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Posts Tagged ‘international relations’

Predicting and Managing Liberal Revolutions: Two Articles from Foreign Policy Offer Guidance

Posted by K.E. White on June 27, 2011

Foreign Policy is running an excellent series that re-examines the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it’s lingering effects in its July/August Issue.

There are two pieces that make a particularly interesting joint-read:  Leon Aron’s ‘Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union is Wrong’ and Gennady Burbulis’ ‘Meltdown’.  The first knocks down structuralist explanations of the U.S.S.R.’s collapse, instead stressing the vexing variable of legitimacy (good luck making policy out of that!).  And Burbulis sounds a good old-fashioned path-dependency theme:  arguing that Russia’s path to revolution promised Putin’s half-baked liberal order.

Aron makes the argument that external pressures and internal economic woes were not the cause of the Soviet’s Union collapse.  Instead, it was elite-driven, “hesitant” liberalization that emptied the U.S.S.R.’s legitimacy.

The implications of this arguments, to me, seem clear:  (1) revolutions are difficult to predict, especially know since we’d substitute newspaper clippings with twitter-volume; (2) while may be supported external policies of other nations, can only be triggered by internally.

This, in other words, was a Soviet Union at the height of its global power and influence, both in its own view and in the view of the rest of the world. “We tend to forget,” historian Adam Ulam would note later, “that in 1985, no government of a major state appeared to be as firmly in power, its policies as clearly set in their course, as that of the USSR.”

Certainly, there were plenty of structural reasons — economic, political, social — why the Soviet Union should have collapsed as it did, yet they fail to explain fully how it happened when it happened. How, that is, between 1985 and 1989, in the absence of sharply worsening economic, political, demographic, and other structural conditions, did the state and its economic system suddenly begin to be seen as shameful, illegitimate, and intolerable by enough men and women to become doomed?

LIKE VIRTUALLY ALL modern revolutions, the latest Russian one was started by a hesitant liberalization “from above” — and its rationale extended well beyond the necessity to correct the economy or make the international environment more benign. The core of Gorbachev’s enterprise was undeniably idealistic: He wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union.

For though economic betterment was their banner, there is little doubt that Gorbachev and his supporters first set out to right moral, rather than economic, wrongs. Most of what they said publicly in the early days of perestroika now seems no more than an expression of their anguish over the spiritual decline and corrosive effects of the Stalinist past. It was the beginning of a desperate search for answers to the big questions with which every great revolution starts: What is a good, dignified life? What constitutes a just social and economic order? What is a decent and legitimate state? What should such a state’s relationship with civil society be?

Now juxtapose Aron with Burbulis’ (Michele A. Berdy trans.) article chronicling the failed coup attempt that resulted in the Soviet Union’s sudden liberal, and bumpy liberal consolidation:

A gradual transformation of the Soviet Union would have been manageable; the instant collapse caused by the coup was disastrous. The coup was the political Chernobyl of the Soviet totalitarian empire. Like the meltdown of a faulty nuclear reactor, the failed putsch blew the country apart, scattering the radioactive remnants of the Soviet system throughout the country. Within a month, the communist elites at every level had new jobs in state administrations and legislatures. They filled the ministries and threw themselves into business. The very people who had fought against the sweeping political and economic reforms we desperately needed were now running the organizations, businesses, and branches of government that were supposed to carry them out.

But it wasn’t just people who were scattered by the explosion. The body of an empire may collapse and the soul of its ideology may be cast aside, but its spirit lives on. In today’s Russia it persists in the revival of the belief in Stalin as a great leader, in the manipulated nostalgia for the false stability and power of the Soviet period, in xenophobia and intolerance, in the lack of respect for civil and human rights, in rampant corruption, in the imperial manner and mindset of some of our leaders and many of our citizens.

This is the poisonous legacy of those three days in August 20 years ago. It is worth revisiting the story now, not least because the putsch’s radioactive fallout has colored Russia’s memory of the putsch itself. The coup attempt deprived us of the opportunity to evolve gradually, to gain practical experience, to root out the vestiges of imperial thinking and behavior. It spoiled the promise of a democratic Russia before it had even begun.

From two very different perspectives (academic vs. eye-witness),  Aron & Burbulis make some memorable points.  First, while advanced democracies are being hit by the debt wave (and their debt politics appear drowning in immaturity), Aron points out that structural financial issues are only one slice of the geo-political order.  China is accruing its own liberal debt, and debt it will have to pay—one way or the other, and that will have a financial impact far greater than the U.S. debt ceiling.  But Burbulis makes clear that one comes after a liberal revolution is (1) impossible to control from the outside, (2) unpredictable and subject to fast-changing currents, and (3) may fall far short of  the hopes of its supporters.

But there’s one indisputable conclusion implicit in both these articles.  Those tasked with reading the tea-leaves of the international system have one hell of job.  How do we look ahead even 2 years when we’re still arguing about the U.S.S.R.’s collapse 20 years ago.

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International Law & the Obama Presidency: San Francisco Chronicle Tracks Obama’s Treaty Promises

Posted by K.E. White on December 1, 2008

The San Francisco Chronicle offers a brief report on the various international agreements President-Elect Obama pledged to push towards ratification. The report also details the stiff resistance Obama will face on many of the measures: which include women’s rights, a nuclear test-ban, climate change and law of the seas.

Update: The American Society of International Law offers President-Elect Obama’s response to their presidential candidate questionnaire, covering his views on nonproliferation, the International Criminal Court and various other international law topics.

From the San Francisco Chronicle report:

Obama cited three treaties he would concentrate on ratifying: the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Last December, Obama cited a fourth treaty that he said he would sign and ask the Senate to ratify, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Missing from his to-do list, at least so far, are the International Criminal Court – which could subject U.S. officials and military personnel to prosecution – and treaties banning land mines and cluster bombs. All three would face Defense Department resistance, and Obama has said he would consult with military commanders before deciding whether to ask the Senate to ratify the International Criminal Court.

Although the treaties Obama has endorsed may be less controversial, “I don’t see any really easy wins on the list,” said K. Russell Lamotte, a former State Department attorney now in private practice in Washington, D.C.

The article also offers this overview of the treaties Obama intends to submit for ratification. A common thread between the treaties: long and bumpy efforts toward American approval, with Congressional opposition the main roadblock.

International accords on Obama’s agenda

Treaties that President-elect Barack Obama has promised to present to the Senate for ratification:

Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: Would prohibit all nuclear explosive testing. Takes effect only when ratified by all 44 “nuclear-capable” nations, including the United States. Passed by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and signed that year by President Bill Clinton. Rejected by the Senate in 1999.

U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea: Defines nations’ rights in managing their coastal zones and sets rules for commercial use of international waters and resources. Passed by the General Assembly in 1982, took effect in 1994. Signed by Clinton in 1994. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee most recently in October 2007, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: Declares equal rights for women “in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field” and requires nations to take “all appropriate measures” to ensure equality. Passed by the General Assembly in 1979, took effect in 1981. Signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Approved by Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, but no floor vote.

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Requires nations to abolish legislation, customs and practices that discriminate against the disabled, and to establish policies that promote independent living and full participation in the community. Passed by the General Assembly in 2006, took effect in May 2008. Not yet signed by the United States.

Posted in Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Obama, Obama administration, Treaty | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Can American Foreign Policy Overcome the Bully Pulpit? Cavanaugh’s Diagnosis and Cure for “Threat Escalation”

Posted by K.E. White on January 30, 2008

Summary: How do follies like Iraq occur? Can they be avoided? Cavanaugh attempts to answer this question: breaking down the variables that lead to threat escalation. He also explores how threats can be underestimated, examining the failure to prevent the 9-11 attacks. Cavanaugh thus identifies how a charged executive can steer American foreign policy toward inflated threats—or away from legitimate threats. The solution to foreign policy follies? A greater role for Congress in US foreign policy. While his article suffers from selection bias and uncertainty clouds what actually determines foreign policy ‘success’, Cavanaugh’s article is still a must-read for anyone curious about US foreign policy.

 

The Political Science Quarterly (PSQ) offers a very interesting—and free—article examining “threat inflation” American foreign policy.

Why was the avoidable catastrophe of 9-11 not caught? And why was the nation cajoled into a second Iraq conflict that most now agree went against American security interests?

Jeffery M. Cavanaugh seeks to answer these dual questions of overreaction and under reaction—a.k.a. “threat inflation”. And he finds that there are several examples from recent American history to explore this concept.

Cavanaugh looks at three cases of successful threat inflation: President Harry Truman’s successful inflation of the Soviet threat, America’s Vietnam venture and the second Iraq war. He then probes a counter-case: the profound underestimation that culminated in 9-11.

All this might leave you wondering: Is American foreign policy ever rational?

Lessons from Truman, Vietnam and Iraq

Cavanaugh’s analysis moves past Bush blaming, instead seeking to find similarities between different cases threat inflation. Below is a table (reproduced from the article) that displays Cavanaugh’s four test cases and the variables that tie them together.

In regards to Korea, Cavanaugh argues that while Truman played up the Soviet threat, events came to verify his viewpoint and the American public and political classes rallied behind containment. Thus this can be called a ‘successful’ case of threat inflation: a President pushed the public to his view, but as events played out a bipartisan foreign policy was forged.

Vietnam and Iraq were both weaker cases of threat inflation: both succeeded in there immediate aims to wage war, but appear to have broken—not forged—a coherent direction in America’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile the threat of a terrorist attack on American soil never received the attention it deserved. Here one finds two crucial differences: divided elite opinion and a complete lack of bureaucratic capture as reasons for this failure. Such features would have stopped even a proactive executive—or any national politician—from successfully tackling this threat, according to Cavanaugh.

All these cases point to a profound American political weakness: the President holds too much power to frame and propel the national security debate, showing at times the ability to deceive the American public.

Cavanaugh rightly points out the chronic weakness of Congress on national security—having diluted it wartime authority over the sixty years. (This theme has been explored elsewhere,  as  this past article demonstrates).

Conceptualizing and Testing American Foreign Policy

But what differ Cavanaugh’s analysis is this: He attempts to identify the variables that lead to such outcomes. Cavanaugh also offers new solutions to bring the Congress and the executive back into balance.

But are the variables he examines helpful towards future foreign policy dilemmas? Many of his variables can only be obtained after an event. This diminishes the predictability value of his model–making any ‘test’ of his model difficult.

This comes through most clearly with his use of Truman Cold War foreign policy. Tackling such a huge subject—with various events—seems to make this not comparable to the defined cases of Vietnam, Iraq and the 9-11 attack.

Would not have merely investigating how Truman pulled America into Korea—which some academics consider also an avoidable war–been a better test case to explore?

(There’s also one obvious problem with the cases: Can one can fairly compare a traditional war to a highly lethal terrorist attack?)

But this is all part of a much bigger question: How does one define foreign policy success? By the immediate outcome (i.e. victory in Korea, failure in Vietnam)? Or the long term impact regardless of whether  or not the initial threat was overblown?

For example: It seems clear the short-term costs of the Korean War (verses a containment approach) outweighed any strategic interest the United States had in North Korea. But did not the long-terms benefits of this expenditure of blood and treasure pay make this a successful instance of American foreign policy?

In continuing this line of research, Cavanaugh must develop a model that proves the value of his test cases—and whether or not they should be seen as American foreign policy ‘successes’ or ‘failures’. (And another, perhaps even more daunting task, would be to incorporate the interplay between conflicts: e.g. the impact the Korean War had on America’s conflict in Vietnam.)

This conceptual fog risks boiling Cavanaugh’s research down to this: presidents have overcharged wartime authority, whereas Congress has far too diluted powers. Thus good or bad foreign policy comes down to having a good or bad President–unless Congressional powers are reworked. (One does not need Cavanaugh’s test cases to prove this, though they do offer different angles to gauge Presidential manipulation).

But Cavanaugh deserves credit for attempting to answer 1) how are threats to American security articulated within or society and 2) what generalizable and predictive tests help us get closer to evaluating American foreign policy.

Cavanaugh’s Advice to Congress and America’s National Security Infrastructure

Cavanaugh does offer Congressional remedies: some bland, some bold. He repeats calls for both longer terms for intelligence heads and greater whistle-blowing protections.

More interesting—and controversial—are two of his Congressional reforms: First he advocates granting members of Congress briefings akin to the President’s daily brief on national security. (Naturally one could easily imagine Congress barraging the executive with their daily concerns over American security.)

But Cavanaugh gives a seemingly firmer fix. Congress should merge the Intelligence, Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees into one, bipartisan body.

Such a reform—going against decades of decentralization—would guarantee focused and board attention from the Senate and House of Representatives on America’s national security. The hope? Congress will take clear stands on important foreign policy decisions.

But this too runs into problems: Either the committee would be huge and unmanageable, or Congressman would have to give up chairmanships and committee tasks. This second outcome would not only be an ego blow to Congress, but could dilute specialization of Congressional oversight and also shrink the numbers of elected officials involved in our nation’s foreign policy formulation.

But Cavanaugh offers a template of reform that can easily be tinkered, and perhaps—in time—evolve into an institutional counterweight to an excessive executive. If one reworked Cavanaugh’s scheme into a select, joint Senate-House committee, tasked with both an annual review over American foreign policy and crisis periods (e.g. before launching an invasion or after catastrophic events) one could see—over time—this practice becoming a clear Congressional ‘green light’ to bold developments in American foreign policy.

In short, Cavanaugh’s reforms run into the ‘9-11 Wall’. Why did retired officials steer of the 9-11 investigation? While their work was exemplary, politicians and the media suggested current politicians could not be trusted with foreign policy heavy lifting.

Can members of the House of Representatives—in constant ‘reelection’ mode—give the time necessary for such weighty work?

(On Capitol Hill, by Julian E. Zelizer, goes into great detail about Congress’s many institutional flaws and difficulty to reform.)

A solution would be to keep such work within the Senate, while granting a rotating representative for House Speaker and minority leader.

Conclusion

Cavanaugh’s research does a skillful job of getting past chronic ‘Bush blaming’ for America’s failure in Iraq. He successfully delineates a model of executive foreign policy bullying that can be applied in different time periods and different conflicts.

He also pushes the ball on Congressional reform: proving their value and bringing forth new ideas.

But on the bigger questions of diagnosing American foreign policy and threat inflation, Cavanaugh has much further to go. Cavanaugh’s Truman example must be broken down if it is to be fairly weighted with Vietnam and Iraq. Furthermore he must refine he judges sucess, or risk that he is simply manipulating his test-cases to prove his model.

Cavanaugh’s article also does not thoroughly explore when and if foreign policy decisions can be reversed. Look at his Vietnam example: at what point was Vietnam a failure, and when would have an American pull out been politically acceptable?

But these criticisms are mainly ‘add on’ criticisms. As such, they reflect both the importance of Cavanaugh’s line of research and his skill in laying out a path—however rough—towards a greater understanding of American foreign policy.

Posted in Foreign Policy, Jeffery M. Cavanaugh, Terrorism, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Proliferation Press Dispatch: New America’s ‘Pakistan in Peril’ Roundtable

Posted by K.E. White on January 15, 2008

With attendees elbowing for space and some even relegated to the wonkish backwater of a TV screening room, four experts—Flynt Leverett, Peter Bergen, Nicholas Schmidle and Steve Coll—probed the troubled but essential partnership between America and Pakistan at The New America Foundation.

While differences on the sequence American policy towards Pakistan lingered, the gaggle found common ground on the big issues. The Bush administration’s policy towards Pakistan has been wrongheaded and wanting; emphasis must now be on riding out the February elections; and, finally, unconditional American aid must continue: not only to spur real Pakistani economic reconstruction, but to ensure an effective counter-terrorism strategy that will clamp down on the extremists threats posed to both Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

And to make matters more difficult Benazir’s Bhutto’s recent assassination has only exacerbated Pakistan’s domestic unease, while some observers worry over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.

The US-Pakistan partnership is anything but a walk in Candyland.

The last six years of American policy towards Pakistan were seen by all the participants—though Schmidle agreement had to be implied—as a failure. Leverett—the harshest critic—took the administration to task for holding unreasonable expectations of Pakistan. He went to pains to flesh out the dire predicament the Bush administration leaders put by failing to capture Bin Laden and his associates in Afghanistan: hotheaded and intractable militants became Pakistan’s problem.

“Pakistan has probably performed more faithfully than the United States,” Coll stated in agreement to Leverett. He and Leverett did not hold a naïve view of Pakistan’s colored history. Rather they elevated Pakistan’s critical and productive role in America’s counter-terrorism strategy, while viewing short-sighted American policy over the last thirty years as worsening Pakistan’s domestic situation and relationship with America.

Peter Bergen did add a useful corrective to this Pakistani apologist line of though. If Iran developed nuclear weapons, contemplated selling a nuclear weapon or selling nuclear-weapons technology to North Korea and Iraq, Washington and Tehran would be at war.

These are all things Pakistan has done, all the while remaining a staunch American ally.

Such a contradiction illustrates the unique relationship between America and Pakistan. While Pakistan illegally developed nuclear weapons and proliferated nuclear technology, Musharraf’s response to 9-11 turned America and Pakistan into indispensable partners.

Pakistan needed military aid and economic reconstruction to beat back an Islamic threat and alleviate the severe poverty of this nuclear-weapons state. America needed an ally to help eradicate the Taliban and other Islamic extremists—a concern that trumped Pakistan’s past nuclear history.

Schmidle brought a unique, testimonial viewpoint to the discussion. Just deported after living in Pakistan for two years, Schmidle jocularly showed off his deportation notice while somberly telling listeners of his first hand experiences with Taliban militants.

He stressed two major themes. First he noted that a once scattered New-Gen Taliban has now come under the authority of one leader. Schmidle also saw Pakistan’s tribal areas turning away from Islamist parties to nationalist parties, a development that could pave the way for a successful counter-terrorism strategy in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. [For more details, go to the source: read Schmidle’s articles]

Looking forward, the discussion tackled to US policy quandaries: how best to calibrate a US-Pakistan counter-insurgency strategy, and whether the US pushing democratic reform would help or hinder Pakistan’s stability and capacity to clamp down on the Taliban.

Leverett stressed American strategy turn away from bilateral engagement in Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries. Instead regional coordination would increase the pressure on countries to fulfill their counter-terrorism strategies. But Coll doubted the payoffs of such an intensive diplomatic strategic investment, calling it a “very difficult strategy to carry out.”

Coll and Leverett also disagreed on promoting democracy in Pakistan.

“There is no evidence that democracy buys you anything in terms of the war on terror,” Leverett pronounced making clear illusion to failed attempts of the much maligned neo-con agenda.

But Bergen brought the obvious—while shallow—comparison between the histories of a turbulent Pakistan and its prosperous neighbor India. The difference? A firm commitment to parliamentary democracy and civilian rule.

Coll stressed the long history of failed, but real, attempts at Pakistani parliamentary democracy. “We’re not imposing democratic aspirations on Pakistan,” Coll claimed.

On forecasting Pakistan’s near-term future, the analysts were in wait and see mode. Election-fraud by Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf was bound to happen, but blatant voter manipulation would topple Musharraf—and he knows it (or should). The PPP will find success, and will aim to merge with Nawaz Sharif’s PML party to demand Musharraf’s ouster.

And regarding the Bhutto assassination controversy that has so animated Pakistan’s upcoming elections, the experts agreed that Musharraf’s version—that Bhutto was not killed by an assassin’s bullet—was true. Unfortunately Musharraf’s fabricated rush to judgment sapped whatever credibility he had left.

Pakistan political future now rests within the interplay between a new parliamentary majority dedicated to reform and an increasingly unpopular President. The wild card? Musharraf’s new pick for Army Chief of Staff—Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.

Will this American trained general emerge as a new Pakistani strong man? Or will Kayani work with a rancorous Parliament and dictatorial President to bring stability to a poor and divided nation, while executing a counter-terrorism strategy that defends America and Pakistan against international terrorism?

Posted in Flynt Leverett, international relations, Musharraf, New America Foundation, Nicholas Schmidle, Nuclear, Pakistan, Peter Bergen, Steve Coll, Terrorism, United States | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Mearsheimer On The Colbert Report

Posted by K.E. White on October 3, 2007

Prominent international relations scholar John Mearsheimer went on the Colbert Report last night. Anyone who has taken a class explaining the concept of “realism” has probably brushed across his name. His particular contribution in the field of IR theory has beenJohn Mearsheimer offensive realism.

He’s gained attention for writing the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a work that explores the influence of the “Israel Lobby” on American foreign relations. From the title, controversy over the book is easy to see. (This controversy has been protracted: while published this September, the book has been in development for years)

Mearsheimer’s recent book does bring up an interesting question for IR theory: why did this luminary of realism–a theory which holds that states are unitary actors with set interests–opt to study how an interest-group affects American foreign policy?

“Is Anybody Still a Realist?” Jeffrey Legro and Andrew Moravscik asked in 1999. (They argue for a new realist lens, so yes—somebody is still a realist)

Colbert, all jokes aside, did (lightly) critique Mearsheimer’s thesis buy bringing up American arm-deals to Arab nations like Saudi Arabia. And Colbert gave Mearsheimer ample time to explain/plug his book.

From the interview:

 

Mearsheimer: “Jews do not control out foreign policy. The lobby is a powerful influence on American foreign policy especially in the Middle East—nothing more, nothing less.”

Mearsheimer: “Our argument is that the United States should support the survival of Israel. If Israel’s survival is threatened, we should come to its aid. But otherwise we should treat Israel as a normal country. The way we treat Britain, France, India—other democracies.”

Colbert: “If we’re not going to cut off aid to them, should we at least stop sending them Christmas cards? Because they never send them back.”

Posted in Andrew Moravcik, international relations, IR, Is Anybody Still a Realist, Jeffrey Legro, John Mearsheimer, realism, Stephen Colbert, theory | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »