Digital Diplomacy

Digital Diplomacy
Think Tank *2012 Création du Hub, from Paris, France. Morgane BRAVO, President & Founder. *Avocat de formation, études & expérience Diplomatique, *Ancienne stagiaire (Blue Book) de la Commission Européenne, au Secrétariat Général. Bruxelles* Passionnée du Web depuis 1998. *Morgane BRAVO, from Paris, France. She's graduate Lawyer and have a Master’s degree in Diplomacy & Political Science...Diplomatic experience* Former trainee (Blue Book) of the European Commission, at the General Secretariat. Brussels*

dimanche 5 août 2012

*Michael McFaul : Reflections on My First Six Months as U.S. Ambassador to Russia...*

Michael McFaul

Reflections on My First Six Months as U.S. Ambassador to Russia

(This is the English version of the previous two posts in Russian)

"This week, I hit the six-month mark of my time as U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation—a good moment to reflect on our progress toward meeting the goals we established back in January for the U.S. Mission in Russia, and to plan for how to continue working toward achieving our foreign policy objectives in the next six months.

When I arrived in Moscow on a very cold January day earlier this year, I knew I wanted not only to “be” an Ambassador, but to “do” things on behalf of President Obama, his administration, the entire U.S. government, and the American people. At that time and shortly thereafter, I defined for myself three broad objectives:

  • First, as a former Special Assistant to the President at the White House, and contributor to the development of our policy toward Russia known as the “reset,” I wanted to continue to play a role in policy development and policy execution, along with my colleagues back in Washington. I sought to better integrate the tremendous expertise that we have at our Mission in Russia into the policy debates that we have back in Washington, especially at this critical period in U.S.-Russian relations.
  • Second, consistent with President Obama’s priorities in our bilateral relationship, I came to Russia with a special desire to do more to increase trade and investment between our two countries, with a special focus on identifying new areas of cooperation regarding innovation.
  • Third, early in my tenure as Ambassador, I was struck by the misunderstandings and stereotypes that I often encountered here about American foreign policy and my country more generally. Providing more accurate information to the Russian people about the United States quickly emerged as a priority for me. To help accomplish this task, my public diplomacy team at the embassy in Moscow and at our consulates in the regions developed a new outreach strategy for me, which included the opening of a Twitter account, a social media platform that I had never used or even seen before moving to Moscow. Six months later, I am pleased with the progress that we have made on all three of these goals, though we still have much more work to do.

On policy development and execution, some tough foreign policy challenges have developed concurrent with my arrival in Moscow.  First and foremost, Syria comes to mind, as well as the change in government in Russia after the March presidential election, which sparked a public policy debate in Washington about the future of the reset. We in the Obama administration reviewed the key assumptions and principles of our reset policy, first developed in the beginning of 2009.  Upon review, we decided that our approach had yielded very positive results for American security and economic interests, and that therefore we saw no reason to change course. You can read about our approach to the reset here.

And we have been encouraged that President Putin and his new government also have affirmed their commitment to the reset.  President Obama and President Putin held a productive meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico on June 18, their first since the latter’s return as Russia’s head of state.  The joint statement released at the conclusion of that meeting made clear our shared positive assessment of previous accomplishments, and our joint desire to deepen cooperation on many dimensions of our bilateral relationship, based on common interests and mutual respect. 

To be sure, our two governments have struggled over the last six months to find common ground on some critical issues. On Syria, we share common objectives, but have not always agreed on the same means for achieving them. The United States and Russia both firmly support Kofi Annan and his six-point plan. We also worked together to endorse the Geneva Communiqué, which resulted from an important meeting of the Action Group for Syria on June 30.  Compared to six months ago, this is progress. Yet, American and Russian officials still must continue to find a common approach to ending the violence in Syria and supporting an inclusive, Syrian-led transition towards a new political order there. The status quo is not sustainable.

Recent new legislative initiatives in both the United States and Russia also have strained our bilateral relations. The Obama administration is most concerned about a package of new Russian laws that may constrain civil society and freedoms of assembly, association, and speech.  Most recently, we have been troubled by the false comparisons being drawn between U.S. legislation on registering foreign agents (FARA) and the Russian law on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as foreign agents.  We strongly endorse the idea of greater transparency about the funding sources of NGOs, but also believe it is both inaccurate, and counterproductive to deepening our bilateral relations, to label as “foreign agents” those Russian NGOs that receive  grants from foreign foundations and governments. In the United States, NGOs receive financial support from a variety of domestic and international sources, including from Russia, but are generally not required to register under the FARA and are most certainly not considered to be agents of foreign governments or foundations. (To see who does register under FARA, see here the annual report to the U.S. Congress for 2011.). 

Our hope is that these new laws do not lead to a new era of isolation and xenophobia.  Especially in the 21st century, where the winners will be those who take advantage of international cooperation and global connectivity, such a development would not serve Russian or American interests. 

These examples of new and challenging issues in our bilateral relationship should not obscure the dozens of areas of cooperation that have continued and deepened in the last six months.  On such important security issues as North Korea, Iran, and Afghanistan, U.S.-Russian cooperation is impressive.  Likewise, our interests and approaches on economic issues, countering terrorism and nonproliferation are closely aligned. 

Also, most Americans and Russians know little about our military cooperation, yet the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense have developed an incredibly robust  workplan together, and  our top military officers, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Nikolay Makarov, Russia’s first deputy defense minister, met in Washington last week to continue our cooperation.  

And every day, below the radar screen, Russians and Americans are cooperating on all sorts of issues: from floating hand in hand in the International Space Station to working to bring trade missions to Russia and the United States; from joint work on research reactor conversion and emergency response to reinvigorated collaboration in the global fight against malaria.  You can get a sense of all the dimensions of our bilateral cooperation by reading the latest annual joint report of the Bilateral Presidential Commission and the Commission’s monthly newsletters.  After six months in my new job, I remain impressed by the quantity and quality of U.S.-Russia cooperation today.  It is a new era in our bilateral relationship.  Personally, I find my job most rewarding when I am engaged in the practical, pragmatic diplomacy that produces these win-win outcomes for the United States and Russia.

The Russian parliament also has taken some important votes, including approval of a historic visa agreement, the final ratification of which will ensure easier travel between our countries and establish stronger ties between our people; the approval of  the bilateral adoption agreement signed by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov last summer, which in itself marks a significant milestone toward better inter-country adoptions and policies; and the ratification of Russia’s accession agreement to the World Trade Organization, which will improve market access for U.S. exports of goods and services and Russia’s implementation of established, enforceable, multilateral trade rules.

On a personal level, I also am very pleased to have remained a participant in the development of our policy towards Russia, even as I changed jobs last January.  New technologies make it possible for me and my staff to participate directly in all major U.S. government meetings on Russia, something Ambassador John Quincy Adams or even Ambassador Pickering could never have even imagined doing.  I also was honored that President Obama asked to me join him for his meetings with President Medvedev in Seoul in March on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit. "
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