I think it's safe to say that the multilateral coalition implementing Operation Odyssey Dawn have had their share of public spats. This means a lot of hand-holding and negative punditry/negative press stories on the issue.
Of course, this raises the question of whether there's a better alternative or not. As sick as liberals might be of using force in the Middle East, I suspect they're even sicker of doing this unilaterally. Some conservatives seem to get the notion that multilateralism has its advantages -- particularly with generating American support for these kind of missions.
Clearly, there are tradeoffs here. I could weight them very carefully using my own limited understanding, or I could be smart and ask an expert. So, I posed the question to Sarah Kreps, Assistant Professor of Government at Cornell University and the author of the now-extremely-trenchant Coalitions of Convenience: United States Military Interventions after the Cold War. Her thoughts on the matter:
Prime Minister Churchill once opined that "there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies-and that is having to fight without them." These words were remarkable coming from a leader who had spent the better part of two years trying to encourage the American military to enter WWII. Given coalition operations in Libya, leaders couldn't be blamed for drawing the same conclusion as Churchill.
On the one hand, coalition operations in Libya are a recipe for disaster. UN Security Council Resolution 1973 was crafted in intentionally vague terms in order to minimize opposition. The unintended consequence is that no one can figure out who's in charge, what the goals are, and when they'll leave. Undertaking this as a NATO operation would have been obvious since at least it has a clear decision making apparatus, but member state Turkey opposes the use of military force in Libya. As the Turkish prime minister said in televised speech, "Turkey will never be on the side of pointing the gun at the Libyan people." The alternative to NATO is what Prime Minister David Cameron referred to as an ad hoc "coalition of the willing"-remember Iraq?-with a mishmash of largely British, American, French, Danish military assets. But which of these is taking the lead and how these militaries are being coordinated is a mystery. This violates rule #1 of military operations: unity of command.
On the other hand, the United States already has TWO ongoing wars. Undertaking a third was of questionable merit in my book, but once it decided to use force, it made sense to be able to share the burden with others. President Obama justified the multilateral operation saying that "it means the United States is not bearing all the cost." At the least, going multilaterally will have defrayed the cost for an overstretched American military.
Whether multilateralism makes it more legitimate and exonerates the US from accusations of invading another Muslim country is another story. The initial signs are not encouraging. US marines have already been accused of firing on civilians when they went in to rescue the pilots of the fallen F-15E. Ultimately, events on the ground are likely to determine the legitimacy, not UN and Arab League approval. If the operation is successful, then multilateralism will have seemed like the legitimate, effective choice.
Of course, the first step is to figure out what success looks like. That ambiguity, however, is no fault of the coalition. The US has had some difficulty figuring that out in its "own" wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Making that decision by committee will be considerably more difficult. But far preferable, as Churchill might have said, than having to bear the burden of fighting alone.
What do you think?
In light of a World Cup referee
stripping the United States of a winning goal despite multiple Slovenian bear hugs of American forwards issuing a controversial call in yesterday's United States-Slovenia game, I was intrigued to read about FIFA's attitudes about monitoring and enforcing the rules of its game.
And then I began to wonder what life would be like if that attitude were applied to the rest of world politics.....
IAEA REFUSES TO REVERSE CALL ON IRAN
VIENNA: Today the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) rejected American and European pleas to review and reverse its latest finding on Iran's nuclear program. Last week IAEA inspectors surprised the world by declaring "there's nothing to see here, move along" after the latest inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities.
Immediately following that report, both the German and U.S. governments provided clear video and satellite photography of a secret nuclear facility in Iran, and requested that the IAEA reconsider its position.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano refused, however, arguing that, "there is a human element to inspections that technology cannot and should not eliminate." He elaborated, "this kind of strategic ambiguity is exactly the kind of uncertainty and controversy that will promote debate and discussion about Iran's intentions for years to come." He went on to argue that nonproliferation will remain more popular than other global governance structures, such as climate change, that have embraced the use of technology in their decision-making.
When asked if the new data wouldn't provide a more accurate assessment of Iran's program, he replied, "if you start disrupting the natural, sclerotic flow of our decision-making, you abandon the best traditions of global governance.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, flanked by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, praised the IAEA decision and blasted the Obama administration's efforts to reverse the call.
"This is just another example of the United States, with its Zionist cronies, attempting to subvert democratic decision-making with Western imperialist concepts like 'facts' and 'truth.'"
In all seriousness, it is stunning how both FIFA and the International Olympic Committee manage to make other international organizations look uber-competent.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The Obama administration has been trying to road-test the National Security Strategy. Last month is was NSC Advisor James Jones' address to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy -- which is now remembered more for a politically incorrect joke than anything else.
This weekend it was the president's turn in his commencement address at West Point. Is there anythng of interest to note? Some are focusing on what he said about Iraq (victory + withdrawal of combat troops this year). Let's focus on Obama's bigthink, which I'd label realist internationalism.
Here's the realist sections:
[W]e must first recognize that our strength and influence abroad begins with steps we take at home. We must educate our children to compete in an age where knowledge is capital, and the marketplace is global. We must develop clean energy that can power new industry and unbound us from foreign oil and preserve our planet. We have to pursue science and research that unlocks wonders as unforeseen to us today as the microchip and the surface of the moon were a century ago.
Simply put, American innovation must be the foundation of American power - because at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy. And so that means that the civilians among us, as parents and community leaders, elected officials, business leaders, we have a role to play. We cannot leave it to those in uniform to defend this country - we have to make sure that America is building on its strengths....
And so a fundamental part of our strategy for our security has to be America's support for those universal rights that formed the creed of our founding. And we will promote these values above all by living them - through our fidelity to the rule of law and our Constitution, even when it's hard; even when we're being attacked; even when we're in the midst of war.
Seriously, that last paragraph could have been the mash-up version of John Quincy Adams' 1821 July 4th speech.
Here's the internationalist part:
Yes, we are clear-eyed about the shortfalls of our international system. But America has not succeeded by stepping out of the currents of cooperation - we have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities and face consequences when they don't.
So we have to shape an international order that can meet the challenges of our generation. We will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well, including those who will serve by your side in Afghanistan and around the globe. As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we also have to build new partnerships, and shape stronger international standards and institutions.
Now, realism and multilateralism don't go hand in hand terribly well -- here's the key paragraph where Obama tries to link them:
The burdens of this century cannot fall on our soldiers alone. It also cannot fall on American shoulders alone. Our adversaries would like to see America sap its strength by overextending our power. And in the past, we've always had the foresight to avoid acting alone. We were part of the most powerful wartime coalition in human history through World War II. We stitched together a community of free nations and institutions to endure and ultimately prevail during a Cold War.
Essentially, the administration will try to argue that multilateralism serves as a force multiplier, allowing America to extend its reach while burden-sharing with supporters who benefot from an American-led international order.
Does this formulation work? I like the emphasis on internal renewal, and I tend to think that the United States does retrenchment strategies better than most countries. That said, one problem with multilateralism is that burden-sharing often turns into free-riding.
Another p;roblem is that without an animating idea, it's difficult to retain multilateral solidarity. "Multilateralism for multilateralism's sake" doesn't work unless you live in Brussels -- and even then it's a bit dodgy. "All for one, and one for keeping order" has its virtues, but emotionsal resonance isn't one of them.
There has to be a purpose beyond order to rally allies to a cause. We'll see if the Obama team has one when the NSS rolls out.
Two nights ago I recorded a podcast with the American Chamber of Commerce in China, which you can listen to if you
have no outside life whatsoever are so interested.
In the podcast, I repeated my mantra about mounting multilateral pressure on China to revalue the yuan. This week, in the run-up to the G-20 finance ministers meeting this week, Bloomberg reports that the other BRIC economies are now starting to vent on the issue,
Central bank governors in India and Brazil backed a stronger Chinese yuan, siding with U.S. President Barack Obama before a meeting of the Group of 20 nations this week.
Exports from China to India have grown faster than Indian shipments to its northern neighbor “and that obviously is a reflection of differences in the exchange-rate management,” Reserve Bank of India’s Duvvuri Subbarao told reporters in Mumbai yesterday. Brazil’s Henrique Meirelles told a senate hearing yesterday in Brasilia it was “absolutely critical” that China should let its currency appreciate.
Obama, who considers the yuan “undervalued,” is seeking to gain broader support from finance officials of the G20, who will discuss outlook for the global economy in Washington for three days starting April 22. Speculation that China may scrap the yuan’s peg to the dollar intensified this month after Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner delayed a report that could brand the nation a currency manipulator.
“This meeting will be the first test by the U.S. to use a multilateral forum to press China into action on its currency,” Philip Wee, a Singapore-based senior currency economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. wrote in a research note yesterday.
The discussions will include a range of topics including currencies and a communiqué will be released on April 23, a U.S. Treasury Department official, who declined to be identified, said yesterday.
The Financial Times' Geoff Dyer follows up:
China is facing growing pressure from other developing countries to begin appreciating its currency, providing unexpected allies for the US in the diplomatic tussle over Beijing’s exchange rate policy....
Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore, added his country’s voice to the debate last week, saying it was “in China’s own interests” with the financial crisis over to have a more flexible exchange rate.
Some in China have fended off US pressure for a stronger currency, describing it as a distraction from the real causes of the financial crisis. However, criticism from developing countries is not so easy to bat away. “If the rich and emerging economies are united in asking China to revalue, it would be harder to dismiss the request as an example of superpower arrogance,” said Sebastian Mallaby at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mallaby's argument sure sounds familiar.
There's been a spate of stories over the past few days suggesting that China is about to shift its policy on the yuan, allowing the currency to appreciate against the dollar. Keith Bradsher's latest in the New York Times has the most detail, so let's look at his story:
The Chinese government is set to announce a revision of its currency policy in the coming days that will allow greater variation in the value of its currency combined with a small but immediate jump in its value against the dollar, people with knowledge of the consensus emerging in Beijing said Thursday....
The model for the upcoming shift in currency policy is China’s move in 2005, when the leadership allowed the renminbi to jump 2 percent overnight against the dollar and then trade in a wider daily range, but with a trend toward further strengthening against the dollar. For the upcoming announcement, however, China is likely to emphasize that the value of the renminbi can fall as well as rise on any given day, so as to discourage a flood of speculative investment into China betting on rapid further appreciation, they said.
The emerging consensus within the Chinese leadership comes as Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner held meetings on Thursday with senior Hong Kong officials and prepared to fly on Thursday evening to Beijing for a meeting with Vice Premier Wang Qishan.
Now, given the degree of hostility between China and the United States as late as last month, we have to ask the question: what caused the shift in China's policy? Bradsher provides multiple answers:
China’s commerce ministry, which is very close to the country’s exporters, has strenuously and publicly opposed a rise in the value of China’s currency over the past month. But it appears to have lost the struggle in Beijing as other interest groups have argued that China is too dependent on the dollar, that a more flexible currency would make it easier to manage the Chinese economy and that China is becoming increasingly isolated on the world stage because of its steadfast opposition to any appreciation of the renminbi since July, 2008....
People with knowledge of the policy deliberations in Beijing said that Chinese officials had made the decision to shift the country’s currency policy mainly in response to an assessment of economic conditions in China, and less in response to growing pressure from the United States and, less publicly, from the European Union and from developing countries.
So, what's going on? First, it's possible that the policy shift will just be a token move. I'm confident that China won't appreciate as much as, say, Chuck Schumer wants. That said, this doesn't sound like a token-y move.
If China's shift is a real one, there appear to be three possible sources of change:
1) Domestic factors and actors convinced China's leadership that diminishing marginal returns for keeping the yuan fixed and masively undervalued had kicked in;
3) China responded to threats of unilateral U.S. action, such as being named as a currency manipulator, and/or calls for a trade war;
These are not mutually exclusive arguments, and we might never know exactly what caused China's . But for the record, I think (1) and (2) maqttered a hell of a lot more than (3). That said, I can't rule out the possiblity that their antics helped scare China into action.
Am I missing anything?
Over at Politico, Laura Rozen posts about the subtle efforts by the United States to moderate the United Nations Human Rights Council's behavior. These efforts have yielded... well, let's see what Rozen's got:
“We have started to shake things up,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Organizations Suzanne Nossel told POLITICO, although she added, change is “incremental and slower than we would like.”
For the last eleven years, the UN human rights body has run a resolution that bans defamation of religion. The resolution is aimed at preventing the publication of for instance the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed that enraged many in the Muslim world.
The resolution, opposed by advocates of freedom of expression, passed again last week at the Geneva body, but this time by its smallest margin ever, with 20 countries voting for the resolution, 17 against, and with 8 abstentions.
"It is encouraging that more states are starting to stand up against initiatives that threaten to undermine human rights," Human Rights Watch’s Julie de Rivero said. "Countries such as Zambia and Argentina that voted against the ‘defamation of religions' resolution are demonstrating positive leadership at the Human Rights Council."
The U.S. has been trying to push member countries instead towards an alternative resolution that would counter racial and religious intolerance, such as Switzerland’s minaret ban, while protecting freedom of speech.
“We achieved a consensus resolution that halted efforts towards a binding treaty that would infringe on freedom of speech," Nossel said, explaining that it was a neutral procedural resolution, with no language about banning defamation or new binding protocols.
That, plus a new U.S.-backed resolution on human rights in Guinea following the September 2009 massacre and stronger resolutions on the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burma and North Korea mark what Nossel described as accomplishments on the long road toward the U.S.’s objective of turning the Council into a more credible and effective force on behalf of human rights globally.
Hmmm... in terms of measuring progress, I think I would translate Nossel's "incremental and slower than we would like" to mean "slower than continental drift" in plain English.
My point here is not to suggest that Nossel and her compatriots are doing a bad job -- far from it. They have made some inroads into the so-ridiculous-it's-easy-to-lampoon-it nature of the Human Rights Council.
But these are ridiculously small inroads, and extremely difficult to sell politically. Rozen's a sympathetic reporter on this issue, but the intrinsic silliness of the Human Rights Council remains largely undisturbed after reading this story. The Obama administration's engagement strategy with the institution have yielded nonzero but meager returns.
A politically sustainable strategy of patient multilateralism requires the occasional tangible success to point to by its boosters. I doubt the Human Rights Council will be producing any of those deliverables anytime soon.
So I see Paul Krugman has thrown his lot in with the neoconservatives who disdain multilateral institutions and prefer bellicose unilateralism when they confront a frustrating international situation.
His op-ed today is about China's currency manipulation. ... again. After explaining that China has less leverage than is commonly understood on the foreign economic policy front (gee, where have I heard that before), he closes with the following:
In 1971 the United States dealt with a similar but much less severe problem of foreign undervaluation by imposing a temporary 10 percent surcharge on imports, which was removed a few months later after Germany, Japan and other nations raised the dollar value of their currencies. At this point, it’s hard to see China changing its policies unless faced with the threat of similar action — except that this time the surcharge would have to be much larger, say 25 percent.
Whoa there, big fella!! That's a nice but very selective reading of international economic history you have there.
It's certainly true that the dollar was overvalued back in 1971. What Krugman forgets to mention -- and see if this sounds familiar -- is that the Johnson and Nixon administrations contributed to this problem via a guns-and-butter fiscal policy. They pursued the Vietnam War, approved massive increases in social spending, and refused to raise taxes to pay for it. This macroeconomic policy created inflationary expectations and a "dollar glut." Foreign exchange markets to expect the dollar to depreciate over time. Other countries intervened to maintain the dollar's value -- not because they wanted to, but because they were complying with the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. Nixon only went off the dollar after the British Treasury came to the U.S. and wanted to convert all their dollar holdings into gold.
In other words, the United States was the rogue economic actor in 1971 -- not Japan or Germany.
So, how about acting multilaterally first before engaging in unilateral action that alienates America's friends and allies alike?
To be fair to Krugman, many of the multilateral processes appear to be stymied, as Keith Bradsher explains in this NYT front-pager:
Beijing has worked to suppress a series of I.M.F. reports since 2007 documenting how the country has substantially undervalued its currency, the renminbi, said three people with detailed knowledge of China’s actions....
Last September, Presidennt Obama, President Hu Jintao of China and other leaders of the Group of 20 industrialized and developing countries agreed in Pittsburgh that all the G-20 countries would begin sharing their economic plans by November. The goal was to coordinate their exits from stimulus programs and prevent the world from lurching from recession straight into inflation.
The G-20 leaders agreed that the I.M.F. would act as intermediary.
But two people familiar with China’s response said that the Chinese government missed the November deadline and then submitted a vague document containing mostly historical data. These people said that China feared giving ammunition to critics of its currency policies at the monetary fund and beyond. Both people asked for anonymity because of China’s attitudes about its economic policies.
That last part oabout the G-20 process is particularly disturbing, given that this was supposed to be the venue through which macroeconomic imbalances were supposed to be addressed. So maybe Krugman is right and unilateral is the way to go?
I don't think so. The big difference between the end of the Bretton Woods era and the current Bretton Woods II situation is the distribution of interests. In 1971, everyone was opposed to a continuation of U.S. policies. This time around, there appears to be a growing consensus that China is the rogue economic actor.
If Krugman gets to repeat himself, then so do I:
[T]he United States is not the country that's hurt the most by this tactic. It's the rest of the world -- particularly Europe and the Pacific Rim -- that are getting royally screwed by China's policy. These countries are seeing their currencies appreciating against both the dollar and the renminbi, which means their products are less competitive in the U.S. market compared to domestic production and Chinese exports.
So why should the U.S. act unilaterally? Why not activate an international regime that does not include China but does include a lot of other actors hurt by China's currency policy?
Am I missing anything?
MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images
Andrew Sullivan has been blogging about Iran juuuust a wee bit the past 48 hours. Now he asks a question:
The Green Movement has strongly resisted all sanctions against Iran, and even more passionately opposes any military strikes. If Israel strikes, it will effectively kill the Iranian opposition movement, and set off a global wave of Jihadism which will kill many American soldiers and civilians. So how to respond to the Revolutionary Guards' continuing and mounting brutality?
He also links to some useful Spencer Ackerman posts, which contains the following two points of interest:
What to do? I think two big questions need to be asked. First, how are the sanctions supposed to work? Is the idea to squeeze the elite coalition ruling Iran just hard enough to get the current leadership to cut a deal? Or is the idea to cause enough discontent with the regime such that it collapses, and then a deal can be struck with the next regime?
The process by which sanctions are supposed to work matters. If the hope is to still do business with the current regime, then targeted or "smart" sanctions make more sense. They're less likely to impact the broader Iranian population -- though, like precision-guided munitions, there will always be collateral damage.
If the goal is regime change, well, then broad-based sanctions might make more sense. If these reports are any indication, then it appears that the Khamenei regime is alienating an ever-larger swath of the population. Obviously, the regime could try to use the prospect and implementation of broad-based sanctions as a way to rally around the flag. If the regime's popular support is badly eroding, however, and that erosion is partly explained by economic hardship, then you want sanctions to target a somewhat larger segment of the populace.
Of course, as I've said before, this is all sophistry unless you get Iran's major trading partners on board. And my hunch is they won't go for the "heavy" sanctions option. This is a shame, because at this point, I think it's the option that's somewhat more likely to work.
Let's not kid ourselves, however: we're talking about policy options that will change the probabilities by a few percentage points either way. There is no magic bullet -- or bomb, for that matter -- on this policy quiestion.
Am I missing anything?
Wise and benevolent overlord of the entire foreign policy realm FP editor-in-chief Moises Naim has an essay in the latest issue of Foreign Policy about the need for "minilateralism" in global governance.
The pattern is clear: Since the early 1990s, the need for effective multicountry collaboration has soared, but at the same time multilateral talks have inevitably failed; deadlines have been missed; financial commitments and promises have not been honored; execution has stalled; and international collective action has fallen far short of what was offered and, more importantly, needed. These failures represent not only the perpetual lack of international consensus, but also a flawed obsession with multilateralism as the panacea for all the world's ills.
So what is to be done? To start, let's forget about trying to get the planet's nearly 200 countries to agree. We need to abandon that fool's errand in favor of a new idea: minilateralism.
By minilateralism, I mean a smarter, more targeted approach: We should bring to the table the smallest possible number of countries needed to have the largest possible impact on solving a particular problem. Think of this as minilateralism's magic number."
It's hard for me to disagree with
my master someone making global governance arguments similar to my own, but agreement is boring, so here goes:
It was actually through researching US policy toward big powers that I have come to my belief in the importance of international institutions. [The Next American Century: How the US Can Thrive As Other Powers Rise, co-authored with incoming White House deputy chief of staff Mona Sutphen--DD]. While I like a free pony as much as the next guy, I also like even more not being the victim of a nuclear terrorist attack, the avian flu (which is back) or catastrophic weather events--or a global financial meltdown-but too late for that. To fight these common enemies, China, India, Russia, Japan and Europe HAVE to work together-it's not optional. Of course, clashes, tensions, disagreements, etc will continue in all of these relationships. But the evidence is mounting from events like 9-11, SARS, the Mumbai attacks, and freakish weather that if we don't work together, we sink together. And in order to work together most effectively, we need institutions. Yes, the current ones are flawed, sometimes deeply flawed. But they already carry our water on a regular basis and nearly zero political credit for doing so. Want to prevent an epidemic of drug resistant TB in the US? Need the WHO. Want to share the costs of bailing out a whole bunch of countries? The IMF is taking that on. Want to run schools in Gaza or elections in Iraq? Call the UN. You see my point. It's not that these institutions are a panacea. It's that they are necessary because we haven't figured out a better way to coordinate actions between governments (and I am going to read your 2007 book on regulatory coordination) and they do deliver. If we invest in them modest amounts of time and money, they will pay further dividends in our security and prosperity.
I have three thoughts on Nina's response:
I hope Nina is right, and that a bargaining core exists for all of these problems. I am wary, however, of stacking too many resources and too much diplomatic capital on hope.
Clearly, I enjoy teasing John Bolton and John Yoo as much as the next blogger. In The New Republic, however, Nina Hachigian makes an argument about global governance that inches towards their caricature of how progressives think about international institutions. Consider this paragraph:
Creating effective architectures of global order requires three kinds of intervention--extensive improvement of existing institutions and rules, limited creation of new mechanisms, and reliable American engagement. The agenda is both complex and controversial. In terms of security, it includes the reform of voting rules and membership of the U.N. Security Council, the founding of a workable non-proliferation regime, belated American leadership on climate change, and a fortification of the World Health Organization. In terms of the global economy, we must develop new mechanisms to regulate international banking and finance, as well as update of the roles and governance of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. In terms of human rights and justice, the U.S. must join the U.N. Human Rights Council to help make it a serious forum for scrutiny and also engage in the International Criminal Court. As daunting as these steps may be, they are just the beginning.
Maybe it's just me, but I think Hachigian forgot the fourth thing that's necessary for global governance to work -- the great powers have to have preferences that are near enough to each other for there to be a zone of possible agreement. Otherwise, you might as well add "free ponies" to this kind of wish list.
That might exist on the financial and economic front (though I have some doubts about this). There's a chance that it exists on nonpoliferation. It's nonexistent, however, on global warming and on the reform of existing global governance structures (and, trust me, I'm a fan of the latter).
This doesn't mean that the Obama administration should not engage with international institutions. I'm just unconvinced that Hachigian's approach would yield the foreign policy dividends she thinks it would.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.