Event Summary: US Role in International Security in the Age of Coronavirus
On Monday, May 4, 2020, the SETA Foundation at Washington, DC hosted a virtual panel of experts to discuss ‘US Role in International Security in the Age of Coronavirus.’ The discussion featured Mary Beth Long, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and Luke Coffey, Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. The panel was moderated by Kadir Ustun, Executive Director at SETA DC.
To begin the discussion, Long explained that in many respects, it is too early to make predictions about the future of international security amid the pandemic. However, she does insist that there is a misunderstanding around the world about US leadership. Propaganda from revisionist powers like China, Russia, and Iran is spreading in the Middle East and Africa and calls into question Europe’s deepening relations with China. She made it clear that the West should get out ahead of propaganda narratives and considers the US’s unwillingness to do so a severe detriment to national security. In addition, Long wondered about the implications of the virus in places where proxies are acting and the pressure this may put on NATO allies. Based on her understanding, she does not believe there was a lack of US leadership within the NATO alliance, but faults NATO’s response to disinformation from the Kremlin. In terms of Europe, Long suggests that European states should think critically about what they get out of their participation in the EU. She does not have confidence that many European states will address their relationship with China and its effect on the US-European relationship. This dialogue must come quickly, but will not come fast enough for an American public that already believes the US is paying too much for European defense.
Coffey agreed with Long that it may be too early to make concrete predictions on the impacts of COVID-19 on international security. Despite this, he demonstrated that the US can look at the future of geopolitics based on a few key assumptions. First, the challenges the US faces before the pandemic will remain in the aftermath of the health crisis. Iran will continue its aggression, Russia will not pull out of Crimea, and China will not stop its aggressive activities in the South China Sea. But, how the US addresses these challenges will have to evolve. Coffey also worries about the lack of resources to deal with these challenges moving forward. This could cause defense budgets within NATO to change and raise questions about the 2% threshold. Additionally, he noted that many regimes that are problematic to the US have a history of being provocative when they become desperate. Since regimes are built on self-preservation, one of the biggest ways an autocratic regime can lose power is by being viewed as illegitimate. He commends NATO’s use of the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center in order to coordinate the needs within the alliance and says that in comparison to the European Union, NATO’s response to the pandemic has been practical and efficient. Looking forward, Coffey predicts a messy, ideological, and political debate about supply chains.