This weekend I had the pleasure of informally conversing with a Senator Who Shall Remain Nameless about certain matters of world politics, when he scared the living crap out of me. We were talking about trying to define the dynamics of a rather nettlesome problem in world politics. The good senator admitted that this was a tough nut to crack... and then said, in essence, "this is one thing that academics like you need to do, to clarify how we should think about these issues."
It was at that point that I got very scared. Any time politicians are looking to academics for insight, you know they're pretty desperate.
Whether it was just a clever deflection or not, however, I think the senator was right. There are certain known arenas of world politics where practitioners are gonna do what they're gonna do. There are other areas, however, where the uncertainty is so high that the right concept at the right time really can shape the way the problem is handled.
I bring this up because the upcoming Barack Obama-Xi Jinping summit suggests a possible moment where the right idea might matter. All the reports I have seen suggest that this summer is less about tangible deliverables and more about how to define the overall relationship between the two countries. As I noted last week, it appears that the Chinese leadership has been casting about for new ways of thinking about the relationship as well. As Jane Perlez reported, Xi seems eager to explore "a new type of great power relationship." Not surprisingly, everyone inside and outside Washington has offered their two cents on the matter.
I'm going to try to puzzle out how to define the relationship via the
half-assed some blogging about it. I'm going to start in this post by pointing out quite clearly what China is not. Namely, China has not been a revisionist actor on the global stage. In fact, over the past five years, they've been.... wait for it... a pretty responsible stakeholder.
Now, longtime readers of this blog might be a bit shocked to read that last sentence. I've posted a fair number of items pointing out the myriad ways in which China has rankled, annoyed, or truly pissed off other actors in the world -- often ineptly. With respect to its foreign economic policy, one could point to China's multi-year project of keeping the yuan undervalued, its indigenous innovation project, and its periodic disruptions of rare earth exports as good examples. On security, China's actions in its neighborhood (South China Sea) or globally (intransigence on Syria) would seem to be at odds with the United States.
That said, Iain Johnston made a very persuasive case in the pages of International Security a few months ago on how China's post-2008 behavior hasn't deviated that much from its pre-2008 behavior. I don't agree with his comments on the blogosphere -- but I do agree with these two paragraphs:
A common problem in the new assertiveness analyses is that they consider only confirming evidence while ignoring disconfirming examples. The risk here is exaggerating change and discounting continuity. The pundit and media world thus tended to miss a great deal of ongoing cooperative interaction between the United States and China throughout 2010. Examples include the continued growth of U.S. exports to China during the year; the continued high congruence in U.S. and Chinese voting in the UN Security Council; Chinese support for UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime—a move appreciated by the Obama administration; Beijing’s abiding by its 2009 agreement with the United States to hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama; a Chinese decision to continue the appreciation of the renminbi prior to the Group of Twenty meeting in Toronto in June 2010; Hu Jintao’s decision to attend the U.S.-hosted nuclear summit in April 2010 (in the wake of the January 2010 Taiwan arms sales decision, the Chinese had hinted that Hu would not attend the summit); a Chinese decision to pressure the Sudan government to exercise restraint should South Sudan declare independence; and China’s more constructive cross-strait policies, in the wake of Ma Ying-jeou’s 2008 election as president of the Republic of China, which have contributed to a decline in tensions between China and Taiwan, thus reducing the probability, for the moment, of a U.S. military conflict with the PRC.
In addition to these U.S.-specific cooperative actions, throughout 2010 China continued to participate in all of the major multilateral global and regional institutions in which it had been involved for the past couple of decades, including the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations Security Council, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus 3, the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement, UN peacekeeping operations, and antipiracy activities in the Gulf of Aden. There is no evidence that, beginning in 2010, it began to withdraw from global institutional life or to dramatically challenge the purposes, ideology, or main organizational features of these institutions to a degree that it had not in the past. Diplomacy in these institutions continued to show the expected mix of focused pursuit of status and material interest, defense of sovereignty, and functional cooperation that has characterized China’s approach to these institutions over the past couple of decades.
I'd put it even more strongly. Since 2008, China has had multiple opportunities to disrupt the U.S.-created international order, and Beijing has passed on almost all of these opportunities.
Johnston's focus was on 2010, but one could argue that events since then further buttress his argument. China continued to allow the renminbi to appreciate and continued to demonstrate compliance with its WTO obligations. As Perlez noted in her story last week, the Chinese have taken significant steps to signal their displeasure with North Korea. Last week Chinese premier Li Keqiang gave a speech that kinda sounded like the death knell for any loose talk about a Beijing Consensus. Even on international issues where China has appeared to be willfully obstinate -- the law of the sea, climate change, cyberattacks -- there has been at least some positive movement in recent months/weeks/days.
Now, let's be clear -- China is doing almost all of this to advance its own narrow self-interest. None of the above means that China is suddenly going to embrace the U.S. perspective on human rights or the South China Sea. Still, there are a healthy number of issue areas where China's interests are pretty congruent with the United States, and where China has taken constructive policy steps.
My main point here is that China is a great power that is inevitably going to disagree with the United States on a host of issues. China is not, however, a revisionist actor hell-bent on subverting the post-1945/post-1989 global governance. To use John Ikenberry's language, recent Sino-American disputes are taking place within the context of the current international order. They are not about radical changes to that international order. Indeed, contrary to the arguments of some, the current system has displayed surprising resilience.
So, going into this summit, I do hope that the Obama administration recognizes that China thinks that they've been a constructive actor in maintaining global order -- and, in a lot of ways, this is more than just boilerplate. A failure to acknowledge this really will create, as the Chinese are fond of saying, "hurt feelings" in California -- and only exacerbate a more malevolent worldview in Beijing.
Acknowledging China's constructive role does not mean that Obama should keep its mouth shut on areas of disagreement, or that the relationship doesn't need to rest on firmer ground. But as a first principle, it's worth remembering that China's rise is not an existential threat.
Am I missing anything?
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) just released their 2012 report on trends in world military expenditures. The report -- hell, just the press release -- should please a lot of people in the foreign policy community, albeit for different reasons.
For those decrying the global arms race, the topline figure should be cause for cheer:
World military expenditure totalled $1.75 trillion in 2012, a fall of 0.5 per cent in real terms since 2011, according to figures released today by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
Hooray! Fewer arms, more hugs, or something like that!!
For neoconservatives, however, the reasons behind that drop in aggregate defense spending will vindicate their worries. The press release confirms the decline in U.S. hegemony in defense spending:
In 2012 the USA’s share of world military spending went below 40 per cent for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A declining trend that began in 2011 accelerated in 2012, with a drop in US military spending of 6 per cent in real terms to $682 billion....
US military spending in 2012 was also projected to be $15 billion lower than previously planned as a result of cuts to the Department of Defense linked to the 2011 Budget Control Act. The bulk of cuts under this legislation will begin in 2013.
So, with the decline in U.S. military expenditures, we're in real danger of being overtaken by the Chinese, right? Well ... there's enough grist in the report for neoconservative skeptics as well.
The fact sheet puts this decline U.S. defense spending in the proper perspective. The United States still spends four times as much on defense as the next-biggest spender (China). Furthermore, "US spending was still more than the combined spending of the next 10 countries (p. 4)."
Will China's defense spending eventually match the United States? Assuming China grows at a healthy clip -- hardly a guarantee -- sure. But as the Economist noted a few weeks ago, tweaking those assumptions just a tad leads to some very different predictions about when defense parity will occur:
What's more intriguing is the effect of the Great Recession on defense spending:
Even in those parts of the world where spending has increased, the effects of the economic crisis can still be seen: slowing economic growth in emerging regions has led to slower rates of growth in military spending. Only the Middle East and North Africa increased their rate of military spending between 2003–2009 and 2009–2012.
The average annual rate of military spending increase in Asia, for instance, has halved from 7.0 per cent per year in 2003–2009, to 3.4 per cent per year in 2009–2012. The slow-down was most dramatic in Central and South Asia, where military spending was growing by an average of 8 per cent per year in 2003–2009, but by only 0.7 per cent a year since 2009, and actually fell in 2012, by 1.6 per cent.
Here's the chart:
That chart massively undersells the decline in defense spending, because it measures absolute levels of military spending and not spending as a percentage of global output. If you use that metric, then defense spending's share of the global economy has fallen by about half since the end of the Cold War.
It's almost as if the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent recession didn't trigger the arms races and general increase in political conflict that some expected would happen. It's almost as if the current threats to national security aren't as serious as they were back in the day.
By now, readers have a pretty good idea of the thesis of my latest book topic: Contra the arguments of many, the system of global economic governance worked pretty well during the 2008 financial crisis, and it's continued to work "well enough" since 2008.
Furthermore, American leadership is at least partly rsponsible for the system working. Despite bouts of partisan gridlock, the United States government still enacted a plethora of emergency rescue packages (via the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program), expansionary fiscal policies (via the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the payroll tax cut, and the extension of the Bush tax cuts), stress tests of large financial institutions, expansionary monetary policy (via interest rate cuts, three rounds of quantitative easing and Operation Twist), and financial regulatory reform (via Dodd-Frank).
Another area where the U.S. has led the way is reforming IMF governance. Since 2006, the IMF has engaged in two rounds of quota reform so the distribution of power within the institution better reflects the actual distribution of power. A third round is planned for completion in 2014. As Ted Truman explains in this Peterson Institute of International Economics policy brief, U.S. leadership played a crucial role in these negotiations.
So far, so good for my hypothesis. There's just one problem -- Congress has yet to ratify the last round of quota revisions. Since the reforms can't be enacted without U.S. approvial, this is a thing. According to Truman:
The United States bears substantial responsibility for the current situation. After 15 years in which US administrations of both political parties have pushed aggressively and imaginatively for governance changes in the IMF culminating with the central
US role in shaping the 2010 Seoul package, the United States has failed to implement that package. The rest of the world has been remarkably tolerant of the US delay in acting on the 2010 Seoul IMF reform package, but that patience is running out. US leadership and influence in the IMF is weakening, and thereby the influence of the institution itself. This is the principal reason why it is urgent to enact the pending IMF legislation.
From a US and global perspective there is only downside and no upside in further delay. Doing so would support the IMF as the central institution promoting global economic growth and financial stability, involve no true financial cost to the US taxpayer, and reinforce US leadership and influence in this crucial institution, positioning the United States to continue to lead in negotiating further IMF governance reforms.
Don't take Truman's word on this alone, however. As the Financial Times' Robin Harding reports, a lot of experts are starting to get antsy about the lack of congressional action:
Almost 100 policy makers and academics have written to the US Congress urging the ratification of crucial reforms of the International Monetary Fund that international leaders agreed more than two years ago.
The signatories argue in an open letter, sent to House of Representatives and Senate leaders on Monday and seen by the Financial Times, that if the US does not sign up it will undermine its authority in negotiations at the G20 and other institutions that govern the world economy.
“Failure to act would diminish the role of the United States in international economic policy making and undermine US efforts to promote growth and financial stability,” the letter says.
Signatories include holders of the top international economic job at the US Treasury under Republican and Democratic administrations. They include Tim Adams, who worked for former president George W. Bush, and Jeffrey Shafer, who was part of the Clinton administration.
I'd say that it's a cruel irony that the United States is the brake on reforms spearheaded by ... the United States, except that by now, savvy readers know that this sort of thing is disturbingly common.
Does it matter? Well, as much as I love to pooh-pooh the BRICS, they do share one genuine area of consensus -- they want more influence over global governance structures. If they don't get it, there will come a time when they will be both willing and able to set up institutions on their own -- like this one. Which would be a shame for two reasons. First, as a general rule of global economic governance, it's better to have great powers on the inside pissing out rather than the reverse. Second, the IMF has had some good mojo as of late, demonstrating renewed independence from Eurocrats and proposing some nifty policy ideas.
If Congress stalls this quota reform measure that the executive branches from both parties have negotiated , they will be weakening a U.S.-friendly international institution and inviting potential rivals to set up or bolster alternatives. Which, if you think about, is a really stupid way to run U.S. foreign economic policy.
More importantly to me, however, it would really f**k up one of my book's hypotheses. Congressional gridlock hasn't sabotaged too much in the way of American global leadership for the past give years. Blocking quota reform would be a pretty big deal, though. It would force me to revise a book chapter, and I really don't want to do that.
So, in the name of political science, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill.
[Uh, you really think that an appeal to political sciece is gonna work with this crew?!--ed.] Uh ... in the name of preventing China and its allies from creating a New Anti-American World Order and threatening a global governance gap, I humbly beseech Congress to pass the damn quota reform bill. [Much better!!--ed.]
Maybe Moscow thought this would tilt its client state toward the pro-Russia choice in that binary, but it appears to have be having the opposite effect....
Russia is not in the process of losing a client-state, exactly — the political and cultural ties are likely still too deep for something that drastic to happen that quickly — but Moscow certainly isn’t doing itself any favors. As [Felix] Salmon wrote today, “If this is how the game ends, it’s an unambiguous loss for Russia, and a win for the E.U.”
Moscow’s aggressive, all-or-nothing approach appears to have only pushed Cyprus further toward Europe.
Now, far be it for me to question Russia's motiva--- oh, screw it, I'm totally going to question Russia's motivations here. Because what happened in Cyprus is emblematic of an interesting trend since 2008 -- the great powers that analysts have lazily defined as "revisionist" don't seem all that interested in collecting allies.
This is not the first time a weak Western ally has sought out either China or Russia as a way of avoiding onerous financial strictures. Iceland begged Russia for financial assistance during the depths of the 2008 financial crisis. At one point, the Icelandic President allegedly offered Russia the use of Keflavík Air Base. This possibility caused some mild consternation in Foggy Bottom. In the end, the Russians said they didn't need the base and proffered only a fraction of what Iceland wanted, leaving Reykjavik little choice but to cut a deal with the IMF.
One can tell a similar story with Pakistan and China. During the fall of 2008 Islamabad was facing a balance of payments crisis and sought out China as a benefactor. In the end, China was unwilling to offer Pakistan enough money to substitute for IMF support, forcing the Pakistani government to take out an IMF loan.
Both the Iceland and Pakistan outcomes were surprising enough in 2008 that I bothered to blog about them back then. The interesting thing is that nothing much has changed. Sure, through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China has enhanced its role outside its region, but even FOCAC is more about commercial interests than geopolitical interests. At the same time, China became estranged from one of its most loyal allies when Myanmar started embracing the United States. It also alienated a lot of neighbors that might otherwise have been more willing to defer to Beijing. And as I blogged earlier this year, China continues to be standoffish towards Pakistan despite the latter country's eagerness to ally itself with Beijing. Ironically, the only countries that Russia and China have really stuck their neck out for in recent years have been the allies that have given them the most agita -- Syria for Moscow, and North Korea for Beijing. [Gee, it's almost as if this phenomenon of small allies that are strategic deadweights is not unique to the United States or something!!--ed. This is a blog post, so stop your subtweeting.]
To be sure, China and Russia have , on occasion, engaged in some revisionist efforts to change the status quo. See: Russia's 2008 war with Georgia; China's border disputes with the rest of the Pacific Rim. What's striking, however, is that neither Moscow nor Beijing seems terribly interested in collecting client states. Hell, for all the rhetoric involving closer Sino-Russian cooperation, it seems as though the actual bilateral relationship amounts to little more than empty rhetoric and cooperation at the U.N. Security Council.
Why is this? I'm honestly not sure. Back in 2008, I spitballed the following:
For all their aspirations to great power status, both countries lack the policy expertise necessary to take on greater leadership roles. This leads to profound risk aversion, which leads to inaction. On the flip side, the U.S. is accustomed to talking to the countries in crisis, which both provides it with more information and allows Washington to act more quickly.
Four and a half years later, I don't think that's a sufficient explanation. Spitballing now, I think there are three possible explanations.
1) Pure buckpassing. Why should Moscow or Beijing spend their hard-earned cash on marginally useful client states? Let the West exhaust itself with these aid packages.
2) Internal balancing. Realists like to think that external balancing (forming alliances) and internal balancing (augmenting national capabilities) are substitutable strategies. Maybe China and Russia prefer to focus on national capabilities rather than coalition-building.
3) Outside their own neighborhood, neither Russia nor China is really revisionist. As great powers, Moscow and Beijing will do what they gotta do in their near abroads. Globally, however, they have neither the ambition nor the interest in altering the current system of "good enough" global governance. After all, the current rules of the global game have benefited both of them pretty well over the past decade or so.
You can guess which of these explanations I gravitate towards, but I'm hardly convinced.
What do you think?
Well, this sounds like very bad news for the global financial system:
A plan to rescue the tiny European country of Cyprus, assembled overnight in Brussels, has left financial regulators, German politicians, panicked Cypriot leaders and a disgruntled Kremlin with a bailout package that has outraged virtually all the parties.
In the end, a bailout deal that was supposed to calm a financial crisis in an economically insignificant Mediterranean nation spread it wider. Word of the plan unnerved markets across Europe, raised fears of bank instability in Spain and Italy and sent pensioners into the streets of the island’s capital, Nicosia, in protest.
As markets tumbled and the Cypriot Parliament fell into turmoil, salvos of blame were hurled back and forth across the Continent.
Officials scrambled to explain what went wrong and how best to control the damage of what Philip Whyte, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, called a “completely irrational decision” to make bank depositors liable for part of the bailout. The deal flopped so badly that finance ministers who came up with it shortly before dawn on Saturday were on the phone to each other Monday night talking about ways to revise it.
Now, on the one hand, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who will defend the Cypriot deal as it was announced on Saturday -- but it's pretty easy to find critics of the proposed deal across the political spectrum. So this seems like yet another data point confirming the truly mind-boggling stupidity of European governments and regulators. It's particularly galling that they did this during a time when global capital markets are still fragile from the 2008 financial crisis.
Oh, except, wait a minute, it turns out that those markets aren't as fragile as the perception suggests. If you burrow into the McKinsey Global Institute's latest report on global asset markets, it turns out that, excepting Europe, the rest of global finance has experienced a decent recovery from the 2008 crash. According to MGI:
With the pullback in cross-border lending, foreign direct investment from the world’s multinational companies and sovereign investors has increased to roughly 40 percent of global capital flows. This may bring greater stability, since foreign direct investment has proved to be the least volatile type of capital flow, despite a drop in 2012.
Of course, this was written before the Cypriot stupidity, so now markets are really roiled, right? Well... here's Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal's take early this a.m.:
Markets are down a bit in Europe although not dramatically so yet.
US futures were flat, and Asia was actually up nicely, with Japan gaining 2%.
That seems like a thoroughly appropriate reaction. And over at the New York Times, Andrew Ross Sorkin explains why that's the rational and appropriate reaction:
While the bailout of Cyprus is a fascinating case study and raises interesting theoretical questions about moral hazard for policy wonks and talking heads, here is the reality: It is largely irrelevant to the global economy. Cyprus is tiny; its economy is smaller than Vermont’s. And the bailout is worth a paltry $13 billion, the equivalent of pocket lint for those in the bailout game.
Even the larger issue about bailing out a country by taking money from depositors — which quickly created outrage around the world — seems overblown....
[I]n truth, the smart money knows that the bailout of Cyprus says very little about future actions.
“I would assume that anyone in Spain, Portugal or elsewhere who knows about the taxation of Cypriot depositors also would know that the Cypriot banking system is a very different animal than anywhere else in the euro zone,” Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit, wrote in a note to clients.
Mr. O’Neill of Goldman also acknowledged: “I am sure it will not set a precedent.”
Cyprus is unique. Besides being tiny, its banking system looks different from those in most other countries. Much of the big money deposited in its banks is from foreign investors, including Russians who have long been suspected of money laundering. Those investors had fair warning that Cypriot banks were troubled. The issue has been simmering for six months. But those investors left their money in the bank, in part because they were gambling that the banks would be bailed out at no cost to them. If the current plan is approved, depositors will have lost that bet.
Now this is a perfectly rational analysis. What's significant is that it seems like markets are making the same calculation. When financial markets are fragile, when there's a fear of financial contagion, they don't make the rational calculation -- they freak out. That hasn't happened with Cyprus.
I know I'm at the risk of pulling a Donald Luskin here, but what's happening in Cyprus right now primarily affects Cypriots, with a small concern about regional effects. It doesn't look like it's triggering the same kind of concerns of either the Lehman collapse or the Greek sovereign debt crisis. And anytime the abject stupidity of European financial statecraft can be confined to Europe, that's a very, very good thing indeed for the global financial system.
Am I missing anything?
As longtime blog readers are aware, I'm working on a book-length project arguing that global economic governance has done a surprisingly good job of things in the post-2008 world. Not perfect, mind you, but "good enough" global governance.
Now, the interesting thing about making such a counterintuitive argument is the number of opportunities one comes across of the conventional wisdom asserting itself -- the idea that the system is crumbling, we're in a Brave New World of uncertainty, no one is in charge, yadda yadda yadda. You, my dear reader, must wonder how I react when I see such assertions. Well, pretty much like Cliff Poncier but with shorter hair:
No, seriously, I like seeing good arguments pushing against my position -- it's a way for me to see whether my argument holds up.
Which brings me to Naazneen Barma, Ely Ratner and Steve Weber's new essay in The National Interest, entitled "The Mythical Liberal Order." The title is pretty clear -- as is their argument:
Instead of a gradual trend toward global problem solving punctuated by isolated failures, we have seen over the last several years essentially the opposite: stunningly few instances of international cooperation on significant issues. Global governance is in a serious drought—palpable across the full range of crucial, mounting international challenges that include nuclear proliferation, climate change, international development and the global financial crisis.
Where exactly is the liberal world order that so many Western observers talk about? Today we have an international political landscape that is neither orderly nor liberal.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In the envisaged liberal world order, the “rise of the rest” should have been a boost to global governance. A rebalancing of power and influence should have made international politics more democratic and multilateral action more legitimate, while bringing additional resources to bear. Economic integration and security-community enlargement should have started to envelop key players as the system built on itself through network effects—by making the benefits of joining the order (and the costs of opposing it) just a little bit greater for each new decision. Instead, the world has no meaningful deal on climate change; no progress on a decade-old global-trade round and no inclination toward a new one; no coherent response to major security issues around North Korea, Iran and the South China Sea; and no significant coordinated effort to capitalize on what is possibly the best opportunity in a generation for liberal progress—the Arab Spring.
It’s not particularly controversial to observe that global governance has gone missing. What matters is why. The standard view is that we’re seeing an international liberal order under siege, with emerging and established powers caught in a contest for the future of the global system that is blocking progress on global governance. That mental map identifies the central challenge of American foreign policy in the twenty-first century as figuring out how the United States and its allies can best integrate rising powers like China into the prevailing order while bolstering and reinforcing its foundations.
But this narrative and mental map are wrong. The liberal order can’t be under siege in any meaningful way (or prepped to integrate rising powers) because it never attained the breadth or depth required to elicit that kind of agenda. The liberal order is today still largely an aspiration, not a description of how states actually behave or how global governance actually works. The rise of a configuration of states that six years ago we called a “World Without the West” is not so much challenging a prevailing order as it is exposing the inherent frailty of the existing framework.
I encourage you to read the whole thing. I have two reactions to it. The first is thast I wholeheartedly endorse one point that they are making. The notion that the liberal wprld order was perfectly functioning prior to 2008 is one of the biggest sources of misperception about the global political economy. As Barma, Ratner and Weber point out, this was at best a partial order even prior to 2008. This matters: a misplaced nostalgia for prior eras of global governance is one reason that so many commentators think that the system is f**ked right now. Once you realize that the post-1945 liberal order was partial, riddled with exceptions, and also prone to crisis, suddenly the present day doesn't look so bad in comparison.
Now, that said, I think Barma, Ratner and Weber get some big things wrong. This is a blog post, so I'll focus on one point in particular -- the claim that liberal ideas are faltering in today's world:
Ask yourself this: Have developing countries felt and manifested over time the increasing magnetic pull of the liberal world order? A number of vulnerable developing and post-Communist transitional countries adopted a “Washington Consensus” package of liberal economic policies—freer trade, marketization and privatization of state assets—in the 1980s and 1990s. But these adjustments mostly arrived under the shadow of coercive power. They generally placed the burden of adjustment disproportionately on the most disempowered members of society. And, with few exceptions, they left developing countries more, not less, vulnerable to global economic volatility. The structural-adjustment policies imposed in the midst of the Latin American debt crisis and the region’s subsequent “lost decade” of the 1980s bear witness to each of these shortcomings, as do the failed voucher-privatization program and consequent asset stripping and oligarchic wealth concentration experienced by Russians in the 1990s.
If these were the gains that were supposed to emerge from a liberal world order, it’s no surprise that liberalism came to have a tarnished brand in much of the developing world. The perception that economic neoliberalism fails to deliver on its trickle-down growth pledge is strong and deep. In contrast, state capitalism and resource nationalism—vulnerable to a different set of contradictions, of course—have for the moment delivered tangible gains for many emerging powers and look like promising alternative development paths. Episodic signs of pushback against some of the excesses of that model, such as anti-Chinese protests in Angola or Zambia, should not be confused with a yearning for a return to liberal prescriptions. And comparative economic performance in the wake of the global financial crisis has done nothing to burnish liberalism’s economic image, certainly not in the minds of those who saw the U.S. investment banking–led model of capital allocation as attractive, and not in the minds of those who held a vision of EU-style, social-welfare capitalism as the next evolutionary stage of liberalism.
Yes, this explains why the publics in the developing world have rejected economic globalization as an economic strategy -- oh, wait, I'm sorry, they haven't done that, nor have their governments. If anything, the commitment to a liberal economic order has held up remarkable well since 2008. As for the appeal of the "Beijing Consensus" or the "China Model," I'll outsource this refutation to Yang Yao, Scott Kennedy, and Matt Ferchen.
The fundamental disagreement between these authors and myself is revealed in this paragraph:
Global governistas will protest that the response to the global financial crisis proves that international economic cooperation is more robust than we acknowledge. In this view, multilateral financial institutions passed the stress test and prevented the world from descending into the economic chaos of beggar-thy-neighbor trade policies and retaliatory currency arbitrage and capital controls. The swift recovery of global trade and capital flows is often cited as proof of the relative success of economic cooperation. The problem with this thesis is that very real fears about how the system could collapse, including the worry that states would retreat behind a mercantilist shell, are no different from what they were a hundred years ago. It’s not especially indicative of liberal progress to be having the same conversation about global economic governance that the world was having at the end of the gold-standard era and the onset of the Great Depression. Global economic governance may have helped to prevent a repeat downward spiral into self-defeating behaviors, but surely in a world order focused on liberal progress the objectives of global economic governance should have moved on by now.
My response to this is two-fold: first, given the crisis-prone nature of global capitalism, preventing and repairing catastrophes should be a pretty timeless function of global economic governance. Second, there is no way that one can objectively compare the world order of the 1930s -- or 1940s or 1970s, for that matter -- and not conclude that massive amounts of liberal progress have not been made. The world is far more free politically and economically now than at any point in history. That suggests a surprisingly robust liberal world order.
Or, in other words, all this negative energy about global economic governance just makes my argument stronger, man.
What do you think?
The Washington Post's Howard Schneider and Danielle Douglas have a story detailing the ways in which post-crisis global financial reform has allegedly ground to a halt:
Five years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, a global push to tighten financial regulation around the world has slowed in the face of a tepid recovery and a tough industry lobbying effort....
the post-Lehman goal — of a global scheme that would immunize the financial system from another large-scale shock — remains incomplete. Big banks, insurers and other financial giants remain intact and arguably “too big too fail.” Tools to guard against dangerous bubbles in the value of property or other assets are not yet in place. There is no agreement on how countries should coordinate the failure of a globally important financial company. Implementation of basic banking rules in major nations has fallen behind schedule.
Finishing the job “is going to take many years,” International Monetary Fund chief economist Olivier Blanchard said last week. “It is conceptually very difficult, politically very difficult.”
In their effort to overhaul the global system, regulators have been confronted by a number of head winds. The world’s economy has been unexpectedly slow to recover, making governments leery of doing anything that might make banks cautious to loan and invest. The financial industry has pushed back hard, warning that aggressive regulation might undermine growth. And regulators are simply limited in their understanding of how modern finance can be made safe while still supporting economic activity.
The result: Some of the proposals once considered core to a safe, post-Lehman system have been delayed and weakened, and others have been played down, at least for now, as too politically complex.
Well, this sounds like a blow against my theory of "pretty good" or "good enough" global governance that I've been yammering about on the blog.... that is, until one starts reading the rest of the Post's story.
First of all, with the exception of one Jamie Dimon quote, there's not any real evidence in the story that industry lobbying is to blame. I'm not saying that this means that there was no industry lobbying, or that it was inconsequential -- merely that there's no evidence in the story to support the lede.
What there is evidence of, however, are two things that seem pretty consistent with "good enough" global governance. The first is that even in areas where there's been minimal global agreement, there have beern "patchwork" arrangements that look like they will work. For example:
There also is no comprehensive global approach for addressing bank failures. Individual members of the Basel committee, including the United States, have established resolution plans in case their own lenders become insolvent. And the United States and Britain in December released a set of guidelines to handle a major insolvency — a potentially important agreement between two world financial centers.
But determining how to coordinate the collapse of a major multinational bank is an area where the IMF and others have had limited success in pushing for a broader global agreement. The issue is important because a method to share the fallout of a bank failure across national borders would probably make countries more willing to let institutions go out of business, rather than propping them up with taxpayers’ money.
Again, in a perfect world one would like to see a comprehensive agreement. Given the center of gravity for the financial sector, however, an Anglo-American arrangement is actually pretty powerful and covers the biggest concerns.
Then we get to the implementation of the Basel III accords, designed to insure that banks have sufficient reserves of safe and liquid assets on hand to prevent a panic. As Schneider and Douglas note, the Financial Stability Board reports that only 8 of 27 nations are on track to implement these reforms on schedule.
Why is that the case? Here we find that interest group lobbying seems to matter less than... a recognition by regulators that life is not so simple:
[O]ther Basel proposals have been revised as regulators, bankers and officials have better understood how some of their major assumptions about finance and risk had been upended by events.
In Basel this month, regulators scaled back one key set of provisions that would force banks to keep the equivalent of larger levels of cash on hand to guard against a run on deposits or another fast-moving crisis.
Such highly liquid assets had been defined to include government bonds — which traditionally can be sold quickly and at close to their face value — and to exclude securities backed by residential mortgages, the bundled, complex assets that had triggered the financial crisis in 2007 when they proved difficult to sell other than at a steep loss.
The financial crisis in the euro zone showed a flaw in the approach when Greek, Portuguese and other government bonds plummeted in value. Smaller U.S. banks, meanwhile, argued that to completely exclude mortgages from the new “liquidity coverage ratio” would reduce their ability to make home loans.
When the final Basel rules on the issue were released this month, the required liquidity levels were reduced, mortgages were included in the tally and banks were given extra time to comply.
“Nobody set out to make it stronger or weaker as a standard but to make it more realistic... to make sure there was no impediment to financing recovery,” said Bank of England Governor Mervyn King, who chairs a Basel committee of central bankers and regulatory chiefs.
So, to sum up: after an initial burst of regulatory arrangements, progress has slowed down in some areas, and in other areas relies on a more patchwork arrangement. That said, there appear to be intrisically good reasons for the slowdown, and the patchwork covers the major financial centers.
Yeah, this is "good enough" global governance.
It's that time of the year again, when the Great and Good and Rich converge to Davos, Switzerland for the
realpolitik starfucking World Economic Forum. The coverage of this event gyrates wildly between bland pronouncements from attendees and world class snark from the Not as Great and Good and Rich that are not invited to attend. I will certainly confess to my own contribution to the snark pile.
As someone who casually curses way too much to ever score an invitation, I nevertheless wonder if some of the critiques of Davos are just a bit overhyped. Take Timothy Noah, who blogged the following at The New Republic yesterday:
There is no better example of social and economic policy discussion as an idle pastime for the rich than the World Economic Forum at Davos....
Ian Bremmer, who chairs Davos’s Global Agenda Council on Geopolitical Risk reports in the Huffington Post that the unifying theme this year at Davos is, yes, “the increasing vulnerability of elites.” Keep in mind as you read what follows that Bremmer is not a parodist:
We're seeing leaders of all kinds, in the developed and developing world, in politics as well as business and media, answering to constituents who grow more dissatisfied... and information-rich. Look at the riots in India over the recent rape scandal, the U.S. Congress' abysmal approval ratings, or the phone hacking scandal at News Corp. Corruption, special interests, or a lack of transparency will spell trouble for leaders. The same goes for a widening gap between rich and poor.
....if I’m reading Bremmer right, Davos sees inequality mainly as a problem bearing down on elites. The blighters simply won’t shut up about living in mud huts (or enduring weak rape laws, a dysfunctional legislature, corporate malfeasance, etc.) while the rest of us hit the slopes.
Now, much as I'd love to snark along with Noah, I don't think he's entirely reading Bremmer right, and I also think he's making a categorical policy error. To be fair to Noah, Bremmer's geopolitical risk report does have a section on the problems with too much transparency that does read a bit too much like a pity party for the elite ("in developed democracies, scandals involving leaders can distract whole nations for weeks on end, while more important business remains undone.")
That said, I don't think this is my FP colleague's main point. His primary thesis is that tectonic shifts in domestic politics are imposing increasing political constraints on what political elites can do to ameliorate policy problems:
In 2013, this breakdown of international coordination will go increasingly local: in such a world, governments will focus more on their domestic agendas, which will create new risks in and of itself. Most importantly, the growing vulnerability of elites makes effective public and private leadership that much more difficult to sustain. Leaders of all kinds are becoming more vulnerable to their constituents, generating more reactive and short-term governance....
Welcome to ‘the new local,’ where governments are more shackled by regional concerns and their domestic constituencies—at the expense of tackling larger-scale global issues that need collective leadership to solve.
Now I'm on record as thinking that Bremmer overstates the collapse of global governance. That said, if one accepts his premises, then the ability of leaders to address policy problems is more constrained. Whether you think this is a problem or not depends on how much faith you have in public policy elites -- and public policy in general -- to compensate for the vicissitudes of the marketplace.
Stepping back, however, I'm not sure inequality is as big of an issue as either Bremmer or Noah think it is. What we presumably should care about at places like Davos is poverty reduction, which is not necessarily correlated with inequality reduction. And the dirty secret of the post-crisis global economy is that global poverty reduction is proceeding quite nicely, thank you very much.
The primary problem with the current state of the global economy is that the biggest losers are unskilled and semi-skilled laborers in the developed world. That's an issue -- but it's one that I don't think developing country atendees at Davos are gonna care too much about.
One of the points I was trying to make in my CFR working paper on global economic governance is that the system, while far from perfect, did in fact prevent the worst from happening. That might sound like lowered expectations, but anyone who knows anything about the history of global governance would appreciate that this would represent a significant upgrading from past centuries.
I bring this up because of this maddeningly-short-on-detail New York Times front-pager by Eric Shmitt and David Sanger on what went down when the Syrian government inched closer to using its chemical weapons stockpile:
In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence that was showing up on satellite imagery: Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.
Within hours President Obama was notified, and the alarm grew over the weekend, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria's increasingly desperate president, Bashar Al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood.
What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over a civil war in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action.
The combination of a public warning by Mr. Obama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation. A week later Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said the worst fears were over — for the time being.
Now if you read the whole thing, it's entirely unclear exactly who communicated to whom and whether these messages were planned and coordinated in advance -- though it reads like it was.
But this episode, again, seems like an example of the great powers making sure that the worst-case scenario -- for them, at least -- did not transpire. Now this might seem like small beer compared to the appalling loss of life in Syria and the discomfiting tolerance the Obama admiinistration has with the status quo. Still, compared to, say, the interwar period of 1919-1939, or the Cold War deadlock from 1945-1990, it's not nothing either. Clearly, the great powers do seem pretty invested in the idea of keeping the Syrian civil war limited to Syria and not allowing it to consume the entire region.
In no way should this be taken as a shining moment for global governance, but it does suggest that there is some governing and policing going on, no matter how suboptimal the level. In much of the social sciences, there's a focus on constrained optimization and maximization. What's going on in global governance right now highlights the "constrained" part of that equation more than anything else. Still, compared to some who argue that we operate in a world where no one is powerful enough, perhaps it would be more accurate to phrase it differently. Formal and informal global governance structures still perform some important tasks at preventing worst-case scenarios from metastasizing, be it in security or economics. Call it "'good enough' global governance" -- it's not a new world order or anything, but it's also not as chaotic or dysfunctional as many pundits proclaim.
What do you think?
I have a shocking confession to make: it's possible that maybe, just maybe, professors and graduate students don't always finish tasks on time. Once in a blue moon, a project will sneak up on us that is due the next day, at which point the academic or aspiring academic is faced with the following menu of options:
1) Pull an all-nighter, throw every crazy idea onto the page, and pray something sticks;
2) Email whomever is waiting for your written work and explain that illness/unforseeen circumstances/preparations for the zombie apocalypse mean you need another week or so to finish;
3) Go dark on all social media, refuse to answer email queries, and hope that everything works out for the best.
You'd be surprised how many people opt for (3), but there it is.
I bring this up because of Mali. Now let me confess that I am about as far from an Africa expert as one can be. Let me further confess that I haven't paid too much attention to Mali over the past year. My sum knowledge of the stituation there boils down to "there's some trouble in the north," "the government ain't that stable," and "gosh, people seem to be saying, 'Al Qaeda!! There's Al Qaeda in them thar hills!!' an awful lot."
Still, reading this Financial Times story by Xan Rice on the United Nations' latest plan of action for Mali, it doesn't seem like the Security Council knows that much more than I do:
The UN Security Council has approved the deployment of an African force to retake northern Mali from al-Qaeda-linked insurgents.
The council also authorised the EU and individual countries to help equip and train Mali’s army, which is meant to work alongside the 3,300-strong international force. The proposed military operation is not expected to start before September 2013 to allow for proper planning and political progress in Mali....
The French-drafted text stresses the need for a twin track military and political plan. Deployment of the intervention force, known as the African-led International Support Mission in Mali, or AFISMA, was authorised for an initial one-year period to take “all necessary measures, in compliance with applicable international humanitarian law and human rights law”. Working alongside Mali’s armed forces, the goal is to retake northern Mali from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups”....
The UN resolution did not specify how the international mission will be funded. Nor is it clear how the force will be composed. The west African regional block Ecowas has pledged to supply the 3,300 troops, with Nigeria taking the lead. But US military officials believe that the desert conditions in northern Mali will be more suited to armies from non-Ecowas countries, such as Chad and Mauritania.
There are also questions about how Mali’s army will work with an outside force. Coup leader Captain Amadou Sanogo, who retains significant influence in Bamako and forced the prime minister to resignthis month, is wary of allowing in foreign troops, fearing his power will be diminished.
The resolution stressed that more military planning was needed, and the security council asked Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, to report on the readiness of AFISMA troops before the start of any combat operations.
So, to sum up: the Security Council has pledged to send peacekeepers on a timetable that makes academic publishing seem speedy, without any idea of how it will be funded, staffed, or operate with indigenous forces, married to vague calls for political action to lay the groundwork for said peacekeepers.
So in this case, it appears that the Security Council has followed multiple academic routes -- they scrambled to put something together at thre last minute, but still managed to kick the can down the road a great deal.
Again, let me confess that this could very well be the right thing to do -- I'm no Mali expert. I do know something about procrastination and last-minute hackwork, however, and man, this reeks of it.
I hereby plead and beg Mali-watchers to correct my misperceptions in the comments. Cause from the outside, this whole thing seems damn peculiar.
I've blogged on occasion about the development of a sovereigntist lobby that reflexively opposes all treaties because they erode U.S. sovereignty. For these people, any infringement on American sovereignty is a death blow to freedom, regardless of the benefits from joining. This kind of reflexive opposition has caused even stalwart groups on the right to cringe in embarrassment.
This hasn't slowed down the sovereigntists a bit, which led to a somewhat awkward day in the U.S. Senate:
Former Senator Bob Dole of Kansas sat slightly slumped in his wheelchair on the Senate floor on Tuesday, staring intently as Senator John Kerry gave his most impassioned speech all year, in defense of a United Nations treaty that would ban discrimination against people with disabilities.
Senators from both parties went to greet Mr. Dole, leaning in to hear his wispy reply, as he sat in support of the treaty, which would require that people with disabilities have the same general rights as those without disabilities. Several members took the unusual step of voting aye while seated at their desks, out of respect for Mr. Dole, 89, a Republican who was the majority leader.
Then, after Mr. Dole’s wife, Elizabeth, rolled him off the floor, Republicans quietly voted down the treaty that the ailing Mr. Dole, recently released from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, so longed to see passed.
A majority of Republicans who voted against the treaty, which was modeled on the Americans With Disabilities Act, said they feared that it would infringe on American sovereignty.
The Cable's Josh Rogin has more on today's vote.
Now to be fair to the Republicans who voted "nay," you don't approve a treaty just because Bob Dole favors it. And to be more than fair, it's true that the United States has comparatively robust legislation in the form of the ADA and IDEA.
On the other hand, the point of this convention is to ensure that other countries start embracing the rules and standards codified by the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act -- you'd think most Republicans would be super-keen on other countries embracing principles of U.S. law. Furthermore, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supports the treaty, and I hear that Republicans are pro-business, so that is a bit confusing. I also read that "the treaty was negotiated by the George W. Bush administration," so, again, you can understand my confusion.
If you want to see the arguments against the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, click here, here, here, here, and here. As near as I can determine, critics don't like the treaty because... it's a treaty. Most of the objections are either bogus or unsubstantiated by practice. As Joshua Keating notes, "a perfectly reasonable treaty was just rejected based on a complete misreading of it."
The treaty’s critics, like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were left arguing that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified if the US already complied with its intent, since endorsing the treaty could lead to problems down the road by unspecified means. That dismayed the treaty’s advocates, who see the treaty’s value in the message it sends to other countries about the importance of protecting disabled people. “It’s a treaty to change the world to be more like America,” protested John Kerry, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, before the failed vote.
Dana Milbank notes that sometimes the treaty's opponents contradicted their own arguments:
[O]pponents couldn’t agree on how this box would be opened. “Do I believe that states will pass laws or have to pass laws in conformity with the U.N. edict?” [Rick] Santorum asked himself. “Do we have to amend IDEA?” the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. “I don’t have any fear anytime soon that IDEA will be amended. But I do have concerns that people will go to courts and they will use this standard in this convention.”
This was contradicted by the next man at the microphone, home-schooling advocate Mike Farris, who pointed out that the document has a provision stating that “you can’t go to court automatically. You must have implementing legislation first” — the very thing Santorum says he does not expect to happen.
Still, their spurious theory of a U.N. takeover of parenting was enough to lead Lee and Santorum to oppose a treaty that would extend American values worldwide and guarantee disabled people equal treatment, and freedom from torture and exploitation.
Now I'm honestly pretty dubious about whether U.S. ratification of the treaty would accomplish all that. Unlike Law of the Sea, not ratifying this treaty doesn't appreciably harm U.S. interests. It does, however, make the United States look pretty dysfunctional. In essence, the U.S. Senate just rejected a treaty on protecting the disabled that would have globalized the status quo in U.S. law on this issue. To use the parlance of international relations scholars, this is dumber than a bag of hammers.
We live in a world where every other Thomas Friedman column bemoans the lack of global leadership, and every other David Rothkopf tweet bewails the dysfunction of global governance. Phrases like "G-Zero" get tossed around a lot, and trashing global economic governance seems to be a prerequisite for writing in the Financial Times.
Given this climate, I thought it would be useful to take a step back and point out a rather awkward and uncomfortable truth: global economic governance has actually done a surprisingly good job in response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Ludicrous, you say? Well, to make my case, I've written up an IIGG working paper for the Council on Foreign Relations entitled, "The Irony of Global Economic Governance: The System Worked." The opening paragraph:
The 2008 financial crisis posed the biggest challenge to the global economy since the Great Depression and provided a severe “stress test” for global economic governance. A review of economic outcomes, policy outputs, and institutional resilience reveals that these regimes performed well during the acute phase of the crisis, ensuring the continuation of an open global economy. Even though some policy outcomes have been less than optimal, international institutions and frameworks performed contrary to expectations. Simply put, the system worked
Now you'll have to read the whole thing to see if I'm blinkered or not. There's a decent chance that I am, mind you, but I'm pretty comfortable with the empirics of my case. What I'm uncomfortable with is the reasons why things have played out the way that they have. More on that as I work it out in my own head.
Now I've been just as skeptical as the next guy when it comes to some dimensions of global economic governance. Still, this is one of those times when stepping away from the day-to-day of the blog and looking at the overall situation provides some valuable perspective.
Still, feel free to point out where I'm wrong. Cause I suspect that this paper is going to drive some Very Serious People in the foreign policy community absolutely bonkers.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has quite the provocative op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal. He argues that even though "every living former secretary of State" endorses it, the United States should withdraw from the World Trade Organization.
The [WTO] proposes to create a new global governance institution that would regulate American citizens and businesses without being accountable politically to the American people. Some [WTO] proponents pay little attention to constitutional concerns about democratic legislative processes and principles of self-government, but I believe the American people take seriously such threats to the foundations of our nation.
The [WTO] creates a United Nations-style body called the "Dispute Settlement Mechanism." "The Mechanism," as U.N. bureaucrats call it in Orwellian shorthand, would be involved in all commercial activity...
Disagreements among [WTO] signatories are to be decided through mandatory dispute-resolution processes of uncertain integrity. Americans should be uncomfortable with unelected and unaccountable tribunals... serving as the final arbiter of such disagreements.
Oh, wait... you know what I did? I misread Rumsfeld's op-ed. Replace "WTO" with "Law of the Sea Treaty" and "Dispute Settlement Mechanism" with "International Seabed Authority." That's what Rumsfeld is arguing against.
But, hey, that totally innocent mistake on my part does a lovely job of demonstrating the hollowness of the best of a bad set of arguments. [What are Rumsfeld's other bad arguments?--ed. I believe, in order, 1) I worked with Reagan; 2) Authoritarian states would also benefit; and 3) I smell socialism, no matter what the U.S. Navy says.] The United States surrenders small parts of its sovereignty on a fairly regular basis. America does this because the massive gains that come from every other country surrendering their sovereignty outweigh those costs and constraints. Rumsfeld's argument, however, simply asserts that no sovereignty loss is tolerable -- which is gonna be news to our WTO and NATO partners, for starters.
What's especially impressive is that the former Secretary of Defense managed to write a whole op-ed weighing the costs and benefits of this treaty without ever once mentioning either "China" or "South China Sea." By ratifying this treaty, the United States and its Pacific allies would put China into a corner on that and other disputes.
Instead, Rumsfeld ignores that particular argument. So, let's just come out and say it: Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumfeld is soft on China.
Am I missing anything?
The latest issue of The National Interest is out, and it's a special issue devoted to the "Crisis of the Old Order." Fittingly enough, I have a review essay in there of Charles Kupchan's latest book, No One's World: The West, The Rest, and the Coming Global Turn. Kupchan's book is pretty pessimistic about the current order:
In No One’s World, Kupchan joins the chorus arguing that the distribution of power has shifted away from the West and toward the “rest,” meaning non-Western nations. More significantly, Kupchan argues that these rising powers will not embrace the same ideas that governed the United States and Europe during the creation of the post–World War II and post–Cold War worlds: “The Chinese ship of state will not dock in the Western harbor, obediently taking the berth assigned it.” The conditions that caused the West to embrace secular, liberal, free-market democracy are not present in very large swathes of the globe. Instead, according to Kupchan, it will be no one’s world: a mélange of competing ideas and competing structures will overlap and coexist. No one great power or great idea will rule them all.
Somewhat surprisingly, I think I have the most optimistic take on the current order among all of TNI's contributors this issue -- which means, in turn, that I'm somewhat skeptical of Kupchan's claims. Read the whole thing to see why, but here's how I close:
[M]any of the regions that Kupchan highlights as being “different” from the advanced industrialized world are not really all that different. It is true that most democracies in Latin America and Africa do not currently resemble the Madisonian democratic ideal. On the other hand, the same conclusion would have been reached after examining a snapshot of southern Europe in the 1970s or East Asia in the 1980s. Indeed, one could have made the same arguments about an absence of horizontal linkages, the heavy hand of the Catholic Church, and the ways in which the state had centralized economic and political authority. The fact that these countries now resemble their democratic allies suggests that the past is not destiny.
The moment one realizes that democracies evolve over time, Kupchan’s argument seems even more static. No One’s World assumes that either the strongman or populist variants of democracy will perpetuate themselves. If anything, the opposite seems to be true: the more extreme versions of Latin American left-wing populism are imploding, while Brazil looks more and more like a conventional secular democracy. Even countries as closed off as Myanmar seem willing to embrace myriad aspects of the Western model. Kupchan is certainly right that the rest of the world will not automatically migrate toward the West. But the migration will likely be greater than he thinks. A world in which China and Russia are the global “outliers” looks very different from the one depicted in No One’s World, which posits a much more heterogeneous assemblage of regime types.
Annie Lowrey ably summarizes the outcomes of spring meetings of the IMF and World Bank for the New York Times. Here are her first two paragraphs:
Meetings of finance ministers and central bankers here over the weekend started with a pledge by wealthy nations to significantly increase the lending capacity of the International Monetary Fund to defend against the possibility of worsening economic conditions in the debt-laden euro zone.
But they ended on Sunday without a consensus on just how to speed up the economic recovery, stamp out the European debt crisis or lower unemployment around the world, officials said.
Now, I would say how you interpret this outcome is an excellent indicator of your overall opinion of post-crisis global economic governance. On the one hand, if you're Alan Beattie, Edward Luce, Ian Bremmer, Charles Kupchan, or Ted Truman, well, this outcome is a sign of chronic dysfunction. If the world's great powers can't agree on what to do with the specter of a double-dip global recession looming over them, there's little reason to hope. The glass is half-empty.
On the other hand, if you're John Ikenberry, Robert Kagan, Bruce Jones, or Alan Alexandroff, the glass looks half-full. Boosting the IMF's reserves by more than $400 billion ain't nothing, and it's faintly absurd to believe that any global governance structure will ever be able to "speed up the economic recovery, stamp out the European debt crisis or lower unemployment around the world."
I'll be tipping my hand as to which way I'm leaning in the coming months, but for now, I'm curious about my readers. What do you think? Is global economic governance a mess or doing reasonably well in trying circumstances?
After the latest demonstration of Syria thumbing its nose at the Annan plan, Walter Russell Mead decided to go on a rhetorical bender against the United Nations:
The reality is that the UN today is less prestigious and influential than it was in the 1940s and 1950s. There used to be a time when General Assembly votes actually meant something. Newspapers used to report its resolutions on the front page. And the Security Council, on those rare occasions during the Cold War when it could actually agree on something, was seen as laying down the basic principles along which an issue would be resolved.
Now, this kind of rant is a rite of passage for a foreign policy pundit. I mean, there's no way you make it into the Council on Foreign Relations -- or Twitter Fight Club -- without at least one good, solid bashing of UN fecklessness.
That said, Mead's rant has this whiff of ... well, let's say erroneous assertion about it. Hayes Brown fisks Mead's blog post thoroughly and effectively, but I want to focus just on the above paragraph, because it makes such little sense.
First of all, exactly when did General Assembly votes ever mean anything? The only time during Mead's halcyon Cold War days of the UN in which the General Assembly mattered was the "Zionism = racism" resolution in 1975. I don't think making news because of an assinine statement really qualifies as "meaning something." The General Assembly was besotted with the New International Economic Order during the 1970s as well -- and, thankfully, these affirmations didn't amount to much either.
Second, Mead is correct that during the Cold War, Security Council agreeement made the front pages -- but that because it was just so friggin' rare. The Security Council was essentially in a state of permanent deadlock from the Korean War to the height of perestroika. Economic sanctions were approved a grand total of twice; the Security Council has imposed them juuuuust a wee bit more in recent years.
Sanctions are for sissies, though -- what about the blue helmets? Well, if Wikipedia is correct, UN peacekeepers were dispatched on thirteen missions during the Cold War era. Which happens to be exactly the same number of times UN peacekeepers have been approved since George W. Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech -- a period that is only one-fourth as long as the Cold War. There are, by the way, 16 ongoing UN peacekeeping missions. I can bash aspects of the United Nations as well as the next commentator, but this is not an organization that even remotely resembles its Cold War state of decrepitude.
Look, the effectiveness of the United Nations as an instrument of statecraft is entirely a function of the current state of great power politics. This means that it was close to useless during the Cold War, pretty damn useful during the heyday of U.S. unipolarity, and now somewhere in between with the growth of the BRICs. The United Nations is to the great powers as Michael Clayton was to his law firm.
If great power gridlock grows, the United Nations will likely grow more dysfunctional. But we're a looooooooooong way from the Cold War. And Mead should know that.
I was on the road when President Obama announced his preferred choice of Dartmouth president Jim Yong Kim to be the next World Bank president. Since then, both the Economist and Financial Times have endorsed Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala instead. I didn't pay it much mind, because, frankly, if the U.S. could get Paul Wolfowitz through the nomination process, Kim wasn't gonna be a problem.
Over the weekend, however, things jumped up a notch on the rhetorical front. I confess to being a bit puzzled by it all.
First, Bill Easterly suggested in the Guardian that the vote be delayed because Kim hadn't addressed a public forum on his development views... because he was too busy meeting with the member governments who have actual, like, real votes on this selection.
Then Chris Blattman came out against Kim, concluding grumpily that "identity has crowded out substance." He then adds the following:
Kim is smart and qualified, and there are many good reasons not to have a business-as-usual Bank President, even one in health. But if you find yourself supporting his candidacy on such substantive grounds: congratulations, you have successfully succumbed to Obama’s strategy for maintaining imperial control of one the world’s most influential institutions.
Yeah! How dare the perfidious Americans extend their control over the World Bank presidency by.... selecting someone who substantively addresses the issues of developing country governments!! That's like, totally unrepresentative. Or to put it more bluntly, I don't think "identity" means what Blattman thinks it means.
Finally, I've seen a bunch o' tweets to myriad articles suggesting that Kim's selection could be in doubt. Actually, that's not entirely accurate. It's more like the headline/lead paragraphs scream "Whoa! Non-American could actually win!" until we get to the text of the articles, which then observe thing like, "most analysts believe there is little doubt that Kim will secure the presidency" or that Kim would lose if "the US signals willingness to accept defeat."
Look, let's get a few things straight:
1) I'm very sympathetic to the notion that non-Europeans should head the IMF and non-Americans should head the World Bank. This is an entirely fair and appropriate issue to raise.
2) For that to happen, it will require the United States and Europe to jointly renounce their informal cartel on the leadership posts and that they will not suggest any candidates. No way one side moves without the other, and no way this happens now after the Europeans managed to install Christine Lagarde as IMF head only last year.
3) Barack Obama is up for re-election and his chief opponent has been accusing him on going on non-existent apology tours across the world. There is no way -- no way -- he is going to compromise on Kim's selection. I can see a second-term shift towards what everyone wants, but the only way the World Bank becomes an election issue is if Kim loses.
4) Even with the current arrangements, the selection process has been more... let's say polyarchical than even a decade ago. Lagarde had to woo China and other key voters at the IMF, and Kim has been busy doing the same thing now. Deputy selections have been used to win favor from key voting constituencies. Blattman's complaint that Kim represents a gesture towards exactly the issues that a lot of development activists care about shows that the US and EU are recognizing the rising political constraints at the IFIs.
5) For reasons 2 - 4, I think that what's happened over the weekend is mostly a lot of stuff and nonsense. If development activists are smart, they will initiate a major push after November 2012 to get the Americans and Europeans to gracefully and jointly commit not to nominate anyone for the next go-around of IFI leaders.
Am I missing anything? UPDATE: Nope, I wasn't.
[Um... does tha fact alone merit a blog post?--ed.] Good point. There are two other zombie-and-me events this week.
From 7-9 PM EST this Wednesday, I'll be the "Expert to Discuss How Theories of International Relations Could Salvage Humanity from Global Zombie Apocalypse" according to this press release. That's because I'll be delivering the Centre for International Governance Innovation's Signature Lecture on Zombies, the G20 and International Governance in Waterloo, Canada. Not any old zombie lecture -- the signature one. If you don't live in Waterloo, don't worry, you can sign up for the free, live webcast of the lecture.
As a warm-up for that lecture, however, might I suggest, the night before, watching Zombies: A Living History. It will be aired on the History Channel on Tuesday, October 25, at 8 PM. The filmmakers interviewed me for half a day, so I'll pop up now and again.
Here's the extended trailer:
Enjoy your weekend!
I'm in Shanghai to discuss how the G-20 has been doing as the world's "premier economic forum." As fate would have it, the G-20 actually opened its collective mouth in response to the market convulsions of this week:
The Group of 20 leading economies pledged a “strong and co-ordinated” effort to stabilise the global economy in an attempt to calm tumbling equities markets spooked by fears of recession in the eurozone and a gloomy economic outlook in the US.
Bowing to pressure from investors to take action, finance ministers from the G20 economies said in a communiqué issued late on Thursday that they would stop the European debt crisis from deluging banks and financial markets, and take the necessary steps to bolster the eurozone’s rescue fund and assist banks to boost capital reserves in line with new global regulations. The statement followed a day in which the equity markets suffered some of the biggest falls since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, as investors rushed to safety in a widespread sell-off.
“We commit to take all necessary actions to preserve the stability of banking systems and financial markets as required,” the group said in a statement. “We will ensure that banks are adequately capitalised and have sufficient access to funding to deal with current risks and that they fully implement Basel III along the agreed timelines.”
The G-20's near-total muteness in the face of European sovereign debt convulsions had begun to raise some eyebrows -- particularly as it was the G-7 economies rather than the G-20 that pledged to provide dollar liquidity to European financial institutions.
Unfortunately, if you read the actual communique, you discover... well.... let's describe the statement as very optimistic about what the G-20 countries have done to promote both growth and fiscal rectitude.
One of the takeaways from my conversations so far in Shanghai has been a sense of disappointment about what the next G-20 summit in Cannes will accomplish. The Financial Times' Chris Giles provides some background on the demise of the France's grand ambitious for that summit:
In mid-February, G20 finance ministers gathered in Paris for what turned out to be a harbinger of the challenges that have beset the French G20 presidency ever since. The meeting was supposed to be routine, with finance ministers agreeing a set of indicators that might be used to assess whether their economies and policies fostered balanced global economic growth.
Far from France undermining the meeting with excessive ambitions, countries struggled to agree even the most basic steps to a more stable world economy.
A country’s current account surplus or deficit is the accepted measure of balance in its relations with other countries, but the Chinese arrived in Paris in intransigent mood. Their negotiators refused to let the G20 use the current account as an indicator of balance. After an all-night session, the absurd compromise China accepted was that countries were allowed to assess every component part of a country’s current account, but the term “current account” was banned.
That ended the French presidency’s lofty plans. From then on, limited goals became the order of the day, a shift that has been reinforced as the year has progressed.
I'd quibble a bit with Giles -- any meeting that details indicative guidelines on macroeconomic imbalances is not gonna be a routine meeting. [Um...could you translate that last sentence out of bureaucratese, please?--ed.] Sorry, to rephrase -- any meeting in which the G-20 points out that China's trade surplus is part of the problem in the global economy is not going to be a smooth meeting.
Your humble blogger will be hitting the road early in the morrow to Shanghai. I'll be attending a conference co-sponsored by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Stanley Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs University of Toronto on "Global and Collaborative Asian & Pacific Leadership for the G20."
Note to citizens of the PRC: I too will be toting my own luggage.
I'll certainly try to avoid catching Friedman's Disease during this China trip.* I'll also try to avoid a related management consulting syndrome, which is the belief that a few days in another country somehow endows me with "street cred" when discussing said country. This seems particularly prevalent with respect to China.
Since the topic is the state of the G-20, and I've made my feelings about that forum pretty plain on this blog, I hereby challenge readers to persuade my mind in the 48 hours before I present. The G-20 performed best when the sense of crisis seemed most acute. As the eurozone melts down, and the United States doesn't look much better, is the G-20 capable of jumpstarting a bout of policy coordination that looks more robust than, say, this totally anemic statement?
What do you think?
*If Gwyneth Paltrow is coughing anywhere near me, on the other hand, I'm... I'm.... probably going to be the Index Patient Plus One.
Your humble blogger went to see Contagion over the weekend for two reasons. First, Slate movie critic Forrest Wickman concluded his review by calling it, "the most believable zombie movie ever made." He's not the only one to make the zombie connection, and well, now I've got some skin in that game. Second, the FP editors have asked me to review other disaster scenarios, so I figured I'd just pre-empt their request and join the legions of moviegoers who
get their ya-yas seeing Gwyneth Paltrow die on film be entertained.
So, let me provide the MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT klaxon here and get to the assessment. How well did Steven Soderbergh and company portray what would happen if a lethal pandemic were to break out?
OK, good news first: in terms of both accuracy and suspense, Contagion is a far, far better film than, say, either Outbreak or The Andromeda Strain. The first reason is that Soderbergh does not bother with the anti-government paranoia that those earlier films possessed in their DNA. Instead, the treatment of the Centers for Disease Control, Department of Homeland Security, and World Health Organization officials is fair. They are depicted as flawed but well-meaning bureaucrats, getting some decisions right and some wrong. They also speak in jargon, a surprising amount of which makes its way into the film. I fully expect to see the term "R-0" bandied about by news anchors the next time a flu bug breaks out. A CDC official utters the two most chilling words in the entire movie -- "social distancing" -- to describe the necessary freak-out by citizens to avoid human contact with other humans as a way of slowing the spread of the virus. That's the perfect dash of bureaucratese.
The second reason is that Soderbergh almost perfectly nails the first stage of the pandemic. Unlike, say, most zombie or other apocalyptic films, Soderbergh doesn't get to the breakdown of social order in the first reel. He takes his time, which helps to amp up the pressure and make it seem all the scarier when things do seem to break down (Matt Damon's character is the perfect vessel here; Damon's best work is in his reaction shots to other people behaving badly). He also deftly demonstrates in the first ten minutes how globalization would abet the spread of any kind of superbug.
Despite this slow ratcheting up, I haven't seen a director kill off so many Hollywood starlets since Joss Whedon.
The third reason is that the movie, intriguingly enough, does not end in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Consistent with the arguments I made in Theories of International Politics and Zombies, humans prove to be just as adaptable as the biological threats to humans.
That said, here are my beefs:
1) Really, the blogger is the Big Bad in the movie? Really? The villian of the piece is Jude Law's crudely-named Alan Krumwiede, who detects the spread of the virus early but hawks a homeopathic remedy to enrich himself. Exactly how he gets rich doing this is not entirely clear -- he has some shady meetings with a hedge fund manager, but it's not entirely clear why, after gaining fame and fortune, he doesn't start acting differently as more attention gets paid to him. It's also presumed that Krumwiede has the monopoly of blogging on the issue -- I'm pretty sure that as he gained popularity, a few other health bloggers would try to cut him down to size.
Neither Soderbergh nor his screenwriter Scott Z. Burns like bloggers, like, at all. At one point the virologist played by Elliott Gould tells Krumwiede, "Blogging is not writing. It's graffiti with punctuation." Hah! That shows what Soderbregh knows -- us bloggers are lucky if we remember to use commas, much less semicolons.
Look, as a founding member of the International Brotherhood of Policy Bloggers, I can't claim that actors like Krumwiede don't exist. My skepticism is over whether they'd really wreak as much havoc as Soderbergh thinks. Myths and rumors can spread on the Internet, but so can the corrections of those myths. In the end, someone like Krumwiede would affect a very narrow, already paranoid subculture -- the larger effect would be minimal.
Even if Krumwiede is an absurd villain, I also didn't buy it when the DHS official let him go free once he made bail. At a minimum, they'd hold this guy for 48 hours without charging. I'd also wager that they'd try to deport him too.
One final note: I'd love to see Lee Siegel hire Sodebergh to direct and Aaron Sorkin to write a movie about the Internet, just to see the final dystopic product.
2) Where the hell is the Chinese central government? The most absurd subplot is when a WHO official gets abducted by her translator as collateral to protect his infected village. She's held hostage for at least six months -- during which time she goes native -- until the WHO barters some (fake) vaccine for her life.
Apparently during this entire time, the Chinese central government does not bother to intervene to try to rescue her. This seems juuuuuuust a bit implausible. It also leads to the next problem....
3) Where the hell is the rest of the WHO? Beyond Marion Cotillard's character, the WHO does not really appear in the film. It's the CDC's show, and only their show . They act in Contagion pretty much how they promised they would act if the zombies arrive. Maybe that's how things would play out, but I suspect other governments and IGOs would still matter more than this film suggests. Given that the movie virus started in China, and that the head of the WHO is also from China, they might be useful in this kind of situation.
4) Few second-order effects. The virus leads to looting, crime, and other social ills, but I wish they had said something about the total economic devastation that would have occurred. At one point after a vaccine has been developed, Matt Damon's character walks through a mall to buy his daughter a prom dress -- and 80% of the mall looks to be closed. Soderbergh suggests a bunch of unions going on strike because they don't want to ge sick. I'm curious what happens once they find themselves unemployed as well.
Forget the domestic discord however, there's also...
5) No international conflict whatsoever. After the first 15 minutes, almost all of the action takes place in the USA. Once a vaccine is discovered, there is no discussion of the international wrangling that would take place over scarce supplies. No diversionary wars happen. And so forth. Soderbergh doesn't really address possible problems in world politics. Because of this, the film implicitly assumes a liberal institutionalis kind of a world. I hope he's right, but I'm not so sure myself.
To be fair to Soderbergh and his collaborators, I'm not sure it's possible to get everything right in such a film. Unless it's a television series I'm not sure it's possible to get all the nuances and complexities right. Given these limitations, Contagion is a movie worth seeing. Just bring your own Purell.
Remember that global political economy funk I was feeling about ten days ago? I think Felix Salmon caught it, and caught it bad. Riffing off of a George Magnus research note for UBS, Salmon thinks that we're currently experiecing, "the most uncertain outlook, in terms of the global political economy, since World War II ended and the era of the welfare state began."
If you think that's dramatic, consider this paragraph:
Most fundamentally, what I’m seeing as I look around the world is a massive decrease of trust in the institutions of government. Where those institutions are oppressive and totalitarian, the ability of popular uprisings to bring them down is a joyous and welcome sight. But on the other side of the coin, when I look at rioters in England, I see a huge middle finger being waved at basic norms of lawfulness and civilized society, and an enthusiastic embrace of “going on the rob” as some kind of hugely enjoyable participation sport. The glue holding society together is dissolving, whether it’s made of fear or whether it’s made of enlightened self-interest.
Magnus says something similar in his note, lamenting the "malaise in politics and policymaking," albeit conceding that, "While there is plenty of talk about endgames of war and conflict, muddling through and the rediscovery of good politics are just as, if not more likely." Walter Russell Mead nods along sagely, while John Sides is more skeptical.
In part for reasons proffered here, I'm more sympathetic to Sides than Salmon. Another reason is that Salmon's gloominess seems to be swamping the data. Edelman's 2011 Trust Barometer, for example, suggests that Salmon is exaggerating the "massive decrease of trust" across-the-world claim juuust a wee bit. That survey is not perfect (it's targeted at the top 25% of income-earners). It's also not all good news -- the advanced industrialized democracies are not strong reservoirs of trust right now. That said, the increase in trust -- not to mention the continued decrease in crime in kep places -- is broad-based enough to suggest that perception is overwhelming reality.
I'm not without concerns -- the disconnect at the global economic governance level is pretty disconcerting, and even G-20 optimists are starting to sound like me. Furthermore, the longer that sluggish growth and anemic job creation persists in the advanced industrialized democracies, the gloomier things get. If Reinhart and Rogoff are correct, Salmon is just demonstrating rational expectations.
Still, given the general suckiness of the global political economy over the past few years, what's striking is not the signs that the world is falling apart, but rather the dogs that haven't barked.
What do you think?
There's been some interesting blog commentary on my debate with Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I encourage international relations theory geeks to check it out. Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell makes an interesting intervention. You should read the whole thing, but here's the part I found particularly provocative:
Rather than seeing the international sphere as a space for inter-state power politics, or as a space for networked common action, we can think of it as a space for contagion.That is, think of it as a space where ever-multiplying and ever-ramifying sets of networked relationships across border serve not to enable problem-solving DIY diplomatists, but instead to transmit social influences in ways that are difficult to predict ex ante. This would mean taking seriously the kinds of complexity theory and network theory arguments that Anne-Marie mentions, but following them to a quite different set of conclusions than she does.
The world that complexity theory and network theory depicts is one where actions have highly unpredictable consequences. This follows both from theoretical arguments about processes of contagion across large scale networks, and from empirical research conducted via e.g. experiments....
Just because the world has become more networked, it does not mean that states can either (a) easily use networks to pursue their policy goals, or (b) turn over responsibilities to networks that will self-organize around socially useful tasks and responsibilities. To the extent that networks’ politics are predictable, they will conform to the same kinds of (frequently unpleasant) politics as do states. That is, they will be characterized by power inequalities (sometimes gross), actors pursuing their self-interest while entirely blind to the needs of others, and the rest of the shebang. To the extent that networks’ politics unpredictable, they will be unlikely to be useful tools of policy.
This is a story with far fewer helpful policy lessons than either Dan’s or Anne-Marie’s. It points to plausible developments in world politics, without providing any very obvious tools to deal with them.
I need to process Henry's arguments more before making a fully thought-out response. This is a blog, a two half-assed thoughts should suffice for now. First, Henry gets at something that was implicit in the exchange between Anne-Marie and myself: the notion that powerful actors possess considerable agency in world politics. Slaughter and I might disagree about who those actors are, but we assumed that power = agency. Farrell's point about contagion is that this presumption does not necessarily hold. And the policy implications of that suggestion are rather jarring, to say the least.
Second, however, my own theoretical predilections lead me to wonder whether powerful agents can halt/regulate/control the spread of contagion more . The Arab Spring suggests such possibilities. So far, the general unrest in the region has toppled a regime in Tunisia, partially toppled regimes in Egypt and Yemen, led to a civil war in Libya, and led to... something in Syria.
This is not insignificant, but it's worth remembering that the wave of unrest was much larger than those countries. Early protests in Iran went nowhere -- in no small part because the Iraniann state has gotten very, very good at cracking down. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies have by and large kept populist demands at bay, going so far as to invite Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Cooperation Council.
I'm not trying to pull a Kevin Bacon here; the Arab Spring is Big Earthshaking Stuff. My point, rather, is that not every contagion proceeds unimpeded -- there are counter-contagions as well. When and how those counterwaves happen is worthy of consideration.
What do you think?
Anne-Marie Slaughter has responded to my musings about her new foreign policy frontier with a potent combination of vigor and logic, topped off with just a dollop of guile. I am happy to see that we share some vital zones of agreement -- namely, continued hegemony for the Boston Red Sox.
About lesser issues like the contours of world politics, we have some respectful disagreements. This is a fun debate, to have, so let's dive right in!
To summarize the gist of Slaughter's latest post: she argues that realists think of the world through a states-only, security-first, billiard-ball approach:
[T]he whole point of realism, as every first year IR student knows, is that structural realism (the school that holds as its bible Kenneth Waltz's Man, the State, and War) says that international relations analysts can treat the world as if it were composed only of states pursuing their power-based interests.
In constrast, Slaughter advocates a "modern/liberal-social" because such an approach will:
[factor in] all the important social actors, from tribes to democracy activists, focus on the relationship between those social actors and their governments, then assess interests relative to other governments that are themselves enmeshed in domestic and transnational social networks.
Slaughter asserts that the second perspective is the superior approach despite its greater complexity, because it permits a greater focus on the "social and developmental issues" that Slaughter believes will the the primary drivers of world politics over the next decade. As evidence for her more enlightened perspective, Slaughter compares her Twitter stream with my Twitter stream and concludes:
Going through these tweets actually offered an even more succinct contrast between how Dan and I think about foreign policy. Dan asked last week, addressed to all "IR tweeps": "Is there a better international relations song than Tears for Fears 'Everybody Wants to Rule the World?'" He got some great responses, but for me, his choice says it all about how, his protests notwithstanding, he sees the world. (Many a truth is spoken in jest.) By contrast (and again, with much less humor!), I tweeted a link on Monday to a in the Financial Times by the Israeli novelist Etgar Keret on the J14 protests and quoted the following passage: "In our current reality, the political cannot be separated from the social." The new foreign policy frontier is deeply social, as messy and unsatisfactory as that may be.
Slaughter's historiography of realism is a touch problematic, but also a bit of a distraction, so I'll leave it to others to address that question. Instead, let's start with the Twitter evidence.
Slaughter is clearly a huge fan of microblogging (despite its negative externalities) and its social networking capabilities. As an earlier adopter of these technologies, I'm a fan too. I do think there's a danger of reading too much into this kind of data, however. If I really didn't care about the kind of social and economic issues that Slaughter embraces... well, I wouldn't be following her. Like any curious IR scholar, however, I do follow her. Just because I don't tweet/re-tweet about these things all that much doesn't mean I don't read/blog/write about them in other venues. Slaughter assumes that I manage my Twitter feed the same way she does, as a natural extension of her research interests. Trust me when I say that I value Twitter somewhat differently.
This might be a trivial issue, but it gets at a point I hinted at in my last post: there's a difference between what's visible and what's significant in world politics. Twitter is highly visible, for example, but I think it's significance might be exaggerated -- or, rather, online networks merely replicate offline power structures. The threat of coercion is often invisible -- but it's effects can be quite significant.
Slaughter's more substantive point is her contrast between old-school realpolitik and new-school modern social-liberal foreign policy approach. On this distincton, let me start by observing that another important modern strategy in world politics is the notion of issue-framing. If they're good, policy entrepreneurs will be able to take their issue and frame it in a manner most favorable to their preferred policy solution. When their policy problem is pushed to the front of the queue, they are therefore likely to win the argument.
I bring this up by noting that I don't accept Slaughter's framing of our dispute. She posits that only by adopting her international relations worldview is it possible to recognize the social and developmental issues that are bubbling under the surface in world politics. Because realists primarily care about guns, bomb, and interstate security, they ostensibly will miss these problems.
Now, I know a lot of realists, and I can kinda sorta understand how Slaughter arrived at this caricatured version of realism. Nevertheless, Slaughter conflates subject matter with how one models the dynamics of the subject matter. In his last memoir, even über-classical-realist Henry Kissinger acknowledged the importance of human rights issues in modern diplomacy and staecraft. I certainly agree that the economic, social and developmental issues that are near and dear to Slaughter's heart are matters of import for world politics -- indeed, this is a theme I've written and
rambled spoken about for quite some time. I suspect most realist IPE scholars believe these issues are important... or they wouldn't be studying IPE in the first place.
Just because I agree with the importance of these issue areas, however, does not mean that I agree with Slaughter's implicit model of how these issues get addressed. Anne-Marie places great faith in the ability of transnational, networked, non-state actors to bend the policy agenda to their preferred sets of solutions. I think that these groups can try to voice their demands for particular policy problems to be addressed. I think, at the national level, that social movements can force even recalcitrant politicians to alter their policy agenda (see: Party, Tea). Where Slaughter's optimism runs into my skepticism is the ability of these movements to a) go transnational; and b) supply rather than demand global solutions. I'm skeptical about the viability of transnational interests to effectively pressure multiple governments to adopt a common policy solution, and I'm super-skeptical that these groups can supply broad-based solutions independently of national governments.
There's a "two-step" approach to world politics with which Slaughter is intimately familiar: it posits that interest groups and social movements can influence national policy preferences, but that outcomes in world politics are driven by the distribution of power and preferences among national governments. In her embrace of a new foreign policy frontier, Slaughter embraces the first step and mostly rejects the second.
That second step is really important, however, as most social movements are keenly aware. Indeed, most of the protests that Slaughter keeps identifying on Twitter are not about solving problems on their own, but demanding that governments address or ameliorate their needs.
Slaughter can and will point to Very Important Initiatives like the Gates Foundation or the Summit Against Violent Extremism as examples of supplying such solutions. These can matter at particular points in particular places, but I'll need to see some powerful evidence before I think that these transnational groups are as potent as, say, nationalism as political force in the world. All of the social movements and all of the online networks can agitate for policy solutions, but they're not going to be able to alter fierce distributional conflicts that exist when trying to address many of the topline issues in world politics show no signs of abating. The kind of non-state actors that Slaughter embraces have not been shy in engaging issues like climate change, Israel/Palestine or macroeconomic imbalances -- but I haven't seen any appreciable change in global public policies as a result.
Now, it's possible that Slaughter will eventually be proven right. That's the cool thing about studying international relations, we keep adding new data with every passing day. So, here's my challenge to Anne-Marie -- name three significant issue areas in which these kinds of networked actors will significantly alter the status quo (and I look forward to Slaughter falsifying me to within an inch of my life.). Because I can think of far too many issues -- including those listed above -- on which their impact will be negligible.
One final point: I agree with Slaughter that the issues she cares about are important, and attention must be paid to them. That said, the realist in me is not quite ready to claim that the old security-focused approach to foreign policy is truly outdated. Yes, traditional wars are much rarer than they used to be. That said, we're just one unsteady power transition away in North Korea, China or Pakistan for traditional concerns about militarized great power combat to return to the main stage of foreign policy practitioners. I really hope Anne-Marie is correct about these new issues being the important ones -- because that means the horrors of great power war continue to stay a distant memory.
This past week Anne-Marie Slaughter launched a new foreign policy blog over at The Atlantic entitled "Notes from the Foreign Policy Frontier." This was greeted with general huzzahs across the foreign policy community, as Slaughter is a universally-acknowledged smart person. She is an exemplar of someone who can effortlessly transition from the scholarly to the policymaking world and back again. Her facility with new media is so good that her own bio undercounts her Twitter followers by 50%.
Slaughter's first post suggests the themes of her new blog -- let's take a look and see what she's up to, shall we? Here are the opening paragraphs:
The frontier of foreign policy in the 21st century is social, developmental, digital, and global. Along this frontier, different groups of actors in society -- corporations, foundations, NGOs, universities, think tanks, churches, civic groups, political activists, Facebook groups, and others -- are mobilizing to address issues that begin as domestic social problems but that have now gone global. It is the world of the Land Mines Treaty and the International Criminal Court; global criminal and terrorist networks; vast flows of remittances that dwarf development assistance; micro-finance and serial entrepreneurship; the Gates Foundation; the Arab spring; climate change; global pandemics; Twitter; mobile technology to monitor elections, fight corruption, and improve maternal health; a new global women's movement; and the demography of a vast youth bulge in the Middle East, Africa, and parts of Asia.
Traditional foreign policy continues to assume the world of World War II, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the first and second Gulf Wars -- an international system in which a limited number of states pursue their largely power-based interests in bargaining situations that are often zero-sum and in which the line between international and domestic politics is still discernible and defensible. Diplomats and statesmen compete with each other in games of global chess, which, during crises, often shift into high-stakes poker. It is the world of high strategy, the world that Henry Kissinger writes about and longs for and that so-called "realist" commentators continually invoke.
Well, this is... this is... I'm sorry, I got lost among the ridiculously tall strawmen populating these paragraphs. I'll go out on a limb and posit that not even Henry Kissinger thinks of the world the way Slaughter describes it. Just a quick glance at, say, Hillary Clinton's recent speech in Hong Kong suggests that actual great power foreign policies bear no resemblance whatsoever to that description of "traditional foreign policy."
Slaughter knows this very well, given that she was Clinton's first director of policy planning. She also knows this because much of her writing in international relations is about the ways in which traditional governments are becoming more networked and adaptive to emergent foreign policy concerns. One could quibble about whether this is really a new trend, but Slaughter was correct to point out that states are doing this.
So, let's get to the main point of her blog post: what does Slaughter think about this new frontier?
21st century diplomacy must not only be government to government, but also government to society and society to society, in a process facilitated and legitimated by government. That much broader concept opens the door to a do-it-yourself foreign policy, in which individuals and groups can invent and execute an idea -- for good or ill -- that can affect their own and other countries in ways that once only governments could.
In late June, I spent two days at the Summit Against Violent Extremism (#AVE on Twitter), a conference sponsored by Google Ideas, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Tribeca Film Festival that brought together more than 80 former gang members, violent religious extremists, violent nationalist extremists, and violent white supremacists from 19 countries across six continents. They came together with 120 academics, NGOs, public sector and private sector partners. The conference grew out of a vision developed by Jared Cohen, the head of Google Ideas, when he served in the U.S. State Department's Office of Policy Planning together with Farah Pandit, who worked on countering violent extremism in the State Department's Bureau of Eurasian Affairs and is the Special Representative to Muslim Communities. But, despite their role, bringing together this range of "formers" is something that Google Ideas and the Council on Foreign Relations can do much more easily than any government could. The range of projects creating networks to help build on effective, early intervention programs already working around the world, such as Singapore's programs to deflect and deprogram Islamic radicals, will also be much easier to develop with a broader range of stakeholders, including some government participation, than they would be through government alone....
Skeptics argue that these kinds of initiatives are doomed to remain perennially peripheral and ineffectual. But, in case anyone hasn't noticed, the traditional tools of fighting, talking, pressuring, and persuading government-to-government really aren't working so well. Thirty years of urging reform produced next to nothing; 6 months of digitally and physically organized social protests and a political earthquake is shaking the broader Middle East. Twenty years of working toward a treaty to govern carbon emissions has barely yielded an informal "accord." Yet measures taken by 40 cities organized by the Bloomberg Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative will have far more impact.
Outing myself as a skeptic, I'd make two points. First, Slaughter's weakness as an international relations theorist is to uncritically observe phenomena like the Summit Against Violent Extremism and then inductively generalize from them to extrapolate the future of world politics. AVE is happening, but I'm gonna want to see a lot more evidence that it's making a difference before calling it a success. There are a lot of issue areas where this kind of initiative will not substantially alter policy outcomes. Indeed, one could flip this around, look at new trends like sovereign wealth funds, national oil companies and and state-owned enterprises, and reach the exact opposite conclusions from Slaughter. I don't, but you see my point -- world politics is about a lot more than a Muslim woman setting up a Twitter account thanks to her microfinance loan.
Second, Slaughter's climate change example is a great one. I don't doubt that the initiatives she's blogged about likely have accomplished more than the two decades of UN negotiations. I also don't doubt, however, that those accomplishments are a drop in the bucket compared to what has needs to be done. Furthermore, I suspect these groups would strongly prefer joint government action to their own initiatives, as the only viable means to mitigate the effects of increased greenhouse gas emissions. In which case, they will function like good old fashioned interest groups, which is not all that new.
Slaughter believes that these "bottom-up" movements represent the future of world politics -- and she may well be right. My own inclination is that DIY foreign policy represents a poor and underprovided substitute for effective state action global governance. We'll see what the future holds.
Concluding her post, Slaughter says that she'll be, "looking at the world through a very different lens -- highlighting features of the foreign policy landscape that simply disappear if we examine only a world of opaque unitary states negotiating, pressuring, fighting, and ignoring each other." This is good, and highlights the value-added that such an approach can bring to thinking about world politics. I'll be looking at Slaughter's musings as well through my own lens -- one that is very wary of overhyped initiatives that do not accomplish nearly as much as suggested by their media hype.
Am I missing anything?
Your humble blogger has been relatively
lazy circumspect in blogging about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. The latest turn of events, however, has rousted me from my vacation torpor to ask just one simple question: are you friggin' kidding me??!!!
Both the New York Times and New York Post carry stories containing more prosecutor leaks than the Titanic suggesting that the woman DSK allegedly attacked was "a con artist." according to one blind quote. From the Times account:
Well, this is pretty simple -- if the prosecutors are leaking this stuff, then the charges are going to be dropped. Dominique Strauss-Kahn will be a free man, thereby re-convulsing the French political scene. I'm also expecting a super-fun flurry of discussion about the dangers of immigration from tis latest turn of events.
The story can't end here, however. Readers are therefore warmly encouraged to suggest how Act III of l'affaire-DSK will play itself out in the comments section.
Here's my suggestion: DSK and his wife Anne Sinclair will proft handsomely from a wrongful prosecution settlement with the city of New York. After that, they decamp to the island of Tahiti. At which point, Neve Campbell turns out not to be dead and, in league with Sinclair, eliminates DSK so they can enjoy their riches with the help of Bill Murray.
[Implausible, I say!!--ed. I say, not implausible enough!!!]
Step back for a moment and imagine what a "good" international organization should look like. Presumably, it should be relatively transparent and representative. It should earn a reputation for competency, efficiency, and an aversion to corruption. Stakeholders in the organization should feel that they are being consulted and their needs acknowledged if not always perfectly addressed. When confronted with a challenge or scandal, the organization should respond with alacrity and a respect for due process.
I bring this up because, right now, FIFA is the exact opposite of this ideal type.
The Financial Times' Roger Blitz and Stanley Pignal report on the mockery of global governance that is currently known as FIFA:
Fifa has become “unstable,” Sepp Blatter admitted as the president addressed the governing body’s annual Congress in the teeth of pressure for reform from several fronts and demands that the election to secure his fourth term of office be postponed.
The biggest pressure was brought to bear from the World Cup sponsors. Four of the biggest sponsors – Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and Emirates Airlines – have now gone public, calling on Fifa to act swiftly to restore its damaged reputation in the face of the bribery allegations that have sparked an internecine struggle between the governing body’s most powerful figures.
The European Commission, which has a say in how Fifa’s European TV rights are awarded, also made clear its displeasure in a thinly veiled attack on Mr Blatter.
Androulla Vassiliou, the commissioner responsible for sport, said: “The situation at Fifa is a concern for many of us and I have confidence that the current issues will be thoroughly investigated and resolved as soon as possible.
“Football and sport in general need good leadership and governance, above suspicion and firmly rooted in accountability and transparency.”
Mr Blatter, in a sombre address to the 208-member Congress, said: “”I thought that we were living in a world of fair play, respect and discipline ... I must unfortunately say this is not the case."
Dude, when the European Union is lecturing you on how to govern, you know you're in trouble.
So, corporate and state sponsors ticked off - check. Well, surely, FIFA will respond by sacking those responsible and getting off to a fresh start, right? Hey, what's this ESPN story saying?
Sepp Blatter was poised for re-election as FIFA president Wednesday, calling himself the "captain of the ship" and promising to enact "radical" reforms to tackle the corruption scandals that have engulfed soccer's governing body.
Blatter vowed to give more power to the 208 national federations at the expense of the 24-man executive committee by allowing them to pick the host of the World Cup from now on....
Blatter said the worst scandal in the body's history could be solved within FIFA itself and with him in charge.
"Reforms will be made and not just touchups but radical decisions," Blatter said in his speech to the 208 delegations attending the congress....
"We have made mistakes, but we will draw our conclusions," Blatter said.
Blatter was heeding the advice of IOC president Jacques Rogge, who told him on the eve of the election that only drastic measures to improve democracy and transparency had saved the Olympic movement when it faced a similar corruption scandal in the run-up to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games.
Blatter said he would work to make sure the World Cup would in the future be picked in a vote by all federations instead of the two dozen executive committee members, several of whom have been involved in bribery scandals.
A few thoughts. First, what kind of election process is it when the scandal-beseiged incumbent is the only friggin' candidate? Bear in mind this is the same Sepp Blatter who declared that FIFA was much more transparent than the IOC -- which is kinda like Frederick's of Hollywood claiming that they're classier than Victoria's Secret.
Second, widening the vote to all members won't necessarily stop corruption -- if the International Whaling Commission is any guide, it will simply expand the number of actors who could be bribed.
Third, any anti-corruption campaign depends on Blatter. As Leander Schaerlaeckens blogs over at ESPN, however, Blatter serms to be doing his best Arab strongman impersonation right now:
Through [the crisis], Blatter has maintained that FIFA isn't in crisis, thus denying that he's pushed the organization over the brink of respectability. Amid the firestorm, the tiny septuagenarian Swiss leader has made it clear that FIFA shouldn't play by ordinary rules or be held accountable to anything or anyone.
This was never more obvious than when Blatter got fed up with questions from a hungry pack of journalists in a press conference Monday. "I will not answer this question," he said in response to a question about [CONCACAF president Jack] Warner. "I am the president of FIFA, you cannot question me." When the assembly was rightly outraged, he admonished it for a lack of respect for him and FIFA. And after taking a few more hard questions, he stormed off the stage, citing a lack of respect once more.
If only Blatter had been caught groping a chambermaid -- then there would be some real reform!
So, to sum up: scandal--ridden organization, pissed-off stakeholders, and an out-of-touch megalomaniacal leader who's about to be re-elected.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you FIFA in 2011 -- the only international organization that can make the Iinternational Olympic Committee and European Union look good.
Am I missing anything?
*A hat tip to @laurenist for the very clever title to this less-than-clever post)
One of the complaints I commonly hear about the study of global political economy is that it's sooooooo boring. Security studies has guns and bombs!! IPE/GPE has.... capital adequacy standards.
Well, I think it's safe to say that events over the weekend have made both global political economy and global governance more interesting:
Talks on the Greek sovereign debt crisis and French presidential politics were both thrown into disarray after Dominique Strauss-Kahn, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was escorted off an aircraft in New York over the weekend to face sex charges.
Mr Strauss-Kahn was expected on Sunday to appear before a New York court and plead not guilty to charges of committing a criminal sexual act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment, according to his lawyers.
The charges resulted from an alleged incident at the Sofitel Hotel in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon involving a 32-year-old maid who said that she had been sexually assaulted in a $3,000 per night suite in which police found the IMF managing director’s mobile phone. Police said on Sunday night that the maid had picked Mr Strauss-Kahn out of a line-up. Sofitel said the maid had worked for them for three years.
Both the Financial Times and The New Yorker have been all over this since the arrest on Saturday night, and I won't try to replicate their coverage here. Let's try to parse out a few of the implications:
1) The IMF issued a terse statement that boils down to "The IMF remains fully functioning and operational." This has the whiff of this scene from Animal House -- except that I suspect acting Managing Director John Lipsky and his awesome moustache will do a much better job of keeping everyone calm than Kevin Bacon ever did. The real tangle would come is Strauss-Kahn -- or "DSK" as he's known in France -- fights this in court and refuses to step aside gracefully. It already appears, however, that the IMF won't invoke diplomatic immunity -- and based on past behavior, DSK would likely resign first.
2) One does wonder if this scandal will finally upend a decades-long convention that dictates the head of the IMF being a European and the head of the World Bank being an American. On the one hand, this same kind of talk occurred after Paul Wolfowitz had to resign as World Bank president in 2007, and Robert Zoellick replaced him. On the other hand, that was a whole financial crisis ago.
3) So, in the past five years, two heads of international financial institutions have been implicated in scandal. I'd recommend Swiss authorities take a good, hard look at Bank of International Settlements General Manager Jaime Caruana. These jobs clearly seem to attract bad seeds. At this rate, these institutions will make the IOC or FIFA start to look ethical.
4) The French reaction to DSK's arrest might cure many Westeners of the schadenfreude they felt in response to Pakistani conspiracy theories surrounding the death of bin Laden. As Philip Gourevitch blogs:
This being France, within minutes of the first news of D.S.K.’s arrest, there were rumors that he was the victim of a plot. Christine Boutin, the leader of the Christian Democrats in France, declared that D.S.K. had been entrapped, although she did not specify by whom, or how—but there was no shortage of possibilities floating in the French ether today: Sarkozy, of course, or Socialist rivals, or else, I heard someone say, the Russians who are unhappy with how he has dealt with them at the I.M.F., or maybe the Greeks, whose economy has self-destructed almost as thoroughly as he now has. You could even find D.S.K. being called the new Dreyfus. In conversations with writers, and reporters, and intellectuals around Paris today, I found that nobody quite believed these fancies, but nobody could resist speculating about them either. D.S.K.’s behavior, in and of itself, was just too suicidal to make sense entirely by itself.
See also Adam Gopnik on these points.
The real problem with the arrest is that it appears that the only French politician to offer the right response is ultranationalist Marine Le Pen, who correctly observed that given DSK's past indiscretions with women, this was a long time coming. This will onky boost Le Pen's chances of advancing to the second round of the presidential election. Richard Brody explains why that's a problem:
The world of French politics is haunted by the 2002 elections: then, backers of the eliminated moderate-left candidate, Lionel Jospin, a Socialist, joined forces with the moderate right to give Chirac an overwhelming victory in the runoff, in a repudiation of the F.N. One of the leading factors in Jospin’s first-round elimination was the fragmentation of the left among candidates from a variety of parties. Now, it’s the unpopular Sarkozy whose party is falling apart, and who is doing his best not to offend the F.N. (as in recent regional elections, in which he expressed no second-round preference between that party and the Socialists), in the hope of siphoning away enough of its voters to slip into the second round instead of Marine Le Pen.
In effect, Marine Le Pen is the spoiler: any candidate she faces in the second round is sure to win (because voters and parties will unify to keep the far-right out of power); she will either eliminate the moderate right or the moderate left.
Elections in which one of the two choices is simply unelectable are unhealthy for democracy -- they lead to malaise and alienation from the democratic process. Unfortunately, it looks like France is headed in that direction.
5) I hereby issue a challenge to the readers to come up with their best joke about IMF conditionality and DSK in the comments.
Today was a big American foreign policy news day. Hamas and Fatah seem to have kissed and made up under the aegis of the Egyptian caretaker government; there's a national defense reshuffle as Leon Panetta is moving from CIA to SecDef and David Petraeus is moving from CENTCOM to the CIA; the FEderal Reserve's Ben Bernanke held the Fed's first-ever press conference.
These are all big stories, and yet the lead of the day is the fact that Barack Obama showed everyone his long-form birth certificate. There's something really sad about the fact that this needed to be done, but there it is.
Today's spectacle prompted Slate's David Weigel, who has followed the varieties of birtherism with an eagle eye, to ask honestly when enough is enough:
Here's the thing. I've spent a lot of time writing about conspiracy theories. I think they're darkly amusing....And if we're being perfectly honest, conspiracy stories do gangbusters traffic. If I were an advertiser, I wouldn't tell a writer to knock off writing about conspiracy theories.
But this is an honest question: How far can people take this stuff? Is there absolutely no downside to using your celebrity to make the wildest accusation you can and watch reporters fight like the monkeys at the start of 2001: A Space Odyssey for the right to cover them first? In the past, rabbit hole chases for stuff that would blow the lid off some conspiracy or another have backfired, wildly. (Google "Dan Rather" and "National Guard documents.") And in the past, things that have caused a lot of amusement for a lot of people have gotten predictable and boring, pointless. This has to happen at some point. Tell me this happens at some point.
I'm fascinated by conspiracy theories too, and I'm afraid I have some bad news for Weigel. The truly scary thing is that conspiracy theories do even better gangbuster business outside of the United States. Hear the one about the Mossad being behind the 9/11 attacks? How the United States caused the earthquake in Haiti? It's quick, cheap and easy to create a conspiracy, especially when the truth is usually banal and/or mundane.
As I wrote in The Spectator last year:
What is clear is that, thanks to the technological and globalising revolutions of the last two decades, modern life has become infinitely more complex. The world has become far less easy to understand in terms of its economic and social organisation. Yet humans remain hard-wired to look for patterns in a chaotic universe. As David Aaronovitch recently observed in Voodoo Histories, conspiracy theories offer the comfort of a narrative, no matter how crazy it sounds....
Will anger and distrust be a permanent fixture in the politics of affluent countries? A global economic rebound should lead to increased trust in both business and political elites. Beyond trying to revive their economies, however, there must be something that governments can do to earn back the trust of some of their people. The most obvious first response would be to offer more information to persuade angry and distrustful people that their worst fears will not be realised. Unfortunately, such a policy might backfire. Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler conducted experiments to see whether correct information could erase misperceptions. They discovered that ‘corrections actually strengthened misperceptions among the most strongly committed subjects’. The very attempt to correct erroneous beliefs simply causes the most extreme adherents to put themselves into a cognitive crouch. This might explain why, even though an image of Barack Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate can be accessed on the web, many ‘birthers’ still believe the President was not born in the USA.
This has nothing to do with intelligence, either -- a few weeks ago I
wasted spent 15 minutes explaining to a Fletcher student that, in fact, Julian Assange was not a CIA agent. This sounds laughable, except that at least one head of government said the same thing.
As long as trafficking in these questions draws eyeballs, the media will continue to act as an amplifier for these kinds of crazed worldviews.
There is a downside for those who care about their reputation -- ask Pierre Salinger. For heads of stare and almost everyone else, however, these costs likely seem negligible compared to the political and psychological gain that comes from belief.
Think of conspiracy theories like internaional institutions -- they don't actually explain much, but they never go away either. Even global governance structures that have longed outlived their usefulness do not disappear -- they just persist with fewer adherents. Popular conspiracy theories work the same way, because there will always be a hard core of believers who can sustain their belief regardless of things like "facts" and evidence." Indeed, scorn from the mainstream just fuels their conviction that they must be onto something.
My post last week on the dubious legitimacy/effectiveness of the G-20 has prompted a few responses. Let's take them in order, shall we?
Colin Bradford responds by arguing that I'm judging the G-20 strictly by its summitry, which is unfair:
The G-20 is not just a summit meeting of leaders. The G-20 has a very active track, which has been in existence since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, of at least biannual meetings of finance ministers and central bank presidents. In addition, G-20 deputies and G-20 sherpas often meet to advance the agenda for the leaders. More than that, as a result of the activities in the finance ministers/central bank presidents track, there is now a network of senior officials continuously active not only in preparation for G-20 meetings, but also in dealing with crises and unexpected challenges.
What this means is that the new, more inclusive configuration of major economies from every region of the world that constitutes the G-20 is a process -- communicating, consulting, and even, on good days, coordinating among 20 countries, not eight. The G-20, in other words, is not an event.
Lest this sound too pie-in-the-sky, it should be pointed out that even former Bush administration sherapas are echoing Bradford's point.
As someone who worked on both G-20 and G-7 policy coordinaion while at the Treasury, I've experienced Bradford's point about the value of process first-hand. The thing is, the value-added of said process does require the occasional concrete outcome -- and the last 18 months have been underwhelming on that score. Bradford makes a valid point in observing that the kinds of policy coordination under debate in the G-20 are much more intrusive than anything that was talked about in the old G-7. Still, at some point you want to see some outcomes, and based on what happened over the weekend, I'm fairly confident in my pessimism.
CIGI's The Munk School of Global Affairs' Alan Alexandroff thinks I'm being too pessimistic because I'm relying on the international press coverage:
I and others have pointed out... the persistently negative international financial press – read this as the WSJ, the NYT and the FT at least. Differences are always played up; and agreements are generally characterized as inadequate. And it is here that Dan and I differ.
Fair enough, but I will say that my astringent evaluation of the G-20's recent activities are not only informed by press coverage, but also by off-the-record conversations I've had with both developed and developing-country participants in the G-20 process. [Oh!! Snap! Boom!!--ed. Yeah, that's right, I'm going all insider-y sources on you!] I'll be happy to hear feedback from those sherpas who think the process is working better than my "dead forum walking" characterization.
Art Stein argues that these blog exchanges are missing the key point:
The core issue, then, is whether for the G8 or the G20 disagreement and divergence over policy options are preferable to agreement, coordination, and a concerted response. There is a small literature among economists about whether macroeconomic policy coordination makes things better or worse. Implicit in Bradford’s argument is that disagreement and its policy consequences are not so bad and, implicitly, to be preferred to agreement between a less diverse set of actors. Perhaps. But what is the evidence? Is that true for every policy?
This is an excellent point, and one I made in All Politics Is Global -- sometimes noncooperation is actually the most efficient outcome. On macroeconomic policy coordination in particular, sometimes successful cooperation has brought about underwhelming policy consequences (see: Maastricht criteria).
That said, one could argue that part of the reason for the Great Recession was the absence of any serious effort to rein in mcroeconomic imbalances five years ago. Furthermore, Bretton Woods II is still persisting in the global economy. So, yes, I do think coordination in this case would be a good thing, and for a variety of excellebnt domesticf political reasons in the United States, China and Europe, it ain't happening.
Am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.