Fighting for a democratic and humane foreign policy

Can America envision and adopt a democratic and humane foreign policy?

Can America do better than a foreign policy of naked imperialism, unending wars, and climate calamity?

It’s time to consider what a better foreign policy in the United States might look like. In fact, it is not that hard to come up with a different vision of America’s role in the world — a role that is grounded in sane and reasonable principles of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

The time is urgent to adopt an alternative vision for America.

And importantly, this needs to be a vision that unifies all Americans, not divides them.

A humane foreign policy cannot be based in a distinction between Left versus Right.

The real distinction is between imperialism, tyranny, and eco-suicide on the one hand; and democracy, the rule of law, and sustainability on the other.

Here is what a democratic and humane foreign policy looks like from an American perspective:

(i) A commitment to the international rule of law. The single most important thing the United States could do to make the world a better place, immediately, is to commit to the international rule of law.

Instead of ripping up treaties, invading countries at will, and sponsoring regime change, America needs to fight for a world where all countries — rich and poor, weak and powerful — have agreed to abide by fundamental global norms. This means things like:

  • Rejecting wars of aggression, and prosecuting leaders who commit aggression;

  • Rejecting the use of torture, and prosecuting government officials who engage in or authorize torture; and

  • Rejecting the funding of “rebels” and other paramilitary groups to overthrow regimes that the United States may not currently favor.

None of the above should be controversial to anybody (they are, after all, fundamental principles of international law that go back centuries). But in addition, I would push for America to consider:

  • Joining the International Criminal Court so as to help develop it as a meaningful force of accountability over terrible international crimes, particularly those committed by the great powers;

  • Committing to nuclear disarmament; and

  • Committing to a rejuvenated United Nations, which includes reforming the Security Council so that it is not dominated by the great powers.

(ii) A commitment to stabilizing the climate. The second plank of a democratic and humane foreign policy is a commitment towards stabilizing the climate.

The United Nations predicts widespread social breakdown by 2030 if nothing is done to limit carbon emissions, immediately.

A democratic and humane foreign policy must commit to renewed global cooperation to stabilize the climate. This means things like:

  • Rejoining international talks dedicated to climate stabilization efforts, and displaying genuine American leadership towards building an environmentally sustainable world;

  • Funding development programs for poor countries to help them prepare technologically and environmentally for a warmer world; and

  • Enacting a comprehensive climate refugee framework to deal with the reality of wide-scale (and at this point, unavoidable) people movement by mid-century.

Beyond this, a sane American foreign policy would also display leadership in efforts to lower levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to their pre-industrial levels, approximately 260-280 parts per million. We are now at 410 parts per million.

America could be a real leader in efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere, reforesting swaths of land, cleaning up pollution, and making the world a more sustainable place.

(iii) A commitment to human rights, both at home and abroad. Finally, America must commit to the human rights framework that was envisioned after World War II, but which was never really implemented by any of the great powers.

Americans are familiar with their political human rights — free speech, due process, freedom of religion — but these political rights are only half of the human rights story.

Human rights includes social and economic rights as well: things like the right to health care, the right to education, the right to dignified work and labor conditions, and the right to housing.

Those economic and social human rights have been completely ignored in the United States since World War II.

Really committing to human rights in the United States means the following:

  • Ratifying all major human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights;

  • Directing the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses committed by local governments and powerful business interests;

  • Implementing a social and economic human rights program that provides health care, education, and housing as human rights, including free access to those who need it.

  • Leading by example in the community of nations by showing real implementation and ratification of human rights principles.

This type of foreign policy is not a fantasy. It could be adopted relatively easily by the Executive. Many of these decisions could be announced within a week’s time.

The real question is whether America can change its ways and move from being a rogue country, to a founding member of a positive and sustainable global order in which people’s rights are protected, the planet is held in trust and stewardship, and the global peace is maintained perpetually.