John Delaney's plan for Foreign Policy

“As a great nation, we must be a responsible nation. As leaders, we have a responsibility to tell the truth. To lead. To find common ground. To tackle problems and to engage in the world.”
– John Delaney at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on May 1, 2019.


"The Price of Greatness is Responsibility" – speaking live at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies | SAIS. Like if you want the United States to lead responsibly, work with our allies and respond to the challenges of the future.

Posted by John K. Delaney on Tuesday, April 30, 2019

You can read the full text, as prepared for delivery, here:

“The Price of Greatness is Responsibility”

Churchill’s words ring as true today as they did over 70 years ago. As a great nation, we must be a responsible nation. As leaders, we have a responsibility to tell the truth. To lead. To find common ground. To tackle problems and to engage in the world. If political leaders instead shirk these responsibilities – and engage in irresponsible behavior – our country suffers as does the world. This is what I am here to talk about today: responsible U.S. leadership.

Dean Nasr, Members of the Johns Hopkins Community,

Thank you for having me.

I am honored by the invitation to address this remarkable institution, as SAIS celebrates the 75th anniversary of its founding. Seventy-five years ago, the world was still embroiled in World War II. Here, at home, food rationing was being introduced. Race riots convulsed cities around the country. Despite turmoil both at home and abroad, Christian Herter and Paul Nitze had the foresight to establish SAIS. Their aim at the time was to ensure young Americans were prepared for a post-war world in which the United States would inevitably play a significant role.

The early years of this great school coincided with the shaping of the post-war so-called ‘liberal international order.’ Today, that order is under stress. Resurgent nationalism and populism are questioning the core principles of this framework. Revisionist powers are working to undermine the authority of its rules.

Herter and Nitze were men of great vision in world affairs – they served presidents of both parties, and were among a select group of wise leaders who conceived and enacted many of our nation’s major national security decisions in the second half of the 20th century. I can think of no better audience than the SAIS community with whom to engage in a conversation about the international challenges the United States faces in the 21st century and the foreign affairs vision I have for our country.

Let me start by introducing myself. I am the beneficiary of an America that worked – an immigration system that worked, a social compact that worked, and a miraculous American innovation machine that worked. All of which were created by responsible American leadership.

I am the grandson of immigrants. Two of my grandparents were born abroad, in England and Ireland. One of them, my grandfather Al Rowe, immigrated to the United States in 1923. He landed at Ellis Island as a teenager, with his seven brothers and sisters. While each of his brothers and sisters were allowed into the country, he was detained because he had a disability. He only had one arm. He appealed his deportation, and as fate would have it, his case was heard by a judge who also only had one arm. You can guess how his appeal went.

My family settled in the New York area and ended up in North Jersey. My grandfather worked in a pencil factory. We grew up a blue-collar family in a blue-collar neighborhood. My dad was a union electrician. Our family had health care because of his union and a scholarship from the IBEW helped me go to college. Something my parents never had the opportunity to do.

After college, I went to law school and then got into business, starting two companies from scratch. We were able to take those companies public – I was the youngest CEO of a NYSE company – and we were able to hire and employ a lot of people and achieve great success.

I’ve been blessed to have lived the American Dream. But I worry that stories like mine are out of reach for the next generation. In fact, today’s young people could be the first generation of Americans that won’t do better than their parents. And that is a failure of leadership. In many ways, the failure to reform our own economic system has led to our current misguided approach to foreign policy.

The 2020 presidential election takes place against the backdrop of significant changes in the world and at home. The global balance of power is shifting before our eyes, with Asia now rivaling the West as the world’s center of gravity.  New powers are emerging, some posing unique challenges to the United States and the liberal international order. The extraordinary power of technological innovation has transformed everything in our world – economies, jobs, national security and human interaction.

These forces have connected people in ways we could never have imagined. They have worked together to create the greatest poverty elimination machine the world has ever seen. Anyone who thinks the condition of humankind has not fundamentally improved across the last 75 years is simply not looking at the facts. In 1950, only 25% of the world was interconnected globally and the global poverty rate was 66%. Today, these forces have led to 75% of the world becoming interconnected and the global poverty rate has fallen to 10%.

The facts clearly favor the optimist.

But this progress has come with challenges, including disrupting our economy and economies in the developed west. The last several decades have seen extraordinary concentration of opportunity, wealth and income making America, in many ways, a country of birthright and not opportunity. As an example of how profound the opportunity concentration is, last year, 80% of the venture capital was invested in 50 counties in our country – out of nearly 3,100. That story does not end well.

In the context of these economic trends, is it a surprise that many Americans are questioning everything we have done across the last several decades? Make no mistake about it my friends, these economic realities are central to our foreign policy challenges. They were brought by irresponsible politicians who failed to do the things we should have done – in education, healthcare, tax, fiscal and technology policy – to prepare our country for rapid and profound change. And as I used to say in business, the cost of doing nothing is not nothing.

These changes have collectively left us in many ways more vulnerable than ever before. Information, including the know-how to create and deliver weapons, is more easily shared. Disinformation campaigns, fueled by the ability of self-interested actors to masquerade as journalists and manipulate people’s opinions with falsehoods – and soon, completely realistic deep fakes, are powerful and effective. With advances in the area of cyberwarfare, all nations, even those unable to acquire arsenals of nuclear weapons, have the potential to change the fate of a nation and our world. And while free-market capitalism and the explosive growth in global trade have lifted billions from poverty into the middle class, we’ve learned that carbon derived energy that has fueled this prosperity is now causing an environmental crisis and soon a migration crisis. And the technology that has benefited us in so many ways is also now potentially causing hundreds of millions of people to have their jobs displaced or disrupted by automation and artificial intelligence.

In the face of these changes, U.S. leaders are called to responsibly address our own domestic economic affairs, rebuild the social compact for our citizens, and work with our partners to lead and ensure the security and prosperity of the world.  And these two things are linked. In fact, I would argue that what is happening around the world has never been more important to the safety and prosperity of our citizens. In that regard, we ought to be thinking about how to adapt and reform our overall strategy, our forces and security architecture to a changing world and changing international threat environment. Unfortunately, we are lagging in these responsibilities. Many Western democracies are turning inward. Populism is on the rise everywhere.

And in the United States, we are gripped by a growing sense of nationalism, which I believe is the wrong answer to every question we could ask ourselves.

2020: The Stakes Are High

The stakes in the 2020 election thus could not be higher for all Americans, but especially for young Americans whose futures are on the line.

Another four years of political dysfunction with a complete inability to find common ground and solve some of the basic challenges in our country will undoubtedly continue many of the underlying trends I mentioned and prevent us from addressing the massive debts we are leaving the next generation.

Another four years of backward orientation, of trying to create a world that doesn’t exist anymore and wasn’t as good as it is romanticized, won’t work, instead we should be focusing on the future and harnessing amazing technological innovation to build a better world.

Another four years of highly divisive politics could lead us to a place where we can no longer discuss our differences in a civil matter or argue from a set of shared truths. It could leave us not fighting together for Team USA, as Ron Chernow warned on Saturday night in front of a room full of journalists.

We must not have a president who is hostile to critical institutions, to the first amendment, to the rule of law, to our ethnic and religious diversity and – most importantly – to truth itself. Americans deserve better.

In the areas of national security and foreign policy, I believe the stakes are particularly high.

For decades, the U.S. has worked to build an unmatched portfolio of allies – no other country in the world has anything like it. Our allies are foundational to our ability to operate around the world militarily, diplomatically and economically. They were built not solely out of friendship, but for our own self -interest. Today, based on irresponsible behavior by U.S. leaders, our allies are losing faith in our relationship and our actions are empowering our adversaries.

Across the last several decades, as America’s economic share of the world decreased – largely due to rapid economic growth in other parts of the world – our diplomatic power share maintained and even grew because of U.S. engagement and leadership. Think about how remarkable that is. But I would argue that if our global engagement decreases we should expect our diplomatic power to decrease to reflect our economic share.

If we continue on our current trajectory:

– It could mean a dismantling of the global security architecture created and led by the United States that has largely maintained peace and prosperity for us and our allies since the end of World War II.

– It could mean a nuclear arms race with Russia and China.  

– It could mean the difference between a truly free world and one where despotic leaders have undue influence.

– It could lead to a migration or pandemic crisis where global institutions are rendered ineffective in their response capabilities.

– And it could mean environmental disaster should the U.S. continue to remain a bystander in the face of climate change.

Righting the ship will take work, but with responsible leadership, it is not only achievable but inevitable. The world is yearning for responsible U.S. leadership.

As President, I will lead the United States in a new direction. America will lead, not alienate. America will move forward, not inward. America will protect the homeland and defend its people and interests at home and abroad. This is an America that acts responsibly – yes responsibly is the keyword – in leading not only our country but also the global community.

This is what I am focused on presenting here today – a foreign policy vision based in American ideals and values, strength, and standing with our allies and alliances.

Before we get into specifics, let me briefly share with you some actions I will take. These actions indicate how I think about the world. I view these as responsible actions:

– I will rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership

– I will rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, and I will lead a discussion globally as to how we can work together to develop negative emission technologies

– I will put arms control at the top of my national security agenda

– I will mobilize all federal resources to mount an effective cyber defense

– I will develop a new aid and stabilization plan for Central America that will stem the flow of migrants and asylum-seekers to our borders

– I will seek to rejoin the JCPOA, but negotiate tougher terms on Iran upon re-entry

– I will not seek reductions in defense spending and will work to reposition our military towards the threats of the future

– I will call for a new Authorization for Military Force

– I will make clear that we stand once again for our ideals and with our allies

A 2020 Vision for National Security – Strength and Leadership Starts at Home

I am running for President to offer my fellow Americans and the world something different – something strong and bold, something based on a deep understanding of the most important trends shaping our world, something that will reestablish the United States’ position as the leader of the international order. I am running to offer my country a responsible approach to the challenges and opportunities we face.  

My vision for our foreign policy and national security starts at home.

A strong homeland is the only basis on which we can sustain a strong national defense and global leadership. Bringing our country together, focusing on solutions, creating opportunity and encouraging responsibility, and restoring the American Dream of upward mobility for all are the fundamental pillars.  In other words, building an America that broadly succeeds economically again is an integral part of my foreign policy strategy. If our country is fiscally imprudent and moving in the wrong direction, if our infrastructure is old and falling apart, if our education and health care systems don’t work, we will sooner or later exhaust our capacity to project power and influence around the world.

As President, I will be committed to building a foundation for our country’s long-term prosperity. We will invest in education, research and development, cutting-edge technologies, infrastructure, vocational training, and workforce development. I will unleash a moon-shot project in innovation in clean energy technologies, negative emission technologies, and carbon capture and transmission. These will be built in America’s heartland, bringing enormous economic growth to struggling communities. And we will restore our country’s long-term fiscal health.

My approach to international relations is based on preserving the foundational principles that have informed U.S. policy for 75 years, while adapting our strategies to protect our interests in the 21st century. This means reaffirming and demonstrating who we are and what we stand for – a proud democracy that supports the cause of freedom and human rights.

– My vision ensures that our military remains preeminent, and that our men and women in the U.S. armed forces have the resources they need here and abroad; they will know that we have their backs.

– My vision ends the era of ill-advised wars of choice that do not advance our vital national interests. Our ability to prevent war depends to a great extent on the perception of our adversaries that we would defeat them in any conflict.

-My vision makes a commitment to diplomacy as the first resort.  Our diplomatic corps can be a powerful force in the world when backed by the world’s strongest military.

But the current Administration is squandering this advantage by hollowing out the State Department. I will support these patriots and I will restore the tools of statecraft needed to give policymakers options other than war.

– Similarly, my vision re-enfranchises the men and women of our Intelligence Community to ensure their best efforts to keep our nation secure in support of diplomatic and military efforts.

– My vision reaffirms support for our security alliances and supporting relations with allies. I will make it clear to friend and foe that the United States stands by its security commitments.

– And my vision reinforces global multilateral institutions that establish rules on issues of critical importance to Americans.  

– My vision revives arms control negotiations, putting them high on the national security agenda.

– My vision addresses the implications of growing friction with China in the military, economic and technological arenas.

– My vision embraces free trade and leverages trade agreements to support U.S. jobs, bolster U.S. exports and to compete in the global economy. Every meeting I have with a world leader will be staffed by my chief diplomat and my chief economic advisor, as I see diplomacy and the economy as inextricably linked.

– My vision includes a robust foreign aid program to support global poverty reduction initiatives and to help enhance food security, education, health and women’s rights across the globe, with a particular focus on Africa and South Asia.

– My vision calls for rejoining the fight against climate change.

This is a responsible vision. And by being responsible at home and in the world, America will prosper.

New Directions in Strategy and Policy

It is extremely important, however, that Democrats not make the mistake of assuming that all that needs to be done to bolster U.S. security is to reverse the misguided policies and positions of the current Administration.  Given fundamental changes in the global system that have been underway since before Trump took office, it is imperative that we also develop new approaches to emerging challenges.

Despite our current tense relations with Moscow and Beijing, I am calling for candid discussions with both governments. We must try to resolve points of friction or otherwise minimizing issues that have the potential to become triggers for conflict. In the case of Russia, I believe that an adversarial relationship goes against the long-term interests of both countries. Given the demographic and economic challenges Russia faces, it would benefit in the long term from close economic cooperation and friendly relations with the West. But I will make it clear that this can never happen while they interfere in our elections and those of our allies.  

The difference between my approach to Russia and Donald Trump’s is that I believe, as did Ronald Reagan and many of our Cold War leaders, that we can only negotiate successfully with Moscow from a position of significant strength. If we approach Russia from a position of strength–then we can have an honest dialogue about Russia’s interests and role in the world.  A responsible President is clear-eyed about Russia’s motives and tactics, but mindful that dialogue with Russia is always in our self-interest.

Similarly, we have to change our approach to dealing with China’s emergence as a global power. We need to initiate a serious discussion with China about the points of friction that have a very real potential to provoke conflict between our two countries. We must explore whether our differences can be negotiated successfully, or mitigated so as to avoid an unthinkable escalation between two giants. Any responsible conversation with China has to focus on China’s widespread and systematic program of intellectual property theft that has hurt our economy. China has become our rival by doing three things – they made smart investments, they worked hard but they didn’t play by the rules. We cannot allow them to not play by the rules during this next wave of transformative innovation. I will organize a new effort among our allies to hold China accountable. But I will also hold the U.S. private sector accountable. We have laws that prohibit U.S. executives from making payments to foreign leaders. Shouldn’t the same laws prevent them from depositing government funded intellectual property into joint ventures with Chinese companies knowing full well they will be stolen and misappropriated?

To close, I want to share with you my core foreign policy priorities my administration will have on day one. After all, leading is fundamentally about choosing and setting priorities. While these are not in any particular order, together they lay out a responsible agenda.

First, protect the interests and security of the United States. It is a fundamental responsibility of our government to make sure that our people are safe. Anyone seeking the job of Commander in Chief should have that responsibility at the top of mind. We have to take threats seriously. We have to take the fight to our enemies. And we have to make sure that the entire world knows of the extreme consequences associated with harming the United States and our people – just to be clear we have a zero tolerance policy.

This also means securing our borders. It can be done. The experts tell us that a combination of electronics, manpower, fencing, and barriers is needed to curtail unlawful entry into our country.  We also need comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship. In parallel, I will launch Plan Central America, inspired by the previously successful Plan Colombia, to help the governments in that region overcome the lawlessness that is at the root of population outflow to the U.S.

Second, reassure NATO allies of our commitment to Article 5, the alliance and its anti-terrorism mission. Russia has defined itself as an adversary of the West. Russia continues its efforts to weaken NATO and its members by subversion. This cannot be tolerated. We must counter these actions aggressively.

Third, revive arms control negotiations with Russia and pursue them with China.  We are at risk of a new nuclear arms race with Russia. We must determine whether the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) is salvageable. I also pledge to seek a new strategic arms agreement between the U.S. and Russia. New Start is the last remaining major U.S.- Russian arms control agreement with major limitations and verification procedures.  It expires on February 5, 2021 – just days after the next president takes office. I will also explore the possibility of arms control with China, particularly in the area of intermediate-range missiles.

Fourth, address Middle East issues.  The Middle East requires the U.S. to remain engaged on issues of concern and we have brave men and women at risk there, and other places in the world, every day.  In each such decision I make in the Middle East, there will be clear goals. For example, in Syria we should not reduce forces until we have a clear understanding of how the Kurds will be protected, that the threat of ISIS is eliminated, that the large numbers of ISIS detainees are dealt with properly and that Iran doesn’t have a military presence on the Israel border.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, our long-term goals are force reduction but accompanied by on-going presence focused on security and anti-terrorism training. I support reviving U.S. participation in the JCPOA.  We can leverage our return to the negotiating table to obtain improvements to the deal as well as to address Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and beyond.

As for our strategic partnership with Israel, it will remain strong and bipartisan under my presidency.  I am completely committed to the security of Israel and recognize them as one of the most important and enduring allies to the United States. I am firmly against efforts to delegitimize Israel, such as BDS. The issue of how to achieve peace with the Palestinians, who inhabit the same geographic space, remains on the table. For decades, the United States invested considerably in an effort to achieve a two-state solution, which I have always supported and continue to support. But ultimately, for any solution to succeed, it must be the result of direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Fifth, sustain our resolve and focus on defeating terrorists. The tragic killings in Sri Lanka should remind us that we’re in a long-term, worldwide fight requiring determination and endurance.

Sixth, pursue a get-tough approach with China that aims to eliminate Chinese theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property and unfair barriers to American exports and investment. China acts like pirates. Trump’s trade war, however, is proving extremely costly to American producers, workers, and consumers, and I greatly fear that he will settle for short-term Chinese concessions in exchange for surrendering the high ground on technology.  We need to negotiate with China from a position of strength, and that means ending trade wars with our closest friends and allies so that we can join forces in confronting Beijing. It also means rejoining the TPP.

Seventh, lead the fight against global warming.  I will resume U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement, and I pledge that my Administration will harness American ingenuity and international leadership to save our planet from irreversible effects of global warming. I believe that by implementing a carbon tax, investing in green energy research and unleashing the power of negative emissions technologies, the United States can help save the world from the catastrophic effects of climate change. This is a problem that in many ways only old-fashioned U.S. led innovation can solve and if we do it, we will have the added benefit of owning the most valuable technology in the world.

Eighth, meet the challenge of cyberwarfare.  I will propose the creation of a Department of Cybersecurity to bring all U.S. domestic capabilities under a single roof and develop a unified strategy to protect the homeland under a single chain of command.  We need to be prepared to go on the offensive – to carry this fight to adversaries who have come to feel that they can attack us in cyberspace with impunity. While the proposed Department of Cybersecurity will not conduct offensive missions – leaving that to the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community – it will coordinate with those agencies on all aspects of our nation’s response to cybersecurity threats. Russia will not be dissuaded from attacking our elections unless we make it too painful for them to do so.

Ninth, continue to strengthen our military. A report last year from the National Defense Strategy Commission warned that “America has reached the point of a full-blown national security crisis.” The report warns of decreased air-superiority, lagging investments in the next generation of weapons systems, and advances made by Russia and China that threaten the United States’ historically immense comparative advantage. It is imperative that the United States both strategically focus on the weapons needed for the next generation of warfare and get our fiscal house in order so that we can fund them.  

My friends, the United States is facing a stunning number of serious challenges in the world today. As Churchill said in that very same speech declaring the need for responsible leadership, “The people of the United States cannot escape world responsibility.” Russia seeks a reduction of our role in Europe and China wants to supplant us in Asia.

Our military has been stretched and underinvested in since the sequester began. Meanwhile, there is growing risk of an actual war between India and Pakistan, while our standoff with the nuclear-armed and unpredictable regime in North Korea continues. There are tremendous risks to the next generation and our planet posed by the dangers of global warming. We have seen what one failed state can do to global stability. Imagine the global impact of multiple highly populous states failing due climate change. The next generation also faces unsustainably high levels of sovereign debt which could limit many developed governments ability to respond to crisis. Finally, some estimate that 800 million jobs could be disrupted in the next several decades by automation and artificial intelligence.

We cannot hope to surmount these difficulties if we do not restore our democracy to health and become more united as a people.  In Churchill’s words, “If we are together nothing is impossible. If we are divided all will fail.”

We know that the U.S. can respond to the call for unity and cooperation because we’ve done it before. In 1958, then Senator John F. Kennedy spoke in Baltimore shortly after the Soviets had successfully launched Sputnik. Kennedy said, “let us not despair but act. Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer but the right answer.”

It is time for us to respond to today’s challenges with a similar spirit. To work together around a sense of common purpose. Where we leave narrow interests and partisanship behind.

That is what responsible leaders do.

That is what I am offering to my party, and what I hope to offer the country.

Thank you very much.