Dear Congress: Stay Active on the Global Stage

by Heather Le Munyon

As a graduate student in foreign affairs and diplomacy at The Fletcher School, my classmates and I are constantly surrounded with discussions, speakers, and lectures on international relations. The evolving role of the U.S. abroad is one topic that is often broached in my discussions, particularly with international students and guests. One fact is abundantly clear in many of these debates: that U.S. lawmaking and foreign policy continues to play a significant role in global economic, diplomatic, and military affairs, despite recent turbulence abroad.

Another trend is evident in our discussions: the next few years figure look to be busy ones on the global stage for the United States. Continued crises in Russia, Ukraine, and the Middle East, as well as economic pressure from ever-rising China, are likely to be the focus of work for many U.S. diplomats. The year 2015 will also provide a critical look at how far the world has come in alleviating poverty, improving health, and promoting education worldwide as the Millennium Development Goalsmeet their fifteen-year deadline.

The U.S.’s ability to manage these issues will require real leadership and genuine bipartisanship not seen in Washington for some time. Before Congressional desks quickly pile up with work, I’d like to propose four areas of U.S. foreign policy for Congress to focus on under an approach to strengthen U.S. foreign relations and partnerships.

1. International Trade: an area where work may actually get done with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress. First up on the voting bloc to be revised and renewed in 2015 is the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), originally signed in 2000 and considered a landmark act of U.S. trade and investment relations with sub-Saharan Africa. While negotiations such as equal access to markets for both U.S. and African companies need to be hammered out, AGOA receivesstrong support from President Obama and the United States Trade Representative. Other large trade agreements that the 114th Congress may be voting on are the soon-to-be negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership with eleven states along the Pacific that would cover over a quarter of world trade, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU.

2. Leverage low oil prices and a strong dollar: As this article was being written, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil was priced at $45.46 per barrel—the lowest since the U.S. financial crisis. Analyst predictions of oil prices for 2015 vary, but most agree that the continued growth in U.S. shale oil will create a supply glut that will keep prices below their five-year average. In addition, the dollar’s strength against the euro, pound, and yen sets the U.S. up for strong economic growth momentum, increased investment, and reductions to the U.S. trade deficit. Congress should leverage these economic advantages in shaping foreign relations with Russia, Iran, and the Middle East, particularly as they relate to energy and their fight against Islamic State militants and other non-state terrorist actors.

3. Internet Governance and Cybersecurity: It’s time that the U.S. and European governments agree on issues of cybersecurity, intellectual property, and Internet freedom to determine the fine line at which we can protect consumers while still promote open access to information. President Obama’s multilateral approach to Internet governance, particularly with regards to privacy and copyright issues, gives hope on an area where Republicans and Democrats may come to agreement. This issue has become all the more significant in the face of tackling large cyber threats such as recent cyber attacksallegedly perpetrated by North Korea.

4. Cuba: Any foreign policy student that has taken a course in international negotiations will tell you that the U.S.’s renewed relations with Cuba is a recent shining star in international negotiations. However, as with any freshly revived relations between two countries, many issues still remain to be sorted out. For Cuba’s case, these include questions regarding Havana’s human rights record, prisoner releases, trade, and diplomatic relations, many of which are highly partisan issues in Congress. It is imperative that Congress navigate renewed Cuba relations with balanced cooperation and strength as other long-time U.S. enemies such as Iran and North Korea are likely watching.

January 6, 2015 marked the first day of the 114th Congress’ two-year term leading the legislative branch and federal lawmaking of the United States. This new Congress represents several transitions, notably a switch to a now full-majority Republican Congress, as well as a historic number of women and minorities serving as leaders.

Of course, January 6, 2015 was also the first real snow day of this year’s winter for the D.C. area—a city notorious for its poor handling of traffic conditions in bad weather. Let’s hope the slow start to the first day of work is only a minor setback to two years of strengthening U.S. foreign relations ahead.

About the Author

Heather LeMunyon is a second year MALD student at The Fletcher School studying Development Economics and International Business. She previously worked in Washington, D.C. in business development and project management for programs related to agricultural trade and local economic development in Africa and Central Asia.

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