Home » COMMENTARY, Home » Secretary Antony Blinken — US do have geopolitical disruptors with Russia and with China

Secretary Antony Blinken — US do have geopolitical disruptors with Russia and with China

Anthony Blinken US Secretary of State as of 2021 (Official State Department photo - courtesy for education only)

Anthony Blinken US Secretary of State as of 2021 (Official State Department photo – courtesy for education only)

 

WebPublicaPress / New York( / from the US Secretary of State desk – Last week, Mr Anthony Blinken traveled to Chicago, Illinois to participate in a moderated conversation at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics with its founder, David Axelrod. This is what they talked about:

On the Two-Year Anniversary of the Biden Administration 

MR . AXELROD: This isn’t just the anniversary of the founding of the Institute of Politics, but it’s also the two-year anniversary of the Biden administration. Talk to me about these two years from your perspective as Secretary of State. What has gone well? What are you proudest of? What are the things where you look back and say, “Gee, I wish we had done that a little bit better, or differently?”

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I think two years in, what it’s safe to say from my perspective, at least, is that we’re in a better place in the world than we were. The first instruction that I got from President Biden on taking the job was: Get out there, re-energize, rejuvenate, re-engage our alliances, our partnerships, and our work in international organizations. And the reason he was so determined that we do that is that, if you’re looking around at all of the issues that are actually having an impact on the lives of pretty much everyone in this room – whether it’s the impact of a global pandemic; whether it’s climate change; whether it’s the effect that all of these new technologies are having on our lives, the stuff that we carry in our pockets every single day; whether it’s drugs, the fentanyl crisis – we can’t deal effectively with a single one of these issues unless we’re actually finding ways to cooperate and coordinate and work with other countries.

On climate change we’re 15 percent or so of global emissions. If we do everything right at home, we’ve still got to bring along the other 85 percent. COVID, which we all know all too well, we can do everything right at home – if there’s another variant circulating out there somewhere, it could still come back and bite us. I could go down the list. So we’ve done that, and in ways big and small, rolling up our sleeves every single day, we’re re-engaged.

The other thing he said was this: We have to be out there not only to cooperate and coordinate with other countries – but we have to be out there and at the table. Because when we’re not, when America’s disengaged, one of two things happens. Either someone else tries to take our place – and probably not in a way that advances our own interests and values. Or – maybe just as bad – no one does. And we know the world doesn’t organize itself. In the absence of anyone taking on that role, you tend to have a vacuum that may be filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things.

So the bottom line is this: We are re-engaged, we’re out there, we’re leading again, and we’re doing it with other countries in ways that are building coalitions to tackle these problems. Now, there are a huge number of disruptors out there, and we have to find ways to effectively address them. We have geopolitical disruptors in the form of great power competition that’s emerged again, particularly with Russia and with China in different ways, and we have these transnational disruptors, the ones we’ve just referenced, that are having a big impact on people’s lives. But we’re in a better place to address them.

Last thing is this: We’ve been really smart about something else. Our strength at home is directly tied to our standing around the world. When we’re making smart investments in ourselves – as we did with infrastructure; as we did with the CHIPS Act to make sure that we remain the leader in making semiconductors here in the United States; as we did with the so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which is the biggest single investment made to deal with climate change in the history of this country – when we’re making those investments at home, it’s actually having an impact on our standing around the world. I’ve got partners, countries coming up to us and saying: We see what you’re doing to make yourselves stronger at home. We want to work with you; we want to partner with you.

On Alliances and Russia’s War on Ukraine 

MR. AXELROD: You talked about alliances. Obviously the place where it has been most dramatically reflected is in Ukraine, a situation that you couldn’t have foreseen when you became Secretary of State. The question comes up – How much time do you have there before the coalition frays? Putin is obviously playing a waiting game, and the Russians have great tolerance for suffering and he seems intent to try and wait this out. What are you telling the Ukrainians and what is your sense of where this goes and how quickly it has to move before this thing kind of frays?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: From almost day one, we’ve seen a lot of premature reports of the demise of the coalition. And on the contrary, not only has it held together, it’s grown consistently stronger. Time and again we’ve seen dozens of countries come together to try to make sure that Ukraine is getting what it needs when it needs it – the humanitarian support, the economic support – to defend itself, to push back against the Russian aggression, and to take back the land that was seized. We just did another so-called drawdown of military equipment for Ukraine – this time more than $2.5 billion. We’re up to almost $30 billion in military support, about $60 billion in total support. The Europeans have done much the same.

[...] Every step along the way, starting from before the Russian aggression, we tried to make sure the Ukrainians had in their hands what they needed, what they could use to effectively push back against any Russian aggression. Before the war started, we saw the storm clouds. We tried to warn the world. We tried to prevent it. But even as we were doing that, we tried to make sure the Ukrainians were prepared. We did drawdowns of our equipment – Stingers and Javelins – going back to Labor Day a year ago and then again before Christmas. So they had in their hands what they needed when the Russians went to Kyiv, and they were able to repel it.

All along the way, we’ve tried to make sure that as the war moved, as the Russians shifted what they were doing and where they were doing it, the Ukrainians had what they needed. You’ve seen a succession of different weapons systems go to the Ukrainians. The discussions that we have with allies and partners – including ourselves – is not only what weapons do they need, but they also need to be trained on them, so we’ve got to do that. They need to be able to maintain them. And they’ve got to be able to use them effectively. All of that goes into these decisions.

On China

MR .AXELROD: Talk about China, where – the China that you’re going to visit right now, not necessarily the same China from a year ago before the COVID debacle, before their economy was ground to a halt. What are you hoping to accomplish there?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So the President and President Xi had a very good, constructive, long conversation in Bali on the margins of this G20 meeting toward the end of last year, and I think the most important thing in the immediate for us is this: This is the most consequential and complex relationship of any that we have in the world. I think many other countries could say the same about their relationship with China. We’re in a competition. China is a leading competitor, and in many ways, the vision that they have for what the world should be and where it should go is not the same as the one we have. But competition is one thing, conflict is another, and it’s strongly in our interest to make sure that even as we compete very vigorously, we avoid competition veering into conflict. One of the ways you do that is making sure that you actually have good lines of communication, that you’re talking, that you’re engaging, that you’re putting some guardrails on the relationship, and that you’re putting a floor underneath it. That’s what the President and President Xi were doing in Bali. That’s the conversation they asked me to continue.

On Pursuing a Career in the U.S. Foreign Service 

MR. AXELROD:  I do want to ask you this: There are a lot of people here who are considering what they want to do with their lives. And there was a period of time in the last decade when joining the Foreign Service became less attractive. I want to give you a couple of minutes to make a sales pitch here for why people should consider that work, that form of service.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: So I’ve had an incredible opportunity in my own life to do a bunch of different things. I was a journalist for a while. I was a lawyer for a while, for one year, 10 months, two weeks, three days, and five hours.  I dabbled in movies, et cetera. And then, after a long, circuitous journey, I wound up in government, working for President Clinton. And for the past 30 years, that’s pretty much what I’ve done, with a couple of periods of time out of government because elections happen and things change.

And what I can tell you is this: There are so many different ways to find fulfillment, to find happiness, to find a sense of purpose in life – in the private sector, in NGOs, in academia, you name it. For me, at least, having had these different experiences, there is something unique about serving in government, and that something unique is right there behind us [Secretary Blinken points to the U.S. flag], and it’s behind me every single day, either figuratively or literally. And it may sound corny, but for me at least, knowing that I’m there with the American flag behind me every day is something that I haven’t really found in any other pursuit that I’ve engaged in.

I think public service in some fashion, serving your community, if not serving your country – there’s something about that that just is unique in the fulfillment that you get from it, even with the frustrations that come along with it.

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