An Open Letter to the President: A Legacy the World Needs

Open Letter sent to President Obama by GSI President Jonathan Granoff

Dear Mr. President,

Thanks to you, Mr. President, during your administration, the United States of America has made significant progress in numerous areas of immense importance: providing affordable health care, stabilizing the economy, exposing and combatting racism, fighting sub-state violence, and advancing nuclear security, to name a few.

Mr. President, the progress that has been made thus far is incommensurate both with the gravity and urgency of the twenty-first century threats to our security, and with the potential of your legacy. Your legacy can restore America’s world leadership based on vision, principle and meeting human needs rather than militarism. The world needs such leadership.

The first world leader to identify and initiate a new approach to protecting the global commons and establishing a compass point for a realistic approach to global security will be credited with ushering in a new era for humanity.

That leader should be you, Mr. President.

The most critical–and in some instances, existential–threats to civilization can only be met through global cooperation at levels far greater than today.

Ensuring the health of the oceans and rainforests, successfully addressing climate change, stopping the destruction of species at rates far above normal evolution, preventing the spread of pandemic diseases, ensuring the stability of financial markets, strengthening cybersecurity, and ending threats posed by weapons of mass destruction are examples of global challenges that cannot be met on a national level. They are global threats that require global solutions.

Current approaches are inadequate. What is needed is clarity of purpose and visionary leadership to define a twenty-first century approach toward achievable, holistic, and sustainable security.

You alone have the vision and the communicative prowess to inspire and enable world leaders to define and address the most urgent challenges to our shared security, and to commit to pursuing effective, cooperative means to deal with them. You could call it “The Project for the Common Good.” It should begin with a two-day summit, convened once every two years, to constitute a process that identifies the common good, asserts the primacy of our commonalities over our differences, and shapes a new dynamic of cooperation to protect them.

The culmination of the summit will be a communiqué to the world, identifying the common good of working together, cooperatively, to meet universal challenges. Furthermore, leaders will be challenged and hopefully commit to cooperating even though on many other issues substantial differences remain.

This communiqué will help galvanize public and political support to work together despite our numerous legitimate and normal differences of perspective and interest. Moreover, this endeavor to achieve the common good will serve to invigorate many of the existing institutional arrangements — national, multilateral and universal, such as the United Nations system — that are already doing their best. Bringing the concept of the common good into the public debate itself will be of enormous benefit.

The ongoing, cyclical nature of this process provides for its empirical verification, which in turn serves to validate, and, therefore, strengthen the process and its goals.

Leadership in this trailblazing initiative is appropriate for the United States of America, the first nation on Earth founded on the rule of law and universal values, and which is populated by peoples whose origin are everywhere; for we are a universal nation.

Your administration has proven the value of such a summit through the series of Nuclear Security Summits. It is time to identify and commence maturely and responsibly achieving Our Common Good, a secure sustainable future. The institution of such a process could repurpose and define a twenty-first century legacy for the United States, just as the Marshall Plan helped ensure an American twentieth century.

Identifying a clear compass point toward the common good will have a galvanizing impact unlike any other, short of total, global war. It may be that such a process actually prevents any current or future crisis du jour from escalating into such a total war. It will certainly make clear that our differences must not overshadow requirements for cooperation.

Despite today’s headlines, commencing this process soon is important. Who, after all, can possibly predict the next series of disastrous coincidences such as those that brought us the First World War or Fukushima? In an age of increasing automation, underscored by the horrifically huge arsenals of weapons of mass destruction, the consequences of such rapid escalation are too acute, and we cannot entrust our current institutions and international relationships with preventing them. We must do better. Make no mistake: cooperation in the twenty-first century is no longer a choice. It is an imperative. The nation that takes the reigns in this new endeavor will be at the forefront of the new era. Those that cling onto archaic paradigms based on zero-sum theories of security will lag, to the detriment–and very survival–of all.

More than simply enhancing efforts to address current crises–be it Ebola in West Africa, Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria, or nuclear proliferation in the Middle East or South Asia–The Project for the Common Good could mitigate or even eliminate some of tomorrow’s unforeseen crises. After all, nobody can predict the next perfect storm. But, we can be certain that a world where cooperation to achieve common goals will be far better prepared to respond.

Initiating and committing the full weight of the United States executive behind such a process would not only constitute the crowning foreign policy jewel in your legacy crown, but it just might also save ourselves from ourselves, too.

Sincerely yours,

Jonathan Granoff

Jonathan Granoff is the President of the Global Security Institute and a 2014 nominee of the Nobel Peace Prize. He is also Adjunct Professor of Law at the Widener University Law School and Co-Chair of the International Law Section of the American Bar Association’s Taskforce on Nuclear Nonproliferation.

This letter was published in the Huffington Post on December 23, 2014. 

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