2021 Lowy Lecture Jake Sullivan
The 2021 Lowy Lecture was given on 11 November 2021 by Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser to US President Joe Biden. After the lecture, he spoke in conversation with Lowy Institute Executive Director Michael Fullilove.
Introduction by Dr Michael Fullilove AM, Executive Director of the Lowy Institute
It’s now my great personal pleasure to introduce the 2021 Lowy Lecturer. We wanted a lecturer who could address the biggest issues of this memorable year including COVID China and climate change. As the National Security Adviser to US President Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan, is instrumental in shaping the President’s foreign policy agenda. Jake was previously a senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, and her Deputy Chief of Staff when she was Secretary of State. He was centrally involved in the Iran nuclear negotiations. And he also served as National Security Adviser to Joe Biden, when he was VP. Barack Obama describes Jake as wicked smart. Hillary Clinton is said to have told friends, he could one day be president. So you might say his references are strong. Jake has been a friend of mine since university. He’s also a long standing friend of the Lowy Institute. In 2017, he spent an extended period with us as our Distinguished International Fellow. He joins us today from the offices of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. I’m delighted to invite Jake Sullivan to deliver the 2021 Lowy Lecture - Jake.
2021 Lowy Lecture - Jake Sullivan, National Security Adviser to US President Joe Biden
Thank you so much, Michael, for those incredibly kind words. And it’s good to see you virtually. I look forward to the day when we can meet up again in person. And I want to pay special tribute to Frank Lowy for his incredible contributions to civic life in Australia, but really, to the entire world. And the contribution the Lowy Institute has made to discourse around foreign policy and national security issues that ripple far beyond the land Down Under and very much impact the debates and discussions we’re having here in the United States. I had the pleasure of meeting Frank some years ago and I have to tell you, it is a great honour to have the opportunity here to deliver this lecture in his name today.
Four years ago, I actually was there in person - as Michael referenced in his introduction, at the Lowy Institute - and gave a set of remarks and I hope none of you had to be subject to that. But in the course of those remarks, I posed a few key questions to the audience. I was basking in the joy of being out of government and therefore merely in the position of being able to ask questions rather than having to answer them as a decision maker. And now that I’m back in government, those questions are still just as hard as ever. But it’s my job to help President Biden come up with effective answers to them. And in the remarks that I gave at the Lowy Institute at the time, I really tried to focus on what kind of impact we would see in a world after Donald Trump and the years that followed the Trump presidency, to our alliances; to our economic influence in the world; to our values. When I re-read those remarks earlier today, I reflect on them not so much for what they imagined, but for what they did not imagine. They did not imagine the twin health and economic crises of COVID-19 that the entire world has had to grapple with over the course of the past couple of years and the way in which those twin crises would reshape events, trends, and ultimately structures in the world. So the world that Joe Biden faced when he took office in January of this year - January 20th of 2021 - was not the same world that my 2017 remarks in Sydney sufficiently envisioned. COVID-19 was rampant worldwide, with cases and hospitalizations and deaths on the rise, the economy was still reeling, supply chains had cracked. There were attendant disruptions wherever you looked: from a migration crisis in my hemisphere, in Latin America, driven by our region’s health and economic challenges; to the preoccupation and strain felt by leaders everywhere to deliver vaccines for their citizens. And for the White House, and those of us who arrived on that first day, it was a period of relentless firefighting. But we could not just concern ourselves with the overflowing and quite daunting inbox. We had to think about - to use a phrase some of you may have heard before from my boss - how we would build back better. Not just here at home in the United States, but in our foreign policy and national security strategy to put the United States in a position to deal with the world we confronted and the world that was to come. And so from day one, President Biden has been focused on building a solid foundation from which to actively position the United States. Not just to face down the immediate crisis. But to confidently and effectively prevail against the full range of challenges we will face in the years and decades ahead.
You know, it’s interesting. Here in the United States, there’s been a frequent debate in strategic circles about the balance of effort, the United States should apply against geopolitical challenges and geopolitical competition on the one hand, and transnational challenges and threats ranging from COVID, to climate to cyber, on the other hand. And President Biden came to office with a very simple proposition, which is that we have entered a phase in foreign policy, where the United States must effectively apply itself against both sets of challenges with force and vigor. And that is no small task. On the other hand, the fundamental recipe for dealing with both geopolitical competition and with the major transnational challenges of our time, is fundamentally common. It is a similar recipe. And it basically boils down to something Dean Acheson said in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the post-war order was getting constructed. Dean Acheson looked at the basic purpose and project of American foreign policy and said what we had to think about and focus on was building what he called ‘situations of strength’. How to establish a solid foundation, and a position of strength from which to be able to deal with - in our case here today, in 2021 - both the significant factors of geopolitical competition that we’re up against, and this wide range of transnational challenges from the spectrum of emerging technology, all the way to issues associated with nuclear proliferation. And so President Biden’s basic insight, and his charge to those of us who steward the foreign policy and national security of the United States, was to set about building those ‘situations of strength’. To put the United States in a position over time, where we would be actively positioned alongside friends and partners, and as part of significant institutions to deal both with the hard challenge of the rise of China and the enduring threat that Russia poses, as well as to deal with the significant number of problems that we collectively have to confront as an international community and that no one country can solve on its own.
Now, our basic approach to building those ‘situations of strength’ basically comes down to five steps. And they sound fairly straightforward. They are hard to execute. But they are the touchstone for everything that we are trying to accomplish in our foreign policy. Even as we have to grapple with a coup one day, and a crisis the next day, on different continents around the world.
The first of these - and the most profoundly central to year one of the Biden administration - has been working to replenish the reservoirs of strength here at home in the United States. And in particular, to invest in those areas where we have seen dramatic underinvestment or disinvestment over the course of the past years and decades. In our infrastructure, in our innovation, in our human capital. To make the United States once again, an engine of inclusive growth in the world. To modernize and overhaul and make resilient the basic building blocks of our economy and our society. And just over the course of the past few days, the President has made good on a significant step in that direction with the passage of a bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, that won’t just modernize our ports and airports, and roads and bridges, but will invest substantially in a cleaner, more resilient, more dynamic economic foundation upon which to build the industries, and jobs of the future. And we are now shifting to a ‘Build Back Better’ framework, which looks at fundamental human capital from universal pre-K, to cutting child poverty, to the largest investment in climate in the history of the world. And that bill is making its way now through the House of Representatives, ultimately to the Senate and then to the President’s desk.
Now, you might ask - why does a national security adviser start his remarks, so focused and animated about domestic legislation. And that is, because at the end of the day, the biggest capacity that we have to shape events in the world is the power and engine of American dynamism - American capacity in all of its forms. And that is why these investments are so profoundly important not just to our economic prosperity, but to our national security. And what I tried to build at the National Security Council was an integrated structure that pulled foreign and domestic together to think about issues like tax policy, and to press forward to deliver as we just did at the G20, a commitment to the global minimum tax as a way to help fill the coffers of our collective countries; to stop a corporate race to the bottom; and to produce greater investment in the kinds of productive pursuits that will create jobs and provide a basic social safety net to our citizens. But whether it’s tax policy or supply chains or ransomware, whether it’s international economic cyber technology or climate, we have looked to build a National Security Council that fundamentally drives towards the intersection of foreign policy and domestic policy. And we believe this is a blueprint not just for the United States, but for countries everywhere.
The second major element along the way towards building these situations of strength is to build a latticework of alliances and partnerships globally that are fit for purpose for the 21st century. That are not just about refurbishing the old bilateral alliances, or refurbishing NATO and the trans-Atlantic partnership, but modernizing those elements of the latticework and adding new components as we go. Taking the Quad, from where it stood before, to leader-level where President Biden hosted the first Quad summit in person here in Washington in September. Establishing AUKUS, which is an exciting undertaking, not just for the delivery of this critical technology of nuclear powered submarines, but also for the promise it holds on so many other emerging technologies among the critical allies of the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. The Trade and Technology Council with the European Union, where we’re working with like-minded partners to help shape the rules of the road on emerging technologies, and emerging market economic practices as a means of establishing a positive vision and also to push back against the non-market economic practices of countries like China. Of course, taking NATO fully and firmly into the 21st century. To think about a broader perspective on what security means whether it’s the climate dimension, or the cyber dimension or others. And here in our own hemisphere, the President has been focused on deepening our partnerships and lifting up efforts like the Pacific Alliance - a set of market economies in our hemisphere that is focused on trying to drive towards a similar vision of inclusive economic growth as the United States. So this has been an extraordinary effort and investment in, and construction of, this integrated, maneuverable, interoperable set of alliances and partnerships, designed around the 21st century security, economic and technology environment that we find ourselves in.
The third major piece of it was for the United States to rejoin and then help reshape critical institutions in the world. In the early weeks of the administration, we rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, we rejoined the World Health Organization, but we didn’t just stop there. Under Secretary Kerry’s leadership, we played a leading role in driving the world forward towards COP26. Whether it’s the global methane pledge, or the deforestation pledge that the leaders came together around last week. President Biden himself has hosted a COVID-19 summit to galvanize and mobilize collective action to hit an ambitious target by next fall of 70 percent of the world being vaccinated. And in other institutions. Thinking about how, as we head into the next ministerial of the World Trade Organization, we can take the World Trade Organization from a focus on the challenges, the economic challenges of the past, to those of the present and the future. To look at questions related to industrial policy, questions related to supply chains, to intellectual property, to corruption, to state-owned enterprises, and we are eager for a seat at that table to play a critical role as we move forward.
The fourth element of this has been to turn the page on an overemphasis on military engagement and war and an under-emphasis on diplomacy in key parts of the world. Ending the war in Afghanistan. Despite the difficulty, the trauma and the human costs that came with ending America’s longest war - 20 years of conflict - we believe firmly in the conviction that it was right strategically, it was right from the point of view of the American national interest, to bring America’s participation in that conflict to a close. And to be able to focus on the threat of terrorism and the other major challenges we face in the world as we find them in 2021, not as we found them in 2001. But really, more broadly across the Middle East, where too frequently we have made the military the tool of first resort and diplomacy the tool of last resort, we are back, trying to bring Iran’s nuclear program into a box through diplomacy. And we are looking to support efforts - through a combination of deterrence, diplomacy and de-escalation - to bring greater stability, and less chaos and crisis across the broader Middle East region.
And then finally is set the terms for an effective and healthy competition with China. President Biden stood before the UN General Assembly in September and said, we are not seeking a new Cold War, we’re not looking for conflict, what we’re looking for is effective competition with guardrails and risk-reduction measures in place to ensure that things don’t veer off into conflict. And also with the capacity to work together with China, where it’s in the common interests of our countries and in the interests of the world to do so. Whether it’s on climate change, or on nuclear proliferation, or macroeconomic stability, or on other issues.
Now, a lot has been made of the increasing elevation of the Indo-Pacific in the Biden administration’s foreign policy. And a lot has been made of that correctly. Because we are placing a substantial emphasis on what is the most dynamic, and the most consequential region for economic growth, for dealing with the climate crisis, and for the potential for conflict that must be minimized, managed and ultimately deterred. But one thing that I want to really underscore is that we think that this zero-sum notion that a focus on the Indo-Pacific necessarily means turning away from, or turning one’s back on other regions of the world - that’s completely lost currency. Because at the end of the day, the entire world’s focus is looking more and more to the Indo-Pacific. And, a robust, strong, dynamic, vibrant trans-Atlantic relationship, which we feel passionately invested in, will also translate into greater common purpose with our friends in Europe, in dealing with the whole range of challenges that present themselves in the Indo-Pacific region. And all of you have seen the European Union, for example, put out its Indo-Pacific strategy just a couple of months ago, demonstrating their increased engagement in the region as well. Of course, we can’t lose sight of the very real security threats and challenges on the European continent. We have been striving for a more stable, more predictable relationship with Russia, where we are clear about standing up for our interests, for our values and for our friends. But where we also seek to work with Russia to manage differences, as constructively as we can, on an ongoing basis.
Now, the last thing that I want to put out at the outset - because my goal in these remarks is really just to paint the broad picture and then to have the opportunity for a conversation with Michael, and to get some questions and some back and forth where I really think we can dive in a more chewy way into some of the things that I put on the table and other things on all of your collective minds - is I want to say a word about the US-Australia Alliance. Because seventy years on, this alliance is absolutely fundamental to our vision. Not just of a free and open Indo-Pacific, but to every element of the strategy that I just described. To think about how we’re going to solve common integrated economic challenges like supply chains. To think about how we’re going to deal with the threat and assault on democracy the world over - as strong, vibrant democracies working together to prove that democracy can deliver for our citizens. To think about the destabilizing impact of changes in the military-strategic environment in the Indo-Pacific, and how we can work together through AUKUS and otherwise, to ensure we’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the Indo-Pacific for the years ahead, as we’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder over the decades behind us. President Biden has many sayings, and it’s frequently hard to decide which of them is the most salient or most relevant. But I would say for today’s purposes, one of the ones I’m constantly reminded of is that he says, he quotes Tip O’Neill, a famous American politician as saying all politics is local. And he says, all foreign policy ultimately is personal. It’s about human relations. Not just relations between leaders - though, those relationships are critical. But relations between peoples. Understanding what makes the other guy or gal tick, as a individual, or as a collective, a body politic. Thinking about the impacts of our policy decisions on human beings everywhere. This is the kind of deeply feeling and empathetic approach that Joe Biden brings to foreign policy. And that feeling and empathy should not be misunderstood as anything other than genuine, ramrod-straight strength about his view that ultimately American foreign policy is at its best, when it has a deep dose of values and a vision, baked into the hard calculation of national interest as we tried to create the ‘situations of strength’ in the world, that put us in a position to both deal with the significant geopolitical competition we’re facing today, and allow us to deal with the transnational challenges that are afflicting all of our countries. And that require the kind of collective action and collective purpose that we are all working together so hard to galvanize as we go forward.
So I’m going to leave it at that. I recognize that skims across the wave tops. But I think setting a frame so that people can understand what we’re operating within as we try to deal with the immensely complex set of overlapping challenges and threats across the planet. And with that, I will just say thank you again, I look forward to actually making it to Sydney soon in person. And I now look forward to being able to answer some questions. Thank you.
In Conversation: Jake Sullivan speaks with Michael Fullilove
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake Sullivan, thank you for those wide ranging and thoughtful remarks and for agreeing to take some questions. Thank you also for what you said about our alliance in its 70th year. I want to draw you out further on some of the issues you mentioned, including AUKUS, and China, and climate change. You talked about the President’s global strategy, I’m going to focus - as you can understand - on the Indo-Pacific, but before I come there a general question if I can. You were in government during the Obama years, you were then out of government during the Trump interregnum. You’ve returned to the White House. Now that you’re back in harness, and you’re reading all the classified information again, how much has the world changed since you were last in government? And has it changed for good or ill?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, the world has definitely changed a lot. I noticed when I showed up at work, people were wearing masks, which they weren’t before. So that’s one thing that’s definitely changed. Being in the middle of a pandemic, actually, for that reason, just the very way of folks working together. At the end of the day, these are human jobs, human beings doing these jobs. I think COVID has had a big impact on the capacity for people to travel and engage - with friend and foe. To gather in significant summits. We’ve had a few but a lot of stuff has been done virtually. And I think things get lost between the cup and the lip when you’re doing so much virtually. I’d be much better if I were there today, for example. But that’s not really the heart of your question, although I think it’s an important thing just to put on the table at the outset. I would say - the thing that has changed the most in ways for both good and ill has been the levelling power of technology. It has expanded the reach of individuals to be able to navigate their way through a pandemic, more effectively than they otherwise would have been a decade ago. It has also expanded the capacity of non-state actors to inflict significant, lethal harm. The proliferation of drone technology is a good example of that. Cyber and the ability of a hacker sitting in their apartment, being able to take down a pipeline in another country and having a massive impact on the energy supply of a significant economy. It’s not like a completely nonlinear change. But I would just say that fact - the fact of that in the cyber domain, with respect to terrorism, with respect to the power of internet platforms generally, is very real. It makes the kind of Westphalian system of state-to-state diplomacy and engagement feel an increasingly distant thing as we deal with a much more challenging geopolitical environment. And then I guess the last thing that I would say, that’s changed a lot since I was last in government, is something I’ve referred to in my remarks, which is, I think the growing recognition globally about this intersection between foreign and domestic. That you have much more emphasis being placed on questions around supply chain resilience, around infrastructure resilience, around how to think about energy supply, in ways that have always been present, but are present differently to me today, in light of COVID 19 and what it exposed. But really the COVID-19 was exposing something much more fundamentally fragile about the international economy in particular, that has forced a reckoning in the policies of national governments the world over, that are not merely the province of finance ministries, but are very much the province of national security professionals as well. And so I think that has been a significant change, it has very much affected the agenda of the Quad, the agenda of the G7, and the G7 Plus that gathered in Cornwall this year, including Prime Minister Morrison, and the G20. And I think that’s not going away even if COVID-19 ends up receding to a substantial extent in the course of the years ahead. That was a longer answer than you probably wanted. But those are some reflections on the difference of what I find sitting here today from what I found a decade ago - or seven years ago.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: You mentioned in your remarks Dean Acheson - you cited Acheson. Given how much the world has changed, do you still take inspiration from previous US foreign policy makers? When you’re setting up your NSC as you’re doing your job as National Security Adviser? Is there a former National Security Adviser for example that you like to emulate? People often refer to Brent Scowcroft. But who are the figures in American history that you go to when you think about how you’d like to do your job in serving the President?
JAKE SULLIVAN: You know, it’s interesting. I guess I’m boring in this regard. Because I would also say Brent Scowcroft. Largely because I think - that what you have to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking about as National Security Adviser first and foremost, is to create a fair and humane process that honours the work of the Cabinet Secretaries and the professionals on the frontlines, whether they be military or diplomatic or development workers. And to fundamentally create a circumstance in which information is flowing to the President as the ultimate decision maker, recommendations and choices are being framed up effectively. And I think Brent Scowcroft had the humility and the capacity to both recognize that that was the job and then to do it really, really well. And you know, those are incredibly big shoes to try to fill. But he’s one. Another - you know, I was just at the funeral of Colin Powell, who served in senior roles at the National Security Council, in addition to being chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Secretary of State. And Secretary Powell, General Powell, Chairman Powell - it was such a powerful reminder, listening to the eulogies about how he was able to combine a conviction - a personal conviction of what was right, what was the right answer - with a fair-mindedness about being inclusive and bringing diffuse and dissenting voices effectively to the table. And then the last thing I would say is on Acheson himself, I’ve made this observation before, but I think it’s important to make it again: I use this phrase latticework in my remarks and I don’t know if that’s a phrase that works well in a social media age, or on cable news. But I think it does capture something different about the architecture we’re trying to build today. From the architecture that Dean Acheson was trying to build. In his time, it was sort of like the Parthenon with the big firm columns of the UN and NATO and the IMF and the World Bank, global organizations - formal, legal, universal. Today, it’s much more flexible, ad hoc, more political than legal, sometimes more temporary than permanent. And in that sense, it’s got more of a Frank Gehry character than the formal Greek architecture of the post-war era. It also means it’s less satisfying, you don’t just build it and it sits there kind of unmoved for decades or centuries. It’s constantly shifting, and it’s a mix of different structures and substances. And in a way, it will have less of a permanence to it because of the world that we live in now. So, looking to the past for helpful guidance, conceptually, while recognizing that the task we have before us today is profoundly different. That’s something I try to bring to work with me as well.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Alright. Well, thinking about the latticework of flexible new structures - let me ask you about AUKUS. We’ve had a lot of audience interest, obviously, in Australia, in AUKUS. This is a big bet by the President and by the United States. It’s a big choice that the President has made. It’s the first time in over 60 years that the United States has agreed to share nuclear propulsion technology with another country. Why did the Biden administration sign up to AUKUS?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Because it is a big bet. And the President wanted to say not just to Australia, but to the world, that if you are a strong friend and ally and partner, and you bet with us, we will bet with you. And we will bet with you with the most advanced, most sensitive technology we have. Because we trust you, we believe in you. And we believe even more importantly, in our collective, combined capacity to produce greater stability, security and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific region. And from the President’s perspective, this is about the submarine deal itself. It’s about the broader partnership, but it’s about something bigger too. It’s about a statement of putting your money where your mouth is, when it comes to the rhetoric around alliances. Good allies to the United States deserve a good ally in the United States back to them. And that’s what led to the United States in 1958 providing this nuclear propulsion technology by Eisenhower to McMillan. And it’s what led Joe Biden to step forward to say that he wants to travel this road with Australia. And it’s a road we will travel together, literally for decades to come. And I think that significance is something that we take very seriously. And we are deeply committed now to doing the actual work to make this happen in a way that delivers on the vision that our leaders laid out when they did the virtual event together back in September.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake, as you say, AUKUS is very ambitious. It’s not just an arms deal. It’s not just about nuclear subs. It’s about technology sharing. It’s about cyber capabilities. It’s about AI. It’s fundamentally about trust. And it reminds me of something that Winston Churchill said in 1940, when the United States provided Britain with destroyers in exchange for access to naval bases, and Churchill said the two countries, the US and the UK, ‘will have to be somewhat mixed-up together in some of their affairs for mutual and general advantage’. Let me ask you, Jake, in the face of new challenges, do you think we will see more of this - allies and like-minded countries getting more ‘mixed-up’ with each other for mutual and general advantage?
JAKE SULLIVAN: You know, it’s interesting - you can always one up me with quotes. Because ‘mixed-up together’ in my view is an even better encapsulation of a vision for the future in this kind of latticework notion, than ‘situations of strength’. And so I will now borrow that myself. You’re very far away in Australia. So I’m going to use it here in the United States and give you no credit going forward.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: You’re welcome - my gift to you!
JAKE SULLIVAN: Thank you. Thank you. I think you’ve absolutely hit the nail on the head. And I think the ‘mixed-up together’ dimension of this crosses the bilateral alliance, US-Australia; trilateral - AUKUS; the Quad; relationships among Quad countries with others; how ultimately other significant European countries play into common efforts, whether it’s on technology, or economic resilience, or climate solutions, or military interoperability. I do think we are going to see a substantially greater degree of this as countries recognize that there is both a need to invest in the sources of our own strength, and to build a certain degree of self-sufficiency and capacity, but that at the end of the day, genuine resilience requires that kind of ‘mixed-up togetherness’. And I think it’s a great way of capturing a profound difference between Joe Biden’s approach to foreign policy and national security and Donald Trump’s approach to foreign policy and national security. Which is, President Biden very much takes that core Churchill observation to heart.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake, not everybody’s happy about AUKUS. Paris was angry. It’s been reported that the administration was under the impression that Canberra had all-but informed Paris of its intention to scrap the existing submarine contract. And we watched here in Australia when President Biden recently said, ‘what we did was clumsy, it was not done with a lot of grace.’ There was a lot of speculation here about who he was referring to in ‘we’, and whether he might have been referring to Australia. Is the administration comfortable with the way that Canberra handled the AUKUS announcement?
JAKE SULLIVAN: So, Michael, one of the great things about sitting here in November, having done this first announcement back in the middle of September, is that we have had to go through some challenges in dealing with the rollout and in how we’ve tried to engage intensively diplomatically with the French. But now – in November - we get to look forward, we get to look at actually putting this thing into place. And my view, and I mean, this sincerely, I know it comes off as a sincere dodge - but a dodge nonetheless - is that I just think there’s no profit in revisiting how we got to where we are. Where we are now - we’ve put out, in our view, a very strong and meaningful and substantive plan of action with the French on a range of issues, including relating to the Indo-Pacific. And, we’re digging in on the real work of AUKUS. And so, where I sit today, the good news lies ahead. And we are going to redeem the vision our leaders laid out and it’s going to be an incredibly positive thing for our countries. And kind of, going back through all the ins and outs of this will be interesting for the historians to do at some point. But as National Security Adviser, I’ve got to keep sort of my eyes firmly fixed on the present and future.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: All right, let me put a question to you from my chairman, Frank Lowy. Some in Australia argue the United States is not a resident power in Asia and so it won’t have the staying power to compete with China. How do you respond to that sort of criticism from Australians and others who are pessimistic about what AUKUS means for Australian security?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, we are a resident power in the Indo-Pacific. You know, we’re resident as far west as Guam, in terms of actual American territory. We’re resident with substantial long-term troop presence in Japan, in Korea, in Australia. We have just this year renewed the visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. We do rotational deployments in Singapore. And at any given moment, American surface and undersea assets are at work, enforcing freedom of navigation, engaging in exercises, engaging in work on humanitarian assistance and disaster response. And so we have been a resident power in the Indo-Pacific for decades. It is core to our being as a geopolitical actor. It is fundamental to our identity. And President Biden has been very clear with our allies - as with our competitors - that the United States is a Pacific nation, has been a Pacific nation, and will always be a Pacific nation. And, you know, the fact that we are only doubling down on that, with what AUKUS represents and offers, shows that the, the direction arrow is pointing in terms of more intensive engagement, not less. And also, as we’ve closed the chapter on the wars of the last 20 years in Iraq and Afghanistan, part of our thinking has been about the ability of the United States then to put more attention, effort and resources into the Indo-Pacific. We began that work with the pivot back in 2011. We continue that work today under the Biden administration.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Let me ask you briefly about the Quadrilateral security dialogue involving the United States, India, Japan, and Australia. The President hosted the first in-person Quad leaders meeting at the White House in September, as you mentioned. Why is the President a Quad believer?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, first, and perhaps most centrally, this is about the opportunity for four robust, powerful nations - that are also democracies - being able to come together and represent geographically and culturally distinct elements of the Indo-Pacific. But a deeply common enterprise: which is to prove that democracies can deliver, to advance shared security, to deepen our technological and economic and climate cooperation. I mean, in a way, the Quad represents exactly the kind of new form of partnership that is going to most fundamentally deliver for each of our countries across the range of issues that we’re confronting. And it’s fundamentally positive as well. And there may be no better kind of concrete example, to go along with all the flowery language I just offered, then the Quad vaccine partnership. So the Quad vaccine partnership basically takes a combination of financing from some Quad members, vaccine manufacturing capability from other Quad members, and vaccine distribution and last mile capacity from other Quad members, puts that all together. And in dealing with one of the most acute challenges we’re facing today, you’ve got the pooled efforts of four countries that together can really deliver something that no one country could easily deliver by itself. And that no other necessarily other combination of countries could deliver quite as well as the four that have come together in the Quad. So from the President’s perspective, that is one in what he hopes will be a series of concrete efforts to show that this is not just about us coming together and getting strategic alignment at a broad level. But it’s actually making real material progress on hard issues that affect the lives of the citizens in our countries and across the Indo-Pacific.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Let me ask you, Jake, about the US-China relationship, which is in the background to the new latticework that we’ve been discussing. You said at the weekend, you want the terms of US-China coexistence, to be favourable to American interests and values. Can you just talk a little bit more about that?
JAKE SULLIVAN: So basically, from my perspective, all of this talk of the United States and China going into a new Cold War, or that we’re on our way to conflict, or the Thucydides Trap. We have the choice not to do that. We have the choice, instead, to move forward with what President Biden has called stiff competition. Where we are going to compete vigorously across multiple dimensions, including economics and technology. Where we’re going to stand up for our values. But where we also recognize that China is going to be a factor in the international system for the foreseeable future - it’s not going anywhere. And the United States is not going anywhere, and we’re not going anywhere in the Indo-Pacific either. And so we’re going to have to learn how to deal with that reality. But, in a competition, you want to deal with that reality in a way that works maximally to the advantage of the vision that you see as being the right vision for the people of your country, and countries everywhere. And that, boiled down to a few words, is a free and open Indo-Pacific. That is what we want to produce. And we believe there’s nothing inconsistent with that. And with recognizing we’re going to have to manage a relationship with China, and work with China on certain issues. But unapologetically to say, we would like the rules of the road on all of the issues that affect our citizens to fundamentally advance our interests, and to the maximum extent possible to reflect our values. China has a different value system. It has different interests. And that’s part of what the ongoing competition will be about. But there’s no reason that that competition has to turn into conflict or confrontation. And that is what responsibly and collectively we need to manage as we work in the years to come.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Can I ask you about how America will compete with China on economics and trade? As you know, when President Trump withdrew from the TPP, he did a lot to undermine US credibility in this part of the world. For many countries in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific more generally, they like the US presence in security terms, but they find that China is the more important economic partner. What can you do to compete with the magnetic effect of the Chinese economy? You’ve spoken about an Indo-Pacific framework? What would that look like, Jake?
JAKE SULLIVAN: Well, what I can say is that we have been working hard in the past few months and will continue to through the end of this year and into early next year. To put together what we see as being a vision for America’s economic engagement in the region, with a framework that addresses the kinds of modern challenges that COVID-19 exposed, and that we are all dealing with. Whether it’s in the realm of supply chains, or the intersection of climate and trade, or digital, or investment screening and export controls. Across a number of areas that have not traditionally been part of trade agreements. We believe that there is the possibility of putting together a comprehensive vision and getting a whole bunch of countries aligned around that. And so in the months ahead, we will be coming forward with that effort. But we’re not going to do that, kind of baking it by ourselves in, you know, our little policy kitchen. We’re going to have intense consultations and both Ambassador Tai, and Secretary Raimondo will be in the region in the weeks ahead to talk with our partners - including Australia and New Zealand, as well as in Southeast Asia, as well as in Northeast Asia, about what the elements and components of this could look like, and how we can have a full, robust, attractive economic agenda to go along with our security and geopolitical agenda in the Indo-Pacific.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake, the COP26 meeting in Glasgow is wrapping up, was it a success from your point of view, and what’s the next step in the fight to in the fight to stop dangerous global warming?
JAKE SULLIVAN: COP26 represented material progress. Has represented, continues to represent material progress. There’s you know, still some time left. You know, I’d highlight two significant agreements, in particular - a deforestation pledge to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030 that included 12 countries stepping up to contribute $12 billion towards that end. And the private sector, committing to mobilize another $7 billion. And a global methane pledge to reduce methane emissions, which are 25 times more potent than, than greenhouse gas emissions, than CO2 emissions, reduce methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. With the United States stepping forward with its own methane action plan. Those are real, meaningful material achievements of COP26. To go along with 65 percent of the world’s economy, stepping up and setting targets that would keep us within the 1.5 degree goal. Now, that still means 35 percent of the world has not done that. And that means that there’s still a lot more work to do. Now, in addition, the United States stepped forward and said, we’re going to double our international climate financing, so that we’re pulling our weight to get to that 100 billion dollar a year goal that Paris set out. So we feel like, from the perspective of the United States, in terms of what we put on the table, what we were able to galvanize around a set of specific issues, and what some of the other major economies came forward with - real progress. But not enough. And, you know, President Biden remarked on the fact that neither China nor Russia were present at the leader level at COP, and their absence meant that we did not make as much progress as we need to. And we need to see the world continuing to push to for more progress from those two countries as well.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake, just a couple more questions about you if I may. You’ve operated at the highest levels of politics for a long time. But since the 20th of January, you’ve been the closest international adviser to the most powerful leader on Earth. You’ve always had a reputation for being hard working and conscientious, but this is frankly next level. Ten months in, what has surprised you about the job itself? I mean, I’m always struck with, with top American policymakers, the breadth of the issues, you have to deal with, the number of files on your desk. What has surprised you about this job, as opposed to other things you’ve done in government?
JAKE SULLIVAN: You know, it’s a great question, I guess the thing that has surprised me the most is that, at the end of the day, the United States on any given file, the number of steps that are required to get from a Presidential decision to execution on the ground ... the way resources have to move, the way instructions have to be communicated, the way allies need to be engaged and consulted. The sheer magnitude of the machinery is something you can recognize from the outside and you can recognize from different vantage points within the US government. But sitting in the seat that I sit in now, the magnitude of that machinery, and frankly, the kind of incredible human effort that is required to move even as simple a decision as the allocation of some funding for development purposes in a single country. Let alone a highly complex decision - like how to put together AUKUS. Until you stare at it square in the face from the seat I sit in, you don’t fully understand what, you’re kind of dealing with as this massive machine. And it’s quite potent. It’s quite impressive. It’s also quite human. And so it’s imperfect. And that’s something that we all have to accept and manage for and correct for along the way.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: And finally, you sit in a lot of interesting rooms. Now you encounter a lot of interesting individuals, whether they’re perfect or imperfect. Is there someone you’ve met this year whose personal qualities have really impressed you? And for example, I saw you at the Vatican recently, when the President had an audience with Pope Francis, what was that like?
JAKE SULLIVAN: That was really, really something. My father actually trained as a Jesuit novice before deciding not to become a fully ordained priest and has been a Jesuit his whole life. Being able to go to the Vatican, with my background and upbringing and meet the Pope, being able to do so - standing next to the President of the United States, who himself is an Irish Catholic. And be surrounded by colleagues, you know, who I love - Catholic colleagues. And to hear the Pope and the President engage in the conversation they engaged in - it really, you know, it’s easy to have a certain degree of remove or cynicism or even just sheer fatigue in this job. That was a pretty damn energizing moment. But I also got the chance to talk to Bono about COVID-19 and that was very cool too. So he’d ranked high on my list of people who I have very much enjoyed dealing with this year. Irish guy too!
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Jake Sullivan, thank you for taking the time to deliver the 2021 Lowy Lecture and to answer my questions. I think that friends of America will be heartened by the fact that someone like you sits at the President’s elbow. I know you’re Irish Catholic but to borrow a Yiddish term, Jake, I’ve always thought of you as a mensch. So thank you very much. I’m sorry that we had to speak at long distance. I hope you’ll encourage the President to visit Australia and of course, come to speak to the Lowy Institute. I also know you’re a Sydney Swans fan, so we’ll have to get you along to another game.
JAKE SULLIVAN: Thank you. Yes, I turned into an Aussie rules football fan when I came down for my Lowy fellowship stint and I still follow from afar. So I very much look forward to going to a game. And thank you very much for giving me this opportunity.
MICHAEL FULLILOVE: Thanks again, Jake. You have a hard job and we wish you luck. Thank you.
JAKE SULLIVAN: Thank you.