US Leadership is Needed Now More Than Ever
By Adam Cohen and Lieutenant General Arlen Dirk Jameson
As our country rapidly approaches the election to choose its leader for the next four years, the entire world watches. At stake are issues of grave importance, and US leadership plays a direct role in whether they spiral further out of control. As a former Lieutenant General in the US armed forces and as the former deputy undersecretary for science and energy, nuclear conflict and climate change are the two perilous issues that weigh most on our minds. Over the last 3 ½ years the “Doomsday Clock” charting the pending consequences of both has moved closer to midnight.
Fires are raging across the West Coast, devastating entire cities. Towns sit in apocalyptic orange hazes, with air quality so poor that children can no longer play outside. Hurricanes are pummeling the Gulf Coast, and rising sea levels are creeping into major cities, hinting at a day when their buildings and shops and restaurants will be at the bottom of the ocean.
Temperatures are projected that will make once temperate parts of our country hotter than the deserts of the Middle East. Meanwhile, while we could be pursuing clean technology options and a resulting economic boom from jobs creation, the President and his administration signal to the world that climate change is a farce, and roll back programs and regulations aimed at protecting the environment.
In the nuclear arena, the Trump Administration has pursued a policy of confrontation and brinksmanship with dangerous and unpredictable regimes — namely North Korea and Iran. President Trump has directed the dramatic withdrawal of the U.S. from a number of arms control agreements and is poised to let the last remaining agreement — New START — expire without extension.
For nonproliferation, the rudder seems to be closer to proliferation than non. President Trump’s strategy has edged more towards increasing nuclear production rather than decreasing states’ nuclear entities. This enhances the chances of nuclear war, rather than reducing it.
Both areas critically demand and would without question benefit substantially from a re-emergence of leadership from the United States. Prior to the Trump era, the United States was a pioneer on such issues, taking a leading role, for example, in developing and negotiating the Paris Climate Agreement as well as the Iran Deal. For no reason other than partisan animus aimed at President Obama and the previous administration, the Trump administration withdrew from both.
By withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement, President Trump removed the enormous influence of our government that was a key catalyst in prompting many other governments to join in the first place. He did not withdraw because he had a better idea to confront climate change; rather, he had none. The administration’s “strategy” is questioning and denial. Perhaps what President Trump fails to appreciate is that climate change is a near-term threat to our economic and national security, two areas that his administration has prided itself on championing.
Regarding national security, what impact will climate change and rising sea levels have, for example, on the location of our naval ports, domestically and overseas? There needs to be much more focus on resilience planning for both the near and longer terms. That requires data, analysis, and consideration of subject-matter experts to inform options. It’s not that an administration must yield to a “scientist,” as the Trump administration would like to say, but rather they must make decisions based on data and at least consider the options put forward by scientists.
Without agreements like New Start and the Paris Climate Agreement, the world is a much more dangerous and unpredictable place. Reestablishing a robust regime of arms and climate control will take years of difficult, high stakes negotiation. The current administration is not equipped nor committed to do so.
The United States’ withdrawal from multiple international agreements has another implication — the international community may no longer trust that the US will stay party to any agreement that it signs at all. While countries at one time were willing to trust our word given our convictions and decades of consistent actions on the world-stage, they now see that a new administration can just “tear things up.” As a result, they might demand more Senate-approved treaty level agreements, and that means the path back to recover the ground we’ve lost is longer and steeper.
Vice President Joe Biden has made it clear that his administration will move quickly to extend New START and re-engage with world governments on Climate Change. He has decades of experience dealing with the U.S.S.R. and the follow-on Russian government on reductions in strategic nuclear weapons systems. He is committed to keeping “boots on the ground “ in Russia to assure compliance by the country that controls almost half of the world’s nuclear weapons. Leadership on this issue strengthens our nuclear deterrent, limits Russia’s arsenal, and verifies Russia’s continued compliance with its arms control obligations. With the extension, a President Biden has stated he will aggressively pursue a follow-on expanded agreement.
He has also made it clear that climate change will be treated as the grave problem that it is rather than this administration’s tactic of disposing it in a garbage dump of denial. The U.S. will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement and again become a global leader in ameliorating what we see on television every single day — Americans suffering from the cruel impact of fires, hurricanes, drought, rising sea levels. He has pledged to bring the full force of American ingenuity and know how to make the future safer for our grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as for all peoples of the world.
US Leadership in our world is not an option; it’s an imperative. Leadership informed by science and based on real world experience is essential if our country is to successfully challenge threats that absolutely threaten our existence. A leader with a plan and the experience to deliver it is the right choice. These are not threats that our administration can afford to ignore, to approach with no plan. There can be no hasty improvisation in a world replete with nuclear weapons which could take out New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago in a heartbeat. There is too much at stake.