still be granted what was ini­tially promised to them.

Fix­ing the pro­cess seems like a perfectly good recom­men­da­tion.

I don’t see who would benefit from end­ing the pro­cess for en­lis­tees to be­come cit­i­zens.

En­sure that for­eign cit­i­zens who aided US troops dur­ing wartime are able to ob­tain cit­i­zen­ship, as promised. Th­ese in­di­vi­d­u­als of­ten wait years for their visas while they and their fam­i­lies re­main in dan­ger, due to their co­op­er­a­tion with US troops.

Ab­solutely good recom­men­da­tion.

End the ille­gal prac­tice of forc­ing asy­lum ap­pli­cants to wait for rul­ings on their cases out­side the United States.

If im­ple­mented over the sta­tus quo, it seems like a perfectly good recom­men­da­tion.

In FPGen’s broader con­text, this seems like it would cre­ate an op­por­tu­nity for any­one to falsely claim asy­lum, then stay in the coun­try and be­come a nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zen thanks to their other recom­men­da­tions in this sec­tion. This is just an­other road to an open bor­der, and there­fore can fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate the poli­ti­cal prob­lems of in­ept bor­der con­trol, as I de­scribed above. But as I said ear­lier, it’s not clear whether these prob­lems out­weigh the benefits of ex­pe­dit­ing more quick mi­gra­tion.

Allow nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens to ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship for all fam­ily mem­bers, not just their par­ents and chil­dren.

I am not well in­formed about this is­sue, but I don’t see the prob­lem with re­quiring peo­ple of differ­ent nu­clear fam­i­lies to sep­a­rately ap­ply for cit­i­zen­ship. There could eas­ily be cases where some rel­a­tives qual­ify for cit­i­zen­ship and oth­ers don’t. Maybe the goal here is to just make as many peo­ple cit­i­zens as pos­si­ble, but then this recom­men­da­tion is a rather ar­bi­trary and in­effi­cient way of do­ing that.

Shorten the length of time that one is re­quired to be a green card holder in or­der to ap­ply for US cit­i­zen­ship.

A clearly good recom­men­da­tion.


Their recom­men­da­tions are alright, though sub­ject to some doubts about the poli­ti­cal con­se­quences of turn­ing Amer­ica into an open-bor­ders state for most prac­ti­cal in­tents and pur­poses. I would per­son­ally opt to in­crease im­mi­gra­tion and re­fugee ac­cep­tance while also main­tain­ing some con­trol of the bor­der, but I can see that there are valid ar­gu­ments on both sides here.

The main prob­lem is their omis­sions. They say noth­ing about in­creas­ing high-skil­led im­mi­gra­tion to boost our econ­omy and tech­nol­ogy – even though this is of great im­por­tance for main­tain­ing Amer­ica’s edge in global com­pe­ti­tion. High skil­led im­mi­gra­tion is less of an im­me­di­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian pri­or­ity, but it also has the best eco­nomic and poli­ti­cal re­sults. In fact they say lit­tle about broadly in­creas­ing le­gal im­mi­gra­tion or mak­ing the pro­cess eas­ier. Maybe le­gal im­mi­gra­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties won’t mat­ter if ev­ery­one can en­ter the coun­try free of crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion and then fol­low a pro­cess to cit­i­zen­ship, but I feel that it would be un­wise to rely on this in prac­tice.

Worst of all, they omit men­tion of the global crum­bling in asy­lum rights. 2019 was the year that the world shut­tered its doors to re­fugees. This is not just an Amer­i­can prob­lem. Aside from set­ting a per­sonal ex­am­ple, what con­crete steps can and should we take to rec­tify this tragedy?

Re­shap­ing Nu­clear Weapons Policy

Can­cel all plans to build and de­ploy new nu­clear weapons.

We cer­tainly don’t need a greater num­ber of war­heads, but it’s not clear what to do about nu­clear mod­ern­iza­tion. It can in­crease arms races, though there is some doubt on whether arms races ac­tu­ally in­crease the risk of con­flict. It could give us a bet­ter abil­ity to de­ter ag­gres­sion and sur­vive nu­clear wars with our strate­gic com­peti­tors. And if we mod­ern­ize with lower-yield pre­ci­sion nu­clear weapons, we may re­duce the amount of fal­lout and catas­tro­phe from nu­clear war. Of course it would also cost money, but not much in com­par­i­son to the huge stakes: per­haps a few tens of billions of dol­lars, de­pend­ing on the scope of the pro­gram.

I don’t know enough to re­ally have an opinion on this. FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion seems fine, at least for the time be­ing.

Vow never to use nu­clear weapons first––a po­si­tion over­whelm­ingly sup­ported by Amer­i­can Democrats.

NFU is ba­si­cally fea­si­ble for the United States be­cause of its con­ven­tional mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity and its poli­ti­cal risk-aver­sion and ethics, and it would re­duce crisis in­sta­bil­ity with­out weak­en­ing mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ity. It could also ex­pand con­ven­tional mil­i­tary flex­i­bil­ity, as ca­pa­bil­ities like the planned Con­ven­tional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) are limited by the risk of be­ing per­ceived as im­pend­ing nu­clear strikes. Tyler Cowen ar­gued against NFU, but his con­cerns are gen­er­ally cov­ered or out­weighed by points made by Ger­son. The pri­mary ob­sta­cle to NFU, as ar­gued by Ger­son and ex­pe­rienced by the Obama ad­minis­tra­tion in 2016, is that it could weaken Amer­ica’s abil­ity to provide cred­ible as­surances to pro­tect its al­lies from non­nu­clear threats. Ex­perts were split over the sig­nifi­cance of this is­sue in 2016 – see Miller and Payne (2016), Reif and Kim­ball (2016), and Miller and Payne (2016).

Obama de­cided against NFU ap­par­ently for this rea­son, but 2021 will be a differ­ent con­text. Un­for­tu­nately, the cred­i­bil­ity of US com­mit­ment to al­lies has waned be­cause of pop­ulism and eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism in Amer­i­can poli­tics, a trend ex­em­plified not only by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump but also by the in­creased pop­u­lar­ity of Demo­cratic can­di­dates Bernie San­ders, Tulsi Gab­bard and Eliz­a­beth War­ren. There is a high chance that one of these can­di­dates will win the 2020 elec­tion, and the un­der­ly­ing drivers of pop­ulism and eco­nomic na­tion­al­ism in Amer­ica – the per­cep­tion of grow­ing in­equal­ity due to global­iza­tion, and op­po­si­tion to ille­gal im­mi­gra­tion and mul­ti­cul­tural­ism – do not seem to be chang­ing much. The for­eign policy views of FPGen also echo a gen­eral idea of Amer­i­can re­trench­ment and weak­ened mil­i­tary com­mit­ments to al­lies.

Se­cond, the sever­ity of the Chi­nese non­nu­clear threat fac­ing Amer­i­can al­lies in the Indo-Pa­cific has greatly in­creased, and Amer­ica can­not count on con­ven­tional forces for a straight­for­ward vic­tory. China has con­sis­tently pre­vailed in Pen­tagon wargames about Taiwan.

Thus, the US is in a worse po­si­tion both poli­ti­cally and mil­i­tar­ily to give as­surances to al­lies than it was in 2016. NFU would weaken both the per­cep­tion and the re­al­ity of the Amer­i­can abil­ity to provide col­lec­tive defense. Nu­clear policy re­searcher James Ac­ton similarly ar­gues that our nu­clear policy should al­low first use, though just in the spe­cific cir­cum­stance that we or an ally are un­der an “ex­is­ten­tial threat.” NFU could lead to height­ened ten­sions be­tween China and other nu­clear or po­ten­tially-nu­clear pow­ers such as In­dia, Ja­pan and In­done­sia.

NFU could still be good if we im­prove cred­ible con­ven­tional as­surance and work to­wards rea­son­able im­ple­men­ta­tion of the new nu­clear policy policy. But unilat­er­ally as­sert­ing NFU with­out prepara­tory and com­pen­satory work is a bad idea. And do­ing it alongside a broad re­duc­tion in Amer­i­can mil­i­tary ca­pa­bil­ities is worse.

This is a poor recom­men­da­tion, though the sta­tus quo is not very good ei­ther. It should be re­placed with Ac­ton’s pro­posal for nu­clear weapons to only be used as a re­sponse to a nu­clear or ex­is­ten­tial threat against us or our al­lies.

At­tempt to re­con­struct and ex­tend valuable arms con­trol agree­ments like the In­ter­me­di­ate-Range Nu­clear Forces Treaty, New START, and the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion (oth­er­wise known as the Iran Nu­clear Deal).

Good recom­men­da­tion. That they write “at­tempt” shows they un­der­stand the com­plex­ities and difficul­ties of this.

Work with other nu­clear-weapon states to de­velop new agree­ments to re­duce global ar­se­nals and limit the chances that nu­clear weapons are ever used again.

Also a good recom­men­da­tion.

Pledge to not test nu­clear weapons in the fu­ture.

Sign­ing the Nu­clear Test Ban Treaty seems like a good idea.

Take steps to adopt a min­i­mum de­ter­rence nu­clear pos­ture, akin to that of the United King­dom. This would en­tail re­duc­ing bomber and sub­marine forces, and de­com­mis­sion­ing the ob­so­lete in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile force.

I am not in­formed on the com­plex­ities of this is­sue, but it seems OK at first glance, and they link to a strong source.

Provide en­vi­ron­men­tal re­me­di­a­tion and hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to frontline com­mu­ni­ties harmed by nu­clear test­ing, both do­mes­ti­cally and abroad.


Lev­er­age the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise of its weapons man­u­fac­tur­ers to pro­mote disar­ma­ment, plac­ing an em­pha­sis on war­head dis­man­tle­ment and ver­ifi­ca­tion, rather than on pro­duc­tion.

This seems like they’re just throw­ing a bone to nu­clear weapons con­trac­tors. I’m skep­ti­cal that dis­man­tle­ment and ver­ifi­ca­tion re­quire any con­certed effort by the gov­ern­ment to make sure that tal­ent is re­al­lo­cated in the right man­ner. Let em­ploy­ers and agen­cies figure out what­ever works best for them. I don’t see what this recom­men­da­tion would ac­tu­ally mean in prac­tice. Seems be­nign.


I am not very con­fi­dent mak­ing judg­ments here, due to the com­plex­ity of nu­clear de­ter­rence. The No-First-Use pledge seems bad, but some of their other recom­men­da­tions seem good. Un­for­tu­nately they omit dis­cus­sion of nu­clear com­mand-and-con­trol.

Per­haps the most ob­jec­tion­able part is their omis­sion of any ideas for in­creas­ing con­ven­tional de­ter­rence in or­der to re­duce re­li­ance on nu­clear ca­pa­bil­ities. We should prob­a­bly de­velop Long Range Pre­ci­sion Fires, Con­ven­tional Prompt Global Strike, and/​or similar tools to al­low us to in­flict high costs against en­e­mies with strong area defense-and-de­nial ca­pa­bil­ities. This would prob­a­bly re­duce the risk of es­ca­lat­ing to nu­clear war.

Limit­ing the Role of Eco­nomic Sanctions

En­sure that sanc­tions are tar­geted and pre­cise (i.e. di­rected at in­di­vi­d­u­als, offshore ac­counts, or tax havens). This can be an effec­tive method to mod­ify in­di­vi­d­ual be­hav­ior, es­pe­cially in cases in­volv­ing hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.

It’s ab­solutely a good idea to put per­sonal sanc­tions on in­di­vi­d­ual ac­tors who are re­spon­si­ble for vi­cious be­hav­ior. But I’m skep­ti­cal that it will cause them to change much. I would like to see the ev­i­dence for its effec­tive­ness.

Be­ing more cau­tious about plac­ing sweep­ing sanc­tions against coun­tries is prob­a­bly a good move. For­swear­ing them en­tirely is du­bi­ous: we can tar­get richer goods and gen­er­ally avoid hu­man­i­tar­ian prob­lems. They are not always in­effec­tive. The linked Defense Pri­ori­ties post says not to for­swear sanc­tions en­tirely.

Also, con­sider this in the con­text of FPGen’s wishes to gen­er­ally re­duce Amer­i­can mil­i­tary strength, de­ter­rence ca­pa­bil­ities and as­surances for col­lec­tive defense. Re­duc­ing mul­ti­ple ca­pa­bil­ities at the same time could cre­ate a trou­bling short­age of vi­able op­tions. If a coun­try is be­hav­ing in a trou­bling man­ner but isn’t ac­tively at­tack­ing an­other UN mem­ber, FPGen seems to leave us with just two di­rect “sticks”: we can put per­sonal sanc­tions on their gov­ern­ment lead­ers and in­sti­tu­tions, and we can try to get com­bined French-Bri­tish-Rus­sian-Chi­nese ap­proval for a UNSCR. Other­wise we’d have to rely on car­rots. This re­ally seems in­ad­e­quate.

Carve out le­gi­t­i­mate and func­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian ex­emp­tions to re­duce the im­pacts of sanc­tions on civili­ans.

This seems to im­ply that they do still want to place some broad eco­nomic sanc­tions. Un­less they want hu­man­i­tar­ian ex­emp­tions from tar­geted and pre­cise sanc­tions?

We already re­frain from sanc­tion­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian goods. For in­stance, the em­bargo on Cuba has still al­lowed food and medicine. How­ever, sanc­tions on some things like ma­chin­ery can worsen agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tivity, as is ap­par­ently hap­pen­ing in North Korea.

Seems like a good recom­men­da­tion.


FPGen’s recom­men­da­tions should make clear that broad sanc­tions may still be okay, es­pe­cially if we are largely re­duc­ing our mil­i­tary pres­ence. Other­wise, they’re fine.

How­ever, it would be good to pull more recom­men­da­tions out of Defense Pri­ori­ties and per­haps other re­search. Their plat­form here is still rel­a­tively vague.

Re­form­ing Hu­man­i­tar­ian Aid and Devel­op­ment Assistance

This sec­tion opens with the claim that aid is most im­por­tant “where the United States has pre­vi­ously cre­ated and ex­ac­er­bated suffer­ing.” Like other moral­is­tic de­mands made by FPGen, this ne­glects the ac­tual hu­man­i­tar­ian pri­ori­ties of peo­ple across the world in fa­vor of a puni­tive point of view. It also weak­ens the prospects for in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in fund­ing. If aid is jus­tified by coun­tries’ his­tor­i­cally bad­ness, then coun­tries which have been his­tor­i­cally weak or be­nign won’t be pres­sured to pay. And a mere change in his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive would ab­solve the US of these aid de­mands. So much the worse for the global poor.

In­vest in de­vel­op­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and economies around the world. In­vest­ments should only be sub­ject to limited con­di­tions, like cer­tain hu­man rights and anti-cor­rup­tion stan­dards. Aid should not be re­stricted to serve do­mes­tic poli­ti­cal in­ter­ests, in­clud­ing re­strict­ing ac­cess to abor­tion.

I’m not sure if the first sen­tence means any­thing other than the ba­sic idea of giv­ing aid. Giv­ing aid is good, of course, but we already do it.

Limit­ing aid on the ba­sis of hu­man rights is of­ten a bad idea. Poor and weak states are not go­ing to turn into liberal LGBT-ac­cept­ing democ­ra­cies just to ob­tain aid. This policy could pro­longue suffer­ing and death in the de­vel­op­ing world.

It’s also in­co­her­ent: FPGen ob­jects to eco­nomic sanc­tions, be­cause they find it un­fair to cause hu­man­i­tar­ian prob­lems, even if we are try­ing to cor­rect coun­tries whose be­hav­ior is ag­gres­sive and op­pres­sive. But we should not provide aid to coun­tries un­less their be­hav­ior is be­nign and tol­er­ant? Th­ese two stances seem badly in­con­sis­tent. If any­thing, it would be bet­ter to con­tinue pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to solve the most ba­sic tragedies of dis­ease and star­va­tion no mat­ter how a gov­ern­ment be­haves, while wor­ry­ing less about the gen­eral eco­nomic in­sta­bil­ity caused by eco­nomic sanc­tions.

Re­fus­ing to provide aid to coun­tries which don’t meet anti-cor­rup­tion stan­dards can also be a bad idea. Of course, we should be very cau­tious about giv­ing aid to cor­rupt offi­cials and gov­ern­ments where it will likely be mi­sused, and fun­nel­ing too much money into a cor­rupt coun­try could lead to nowhere, as I ar­gued when FPGen recom­mended “fully fund­ing” repar­a­tive, re­con­struc­tive efforts in the Mid­dle East. But reg­u­lar amounts of aid can also be con­ducted with ad­e­quate over­sight, of­ten by trust­wor­thy IGOs/​NGOs or for­eign coun­tries, de­spite lo­cal gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion. Plus, even if there is (say) a 50% chance that the aid gets mi­sused, is that not worth it to alle­vi­ate hu­man­i­tar­ian crises? Suc­cess­ful for­eign aid can be so much bet­ter than do­mes­tic spend­ing that it is worth the risk.

Gen­er­ally speak­ing, we should prob­a­bly dis­t­in­guish be­tween hu­man­i­tar­ian re­lief and sim­ple anti-dis­ease ini­ti­a­tives, which should be pro­vided un­con­di­tion­ally, and more com­plex forms of re­con­struc­tive and de­vel­op­men­tal as­sis­tance, which should come with more strings at­tached for rights and cor­rup­tion.

FPGen is right that we shouldn’t try to re­strain for­eign birth con­trol and abor­tions, al­though to be fair to con­ser­va­tives, this is­sue is re­ally based on a uni­ver­sal moral ques­tion (is a fe­tus a hu­man life?) rather than ‘do­mes­tic poli­ti­cal in­ter­ests.’ There is some rhetor­i­cal sleight of hand in de­mand­ing that aid come with strings at­tached to make sure other coun­tries fol­low our con­cep­tion of ‘hu­man rights’ while im­ply­ing that anti-abor­tion mea­sures are merely a mat­ter of ‘do­mes­tic poli­ti­cal in­ter­ests.’ But since this is kind of a man­i­festo, maybe we can for­give the slanted rhetoric.

At this part they also should men­tion re­peal­ing the Mex­ico City Policy, which I’m sure they would like to do.

A big­ger omis­sion is the lack of any point about what kinds of aid are ac­tu­ally best. There is no dis­cus­sion of the crit­i­cal effec­tive­ness and im­por­tance of dis­ease treat­ment and pre­ven­tion pro­grams, most no­tably PEPFAR.

En­act repa­ra­tions poli­cies to ad­dress past and con­tin­u­ing harms, both at home and abroad. Do­mes­ti­cally, the United States must re­pair the harms done to Black peo­ple through colo­nial­ism, slav­ery, food and hous­ing redlin­ing, mass in­car­cer­a­tion, and surveillance. In­ter­na­tion­ally, repa­ra­tions are due to formerly colonized na­tions that un­der­went stunted pro­cesses of de­coloniza­tion by the United States. Repa­ra­tions and debt for­give­ness should be offered with­out con­di­tions to com­mu­ni­ties to which they are owed.

There re­mains ac­tive de­bate about whether do­mes­tic racial repa­ra­tions would be a good idea, both on con­se­quen­tial­ist and on non­con­se­quen­tial­ist grounds. Most Amer­i­cans op­pose it, but a mild ma­jor­ity of blacks sup­port it. Robin Han­son sup­ports it. Others worry that just talk­ing about the is­sue will cre­ate more di­vi­sion. But as this is do­mes­tic policy, I won’t bother to dis­cuss it in de­tail or re­ally judge it.

Amer­ica has colonized the Philip­pines, Cuba, and some small Pa­cific is­lands. Since they are gen­er­ally poorer than us, send­ing them money would be a pos­i­tive form of re­dis­tri­bu­tion, bet­ter than do­mes­tic so­cial spend­ing. But it would still be a worse use of money than spend­ing it on the great­est hu­man­i­tar­ian crises such as malaria and ex­treme poverty.

It would be pretty weird to give repa­ra­tions with strings at­tached. But this shows an ad­di­tional down­side of in­ter­na­tional repa­ra­tions be­sides their poor tar­get­ing. Reg­u­lar aid can come with some con­di­tions, per­haps not sweep­ing re­quire­ments for all coun­tries to meet tough cor­rup­tion and hu­man rights stan­dards, but milder re­quire­ments tai­lored for im­prov­ing the par­tic­u­lar re­cip­i­ent coun­try in re­al­is­tic ways. Repa­ra­tions don’t give us this op­por­tu­nity.

Offer clear as­surances that sanc­tions will be lifted if the harm­ful ac­tions cease, and provide a road-map for do­ing so. Sanc­tions should never be in­definite.

I would like to know if there have ac­tu­ally been cases where states didn’t or couldn’t know what they needed to do to lift US sanc­tions.

Still seems like a good recom­men­da­tion, how­ever.

Pro­mote multi­na­tional de­vel­op­ment mechanisms that ac­knowl­edge and sup­port ex­ist­ing anti-cor­rup­tion prac­tices, in ad­di­tion to in­cor­po­rat­ing grievance sys­tems into their op­er­at­ing prac­tices.

Seems fine.


FPGen shock­ingly makes no di­rect recom­men­da­tions in­crease or im­prove aid for com­bat­ing the most tragic prob­lems of trop­i­cal dis­eases and ex­treme poverty. Nor does it ex­plic­itly de­mand a gen­eral in­crease in spend­ing on for­eign aid.

Some of their com­ments in other sec­tions might be con­sid­ered rele­vant. Else­where, they say they sup­port more re­search into pre­vent­ing global dis­eases, and that they want more aid for coun­tries that Amer­ica has in­vaded.

Ty­ing aid to strict rules for cor­rup­tion and hu­man rights could weaken it, but re­peal­ing the Mex­ico City Policy and other re­stric­tions on con­tra­cep­tion and abor­tion would slightly strengthen it. A more repa­ra­tions-fo­cused policy would re­duce the effec­tive­ness of aid, but might com­pel poli­cy­mak­ers to give more of it.

Strength­en­ing In­ter­na­tional Institutions

FPGen be­lieves that we should:

Never im­pose aus­ter­ity mea­sures as a con­di­tion of eco­nomic sup­port.

This seems a bit too strong. It’s true that aus­ter­ity mea­sures are a bad re­sponse to re­ces­sions. But if a na­tion has a strong econ­omy alongside se­vere fis­cal prob­lems, aus­ter­ity mea­sures to pre­vent debt prob­lems and en­sure loan re­pay­ment might be pru­dent.

Uphold and fur­ther de­velop stan­dards by which global eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions are legally ac­countable for their ac­tions.

I don’t have a good ba­sis to judge this as good or bad.

Par­ti­ci­pate fully in in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions, par­tic­u­larly the United Na­tions and the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. This means pay­ing dues and ap­ply­ing U.S. val­ues evenly in these fora and avoid­ing act­ing on con­ve­nience. Good faith efforts to im­prove con­flic­tual re­la­tion­ships may cre­ate the nec­es­sary space to pre­vent the UNSC pro­cess from be­ing a dead end.

Fully pay­ing the dues seems like a good idea. How­ever, the rea­son some dues haven’t been paid is that the US gov­ern­ment has been push­ing for re­form of the UN. There is an im­por­tant ques­tion of whether these or other UN re­forms should be pur­sued. “Ap­ply­ing U.S. val­ues evenly” and “good faith efforts to im­prove con­flic­tual re­la­tion­ships” are nice rhetoric, but with­out de­tails or ex­am­ples it’s hard to say what kind of real differ­ence they are look­ing for.


Aus­ter­ity is usu­ally bad but FPGen’s ab­solutism may go too far. Their recom­men­da­tion for bet­ter US par­ti­ci­pa­tion in the UN is good.

Un­for­tu­nately they make sig­nifi­cant omis­sions. Re­form­ing the UN might be a good idea, but they don’t men­tion it. The most ob­vi­ous omis­sion is the ab­sence of de­mands for new par­ti­ci­pa­tion in eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions. Poor de­vel­op­ing coun­tries should get a bet­ter seat at the table, and it may be ap­pro­pri­ate to in­cor­po­rate China as well.

Pur­su­ing Re­spon­si­ble Trade Agreements

FPGen’s in­tro­duc­tion here seems to as­sume that trade is noth­ing but a tool to prod other coun­tries into chang­ing their poli­cies. They don’t men­tion the fact that trade broadly grows the econ­omy and pro­vides jobs which are bet­ter than al­ter­na­tives, thereby gen­er­ally im­prov­ing qual­ity of life in the de­vel­op­ing world. They don’t men­tion that, as of a year ago at least, youth un­em­ploy­ment was rec­og­nized as one of the biggest poli­ti­cal and eco­nomic challenges for Africa.

They claim that trade ex­ploita­tion harms vuln­er­a­ble work­ers, but only by link­ing to a think tank piece on NAFTA’s effects in Amer­ica – it’s trou­bling that their fo­cus seems to be Amer­i­cans rather than for­eign work­ers who don’t en­joy our na­tion’s pro­duc­tivity, wealth and so­cial safety net. Even for Amer­ica, they fail to note that top economists uni­ver­sally agree that NAFTA was benefi­cial on av­er­age, that ma­jor trade deals in gen­eral have benefited most Amer­i­cans, that job losses from US-China trade were offset by job in­creases in other sec­tors, and that US-China trade makes most Amer­i­cans bet­ter off. There is of course a wide liter­a­ture here to be ex­plored and I sus­pect one could find crit­i­cisms of the claims made in FPGen’s cita­tion.

FPGen also ne­glects the way that trade pro­motes in­ter­na­tional peace, as well as the strate­gic benefit of in­creas­ing trade with Amer­ica’s al­lies through deals like the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship.

FPGen’s failure to ac­cept that trade is sim­ply bet­ter than the ab­sence of trade dis­torts their recom­men­da­tions.

Not per­pet­u­ate or pro­mote un­fair, un­safe, and un­pro­tected work, and should not pri­ori­tize the dereg­u­la­tion of in­dus­tries over stan­dards that pro­tect peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment. Col­lec­tive hu­man wellbe­ing should always be the cen­tral prin­ci­ple guid­ing US trade policy.

Col­lec­tive hu­man wellbe­ing should in fact be the cen­tral prin­ci­ple guid­ing US trade policy. La­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards can as­sist with this goal. But there is a trade­off with job cre­ation and growth, es­pe­cially in poorer coun­tries which are less ca­pa­ble of af­ford­ing the kinds of la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards that Amer­i­cans have come to ex­pect. If na­tions can­not meet our stan­dards, this policy would re­strict trade. Even if they can meet our stan­dards, it’s pos­si­ble that in some cases we may be do­ing more harm than good, by over­writ­ing the judg­ments of their own gov­ern­ment in fa­vor of overly strong Western ideas. Top economists are very split on this is­sue, with a small plu­ral­ity say­ing that we should not re­fuse to trade with less-liberal states. Really we should look at things on a more nu­anced case-by-case ba­sis to see what policy will best im­prove col­lec­tive hu­man welfare, not as­sert that one rule will always be the most benefi­cial course.

This point of view is also in­con­sis­tent with their view on sanc­tions. Re­fus­ing to trade with coun­tries who aren’t meet­ing la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards is a broad eco­nomic sanc­tion with hu­man­i­tar­ian costs. FPGen is fine with this if states aren’t meet­ing the right la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards. But if states are guilty of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions, mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion or nu­clear pro­lifer­a­tion, then FPGen is not.

En­sure that trade agree­ments do not en­force un­demo­cratic de­ci­sion-mak­ing prac­tices, es­pe­cially in lower GDP/​cap­ita coun­tries.

If they’re refer­ring to fast-track au­thor­ity in the US, it is some­thing that helps pass new trade deals. Maybe part of it is that it hides trade deals from a more hos­tile pub­lic, but part of it is the very le­gi­t­i­mate prob­lem that it is very difficult to hold ne­go­ti­a­tions when you are com­mit­ting to hav­ing a vote on ev­ery­thing. The leader has lit­tle cred­i­bil­ity to make promises or threats.

From the per­spec­tive of poorer coun­tries, it is cer­tainly true that they should have flex­i­bil­ity and free­dom to trade how they wish. How­ever, this con­flicts with FPGen’s pre­vi­ous recom­men­da­tion. If we go to Brazil with de­mands that they have to in­crease their min­i­mum wage and re­new­able en­ergy in or­der to get ac­cess to Amer­i­can trade, then we are us­ing our lev­er­age to de­cide some­thing that would or­di­nar­ily be left to Brazilian democ­racy.

FPGen’s in­sis­tence on demo­cratic de­ci­sion-mak­ing could be in­ter­preted as a recom­men­da­tion to sidestep the au­thor­ity of for­eign poli­ti­cal lead­ers, for in­stance in the many flawed democ­ra­cies of Africa, in fa­vor of demo­cratic refer­enda to de­cide trade agree­ments. This would make trade ne­go­ti­a­tions difficult, and is a dan­ger­ous vi­o­la­tion of the le­gi­t­i­macy and sovereignty of gov­ern­ments in the de­vel­op­ing world. Also, just as Amer­i­can vot­ers of­ten have a poor un­der­stand­ing of the eco­nomics of trade, such as main­tain­ing the folk-eco­nomic be­lief that trade is zero-sum, the same can be said of cit­i­zens el­se­where in the world, and they may sup­port poli­cies which ul­ti­mately hurt them and their de­scen­dants. Fi­nally, vot­ers on both sides of the ocean can be ex­ces­sively na­tion­al­ist and dis­mis­sive of the pro­gres­sive goal of im­prov­ing col­lec­tive hu­man welfare. Govern­ments have their prob­lems too, but demo­cratic-re­pub­li­can gov­er­nance – even if it takes some time to root out cor­rup­tion and abuse – is still bet­ter here than di­rect democ­racy.

The in­sis­tence on democ­racy could in­stead be in­ter­preted as more demo­cratic con­trol over the econ­omy: for in­stance, de­mand­ing that a par­tic­u­lar cor­po­ra­tion should not be al­lowed to move into a coun­try un­less most peo­ple vote for it. This now vi­o­lates the le­gi­t­i­macy and sovereignty of lo­cal in­di­vi­d­u­als to choose which com­pa­nies they will work for and buy from. In­di­vi­d­ual de­ci­sions to im­prove the lives of them­selves and their fam­i­lies will be held hos­tile to capri­cious whims of a more dis­tant and less-in­formed gen­eral pub­lic. In some cases, it may be ap­pro­pri­ate to es­tab­lish this sort of demo­cratic de­ci­sion mak­ing. But it’s a tough trade­off and shouldn’t be en­sured all the time. And it’s some­thing that other coun­tries should usu­ally de­cide for them­selves, free of Amer­i­can lev­er­age.

In­ter­preted char­i­ta­bly, this is not re­ally a bad recom­men­da­tion. How­ever, it would be bet­ter to talk about em­pow­er­ing lower GDP/​cap­ita coun­tries to get what they want, rather than to in­sist on spread­ing demo­cratic val­ues around the world.

Re­quire his­tor­i­cally high pol­lut­ing states to help sub­si­dize en­ergy and other tran­si­tions when craft­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards.

If FPGen re­ally cares about col­lec­tive hu­man welfare, they would want the wealthiest coun­tries to pay for sub­sidies, not who­ever was a his­tor­i­cal pol­luter. For­tu­nately, these two di­vi­sions line up pretty closely for most prac­ti­cal in­tents and pur­poses.

Of course, if we are de­mand­ing that other coun­tries up­date their en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, we should help pay for it.

Go­ing to other wealthy states and de­mand­ing that they help pay poor coun­tries for en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards that we im­pose seems like a ter­rible idea as a mat­ter of pru­dent in­ter­na­tional poli­tics.

In­clude a clause in ev­ery trade agree­ment that man­dates a com­mit­ment to ad­dress­ing cli­mate change in a globally co­op­er­a­tive way.

Such clauses could be seen as value-sig­nal­ing, which is fine I sup­pose.

The clauses could also be seen as a kind of en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dard, and the same pros and cons ap­ply.

En­sure that US eco­nomic en­gage­ment with tax havens is con­tin­gent on com­pli­ance with the Bank­ing Se­crecy Act.

I don’t know the de­tails of this is­sue but crack­ing down on tax havens is pre­sum­ably a good thing.

En­courage and pro­mote in­ter­net open­ness and high stan­dards of pri­vacy among US trade part­ners.

In­ter­net open­ness sounds nice though I’m not sure what they mean ex­actly. If they mean ISPs should be “trans­par­ent about their busi­ness prac­tices” that sounds good to me. Push­ing back on in­ter­net cen­sor­ship is also good.

Our trade deals should max­i­mize hu­man welfare. Not min­i­mize the effi­ciency of ad tar­get­ing, or pro­tect peo­ple from hav­ing their meta­data used for cor­po­rate re­search, or other lit­tle things. Hu­man welfare is not served by need­lessly in­con­ve­nienc­ing mil­lions of peo­ple. Of course, maybe there are cur­rent pri­vacy is­sues which do mat­ter for hu­man welfare. But we should be pretty cau­tious and spe­cific in iden­ti­fy­ing and pro­mot­ing them, es­pe­cially when we are try­ing to tell an­other coun­try how they should op­er­ate.

Sup­port­ing in­ter­net free­dom and pri­vacy in re­pres­sive regimes like China is good in the­ory, but we should re­mem­ber that such efforts will of­ten be per­ceived – and of­ten are – threat­en­ing at­tempts to pre­cip­i­tate regime change. So it’s un­clear how we should re­ally ap­proach it. For­tu­nately, FPGen’s recom­men­da­tion is just to “en­courage and pro­mote” these stan­dards, so it has ad­e­quate flex­i­bil­ity for the poli­cy­maker.


FPGen fails to ac­count for the broad eco­nomic benefits of trade, and hence is broadly too re­stric­tive. They also don’t quite dis­cuss the im­por­tance of giv­ing de­vel­op­ing coun­tries a bet­ter seat at the table for trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, al­though they come sort of close. Other­wise, their recom­men­da­tions are rather mixed.

Trans­form­ing Mili­tary Alli­ances into Pro­gres­sive Partnerships

FPGen’s in­tro­duc­tion here seems to im­ply that they want to end mil­i­tary part­ner­ships. Should we ab­ro­gate our defen­sive guaran­tees to NATO states, South Korea, Taiwan, and other states? If so, they should state that more clearly. If not, they should be sure to deny it. This kind of vague­ness is a bad thing in in­ter­na­tional poli­tics.

Pri­mar­ily en­gage its al­lies with the goal of col­lec­tively solv­ing global challenges. For ex­am­ple, the United States is uniquely po­si­tioned to take the lead on kick­start­ing a global Green New Deal, mul­ti­lat­eral arms con­trol, or a global anti-poverty cam­paign.

It is good to work on global en­vi­ron­men­tal progress, arms con­trol and anti-poverty cam­paigns. But for­eign cit­i­zens and gov­ern­ments – who are of­ten not so pro­gres­sive – may be pretty re­sis­tant. If Amer­ica says we will with­draw from NATO or aban­don Taiwan so long as they don’t con­tribute enough money to these global pro­jects, there could be grave se­cu­rity con­se­quences. It’s already been trou­ble­some enough to just get other NATO mem­bers to pull equal weight in defense spend­ing. Trump has en­dan­gered NATO in do­ing so; adding pro­gres­sive poli­ti­cal de­mands on top of that will not go bet­ter.

Never offer a blank check to its al­lies. Alli­ances should be viewed as true part­ner­ships, not nec­es­sar­ily se­cu­rity guaran­tees. The United States lends a por­tion of its le­gi­t­i­macy to its al­lies, and there­fore these al­lies should ex­em­plify be­hav­ior in line with as­pira­tional US val­ues.

Our al­lies largely be­have ad­e­quately with re­spect to US val­ues.

One ex­cep­tion to this rule is Is­rael, and mil­i­tary aid to them should be con­di­tional on steps in the peace pro­cess. Another ex­cep­tion to this rule is the Philip­pines, and we should con­tinue Obama’s policy of prod­ding them to change their ap­proach in their war on drugs.

It’s good to pro­mote US val­ues, but it should be done care­fully to avoid a state of doubt or in­solvency where our al­lies or en­e­mies have false, un­cer­tain or differ­ing per­cep­tions on whether Amer­ica will come to col­lec­tive defense. If our defen­sive as­surances ac­tively in­clude a con­di­tional clause – “we’ll defend you, but only if we de­cide you’ve re­cently been de­cent” – then that will cre­ate this prob­lem.

Con­sis­tent di­alogue is good and we already do it, as far as I know.

“Im­pact” is a pretty broad term, and in the fast-paced in­ter­na­tional set­ting, I don’t know if this rule will be prac­ti­cal. In­ac­tion im­pacts our al­lies too. End­ing the ex­ces­sive unilat­er­al­ism of the Bush (43) and Trump ad­minis­tra­tions would at least be a good thing.

Rec­og­nize that al­li­ances can pose valid se­cu­rity threats to com­pet­ing states, and there­fore take steps to re­duce the di­rect and per­ceived threats to com­peti­tors that feed coun­ter­pro­duc­tive dy­nam­ics, such as arms races and con­flict es­ca­la­tion.

The ba­sic idea is already rec­og­nized. For in­stance, Amer­ica has already main­tained a toned-down ap­proach to our re­la­tion­ship with Taiwan in or­der to pla­cate the PRC.

Per­haps it’s not rec­og­nized well enough. NATO was ex­panded to a de­gree that was per­ceived as threat­en­ing by Rus­sia, break­ing our pri­vate post-Cold-War promise that we wouldn’t take NATO into Eastern Europe. This was not re­ally a valid threat, as NATO is a defen­sive pact and its ex­pan­sion in the 1990s was based on a gen­uine be­lief in the broad value of liberal in­sti­tu­tions, not an at­tempt to con­tain Rus­sia or lay a foun­da­tion for in­vad­ing it. But the failure does speak to the im­por­tance of em­pa­thy.

This is an OK recom­men­da­tion.


FPGen is in­clined to gen­er­ally com­pro­mise as­surances for col­lec­tive defense in or­der to lev­er­age greater efforts on in­ter­na­tional pro­gres­sive poli­cies. With more cau­tion and care­ful fo­cus on highly-effi­cient efforts, this might be a good idea. How­ever, their vague, blunt recom­men­da­tions in ser­vice of more am­bi­tious poli­cies are trou­bling.

En­hanc­ing Over­sight and Accountability

Re­peal the PATRIOT Act and the Es­pi­onage Act, which erode col­lec­tive pri­vacy, civil liber­ties, and free speech.

I don’t have a per­sonal view on this.

Re­form the clas­sifi­ca­tion and clear­ance sys­tems, which are over­bur­dened, in­effi­cient, and nat­u­rally lead to wide­spread un­ac­countabil­ity.

I don’t know de­tails about the need for re­forms for effi­ciency, but it seems like a neat idea.

FPGen also seems to gen­er­ally want more trans­parency from the gov­ern­ment, with fewer re­stric­tions on clas­sified info. I don’t have a good enough un­der­stand­ing to make a judg­ment here.

Abol­ish cash bail, civil as­set forfei­ture, and pri­vate pris­ons—which profit from keep­ing hu­man be­ings be­hind bars. Strengthen reg­u­la­tions by which preda­tory lend­ing in­sti­tu­tions can be pre­vented from in­flict­ing abuse and held ac­countable when they do.

Cash bail should be abol­ished or at least re­formed to be pro­gres­sive. Don’t know about the other things here. Note that pub­lic pris­ons have pow­er­ful em­ployee unions which similarly profit from keep­ing peo­ple be­hind bars and ex­ert per­ni­cious poli­ti­cal in­fluence, so it’s not clear to me that they are bet­ter than pri­vate pris­ons. But this is do­mes­tic policy.

Sub­ject all pri­vate gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors to the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act. If a pri­vate com­pany is pro­vid­ing gov­ern­ment ser­vices, it should be treated and reg­u­lated as an ex­ten­sion of the gov­ern­ment.

I’m not in­formed about this.

I’m not in­formed about this. Ca­sual thoughts: I don’t see what’s in­ad­e­quate with the cur­rent sys­tem. Even with Trump at­tempt­ing sup­pres­sion and in­timi­da­tion, the whistle­blower on Ukraine seems to have been pro­tected and re­ported ad­e­quately. But I’ve heard that the re­port would have been buried if not for Demo­cratic con­trol of Congress, which seems like a bad li­a­bil­ity.

Never tor­ture any­one, US cit­i­zens or oth­er­wise, in­clud­ing the use of soli­tary con­fine­ment.

Seems like a good recom­men­da­tion.

Delineate be­tween in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions and law en­force­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions. In­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions should be pro­hibited from car­ry­ing out law en­force­ment ac­tivity.

This would only ap­ply to the FBI – and it would take away its main strength. Its sta­tus al­lows it to eas­ily for­ward re­sults from law en­force­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tions to aid the rest of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity, and al­lows it to use find­ings from the In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity to go af­ter do­mes­tic threats. Seems like a poor recom­men­da­tion. If you just want to weaken the IC, it would be bet­ter to sim­ply down­size and do some­thing good with the money saved, rather than de­liber­ately mak­ing these agen­cies less effi­cient. But I don’t see why we should weaken the IC at all. Seems like a bad recom­men­da­tion, though per­haps there is some up­side which I am not see­ing.

The FBI is mostly an is­sue for do­mes­tic policy, but they do have some mild over­seas ac­tivi­ties.

End the Depart­ment of Defense 1033 and 1122 Pro­grams, which al­low state and lo­cal po­lice forces across the coun­try to ac­quire high-tech and dan­ger­ous mil­i­tary equip­ment from the Pen­tagon at lit­tle or no cost. Th­ese pro­grams have trig­gered a sig­nifi­cant in­crease in po­lice vi­o­lence and civilian deaths, par­tic­u­larly against vuln­er­a­ble and racial­ized com­mu­ni­ties.

I’m not in­formed or sure about this. Their linked source does not satisfy me be­cause it is not a se­ri­ous look at the net benefits and costs for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. I do lean sym­pa­thetic to FPGen here be­cause sav­ing a few officer lives and po­lice bud­gets with this equip­ment could be out­weighed if mil­i­ta­riza­tion in­creases broad com­mu­nity vi­o­lence, mur­ders, fear and other im­pacts.

This is mainly do­mes­tic policy, how­ever.

End the sys­temic FBI prac­tice of en­trap­ping Amer­i­can Mus­lims in ag­gres­sive sting op­er­a­tions that fa­cil­i­tate––and some­times fabri­cate––the vic­tim’s abil­ity and will­ing­ness to act.

Note that en­trap­ment is a spe­cific le­gal term which goes be­yond sting op­er­a­tions. It is already for­bid­den for the gov­ern­ment to pros­e­cute some­one on the ba­sis of en­trap­ment.

Crim­i­nals who are con­victed through sting op­er­a­tions, such as FPGen’s ex­am­ple of Har­lem Suarez, have a pre­ex­ist­ing will­ing­ness to en­gage in ter­ror­ism or other crim­i­nal ac­tivity. The sting op­er­a­tion on Suarez seems like a waste of money and re­sources, but that doesn’t mean the prac­tice in gen­eral is bad.

Re­quire that the Pen­tagon pass an au­dit.

I’m not in­formed about this.


Many of these is­sues are about ar­eas of do­mes­tic policy, and I gen­er­ally have weak opinions here. Over­all their recom­men­da­tions here ap­pear mixed in value, erring on the side of re­strict­ing gov­ern­ment pow­ers too much.

Over­all con­clu­sion and judgments

There are var­i­ous pros and cons to their plat­form, but these are the gen­eral as­pects which I would high­light.

FPGen pre­serves a good in­ter­na­tional role for America

For­tu­nately, FPGen does not sup­port iso­la­tion­ism or the naïve be­lief that the best we can do is to merely serve as a shin­ing city atop a hill to in­spire oth­ers (who will sub­se­quently be crushed by au­to­crats). Nor do they ad­vo­cate any harm­ful or waste­ful for­eign en­gage­ments. What global en­gage­ment they do sup­port is gen­er­ally a good use of money. They main­tain some fo­cus on re­duc­ing global hu­man­i­tar­ian prob­lems.

FPGen puts in­suffi­cient pri­or­ity on defense

FPGen’s recom­men­da­tions would broadly un­der­mine Amer­i­can mil­i­tary power. This would re­duce com­pe­ti­tion and fear with Amer­ica’s ad­ver­saries, and would no doubt save money for pub­li­cly-funded ad­vanced med­i­cal pro­ce­dures and uni­ver­sity cre­den­tial­ing in the United States. How­ever, nega­tive con­se­quences would fall upon other coun­tries. Euro­pean and Indo-Pa­cific al­lies would have to in­crease their defense spend­ing and would see in­creased ten­sions, both with Amer­ica’s ad­ver­saries and with each other. They would be in­creas­ingly com­pel­led to cave into illiberal de­mands. Mean­while, frag­ile na­tions in sub-Sa­haran Africa and the Mid­dle East would see in­creased prob­lems of in­sur­gency and ter­ror­ism, and pos­si­bly more in­ter­state ten­sion as well.

FPGen ne­glects global dis­ease and poverty

FPGen does not pro­mote effec­tive poli­cies to stop the biggest sources of hu­man suffer­ing. Their com­men­tary on for­eign aid does not high­light valuable dis­ease pre­ven­tion efforts such as PEPFAR. They place a high em­pha­sis on re­shap­ing aid in ser­vice of hu­man rights stan­dards, an­ti­cor­rup­tion efforts, and anti-colo­nial ide­ol­ogy, but the pre­dictable re­sult of this in­sis­tence – if not ex­e­cuted very thought­fully – is a weak­en­ing of im­por­tant aid efforts for du­bi­ous gain.

FPGen cor­rectly iden­ti­fies that eco­nomic sanc­tions have ad­verse effects on for­eign economies and should be used more spar­ingly. How­ever, they do not ex­tend this in­sight to their views on trade deals. They are too will­ing to in­sist on costly high la­bor and en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards for trade deals, which will likely be failed by poor states, and might be harm­ful even if they are adopted; this would have the un­in­tended con­se­quence of weak­en­ing for­eign economies and la­bor mar­kets in par­tic­u­lar.

FPGen’s plat­form is incomplete

There are many im­por­tant is­sues left un­ad­dressed by this policy plat­form. A for­eign policy plat­form should in­clude peace­keep­ing, mil­i­tary force struc­ture, the OCO Fund, mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment, asy­lum set­tle­ment in other coun­tries be­sides the US, cer­tain ar­eas of in­ter­na­tional cli­mate ac­tion, spe­cific US poli­cies to­wards Rus­sia, China and other com­peti­tors, moral atroc­i­ties in Xin­jiang and el­se­where, and mem­ber­ship in in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic in­sti­tu­tions.

FPGen’s plans are a step down from the liberal for­eign policy establishment

While the for­eign policy es­tab­lish­ment in Amer­ica is flawed, I feel that they are still a bet­ter ap­proach than the kind of pro­gres­sive poli­cy­mak­ing FPGen pro­poses here.

How­ever, FPGen’s plans are still bet­ter than Trump­ist na­tion­al­ism.