Ellen Barry reports in the New York Times that the Russians see the handwriting on the wall in Syria:
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's top envoy for Syria, said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was losing control of the country and might be defeated by rebel forces.
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition,” he said — the clearest indication to date that Russia believed Mr. Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could lose in a civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
“We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory,” said Mr. Bogdanov, in remarks to Russia’s Public Chamber carried by Russian news agencies.
This comes a day after Syria launched Scud missiles at opposition forces -- which everyone and their mother seems to think is a desperate move by the Assad regime -- and the United States announced it would recognize the new Syrian opposition council.
Now, as someone who has been expecting Assad to go for quite some time now, these appear to be pretty powerful signs that the regime is, if not facing the end, the beginning of the end. On the other hand, as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith note in Foreign Policy, Assad still seems able to command the necessary resources to fund his coercive apparatus.
So, how can we really tell that Assad -- or any other leader facing an insurrection -- is actually on his way out? In the spirit of David Letterman, might I suggest the following:
TOP TEN SIGNS THAT YOUR REGIME IS IN TROUBLE:
10) Your Minister of Transportation decides to cash in all his frequent flyer miles.
9) Barbara Walters bumps you from her Most Fascinating People of the Year special in favor of a boy band;
8) Your press agent tells you, "I don't know what happened, but we can't find that Vogue profile of you anywhere on the Internet!"
7) The RSVPs for your year-end holiday party don't seem to include anyone from the Defense Ministry.
6) Fox News interrupts its War on Christmas coverage to actually report on your country
5) Your last name, as a hashtag, is trending higher than a Kardashian.
4) For no apparent reason, your radio station is playing this song nonstop.
3) The traffic jam to your international airport is far worse than usual.
2) All those posters of you in the downtown are now covered by posters of the latest Liam Neeson film.
and the #1 sign that your regime is in trouble...
1) The U.N. Security Council says so!!
Sorry, students -- Erik Voeten at The Monkey Cage took up my challenge earlier this week to explain "what were the key factors that determined a country's decision not to attend Lu's Nobel [Peace Prize] ceremony?" Click here and then here -- there are cool graphs.
[Then why not replicate them here?--ed. Because more of my readers should be reading The Monkey Cage anyway.]
What's interesting is that, in the end, a few countries that originally signaled their intention to abide by China's wishes reversed course in the end. In particular, some of the anomalous countries -- Colombia and the Philippines, for example -- reversed course and sent representatives.
In doing so, Voeten found a pretty straightforward correlation between domestic press freedoms and attendance. That is to say, the countries that declined to send a representative were the countries that censored their domestic press the most. Foreign policy alignment, as represented by UN votes, does not appear to play a role.
Voeten cautions that this does not mean that China's political and implicit economic pressure played no role, however:
All of this does not mean that international pressure is irrelevant to the story. China can probably credibly threaten small punishments to most countries for attending but not big ones. So, the cost of attending may be pretty similar across states. There is much greater variation in the domestic cost for giving in to Chinese pressure. So, press freedom does a pretty good job in accounting for the variation in who attends and who does not. Yet, without China's ability to credibly threaten repercussions, the whole thing would not have been an issue.
Voeten is correct that China's power was in some ways a necessary condition for them to even consider organizing a boycott. Looking again at the list of attendees and non-attendees, however, I'd mildly disagree with Voeten on China's ability to pressure others. Voeten assumes that Beijing's ability to apply "small punishments" was constant across countries. Looking at the list of target countries, however, there were quite a few with significant export dependence on the Middle Kingdom. China is either the largest or second-largest export market for Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Iran, Japan, and Kazakhstan. One would expect both Thailand and the Philippines to also have a pretty strong desire not to ruffle China's feathers.
In the end, however, the only countries that complied with China's request were the countries that already shared China's domestic policy preferences on this issue. Strictly in terms of assessing Chinese power, it is to Beijing's credit that it was able to get these countries to comply. The country's inability to use implicit and explicit threats to compel other countries well within its power orbit to change their minds, however, is... let's say interesting.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.