Letter From The Editor

Kelsey D. Atherton, Chief Editor, Center for International Policy

The hardest task in foreign policy is to imagine that a better future is possible. For many  of us who grew up in the wake of the Cold War, the Bush Administration’s decision to launch the War on Terror was a screamingly obvious mistake whose grim consequences were so foreseeable that the satirists at The Onion predicted it, even if cabinet officials or opinion columnists couldn’t. What else was to be done, went the retort, from newspaper columns to talk shows to dorm room arguments to schoolyard lunch breaks? It wasn’t that hard, in 2001 or in 2003, to know that the course of action being pursued was not the best one around. It was harder to imagine what could have been instead, what could have drawn a wounded nation eager for security together with huddled civilians listening to the screech of jet bombers, hiding from a vengeance visited for an act they never authored.

In the decades since the start of the War on Terror, the means and justifications of an expansive, hegemonic foreign policy have vacillated, while the fact of US power and an eagerness to use it have persisted across presidencies. When new violence erupts across the world, it is easy to imagine the ways the conflict spreads, the way other countries get involved, and to picture a crisis of diplomacy answered with drones and missiles. There will, every time, be people making sound, sober, and reasoned arguments for why a crisis must be dealt with using the tools of a globe-spanning military first, or why the preservation of order through hegemony is in the interest of all nations.

The work of the International Policy Journal is to imagine better futures and better solutions to the shared challenges of cohabitating the earth with other countries, with other peoples. There is no amount of global warming that can be stopped by military firepower, but there are ways nations could communicate better to manage the shared threat of climate change. Problems of biodiversity preservation could be met with exclusive areas of wilderness habitation, or they could be met with preservation of indigenous communities, protecting both people and wildlife from the disruption of extractive industry or the artificiality of preserves.

Here we hope to foster a lively discourse about the how and the what of better futures. As outlined by our publisher at the Center for International Policy, the work is designed to provoke a needed paradigm shift in thinking about the US role in the world. That perspective must be internationalist. While the base unit of foreign policy remains the nation, we know that the challenges of the world are bigger than any one nation, and that the needs of the people on this planet transcend the constraints of borders and language.

The writers we are publishing will not always agree. There is, even, substantial disagreement in the seven stories included in this launch. What they are all doing, and what every writer published in these pages going forward commits to, is taking seriously the notion that different actions can lead to better futures. 

Before I started as Chief Editor, with the express mission of launching and fostering this publication from scratch, I worked for a decade in military technology journalism. I would often (online and loudly at parties) proclaim that my job was about “war, robots, and bad futures.” I thought it important to document the tools of power, in precise detail and broader implications. On that beat, it was easy to see futures teeming with armed drones and autonomous lasers, and hard to see futures where these weapons were not needed or used. I could write about the likely consequences of those weapons, but would have to take work outside the beat to explore situations in which the weapons would be turned aside.

There is crucial work in critiquing policy already underway, in emphasizing the limits and likely errors that will be made as the all-too-human stewards of states stumble from crisis to crisis. There will invariably be an element of that critique to the articles and features published here, as imagining better involves identifying what’s not working at present. Yet the beating heart of the IPJ, the drive that makes this so compelling to edit, and hopefully as exciting to read, is that work of looking towards a better future, and plotting the first few steps we can take to head in that direction.

Here’s to seeing bad futures, and imagining better ones.