Executing Foreign Policy

NEW YORK – The filmmaker Woody Allen is often quoted as saying that “Showing up is 80% of life.” One can quibble with the percentage, but Allen’s insight is important: You have to get in the game – be a player – to have any chance of obtaining your objectives.

The same is true of world affairs. If showing up is 80% of life, at least 80% of foreign policy is following up. Smart plans, good intentions, and strong negotiating skills are essential, but they are never enough – not even close. As with business, education, and much else in life, most of what makes foreign policy work – or not – is a matter of implementation and execution.

This observation will be tested more than once in 2016 and subsequent years. One prominent example is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the trade pact signed in October by 12 Pacific Rim countries in Asia and the Americas. If the accord enters into force, it will expand world trade, boost economic growth, and strengthen the United States’ ties with regional allies who would otherwise be tempted to move closer to China.

The agreement’s entry into force, though, is subject to ratification by most of the 12 signatories’ legislatures. The outcome in the US and Japan, the world’s largest and third largest economies, respectively, will be particularly consequential. Indeed, everyone is waiting to see what happens in the US.