Your humble blogger is busy
going into carbohydrate withdrawal celebrating Passover this week. I blogged about the international relations implications of this holiday a few years ago -- but that was pre-Arab Spring. This (and a few glasses of kosher wine) got me to thinking: what would happen if the event that inspires the Passover holiday -- the Exodus -- were to happen today?
With apologies to Colum Lynch, I suspect the reportage would be something like this:
U.N. SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING ON JEWISH EXODUS ENDS IN CHAOS: Permanent Five split on who to sanction for loss of life
Colum Lynch, Foreign Policy
NEW YORK: Attempts by the U.N. Security Council to reach consensus on an approach to the situation in Egypt came to naught earlier today, as different members of the Security Council blamed different actors in the region for the growing human rights and humanitarian disaster.
U.S. Ambassdor to the United Natuons Susan Rice, addressing the Council, blasted China and Russia for their "addiction to obduracy." She concluded, "Over the past decade we have continually raised the repeated human rights abuses and acts of genocide committed by the Phaaroh's regime against the Jewish population in Egypt. Each time, China and Russia have vetoed even the mildest of condemnations, arguing that it was a matter of Egyptian sovereignty. Only now, with the desperate escape of that minority from the Phaaroh's clutches, do the governments of Russia and China take such an acute interest in the welfare of the Egyptian people. "
The United States, France, and United Kingdom have indeed introduced thirteen separate resolutions on human rights abuses in Egypt since the advent of the Phaaroh who knew not Joseph.
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a blistering response, arguing that it was the radical Jewsish leaders who had escalated the situation by resorting to weapons of mass destruction and demanding that Moses be indicted by the International Criminal Court as a war criminal: "It was not the Phaaroh who imposed unspeakable sanctions against the Egyptian people. It was not the Phaaroh who slaughtered every first-born male child in Egypt -- except the Jews -- in a flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions. Surely, not a house in Egypt was spared from this , this plague. It was not the Phaaroh who resorted to trickery in the Red Sea, luring innocent Egyptian troops into the kill zone before massacring them. Both sides are equally guilty in the bloodshed, and until both sides renounce violence, a peaceful solution will be nothing but a mirage of the desert."
No agreement on any resolutions were reached. British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant flatly rejected many of the Russian assertions, arguing that only soldiers were afffected by the Red Sea disaster, and that it was not immediately obvious whether the Jews were actually responsible for the harsh sanctions that befell Egypt prior to the Jewish Exodus.
Doctors Without Borders upped the number of Egyptian dead into the five figures, but those figures could not be independently confirmed. The Phaaroh's government again rejected the entry of the U.N. Secretary-General's fact-finding mission on the grounds that it represented an intrusion of sovereignty. Russian and Chinese officials blamed this inflexible position on the civil society campaign to label the Egyptian Pyramids the "Slavery Pyramids."
Humanitarian officials are not sure about the current status of the Jewish refugees. According to unconfirmed reports from Egypt, the Jews left in such a hurry that they lacked basic provisions like bread or yeast, carrying only crude rations into the desert. The disputed status of the Sinai makes drone overflights impossible in that area. The "final status" of the Jews is also unclear, as the Assyrians, Moabites, and Philistines all declared the refugees to be persona non grata in their jurisdictions.
Outside the UN building, the NGO Inside Children annnounced that they planned to release a video entitled "LetMyPeopleGo2012," demanding that the Phaaroh release all Egyptian Jews immediately. The group rebuffed criticisms that this problem had been overtaken by events, saying that calling attention to the cruel despotism in Egypt was still "a worthwhile and noble cause."
Your humble blogger is spending the first half of this week at the International Studies Association's annual conference. This means that news stories that would ordinarily catch my eagle eye the day they come out take a little longer to
penetrate my alcohol-bleary cerebral cortex read. Still, if they're important enough, they require a blog response.
Yesterday the New York Times' Jane Perlez reported that Wang Jisi -- China's most prominent international affairs writer -- has offered a surprisingly stark view of how China's leadership views the United States:
The senior leadership of the Chinese government increasingly views the competition between the United States and China as a zero-sum game, with China the likely long-range winner if the American economy and domestic political system continue to stumble, according to an influential Chinese policy analyst.
China views the United States as a declining power, but at the same time believes that Washington is trying to fight back to undermine, and even disrupt, the economic and military growth that point to China’s becoming the world’s most powerful country, according to the analyst, Wang Jisi, the co-author of “Addressing U.S.-China Strategic Distrust, a monograph published this week by the Brookings Institution in Washington and the Institute for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University.
The United States is no longer seen as “that awesome, nor is it trustworthy, and its example to the world and admonitions to China should therefore be much discounted,” Mr. Wang writes of the general view of China’s leadership.
In contrast, China has mounting self-confidence in its own economic and military strides, particularly the closing power gap since the start of the Iraq war. In 2003, he argues, America’s gross domestic product was eight times as large as China’s, but today it is less than three times larger.
The candid writing by Mr. Wang is striking because of his influence and access, in Washington as well as in Beijing. Mr. Wang, who is dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies and a guest professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, has wide access to senior American policy makers, making him an unusual repository of information about the thinking in both countries. Mr. Wang said he did not seek approval from the Chinese government to write the study, nor did he consult the government about it. (emphasis added)
If Wang is telling the truth in that last bolded section, it's quite extraordinary. One of the common laments among U.S.-based international relations scholars is that there is no point in having a China-based scholar come to a conference on Sino-American relations, because the Chinese scholar inevitably clams up whenever the discussion turns to the thinking in Beijing. If Wang doesn't have to worry about that, it's a sign of his relative influence.
That said, what about his analysis? You can read it by clicking here. Wang doesn't pull many punches. Here's an assortment of quotes from it:
Chinese distrust of the United States has persisted ever since the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949....China’s strategic distrust of the United States is deeply rooted, and in recent years it seems to have deepened.
Since 2008, several developments have reshaped China’s views of the international structure and global trends, and therefore of its attitude toward the United States. First, many Chinese officials believe that their nation has ascended to be a firstclass power in the world and should be treated as such.... Second, the United States is seen in China generally as a declining power over the long run...Third, from the perspective of China’s leaders, the shifting power balance between China and the United States is part of
an emerging new structure in today’s world.
Fourth, it is a popular notion among Chinese political elites, including some national leaders, that China’s development model provides an alternative to Western democracy and experiences for other developing countries to learn from, while many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos. The China Model, or Beijing Consensus, features an all-powerful political leadership that effectively manages social and economic affairs, in sharp contrast to some countries where “color revolutions” typically have led to national disunity and Western infringement on their sovereign rights....
It is widely believed in the Chinese leadership that the Americans orchestrated awarding
the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo in October 2010....
Chinese officials have paid special attention to the Obama administration’s statements of a new pivot of America’s strategic focus to Asia, made during the APEC meetings in Hawaii and the East Asia Summit in Indonesia in November 2011. In Beijing’s interpretation, many of Washington’s latest actions in Asia, including the decisions to deploy on rotation U.S. marines in Darwin, Australia, encourage Myanmar (Burma) to loosen domestic political control, and strengthen military ties with the Philippines, are largely directed at constraining China.
You should read the whole thing. I have three thoughts. First, I'm sure to many American readers, Wang's description of Chinese thinking about the U.S. verges on the conspiratorial and paranoid. According to Beijing, the United States does what it does only to constrain and weaken China. And, indeed, this does seem outladish, until one thinks about what is written about China in the United States -- by presidential candidates no less.
Second, if Wang's assessments really reflect the thinking in Beijing about the future of world politics, then Chinese diplomacy is about to face a world of hurt. In Wang's essay, the United States is the chief architect of any misfortune or policy reversal that affects the Middle Kingdom. Wang notes the U.S. "pivot" without speculating why countries like South Korea, Vietnam, or even Myanmar might be so eager to welcome Washington with open arms. If Chinese policymakers truly believe that the U.S. is solely to blame for these turn of events, then they will likely continue to act in ways that alienate their neighbors in the Pacific Rim, thereby exacerbating the geopolitical straight-jacket that they disliked in the first place.
Third, Wang notes that, in the short run, China has an incentive for the U.S. economy to recover. I'd add that the reverse is true. Relations with China would be difficult if Beijing suffered a growth slowdown. That would increase the domestic political pressure on the CCP at a time when they're already a bit stressed out. Furthermore, based on Wang's analysis, Chinese elites would likely blame the U.S. for any downturn.
Am I missing anything?
As both the unrest and crackdown in Syria continue to get worse, Russia has steadfastly stood by the side of the Assad regime. Matters are coming to a head in Turtle Bay, however, as James Blitz and Roula Khalaf and Charles Clover report for the Financial Times:
Britain, France and the US will be making their most forceful push yet for a political transition in Syria at the UN Security Council this week, lending support to an Arab plan that they hope will overcome Russian opposition....
Paris and London said on Monday that they had the support of 10 out 15 Security Council members, which would mean a resolution can be put to a vote. But it remains unclear how Russia, which last year vetoed a much milder resolution, will vote....
French and British diplomats argue that Russia can no longer block a UN resolution. “We’re trying to convince the Russians that they can’t stay in their posture of opposition to a resolution while there is this much killing on the ground,” said a French official.
The State Department said Hillary Clinton had been trying to call Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, for the past 24 hours to discuss Syria, but he had been “unavailable.” The Syrian regime in recent days had “just let loose in horrific ways against innocents," said Victoria Nuland, spokeswoman for the State Department (emphasis added).
This is a serious humanitarian crisis and a brewing confrontation between permanent members U.N. Security Council…and yet, there's something I find very amusing about Lavrov's efforts to duck Clinton's calls. In the old days of the 20th century, one could imagine this kind of lying low gambit being easier to pull this off. Not any more.
Still, in honor of Lavrov's efforts to play hide and seek, your humble blogger suggests a contest for readers: Proffer your own version of Lavrov's outgoing voicemail message. If you're Lavrov, representing the interests of the Russian Federation, what would you want Hillary Clinton to listen to as she tried to reach you? Could the outgoing message itself constitute part of Lavrov's pushback?
To get the ball rolling, here's my effort:
Hello, you've reached Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister of the Russian Federation. I'm away from my phone right now, coordinating an investigation into serious human rights abuses that have occurred in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia over the past year. If you wait for the "reset" beep and leave me your name and number, however, I'll be sure to get back to you about how this stuff might need to be raised at the next U.N. Security Council meeting.
Try it yourself -- it's easy and fun!
My recent post on the overstatement of American decline has probably been my most popular single non-zombie item since moving the blog to Foreign Policy. It has also attracted some useful observations on Michael Beckley's International Security essay in particular -- see Phil Arena and Erik Voeten for some trenchant criticisms.
My FP co-blogger Steve Walt has also weighed in, however, arguing that obsessing about the Sino-American comparison misses some larger points about the decline of American influence:
The United States remains very powerful -- especially when compared with some putative opponents like Iran -- but its capacity to lead security and economic orders in every corner of the world has been diminished by failures in Iraq (and eventually, Afghanistan), by the burden of debt accumulated over the past decade, by the economic melt-down in 2007-2008, and by the emergence of somewhat stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere. One might also point to eroding national infrastructure and an educational system that impresses hardly anyone. Moreover, five decades of misguided policies have badly tarnished America's image in many parts of the world, and especially in the Middle East and Central Asia. The erosion of authoritarian rule in the Arab world will force new governments to pay more attention to popular sentiment -- which is generally hostile to the broad thrust of U.S. policy in the region -- and the United States will be less able to rely on close relations with tame monarchs or military dictators henceforth. If it the United States remains far and away the world's strongest state, its ability to get its way in world affairs is declining.
All this may seem like a hair-splitting, but there's an important issue at stake. Posing the question in the usual way ("Is the U.S. Still #1?", "Who's bigger?", "Is China Catching Up?" etc.,) focuses attention primarily on bilateral comparisons and distracts us from thinking about the broader environment in which both the United States and China will have to operate. The danger, of course, is that repeated assurances that America is still on top will encourage foreign policy mandarins to believe that they can continue to make the same blunders they have in the recent past, and discourage them from making the strategic choices that will preserve U.S. primacy, enhance U.S. influence, and incidentally, produce a healthier society here at home.
I disagree with Steve on multiple points here, so let's be thorough and go through them one at at time.
First, I'd argue that developing accurate assessments about the power balance between China and the United States is actually super-important. Miserceptions about a rising China or a declining United States can lead to a) toxic political rhetoric in Washington, which leads to b) rhetorical blowback, which leads to c) stupid foreign policy miscalculations. As I wrote about a year ago:
Exaggerating Chinese power has consequences. Inside the Beltway, attitudes about American hegemony have shifted from complacency to panic. Fearful politicians representing scared voters have an incentive to scapegoat or lash out against a rising power -- to the detriment of all. Hysteria about Chinese power also provokes confusion and anger in China as Beijing is being asked to accept a burden it is not yet prepared to shoulder. China, after all, ranks 89th in the 2010 U.N. Human Development Index just behind Turkmenistan and the Dominican Republic (the United States is fourth). Treating Beijing as more powerful than it is feeds Chinese bravado and insecurity at the same time. That is almost as dangerous a political cocktail as fear and panic.
The discussion of China in the GOP presidential campaign, as well as Obama's mercantilist State of the Union address, strongly suggest that political assessments and political rhetoric about Chinese power need a strong jolt of sobriety. Walt is concerned that an overestimation of American power will lead to stupid foreign policy decisions, but I'd wager that an overestimation of Chinese power would lead to equally stupid foreign policy decisions.
As for Walt's assertions about the decline of American influence... well, I must take issue with several of them. First, the notion that the United States was able to exercise power more easily during the Cold War seems a bit off. As Robert Kagan points out in The New Republic:
And of course it is true that the United States is not able to get what it wants much of the time. But then it never could. Much of today’s impressions about declining American influence are based on a nostalgic fallacy: that there was once a time when the United States could shape the whole world to suit its desires, and could get other nations to do what it wanted them to do, and, as the political scientist Stephen M. Walt put it, “manage the politics, economics and security arrangements for nearly the entire globe.”
If we are to gauge America’s relative position today, it is important to recognize that this image of the past is an illusion. There never was such a time. We tend to think back on the early years of the Cold War as a moment of complete American global dominance. They were nothing of the sort. The United States did accomplish extraordinary things in that era: the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance, the United Nations, and the Bretton Woods economic system all shaped the world we know today. Yet for every great achievement in the early Cold War, there was at least one equally monumental setback.
During the Truman years, there was the triumph of the Communist Revolution in China in 1949, which American officials regarded as a disaster for American interests in the region and which did indeed prove costly; if nothing else, it was a major factor in spurring North Korea to attack the South in 1950. But as Dean Acheson concluded, “the ominous result of the civil war in China” had proved “beyond the control of the ... United States,” the product of “forces which this country tried to influence but could not.” A year later came the unanticipated and unprepared-for North Korean attack on South Korea, and America’s intervention, which, after more than 35,000 American dead and almost 100,000 wounded, left the situation almost exactly as it had been before the war. In 1949, there came perhaps the worst news of all: the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb and the end of the nuclear monopoly on which American military strategy and defense budgeting had been predicated.
Kagan's essay is getting some attention in high places, so I'll be very curious to hear Walt's take on it.
It Walt overestimates America's influence during the Cold War, he also underestimates American influence now. The funny thing about the "stronger and independent actors in Brazil, Turkey, India, and elsewhere" is that they're siding with the United States on multiple important issues. Coordination between Turkey and the United States on the Arab Spring has increased over time, and their policy positions on Iran are converging more than diverging. Brazil has turned a cold shoulder to Iran and has been warier about China's currency manipulation and rising influence in Latin America. India seems perfectly comfortable to be a partner in America's Pacific Rim pivot, as are Australia, Japan and South Korea.
This is perfectly consistent with Walt's own balance-of-threat theory, by the way. The actors that seem to be generating the most anxiety among the rising developing countries are the ones that seem to be exhibiting the most aggressive regional intentions -- namely, China and Iran. Indeed, even countries with strong historical resentments against the United States are now trying to find creative ways to bind themselves to Washington. Will these countries always march in lockstep with the United States? Of course not -- but as Walt would surely acknowledge, America's NATO allies were not always on the same page with the United States on myriad Cold War issues.
It seems that Walt's primary concern is that without better domestic policies, the United States might fritter away its great power advantages. I'm sympathetic to that argument -- I'd also take the bold position that I'd like to see improvements in American education and infrastructure as well. One of the points I was making in my original post, however was that even absent grand initiatives from Washington, the United States economy was finding ways to heal itself. Indeed, compared to either Europe or China, one could argue that the United States has adjusted to the post-2008 environment the best. This is not so much praise for Washington as an indictment of rigidities in Brussels and Beijing. Still, power and influence are relative measures, and I see little evidence to support Walt's pessimism.
Am I missing anything?
One could argue that the job of ambassador has been made obsolete by macrotrends in technology and politics. Oh, sure, maybe traditional envoys from great powers still play an important role in smaller countries that don't normally capture much attention in major capitals. Among the great powers, however, one could posit that ambassadors are superfluous. In a world in which heads of government and foreign ministers have multiple direct means of communication, in which you can't go a week without some big global summit, and in which leaders are wary of confiding with ambassadors because
they'll quit and then run for head of government that's just another press leak waiting to happen, what can ambassadors really do? Will we see the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams, or even Anatoly Dobrynin ever again?
Probably not, but even in the 21st century, great power ambassadors to other great powers still serve a purpose. In the case of American ambassadors to Russia and China, they can excel at getting under the skin of their host country governments. Gary Locke seems to be doing that pretty well in China, in no small part by being an ethnic Chinese politician that doesn't seem to be behaving like Chinese politicians.
In the case of Russia, there's the new ambassador Michael McFaul, who before this was in Obama's National Security Council and one of the architects o the "reset" policy, and before that was a professor of political science at Stanford (full disclosure: Mike's first year at Stanford as a professor was my last there as a grad student, and he's been a friend to me ever since).
In the annals of American diplomacy, few honeymoons have been shorter than the one granted to Michael A. McFaul, who arrived in Russia on Jan. 14 as the new American ambassador.
Toward the end of the ambassador’s second full day at work, a commentator on state-controlled Channel 1 suggested during a prime-time newscast that Mr. McFaul was sent to Moscow to foment revolution. A columnist for the newspaper Izvestia chimed in the next day, saying his appointment signaled a return to the 18th century, when “an ambassador’s participation in intrigues and court conspiracies was ordinary business.”....
Mr. McFaul, 48, has arrived in a city churning with conjecture and paranoia. The public attack illustrates how edgy the Kremlin is about the protest movement that has taken shape, turning Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election campaign into a nerve-racking test for the government. It also reveals how fragile relations are between Washington and Mr. Putin’s government, which has repeatedly accused the State Department of orchestrating the demonstrations.
If the blast of venom that greeted Mr. McFaul was intended as a warning to maintain a low profile in his new role, he seems unlikely to comply. At the end of his first week, he was exuberant, saying his goal was to “destroy cold war stereotypes,” especially misstatements about the United States’ intentions in Russia.
“I know I’m just going to go in full force, I’ve got nothing to hide, and we feel very confident in our policy and in selling our policy,” said Mr. McFaul, a native of Bozeman, Mont., who spent much of his career in academia. He does not need to fret over his next diplomatic posting, he added, because there will not be one.
“I ain’t going nowhere else,” he said, with a big smile. “This is it. I am not a career diplomat. And so I am here to do that in a very, very aggressive way.”
As someone who spent a short stint in DC, I recognize the sentiment McFaul expressed in that last paragraph. The exit option is one of the greatest assets an academic has if they enter the foreign policymaking world. Of course, that option can also encourage policymakers to stray way outside the reservation, so it kind of depends upon which academic has been appointed. In the case of McFaul, I'm very confident he will use this power for the forces of good.
Let's consider and contrast American foreign policy towards Russia and China over the past few years.
With Russia, the Obama administration announced a much-ballyhooed "reset" with the goal of improving bilateral relations. In an effort to advance that goal, the administration reworked missile defense system plans in eastern Europe, creating political headaches for governments in the region to make Moscow happy. The administration took great pains to endorse a Russian proposal on Iran's nuclear program. The administration signed a fresh new arms control treaty and then expended a decent amount of political capital to get NewSTART ratified. Washington conducted some serious behind-the-scenes diplomacy to get Russia into into the WTO. Most recently, the administration appointed a chief architect of the "reset" policy as ambassador to Russia.
With China, the Obama administration (after some idle G-2 talk) has been far more aggressive. The administration has "pivoted" it's foreign policy resources toward the Pacific Rim, with the not-so-subtle signal that China is the focus of this pivot. Washington has poked its nose into the South China Sea dispute, and recently announced a decision to station troops in Australia. It pushed forward a framework trade agreement that pointedly does not include China, while simultaneously calling on that country to let its currency appreciate. The State Department has reached out to one of China's longstanding allies in an effort to coax the nascent democratization in that country into something more long-lasting. This is simply part of a larger theme in which Washington is seemingly bear-hugging any significant country that is concerned about Beijing. The U.S. ambassador to China, when not becoming an online sensation among ordinary Chinese, is busy criticizing Beijing's human rights record.
So, to sum up: the Obama administration has made it something of a priority to improve relations with Russia, while at the same time investing serious amounts of diplomatic capital into various frameworks and initiatives that hedge against a rising China.
Now compare and contrast how Moscow and Beijing are thinking about Washington this week. In Beijing:
China and the United States should cooperate more closely to defuse international crises and ensure friction does not overwhelm shared interests, China's likely next president, Xi Jinping, said on Monday, setting an upbeat tone for his impending visit to Washington.
"No matter what changes affect the international situation, our commitment to developing the Sino-U.S. cooperative partnership should never waver in the face of passing developments," Vice President Xi told a meeting in Beijing.
"In dealing with major and sensitive issues that concern each side's core interests, we must certainly abide by a spirit of mutual respect and handle them prudently, and by no means can we let relations again suffer major interference and ructions."
Xi's mood-setting speech did not unveil new policies or give the precise date for his U.S. visit. But he stressed Beijing's desire for steady relations for his visit and his accession to running the world's second biggest economy after America's.
And now Moscow:
Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, warned Wednesday that outside encouragement of antigovernment uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa could lead to “a very big war that will cause suffering not only to countries in the region, but also to states far beyond its boundaries.”
Mr. Lavrov’s annual news conference was largely devoted to a critique of Western policies in Iran and Syria, which he said could lead to a spiral of violence.
His remarks came on the heels of a report on state-controlled television that accused the American ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, who has been in Moscow for less than a week, of working to provoke a revolution here. Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, at an impromptu meeting with prominent editors, also unleashed an attack on the liberal radio station Ekho Moskvy, which he said was serving American interests.
Now, it's possible to find other news stories that suggest China might not be handling all aspects of the bilateral relationship with equal aplomb, and its possible that these Russian statements contain more bluster than bite. Still, stepping back, the larger narrative does seem to be that Russia has adopted an angrier and more belligerent posture toward American foreign policy in recent months, while China has responded with more aplomb.
Why? I don't know if there's an easy and accurate explanation. Some neoconservatives might proffer that authoritarians only respond positively to strength, and therefore Russia feels more emboldened than China. I seriously doubt that this is about bandwagoning. Similarly, it could be argued that Russia is more domestically insecure than China, what with the recent protests and all. Again, I seriously doubt this, as it's not like China hasn't experienced some domestic hiccups as well this year.
There are two more compelling explanations, but I honestly don't know if they work either. The first is that Russia and China have different diplomatic styles. Russian diplomats are far more comfortable with being blunt in their assessments of American intentions and actions, whereas Chinese diplomats are more comfortable laying low and not making as much of a public fuss. Furthermore, China has moved down the learning curve, recognizing that its 2009-10 policy of "pissing off as many countries as possible" didn't turn out so well. It's possible that the substance of both countries' approaches toward the United States are not that different -- they just go about it in ways that play very differently in the media.
The second, more realpolitik explanation is that China and Russia are looking into the future, and Beijing is far more sanguine than Moscow. Russia is suffering from institutional dysfunction and demographic decay. It's only great power assets are bountiful natural resources, a huge land mass, and nuclear weapons. China will encounter difficulties in the future, but does not have nearly the same kind of structural stresses as Russia. Beijing is therefore simply less anxious than Moscow about U.S. policy, because it has more hard and soft power resources.
To be honest, I'm not thrilled with either of these explanations. So, dear readers, I put it to you: why is Russia acting more bellicose toward an accommodating policy from the United States, whereas China is reacting calmly toward a more aggressive United States?
The theme of Western decline was still running through my head as I perused the New York Times website this AM. In his Damascus dispatch today, Neil MacFarquhar dutifully details the Syrian government's position on the cause of the sustained unpleasantness in the country:
Rather than responding to the motivations and demands behind the antigovernment uprising, opponents and political analysts say, the government has stubbornly clung to the narrative that it is besieged by a foreign plot....
Senior government officials — including Mr. Assad — and their supporters reel off a strikingly uniform explanation for the uprisings, blaming foreign agents and denying official responsibility for the violence.
“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” Mr. Assad said in an interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday. In the interview, Mr. Assad denied ordering a crackdown. “We don’t kill our people,” he said. “No government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person.”
Virtually no one in the Syrian government links the uprisings to the sentiment inspiring revolutions across the Arab world, to a public fed up with the status quo. Instead, they say the United States and Israel, allied with certain quisling Arab governments, are plotting to destroy Syria, to silence its lone, independent Arab voice and to weaken its regional ally, Iran. To achieve this aim, they are arming and financing Muslim fundamentalist mercenaries who enter Syria from abroad, Syrian officials say.
“Syria is one of the last secular regimes in the Arab world, and they are targeting Syria,” said Buthaina Shaaban, a presidential political and media adviser, warning that the West would rue the day that it enabled Islamist regimes.
And then I read David Herszenhorn's update on Vladimir Putin's thinking on the causes behind Russian protests earlier this week:
With opposition groups still furious over parliamentary elections that international observers said were marred by cheating, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin on Thursday accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton of instigating protests by baselessly criticizing the vote as “dishonest and unfair” and he warned that Russia needed to protect against “interference” by foreign governments in its internal affairs.
“I looked at the first reaction of our U.S. partners,” Mr. Putin said in remarks to political allies. “The first thing that the secretary of state did was say that they were not honest and not fair, but she had not even yet received the material from the observers.”
“She set the tone for some actors in our country and gave them a signal,” Mr. Putin continued. “They heard the signal and with the support of the U.S. State Department began active work.”
Mr. Putin’s assertions of foreign meddling and his vow to protect Russian “sovereignty” came after three days in which the Russian authorities have moved forcefully to tamp down on efforts to protest the elections, arresting hundreds of demonstrators and deploying legions of pro-Kremlin young people in Moscow to occupy public squares and to chant, beat drums and drown out the opposition.
Wow, I had no idea that the United States was this powerful!! Hillary Clinton is apparently capable of getting thousands of Russians in the streets with just a few sentences.
Now clearly, actual American influence over events in Russia and Syria is pretty limited. Still, if the perception of power is a form of power in and of itself, I wonder if the Secretary of State -- perhaps after consuming too much egg nog at the State Department holiday reception -- would be tempted to give the following address to the diplomatic press corps:
I'd like to take this oppportunity today to admit that the United States, is, in fact, responsible for the nine-month uprising in Syria and the recent unrest in Russia. Oh, hell, who am I kidding -- we're responsible for the entire Arab Spring! It's true, the whole thing started about a year ago, at the Policy Planning Staff's Secret Santa party. One of them said, "hey, you know what would really advance American interests in the Middle East? If we destabilized secular authoritarian despots and empowered Islamist parties across the region! Those parties would really be more likely to back American policies in the region! Oh, and we should start with Egypt too, because of their peace treaty with Israel."
That initiative was sooooo successful that, again, my Foreign Service Officers came up with the brilliant concept of instigating the Occupy Wall Street movement, so we could demonstrate a template for how protests should naturally germinate in other countries. Did you like how some of the policy forces overreacted to those movements? Yeah, that was the State Department's idea too. We were hoping to encourage authoritarian leaders to overreact and crack down -- because without our inspiration, they would never have brutally repressed on their own.
Now, some of you might wonder, "if the United States was really this all powerful, why not target countries that pose even bigger security concerns, like Iran, or China, or even Venezuela?" Well, they're next. Think of the Middle East and Russia as just the out-of-town premieres before a show gets on Broadway. We've been working out the kinks to our methods, and now we think we've really perfected a universally applicable formula to apply to all our enemies in one fell swoop. Remember the baptism scene in The Godfather? Well, Hugo Chavez will wish he was Moe Green when we're through with him.
Happy holidays, authoritarian cabals!!
Hey, remember my last bloggingheads, when I went to the 1930s analogy to describe the current problems in the global political economy? Well, that was a few days ago, and my, how things have changed -- to make that 1930's analogy even more powerful. The eurogoggles metahor may be coming to an end -- because the situation is so dire that even the cheeriest summit won't alter perceptions in financial markets.
After a week of gyrating europolitics on the Greek bailout and meaningless G-20 summitry, markets and media will be focused on Italy this week. This matters -- for both Europe and the world, Greece is a diverting sideshow compared to a major financial collaspse in Italy. The pressure on Italian PM Sylvio Berlusconi to resign have gotten so loud that he had to take to his Facebook page to say, "The rumors of my resignation are groundless." New rule of thumb: any time a politician follows Sarah Palin's lead, there's going to be a problem.
The Daily Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explains the eurofarce that is currently playing out:
As of late Friday, the yield spread on Italian 10-year bonds over German Bunds was a post-EMU record of 458 basis points. This is dangerously close to the point where cascade-selling begins and matters spiral out of control.
The European Central Bank has so far bought time by holding a series of retreating lines but either it has reached its intervention limits after accumulating nearly €80bn of Italian debt, or it is holding fire to force Silvio Berlusconi to resign – if so, a foolish game.
The ECB’s hands are tied. A German veto and EU treaty constraints stop it intervening with overwhelming force as a genuine lender of last resort. The bank is itself at risk of massive over-extension without an EU treasury and single sovereign entity to back it up.
This lack of a back-stop guarantor is an unforgivable failing in the institutional structure of monetary union....
The spreads on EFSF 5-year bonds have already tripled to 151 above German debt, leaving Japan and other early buyers nursing a big loss. The fund suffered a failed auction last week, cutting the issue from €5bn to €3bn on lack of demand.
Gary Jenkins from Evolution Securities said the “frightening” development is that the EFSF is itself being shut out of the capital markets. “If it continues to perform like that then the bailout fund might need a bail out,” he said.
Europe’s attempt to widen the creditor net by drawing in the world’s reserve states evoked near universal scorn in Cannes and a damning put-down by Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff. “I have not the slightest intention of contributing directly to the EFSF; if they are not willing to do it, why should I?”
Europe is resorting to such antics because its richer states – above all Germany -- still refuse to face up to the shattering implications of a currency that they themselves created, and ran destructively by flooding the vulnerable half of monetary union with cheap capital.
Simon Johnson is, er.... less than optimistic about these developments:
MIT Sloan School of Management professor Simon Johnson didn’t equivocate on the perils of the current global economic environment. “We have built a dangerous financial system in the United States and Europe,” said the former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “We must step back and reform the system.”
Professor Johnson cited alarming parallels with October 1931, when “people thought the worst was behind them, but the smart people were wrong and instead the crisis just broadened.” (emphasis added)
I've said it before and I'll say it again: any time the global economy is counting on Sylvio Berlusconi to do the right thing is not a good time.
My FP colleague Steve Walt has responded to my Obama-praising blog post with a long litany of Obama foreign policy failures. He includes climate change, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the global economy, North Korea,
failing to cure cancer.... you get the drift.
Walt closes with the following observation:
Where Dan and I agree, however, is the crucial role of domestic politics. For if you look at the failures listed above, what is striking is that most of them are heavily shaped by domestic constraints. Doing something serious about climate change would have real consequences for business and consumers, and that wasn't going to happen when we are teetering on the brink of another recession. Making progress on Israel-Palestine or on Iran would require bringing in a new Middle East team and taking on the Israel lobby (including the Christianist wing of the GOP), and Obama abandoned that course after the Cairo speech in June 2009. His decisions to escalate in Afghanistan and to try to stay in Iraq were clearly shaped by domestic political concerns, and especially the perennial Democratic fear of being perceived as "weak" on national security. Trade liberalization is always a contentious issue here at home, and especially tough to tackle with a weak economy.
In short, Dan's broader point about Obama's foreign policy successes is insightful: the president has done well in those relatively minor areas where domestic politics do not loom large and where he can exercise unilateral authority. But on the more important and more difficult issues where you would have to convince the American people to follow a new path, he's come up mostly empty.
First, in some cases, what Walt would consider a "success" might not be what others consider a success. On Iran, for example, Walt laments that "the administration [has not] managed to think outside the box and try a different approach." Beyond the Leveretts, however (and Ron Paul), I'm not sure anyone else would agree with Steve in that assessment. Furthermore, to be fair, I think there's some pretty strong evidence that the administration did think outside the box in handling the nuclear issue.
Second, part of the issue here is how one defines a "success" in foreign policy. For example, Walt says the following on Libya as to why it's a failure:
[D]idn't the "Mission Accomplished" moment in 2003 in Iraq teach us about the dangers of declaring victory prematurely? We can all hope that the Libyan revolution fulfills its idealistic hopes and avoids the various pitfalls that lie ahead, but it is way too early to start bragging about it, or declaring it the model for future interventions. And if Libya does go south, enthusiasm for the "Obama Doctrine" will fade faster than watercolors in the Libyan sun.
Walt's observation is eminently sensible -- there are many ways in which Libya could evolve in a direction unfriendly to American interests. This gets to a deeper issue, which is how one defines "success" in politics vs. political science. Afghanistan looked like a success in 2001; Iraq looked like a success in 2003. Obviously, over time, these situations changed. As political scientists, we need to keep tabs on these developments.
In politics, however, voters tend not to do all that much updating, particularly in terms of foreign policy. It takes high-profile events for new information to filter down to
candidates who read one whole page of foreign news almost every day the American public. It will be interesting to see how Libya (and Egypt, and Tunisia, and Syria, etc.) play out over the next few decades. My post was about the next year, however -- and Obama will be able to claim credit if it looks like things are going well, and fall back on "we didn't play that big of a role" if things fall apart. From a policy perspective, that's a very cynical way of looking at things -- but it makes sense from a political perspective.
Third, in many of the cases that Walt cites as failures, the problem isn't necessarily the domestic politics of the United States but the domestic politics of other countries. On climate change, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, and Iraq, it's impossible to discuss the outcomes without recognizing the domestic political constraints/chaos in these countries. While each of them possesses elements willing to cooperate with the United States, there are spoilers aplenty in all of these countries. This is a problem that Bush faced when he was in office, Obama has faced now, and will be a bigger problem over time. It's a sign that the degree of difficulty in conducting American foreign policy has gone up.
This brings me to my final cavil. I'd really like the Steve Walt of this blog post to reconcile his arguments with... the Steve Walt who just published "The End of the American Era" in The National Interest. See, that Steve Walt views American decline as both inevitable and structural, which implies that these outcomes aren't a function of Obama's leadership per se but impersonal forces of history. Many of the cases Walt cites as Obama "failures" in his blog post are treated as ineluctable outcomes of relative American decline in his TNI essay. Which is it?
As I noted previously, compared to his GOP rivals, Mitt Romney has some actual foreign policy thinking going on. On the other hand, as Dan Trombly points out, doing better than Herman Cain or Rick Perry is a really low bar. So, looked at objectively, what's my assessment of Romney's foreign policy white paper?
I could go through it line by line, but James Joyner already did that for The Atlantic. As it turns out, I'm reaching a course called The Art and Science of Statecraft that will require students to write a grand strategy document. Sooo.... if Mitt Romney was one of my students, how would I grade him? See below:
You and your study team have clearly put a lot of work into "An American Century." It's cogently written and organized. Your basic statement of purpose -- "advance an international system that is congenial to the institutions of open markets, representative government, and respect for human rights (p. 7)" -- fits perfectly within the mainstream of American foreign policy thinking. You've done an excellent job of demonstrating an awareness of the complexity of threats that face the United States in the 21st century. I liked it on p. 6 when you noted that:
In the highly dynamic realm of national security and foreign policy there are seldom easy answers. Discrete circumstances in disparate regions of the world demand different kinds of approaches. There is no silver bullet for the problem of securing the United States and protecting our interests around the world.
You've also demonstrated an appropriate awareness that American power rests on more than a strong military. When you note that a Romney administration would "apply the full spectrum of hard and soft power to influence events before they erupt into conflict (p. 8)," I caught myself nodding along.
Some of the details are intriguing as well. I need to look more into these "Reagan economic zones" that you mention a lot, but applying them to Latin America and the Pacific Rim make a great deal of strategic and economic sense. I'm not fully persuaded that your notion of creating regional envoys to organize all "soft power resources" is all that different from the foreign policy czars or special envoys of administrations past, but this kind of argument fits well with your management background.
That said, there are some logical flaws and major gaps in this draft that will have to be corrected if you want to earn a better grade. The first problem is the style. I recognize that you've written this as a campaign document, so you're never going to completely eliminate the
unadulterated horsheshit allegations about the current president going on an apology tour. Maybe you could do it a bit more subtly in the future, however?
Secondly, there's a lack of historical awareness in some parts of the document. For example, on page 7 the paper says:
[A] Romney foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. The United States will clearly enunciate its interests and values. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs; neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries.
Now, reading this, I kept thinking back to the Bush administration and its repeated assetions that that there would be no hypocrisy in foreign affairs. Much like Bush, reality turned out to be trickier. I suspect you know this, from the other excerpts noted earlier. So get rid of this fluff: I'm sure statements like this play well in a management consulting boardroom, but it's not going to cut it in the real world.
Similarly, for someone who says that, the Obama administration is "undermining one’s allies (p. 3)" in contrast to you, who will "reassure our allies (p. 13)", you don't actually talk about America's treaty allies much at all. True, you do talk about expanding America's alliance system to include India and Indonesia. Mexico gets some face time. Israel gets a lot of face time. On the other hand, NATO is not mentioned once in this entire document. Neither is the European Union. Japan and South Korea get perfunctory treamtment at best. Turkey is a major treaty ally but you treat it like a pariah state. For someone who's claiming that the U.S. will reassure its major allies, you didn't seem to give them much attention at all. This is a really important problem, because Japan and Europe have been crucial allies in a lot of major American initiatives -- and they're getting weaker. Even in discussing new possible allies, I'm kind of gobsmacked that Brazil is never mentioned.
Another big problem is that your approach to China is so shot full of contradictions that I don't know where to begin. Do you seriously believe what you wrote on p. 3:
The easiest way... to become embroiled in a clash with China over Taiwan, or because of China’s ambitions in the South or East China Seas, will be to leave Beijing in doubt about the depth of our commitment to longstanding allies in the region.
Really? See, I'd say the easiest way to get embroiled in a clash with China is to write Taiwan a blank check on their defense needs. The second easiest would be to publicly bluster on about Taiwan to a Chinese leadership that feels increasingly insecure and will be tempted to stoke the fires of Chinese nationalism by creating another Quemoy and Matsu crisis.
Furthermore, you talk explicitly about supplying Taiwan with "adequate aircraft and other military platforms (p. 18)" in supposed contrast to the Obama administration. You also talk about strengthening relationships with other countries that neighbor China in an effort to preserve American dominance. Now, this might be a bit provocative, but I get the rationale. Here's the thing, though -- you can't simultaneously do this and assert that you will "work to persuade China to commit to North Korea’s disarmament (p. 29)." Really? How exactly are you gonna persuade them on this point? Do you really think that arming Taiwan to the teeth and blasting its human rights record will do the trick?
If the section on China is contradictory, then your discussion of Pakistan is worse. You state on p. 31-32:
It is in the interests of all three nations to see that Afghanistan and the Afghanistan/ Pakistan border region are rid of the Taliban and other insurgent groups.... Pakistan should understand that any connection between insurgent forces and Pakistan’s security and intelligence forces must be severed. The United States enjoys significant leverage over both of these nations. We should not be shy about using it.
There are at least two assertions in the quoted section that are highly dubious -- I'll let you find them on your own.
One final point, should you choose to revise this draft strategy -- you need to prioritize the threats you discuss in the paper. You list a whole bunch of them -- rising authoritarian states, transnational violence, failing states, and rogue states. If you have to prioritize, which threats merit greater attention? This should actually be pretty easy, since you absurdly overhype the threats posed by some of these countries (Venezuela, Cuba and Russia in particular).
I look forward to reviewing your later work.
Yesterday FP alum Laura Rozen detailed the State Department's push to have economic statecraft to the front and center of U.S. diplomacy:
[I]n many ways, Hillary Clinton's diplomatic portfolio is increasingly indistinguishable from many of the leading challenges in global economic policy. Trade issues obviously have a direct impact on America's efforts to emerge from the present economic downturn--from the battles over the national debt to the the need to stimulate job growth. But economic issues also shape other less-noted features of the American foreign-policy agenda, be it the effort to contain fallout from Europe's debt crisis, to the rise of major economic powers such as China, Brazil, Turkey and India—all of whom come bearing their own foreign policy ambitions....
So Hillary Clinton has been working hard to beef up the economic bench strength of the State Department, while also mounting a bid for State officials to play a more decisive role in determining U.S. global economics policy. Aides expect her to lay out what they are calling the "Clinton doctrine on economic statecraft" early this month, likely in a speech in New York. Timing and venue for the address are still being worked out, her aides say.
"This is coming from a sense that we are seeing the lines between national security and economic security blur as emerging powers are doing more to advance their economic power, and fitting their national security strategy is more about economic interest," the State Department adviser told the Envoy Friday....
"As we pursue recovery and growth, we are making economics a priority of our foreign policy," Clinton said at the International Institute for Strategic Studies-Shangri La conference in Hong Kong in July. "Because increasingly, economic progress depends on strong diplomatic ties and diplomatic progress depends on strong economic ties. And so the United States is working to harness all aspects of our relationships with other countries to support our mutual growth."
Full disclosure: State Department officials have reached out to your humble blogger
in a sign of true desperation to talk about ways in which economics should be integrated into American foreign policy. Don't panic -- I know that they're talking to smarter people than I as well.
Economic statecraft is only as useful as the economic power that fuels such statecraft -- namely, the attraction of possessing a large, dynamic, growing economy for imports, deep capital markets, provisions for foreign assistance, and a model of economic development that looks attractive to others. Now, getting Congress to vote on negotiated-long-ago trade deals is certainly a step in the right direction. Talking about Russian entry into the WTO is also constructive.
On the other hand.... I fear that the State Department is fighting through hurricane-level winds on this front to make a difference. First, the trade deals just sent to Congress are the last ones we're going to see for a while. Doha is dead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership still hasn't materialized, and all of the momentum on trade policy is to move towards
futile gestures closure. The dynamic, growing economy is not looking so dynamic, and those deep capital markets are getting extremely jittery.
Finally, there's foreign aid -- which brings us to this New York Times front-pager by Steven Lee Myers:
America’s budget crisis at home is forcing the first significant cuts in overseas aid in nearly two decades, a retrenchment that officials and advocates say reflects the country’s diminishing ability to influence the world....
The financial crunch threatens to undermine a foreign policy described as “smart power” by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, one that emphasizes diplomacy and development as a complement to American military power. It also would begin to reverse the increase in foreign aid that President George W. Bush supported after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as part of an effort to combat the roots of extremism and anti-American sentiment, especially in the most troubled countries.
Given the relatively small foreign aid budget — it accounts for 1 percent of federal spending over all — the effect of the cuts could be disproportional. (emphasis added)
It's striking to see Myers be that blunt in his assessment of the effects of these budget cuts. Look, foreign aid is far from a panacea, but one has to think of these forms of economic statecraft as spending on preventing rather than curing ailments in American foreign policy. As a general rule, the former is far cheaper than the latter. The latter also tends to involve a much greater allocation of blood and treasure. I know why foreign aid is the first item on the chopping block -- unlike military spending, it doesn't go to Congressional districts -- but let me go on record as saying this is a stupid own-goal by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Even if one buys the need for fiscal austerity, there's a lot more waste in the Pentagon than the State Department.
So American economic power looks set to wane, and the Amerian model of political economy seems broken. On the one hand, this is not a strong foundation upon which to build a more effective economic statecraft. On the other hand, this is precisely the moment during which policymakers need to think about how to be more efficient with America's still-impressive reservoirs of economic strength.
Consider the comments below as a suggestion box -- what would you recommend the State Department do to improve upon American economic diplomacy?
Your humble blogger will be hitting the road early in the morrow to Shanghai. I'll be attending a conference co-sponsored by the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, Stanley Foundation and the Munk School of Global Affairs University of Toronto on "Global and Collaborative Asian & Pacific Leadership for the G20."
Note to citizens of the PRC: I too will be toting my own luggage.
I'll certainly try to avoid catching Friedman's Disease during this China trip.* I'll also try to avoid a related management consulting syndrome, which is the belief that a few days in another country somehow endows me with "street cred" when discussing said country. This seems particularly prevalent with respect to China.
Since the topic is the state of the G-20, and I've made my feelings about that forum pretty plain on this blog, I hereby challenge readers to persuade my mind in the 48 hours before I present. The G-20 performed best when the sense of crisis seemed most acute. As the eurozone melts down, and the United States doesn't look much better, is the G-20 capable of jumpstarting a bout of policy coordination that looks more robust than, say, this totally anemic statement?
What do you think?
*If Gwyneth Paltrow is coughing anywhere near me, on the other hand, I'm... I'm.... probably going to be the Index Patient Plus One.
Your humble blogger is near the capital of
Waterworld Pennsylvania at the moment and all conferenced out. Regular blogging will resume after some sleep.
In the meanwhile, however, please check out FP's latest Deep Dive on the future of currencies. I have a contribution on the dollar's future as the world's reserve currency. It's depressing to note that the thing I like best about it is it's title -- which, of course, someone else at FP created.
When I woke up this morning and scanned the headlines, I knew what I was going to blog about -- the stories in the press about how the European Union was, after much hemming and hawing, beginning to move towards a closer fiscal union. I was then going to not-so-humblebrag about my own prediction that this would indeed happen. This was all going to be a great set-up to the last-minute reverse course -- i.e., this Financial Times op-ed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble in which he declared his "unease when some politicians and economists call on the eurozone to take a sudden leap into fiscal union and joint liability."
Here's the thing, however -- if you read my eurozone blog post from this past February, you'll see that almost the exact same dynamic played itself out six months ago. This time the Germans are pre-emptively balking before the peripheral countries can balk in response to German calls for austerity... but you get the general idea.
So... in the interest of avoiding IPE déjà vu for readers, I hereby promise not to blog about this again until something actually happens beyond news reports of preliminary steps-towards-fiscal-centralization-followed-by-political-pushback. I will simply observe that Ryan Avent's basic question will be the one to ask going forward:
Europe's leaders know what they'll have to do to stabilise the situation. The key question now is: what is the set of euro-zone countries consistent with the political will to save the currency area? Europeans in Europe's core will share a currency with "outsider" countries, but they won't fight to save them. So who are the outsiders? Who has to go to convince core voters that the cost of saving the euro zone is worth bearing?....
With which countries do core voters sufficiently identify themselves as to make a large, ongoing commitment acceptable? Answer that, and you probably have a good idea how this mess will end.
Readers are requested to state which countries get the Euroboot in the comments below.
There's been some interesting blog commentary on my debate with Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I encourage international relations theory geeks to check it out. Over at the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell makes an interesting intervention. You should read the whole thing, but here's the part I found particularly provocative:
Rather than seeing the international sphere as a space for inter-state power politics, or as a space for networked common action, we can think of it as a space for contagion.That is, think of it as a space where ever-multiplying and ever-ramifying sets of networked relationships across border serve not to enable problem-solving DIY diplomatists, but instead to transmit social influences in ways that are difficult to predict ex ante. This would mean taking seriously the kinds of complexity theory and network theory arguments that Anne-Marie mentions, but following them to a quite different set of conclusions than she does.
The world that complexity theory and network theory depicts is one where actions have highly unpredictable consequences. This follows both from theoretical arguments about processes of contagion across large scale networks, and from empirical research conducted via e.g. experiments....
Just because the world has become more networked, it does not mean that states can either (a) easily use networks to pursue their policy goals, or (b) turn over responsibilities to networks that will self-organize around socially useful tasks and responsibilities. To the extent that networks’ politics are predictable, they will conform to the same kinds of (frequently unpleasant) politics as do states. That is, they will be characterized by power inequalities (sometimes gross), actors pursuing their self-interest while entirely blind to the needs of others, and the rest of the shebang. To the extent that networks’ politics unpredictable, they will be unlikely to be useful tools of policy.
This is a story with far fewer helpful policy lessons than either Dan’s or Anne-Marie’s. It points to plausible developments in world politics, without providing any very obvious tools to deal with them.
I need to process Henry's arguments more before making a fully thought-out response. This is a blog, a two half-assed thoughts should suffice for now. First, Henry gets at something that was implicit in the exchange between Anne-Marie and myself: the notion that powerful actors possess considerable agency in world politics. Slaughter and I might disagree about who those actors are, but we assumed that power = agency. Farrell's point about contagion is that this presumption does not necessarily hold. And the policy implications of that suggestion are rather jarring, to say the least.
Second, however, my own theoretical predilections lead me to wonder whether powerful agents can halt/regulate/control the spread of contagion more . The Arab Spring suggests such possibilities. So far, the general unrest in the region has toppled a regime in Tunisia, partially toppled regimes in Egypt and Yemen, led to a civil war in Libya, and led to... something in Syria.
This is not insignificant, but it's worth remembering that the wave of unrest was much larger than those countries. Early protests in Iran went nowhere -- in no small part because the Iraniann state has gotten very, very good at cracking down. Led by Saudi Arabia, the Gulf monarchies have by and large kept populist demands at bay, going so far as to invite Jordan and Morocco to join the Gulf Cooperation Council.
I'm not trying to pull a Kevin Bacon here; the Arab Spring is Big Earthshaking Stuff. My point, rather, is that not every contagion proceeds unimpeded -- there are counter-contagions as well. When and how those counterwaves happen is worthy of consideration.
What do you think?
[WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS AN OPTIMISTIC GLOBAL POLITICAL ECONOMY POST]
Note: in my last blog post, I might have sounded juuuuust a wee bit pessimistic about the state of the global political economy. That was my intent, but it wasn't necessarily how I actually felt. My aim was to assemble as negative a brief as possible about the state of the global political economy. The aim of this post is to argue that, despite all the recent bad news, the fundamentals of the global political economy are surprisingly sound. I'm not actually as optimistic as the rest of this post suggests, either -- but I do lean more in this direction. The fact that I'm blogging this from a zombie-proof vacation redoubt should in no way affect your evaluation of the following few paragraphs.
So, when we last left off this debate, things were looking grim. My concern in the last post was that the persistence of hard times would cause governments to take actions that would lead to a collapse of the open global economy, a spike in general riots and disturbances, and eerie echoes of the Great Depression. Let's assume that the global economy persists in sputtering for a while, because that's what happens after major financial shocks. Why won't these other bad things happen? Why isn't it 1931?
Let's start with the obvious -- it's not gonna be 1931 because there's some passing familiarity with how 1931 played out. The Chairman of the Federal Reserve has devoted much of his academic career to studying the Great Depression. I'm gonna go out on a limb therefore and assert that if the world plunges into a another severe downturn, it's not gonna be because central bank heads replay the same set of mistakes.
The legacy of the Great Depression has also affected public attitudes and institutions that provide much stronger cement for the current system. In terms of publuc attitudes, compare the results of this mid-2007 poll with this mid-2010 poll about which economic system is best. I'll just reproduce the key charts below:
The headline of the 2010 results is that there's eroding U.S. support for the global economy, but a few other things stand out. U.S. support has declined, but it's declined from a very high level. In contrast, support for free markets has increased in other major powers, such as Germany and China. On the whole, despite the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression, public attitudes have not changed all that much. While there might be populist demands to "do something," that something is not a return to autarky or anything so drastc.
Another big difference is that multilateral economic institutions are much more robust now than they were in 1931. On trade matters, even if the Doha round is dead, the rest of the World Trade Organization's corpus of trade-liberalizing measures are still working quite well. Even beyond the WTO, the complaint about trade is not the deficit of free-trade agreements but the surfeit of them. The IMF's resources have been strengthened as a result of the 2008 financial crisis. The Basle Committee on Banking Supervision has already promulgated a plan to strengthen capital requirements for banks. True, it's a slow, weak-assed plan, but it would be an improvement over the status quo.
As for the G-20, I've been pretty skeptical about that group's abilities to collectively address serious macroeconomic problems. That is setting the bar rather high, however. One could argue that the G-20's most useful function is reassurance. Even if there are disagreements, communication can prevent them from growing into anything worse.
Finally, a note about the possibility of riots and other general social unrest. The working paper cited in my previous post noted the links between austerity measures and increases in disturbances. However, that paper contains the following important paragraph on page 19:
[I]n countries with better institutions, the responsiveness of unrest to budget cuts is generally lower. Where constraints on the executive are minimal, the coefficient on expenditure changes is strongly negative -- more spending buys a lot of social peace. In countries with Polity-2 scores above zero, the coefficient is about half in size, and less significant. As we limit the sample to ever more democratic countries, the size of the coefficient declines. For full democracies with a complete range of civil rights, the coefficient is still negative, but no longer significant.
This is good news!! The world has a hell of a lot more democratic governments now than it did in 1931. What happened in London, in other words, might prove to be the exception more than the rule.
So yes, the recent economic news might seem grim. Unless political institutions and public attitudes buckle, however, we're unlikely to repeat the mistakes of the 1930's. And, based on the data we've got, that's not going to happen.
[WARNING: THE FOLLOWING IS A VERY PESSIMISTIC GLOBAL POLITICAL ECONOMY POST]
So, just to sum up the past week or so of global political economy events:
1) U.S. government debt got downgraded by Standard & Poor;
2) Global equity markets are freaking out;
London Britain is burning;
This all sounds very 2008, except that it's actually worse for several reasons. First, the governments that bailed out the financial sector are now themselves the object of financial panic and political resentment. Second, the tools used to try and rescue the global economy in 2008 are partially to blame for what's happening right now. Despite all the gnashing of teeth about the Fed twiddling its thumbs, it's far from clear that a QE3 would actually stimulate anything besides a rise in commodity prices.
With both Europe and the United States unable to stimulate their economies, and China seemingly paralyzed into indecision, it's worth asking if we are about to experience a Creditanstalt moment.
The start of the Great Depression is commonly assumed to be the October 1929 stock market crash in the United States. It didn't really become the Great Depression, however, unti 1931, when Austria's Creditanstalt bank desperately needed injections of capital. Essentially, neither France nor England were willing to help unless Germany honored its reparations payments, and the United States refused to help unless France and the UK repaid its World War I debts. Neither of these demands was terribly reasonable, and the result was a wave of bank failures that spread across Europe and the United States.
The particulars of the current sovereign debt crisis are somewhat different from Creditanstalt, and yet it's fascinating how smart people keep referring back to that ignoble moment. The big commonality is that while governments might recognize the virtues of a coordinated response to big crises, they are sufficiently constrained by domestic discontent to not do all that much.
So... is this 1931 all over again?
There are three aspects of the current situation that make me fret about this. The first is the sense that developed country governments have already tapped out all of their politically feasible methods of stimulating their economies. This is the time when both politicians and voters start to ask themselves, "Why not pursue the crazy idea?"
The second is whether the Chinese government will do something to satiate their nationalist constituency. Neither Joe Nye nor James Joyner thinks this is likely, and I tend to agree that any effort at economic coercion will hurt China as much as the United States. When autocrats are up against the wall, however, then they might take risks they otherwise would never consider.
The third is this working paper on what causes societal unrest in developed economies (h/t Henry Farrell). The abstract suggests more trouble on the way:
From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble crosscountry evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability. We test if the relationship simply reflects economic downturns, and conclude that this is not the key factor.
So... there are, unfortunately, numerous reasons to think that we're headed down a bad road... which is the pretty much point of this post.
Readers are encouraged in the comments to offer counterarguments for why things aren't as bad as 1931. I'll be offering some thoughts about why 1931 won't happen again later in the week.
While the debtopocalypse might have been cancelled, I see that the wake for American hegemony is chugging right along.
The interwebs is drowning from variations of the argument that the process by which the debt ceiling deal was reached has dented American power. To sum them up: Sure, the United States government staved off collapse, but the galactically stupid brinkmanship over it has permanently damaged America's brand. Furthermore, the new politics of brinkmanship means that we could potentially see this kind of own-goal as a new permanent fixture of American political economy. Continued political uncertainty over something as obviously necessary as raising the debt ceiling means that actual policy problems like, say, crumbling infrastructure, education, or reassessing grand strategy is a true fool's errand. So, in other words, the USA is screwed.
To which I say: mmmmmmmaybe.
I don't doubt that the U.S. brand of constitutional democracy has taken a pretty severe hit from this episode. Then again, the parliamentary system of democratic governance has long been more popular, so that's not really a new thing.
There are three factors, however, that make me wary of this kind of eulogy. First, I've come to look at concepts like "soft power" and "standing" with a bit of a jaundiced eye. Even if the U.S. takes a hit in that category, I'm not sure that loss translates anything more tangible than … a bunch of foreign-policy pundits bemoaning its loss.
Seriously, compare the last few years of the Bush administration with the first few years of the Obama administration. Any measurable metric of standing or soft power with the presidential transition. The effect on U.S. foreign policy, however, has been negligible.
Second, power is always a relative term, so the question has to be asked -- who's gaining on the United States? Joshua Keating's survey of global schadenfreude doesn't change the fact that the eurozone remains a basket case, Japan and Russia remain demographic disasters, and China has domestic political problems that make partisanship in the United States look like child's play. Even a cursory glance at military spending reveals no peer competitor to the United States. So yes, the United States will endure a rain of rhetorical horses**t for a while … right up until the next crisis in which the world demands America "do something" because it's still the only superpower still standing.
Or, to put this in bond rating language -- even if US power is downgraded from AAA, who else is even above BBB+?
Third, the thing about democracy is that it has multiple ways to constrain political stupidity and ideological overreach. The first line of defense is that politicians will have an electoral incentive to act in non-crazy ways in order to get re-elected. The second line of defense is that politicians or parties who violate the non-crazy rule fail to get re-elected. So, in some ways, the true test of the American system's ability to stave off failure will be the 2012 election. Politicians from both parties have vastly overinterpreted recent electoral victories as sweeping mandates. I suspect, in 2012, many of them will be penalized for such hubris. If they aren't, well, then the conventional wisdom might have a point.
Smart investors made a ton of money this past month by betting on the full faith and credit of the United States despite the D.C. blood sport. If one could make a similar wager on American power, I'd be inclined to bet against the current market sentiment.
Am I missing anything?
JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
My conference in Beijing closed with Le Yucheng -- the Chinese equivalent of the State Department's director of policy planning -- giving a talk and then taking questions from the academics and policy wonks around the table.
Based on what I heard and the consensus reaction of the old China hands around the table, Le's talk was pretty much boilerplate. That's a term of art for policy mandarins -- it translates into "nothing new was said, just a recycling of old talking points and approved language." However, for those of us who are not old China hands, even boilerplate can be somewhat revealing. Here were the talking points that stood out for me:
1) "To be frank, people don't understand China." Le provided a long litany of development problems and challenges facing China. He found it hypocritical that the rest of the world complained about China not buying enough cars or airplanes from the rest of the world, but also about buying too much oil. He provided a long spiel about how hard China is working to promote its economic development and overcome massive poverty. This is code for, "do not expect us to be chipping in all that much for global public goods anytime soon."
2) "China is always a humble, modest nation." This was, easily, the most jarring part of his talk. Le claimed that since the founding of the People's Republic, China had not attacked any of her foreign neighbors. I suspect that diplomats from India, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam would have some strenuous disagreements with that assertion, but I was told that this is a standard talking point for Chinese diplomats (If you ask me, they'd be better off stating than China has had peaceful relations with the rest of the world in the post-Maoist era and -- unlike some other great powers that will go unmentioned -- has not averaged a military intervention every 18 months or so).
This section was also jarring because it primarily consisted of backdoor brags. Le claimed that China learned much from everyone else, and that he personally works so hard that he never goes on vacation and doesn't leave the office until 10 PM. He then talked about how China had solved the Hong Kong problem, the rural development problem, and so forth.
This sectiion ended with a small rant on how China was very, very different from, just to pick a country out of a hat, Norway. Because Norway has less than 1% of China's population while having 100 times China's resources, Norway should apparently not offer advice to China on, well, anything. Or, as Le put it, Norway is like a mini-car to China's bullet train. Note to Norway: I think China is still touchy about this.
3) "There is no Beijing Consensus." This was a point that Le hammered home repeatedly. He insisted that China had no original development model, and that Beijing certainly wasn't trying to recommend its model to nany other country. As Le put it, "There is no best model in the world." This part of Le's talk was also the most convincing, as the rest of the assembled Chinese academics made a similar point. As one academic pithily noted, "both the Washington Consensus and the Beijing Consensus were invented in Washington!"
4) China will not challenge the global order -- in other words, "we are not the USSR." In a mild contradiction of his first point, Le listed the myriad ways in which China contributed to global order -- promoting domestic economic growth to stabilize the regional economy, contributions to UN peacekeeping, anti-terrorism cooperation, anti-piracy, purchasing European and American debt instruments, and -- an oldie but a goodie -- not devaluing the yuan during the Asian financial crisis. Le stressed how much China benefitted from the existing order, and that while reforms might be needed, a wholesale change was not needed.
5) If you think the PRC government is bad, read our Internet chat boards. This was interesting, as Le tried to stress that China's population was far more nationalist and hawkish on the foreign policy front than the PRC government. He's not eactly wrong on this point, but it should be pointed out that given the various restrictions on what can be said on the Chinese internet, assertive nationalism is the only approved way of venting for the Chinese public.
Your humble blogger is headed to China for the next few days as part of a conference sponsored by the MacArthur Asia Security Initiative and the School of International Studies at Peking University, at which we will be discussing "What roles do power, history, ideas, and other legacies and factors play in shaping the American and Chinese approaches to sovereignty?" and "What is distinctive about the American and Chinese orientations and what are the implications of their preferences for the international order?" and "Could I please have an extra serving of tripe?" OK, that last one will just be a personal quest for yours truly, but you get the idea.
We will also be "Meeting with high-rank officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the CPC" -- so with luck, I'll be able to post blog items that will impress Chinese readers more than, say, your average Tom Friedman column. Assuming, that is, that the interwebs are semi-friendly over there.
While I am
praying for an upgrade on my flight to Beijing winging my way to the Middle Kingdom, go and contemplate Gideon Rachman's latest in the Financial Times. He points out that should China supplant the United States during this decade, it will be a very strange superpower indeed:
The ascent of China will change ideas of what it means to be a superpower. Over the course of the American century, the world has got used to the idea that the world’s largest economy was also the world’s most obviously affluent nation. The world’s biggest economy housed the world’s richest people.
As China emerges as an economic superpower, the connection between national and personal affluence is being broken. China is both richer and poorer than the western world. It is sitting on foreign reserves worth $3,000bn. And yet, measured at current exchange rates, the average American is about 10 times as wealthy as the average Chinese....
The power of China – combined with anxiety about the frightening public debts being built up in the US, the EU and Japan – will challenge western ideas about the relationship between democracy and economic success. Ever since the US became the world’s largest economy, towards the end of the 19th century, the most powerful economy in the world has been a democracy. But, if China remains a one-party state over the next decade, that will change. The confident western slogan that “freedom works” will come under challenge as authoritarianism becomes fashionable, once again.
What do you think? More tripe, or go for the chow fun instead?
Ever since I announced the Trumpies, I've been deluged with tweets and e-mails asking if this flub or that blunder or the other mistake in New York culinary etiquette merits a Trumpie nomination. In keeping with the high quality of the Trumpie brand, however, a nomination cannot be earned for simple malapropisms, pizza-eating faux pas, or errors on non-foreign policy topics ("A Trumpie -- the foreign policy mistakes of royalty").
To repeat -- a Trumpie is only earned when the candidate or a kep foreign policy supporter demonstrates willful, assertive ignorance on U.S. foreign policy or world politics. Which brings me to U.S. House Representative Paul Ryan.
Ryan is starting to act like a presidential candidate. The chairman of the House Budget Committee delivered a foreign policy speech to the Alexander Hamilton Society last week, leaking the text to The Weekly Standard no less. After that speech, other commentators have made numerous claims that Ryan deserves multiple Trumpie nominations. Let's review the charges.
Jonathan Chait argues that Ryan deserves a nom for making the sly charge that Barack Obama rejected American exceptionalism. Here's the passage Chait quotes on this point:
There are very good people who are uncomfortable with the idea that America is an “exceptional” nation....
Today, some in this country relish the idea of America’s retreat from our role in the world. They say that it’s about time for other nations to take over; that we should turn inward; that we should reduce ourselves to membership on a long list of mediocre has-beens.
This view applies moral relativism on a global scale. Western civilization and its founding moral principles might be good for the West, but who are we to suggest that other systems are any worse? – or so the thinking goes.
Instead of heeding these calls to surrender, we must renew our commitment to the idea that America is the greatest force for human freedom the world has ever seen; a country whose devotion to free enterprise has lifted more people out of poverty than any economic system ever designed; and a nation whose best days still lie ahead of us, if we make the necessary choices today.
Ryan is referring to, without explicitly saying so, a widespread conservative claim. In April 2009, a reporter asked Obama if he believed in American exceptionalism. Obama began by citing objections to the concept before endorsing it.
Chait is correct that the 2009 Obama speech demonstrates quite clearly that the president believes in American exceptionalism, and that numerous conservatives have taken delight in willfully misreading it. The thing is, the text of Ryan's speech far from clear in asserting this claim. The insinuation is there, but Ryan just refers to "very good people." He could be talking about Obama -- but he could very well be talking about my FP colleague Steve Walt for all its specificity. This is politically savvy, but not a display of assertive ignorance. So, no, no Trumpie nomination for that.
But wait -- there's more accusations!! Eunomia's Daniel Larison thinks Ryan deserves a Trumpie for this section:
[O]ur fiscal problems are real, and the need to address them is urgent. But I’m here to tell you that decline is not a certainty for America. Rather, as Charles Krauthammer put it, “decline is a choice.”
It is hard to overstate the importance of this choice. In The Weary Titan, Aaron Friedberg–one of the founders of the Hamilton Society–has shown us what happened when Britain made the wrong choice at the turn of the 20th century.
At that time, Britain’s governing class took the view that it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world to the United States. Unfortunately, the United States was not yet ready to assume the burden of leadership. The result was 40 years of Great Power rivalry and two World Wars.
This recounting of history prompts Larison to write:
I have not read this book. Despite that, I am fairly confident that Ryan is describing its argument incorrectly. For one thing, the British governing class between 1895 and 1905 did not “take the view” that “it would be better to cede leadership of the Western world” to the United States. This was the time of Salisbury’s government when the British were as overconfident and aggressive in their empire-building as ever.
Well.... I have read parts of The Weary Titan, and both Ryan and Larison make valid points here. Friedberg does advance the argument in his book that British foreign policy elites voluntaily ceded aspects of their hegemony to other actors during the 1895-1905 decade -- and that's the point Ryan stresses. That said, Larison is correct to say that Ryan exaggerates Friedberg's thesis. If Ryan had said "Western hemisphere" instead of "Western world," however, he'd be spot-on accurate.
So, closer, but no cigar.
These paragraphs of Ryan's speech, however, are another story:
We cannot face these challenges alone. To the contrary, we need our allies and friends to increase their capacity and willingness to act in defense of our common interests.
The first step in that process is robust and frank engagement with our closest allies. We all share an interest in the maintenance of the international order with its liberal trading system, general tranquility, and abundant opportunity – and we should all share the burden of maintaining it.
The Obama administration has taken our allies for granted and accepted too willingly the decline of their capacity for international action. Our alliances were vital to our victory in the Cold War and they need to be revitalized to see us through the 21st century.
Ryan commits an empirical and a logical error here that meets the bar for a Trumpie nomination. The empirical error is that the notion that the Obama administration has "accepted too willingly" the military decline of key allies. Indeed, even a cursory glance at the Libya operation suggests the exact opposite of that approach. A look at the distribution of effort on Libya suggests that while the United States is still exercising leaedership, they've actually managed to get allies to fly a majority of the air sorties. The attack helicopter gambit is also being led by France and the U.K. As John Burns reports in today's New York Times:
With the costs of the air campaign mounting, and the stresses growing on air crews, finding a way of breaking the stalemate has become a priority for NATO, and particularly for Britain and France, which are carrying the brunt of the campaign.
Mr. Obama has let NATO allies take the lead in the Libyan operations, an unusual role for them in the history of such operations. The United States’ role has been confined primarily to air refueling, airborne command and control, surveillance and the deployment of missile-carrying drones.
The bigger, logical error, however, is exactly what the "robust and frank engagement with our closest allies" would look like. Basically, Ryan's definition of U.S. leadership amounts to "exerting pressure on our allies to take on greater defense expenditures." OK, but how will this conversation take place? Let's imagine this:
PRESIDENT RYAN: Hey, NATO allies -- to be robust and frank about it, you need to goose up your defense expenditures and assist us more vigorously.
NATO ALLIES: What's that? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear you over the protestors in the streets furious about the latest round of bailouts to Greece and Ireland, combined with the cuts in social services we need to make in a nod towards austerity. Hey, you're a big fan of that policy, right? What's that you want us to do again with our increasingly scarce capital in a politically hostile environment?
PRESIDENT RYAN: Uh, never mind, let me try our Japanese allies. Hey, Japan, we've been protecting you for decades, it's time to pony up and contribute your fair share.
JAPAN: I'm sorry, what was that? I couldn't hear you because we're selecting which old people will volunteer to help clean up the Fukushima reactor mess. Gee, this is not going to be cheap, and our debt-to-GDP ratio is already at 200%. You really harped on the debt problem during your campaign, so you know what we're talking about here. Now, what did you want us to do with our dwindling and rapidly agining population again?
PRESIDENT RYAN: Er... (to foreign policy advisors) are there any rich allies left?
Ryan's "robust and frank engagement" is really just one step removed from Donald Trump's claims that the right negotiator could get Saudia Arabia to lower oil prices or China to revalue the yuan. It's the foreign policy of Campaign Fantasyland.
And for that, I congratulate Representative Ryan for his hard-earned Trumpie nomination.
In my last post I mentioned how China was encountering resistance to its rising power. Now, via Kindred Winecoff, I see a whole mess of reportage about China's mounting internal difficulties. In no particular order:
1) Nouriel Roubini has focused his Dr. Doom-O-Vision on the Middle Kingdom, and doesn't like what he sees:
China’s economy is overheating now, but, over time, its current overinvestment will prove deflationary both domestically and globally. Once increasing fixed investment becomes impossible – most likely after 2013 – China is poised for a sharp slowdown. Instead of focusing on securing a soft landing today, Chinese policymakers should be worrying about the brick wall that economic growth may hit in the second half of the quinquennium....
[N]o country can be productive enough to reinvest 50% of GDP in new capital stock without eventually facing immense overcapacity and a staggering non-performing loan problem. China is rife with overinvestment in physical capital, infrastructure, and property. To a visitor, this is evident in sleek but empty airports and bullet trains (which will reduce the need for the 45 planned airports), highways to nowhere, thousands of colossal new central and provincial government buildings, ghost towns, and brand-new aluminum smelters kept closed to prevent global prices from plunging.
Commercial and high-end residential investment has been excessive, automobile capacity has outstripped even the recent surge in sales, and overcapacity in steel, cement, and other manufacturing sectors is increasing further. In the short run, the investment boom will fuel inflation, owing to the highly resource-intensive character of growth. But overcapacity will lead inevitably to serious deflationary pressures, starting with the manufacturing and real-estate sectors.
Eventually, most likely after 2013, China will suffer a hard landing. All historical episodes of excessive investment – including East Asia in the 1990’s – have ended with a financial crisis and/or a long period of slow growth. To avoid this fate, China needs to save less, reduce fixed investment, cut net exports as a share of GDP, and boost the share of consumption.
The trouble is that the reasons the Chinese save so much and consume so little are structural. It will take two decades of reforms to change the incentive to overinvest.
Now, Roubini is enough of a persistent doomsayer that it would be easy to discount this argument -- if it wasn't for the fact that this jibes with the opinion of other China economy-watchers. This coming-bust prophesizing comes on top of arguments made by Barry Eichengreen, Donghyun Park and Kwanho Shin that as China hits middle-income status, it will hit a "middle income trap" of slower growth. (One interesting question is whether, as China encounters rampant inflation, its eventual decision to let the RMB appreciate will help ease some of these pressures).
2) Meanwhile, China's political leadership appears to be engaged in a full-fledged freakout over the Arab revolutions and any whisper of a similar phenomenon happening in China. Rising food prices are leading to price controls and an anxious government monitoring if/when more expensive staple goods lead to political unrest. That said, Chinese authorities seem to be on top of the whole crushing dissent thing:
According to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, an NGO, by April 4th some 30 people had been detained and faced criminal charges relating to the so-called “jasmine revolution”—an inchoate internet campaign to emulate in China recent upheavals in the Middle East and north Africa. Human Rights Watch, another NGO, reports that a further 100-200 people have suffered repressive measures, from police summonses to house arrest. This has been accompanied by tighter censorship of the internet, the ousting of some liberal newspaper editors, and new curbs on foreign reporters in China, some of whom have been roughed up....
Even more worrying, however, is the increasing resort to informal detentions, punishments and disappearances. These are outside the law, offering the victim no protection at all. The government now dismisses the idea that one function of the law is to defend people against the arbitrary exercise of state power. On March 3rd a Chinese foreign-ministry spokeswoman told foreign journalists: “Don’t use the law as a shield.” Some people, she said, want to make trouble in China and “for people with these kinds of motives, I think no law can protect them.”
3) As for China's assessment of its external security situation, the State Council released its 2010 White Paper on defense last month. As this East Asia Forum summary suggests, there's a slight change in tone from the 2008 white paper:
The introductory assessment of the ‘security situation’ section notes that the ‘international balance of power is changing,’ that ‘international strategic competition centring on international order, comprehensive national strength and geopolitics has intensified,’ and that ‘international military competition remains fierce.’ Despite this sense of turbulence, and as was the case in 2008, the 2010 paper assesses that ‘the Asia Pacific security situation is generally stable.’ But the additional observation in the 2008 paper, namely, ‘that China’s security situation has improved steadily’ does not appear in 2010. One possible reason is that the 2010 paper reports that ‘suspicion about China, interference and countering moves against China from the outside are on the increase.’
In light of all these developments, yesterday's Economist editorial should come as no surprise:
The view from Beijing, thus, is different to the view from abroad. Whereas the outside world regards China’s rulers as all-powerful, the rulers themselves detect threats at every turn. The roots of this repression lie not in the leaders’ overweening confidence but in their nervousness. Their response to threats is to threaten others.
Now, as someone who's pointed out these problems on occasion on this blog, you might think I'm pleased as punch about these developments. Nope. First, from an economic standpoint, a recessionary China eliminates a vital engine of global economic growth. Second, as I wrote back in January:
Exaggerating Chinese power has consequences. Inside the Beltway, attitudes about American hegemony have shifted from complacency to panic. Fearful politicians representing scared voters have an incentive to scapegoat or lash out against a rising power -- to the detriment of all. Hysteria about Chinese power also provokes confusion and anger in China as Beijing is being asked to accept a burden it is not yet prepared to shoulder. China, after all, ranks 89th in the 2010 U.N. Human Development Index, just behind Turkmenistan and the Dominican Republic (the United States is fourth). Treating Beijing as more powerful than it is feeds Chinese bravado and insecurity at the same time. That is almost as dangerous a political cocktail as fear and panic.
Developing.... in very disturbing ways.
In response to my critical post from last week, I see that Ted Galen Carpenter has doubled down on his thesis that, "China benefits from U.S. policy blunders." Let's go through his main points, shall we?
America’s global popularity is still at anemic levels—and the initial euphoria about Barack Obama has faded noticeably. And as shown in the Pew Research Center’s 2010 survey of global attitudes, America’s reputation in the Muslim world is not just anemic, it is hideous. That’s 2010, Dan, not 2006.
Two responses. First, the poll data Carpenter cites reflects attitudes about Barack Obama in particular and not the United States in general. Since what we're both concerned with is America's soft power rather than Obama's, let's take a look at the BBC's latest World Service Country Rating Poll, since that asks the more appropriate survey question:
Views of the US continued their overall improvement in 2011, according to the annual BBC World Service Country Rating Poll of 27 countries around the world.
Of the countries surveyed, 18 hold predominantly positive views of the US, seven hold negative views and two are divided. On average , 49 per cent of people have positive views of US influence in the world--up four points from 2010--and 31 per cent hold negative views. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.
In 2007 a slight majority (54%) had a negative view of the United States and only close to three in ten (28%) had a positive view; America was among the countries with the lowest ratings. Views began to rise in 2008, with positive views rising to 32% on average, and now the USA is in a middle tier position, ranking substantially higher than China (emphases added)
Oh, and that's 2011 data, Ted.
Carpernter emphasizes the Middle East, and it's certainly true that U.S. favorability there remains quite low. Even in that region, however, the latest data suggests things aren't getting worse, except in the country where the data is OBE:
As views of the USA continue to improve globally, the upwards trend is also apparent in Muslim countries. For the first time, a majority of Indonesians are now positive about the USA's role in the world (58%, a rise of 22 points over the last year). Negative views of the USA in Turkey have dropped sharply from 70 per cent to 49 per cent, while negative views in Pakistan of the USA have also fallen slightly, from 52 per cent to 46 per cent. Conversely, Egypt, after a lift in 2009 and 2010, has reverted to a predominantly negative view of the USA, with 50 per cent of Egyptians considering that the USA's role in the world is mostly negative.
As for China's ability to exploit the current situation, here's Carpenter's response:
China has shown recent signs of dialing back some of the more objectionable features of its policy. That stands in marked contrast to the U.S. military escalation in Afghanistan, Washington’s transparent efforts to maintain an outsized presence in Iraq after the scheduled withdrawal of its military forces, and the new intervention in Libya. In terms of intrusive policies, China doesn’t begin to compete with the United States....
[China's] weaknesses do not include running $1.5 trillion annual budget deficits (much less having much of that debt funded by one’s principal geopolitical competitor). Nor do China’s weaknesses include overstretching its military forces in Middle Eastern and South-Central Asian snake pits. Those are actions that the United States has taken, and it is naïve in the extreme to assume that China does not benefit strategically and financially from such folly. Yet, oddly, Drezner addresses none of those points contained in my TNI piece.
Carpenter's point about U.S. military overextension is a good one, and is a concern I share. Our disagreement is on the magnitude of the policy externalities that flow from this overextension. Carpenter thinks it's disastrous; I think it's regrettable but not at the root of imminent U.S. decline to China.
First, it's worth noting that while defense spending plays a supporting role in the worsening U.S. fiscal situation, tax cuts and domestic expenditures are far more culpable. Second, I have looked at whether China's holdings of U.S. debt lead to geopolitical weakness -- and concluded that this concern has been vastly exaggerated.
Third, again, looking at global public opinion, there's evidence that China's economic rise has provoked far more anxiety than Carpenter realizes. As Chinese power continues to grow (and that's going to happen regardless of U.S. strategy), more and more countries will be willing to balance with the United States regardless of past military errors. Indeed, the "nationalistic swagger" that Carpenter references among Chinese policy circles is going to exacerbate and not retard this trend.
I agree with Carpenter that it would be better for the U.S. to reduce its overseas military posture, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. That said, China has profited surprisingly little from these missteps, and will experience greater geopolitical pushhback over time. I'm also disappointed that Carpenter failed to address the question of how democratizing nations in the Middle East will view a China that continues to act in an authoritarian manner -- particularly towards its own Muslim population in Xinjiang. It's not a coincidence that Iranian protestors started chanting "Death to China!" back in 2009.
The bottom line is that Carpenter's analysis exhibits far too much of the doomsaying and pessimistic thinking that plagues American realists and their cheerleaders.
Over at The National Interest, Ted Galen Carpenter blogs that America's militarized focus on the Middle East is providing a huge strategic opening for China:
Members of China’s political elite who are eager for the Middle Kingdom to displace the United States as the world’s leading power probably can’t believe their good fortune. America has so many natural advantages that such a displacement would normally take several generations, if it occurred at all. Yet clumsy, counterproductive U.S. policies may be shortening that time frame dramatically....
Global meddling is also damaging the American brand with respect to political values and even popular culture. That is especially apparent in the Muslim world, where public opinion surveys reveal that positive views of the United States now sometimes languish in the single digits. But America’s popularity has waned even in Europe and other formerly very friendly regions. Even as Washington’s aggressive behavior alienates populations, especially in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, China is cultivating countries in those regions, portraying itself as a less intrusive, more cooperative political and economic partner.
Um, Ted? 2006 called, and it wants the hackneyed geopolitical analysis back.... and sent via MySpace.
Seriously, this blog post reads like it's five years old. It either ignores or elides the following facts:
2) Contrary to Carpenter's claims, the Libya intervention has gone down rather well on the Arab street.
3) China committed a series of foreign policy blunders in 2009 and 2010 that increased regional and global wariness about the Middle Kingdom and (according to China experts who talk to me) forced Beijing to rethink its grand strategy.
4) Chinese authorities are currently occupied with trying to censor news about the Arab revolutions, play hide and seek with its dissidents, get a grip on its real estate bubble, and avoid populist blowback for its Africa investments. I'm not seeing a lot of successful efforts by Beijing to push the "less intrusive" line elsewhere in the globe.
These are pretty important facts that get in the way of Carpenter's analysis. Now, there is a glimmer of truth to this kind of realpolitik argument. Saudi Arabia, for example, is less than thrilled with how the Obama administration is handling the Arab revolutions, and it might cozy up more to Beijing as a result. That said, if we're really witnessing a fouth wave of democratization in the Middle East, does Carpenter seriously think that these regimes will automatically be more sympathetic to China than the United States? That would be the realist argument, but I think this is one of those situaions when realists don't sound terribly grounded in reality.
There are a lot of good critiques that can be levied against American grand strategy and the Obama administration's foreign policy in the Middle East. The notion that China has gained a strategic advantage in recent months ain't one of them.
My post last week on the dubious legitimacy/effectiveness of the G-20 has prompted a few responses. Let's take them in order, shall we?
Colin Bradford responds by arguing that I'm judging the G-20 strictly by its summitry, which is unfair:
The G-20 is not just a summit meeting of leaders. The G-20 has a very active track, which has been in existence since the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, of at least biannual meetings of finance ministers and central bank presidents. In addition, G-20 deputies and G-20 sherpas often meet to advance the agenda for the leaders. More than that, as a result of the activities in the finance ministers/central bank presidents track, there is now a network of senior officials continuously active not only in preparation for G-20 meetings, but also in dealing with crises and unexpected challenges.
What this means is that the new, more inclusive configuration of major economies from every region of the world that constitutes the G-20 is a process -- communicating, consulting, and even, on good days, coordinating among 20 countries, not eight. The G-20, in other words, is not an event.
Lest this sound too pie-in-the-sky, it should be pointed out that even former Bush administration sherapas are echoing Bradford's point.
As someone who worked on both G-20 and G-7 policy coordinaion while at the Treasury, I've experienced Bradford's point about the value of process first-hand. The thing is, the value-added of said process does require the occasional concrete outcome -- and the last 18 months have been underwhelming on that score. Bradford makes a valid point in observing that the kinds of policy coordination under debate in the G-20 are much more intrusive than anything that was talked about in the old G-7. Still, at some point you want to see some outcomes, and based on what happened over the weekend, I'm fairly confident in my pessimism.
CIGI's The Munk School of Global Affairs' Alan Alexandroff thinks I'm being too pessimistic because I'm relying on the international press coverage:
I and others have pointed out... the persistently negative international financial press – read this as the WSJ, the NYT and the FT at least. Differences are always played up; and agreements are generally characterized as inadequate. And it is here that Dan and I differ.
Fair enough, but I will say that my astringent evaluation of the G-20's recent activities are not only informed by press coverage, but also by off-the-record conversations I've had with both developed and developing-country participants in the G-20 process. [Oh!! Snap! Boom!!--ed. Yeah, that's right, I'm going all insider-y sources on you!] I'll be happy to hear feedback from those sherpas who think the process is working better than my "dead forum walking" characterization.
Art Stein argues that these blog exchanges are missing the key point:
The core issue, then, is whether for the G8 or the G20 disagreement and divergence over policy options are preferable to agreement, coordination, and a concerted response. There is a small literature among economists about whether macroeconomic policy coordination makes things better or worse. Implicit in Bradford’s argument is that disagreement and its policy consequences are not so bad and, implicitly, to be preferred to agreement between a less diverse set of actors. Perhaps. But what is the evidence? Is that true for every policy?
This is an excellent point, and one I made in All Politics Is Global -- sometimes noncooperation is actually the most efficient outcome. On macroeconomic policy coordination in particular, sometimes successful cooperation has brought about underwhelming policy consequences (see: Maastricht criteria).
That said, one could argue that part of the reason for the Great Recession was the absence of any serious effort to rein in mcroeconomic imbalances five years ago. Furthermore, Bretton Woods II is still persisting in the global economy. So, yes, I do think coordination in this case would be a good thing, and for a variety of excellebnt domesticf political reasons in the United States, China and Europe, it ain't happening.
Am I missing anything?
Colin Bradford has written a lot of useful and interesting material on global economic governance. I say this because I'm not really sure that his latest FP contribution meets the high standard of his prior work.
In "Seven New Laws of the G-20 Era," Bradford seems to be arguing that even if there are disagreements within the G-20, it's still an effective public policy forum. Here's a sample "law":
1. Visible disagreements can have positive side effects
Some commentators have argued that, because the G-20 reveals differences and divisions, the group itself must be a failure. Yet gone are the days when we could categorize a summit as a success or a failure based on the outcome document. Dichotomous thinking doesn't really work anymore. So if G-20 meetings display more tension than consensus, that might actually be a good thing. In its discord, the G-20 merely reflects the landscape of this dynamic 21st century. There is order and disorder in our world today, competition and coordination, conflict and consensus -- all going on at the same time. The G-20 is flushing those issues up not only for leaders to deal with but for publics to deal with as well. Unlike the G-8, the G-20 is creating stronger linkages between leaders and publics, because -- not in spite of -- the fact that the conflicts are visible.
Hmmmm..... nope, not buying this spin. Bradford's basic argument is that the G-20 exposes the fundamental disagreements so that the global public sphere can better understand the fundamental faultlines of global economic governance. The publicist that resides inside my brain can appreciate the virtue of this spin, but it's just that.
It's true that governance structures can serve as arenas of contestation. The problem with this logic is threefiold, however.
First, as a general rule, mass publics don't pay too much attention to high-falutin' economic summits. The issues are too arcane and the remove from daily life seems to large. So the only thing the public will digest from G-20 deadlock is that leaders can't agree on something.
Which leads to the second point -- in the end, publics usually want to see outputs from governance structures. There can be virtues from policy deadlock, but I'm thinking that if an issue makes it to the G-20 agendas it's because a lot of people want concrete policy action rather than additioonal bloviation. Continued disagreement will lead to mounting public frustration.
Which leads to the third point -- many national governments can endure long-lasting policy deadlocks because their domestic legitimacy is unquesioned. In the United States, for example, despite mounting frustration with a sclerotic policy process, there's not a huge groundswell for amending the Constitution to make it easier to pass laws. That's because both the Constitution and the U.S. government have been around for a while.
The G-20 doesn't have this legitimacy "cushion" to fall back on. It's not a national government with a monopoly on authority within its bailiwick. It's not a treaty body like the WTO or IMF. Unlike even the G-8, it can't point to decades of existence as a justification for its continued relevance. The G-20 rises and falls with its perceived effectiveness. While the forum had a good 2008 and a decent 2009, last year was a friggin' disaster. If the trend of policy gridlock continues, it won't matter what Nicolas Sarkozy proposes, the G-20 will be a dead forum walking.
Unfortunately, Bradford's essay sounds like a marriage counselor telling a troubled couple to "own your problems... embrace the discord." Sorry, not buying it.
Am I missing anything?
According to the Associated Press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped many pretenses and bluntly explained the birds, the bees, and the bombs with respect to the Sino-American relationship:
The U.S. risks falling behind China in the competition for global influence as Beijing woos leaders in the resource-rich Pacific, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday.
Her unusually strong comments before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are certain to anger the communist power, especially in light of Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent high-profile visit to Washington, seen as boosting trust and trade between the world's two largest economies....
[S]he told senators, "We are a competition for influence with China. Let's put aside the humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in. Let's just talk straight realpolitik. We are in competition with China."
She noted a "huge energy find" in Papua New Guinea by U.S. company Exxon Mobil Corp., which has begun drilling for natural gas there. Clinton said China was jockeying for influence in the region and seeing how it could "come in behind us and come in under us."....
Clinton also said China had brought all the leaders of small Pacific nations to Beijing and "wined them and dined them."...
Charles Freeman, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the U.S. was "unquestionably" involved in a "soft power competition with China. But this isn't a hard power, Cold War exercise." (emphasis added)
So this is how soft power works! I can picture the scene......
[Setting: a small banquet hall. Violin music is playing in the background. A sumptuous feast is on a table, as are two large, empty wine glasses.]
CHINA: Say, we sure would love to get exclusive drilling rights to your offshore oil discoveries.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: I'm not sure I should even be here. I mean, we've been in a long relationship with the United States. So many memories....
CHINA: Well, where is the United States right now? I don't see them paying as much attention to you as they should be.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: America is a little short on cash now. Washington keeps saying that it will change, but... I've heard that song too many times before. The USA keeps saying, "it's not you, it's me." (grimaces)
CHINA: Say, have you tried the 1960 cheval blanc? It really is heavenly. (pours wine)
PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Oh. Oh my. Well, who would be hurt by an exploratory agreement? (lights dim)
OK, somewhat more seriously, Clinton's comments need to be put into perspective:
Clinton railed against cuts sought by Republican to the U.S. foreign aid program....
America's top diplomat accused China of supporting a dictatorial government in Fiji, where plans to reopen an office of the U.S. Agency for International Development would be shelved under a resolution passed last month by the Republican-led House. That measure proposes sharp cuts to foreign assistance, including a $21 million program to help Pacific islands vulnerable to rising sea levels, as part of efforts to rein in government spending....
She said foreign assistance was important on humanitarian and moral grounds, but also strategically essential for America's global influence.
"I mean, if anybody thinks that our retreating on these issues is somehow going to be irrelevant to the maintenance of our leadership in a world where we are competing with China, where we are competing with Iran, that is a mistaken notion," Clinton said.
Clinton is correct in the short term. If I was the foreign policy budget czar, I'd be transferring at least $100 billion from DoD to State on the premise that problem prevention is always more cost-effective than problem-solving.
The "China is going to eat our lunch" meme is a popular one in Washington for domestic reasons -- it's a great argument to motivate policy. The Obama administration is going to this well an awful lot, however. My concern is that this rhetorical device doesn't lead to any genuine policy change but does lead to blowback - i.e., it scares the crap out of everyone in DC. That's the worst of both worlds.
What do you think?
Last week Reuters' Emily Flitter filed quite the story, entitled "China flexed its muscles using U.S. Treasuries ," about China's financial power over the United States. Here's the opening:
Confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassies in Beijing and Hong Kong lay bare China's growing influence as America's largest creditor.
As the U.S. Federal Reserve grappled with the aftershocks of financial crisis, the Chinese, like many others, suffered huge losses from their investments in American financial firms -- from Lehman Brothers to the Primary Reserve Fund, the money market fund that broke the buck.
The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, show that escalating Chinese pressure prompted a procession of soothing visits from the U.S.Treasury Department. In one striking instance, a top Chinese money manager directly asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for a favor.
This story generated a lot of interest across the mediasphere. FT Alphaville called it "Diplomacy by US Treasuries." AFP reports that the "sensitive cables show just how much influence Beijing has and how keen Washington is to address its rival's concerns."
As someone who's published on this question, you'd think I'd be very happy at the attention this issue is receiving. And Flitter deserves kudos for going through the cables to find clear efforts by Chinese officials to use its financial muscle to get what it wanted from the United States.
The thing is, the reportage is framed to suggest that China not only asked for concessions, but the United States granted them. And Flitter's own story suggests that very little in the way of concessions actually happened.
Here are the portions of Flitter's story that discusses U.S. responses to Chinese pressure:
On Chinese requests to halt/restrict arms sales to Taiwan: Flitter records no response. These concerns were voiced in late 2008 and the arms sales went ahead in early 2010, so there doesn't appear to be much influence here. AFP suggests that this pressure led the U.S. to not sell F-16's to Taiwan, but I don't think that option was ever in the cards.
On Chinese demands that they be provided guarantees for Chinese re-entry into the U.S. repo market:
The U.S. government does not appear to have offered the Chinese a special setup guaranteeing U.S. banks. Instead, the cables show, American diplomats reassured the Chinese by pointing out that Washington had infused banks' balance sheets with $700 billion in fresh capital, effectively propping up the banking system.
On Chinese demands for providing explicit U.S. government guarantees of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt:
To defuse the situation, the Treasury Department sent Undersecretary for International Affairs David McCormick to Beijing for two days in October 2008. The gesture went over well.
"All of Undersecretary McCormick's counterparts appeared to appreciate his willingness to come to Beijing in the midst of a financial crisis," Piccuta wrote in a cable dated October 29, 2008. "Interlocutors stressed that unless leaders' concerns about the viability of banks and U.S. government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) are assuaged, lower-level officials will be constrained from taking on greater counter-party risks."
The cables show McCormick trying to reassure the Chinese. "In each meeting, Undersecretary McCormick emphasized that even though the U.S. government did not explicitly guarantee GSE debt, it effectively did so by committing to inject up to $100 billion of equity in each institution to avoid insolvency and that this contractual commitment would remain for the life of these institutions," [Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Dan] Piccuta wrote.
On Chinese protests regarding Federal Reserve purchases of Treasuries and agencies in March 2009: Flitter has no response, though the fact that the Fed went ahead with QE2 suggersts that Chinese pressure didn't deter the Federal Reserve.
On responses to Chinese requests that CIC be allowed to participate in bidding on Morgan Stanley's new equity issuance:
There's no record in the cable of how Geithner responded, but it was only a day later, on June 3, that CIC announced plans to purchase $1.2 billion in Morgan Stanley shares.
A spokesperson for the Fed said in the instance of the June 3 CIC investment, no application for an exemption was made to the Federal Reserve Board.
On the general dynamic of Chinese financial pressure:
The cables also indicate a high level of confidence among the Americans that China can't entirely stop buying U.S. debt, a sentiment shared by most economists who describe the dynamic as a form of mutually assured financial destruction.
So, to sum up, the Chinese maybe got a small break on being able to particupate in the Morgan Stanley auction. Beyond that, all of these efforts led to the dilomatiic equivalent of hand-holding and not much else. And, hey, what do you know, that's pretty much consistent with what I wrote about this back in late 2009. So, contrary to some deep-seated fears of mine, the Wikiliaks cables appears to buttress rather than contradict prior scholarship.
Flitter deserves credit for making explicit what had only been inferred, but I'm worried that commentators are drawing the wrong lessons from her article. The big reveal here is not that China tried to exercise its financial muscle. The big reveal is that these efforts generated next to nothing in the way of U.S. concessions. China's financial might does give it the ability to deter U.S. pressure -- but to China's growing frustration, it doesn't yield much else.
Earlier this week Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner went to Brazil as part of a long-running effort to get that country to pressure China on its exchange-rate policy. This effort had yielded some marginal successes in the past, but it had also yielded comments like Brazilian Foreign Minister saying: "I believe that this idea of putting pressure on a country is not the right way for finding solutions. We have good co-ordination with China and we've been talking to them. We can't forget that China is currently our main customer (emphasis added)."
The mild surprise is that Geithner's plea appeared to find a receptive audience in Brasilia. From the Financial Times' Joe Leahy:
Any alignment with the US on the issue of China’s currency would mark a fundamental shift for Brazil. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s previous president, had pursued a trade policy that was partially dictated by his vision of a grand “south-south” alliance among developing countries.
His pragmatic successor, Dilma Rousseff, is more concerned that Brazil exports primarily commodities to China while its domestic manufacturing industry is being undermined by a strong exchange rate and cheap imports.
Ms Rousseff has also toned down her predecessor’s criticism of US monetary policy, which Mr Lula da Silva’s administration blamed for exacerbating global capital flows....
One person familiar with the government’s stance said Brazil was considering a public declaration on global imbalances and China’s undervalued currency during Mr Obama’s visit.
“The idea is we might issue a communiqué in which maybe we can work in common language to try to stress this matter,” the person said.
What's going on? A few things. First, it's probably true that this shift won't amount to all that much in terms of affecting China's policies. Second, this is an effective way for Rousseff to distinguish herself from Lula, and she's backing up the rhetorical shift with action items. Third, Lula's foreign policy on this point was always based more on old-fashioned third world solidarity than anything approximating Brazil's national interest. Not that Lula's foreign policy was all that bad, mind you, but this seems more like a return to Brazil's equilibrium set of interests.
If the Obama administration was smart, they would capitalize on this newfound friendship with Latin America's largest country with some big, meaningful and yet highly symbolic foreign policy initiative. If only there was some moribund-yet-highly-useful foreign policy initiative that would cement the relationship. But that's just crazy talk.…
While I was obsessing about Egypt last week, I see that John Quiggin, William Winecoff and others have been having a rollicking debate about the status of American hegemony, the fungibility of military power, and Boeing/Airbus subsidies. OK, that last one is less interesting, but I strongly encourage readers to go through the comment thread to that blog post.
Essentially, Quiggin contends that:
[T]he decline of the US from its 1945 position of global pre-eminence has already happened. The US is now a fairly typical advanced/developed country, distinguished primarily by its large population.
Ergo, other large market jurisdictions, like the European Union, are equal to the U.S. in terms of relative power.
This cheesed off Winecoff and others into pointing out the myriad ways in which the U.S. power profile is a) still outsized; and b) largely shaped the current global order we live in; and c) allowed entities like the EU to focus on welfare maximization rather than security.
Dan Nexon, in a comment to Quiggin's last rejoinder, gets at one nub of the debate:
John’s pointing out, quite rightly, that military power isn’t necessarily fungible. He’s doing so in the context of economic and regulatory power, which is the most “multipolar” dimension of global power right now. His IR critics are pointing out that the US still has outsized influence across a number of domains, and that some of those domains involve international (economic) institutions. They’re both onto something.
I pretty much agree with Dan here. In the military sphere, the U.S. remains a hegemonic power. In the economic and regulatory realms, well, I wrote a whole book arguing that until recently we lived in a bipolar world, so I'll side with Quiggin on that score.
There's something missing from this debate that is worth raising, however -- a proper definition of power. For example, in his first post, Quiggin noted that "[advanced industrialized countries] might be said to have declined in relative terms. But this doesn’t seem to me to constitute 'decline' in any important sense." This is heresy to an international relations scholar, in that power is viewed as a zero-sum commodity.
Beyond that, however, it is useful to think about the power to deter change from the status quo vs, the power to compel change in the status quo. In a deterrence scenario, countries use their capabilities to ward off pressure from other actors, or from structural pressures. In a compellence scenario, a powerful government threatens to use statecraft to extract concessions from other actors, or use power to alter the rules of the global game.
Deterring pressure by others is different than applying such pressure to others. With military or economic statecraft, it is generally easier to defend than attack. Many IR scholars argue that the ability to deter is a necessary condition of the power to compel. Only after an actor has the ability to resist pressure from others will they contemplate whether they can be the actor to generate pressure. Countries possessing sufficient reservoirs of power should therefore have both greater autonomy of action and be better placed to apply pressure on other actors.
What the past few years have demonstrated is the relative decline of U.S. compellence power and the rise of other countries deterrence power. Certainly the recent uses of U.S. military force haven't yielded the expected results. In the economic realm, countries like India and Brazil can veto WTO negotiation rounds in a way that simply wasn't possible 15 years ago. Similarly, China can resist U.S. jawboning on its exchange rate policy far more than in the past.
On the other hand, neither U.S. deterrent power nor other countries' compellence power has changed all that much, even in the economic realm. The rest of the G-20 can scream as loud as they want, but quantitative easing is going to continue. China has tried to find ways to use its newly found financial muscle to force changes in the international system, to little avail. To be sure, Russia, China and others can compel countries on their immediate periphery, but even a glance at the 2008 Russian-Georgian war suggests that even modest efforts like these are expensive and messy.
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 suggests 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?
More seriously, am I missing anything?
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.