Broad-Based Coalition Urges Federal Contractor Climate Disclosure Requirements To Close the Military Emissions Reporting Gap

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Center for International Policy joined 22 foreign policy, climate and grassroots organizations calling on Biden administration officials to urgently finalize the proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule to establish standardized greenhouse gas and climate-risk reporting regulations for federal contractors, including military contractors.

“Improving emissions reporting is widely supported – the Department of Defense itself is one of the three federal agencies who proposed the new requirements,” said CIP’s Climate and Militarism Program Director Hanna Homestead. “While more must be done to decarbonize and demilitarize US foreign policy, the proposed rule is an important first step towards accounting for and mitigating the military’s climate impact.”

Amid growing concerns about the unfolding climate crisis from the public, frontline communities, and cross-cutting experts, significant gaps in information about how US government contractors contribute to the problem prevent accountability and actionable solutions.

“A key way the US government can protect national security is to stop funding corporations driving the climate crisis without accountability,” added Homestead. We cannot address climate change – our greatest collective global threat — as long as defense contractors are allowed to pollute with impunity, contributing to the very instability we say we wish to solve.” 

The United States has contributed the largest share of global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change today. While military contractors receive the bulk of federal procurement spending and emit more carbon pollution than the Pentagon, they are not currently required to comprehensively report on their carbon footprints.  

Download the letter here (with citations). Text of the letter is below.

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March 26, 2024

The Honorable Bill Nelson
Administrator
NASA
300 Hidden Figures Way SW
Washington, DC 20546

The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

The Honorable Robin Carnahan
Administrator
General Services Administration
1800 F Street NW
Washington, DC 20405

Dear Secretary Austin, Administrator Carnahan, and Administrator Nelson,

We write on behalf of a diverse coalition of foreign policy, peace, and grassroots organizations to express our strong support for finalizing the proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule in a timely manner. This rule will establish a solid foundation to inform and strengthen the federal government’s carbon emissions mitigation efforts in line with President Biden’s whole-of-government effort to combat the climate crisis. We applaud your efforts to improve federal contractor transparency, taxpayer oversight, and national and global security by prioritizing effective, publicly-supported action to address the climate crisis. In keeping with your proposal, we look forward to seeing this rule finalized expeditiously.

The adverse effects of climate change, which are already being felt, pose significant challenges to national and global security. According to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, “Today, no nation can find lasting security without addressing the climate crisis. We face all kinds of threats in our line of work, but few of them truly deserve to be called existential. The climate crisis does.” To avoid the worst effects of a warming planet, the consensus within scientific and security communities is clear: we must take urgent action to significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, the ultimate drivers of climate change.

The proposed Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule would advance this goal by requiring the largest federal contractors to disclose their Scope 1, 2, and 3 greenhouse gas emissions, their climate-related risk assessments, and their science-based emissions reduction targets. Improved disclosure and standardization of greenhouse gas emissions reporting is critical to mitigating the federal government’s carbon footprint, and military emissions in particular. The Pentagon is the world’s largest oil consumer, accounting for approximately 80 percent of federal energy use. The top defense contractors, together, are estimated to emit even more carbon pollution than the Pentagon but are not currently required to comprehensively disclose their emissions. Defense contractors are also the largest recipients of federal procurement spending – totaling more than $466 billion in 2023., While greater action must be taken to reduce the military’s overall ecological impact, closing the gap in military emissions reporting is a critical first step to adopting a meaningful climate change mitigation strategy for a more secure and resilient future.

In addition to the Pentagon’s own interests in tracking and reducing greenhouse gas emissions among defense contractors, the American public overwhelmingly supports greater climate action. Two-thirds of adults say large businesses and corporations are doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change and 56 percent believe federal government action on climate change is insufficient. Accordingly, public comments on the Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule were overwhelmingly positive. Diverse comments from the private and public sectors show that the proposed rule will help the federal government address informational gaps on climate-related financial risk and plan against threats to economic and national security posed by global warming. The comments highlight the rule’s long-run cost savings for taxpayers and the perils of ignoring the environmental transition risks of climate change in the federal procurement process. Attorneys general from 17 states and the District of Columbia, as well as legal experts in academia and various non-governmental organizations, affirm the rule’s strong legal basis. In contrast, opposition to the rule is being driven primarily by corporations and trade associations representing carbon-intensive industries, including the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, who face reputational risks from enhanced climate disclosure requirements. We must not allow these firms to further jeopardize our collective health and security in order to maintain their own short-sighted profitability.

The fossil fuel and defense industries should not overrule public interest, scientific consensus, and security expertise by dictating government policy. Contractors who seek lucrative deals with government agencies must advance our climate, economic, and national security interests – not undermine them. This rule signifies progress towards achieving President Biden’s goal of reaching a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Agreement, and the Administration’s commitment to “meeting the moment” by taking urgent action to address the climate crisis both at home and abroad., We therefore urge you to finalize and publish the Federal Supplier Climate Risks and Resilience Rule in a timely manner.

Signed,

350.org
American Friends Service Committee
Center for International Policy
Climate Crisis & Militarism Project, Veterans For Peace
Climate Generation
Climate Hawks Vote
Common Defense
Elders Climate Action
Foreign Policy for America
Foreign Policy In Focus
Freedom Forward
Georgia WAND Education Fund, Inc.
MADRE
MPower Change
National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies
Presente.org
RootsAction.org
Sierra Club
The People’s Justice Council
Union of Concerned Scientists
Veterans For Peace
Win Without War
Women for Weapons Trade Transparency

The threat of space war is already here

What will happen when war comes to the heavens? Orbit, the most immediately useful part of space, is already a military domain, housing constellations of satellites that relay communications, observing the earth below, and creating useful data on the whole of the world. These military satellites are joined by commercial and scientific satellites, connecting the world and offering a host of useful services to people and companies on the planet below.

Multiple nations have successfully destroyed their own de-orbiting satellites with missiles fired from earth, and the possibility persists that a nation may attack the satellites of another during wartime.

As Dr. Joanna Rozpedowski, senior non resident fellow at CIP, writes for the Geopolitical Monitor:

Every terrestrial war is now simultaneously a space and cyber war requiring identification and active monitoring of threats from space assets and threats to space assets from rival states. In the US Department of Defense assessment, China and Russia in particular pose significant risks to space assets through various means such as cyber warfare, electronic attacks, and ground-to-orbit missiles capable of destroying satellites and space-to-space orbital engagement systems, thus disrupting civilian infrastructure on earth. This has prompted the United States to allocate substantial resources to bolster its Space Forces, with budgetary allocations to the space domain doubling from $15.4 billion to $30.3 billion between 2021 and 2024.

Orbit is shared by commercial satellites alongside military ones, and many commercial satellite products, like images of earth from above, can be purchased by private individuals and organizations.Commercial satellites can, in a pinch, end up providing data used to military ends, as forces risk communication over a commercial network, or make plans based on satellite imagery bought for reconnaissance.

Continues Rozpedowski:

Private actors must thus increasingly reckon with the unintended consequences of detailed satellite ad hoc data sharing in active conflict zones in high-demand data environments. Navigating these complexities will require international cooperation, technological innovation, and a careful consideration of ethical and political implications as well as the provision of legal guardrails to avoid the appearance of bias and undue politicization.

The existing international treaties governing space date to the middle of last century, in effect but out of date regarding present realities. Read more from Rozpedowski about the challenges of potential armed conflict in orbit.

CIP Response to the 2024 State of the Union

Matt Duss is the Executive Vice President of the Center for International Policy

On foreign policy, President Biden’s State of the Union last night didn’t give us too much to work with. He did come right out of the gate strong, talking about Ukraine. I can’t remember the last time a president opened the State of the Union talking about foreign policy, but it really served to underline the urgency of the need to pass the Ukraine aid package which has been stalled in Congress for months.

The section on the Gaza war was unfortunately as expected. Yesterday’s announcement of the building of a Gaza port to facilitate humanitarian aid shouldn’t be dismissed  – more aid for Palestinians on the brink of starvation is obviously good. But as with the airdropping of aid it just reveals the incoherence of U.S. policy right now, in which we’re trying to ease Palestinian suffering while continuing to unconditionally arm and support the government that is intentionally inflicting that suffering.

The president seems to recognize that ultimately this conflict will require a political solution, but is still unwilling to bring the full weight of America’s considerable leverage to that goal. Biden’s potted history of the conflict didn’t help. Hamas’ atrocities on October 7 were obviously the precipitating event, but this war did not begin on October 7. It has been waged against the Palestinians every day for years in the form of a violent and humiliating military occupation. Any effort to bring this conflict to a just resolution will need to confront that reality, and Biden seems unprepared to do that.

On the bright side, Biden took what I think is exactly the right approach on his administration’s biggest foreign policy priority: China. He basically told everybody to chill out about it, he’s got this. This isn’t dismissing the challenge, he hasn’t done that, but I think taking a less hysterical approach is something that will lead to a more rational discussion and better, more effective policy.

On immigration, a key goal must be tackling root causes, such as corruption and violence, in US-Latin America policy. The president unfortunately allowed himself to be drawn into a back and forth with Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green over the murder of Laken Riley, a 22 year old Georgia nursing student who was murdered by an undocumented migrant who had been released into the country after being detained. Biden’s statement that Riley had been “killed by an illegal” was a misstep that plays right into the right’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is unfortunately in keeping with his general approach to immigration lately, where he’s been willing to tack right and offer some pretty dangerous concessions to try and save the Ukraine aid package. But many of the principles and values at stake at our border are the same ones at stake in Ukraine: human safety and dignity, a commitment to international law. It’s wrong to think we can promote one while selling out the other.

But the bottom line is there just wasn’t much foreign policy in it at all. A few paragraphs in a nearly 90 minute speech. And that reflects his administration’s approach: they would like to talk about foreign policy as little as possible. President Biden has a strong case to make in terms of his administration’s domestic accomplishments. They’ve been able to get important things done that are showing huge benefits to the American people. He has a similar opportunity to advance a foreign policy agenda that improves the lives of Americans and global populations alike. Given that foreign policy is clearly going to be a much bigger issue in this election than anyone expected, I think it was a missed opportunity to stake out a bolder vision.

 

What we’d love to hear President Biden say on Foreign Policy in his State of the Union address

In February 2021, in his first major foreign policy address as president, Biden declared the US must engage with the world “with diplomacy rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values: defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity.”

Since then, the President has made some significant progress: restoring alliances, leading a strong and calibrated response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ending the US war in Afghanistan, attacking the corruption and violence in Latin America fueling the migration crisis. But he must finish the job.

In his State of the Union address tonight, here are five (of many) opportunities for what President Joe Biden could say if he wants to show Congress, the American people and the world that he is serious about advancing true US interests and global human security:

 

  1. There must be a ceasefire, return of all Israeli hostages and massive emergency humanitarian aid effort in Gaza. Furthermore, this administration can and must fully enforce relevant US and international law to ensure protection of civilians from indiscriminate bombardment, starvation and disease.
  2. The US response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine offers a positive case study for US engagement with the world in a way that honors our principles and advances security – but universality and consistency are necessary to safeguard the benefits. President Biden will be right to call on right-wing extremists in Congress to end their obstruction of aid to Ukraine – desperately needed aid, replete with the transparency and accountability mechanisms necessary to ensure the American public and the world can scrutinize its rightful use. Consistent adherence to international law will only strengthen his case.
  3. China and our allies in Asia alike must know that Americans’ highest aspirations for the Pacific are that the world’s most populous region be one of peace, prosperity and unlimited potential. The US-China relationship is not zero-sum. Tensions are inevitable, but escalation and war are a choice. While we will never shy away from defending the democratic and human rights of all in the region, our priority is to coexist and cooperate on our many areas of shared interest.
  4. The man-made climate crisis is here. The only reasonable discussion to have is how to minimize and mitigate it effectively and fairly – that means we and international partners must commitment to aggressive multilateral carbon reduction goals, massive public investment in a just and sustainable transition away from fossil fuels – including breaking the harmful feedback loop between militarism and climate change – and the equitable sharing of burdens of climate and other ecological change impacts.
  5. We must make clear that the survival of not only democracy around the globe, but the American experiment itself depends on whether we succeed in countering rising ultranationalism, autocracy, kleptocracy, oligarchy and corruption – as well as the inherent inequality, discrimination, repression and economic precarity that comes with them.

The President has an opportunity tonight to demonstrate that he is the leader that the people of this and other nations want and deserve – the leader that earned him praise and support in years past. To do that, we must stop repeating the failures of the past, especially when it comes to foreign policy.

To tackle global kleptocracy, US must also look inward and clean house

Casey Wetherbee is a freelance journalist based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He holds an M.A. in security studies from Georgetown University and previously worked as a corporate investigator specializing in international asset tracing investigations. You can follow him on Twitter/X at @caseywetherbee.

On June 3, 2021, the Biden Administration established the fight against corruption as a core national security interest, and later that year released the first U.S. Strategy on Countering Corruption. The strategy, coupled with an implementation plan released in September 2023, includes such pillars as curbing illicit finance, holding corrupt actors accountable, and strengthening multilateralism. In December 2023, the White House announced several accomplishments across these pillars, including financial sanctions and enforcement actions against corrupt actors, enhanced reporting requirements for beneficial ownership, and partnerships with multilateral and civil society organizations abroad.

While it is commendable to tackle corruption abroad, it is at least as much of a problem closer to home. Scholars and progressive policy makers alike have decried the emergence of an oligarchy that wields considerable political power in the United States, fomenting grotesque inequality and swaying foreign policy. Since the 1980s, corporate interests have unduly, yet often fully legally, exercised tremendous power in politics and public affairs. A series of Supreme Court decisions have also severely narrowed the ability of prosecutors to go after cases of corruption and bribery, weakening US credibility. This domestic context, coupled with the globalized nature of kleptocratic networks, requires policy makers to propose legislation that mitigates the ability of oligarchs, both within and outside the United States, from exercising outsized influence on US political affairs.

An ideological pursuit of deregulation, begun by the Carter administration and accelerated during the Reagan administration in the 1980s, spurred the rise of American oligarchy. The lobbying profession boomed and expanded, even as a general pro-business atmosphere made its work less necessary. As Sarah Chayes described in On Corruption in America, successive administrations appointed business leaders to top regulatory positions, allowing them to influence the policies that would (or would not) constrain their own industries. At the same time “soft money” began to enter politics in the late 1970s; since 1980, there has been a demonstrable correlative relationship between campaign contributions and political outcomes, and it is impossible to know how much of these funds are from foreign sources. These factors have resulted in a system by which kleptocrats can effectively pay to capture resources from the state, sustained by the “revolving door” between the public and private sectors and an electoral feedback loop fed by more and more money.

US credibility in terms of anti-corruption policy is hindered by a weak enforcement regime against corruption and bribery domestically. Several federal lawsuits have followed a pattern by which a public official commits an act that is clearly corrupt or fraudulent, such as the “Bridgegate” scandal; they are convicted for using their office for personal gain; the Supreme Court overturns the conviction, citing the vagueness of the laws as written. Indeed, gaps in federal corruption law require that prosecutors rely on federal mail and wire fraud statutes in order to target acts of corruption and bribery by public officials, despite those statutes not having been designed with that purpose. For example, the 2017 corruption trial of New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez, which centered around lavish gifts he received from a Florida ophthalmologist later found guilty of Medicare fraud, resulted in a hung jury and all charges being dropped. This result largely drew from the Court’s 2016 decision in McDonnell v. Virginia, which had earlier been used to overturn the high-profile corruption cases of New York politicians Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos.

In September 2023, the DOJ charged Menendez — then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — in a bribery scheme involving cash, luxury vehicles, and gold bars provided on behalf of the Egyptian and Qatari governments. Even given the abundance of evidence of Menendez’s shady dealings, the burden of proof for federal prosecutors is considerable given the recent restrictions of terms such as “official act” and “honest services fraud” that will be used to prosecute him.

According to legal scholar Zephyr Teachout, these recent Supreme Court decisions “enshrined bribery into our politics.” Although they are certainly discouraging, they are not cause for despair. In 1987, McNally v. United States overturned the conviction of a Kentucky public official over an insurance kickback scheme. In response to this implicit direction by the Supreme Court to clarify the criminal statute, Congress added 18 U.S.C. § 1346, defining honest services fraud. Given the Court’s unwillingness to interpret the existing law broadly, the onus again lies with Congress to draft new statutes that align corruption law with the public’s general understanding of what is corrupt. This could include incorporating state-level definitions of official misconduct, which are often quite robust, into the text of the statute to alleviate federalism concerns. Policy makers at the state level should review and strengthen, if necessary, regulations regarding bribery and conflicts of interest.

Anti-corruption laws are useless if there is no political will or incentive to enforce them, and corrupt officials can sabotage the functions of their own institutions in order to serve kleptocratic interests. During the Trump administration, environmental enforcement actions by the EPA plummeted under the scandal-ridden leadership of Scott Pruitt, who appointed former lobbyists to high-level positions.

In order to counter the infiltration of oligarchic interests within US institutions, progressive policy makers should embrace legislation that promotes public integrity: tightening conflicts of interest by targeting stock ownership, closing loopholes by which corporate interests sabotage public interest actions, and regulating lobbying activities, which should include a ban on American lobbyists accepting money from foreign entities. From a national security standpoint, it is also important to include provisions regarding Defense officials and contractor transparency.

The Biden administration has made some strides reining in American oligarchy. This includes enabling the IRS to crack down on tax evasion, requiring real estate professionals to report suspicious activity, and mandating beneficial ownership reports to FinCEN as of January 2024 (although on March 1 the Alabama District Court ruled this provision unconstitutional and is pending appeal). Many of these recent actions target kleptocrats’ use of shell companies and trusts to launder money, a tactic that large multinational corporations also use to evade taxes. Shell companies, non-profit entities, and other facilitators of dark money in US elections must be priority targets for progressive policy makers, both by closing loopholes that Citizens United created and addressing the gap in FEC enforcement. Like with anti-corruption statutes, policy makers must also address campaign finance transparency at the local and state levels. These transparency measures must both eliminate mechanisms by which foreign kleptocrats contribute to US elections and shine a light on sources of dark money.

Ultimately, addressing the culture of individualism and greed that has afflicted US institutions for the last several decades will require profound normative changes. These legislative proposals, however, are an important starting point toward ending the power of kleptocracy within the United States, which will in turn allow it to more honestly help other democracies fight back against kleptocratic threats and corruption.

 

 

Reimagining Progressive Foreign Policy

Editor’s note. A version of the following remarks were presented February 6th, 2024, opening the Progressive Foreign Policy as a Political Force conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Nancy Okail is the President and CEO of the Center for International Policy

Thank you so much, Diana! I am truly honored to be here and fortunate to work alongside you and our board.

I appreciate your kind words about my role at CIP, but I am merely standing on the shoulders of many incredibly inspiring and dedicated individuals who have championed this cause for decades. This includes not just those at CIP but the entire community of actors, advocates, and thinkers, many of whom are here today.

I am privileged and honored to lead CIP, an organization that could not be more progressive, having chosen an ex-convict as its president. For those familiar with my story, [or as I previously wrote], when I was first locked in the courtroom cage during my trial, my eyes caught a previous prisoner’s scribble on the wall that read: ‘If defending justice is a crime, then long live criminality.’ It’s my mantra and a ‘crime’ I am proud of, and I cherish the many partners in that crime that I have had over the years (some are here in this room), and most recently my new ‘partner in crime,’ Matt Duss, CIP’s Executive Vice President. (Those who know Matt know that his values and standards stand taller than his noticeable height. You can’t miss it.)

It is with a sense of both urgency and hope that I welcome you today to this pivotal conference. We are here not just to discuss foreign policy but to reimagine it, clarify what it means to pursue a progressive foreign policy and what we can do together to advance it.

As Diana mentioned, we are long overdue for a paradigm shift to address the dysfunctional and harmful system that has led us to war, climate change, inequality, and has perpetuated corruption and authoritarianism. These are the issues that shape our priorities at CIP.

As we sit here in this safe room, civilians in Gaza are being bombarded for the

fifth month in a row by Israel, in a disproportionate and indiscriminate response to the tragic attacks by Hamas on October 7th of last year. We have now reached a staggering death toll of 27,000 humans, mostly women and children, in addition to the 1200 Israelis who died due to the initial attacks. Similarly, others in Ukraine face threats from the extended war since Russia’s invasion in 2022. We are not mere witnesses to such human catastrophes; we are participants—some directly implicated, others by silence in fear of the consequences. It’s a collective failure of humanity…we are all responsible.

But perhaps our biggest failure is our inability to HONESTLY challenge the systems and mindsets that have created this dismal picture of the world.

Nearing the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, the picture is bleak, and the US has played a significant role in shaping this. Despite remarkable advancements in science and technology, we can fairly say that ultra-nationalism, inequality, and hyper-militarization have become worrying overarching characteristics of this century.

Global crises like the pandemic and climate change are devastating in their own right,but also magnify our inherent structural problems, particularly inequality, racism, and the impacts of corruption, elite capture, and authoritarianism around the world. Figures from last year present an undeniable picture of where we stand:

In 2023, the United States ranked 43rd in the gender parity index, falling 16 slots from the previous year. This ranking by the World Economic Forum is based on gaps in employment, health, and political leadership. This decline is compounded by the overturning of Roe vs. Wade and the erosion of reproductive health rights. At the bottom of the global parity index is Afghanistan, now deemed the most repressive country for women and children by the UN, following the Taliban’s takeover after two decades of US involvement. (Let that sink in as we reflect on our global engagements.)

On the corruption front, the situation is no better. The 2023 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) shows that global corruption is rising. With a scale of 0 to 100, the global average stagnates at 43, with most countries making no progress; 23 countries fell to their lowest scores last year. Much like the pandemic disproportionately impacts the poor and marginalized, corruption most severely affects those with the least access to basic necessities while the elite exploit justice systems.

Relatedly, after a period of improvement in closing the income inequality gap until 2018, that trend has since reversed. Income inequality has risen in most advanced economies and major emerging economies. According to the Brookings Institution’s ‘Rising Inequality’ report from last year, inequality has significantly increased in the United States, as well as in advanced economies and among major emerging economies like China, India, and Russia.

Meanwhile, the US defense budget and arms sales have seen a staggering expansion, with the US maintaining its position as the world’s highest arms exporter. The correlation with increased violence is clear. Even before the Gaza conflict, the Institute for Economics and Peace’s annual global index reported that over 238,000 people died in global conflicts in 2022, this marked a 96 percent increase in deaths due to conflicts from previous years. This spike is attributed to deadly conflicts in Ethiopia and Ukraine. Now, the human catastrophe in Gaza unfolds, with over four months of conflict resulting in 27,000 deaths. A population of 2.3 million faces continuous bombardment, exacerbating conditions with the spread of disease and the risk of famine.

The US is once again involved militarily in the Middle East, following its withdrawal from a two-decade-long engagement in Afghanistan. Over the recent weekend, the United States has conducted bombings in Yemen and Iraq, and in Syria, responding to the deaths of three American soldiers in Jordan from attacks by Iran-backed militias, whose actions come amidst sustained demands for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The hard fact is that these events are not merely happening to us, like earthquakes or pandemics; we are all deeply implicated. To be brutally honest, even those among us striving to leverage our best tools—US domestic laws, International Humanitarian Law, and aid conditionality—have not been immune to the dominant power dynamics that catalyzed these situations initially. This issue extends beyond the military-industrial complex; it’s about the entrenched structural violence and the dominance of the security-state paradigm. And I’m not excluding myself from that.

Working through Congress trying to employ our laws as safeguards against the misuse of arms, I increasingly realize how we cannot legislate ourselves out of  crises (at least not just), as I find myself perpetually puzzled by the term ‘misuse of arms.’ It conjures up an image in my mind of weaponry production packages adorned with stickers saying ‘kill responsibly.’ There is, fundamentally, one use for arms, and that is to kill. They are not meant to sit in warehouses, nor are stockpiles intended to serve any purpose other than easy access for feeding the war machine, as we observe now in the conflict in Israel. We can employ as many euphemistic terms as we like to legitimize the act of killing, calling it defense or deterrence, but it does not alter the outcome. The discourse on the misuse of arms and the legislation designed to regulate it overlooks the reality of who holds the power to decide who deserves to live or die (which delineates the proper and improper use of weapons). It’s no secret who makes these decisions; it is those within the elite monopoly over foreign policy and they are conformists.

But we are not without options; we possess agency. None of this is INEVITABLE. We have choices, but the one choice we do not have is to persist in operating within the flawed system that legitimizes and legalizes atrocities through flawed policy framings, such as ‘arms for peace.’ This was the foundation of deals like the Abraham Accords in the Middle East—look how that turned out.

We also cannot afford to pretend that domestic and foreign affairs are separate, nor can we mislead people into believing that national security is achievable without global security. Addressing global crises necessitates domestic reforms. Democracy begins to decline incrementally when we treat it merely as a set of electoral rituals, following them without question or challenge. If we have faith in the virtue of democracy, despite its imperfections, we should not treat it as if it were a dogmatic religion, merely carrying out ‘rituals of democracy’—elections—trapped within a rotational cycle among a few elites on either side of the aisle. We should not wait for the shock of events like Trump’s win to realize we have a problem. Regardless of the outcomes of this year’s elections, the combination of elite capture and tribal politics has long undermined our genuine pursuit for an equitable, just society, and a peaceful world.

 

What then are our choices?

As progressives, our choices transcend those between left and right, or one side of the aisle over the other. Our choices are between integrity and corruption, accountability and complicity, impunity and the rule of law—applicable to both sides of the aisle. Our decisions do not only pivot on ending wars but more importantly transforming the mindsets that lead to them. It’s about distinguishing between feel-good work and truly effective work, urging us to confront our flawed systems directly.

Our foreign policy choices should not be ensnared by false binaries between anti-imperialism and anti-authoritarianism. Opposing US hegemony, great power competition and the risks of unnecessary military escalation does not require us to excuse the human rights violations committed by the Chinese government or similar others.

The US still can and should adopt a constructive role globally without resorting to hegemony. Meanwhile, we must dispel the naïve misconception that relinquishing US hegemony will automatically lead to the ascension of powers aligned with our principles. This overlooks the potential impact of the dominance of authoritarian powers like Russia, China, and others moving in an unjust ultra-capitalist direction, posing distinct challenges.

To counteract the dangerous consequences of great power competition, our choices should not revolve around which governments should overpower others. Instead, we should focus on empowering people first, preventing their countries from becoming battlegrounds in states’ struggle for power.

 

With all these challenges, what are our priorities?

This understanding of interrelated challenges has informed the intersectional priorities we address through analysis, convening, and advocacy. These priorities include:

  1. Combating transnational racism and sex & gender inequality,
  2. Reducing global inequality and economic precarity through equitable trade, labor, and investment rules,
  3. Defending democracy and countering rising ultranationalism, autocracy, kleptocracy, oligarchy, and corruption,
  4. Promoting transformative action for global climate and environmental sustainability. However, none of these objectives would be achievable without
  5. Rightsizing the defense budget, and
  6. Ensuring accountability, transparency, and rights protection in the export and use of arms and emerging technologies, particularly lethal autonomous weapons, and
  7. Most importantly, strengthening diplomacy and adherence to a rules-based international order.

But you don’t need me to tell you all this. Many in this room are already identify these priorities and have dedicated years to them. However, without collectively working towards the necessary paradigm shift and a clear agenda, this valuable work risks not reaching its full potential.

 

So what does paradigm shift entail?

Looking at those issues, and their interrelated nature, it became crystal clear that we need a paradigm shift. That helped us articulate what we call our “Five R” strategy for change. They are a set of goals or set of approaches that we need to have in order to address the structural and problematic framing of US foreign policy.

  1. Redraw the Stakeholder Map: We aim to change rigid and exclusionary policymaking structures, addressing racism and discrimination for more equity and inclusivity in policy formation and communication, and ensuring that those directly affected by our foreign policy have a seat at the table and have their voices heard. You can take a look at the work of my colleagues Terrell Jermaine Starr and Negar Mortazavi and their podcasts that bring really diverse voices into the work that we do.
  2. Redefine Security: To encompass threats to global human safety and well-being that fall outside—and are often exacerbated by—the conventional militarized approach to national security.  I refer you to the work of my colleagues Ari Tolany, Hanna Homestead, and Jeff Abramson on the Security Assistance Monitor and Climate and Militarism Program, and the Forum on Arms Trade.
  3. Reframe US Foreign Policy: Moving beyond outdated nation-state analyses to include the impacts of non-state actors, emerging technology, and other factors unique to today’s power configurations while challenging great power competition and domestic/foreign divide.
  4. Restore Accountability: By enhancing oversight at home and abroad, as corruption and authoritarianism hinder our collective ability to address global threats. Last year, many people were shocked by the allegations that Senator Bob Menendez had received bribes of gold bars from the Egyptian government. I was not shocked, but I was a bit offended, because when the Egyptian government tried to bribe me, they sent me a basket of mangoes to my office. Is this my price?
  5. Revive Diplomacy: The reason peace is getting a bad name and ceasefire is becoming a taboo is because in people’s minds it means just a halt, and what will happen before that is just water under the bridge. That’s why diplomacy should be directly based on the values of accountability. Through research and convening to identify barriers to peaceful solutions, drawing on lessons learned to prevent war escalation and nuclear threats.

These principles are not merely idealistic theories. Today, you will hear from exceptionally talented leaders who are actively engaged in this important work, just as many of you in this room are. For our efforts to achieve optimal impact, it’s crucial that we collaborate within a structured framework and openly debate our agenda priorities.

Because the truly frightening moment isn’t when we are not in power, but when we possess it and still fail to make a discernible difference. We can’t afford to wait or we have no excuse to fail. With our talent, power, and resilience, we are more than capable. Yet, resilience without a clear direction only leads to the depletion of energy and resources. At CIP we aspire to be the hub that clearly defines what progressive policy entails and build a community around it.

We must challenge at all costs the belief that we can bomb our way to peace, we also cannot legislate our way out of crises without addressing the fundamental systemic imbalances and elite capture in foreign policy. But our efforts should not be consumed by fighting back, but moving forward, driven by a proactive approach to forge an affirmative agenda and a new consensus.

Most importantly, as we deliberate on our agenda and priorities, it’s imperative to honestly confront the reality of trade-offs head-on; they are plentiful in today’s world. Acknowledging the costs involved is crucial, but we must discern which costs are bearable and which are not. No matter the expense, investing towards an achievable goal is infinitely more valuable than the futile attempt to amend irreversible damage: lives that cannot be restored, injuries leaving children permanently disabled, and human catastrophes that history will judge us on.

I wanted to paint a rosier picture, to spotlight the good in the world, and the good that the Biden administration has done—and indeed, there’s plenty. But, you can simply Google those, because any achievements pales against the backdrop of catastrophic loss of life and our eroding humanity. Yet, here is the good news: you are here, and you are brilliant. We are here to debate, collaborate, and sculpt together a progressive agenda that resonates with our values and the remarkable talent present in this room. This conversation didn’t start today, nor will it end here; it continues through our analytical work, convenings, and notably, in our newly launched International Policy Journal.

Our clarity begins by identifying the roots of the problem and systemic imbalances, and ours are starkly clear. We need to face them bravely and honestly, and I’m honored to be doing that with you. Thank you so much.

Watch the speech as originally delivered below: