It is impossible not to be fascinated by the WikiLeaks release of U.S. State Department cables this week. It is a story that has everything, ranging from insight into the U.S.-Russia relationship, to salacious tidbits like Ghaddafi’s predilection for buxom Ukrainian nurses, to raising the meaty issues of free speech, the internet and a government’s need for privacy.
But the most significant revelation isn’t what is in the documents—it is what is missing from them. The financial crisis of 2008, and its agonizing aftermath, changed the world profoundly. We now know it didn’t change the State Department. The most important take-away from the WikiLeaks data dump is that America needs a new foreign policy paradigm to deal with the post-crisis world.
The starting point for that paradigm must be to put the economy at the heart of foreign policy. Some of America’s savviest wise men are already making that point, most notably in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, with two seminal essays on the importance of the economy for statecraft.
But these pieces, which argued that America’s troubled fiscal position is a major constraint on its ability to act in the world and that growing GDP should be a central goal of U.S .foreign policy, are just a start. The U.S. needs to reframe its foreign policy from the bottom up, and build its new approach around both national and international economic issues.
America needs a new paradigm not just because it has run out of money to be the world’s policeman, or because the recession at home requires everyone—including diplomats—to pitch in to put the country back to work. The country needs a new way of thinking about its foreign policy goals because national security and international relations—the classic concerns of diplomacy—are now largely driven by economic concerns.