Daniel W. Drezner

What can a speech on economic statecraft accomplish?

What can a speech on economic statecraft accomplish?

At 8:30 this morning U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will give  "a major address on the role of economics in our foreign policy."  This speech is the culmination of a series of Clinton speeches and papers over the past few months, including her July remarks in Hong Kong, her essay on America’s Pacific Century in the pages of FP, and her remarks on global leadership earlier this week. 

Laura Rozen has been all over this initiative, and she previews the speech

A key precept in Clinton’s effort is addressing a kind of cultural lag in the sprawling Washington bureaucracy. Lead policy makers may recognize the pivotal role that economics plays in global diplomacy–but in many ways, the diplomatic bureaucracy needs to catch up. Clinton’s planned speech will be in large part a call to her own agency’s ambassadors, diplomatic staff and analysts to shift their thinking.

And as Clinton lays out that vision in more detail, she will stress two main bulwarks. First, she will highlight the need to advance relations with the wider world as part of the effort to revive the American domestic economic order. And second, she will stress that State Department diplomats and foreign policy thinkers need to work harder to understand how market forces are driving first-order national security challenges in hot spots such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.

Now, as I noted last week, my full disclosure here is that I’ve seen multiple draft versions of this speech and might have made a modest suggestion or two (because you, dear readers, know how gentle I am with the red pen).  Last week, I was pretty pessimistic about the effect of this kind of initiative: 

I fear that the State Department is fighting through hurricane-level winds on this front to make a difference. First, the trade deals just sent to Congress are the last ones we’re going to see for a while. Doha is dead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership still hasn’t materialized, and all of the momentum on trade policy is to move towards futile gestures closure. The dynamic, growing economy is not looking so dynamic, and those deep capital markets are getting extremely jittery.

And this week?  Oddly, I find myself more on the "glass half full" side, for a few reasons.  First, Congress finally cleared the decks on the three outstanding trade deals, so that looks a bit less embarrassing.  Second, there does appear to be genuine enthusiasm inside the administration for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and a recognition that this would be a neat-o deliverable for the upcoming APEC summit in Honolulu.  Third, my own conversation with State Department officials suggest that they’ve got a decent read on which geographic regions should be the focus of which initiatives.  Fourth , dwindling resources doesn’t mean no resources — the U.S. still has some formidable foreign economic policy arrows in its quiver. 

The most important reason I’m more optimistic, however, is that the Secretary will be doing two things with this speech that speeches can actually accomplish.  A speech can act as a form of reassurance to other countries that the United States gets it — economics is a vital component of foreign policy, and Washington is ready to play. 

A speech can also signal to the foreign policy bureaucracy that there’s a shift in priorities, and they had better get on the train if they want to get promoted make a difference.  If foreign service officers see that a familiarity with economics is a key for advancement, then the United States will develop a diplomatic corps that doesn’t run away screaming in terror seem distracted if the words "exchange rates" or "geographic indicators" are uttered. 

Watch the speech yourself — it will be webcast at 8:30 AM — and let me know what you think in the comments.