President BidenJoe Biden Biden Should Turn To ‘Ostpolitik’ To Negotiate With Autocrats The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden Infrastructure Plan Sparks Definition Debate The Memo: Biden’s Tax Bet MORE faces the challenge of crafting its own national security strategy to deal with adversaries such as Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich Putin Biden set to turn to ‘Ostpolitik’ to negotiate with autocrats Pentagon on alert as Russia escalates saber-rattling in Eastern Europe and beyond Biden holds first phone call with President Ukrainian LEARN MORE, North Korea Kim jong unKim Jong UnBiden should turn to “Ostpolitik” to negotiate with the autocrats. Defense at night: the Pentagon has requested a third base to house migrant children | Pompeo regrets North Korea Pompeo ‘regrets’ not making more progress with North Korea READ MORE and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. While knowing the negotiation strategy, leadership psychology, and intentions of these leaders is essential, it may not be enough. The Bidens National Security Team and other leaders of allied nations may find it helpful to borrow a page from Pope FrancisPope Francis Biden Should Turn To ‘Ostpolitik’ To Negotiate With Autocrats The Hill’s Morning Report – Biden’s Infrastructure Plan Sparks Definition Debate Obama Wish Americans ‘A Safe and Happy Easter’ MOREs playbook, examining his recent negotiations in Iraq and what could be learned from the history of the Holy See Ostpolitik during the Cold War.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the late Vatican Cardinal Secretary of State Agostino Casaroli made numerous trips behind the Iron Curtain, including some who were underground to make sensitive agreements between the Holy See and various communist regimes to protect the rights of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern European Catholics. The nimble and silent diplomacy of the Holy See and Ostpolitik paved the way for subsequent Vatican diplomacy by using the late US Lieutenant-General Vernon Walters as a confidential intermediary and general ambassador between the administration of President Reagans and the Holy See. This provided a powerful moral, diplomatic and strategic counterpoint to the USSR and to the evils and human rights violations of communism.
Importantly, it also draws valuable lessons in today’s diplomatic challenges, where America and its allies seek to confront powerful, formidable, authoritarian and anti-Western regimes such as Xis China, Putin Russia, Kims Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Khameneis Islamic Republic of. Iran. While there are many who would proclaim that such evil leaders cannot be negotiated with, and should instead be avoided and isolated, the approaches of the Popes and Reagans suggest otherwise.
Negotiating with such adversaries requires strategy, as well as moral and political courage and its ultimately very transactional character, requiring both the acceptance of risk and skin in the game. In this case, the former President TrumpDonald Trump Biden Should Turn To ‘Ostpolitik’ To Negotiate With Autocrats The Memo: Biden’s Tax Bet Why Some Republicans Think Vaccine Passports Will Backfire on Democrats MORE was bold and insightful, like when he met Kim in Singapore and Hanoi in 2018 and 2019, and when he walked through the Korean Demilitarized Zone in 2019.
Pope Franciss’ recent trip to Iraq was highly symbolic but also politically astute and revealing of his personal diplomatic style. He took a real risk, traveling to a violent, war-torn nation still torn by sectarian and political violence. In meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Pope showed respect, humility, cultural sensitivity and courage as he visited the Ayatollahs, where they drank tea, held hands and discussed issues of peace in Iraq and the Middle -East.
As Pope Francis has shown us, negotiation is ultimately about empathy, understanding humanity and the adversary’s point of view, even when it is very different from their own.
It is essential and preventive for President Biden to focus on the enormous national challenges of the Americas, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic and the economy, where he had initial success regarding vaccinations and its coronavirus administrations backup plan. While requiring leadership from Bidens, many such policies can be delegated to the White House, Cabinet, and various federal, state, and local agencies. Cooperation, compromise and firmness may be enough. And in foreign affairs and national security, it is certainly tempting for Biden to act cautiously and wait for the development of new political strategies, the rebuilding of alliances, and the adoption of multilateral diplomatic approaches.
But given his government experience, Biden knows that negotiations with adversaries such as Xi, Putin, Kim, and Khamenei cannot be delegated or conducted virtually from the White House. They demand his personal presence, his experience and his seriousness. Avoiding such negotiations, for whatever reason, carries political risk and the potential for loss of face and respect. Yet the same logic applies to a possible diplomatic stumble (in such negotiations) on Biden’s part, and our adversaries are keenly aware of these sensitivities and perceived weaknesses.
In these complex times, the president could nevertheless attempt to emulate the physical and moral courage of Reagan and Pope Francis and borrow from their diplomatic manuals. At his age, Biden has little to lose. But America and the free world have a lot to gain.
Kenneth Dekleva, MD, was a regional physician and psychiatrist in the State Department from 2002 to 2016, including five years at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. He is currently Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Psychiatry-Medicine Integration at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and the George HW Bush Foundation Principal Investigator for US-China Relations. The opinions expressed here are his. Follow him on twitter @KennethDekleva.
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