An awful lot of international relations can be dispiriting. A glance at the Syrian conflict reveals its awful humanitarian toll, which stands in stark counterpoint to the coldly realpolitik nature of great-power foreign policies toward that country. My point is, it's very easy to feel beleaguered when studying world politics.
But then, every once in a while, comes a story that cries out for its own theme song.
Yesterday the Russians busted an American spy. The Washington Post's Will Englund and Greg Miller provide the straight reporting:
An American diplomat accused by Russia of spying for the CIA was ordered to leave the country Tuesday after a highly publicized arrest that seemed designed to embarrass the United States and its premier intelligence service.
The expulsion of Ryan C. Fogle was announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry, and footage on state-run television showed him wearing a blond-streaked wig and a baseball cap as he was held facedown and handcuffed.
The Soviet-style episode came just days after U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry visited the Russian capital in an attempt to soothe diplomatic tensions over the conflict in Syria and the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.
A statement released by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which appeared intended to put the United States on the defensive, said, “While our two presidents have reaffirmed their willingness to expand bilateral cooperation, including between intelligence agencies in the fight against terrorism, such provocative Cold War-style actions do not contribute to building mutual trust.”
For somewhat droller reporting on the incident, one needs to surf over to the New York Times, where it's clear that David Herszenhorn and Ellen Barry just enjoyed the dickens out of filing this report:
The circumstances of Mr. Fogle’s unmasking seemed bizarre, even given the long, colorful history of spying by the Soviet Union, Russia and their rivals.…
[T]he Russians released the videos and photographs of Mr. Fogle’s assortment of props, which also included two pairs of sunglasses, a pocketknife and a protective sleeve made to shield information held on the electronic chips now routinely imprinted on passports, transit passes and identification cards.
He also carried a decidedly un-smart phone that from a distance looked like an old-model Nokia. Unlike its counterpart in the “Get Smart” television series, it was not built into the bottom of a shoe.
The most recent comparable spy folly came at the Russians’ expense. In 2010, the American authorities arrested 10 “sleeper” agents who had been living in the United States for a decade, posing as Americans. Some were couples with children; some had well-developed careers in real estate and finance.
What they had not done was send any classified secrets back to Russia, and when they were caught they were not charged with espionage but with conspiring to work as unregistered foreign agents. They were eventually expelled to Russia in a swap that included the Kremlin’s release of four men convicted of spying for the West.
If Americans then wondered exactly what sort of high-level intelligence the Russian government had expected its operatives to find while living humdrum lives in places like suburban Montclair, N.J., the case of Mr. Fogle seemed to pose its own curious questions:
What exactly did he expect to accomplish with a shaggy, ill-fitting wig that seemed to fall off his head at the slightest bump? And why would a counterterrorism officer, trained by the Russian special services, need a letter describing how to set up a new Gmail account without revealing personal information?
Perhaps the overarching question was just: Really?
Looking at the details of what Fogle ostensibly had on him, it's hard to take this event seriously at all. The letter in particular is just one or two Nigerian princes away from looking like a spam email.
The other reason it's hard to take the arrest seriously is that it appears that neither was it a sensitive intelligence operation, nor will it affect bilateral relations all that much. If Fogle's endeavor was truly significant, it's doubtful that the FSB would have gone public like this -- instead, it would have strung out the operation as long as possible in an effort to deceive the United States. And Fogle won't be rotting in a Russian prison, as he' has already been expelled. Post-capture, both Russian and U.S. officials are playing down the incident.
More generally, this won't affect the bilateral relationship -- which, at this point, is based on the occasional mutual interest (counterterrorism), the more frequent clashing interest (Syria, energy), Vladimir Putin's calcified state of feeling aggrieved at the hands of the United States, and the Obama administration's conscious decision to not get drawn into petty rhetorical games with the Russian leadership.
No, instead, one must stand back and gape in wonder at how reality breeds fiction, which then breeds reality. As the NYT story referenced, the last public espionage story involving Russia and the United States involved the placement of deep-cover Russian intelligence agents in U.S. suburbs, which didn't produce much in the way of intelligence, though it did lead to at least one lad magazine pictorial. That scandal, in turn, inspired former CIA officer Joe Weisberg to create FX's The Americans, a truly outstanding show about deep-cover Russian agents operating in the United States during the early Reagan years. And while I cannot recommend the show highly enough, one of the few farcical elements of it is the number of wigs that the lead characters used during the first season. Ostensibly, the lead male character, played by Matthew Rhys, has such extraordinary wig work that he's able to woo and marry an American FBI employee!! It makes Fogle's wigs seem pretty crude -- so crude one wonders if they were planted by Russia's FSB.
The closing of the first season of The Americans played one of the best Cold War-tinged songs ever written, Peter Gabriel's "Games Without Frontiers." That song was perfect for the closing scene because it matched the emotional heft that the show managed to serve up for all of the main characters. Alas, in comparison this scandal seems to feel far more farcical. Readers are thereby warmly urged to suggest what song should accompany this particular espionage episode. I, for one, would suggest this little ditty.
Am I missing anything? Seriously, am I -- is there anything serious to draw from this case?
A standard take on how energy affects world politics is Tom Friedman's "First Law of Petropolitics" -- the belief that high energy prices cause energy exporters to act in more belligerent ways. What if the opposite is the case, however?
The Atlantic's Charles Mann has a long, winding cover story on the growth of non-traditional hydrocarbon energy reserves -- shale gas, methane hydrate, and so forth -- and what that could mean for world politics. The good parts version:
Shortfalls in oil revenues thus kick away the sole, unsteady support of the state—a cataclysmic event, especially if it happens suddenly. “Think of Saudi Arabia,” says Daron Acemoglu, the MIT economist and a co-author of Why Nations Fail. “How will the royal family contain both the mullahs and the unemployed youth without a slush fund?” And there is nowhere else to turn, because oil has withered all other industry, Dutch-disease-style. Similar questions could be asked of other petro-states in Africa, the Arab world, and central Asia. A methane-hydrate boom could lead to a southwest-to-northeast arc of instability stretching from Venezuela to Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan to Siberia. It seems fair to say that if autocrats in these places were toppled, most Americans would not mourn. But it seems equally fair to say that they would not necessarily be enthusiastic about their replacements.
Augmenting the instability would be methane hydrate itself, much of which is inconveniently located in areas of disputed sovereignty. “Whenever you find something under the water, you get into struggles over who it belongs to,” says Terry Karl, a Stanford political scientist and the author of the classic The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. Think of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, she says, over which Britain and Argentina went to war 30 years ago and over which they are threatening to fight again. “One of the real reasons that they are such an issue is the belief that either oil or natural gas is offshore.” Methane-hydrate deposits run like crystalline bands through maritime flash points: the Arctic, and waters off West Africa and Southeast Asia.
In a working paper, Michael Ross and a colleague, Erik Voeten of Georgetown University, argue that the regular global flow of petroleum, the biggest commodity in world trade, is also a powerful stabilizing force. Nations dislike depending on international oil, but they play nice and obey the rules because they don’t want to be cut off. By contrast, countries with plenty of energy reserves feel free to throw their weight around. They are “less likely than other states to sign major treaties or join intergovernmental organizations; and they often defy global norms—on human rights, the expropriation of foreign companies, and the financing of foreign terrorism or rebellions.” The implication is sobering: an energy-independent planet would be a world of fractious, autonomous actors, none beholden to the others, with even less cooperation than exists today.
Voeten's post at the Monkey Cage goes further.
The fact that China and the U.S. both currently rely on oil imports may be an important stabilizing force as it creates a shared interest in stable global oil markets and thus in ensuring that the Oceans are navigable, the Middle East is relatively stable, and that rules and norms whose violations could trigger instability are obeyed. Energy independence has long been thought to free U.S. foreign policy from undesirable constraints. But would the world be more stable if the U.S. had fewer constraints on how it exercises its foreign policy?
As if on cue, the Financial Times' Richard McGregor and Ed Crooks report that the Obama administration is starting to think about how to use the country's new energy bounty in
Although the energy department is the decision maker, the issue is being debated at senior levels in the White House which sees energy exports as giving the US new geopolitical leverage.
In a little-noticed speech in New York in late April, Tom Donilon, the White House national security adviser, said the new energy bounty allowed the US “a stronger hand in pursuing and implementing our international security goals”.
Mr Donilon said increased US and global gas production could break the link between the gas and more expensive oil prices and “weaken control by traditional dominant natural gas suppliers”.
The White House is also promoting gas as an alternative fuel to oil and coal as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions.
All of this has Walter Russell Mead a bit giddy, but let's go back to Mann and Voeten's point. Assuming that the extrapolations pan out -- and it's worth remembering that five years ago those projections looked very different -- will declining energy prices trigger an arc of instability?
Color me a bit skeptical. First, energy is hardly the only resource that imbricates the great powers with the rest of the global economy. The global value chain does that on its own quite nicely, thank you very much, and a glance at the new Trade in Value Added data makes that clear.
Second, if Donilon's speech was any indication of what new energy reserves would mean for U.S. foreign policy, I'd say retrenchment was not in the cards:
[R]educed energy imports do not mean the United States can or should disengage from the Middle East or the world. Global energy markets are part of a deeply interdependent world economy. The United States continues to have an enduring interest in stable supplies of energy and the free flow of commerce everywhere.
We have a set of enduring national security interests in the Middle East, including our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security; our global nonproliferation objectives, including our commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon; our ongoing national interest in fighting terrorism that threatens our personnel, interests and our homeland; our strong national interest in pursuit of Middle East peace; our historic stabilizing role in protecting regional allies and partners and deterring aggression; and our interest in ensuring the democratic transitions in Yemen, North Africa and ultimately in Syria succeed.
Furthermore, as the FT article suggests, the United States sees the change in natural gas as a way to expand exports into Latin America. This doesn't sound like a county that wants to retreat into autarky.
Third, there is one way in which reduced exports might make life easier for Middle Eastern governments -- in the short term. That region has the highest level of energy intensity in the world, in no small part because gas and oil are cheap and subsidized. Declining demand from elsewhere allows these governments to continue to provide cheap energy at home. From both a climate change perspective and an economic reform perspective, this ain't good news. But it does augment political stability.
Finally, this is a slow-motion change in the global energy picture. North America has moved the furthest down the road on this revolution -- Japan, China and Europe are just starting. So energy exporters have a fair degree of warning about what's coming. This doesn't mean that they'll use the lead time properly. Still, one of the reasons for building up sovereign wealth funds and the like is to insure against the time when the energy fairy disappears.
What do you think?
A. Iain Johnston has the lead article in the latest issue of International Security. It's available for free right now, and it's quite the doozy. Entitled "How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness?", Johnston picks apart the claim made by many (including your humble blogger) that China's post-2008 foreign policy represented anything all that much out of the ordinary. From the abstract:
There has been a rapidly spreading meme in U.S. pundit and academic circles since 2010 that describes China's recent diplomacy as “newly assertive.” This “new assertiveness” meme suffers from two problems. First, it underestimates the complexity of key episodes in Chinese diplomacy in 2010 and overestimates the amount of change. Second, the explanations for the new assertiveness claim suffer from unclear causal mechanisms and lack comparative rigor that would better contextualize China's diplomacy in 2010. An examination of seven cases in Chinese diplomacy at the heart of the new assertiveness meme finds that, in some instances, China's policy has not changed; in others, it is actually more moderate; and in still others, it is a predictable reaction to changed external conditions. In only one case—maritime disputes—does one see more assertive Chinese rhetoric and behavior.
Johnston has forgotten more about Chinese foreign policy than I will ever learn, so I'd encourage you to give the whole piece a read. My take is that I'm actually not that far apart from Johnston. As he notes, China's foreign policy had its share of belligerent episodes prior to 2008. He also acknowledges that there has been some movement by China on a couple of issues, including the maritime disputes. He also omits any discussion of some of the cases that I've highlighted on the blog, including the reaction to Liu Xiaobo's Nobel Peace Prize, as well as the kerfuffle with Google.
What's really interesting, however, is the second part of that abstract:
The speed and extent with which the newly assertive meme has emerged point to an understudied issue in international relations—namely, the role that online media and the blogosphere play in the creation of conventional wisdoms that might, in turn, constrain policy debates. The assertive China discourse may be a harbinger of this effect as a Sino-U.S. security dilemma emerges (emphasis added).
Whoa there!! Bloggers are constraining policy debates?
Here's the relevant passage from the article itself (p. 46-47):
The conventional description of Chinese diplomacy in 2010 seems to point to a new, but poorly understood, factor in international relations—namely, the speed with which new conventional wisdoms are created, at least within the public sphere, by the interaction of the internet-based traditional media and the blogosphere. One study has found, for instance, that on some U.S. public policy issues, the blogosphere and the traditional media interact in setting the agenda for coverage for each other. Moreover, on issues where this interaction occurs, much of the effect happens within four days. Other research suggests that political bloggers, for the most part, do not engage in original reporting and instead rely heavily on the mainstream media for the reproduction of alleged facts. The media, meanwhile, increasingly refers to blogs as source material. The result is, as one study put it, “a news source cycle, in which news content can be passed back and forth from media to media.” Additional research suggests that the thematic agendas for political campaigns and politicians themselves are increasingly influenced by blogosphere-media interaction.
Together, this research suggests that the prevailing framework for characterizing Chinese foreign policy in recent years may be relevant for the further development (and possible narrowing) of the policy discourse among media, think tank, and policy elites. As the agenda-setting literature suggests, this is not a new phenomenon. What is new, however, is the speed with which these narratives are created and spread—a discursive tidal wave, if you will. This gives first movers with strong policy preferences advantages in producing and circulating memes and narratives in the electronic media or in high-profile blogs, or both. This, in turn, further reduces the time and incentives for participants in policy debates to conduct rigorous comparative analysis prior to participation.
And here I'm going to have to disagree with Johnston a bit. On a day in which the mainstream media demonstrated a truly excellent ability to spread its own misinformation -- and, in response, said mainstream media blamed Twitter -- I'm highly dubious that the blogs play that much of a causal role. To be sure, I do think blogs can sometimes perpetuate falsehoods. That said, most of Johnston's evidence for blog effects comes from domestic policy, and methinks the foreign policy media ecosystem functions a wee bit differently.
If I had to wager why the misperceptions about China that Johnston enumerates have emerged, I'd hypothesize, in descending order of importance, the following reasons:
1) Foreign affairs columnists and international relations analysts who hadn't paid that much attention to China prior to 2008 had no choice but to pay a lot of attention to Beijing after the financial crisis;
2) Interest groups in the United States that were traditionally predisposed towards a more dovish view of China started feeling burned by Beijing on matters unrelated to security.
3) The media likes a trend, and a lot of the incidents that Johnston chronicles took place in rapid-fire fashion from the end of 2009 to the middle of 2010.
4) The Obama administration's rebalancing strategy validated the perception that China was doing something different.
5) Blogs acted as an amplifier for all of these other trends.
What's ironic about this is that in the article, Johnston properly takes a lot of the conventional wisdom to task for ahistoricism and problematic causal arguments in assessing Chinese behavior after 2008. I'd wager, however, that Johnston has done the exact same thing with respect to the foreign policy blogosphere.
What do you think?
Your humble blogger has been busy at the U.S. Army War College's annual conference on The Future of American Landpower ... at which he's heard a lot about cyberattacks. So at the risk of violating one of my own maxims, I want to write one post about this whole cyber business. Because the more I apply my monkey brain to this, the more dubious I get about how it's being talked about, and I want to try to work my way through this.
First, if we're living in a world where the director of national intelligence thinks it's the number-one threat out there ... well, let's face it, then it's not a very scary world, is it? I mean, if industrial espionage has replaced terrorism as the biggest national security threat facing the United States ... meh. I don't want there to be industrial espionage, but let's face it, this ain't the kind of Cold War-level threat that I hear bandied about so frequently.
But, to be fair, I think concerns about "cyber" aren't just about the industrial stuff -- it's attacks on critical infrastructure and so forth. Except now we need to step back and ask under what circumstances such attacks would occur. There are terrorists of course -- which means that this is a old threat in a new domain. There are state actors -- which means that this is an even older threat in a new domain. Terrorists will most likely attempt such attacks when the opportunity arises. State actors presumably would not attempt such actions on a full-bore scale unless there were actual military hostilities. Cases like Stuxnet fall in between ... into espionage and covert action.
So, can international norms about cyberattacks be negotiated? I know NATO is trying something like this with the Tallinn Manual, and I know the United States is insisting that the laws of war apply to cyberdomains. I suspect that this has a chance of working in regulating real world interstate military conflicts, because, with any shadow of the future, most states are prepared to obey most regimes most of the time.
But let's face it -- most of the concerns about cyber aren't about what happens if a war breaks out. The concerns are about regulating such attacks during peacetime, which means this is about regulating intelligence-gathering, espionage, and covert actions. Now, let me just list below the number of international regimes that establish the rules, norms and procedures for regulating these kind of activities:
Nada. Zip. Nothing. Or, as one journal article more delicately put it, "espionage is curiously ill-defined under international law."
That's because espionage can't really be regulated. For any agreement to function, violators have to be detected and punishment has to be enforced. In the world of espionage, however, revealing your ability to detect is in and of itself an intelligence reveal that states are deeply reluctant to do.
So I don't think negotiations will work, and I sure as hell don't think smart sanctions will work either. Most of what concerns us about cyber falls under the espionage and covert action category, and that's never been regulated at the global level.
What am I missing? Seriously, what -- because what I just blogged is highly subject to change.
Zaki Laïdi has a fascinating op-ed in the Financial Times blasting the current state of global governance. It's fascinating because of the mix of not-entirely-accurate observation and breathtakingly naïve prescription. The good parts version:
In principle, the emergence of a multipolar world, in which the US is no longer the only very powerful country, should boost “multilateralism” – institutionalised co-operation among states in pursuit of shared objectives. It should boost efforts to achieve free trade via the World Trade Organisation, poverty reduction through the World Bank, and international security through the UN.
Yet the reality is different. Countries are seeking to extricate themselves from global agreements in order to extract concessions from partners on a bilateral basis or to protect national sovereignty.
Take the case of the WTO. A conflict between India and the US over agricultural subsidies derailed a final compromise in the summer of 2008. This would have – finally – concluded the Doha round of trade talks, which were launched in Qatar in 2001. Negotiations have stalled since the US-India spat. The main responsibility for this failure falls on the US, which believes the system of multilateral trade no longer offers the advantages it used to. The priority for the US is to secure access to markets through enhanced bilateralism. Hence the Obama administration’s drive to agree the trans-Pacific Partnership for Asia and, more recently, to conclude the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership for Europe.
In each case, the strategic objective is to contain China’s rise by setting a high bar for regulatory standards. The novelty is that Europe, which has long defended multilateralism, is now succumbing to the temptation of bilateralism even while it remains completely incapable of assuming political responsibility for its trade policy...
It is important to understand that the collapse of multilateral trade we are witnessing today is far from being an isolated case. Climate talks since the 2009 Copenhagen conference have challenged the multilateralism heralded by the Kyoto protocol of 1997. The idea then was to move forward on the basis of a shared objective – the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Today countries only make commitments on climate change on the basis of a very narrow assessment of their national interests. The idea that shared commitments – rather than individual interests – shape behaviour is now dead....
Since the end of the cold war, Europeans have believed deeply in the existence of a global commons – and the declining importance of national sovereignty. The conduct of both the US and emerging countries suggests the opposite. Power politics is back. Multilateralism is dying.
OK, a few things here:
1) It was a lot easier to take this "Europeans don't really believe in national interests anymore, we're so above all that, so the rest of the world should listen to us" guff prior to the Eurozone crisis. Watching Germany and other Northern European nations make sure that their national interest gets executed through EU institutions, however, makes this canard a bit harder to swallow.
2) I hate to break it to Laïdi, but during the 1990s the Europeans could afford the luxury of believing in the growing power of multilateralism. That suited their beliefs and seemed to accord with the facts on a surface level. In point of fact, however, it was the growing power of the United States -- along with the strong support and coordination of its European allies -- that made multilateralism work. The idea that multilateralism should work better when power is more dispersed is an ... odd notion.
3) If Laïdi is really gonna go there on trade, let's ask blunt question -- exactly which jurisdiction triggered the explosion in bilateral free-trade agreements and preferential trade agreements? Hold on, I'll wait ... but I bet everyone already knows the answer.
4) As I've argued at length elsewhere, focusing on Doha and Copenhagen will lead to Laïdi's conclusions -- but those cases are not necessarily representative of global governance writ large. On a raft of other dimensions, the multilateral system has worked surprisingly well.
5) Finally, the real problem with Laïdi's argument is that it fosters a spectacularly naïve narrative about how multilateral arrangements are created in the first place. This is hardly the first moment when great powers have created club-like arrangements in an effort to move the multilateral status quo. In fact, I'm pretty sure that some big books have been devoted to this topic.
The reason the European Union has had success in pushing its version of global rules has little to do with its love of multilateralism and a lot to do with its market power and institutional capabilities. The sooner that European international relations commentators appreciate this, the better.
Am I missing anything?
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.]
Your humble blogger is busy
enjoying the fruits of last year's Twitter Fight Club run with day-job activities this Tuesday, so only a quick blog post. A belated congratulations to Chrystia Freeland's Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else for winning the 2013 Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book in internatonal relations last year. As the head of the Gelber jury noted, "Plutocrats took the prize for its immediacy and authority about the future -- the world that we must comprehend and hope to manage in radically new circumstances."
Having been on the Gelber Prize jury this year, I think there was a strong consensus among the panel that Freeland managed two tricky feats in Plutocrats. She wrote a book that was interesting to experts but very accessible to the layman, and she managed to describe the global one percent in a way that did not overly symapthize but still demonstrated some reportorial empathy. That's no easy feat, and well done!
It's a particularly noteworthy accomplishment when one looks at the shortlist of the top five books. Freeland bucked the trend last year, which was that a lot of the best IR books seemed to be about empire. Anne Applebaum's extraordinary Iron Curtain, Kwasi Kwarteng's excellent Ghosts of Empire, and Pankaj Mishra's revelatory From the Ruins of Empire all looked at how great powers tried to create imperial domains in their own image, with devastating consequences to both the imperialists and the subjugated nations. Indeed, the next time someone says that maybe Niall Ferguson had half a point about the virtues of the British empire, tell that person to read Applebaum, Kwarteng, and Mishra (as well as Mishra's devastating takedown of Ferguson in the London Review of Books).
Perhaps most important, each of these authors, using their own styles, nevertheless wrote exceptionally clear and engaging books. I'd encourage all aspiring intellectuals to read Mishra's book as a template, but I doubt most could copy it. I would, however, definitely encourage all Ph.D. students struggling with their dissertations to read Applebaum's book -- it's an exemplar for clear exposition.
Congratulations to Chrystia, and I encourage all readers to peruse all of these excellent books at their earliest convenience.
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?
Your humble blogger has been too hard at work
trashing his diminished reputation for seriousness working on other projects to blog about North Korea as of late. Now, the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been such a predictable cycle of DPRK provocative action, measured response, and more provocative action that I've been tempted to automate these posts the same way I have with Iran.
Still, as one reviews recent behavior, it's necessary to acknowledge that this cycle looks a little different. When Nick Kristof tweets that "I've been covering North Korean pugnacity and brinksmanship for 25 years, and I'm nervous about what might happen," the rest of us snap to attention.
1) There was the novel threat from a North Korean general to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike against the United States, causing Washington to "be engulfed in a sea of fire."
2) North Korea has also declared that the 1953 armistice with South Korea is now "invalid," cutting off the direct phone link with South Korea at Panmunjom.
3) North Korea's propaganda machine has ramped up against new South Korean leader Park Geun-hye in a rather sexist fashion, decrying the "venomous swish of skirt" coming from the Blue House. In Korean, this language implies an "overly aggressive" woman.
4) Something something Dennis Rodman inanity something.
5) North Korea has dramatically ramped up the number of air force sorties, from 100 a day last summer to at least 550 a day now -- a number that comes close to matching the South Korean daily number.
So, seriously, WTF, Kim Jong Un? Is this simply a more severe version of typical DPRK brinkmanship, or is this something altogether new and destabilizing?
Well … I think it's the former. First, let's just ignore the DPRK's rhetoric, because it's always over the top -- or, as with Rodman, completely disingenuous. Let's look at the DPRK's actions. Here, even the cancellation of the armistice doesn't necessarily mean much, as McClatchy's Tom Lasseter points out:
Pyongyang is infamous for issuing dramatic but empty threats, like turning its enemies into an apocalyptic "sea of fire." The North has also announced on several previous occasions that it was pulling out from the armistice, most recently in 2009.…
The last time North Korea disconnected the hotline, in 2010, was a year when the North killed four South Koreans when it shelled an island and was accused of torpedoing a South Korean naval ship, killing 46 sailors.
But Yonhap also reported that the North had not severed another North-South communication line, this one related to a North Korean industrial zone where South Korean companies operate.
So … nothing much new here. Beyond that there's the ramping up of air sorties, which does seem like a more powerful signal, if for no other reason than that it's actually a costly act. And beyond that … a lot of hot air.
So does that mean I can automate my North Korea posts? Well, Fareed Zakaria has a different spin:
No one knows for sure what is going on. It is highly unlikely that these moves are being conceived and directed by Kim Jong Un, the young leader who succeeded his father, Kim Jong Il. North Korea’s military dictatorship has wedded itself to the third generation of the Kim dynasty, which now seems to serve mostly as a unifying symbol for its people. But it is unlikely that a 28-year-old with almost no background in politics or experience in government is conceiving and directing these policies. (He does appear to have free rein on basketball policy in the hermit kingdom.)
The most likely explanation for North Korea’s actions is that it is trying to get attention. In the past, its provocations usually led to international (especially American) efforts to defuse tensions. Then came negotiations, which led to an agreement of sorts, which the North soon cheated on, which led to sanctions, isolation and, finally, North Korean provocation again.
The pattern may be repeating — but it’s a high-stakes game, with nuclear weapons, brinkmanship and hyper-nationalism all interacting. Things could go wrong. The most important new development, however, is China’s attitude change. In a remarkable shift, China — which sustains its neighbor North Korea economically — helped draft and then voted last week for U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang.
For decades, Beijing saw Pyongyang as a historical ally. But now, a senior Obama administration official told me Wednesday, “We are clearly hearing increasingly levels of frustration and concern” from Beijing about North Korea.
Zakaria is correct to point out Beijing's growing disenchantment with Pyongyang. But I tend to share Jennifer Lind's assessment that this disenchantment won't necessarily lead to any dramatic changes:
One shouldn't exaggerate the significance of these recent developments. After all, in the U.N. negotiations over sanctions -- this time as before -- the Chinese have consistently played the role of watering down the degree of punishment imposed against Pyongyang. And in the past Chinese firms have helped North Koreans evade sanctions. It remains to be seen whether Beijing intends to enforce the new measures.…
Because the specter of North Korea's collapse could potentially destabilize the Korea peninsula, Beijing may continue to shield Pyongyang. But the two country's [sic] increasingly divergent interests suggest that China's dissatisfaction with North Korea is only likely to grow.
I'd be even more skeptical. Obviously, China's leadership would prefer North Korea to act in a less provocative manner -- but they really don't want a disintegrating North Korean state. So even if they're disenchanted, they won't apply the necessary pressure to foment regime change or regime collapse. Which means that Pyongyang will still have carte blanche to provoke everyone else.
So my take is … not much has changed. I suspect that the reason for all of the amping up has to do with domestic politics on all sides. On the one hand, Kim Jong Un is playing to his own military base. On the other hand, North Korea is also trying to suss out the policy preferences and resolve of the new leadership in both South Korea and China.
Unless and until Beijing gets fed up enough to desire a strategic shift on the Korean Peninsula, I'm dubious that anything will change.
Am I missing anything?
A little more than two years ago I wrote a blog post entitled "The End of Power?" After riffing on the subject for a spell, I closed with:
So... we live in a world in which more actors have vetoes over systemic change but no actor has the ability to truly compel change. This leads to lots of talk about "G-zero worlds" and so forth.
Just to be provocative, however, I wonder if what's truly changed is the extinction of compellence power as we know it. The primary, ne plus ultra tools of compellence require a willingness to kill, jail, or starve a lot of people. Recent flare-ups like Iran in 2009 and Egypt right now suggest that such actions are possible at the domestic level but pretty damn costly; even authoritarian countries flinch at using brute force on a domestic population. Cross-border efforts are even more expensive in terms of both material and reputational costs.
This isn't the end of power, but it might be the end of one particular dimension of power. I'm not entirely convinced that this supposition is true and am willing/eager to hear counterarguments. That said, I still hereby claim The End of Power as my title, so everyone else just back off, OK?
Well, so much for my claim. Former FP head honcho Moisés Naim has a new book out called... The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be. His argument:
Power is shifting -- from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, and from presidential palaces to public squares. But power is also changing, becoming harder to use and easier to lose. As a result, argues award-winning columnist and former Foreign Policy editor Moisés Naím, all leaders have less power than their predecessors, and the potential for upheaval is unprecedented. In The End of Power, Naím illuminates the struggle between once-dominant megaplayers and the new micropowers challenging them in every field of human endeavor. The antiestablishment drive of micropowers can topple tyrants, dislodge monopolies, and open remarkable new opportunities, but it can also lead to chaos and paralysis. Drawing on provocative, original research and a lifetime of experience in global affairs, Naím explains how the end of power is reconfiguring our world.
The originality of the argument -- along with the subtitle -- saves Moisés from some serious legal retribution!! Well, that and he asked me to moderate a panel on the topic with him and Fareed Zakaria at the Council on Foreign Relations. Here's the video. Enjoy!
Like other wonks, I watched last night's State of the Union address with a mixture of curiosity and whiskey. As I noted a few days ago, each State of the Union address contains some statements that history will judge rather harshly. Initially that was my focus in listening to last night's speech. That was quickly supplanted by a more interesting undercurrent to Obama's text, however.
Foreign policy wonks like Fred Kaplan have argued that there wasn't much foreign policy content in the speech. That's true only if one has a rather narrow definition of foreign policy. What was striking to me was Obama's global justifications for a lot of his economic policy. Throughout his speech, he used the specter of foreign economic threats to prod Congress into action. Consider the following:
Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs?....
After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend....
After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years....
Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – so let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.....
America’s energy sector is just one part of an aging infrastructure badly in need of repair. Ask any CEO where they’d rather locate and hire: a country with deteriorating roads and bridges, or one with high-speed rail and internet; high-tech schools and self-healing power grids. The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs....
Let’s also make sure that a high school diploma puts our kids on a path to a good job. Right now, countries like Germany focus on graduating their high school students with the equivalent of a technical degree from one of our community colleges, so that they’re ready for a job....
In each of these passages, Obama was using comparative language to contrast the United States with other countries -- or, as he would put it, other magnets for jobs. The explicit thesis is that unless the United States makes the necessary investments, scarce jobs will leave American shores.
Obama has used this kind of rhetoric on the campaign trail and in previous SOTUs. It reveals a somewhat mercantiilist worldview, one in which jobs and economic growth have a zero-sum, relative gains quality to it.
[So, what, Dan? Most Americans see the world through a mercantilist lens as well. Will this kind of rhetoric matter?--ed.] I'm honestly not sure. Here's the foreign economic policy component of the SOTU:
Even as we protect our people, we should remember that today’s world presents not only dangers, but opportunities. To boost American exports, support American jobs, and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, we intend to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union – because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs.
Now on the one hand, announcing the formal start of negotiations with the EU on a trade deal augurs well for my prediction last year about foreign economic policy playing a big role in Obama's second term. On the other hand, viewing trade through a mercantilist lens will make tough negotiations even tougher ... which means I might owe Phil Levy an expensive DC dinner.
In a speech in which traditional security threats seemed very much on the wane in terms of actual threat as well as political salience, it would be a cruel twist of fate to ratchet up ill-conceived foreign economic threats as a substitute.
About six months ago, when the world's major central banks all started pursuing aggressive strategies of quantitative easing, I blogged that, "the international bitching and moaning about QE3 seems much less than the 'currency war' rhetoric that QE2 triggered."
With Japan's decision to unleash the monetary taps, the "currency war" meme has cropped up again, but in an odd way. To be honest, I'm reading a lot more essays that smack down the "currency war" claim than are making it. For recent and salient smackdowns, see Felix Salmon, Mario Draghi, Gavyn Davies, Philipp Hildebrand, Matthew Yglesias, and Paola Subacchi.
So this raises an awkward question -- who is claiming that there's a currency war and why? Is there a lobby that's agitating for an end to certain policies and using the guise of a "currency war" to try to make it happen? Who are these shadowy groups?
As near as I can determine, there are three interest groups with the motivated interest in doing this:
1) The Bundesbank. One can think of the eurozone crisis as one long, inexorable weakening of the Bundesbank's grip on European monetary policy. Bundesbank president Jens Weidemann set off the latest round of currency war puffery in a speech in which he bemoaned the "increased politicisation of exchange rates" and warned that central bank indepenence was eroding. Now I'm not a German-speaker, but it's possible that when Weidemann says central bank independence is "eroding" he means, "I don't have a veto over eurozone monetary policy like I used to and Draghi won't return my calls."
2) The bond funds. Bondholders aren't big fans of inflating currencies, which is the designed effect of this collective round of quantitative easing. Or, to put it more pithily, it's not a currency war unless someone at PIMCO is hyping it!! In this case, Mohammed El-Erian:
[T]here is a lot of scholarship demonstrating why such beggar-thy-neighbor approaches result in bad collective outcomes. Indeed, multilateral agreements are in place to minimize this risk, including at the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.
Yet, when push comes to shove, country after country is being dragged into abetting a potentially harmful outcome for the global economy as a whole. Worse, this process has not yet registered seriously on the multilateral policy agenda.
El-Erian needs to read the Financial Times a bit more often. The problem isn't that this isn't on the "multilateral policy agenda" -- it's that these global governance structures are less stressed about it than El-Erian:
The world’s largest developed nations reaffirmed their commitment not to target exchange rates in a statement on Tuesday aimed at addressing concerns over a fresh round of global currency wars.
In a move widely seen as an attempt to defuse tensions over recent rapid moves in the currency market, the Group of Seven countries -- comprising the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, and Japan -- said they would “consult closely” on any action in foreign exchange markets.
"We reaffirm that our fiscal and monetary policies have been and will remain oriented towards meeting our respective domestic objectives using domestic instruments, and that we will not target exchange rates,” the ministers and governors said.
This doesn't sound like the G-7 is all that troubled -- or, to put it more bluntly, not as troubled as El-Erian wants them to be.
3) The developing world. While the G-7 seems pretty copacetic with the combined quantitative easing, the G-20 is another matter.
The words “currency wars” are too blunt for a G20 communique, but that is what the world’s finance ministers will talk about when they meet in Moscow this week.
A new round of monetary easing in advanced economies is pushing down their currencies and prompting howls of protest from the developing world.
Indeed, the most cogent critiques of the developed world's combined QE strategy comes from officials and op-ed writers focused on the less developed world. And to be sure, the combined effect of developed country actions on the monetary front can create some policy problems in the developing world.
Again, though, what's striking isn't the vocal complaints about currency wars in 2013 but the relative absence of them compared to, say, the fall of 2010 after QE2. Which suggests that while there might be some mild grumbling among the advanced developing countries, they prefer the status quo to policies that cause the OECD economies to contract in size.
So, to sum up: when you read about someone voicing "grave concern" about currency wars, see if they are based in A) an export-dependent developing economy; B) a bond fund; or C) the German central bank. If they are, you can safely tune them out. It's when people outside those places start carping that I'll start getting concerned about a currency war.
Am I missing anything?
One of the tests of any theoretical paradigm is whether it works on a new explanatory domain. The introduction of "cyber" as a new possible zone of conflict would seem to be an ideal testing ground for international relations theory, for example. Will cybersecurity emerge within a strong body of law-governed international regimes, a norm-infused sphere of do's and don'ts, a game-theoretic equilibrium in which no actor has an incentive to deviate frrom status-quo policies, an arena where nuclear analogies are applied to a new and not-so-similar security theater, or a realpolitik zone of anarchy in which there are no rules or norms, just exercises of power and capabilities?
Based on recent reporting, the answer appears to be a realpolitik one. After bolstering the Department of Defense's Cyber Command even during a time of austerity, the New York Times' David Sanger and Thom Shanker report on a new legal review of presidential authority in this area:
A secret legal review on the use of America’s growing arsenal of cyberweapons has concluded that President Obama has the broad power to order a pre-emptive strike if the United States detects credible evidence of a major digital attack looming from abroad, according to officials involved in the review.
That decision is among several reached in recent months as the administration moves, in the next few weeks, to approve the nation’s first rules for how the military can defend, or retaliate, against a major cyberattack. New policies will also govern how the intelligence agencies can carry out searches of faraway computer networks for signs of potential attacks on the United States and, if the president approves, attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code — even if there is no declared war.
The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held....
Cyberweaponry is the newest and perhaps most complex arms race under way. The Pentagon has created a new Cyber Command, and computer network warfare is one of the few parts of the military budget that is expected to grow. Officials said that the new cyberpolicies had been guided by a decade of evolution in counterterrorism policy, particularly on the division of authority between the military and the intelligence agencies in deploying cyberweapons. Officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk on the record....
As the process of defining the rules of engagement began more than a year ago, one senior administration official emphasized that the United States had restrained its use of cyberweapons. “There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said....
While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. Even more complex, nonstate actors, like terrorists or criminal groups, can mount attacks, and it is often difficult to tell who is responsible. Some critics have said the cyberthreat is being exaggerated by contractors and consultants who see billions in potential earnings.
One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyberweapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.
A possible exception would be in cases of narrowly targeted tactical strikes by the military, like turning off an air defense system during a conventional strike against an adversary.
“There are very, very few instances in cyberoperations in which the decision will be made at a level below the president,” the official said. That means the administration has ruled out the use of “automatic” retaliation if a cyberattack on America’s infrastructure is detected, even if the virus is traveling at network speeds....
Under the new guidelines, the Pentagon would not be involved in defending against ordinary cyberattacks on American companies or individuals, even though it has the largest array of cybertools. Domestically, that responsibility falls to the Department of Homeland Security, and investigations of cyberattacks or theft are carried out by the F.B.I.
There's a lot going on in this story, but distilled to its elements, it does seem as though the U.S. is ramping up its offensive capabilities a hell of a lot more than preparing for defensive resiliency. So, offensive realism for the win, right?
Well, maybe, or maybe this is just some odd organizational politics going on. I confess to finding this utterly puzzling, because the latter is clearly kinda important. In an arena populated by non-state actors and quasi-non-state actors, defense would seem to me to be a far more important concern.
The language and analogies being used by officials in the story are also a confusing mix. On the one hand, a lot of the quotes in the story suggest that they think of cyber as like nuclear deterrence, in that escalation could be a very, very, very bad thing. On the other hand, keeping the decision rules classified seems to cut against any kind of deterrence logic.
The New Republic's Thomas Rid is equally bumfuzzled:
Barack Obama is probably America’s most web-savvy president ever. But when it comes to actually crafting policy for the nation's cyber security, his administration has been consistent in only one aspect: bluster. Obama's major legacy on cyber security, it increasingly seems, will be an infrastructure for waging a non-existent “cyber war” that's incapable of defending the country from the types of cyber attacks that are actually coming....
[T]he rhetoric of war doesn't accurately describe much of what happened [in recent cyberattacks]. There was no attack that damaged anything beyond data, and even that was the exception; the Obama administration's rhetoric notwithstanding, there was nothing that bore any resemblance to World War II in the Pacific. Indeed, the Obama administration has been so intent on responding to the cyber threat with martial aggression that it hasn't paused to consider the true nature of the threat. And that has lead to two crucial mistakes: first, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that offensive capabilities in cyber security don’t translate easily into defensive capabilities. And second, failing to realize (or choosing to ignore) that it is far more urgent for the United States to concentrate on developing the latter, rather than the former.
In many ways, what's happening with cyber appears to mirror a more general conceptual uncertainty about whether resources and doctrine that apply to other states in the international system can be applied to non-state actors as well. In cyber, it seems that the latter is the more immediate and constant threat, while the former is the more serious but latent threat. On the other hand, when pondering an actor like China, perhaps that dichotomy breaks down.
I'm far from a cyber expert, but I do know a litle bit about international relations theory. What's disturbing about these stories about cyber is not that they reflect aspects of offensive realism -- it's that they reflect a more inchoate cluster of contradictory impulses.
What do you think?
For the past few years, a low level theme that occasionally pops into my news feed is the idea of greater Sino-Pakistani cooperation. Now this has a certain amount of realpolitik sense to it. The United States and Pakistan are not exactly on the best of terms, China is a rising power, they share a comon interest in containing India, yadda, yadda yadda. As a result, there has been the occasional press story about closer ties, which begets the inevitable U.S.-based blog posts about China expanding its "string of pearls" strategy of more deepwater ports in the Asia/Pacific region.
There's just one thing. The more closely one reads these stories, the less clear it is that China wants a string of pearls. Most of these stories talk about great Pakistani enthusiasm for more Chinese involvement. That enthusiasm is not really reciprocated by China, however. Consider Jane Perlez's New York Times story from October 2011:
A rising China with global ambitions is unlikely to supplant the United States in Pakistan, according to Chinese experts on Pakistan, as well as Pakistani and American officials. And while Pakistan’s latest flirtations with Beijing have been received cordially, Pakistani officials have walked away from their junkets with far less in hand than they might have hoped....
China’s core interests lie elsewhere — in its competition with the United States and in East Asia, experts say. China has shown little interest in propping up the troubled Pakistani economy, consistently passing up opportunities to do so.
Despite China playing it cool, Pakistan has continued to fall all over itself to attract greater Chinese engagement in their country. Which leads us to today's headline in the New York Times: "Chinese Firm will Run Strategic Pakistani Port." Sounds ominous for U.S. interests... until one reads Declan Walsh's actual story:
Pakistan is handing management control of a strategic but commercially troubled deep-sea port to a Chinese company, the information minister confirmed Thursday....
The fate of Gwadar, once billed as Pakistan’s answer to the bustling port city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, has been a focus of speculation about China’s military and economic ambitions in South Asia for the past decade. Some American strategists have described it as the westernmost link in the “string of pearls,” a line of China-friendly ports stretching from mainland China to the Persian Gulf, that could ultimately ease expansion by the Chinese Navy in the region. Gwadar is close to the Strait of Hormuz, an important oil-shipping lane.
But other analysts note that Gwadar is many years from reaching its potential, and they suggest that fears of creeping Chinese influence might be overblown. “There may be a strategic dimension to this, where the Chinese want to mark their presence in an important part of the world,” said Hasan Karrar, an assistant professor of Asian history at the Lahore University of Management Sciences, referring to the management transfer at Gwadar. “But I wouldn’t go so far as saying this implies a military projection in the region.”....
Pakistan has failed to build the port or transportation infrastructure needed to develop the port, the property bubble has burst and, according to the port management Web site, the last ship to dock there arrived in November. “The government never built the infrastructure that the port needed — roads, rail or storage depots,” said Khurram Husain, a freelance business journalist. “Why would any shipping company come to the port if it has no service to offer?”
According to reports in the Pakistani news media, the Port of Singapore Authority sought to withdraw from the management contract after the Pakistani government failed to hand over land needed to develop the facility. (emphasis added)
This greater Chinese involvement, it should be noted, also comes after Beijing rebuffed Pakistani requests to turn Gwadar into a naval base.
So, to sum up: despite Pakistan prostrating itself before China, Beijing has been extremely leery of getting too enmeshed in that country. It has rejected repeated requests for military basing, and only now has a commercial Chinese company agreed to manage a port that appears to be the Pakistani exemplar of "white elephant."
So please, no "strong of pearls" posts from the national security blogosphere today. These pearls are about as fake as you can get.
Am I missing anything?
Roger Cohen has a column modestly titled "Diplomacy Is Dead." Let's see what he's talking about:
Diplomacy is dead.
Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.
This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke’s realpolitik was not for the squeamish.
There are other reasons for diplomacy’s demise. The United States has lost its dominant position without any other nation rising to take its place. The result is nobody’s world. It is a place where America acts as a cautious boss, alternately encouraging others to take the lead and worrying about loss of authority. Syria has been an unedifying lesson in the course of crisis when diplomacy is dead. Algeria shows how the dead pile up when talking is dismissed as a waste of time....
Indeed the very word “diplomacy” has become unfashionable on Capitol Hill, where its wimpy associations — trade-offs, compromise, pliancy, concessions and the like — are shunned by representatives who these days prefer beating the post-9/11 drums of confrontation, toughness and inflexibility: All of which may sound good but often get you nowhere (or into long, intractable wars) at great cost.
Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, wrote in an e-mail that, “When domestic politics devolve into polarization and paralysis the impact on diplomatic possibility becomes inordinately constraining.” He cited Cuba and Iran as examples of this; I would add Israel-Palestine. These critical foreign policy issues are viewed less as diplomatic challenges than potential sources of domestic political capital....
Obama has not had a big breakthrough. America’s diplomatic doldrums are approaching their 20th year.
Narrow-minded domestic politics.... check... Web 2.0 short-termism... check... yes, this is indeed the exemplar of the Grumpy Old Diplomatic Hand column. So as a Grumpy Middle-Aged Academic, I'd like to grouse a bit on these alleged truisms.
Now on the one hand, Cohen has a point that the optics of patient diplomacy can be more politically challenging than military statecraft. The use of force tends to arouse domestic suipport; diplomacy can be painted as an act of weakness or appeasement. And one can certainly think of Cuba, Iran or even Israel/Palestine as places where diplomacy has not achieved liftoff capacity. And, yes, Web 2.0 technologies do make things like "backchannel diplomacy" that much more difficult to keep under wraps.
All that said.... give me a f**king break.
First of all, there's a logical tension hidden within Cohen's narrative. He laments the disappearance of patient diplomacy in one breath and then observes the relative decline in U.S. power in the next. Maybe it's not that U.S. patience has withered, but that a hegemon with less weight to throw around requires even greater levels of patience to achieve the same tasks. In the case of Syria, for example, it's kinda hard to see how more realpolitik would have gotten states with fundamentally divergent national interests to agree on a manageable solution. Indeed, one could argue that the tropuble with America's Syria diplomacy has been too much realpolitik, not too little.
Second of all, Cohen is glossing over some examples of patient diplomatic successes. Even in Syria, there have been examples of successful "concert" diplomacy. The U.S. opening to Myanmar would be another example [UPDATE: Cohen tweets in response that he did in fact mention Myanmar. He's right, and I apologize for not noting that fact.]. This is a case where the Burmese themselves have done a lot of the heavy lifting, but it's to the Obama administration's credit that it nimbly seized on the opportunity. Indeed, this has been part of an overall Asia/Pacific strategy that would appear to epitomize the kind of hard-headed diplomacy that Cohen does. Even the Sino-American handling of the Chen Guangcheng case represents an example of deft diplomacy in response to Web 2.0 technology.
Third -- and most important -- diplomacy is a two-player game. There have been cases where the Obama administration has reached out to leaders with a different worldview in an effort to normalize relations -- think about the "reset" with Russia. It would be safe to describe that effort as "fraught with complications." Most of the friction in the Russia reset has nothing to do with the domestic American causess Cohen highlights, however, and everything to do with Russian policymakers
feeling their relative power wane being extremely wary of the outreach effort. Similarly, Iran's domestic politics during the Obama years have been... complicated. It's not clear whether the most generous U.S. offer would actually be accepted by Iran's current political establishment.
One could argue that Cohen's logic, extended globally, does have some heft. It's not just the rise of domestic impediments in the United States -- it's the increased importance of domestic politics in diplomacy in other countries that makes realpolitik statecraft so hard to execute in the 21st century. But let's be clear -- this phenomenon has little to do with the Internet age, the decline in American power, or even the rise of single-issue interest groups. Ironically, it has more to do with the effect a successful American grand strategy -- the promotion of open polyarchic politics in the rest of the world. Even authoritarian countries like China, or quasi-authoritarian countries like Russia have domestic interests and bases to sate. The domestic politics in these countries is far more open than it was during the heyday of realpolitik diplomacy.
As International Relations 101 will say, adding domestic constraints narrows the possibility of any international agreement. I agree with Cohen that this is happening. I disagree with Cohen as to the reasons why. It has very little to do with the United States, and an awful lot to do with the rest of the world.
So, to sum up: diplomacy's death has been greatly exaggerated, and a lot of what ails it has very little to do with the United States.
Am I missing anything?
One of this blog's
annoying tics persistent themes has been its insistence that the 2008 financial crisis did not, in fact, doom the United States to a future of inevitable decline. Indeed, there are many reasons to be optimistic about America's future, and there are many reasons to be skeptical about claims that China will be able to exercise leverage over the United States.
Now, one of the counterarguments to this thesis over the past five years has been the explosion of U.S. debt and Washington's need for Beijing to continue to buy that debt to finance America's current expenditures. This was a running theme of financial writers in 2009. Four years ago, there was a particular concern that "China is also trading long-term Treasuries for short-term notes." If the United States could only borrow overseas by issuing more short-term debt, that ostensibly gave China some kind ov leverage as Washington needed to continually roll over those debt obligations.
I bring this up because Daniel Altman highlights a fascinating data point in his Foreign Policy essay about the shifting composition of the federal government's debt:
In the past several years, the national debt of the United States has undergone a tremendous change. Long-term securities -- those with maturities of seven years or more -- have gone from about 30 percent of the debt in 2009 to about 40 percent today. By 2018, according to the Treasury's own estimates, they'll make up 50 percent of the debt, a proportion the Treasury expects to maintain from then onward. The United States is doing what any smart borrower would do: locking in low rates for the long term. As a result, its probability of default for any given level of debt has dropped.
Huh. So it turns out that desite a surge in borrowing by the U.S. government and China's desire to keep the arrangement on a short-term basis, Washington has managed to borrow in a relatively efficient manner at historically low interest rates.
Oh, and by the way, how has China altered its purchases of U.S. debt? Well, besides a general slackening of such purchases (which partially explains the appreciation of the yuan) and a general lack of complaint in response to QE3, it has also changed the composition of those U.S. debt purchases:
China has actually decreased its short term U.S. bond holdings by 5.1%. China holds $US 3.7 billion short term U.S. paper. On June 2011 China held $US 4.9 billion of short term U.S. paper. So basically all the debt that China holds are long term treasuries now. Interesting to know, China had $US 200 billion in short term U.S. debt in May 2009. So they divested all short term paper to long term paper.
In other words, contrary to the fears of debt hawks in 2009 -- including, it should be noted, Hillary Clinton -- China has not exercised an iota of influence over the United States via its debt holdings. Indeed, the shifting pattern of their debt purchases strongly suggests that the Chinese have recognized the futility of such an approach.
While Beijing has recognized this truth, certain Very Serious People who write Very Serious Columns persist in being afraid of China's mythical debt leverage. So, on occasion, as a public service, this blog will continue to remind its readers that U.S. remains clothed in immense financial power.
To follow up with another data point suggesting that we're living in a world of "good enough" global governance, let's take a look at piracy on the high seas , shall we?
You might recall that in 2009 piracy off the Horn of Africa and elsewhere was skyrocketing. This triggered multiple policy responses by shipping companies as well as governments. Ships started carrying armed guards on tankers as a form of deterrene. An ad hoc and diverse group of countries formed Combined Task Force 151 to help patrol the Horn of Africa to prevent pirate attacks. Hell, even Iran sent ships to participate in anti-piracy operations.
So it turns out that all of these measures seem to be working. By 2012, both press reports and official statistics suggested that the tide had turned. As the New York Times' Thom Shanker wrote up one U.S. Navy finding last September:
Data released by the Navy last week showed 46 pirate attacks in the area this year, compared with 222 in all of last year and 239 in 2010. Nine of the piracy attempts this year have been successful, according to the data, compared with 34 successful attacks in all of 2011 and 68 in 2010.
How bad have things gotten for Somali pirates? The top pirate just announced that he has retired from piracy.
So can we chalk this up as an example of successful global governance? I would say yes, but it's worth noting two additional points. First, it's far from clear that activity on the water is the sole factor responsible for the decline in piracy attacks. Events on land -- including Kenya's invasion of Somalia and Puntland's increasing "stateness" -- might have something to do with it as well. Second, it's not only multinational sea patrols that have played a role. If it was, then shipping companies wouldn't be mobilizing their own private navy.
Still, these actions compliment rather than substitute for each other. The protection of shipping is one of the global economy's oldest public goods -- and it appears that after a post-financial crisis spike, there has been a useful policy corrective. That's good enough.
The mobilization towards an agreement reflects the changing landscape of global trade. If a deal emerges, it will allow the U.S. and EU more leeway to set the rules of the road for the industries that matter most to them....
This potential trade deal is also a further sign of the collapse of the movement toward global free trade. The new round of WTO negotiations is effectively dead, and a major deal between two of the world’s largest economies would be a further signal that bilateral negotiations are once again becoming the norm.
Finally, this deal shows us that the BRICs are not quite as influential as many think. A U.S.-EU trade deal is essentially a way to ignore countries like Brazil and India while crafting rules that will govern some of the high-tech industries and information-based services that play a growing role in US-EU trade.
Mead is correct to point out the advantages of the US and EU trying to craft an FTA template, particularly for the sectors they care about a lot. Still, a few quibbles and disagreements.
First, a transatlantic deal doesn't signal a "collapse of the movement toward global free trade" -- it signals a different pathway towards that goal. The collapse of Doha suggests that the traditional multilateral round negotiaions are dead, but it's worth remembering that the global economy got very close to zero barriers in the late 19th century and there was nary a multilateral institution to be found. True, the trade agreements of the 19th century had most-favored nations clauses and their 21st century counterparts do not. Nevertheless, the political economy of trade diversion still generates competitive incentives for a growth in FTAs, thereby leading to a similar end outcome -- a world blanketed in free-trade agreements.
Second, contra Mead, I'd suggest that a transatlantic trade deal is not a sign of US-EU strength, but rather its weakness. There have been rumblings and trial balloons to do something like this for the past fifteen yewars, but it never really got off the ground. The reason it never got off the ground was simple -- both Americans and Europeans were worried that any trade deal this massive would scupper the WTO system. It would seem like a developed country effort to completely rewrite the rules of the global trading game. Since everyone had a lot of skin in the WTO game, it didn't seem like it would be worth it.
Two things have changed. First, the traditional method of multilateral trade liberalization has died. Second, while both the US and EU are major trading states, they're not quite as pivotal as they used to be. Ironically, it's their declining (though still appreciable) importance in global trade that makes a US-EU agreement feasible now. The BRIC economies are now sufficiently large that a transatlantic trade deal doesn't seem like an existential threat.
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?
Ellen Barry reports in the New York Times that the Russians see the handwriting on the wall in Syria:
Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Russia's top envoy for Syria, said on Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was losing control of the country and might be defeated by rebel forces.
“Unfortunately, it is impossible to exclude a victory of the Syrian opposition,” he said — the clearest indication to date that Russia believed Mr. Assad, a longtime strategic ally, could lose in a civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
“We must look squarely at the facts and the trend now suggests that the regime and the government in Syria are losing more and more control and more and more territory,” said Mr. Bogdanov, in remarks to Russia’s Public Chamber carried by Russian news agencies.
This comes a day after Syria launched Scud missiles at opposition forces -- which everyone and their mother seems to think is a desperate move by the Assad regime -- and the United States announced it would recognize the new Syrian opposition council.
Now, as someone who has been expecting Assad to go for quite some time now, these appear to be pretty powerful signs that the regime is, if not facing the end, the beginning of the end. On the other hand, as Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alistair Smith note in Foreign Policy, Assad still seems able to command the necessary resources to fund his coercive apparatus.
So, how can we really tell that Assad -- or any other leader facing an insurrection -- is actually on his way out? In the spirit of David Letterman, might I suggest the following:
TOP TEN SIGNS THAT YOUR REGIME IS IN TROUBLE:
10) Your Minister of Transportation decides to cash in all his frequent flyer miles.
9) Barbara Walters bumps you from her Most Fascinating People of the Year special in favor of a boy band;
8) Your press agent tells you, "I don't know what happened, but we can't find that Vogue profile of you anywhere on the Internet!"
7) The RSVPs for your year-end holiday party don't seem to include anyone from the Defense Ministry.
6) Fox News interrupts its War on Christmas coverage to actually report on your country
5) Your last name, as a hashtag, is trending higher than a Kardashian.
4) For no apparent reason, your radio station is playing this song nonstop.
3) The traffic jam to your international airport is far worse than usual.
2) All those posters of you in the downtown are now covered by posters of the latest Liam Neeson film.
and the #1 sign that your regime is in trouble...
1) The U.N. Security Council says so!!
Every five years or so the National Intelligence Council releases a Global Trends report about what the world will look like a generation from today. The Global Trends 2030 report is now out, and if my Twitter feed and Thom Shanker's New York Times story are any indication, well, there's gonna be some freaking out inside the Beltway:
A new intelligence assessment of global trends projects that China will outstrip the United States as the leading economic power before 2030, but that America will remain an indispensable world leader, bolstered in part by an era of energy independence....
“There will not be any hegemonic power,” the 166-page report states. “Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.”
It warns that at least 15 countries are “at high risk of state failure” by 2030, among them Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Yemen and Uganda.
The study acknowledges that the future “is malleable,” and lists important “game-changers” that will most influence the global scene to 2030: a crisis-prone world economy, shortcomings in governance, conflicts within states and between them, the impact of new technologies and whether the United States can “work with new partners to reinvent the international system.”
The best-case situation for global security to 2030, according to the study, would be a growing political partnership between the United States and China. But it could take a crisis to bring Washington and Beijing together — something like a nuclear standoff between India and Pakistan resolved only by bold cooperation between the United States and China.
The worst-case situation envisions a stalling of economic globalization that would preclude any advancement of financial well-being around the world. That would be a likely outcome following an outbreak of a health pandemic that, even if short-lived, would result in closed borders and economic isolationism.
The chief author and manager of the project, Mathew Burrows, who is counselor for the National Intelligence Council, said the findings had been presented in advance in more than 20 nations to groups of academic experts, business leaders and government officials, including local intelligence officers.
As one of those academic experts, let me say three things. First, the NIC puts a lot of effort into these reports, and they're important because they're consumed globally and not just nationally. Not a lot of other countries have either official or unofficial institutions trying to do this kind of long-range analysis, so they devour the NIC reports just as much as Americans.
Second, as Michael Horowitz and Philip Tetlock pointed out in Foreign Policy just a few short months ago, these NIC reports are hardly a perfect crystal ball:
The reports almost inevitably fall into the trap of treating the conventional wisdom of the present as the blueprint for the future 15 to 20 years down the road. Many things the early reports get right, such as the continued integration of Western Europe, were already unfolding in 1997. Similarly, predicting that "some states will fail to meet the basic requirements that bind citizens to their government" or that information technology will have a large impact on politics was hardly going out on a limb.
Looking carefully at the first two Global Trends reports reveals how the reports have struggled to make accurate non-obvious predictions of big-picture trends....
The reports also engage in extensive hedging. For every prediction, there is a caveat. The reports lean heavily on words such as "could," "possibly," and "maybe." The lead-in to Global Trends 2025 uses "could" nine times in two pages, and the report as a whole uses the word a whopping 220 times. The report also uses "maybe" 36 times. Global Trends 2020 uses "could" 110 times. Add all of the caveats and conditionals, and a harsh critic might conclude that these reports are saying no more than that there is a possibility that something could happen at some point -- and it might have a big effect.
Third, that prediction of the end to U.S. hegmony will be an interesting litmus test of the maturity of America's foreign policy community. Sure, other institutions have made this kind of prediction about rising Chinese power, but it's different when a U.S. government body does it. Despite the wide variance contained within these kind of predictions, it's gonna be easy for threat-mongers to screech at the headline statements.
Furthermore, whenever the topic of waning American hegemony comes up in public discourse... well, the conversation doesn't go well. Admitting a relative decline in American power is not something American's political and policy elites like to do -- see 2012 campaign, Mitt Romney.
So pay close attention to who freaks out and who doesn't from the NIC report, and feel free to discount the future statements of those who choose to freak out today.
It would be safe to describe the Chinese government as having been "peeved" at Norway for the Nobel Peace Prize that Liu Xiaobo was awarded back in 2010. More than two years later, Beijing is still pissed off at Oslo, according to the Financial Times' Jamil Anderlini and Clare MacCarthy:
China is offering visa-free visits to Beijing for visitors from every European country except Norway, in what appears to be the latest in a string of punishments for the Nordic country since it gave a jailed Chinese dissident the Nobel peace prize in 2010.
The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by a committee of five appointed by the Norwegian parliament, and committee members have always been Norwegian nationals.
On Wednesday, the Beijing city government unveiled a list of 45 countries whose citizens will be allowed to enter the city while in transit for 72 hours without a visa, starting from January 1.
Visitors from all 27 EU member states, as well as Iceland and Switzerland, will enjoy the new visa-free treatment, as will those from the US, Russia, Japan, Australia and most major Latin American countries.
When asked why Norway was left off the list, Wang Qin, a senior official at the Beijing government travel administration, did not respond directly but said that some countries were not eligible because their citizens or government were “of low-quality” and “badly behaved”. (emphasis added)
Yeah!! I've taught a few Norwegians in my day, and the whole lot of them are low quality and badly behaved, with their inscrutable fjords and smug blondness and their vague association with herring and their very specific association with lutefisk!!
In fact, I'm glad Wang Qin brought this up, because in the past couple of months a whole bunch of country rankings have come out, and they're an excellent way to bolster Wang's assertion of low Norwegian quality and bad behavior, especialy as compared with a peacefully rising China.
Why, just yesterday, Transparency International released their 2012 Corruptions Perception Index, and Norway ranks 7th and China ranks 80th!! Who's dirty now??!! [Ahem!--ed.] Oh.... Norway's the 7th least corrupt economy and China is... way more corrupt.
Well, there's more than one ranking system! A few weeks ago the World Justice Project released their 2012 Rule of Law Index. I bet that shows how dirty Norway really is!! [Ahem!--ed.] Oh... Norway is actually pretty good on rule of law issues, including ranking first among all 97 countries in civil justice. Whereas China is.... um... not as good, ranking 94th out of 97 countries on fundamental rights.
Well, even if Norway's government is pretty good, I bet their low quality, badly behaved people make the country an unlivable hellhole compared to Beijing. [Ahem!!--ed.] Oh... so based on Legatum's 2012 Prosperity Index, Norway is actually the most prosperous country in the world, whereas China ranks.... 55th.
[But that's just because Norway's rich!! What have they done for the rest of the exploited developing world??!!--ed.cn] Excellent point, oh great and glorious Beijing-based editor!! Why, when we go to the Center for Global Development's 2012 Commitment to Development Index, we find that... that... Norway is the second-most supportive country for assisting the developing world. Son of a....
Look, it kills me to write this. I use to have great fun teasing my Norwegian students about the whaling and the high agricultural import barriers, just so they wouldn't think they were all that and a bag of chips. But if China thinks Norway is a country of low quality and bad behavior, then China would be what happened if Lindsay Lohan hooked up with Kid Rock at 4 AM after a two-day coke bender and three bottles of Patron.
In other words, Wang Qin wins this week's Vizzini Award.
Your humble blogger has been an "advisor" to the Legatum Prosperity Index for a few years now. They released their 2012 rankings today, and according to Bloomberg, the results ain't good for the United States:
The U.S. slid from the top ten most prosperous nations for the first time in a league table which ranked three Scandinavian nations the best for wealth and wellbeing.
The U.S. fell to 12th position from 10th in the Legatum Institute’s annual prosperity index amid increased doubts about the health of its economy and ability of politicians. Norway, Denmark and Sweden declared the most prosperous in the index, published in London today.
With the presidential election just a week away, the research group said the standing of the U.S. economy has deteriorated to beneath that of 19 rivals. The report also showed that respect for the government has fallen, fewer Americans perceive working hard gets you ahead, while companies face higher startup costs and the export of high-technology products is dropping.
“As the U.S. struggles to reclaim the building blocks of the American Dream, now is a good time to consider who is best placed to lead the country back to prosperity and compete with the more agile countries,” Jeffrey Gedmin, the Legatum Institute’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement (emphasis added).
In the Wall Street Journal, Gedmin and Prosperity Index program director Nathan Gamester push on this message a bit harder in an op-ed:
Earlier this month the Obama administration received good news: U.S. unemployment seems finally to be coming down. This week, however, the news is not so good. In fresh data on economic prosperity from countries around the world, the U.S. has fallen out of the Top 10 for the first time ever. If elections were decided by data, today's findings would spell trouble for President Obama.
The 2012 Legatum Prosperity Index captures not simply the quarterly or annual ups and downs of the national economy, but rather long-term underlying components of national prosperity. Our findings suggest that the American Dream is in jeopardy.
The first problem is well-known. America has saddled itself with crippling debt and soaring entitlement spending. Couple these with projections of low growth—and possibly even another recession—and a bleak picture emerges.
It seems that even parts of Old Europe, the euro crisis notwithstanding, can teach America a thing or two. Norway, Denmark and Sweden top our rankings this year. Once upon a time the Scandinavians were world champions in big government and social spending. But bloated welfare states have been brought to heel in recent years. There has been deregulation and privatization: The Swedes even privatized air traffic control. Today Denmark has one of the most flexible labor markets in the world. (emphasis added)
So, the subtext seems pretty clear: U.S. prosperity is declining because of staggering debt and a bloated public sector, in contrast to those newly laissez-faire Scandinavians. You can guess which presidential camdidate is better-placed to reward entrepreneurship.
This has prompted some gnashing of
tweets teeth about the future of the United States. Now, having looked at the numbers, I share some of this anxiety. There is a powerful grain of truth to Gedmin and Gamester's assertions. But there are a few other grains of truth that should be sprinkled about before reaching any conclusions:
GRAIN OF TRUTH #1: The U.S. didn't really fall too far in the rankings -- it went from 10th place last year to 12th this year. That's partly because Luxembourg got added to the index in the interim and it did better than the United States in the rankings. It's not great, but it's not an exaggerated decline either.
GRAIN OF TRUTH #2: High levels of debt ain't what's holding the United States back in these rankings. Japan has a much higher debt-to-GDP ratio, but its economic performance ranked eight places higher than the U.S. There are other factors at work here.
GRAIN OF TRUTH #3: If you burrow into the report itself (.pdf), you find that the primary reason for the drop in the U.S. ranking was a fall in the "Entrepreneurship and Opportunity" score. The primary driver for this? "This fall is driven by a decline in the number of US citizens who believe that hard work will get them ahead and a decrease in ICT exports (p. 10)."
Now this leads to an interesting question: what drives the decline in the belief that hard work will get one ahead in life? Legatum explains that on p. 38:
Low business start-up costs and a positive perception of a country’s entrepreneurial environment contribute to improving citizens’ economic prospects and overall wellbeing. The sub-index also evaluates a country’s ability to commercialise innovation and measures the technological and communication infrastructure that is often essential to successful commercial endeavours. It further provides a snapshot of access to opportunity by tracking inequality and by asking citizens whether they believe their society to be meritocratic. (emphasis added)
And now we get to the nub of it. The decline in America's prosperity score is partly a function of the weak economy -- but it's primarily a function of citizen perceptions of their ability to get ahead. Government barriers to entrepreneurial activity would certainly depress those perceptions, but so would very high levels of inequality (moderate levels of inequality are a different animal altogether). The more unequal a society is, the less that ordinary citizens feel that their own efforts will yield commensurate rewards. And in the past few years, the data shows that the United States has become increasingly unequal.
So, if Gedmin and Gamester are correct that Americans should use this report to think about which presidential candidate would be poised to improve American prosperity, you have to ask yourself which candidate is more likely to improve Americans' belief that their society rewards hard work and effort. And I don't think the answer is as clear cut as they think it is.
What do you think?
The latest issue of The Washington Quarterly is just lousy with China essays -- it's like there's a theme or something. Andrew Scobell and Andrew Nathan tackle China's (apparently overstretched) military, and Guoyou Song and Wen Jin Yuan review China's response to the burgeoning Trans-Pacific Partnership.
James Reilly has an essay on China's use of unilateral economic sanctions that really caught my eye, however. The overwhelming bulk of economic sanctions that have been threatened and used during the past century have been from the United States. From a scholarly perspective this is somewhat disturbing, as general theories about economic statecraft become tough to distinguish from theories of U.S. foreign policy. If another great power starts being profligate with its economic statecraft, there's the promise of a lot of new data.
China has deplored the use of economic sanctions in the past, but as Reilly notes, "Over the past few years, Chinese experts have begun to clear some of the legal, moral, ideological, and practical hurdles to Beijing’s use of unilateral sanctions."
So... how effective are they? Well, at best, it's a mixed bag. Here's Reilly's key paragraph:
Ultimately, China uses sanctions for the same reasons other countries do: they are a relatively low-cost, low-risk way to signal dissatisfaction, increase the costs to those who take undesired actions, and satisfy domestic demands to respond to those actions. Sanctions can assuage domestic criticism while not undermining broader economic and diplomatic interests. For all these reasons, China has increasingly resorted to unilateral sanctions in recent years on issues like Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, and maritime disputes.
If you read the article, it's pretty clear that any concessions made by other countries have been pretty modest --more modest than Reilly seems willing to admit (compare Reilly's take on the 2010 Nobel Prize sanctions with, for example, Erik Voeten's).
But there are three caveats to this observation. First, if China views the sanctions as mostly symbolic and for domestic consumption, then it wouldn't be surprising that they're ineffective. Symbolic sanctions aren't supposed to work, they're supposed to be for show. Second, Reilly notes that China likes threatening sanctions more than using them, and sanctions threats are more likely to work as a form of pre-emptive coercion and deterrence than actually compelling the actor in this particular case.
Third, as with its economic statecraft more generally, China is just beginning to understand this foreign policy tool. Indeed, as Reilly observes, the problem with issuing empty threats is that "the credibility of Beijing’s bluffs risk eroding over time." It will be veeeery interesting to see how China's approach to economic statecraft evolves over time.
I should be really pleased with Thomas Friedman's column today. Entitled "In MItt's World," Friedman pens a substantive column criticizing Romney's foreign policy rhetoric to date and wishing that Romney displayed the same analytic acumen about foreign policy that he displayed as CEO of Bain Capital.
So I should be happy, except that I passed out from banging my head against my desk after reading the first two paragraphs:
Mitt Romney has been criticized for not discussing foreign policy. Give him a break. He probably figures he’s already said all that he needs to say during the primaries: He has a big stick, and he is going to use it on Day 1. Or as he put it: “If I’m president of the United States ... on Day 1, I will declare China a currency manipulator, allowing me to put tariffs on products where they are stealing American jobs unfairly.”
That is really cool. Smack China on Day 1. I just wonder what happens on Day 2 when China, the biggest foreign buyer of U.S. debt securities, announces that it will not participate in the next Treasury auction, sending our interest rates soaring. That will make Day 3 really, really cool.
No. No, no, no, no, no, and no.
To elaborate a bit further:
First, it wouldn't be enough for China to stop buying Treasuries -- as Joe Weisenthal showed with some fun charts a few weeks ago, China has pared back its Treasury purchases intermittently over the past few years -- with zero appreciable effect on U.S. interest rates. (see non-panda-hugger Paul Krugman on this point as well). No, for China to have the effect that Friedman envisions, they would also have to actively dump most of their holdings of U.S. debt as well.
So what if they do? Well, second, while Romney's stated China policies border on the destructive, the "labeling" move is bone-headed rather than truly calamitous. China wouldn't dump its debt unless things got really bad between the two countries. Not even Stephen Roach thinks this would be the initial Chinese response -- and I think Roach is being way too gloomy about Sino-American relations under Romney.
The reason China won't respond with the nuclear option of dumping all its U.S. debt holdings is that -- to repeat a theme -- this move would hurt China way more than it would hurt the United States. The far more likely response by China would be to retaliate with trade measures. This would not be good, as China is now the third largest export market for the United States. Beijing can hurt a Romney administration by reducing its American imports far more adroitly than trying to trigger another financial crisis.
Now, for the record, I don't think Romney should label China as a currency manipulator on day one, and I think Friedman makes some trenchant observations on Romney's consequences-free foreign policy statements later in his column. But this Niall Ferguson-lite version of Sino-American relations is bad international relations theory and really bad economics -- and yet Very Serious People keep trotting it out.
I really, really wish this would disappear from public discourse. But it won't. So, most likely, my desk is gonna get dented a few more times before Election Day.
For the past decade, Stephen Roach has been the Eeyore of global economic analysis -- gloomy about the U.S. economy, gloomy about Chinese economic policy, and in yesterday's Financial Times, very, very gloomy about what would happen to the Sino-American relationship if Mitt Romney became president. Here's how he closes:
By the autumn of 2013 there was little doubt of the severity of renewed recession in the US. Trade sanctions on China had backfired. Beleaguered American workers paid the highest price of all, as the unemployment rate shot back up above 10 per cent. A horrific policy blunder had confirmed that there was no bilateral fix for the multilateral trade imbalance of a savings-starved U.S. economy.
In China, growth had slipped below the dreaded 6 percent threshold and the new leadership was rolling out yet another investment stimulus for a still unbalanced and unstable Chinese economy. As the global economy slipped back into recession, the Great Crisis of 2008-09 suddenly looked like child’s play. Globalisation itself hung in the balance.
History warns us never to say never. We need only look at the legacy of U.S. Senator Reed Smoot and Representative Willis Hawley, who sponsored the infamous Tariff Act of 1930 – America’s worst economic policy blunder. Bad dreams can – and have – become reality.
Like Roach, I think Romney's stated policies towards China have been a wee bit over the top. And it's certainly true that China hasn't reacted terribly well to Romney. The key word here is "stated," however. In Roach's analysis, this is how things escalate:
Feeling the heat from [plummeting] financial markets, Washington turned up the heat on China. Mr Romney called Congress back from its Independence Day holiday into a special session. By unanimous consent, Congress passed an amendment to [a 20 percent tariff on Chinese products] – upping the tariffs on China by another 10 percentage points.
Call me crazy, but if a brewing trade war triggers economic contraction, which then triggers rising financial discontent, I don't see any president responding by accelerating the trade war. I certainly don't see bipartisan support for such a trade war.
If the 2008 financial crisis failed to spark a renaissance in protectionism, then Mitt Romney ain't gonna be able to do it all on his own. Stephen Roach's yarn is entertaining but not persuasive.
Am I missing anything?
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
As China gears up for its 18th Party Congress and the trial of Bo Xilai's wife Gu Kailai on charges of murdering a British business partner, there have been accompanying press stories (even from the Chinese press) about the opaque nature of the Chinese regime. For example, consider this Edward Wong and Jonathan Ansfield New York Times front-pager about the relationship between China's civilian leadership and the People's Liberation Army:
During a holiday banquet for China's military leadership early this year, a powerful general lashed out in a drunken rage against what he believed was a backhanded move to keep him from being promoted to the military’s top ruling body.
The general, Zhang Qinsheng, vented his fury in front of President Hu Jintao, according to four people with knowledge of the event. At the banquet, he even shoved a commanding general making toasts; Mr. Hu walked out in disgust.
The general’s tirade was one of a series of events this year that have fueled concerns among Communist Party leaders over the level of control they exercise over military officials, who are growing more outspoken and desire greater influence over policy and politics.
With China’s once-a-decade leadership transition only months away, the party is pushing back with a highly visible campaign against disloyalty and corruption, even requiring all officers to report financial assets.
“Party authorities have come to realize that the military is encroaching on political affairs,” said one political scientist with high-level party ties. “Although the party controls the gun, the expression of viewpoints from within the military on political issues has aroused a high level of alarm.” He, like others who agreed to discuss internal party affairs, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.
Now if you read the whole article, it's really not clear at all just how much of a problem this is. We learn that Hu Jintao's relationship with the PLA is weak, even though he has engineered promotions of his favored generals (including, apparently, Zhang). We learn Ju's likely successor Xi Jinping allegedly has better ties to the military, but that Hu might keep control of the Central Military Commission for the next few years anyway. Oddly, we also learn that some PLA hardliners want to see China adopt a more liberal political model -- like Singapore.
In other words, we know a bit more about the machinations than we do in, say, North Korea. But we don't know much.
Western readers are now likely clucking to themselves and thinking, "Man, am I glad that we don't have to live in a regime with that much political uncertainty and caprice." To those readers: Let's take a tour of Europe and the United States now, shall we?
In Europe, there was a long WSJ front-pager about Italian prime minister Mario Monti and his efforts to push back against Angela Merkel's austerity policies. The impresssion that was given in the beginning of the article is that Mnti was successful... and then we get to this:
Mr. Monti didn't want Rome and Madrid to suffer the stigma of applying formally for aid or signing a list of policy demands written in Brussels, fearing this would undermine his public standing at home, as well that of his ally, Spain's premier Mariano Rajoy....
The evening before the [June EU Summit meeting], Mr. Monti hatched a plan to hijack the summit. Unless Ms. Merkel accepted his proposal on bond-market intervention by Europe's bailout fund, Mr. Monti would veto the growth pact -- stymieing Ms. Merkel in her parliament.
Italy had previously lobbied for the growth pact, so Mr. Monti's threatened veto -- announced just before Europe's leaders were due to sit down for dinner -- was a bombshell....
Mr. Monti's blockade lasted until 4 a.m., when leaders finally agreed to a text hashed out by their aides. It promised that Europe's bailout funds would be used "in a flexible and efficient matter" to stabilize the bond markets of vulnerable euro members.
It didn't go as far as Mr. Monti had originally wanted: Italy and Spain would still have to apply for any aid and sign a policy memorandum. But by planting the need to stabilize bond markets in the declaration, Italy had convinced Germany to recognize Italian reform efforts and pushed its approach for tackling the crisis into the spotlight.
An ebullient Mr. Monti spoke to reporters, claiming satisfaction for Italy and for Europe. A tired Ms. Merkel slunk off to her hotel.
German media and lawmakers were convinced their chancellor had buckled under Mr. Monti's pressure, granting Italy and Spain unconditional access to Germany's treasury. Her protestations later that morning that the fine print preserved the existing procedure for aid went largely unheard.
So did Monti get what he wanted? Beyond political optics, I don't think so, but the article makes it unclear. Actually, to be fair, the summit declaration itself makes it unclear as well, as the Financial Times' Peter Spiegel explains:
Last week’s signal from Spain’s prime minister that he may be prepared to request assistance from the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund to drive down his country’s borrowing costs has shifted the debate back to where it was more than a month ago: What strings will be attached to such aid?
Eurozone leaders had hoped to put the question to bed during an all-night summit in late June, where Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister, thought he had won agreement that new aid from the bailout fund to buy a struggling country’s bonds would come with few additional conditions.
Indeed, Herman Van Rompuy, who chaired the summit as president of the European Council, publicly declared there would “not be any more countries” subject to full monitoring if they sought bond-buying assistance from the fund, the European Financial Stability Facility.
The only conditions, Mr Van Rompuy said, would be living up to existing commitments under EU budget rules.
Even before the summit wrapped up, however, that conclusion came into dispute. Indeed, the summit’s final communiqué appears to contradict itself.
At one point, it asserts bond buying programmes would be executed “in a flexible and efficient manner” -- code words for light conditions sought by Mr Monti and his Spanish counterpart, Mariano Rajoy. But in another section it says such aid would only be granted under “existing guidelines” -- code words for the more onerous conditions that existed before the summit (emphasis added).
So I'm gonna say that the EU is not winning a lot of points in the transparency department right now.
Well, there's always the United States, right? Right? Oh, wait, what's this New York Times front-pager from Monday saying?
A rising number of manufacturers are canceling new investments and putting off new hires because they fear paralysis in Washington will force hundreds of billions in tax increases and budget cuts in January, undermining economic growth in the coming months.
Executives at companies making everything from electrical components and power systems to automotive parts say the fiscal stalemate is prompting them to pull back now, rather than wait for a possible resolution to the deadlock on Capitol Hill....
All told, the political gridlock in the United States, along with the continuing debt crisis in Europe, will shave about half a percentage point off growth in the second half of the year, estimates Vincent Reinhart, chief United States economist at Morgan Stanley.
More than 40 percent of companies surveyed by Morgan Stanley in July cited the fiscal cliff as a major reason for their spending restraint, Mr. Reinhart said. He expects that portion to rise when the poll is repeated this month.
“Economists generally overstate the effects of uncertainty on spending, but in this case it does seem to be significant,” he added. “It’s at the macro- and microeconomic levels.”....
In Washington, powerful business lobbies like the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable, and more specialized groups like the National Electrical Manufacturers Association have grown more vocal about their frustration with the inaction of Congress, and the possible dangers ahead.
“It’s totally irresponsible and absolutely insane,” said Evan R. Gaddis, the president of the electrical manufacturers’ group. “The two parties are really dug in. Companies see the writing on the wall and business decisions are now being made on this.”
Sure, China is an opaque mess when it comes to governance. Sure, praising China's governance in an uncritical fashion should trigger critical blowback. Let's face it, however -- 2012 is not a year for democracies to be crowing about how their governing model is more transparent.
The New York Times' Ashley Parker reports that Mitt Romney got into a spot of trouble on the first leg of his
fundraising foreign affairs tour:
Mitt Romney's carefully choreographed trip to London caused a diplomatic stir when he called the British Olympic preparations “disconcerting” and questioned whether Londoners would turn out to support the Games.
“The stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials, that obviously is not something which is encouraging,” Mr. Romney said in an interview with NBC on Tuesday.
That prompted a tart rejoinder from the British prime minister, David Cameron. “We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere,” an allusion to Salt Lake City, which hosted Games that Mr. Romney oversaw (emphasis added).
American commentators want to focus on what Romney said, but it strikes me as pretty anodyne. As Feargus O'Sullivan notes in The Atlantic, "it's not like Romney’s worries haven’t been expressed many times already in the British media." Or, for that matter, The Daily Show:
Furthermore, it's not like these are the only screw-ups that have occurred before the openng ceremonies.
Cameron's comments, on the other hand, strike me as pretty offensive. Salt Lake City is a lovely mid-sized city that pulled off a lovely Olympics. Why act petty about that? Why describe it as in the "middle of nowhere" when, last I checked, a fair number of airlines fly to Utah's capital?
Fnally, this comment from Cameron is also kinda disappointing:
Mr Cameron also refused to back calls for a minute's silence to remember eleven Israeli athletes murdered by terrorists at the Munich Olympic Games forty years ago.
The Prime Minister said it was important to remember what happened in 1972, but that planned memorial events were the proper way to do that.
His comments came after the widows of two Israeli athletes who were killed in the attack pleaded with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow a minute's silence during Friday's opening ceremony.
Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, whose husbands Andrei Spitzer and Yosef Romano were among 11 athletes killed in the attack at the Olympic Village in Germany, handed a petition to IOC chiefs yesterday containing more than 105,000 signatures from people around the world backing the call for a silence.
The standard response to this kind of plea is that the Olympics is a celebration of sport and politics should be kept offstage. This is akin to saying that the Miss Universe competition has nothing to do with beauty -- it's not true and insults the intelligence of anyone within earshot.
Romney has walked back his comments already. I hope Cameron does the same on both counts.
The Romney campaign has come in for a fair amount of criticism in the past week or so. Most of this is fairly typical summer doldrums stuff, but some of it has to do with Romney's foreign-policy musings -- or lack thereof. On this issue in particular, William Kristol, Gerry Seib, Fred Kaplan, and, er, your humble blogger have been pillorying the campaign for a near-complete lack of substance.
According to Politico's Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin, the Romney campaign seems to have been listening:
Mitt Romney’s campaign is considering a major foreign policy offensive at the end of the month that would take him to five countries over three continents and mark his first move away from a campaign message devoted almost singularly to criticizing President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, sources tell POLITICO.
The tentative plan being discussed internally would have Romney begin his roll-out with a news-making address at the VFW convention later this month in Reno, Nev. The presumptive GOP nominee then is slated to travel to London for the start of the Olympics and to give a speech in Great Britain on U.S. foreign policy.
Romney next would fly to Israel for a series of meetings and appearances with key Israeli and Palestinian officials. Then, under the plan being considered, he would return to Europe for a stop in Germany and a public address in Poland, a steadfast American ally during the Bush years and a country that shares Romney’s wariness toward Russia. Romney officials had considered a stop in Afghanistan on the journey, but that’s now unlikely.
Sources stressed that the trip was still being planned but will be finalized internally this week, and some of the details are subject to change. While Romney is likely to lash Obama in his VFW speech, he’s expected to restrain his remarks about the president when speaking abroad.
Huh. Now, obviously, I can't comment on the content of any of these speeches. Still, the country selections are themselves revealing, as Burns & Haberman elaborate on in their Politico story. How do those choices stack up? Laura Rozen was a bit skeptical, tweeting that "his reported itinerary only seems 25 yrs out of date." Kristol responded in the Politico story by urging Romney to go to Afghanistan.
My initial response falls more into the Larry David camp on this one. The goal of a trip like this is twofold: to try to demonstrate some kind of foreign-policy gravitas, and to draw a distinction between one's foreign-policy views and that of the opponents. The second part is really tricky to do overseas, because one of the few norms of comity left in Washington is that public officials aren't supposed to criticize a sitting president's foreign policy in foreign lands. Romney can finesse this by going to countries where he thinks he can foster a stronger bilateral relationship, in contrast to Obama (it would be more awkward for him to go to countries where he thinks the U.S. should be less friendly, so I think we can rule out stops in Moscow and Beijing).
By that standard, this is a decent list. The stops in Israel and Poland highlight the frictions the Obama administration's rebalancing and reset strategies have created in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Going to Germany allows Romney to ding Obama on economic policy, as Romney is clearly more sympatico with Angela Merkel's austerity strategy.
If I were planning the itinerary, however, I'd suggest two additional stops. First, India. That's another country where bilateral relations have cooled off a bit during the Obama years. It's also one of the BRIC economies, which would allow Romney to disprove Laura Rozen's charge of being out-of-touch with current geopolitical realities. Second, Seoul. This would allow Romney to blast North Korea with invective while talking about his vision for the Pacific Rim.
What do you think? Where would you have Romney go visit?
I've received some pushback in the blogosphere in response to my last post, an effort to goad Mitt Romney into making saome substantive foreign policy critiques. Let's talk them out.
First, I wrote that, "relations with Pakistan, Russia, India and Canada have cooled off considerably since the Bush years." There's been some justifiable pushback on that sentence -- but within that pushback there's some interesting things to note about the politics of perception.
I linked to a Foreignaffairs.com essay on the Canadian-American relationship, but Roland Paris does a pretty effective job of shredding their argument, in no small part by reminding readers of the true low point in bilateral relations this century:
Between 2003 and 2005, I had the privilege of serving as an advisor on Canada-U.S. relations in the Department of Foreign Affairs and in the Privy Council Office. Relations today are no worse, and probably better, than they were then. Jean Chrétien had just declined to send Canadian troops to Iraq – the right decision, but one that nevertheless angered officials in the George W. Bush Administration, who were hoping at least for an expression of political support. (It didn’t help that Chrétien announced his decision in the House of Commons to a throng of cheering Liberal MPs.) Bush then cancelled a planned state visit to Canada....
Here is a different picture that fits better with the facts: The state of the Canada-U.S. relationship today is sound. Yes, there are irritants, but they are no more challenging than the irritants of the past. Nor does only one country – or one leader – bear the fault for these irritants.
This is a pretty powerful critique. As someone who has too much experience in making this kind of argument, however, I fear it won't carry much weight in the American body politic. The reason is that Paris' basic point is that, "look, things were a lot worse a little while ago." But that's not a point that plays politically. When talking about bilateral relations in a political context, analysts and pundits care about the trendline more than the base level. The trendline suggests a mild cooling of a very warm and multidimensional relationship. So people will focus on the cooling.
Still, in linking to the article in the first place, I did perpetuate the meme. So, apologies.
There was also some pushback on Russia as well. Daniel Larison notes:
One needn’t be a supporter of current Russia policy to recognize that it isn’t the complete disaster of the late Bush years. I know I’ve beaten this topic to death lately, but this claim about relations with Russia being worse than they were during “the Bush years” is simply wrong.
This may be easy to overlook at a time when U.S.-Russian relations are cooler than they were a year or two ago, but apparently it can’t be repeated too often that the Bush administration drove the U.S.-Russian relationship into the ground starting in 2002-03 and then kept going down. U.S.-Russian relations were widely recognized to be at a post-Cold War low in August 2008 and during the months that followed, and administration policies and decisions contributed significantly to that outcome. The current administration had repaired a fair amount of the damage, but quarrels in the last year have undone some of that improvement. Outgoing President Medvedev said that the last three years “have perhaps been the best three years in relations between our two countries over the last decade.” Maybe that’s damning with faint praise. Relations between the two countries from 2002 to 2012 were mostly mediocre or poor. That doesn’t make the claim any less true.
Indeed, in a related post, Dan Nexon notes the benefits of the "reset" relationship with Russia:
The basic theory behind the Obama Administration's "Reset" policy was that US-Russian relations could be disaggregated: that it is possible for two countries to disagree on a range of issues and still cooperate on matters of common interest. That bet looks to be correct; despite a significant deterioration in relations between Washington and Moscow, the pursuit of common interests persists.
The Russian government has given approval for the United States and its NATO allies to use a Russian air base in the Volga city of Ulyanovsk as a hub for transits to and from Afghanistan....
Unfortunately, too many pundits and policymakers continue to reduce US bilateral relations with other countries to single "barometers."
Again, this is factually correct, but to go all emo on Larison and Nexon, it "feels" wrong somehow. Why? I think it's based on some combination of the following:
1) The arms control dimension of the "reset" took much longer to play out than anyone expected -- including Obama administration officials. Everything eventually got signed and ratified, but Russia's prickliness during the whole episode seemed to baffle American officials.
2) Russian rhetoric towards the United States continues to be quite hostile -- and has become even more hostile since large-scale protests began in December of last year. Vladimir Putin isn't fond of Michael McFaul, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama -- so even cooperative moves are obfuscated by bellicose rhetoric.
Nexon is correct to observe that there are key dimensions on which cooperation has been significant. I do wonder, however, if too many Americans have imbibed the simple Schmittian dichotomy of friend and enemy to view other countries. We're unpracticed as a country in dealing with the category of "rival" -- or, in the case of Russia, "demographically crippled rival."
Finally, the very smart Will Winecoff responds with a curiously lazy post. The key points:
At some point Romney will be asked direct questions about foreign policy. When he asked those questions he will say things like "I will get tough with China to make sure they play by the rules and stop stealing American jobs" and "I will not let terrorists kill American citizens, and I will do whatever is necessary to keep Americans safe" and "I will keep America strong by not cutting our military budget" and "Screw Russia". He will not say whether he favors neoconservatism or realpolitik because he does not know what those things are. Neither does any of the people who will be asking him questions (unless Fareed Zakaria gets a crack, which he won't), nor will 99.9% of the people who will hear his answers.
His actual foreign policy will be run by the bureaucracy, which will be highly constrained by structural factors, and will be reactive to events yet to occur.
A few responses:
1) Mitt Romney is many things, but he's not an idiot. He knows perfectly well what realpolitik and neoconservatism are.
2) I don't want Romney to talk about foreign policy because it will provide a sneak peek into what he'll actually do. I want him to talk about it as a way of A) demonstrating leadership over how own friggin' campaign machine; and B) demonstrating the necessary background knowledge to reassure people like me that he can handle a foreign policy crisis. By not talking about it, all he's doing is encouraging his own loyalists to leak like crazy. And by repeatedly ghosting God-awful op-eds, he's sowing doubts that he has any kind of game plan about how to be proactive about foreign policy. Oh, and that reminds me...
3) Winecoff's structuralist view of foreign policy might be true in the long run. Presidents who deviate away from the foreign policy "mainstream" for too long usually have to reverse course. The notion that any president's foreign policy is "will be run by the bureaucracy," however, vastly underestimates the president's short-term flexibility. So it does kinda matter who's working in the Oval Office come January 21st, 2013.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.