What’s So Grand About Grand Strategy – Dan Drezner?

So on this auspices July 4th, I want all my American friends to enjoy their Independence Day.  Meanwhile thought I’d focus on US policy.  The impact on global policy and the rising BRICSAM is always significant.  And this is not any policy – but US grand strategy.

Dan Drezner in a recent edition of Foreign Affairs has taken a bead on one of those classic subjects of international relations – grand strategy.  Now I don’t wish to cast any aspirations on the famous blogger, but what is this new-style IR man “slumming”  in the hoary field of grand strategy?

Now like any good classic IR theorist, Dan starts off with a definition.  As he describes it, “grand strategy”:

… consists of a clear articulation of national interests married to a set of operational plans for advancing them. Sometimes, such strategies are set out in advance, with actions following in sequence.  Other times, strategic narratives are offered as coherent explanations connecting past policies with future ones.  Either way, a well-articulated grand strategy can offer an interpretive framework that tells everybody, including foreign policy officials themselves, how to understand the administration’s behavior.

The notion of grand strategy seems pretty critical to foreign policy action and possible foreign policy success but as Dan admits, “…most of the time it is not.” According to Dan grand strategy is only important when it indicates a change in policy.  And even there, according to Drezner, the true reserve currency is “power” – would you expect any difference from an IR type?

If then power is the sine qua non of influence, why so much attention to grand strategy.  The petty reason for such attention, says Dan, is that IR theorists all want to become George Kennan and write the next “Mr. X” article. Hmm.

The substantive reason for paying attention to grand strategy is that every once and awhile grand strategy does matter.  Says Dan: “Ideas matter most when actors are operating in uncharted waters.” Massive global disruptions for one or “power transition” for a second are both times of evident uncertainty in international  relations and paying attention to grand strategy may provide useful information to determine the behavior – and critically the intentions – of key great power actors.  And  – lo and behold – this a period where both conditions exist.  This lowly blogger has commented on both but especially on the power transition question – given the rise of China.

So then what is the Obama grand strategy?  For that Dan quotes Ben Rhodes from the Obama Administration:

If you were to boil it all down to a bumper sticker, it’s ‘Wind down these two wars, reestablish American standing and leadership in the world, and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-non-proliferation regime.’

Well it’s the biggest bumper sticker we would have ever seen.  And it doesn’t sell me that this is a grand strategy – or that the Obama Administration actually has one.  Indeed I think Dan inadvertently hits the nail on the head: first the Obama Administration has been moving from one grand strategy to another.  The Administration has reset several times and the latest version seems to be a more assertive counter punching strategy – the US reinsertion in the South China Seas trouble for example – more on that in an upcoming blog post – and a continuing effort to restore American strength at home.  On the latter, the politics of the US and the continuing sour taste in US domestic politics makes Obama efforts seem weak and ineffective.  On the counter punching it is hard to identify such a strategic direction when US efforts in Libya seem so difficult to fit such a grand strategy and where the best explanation for it is “leading from behind.”

Dan’s efforts are heroic but ultimately inapt.  At best the Obama Administration follows a course of pragmatism – and as such pragmatism is incapable of describing any grand strategy at all.  I’m afraid you walk away from Dan’s good efforts shaking one’s head and muttering – ‘he’s trying too hard.’

Not George Kennan yet; but don’t blame Dan; blame the Administration.


Is it America or is it the Liberal World Order That is Passing

[Editor’s note:  I’d like to thank Arthur Stein, UCLA and Richard Rosecrance, Harvard for the early discussions we held on the issues raised in this blog post.  They are not responsible for any of the opinions expressed here. ASA]

Pronouncements of American decline miss the real transformation under way today. What is occurring is not American decline but a dynamic process in which other states are catching up and growing more connected.

The above excerpt is the opening to the concluding section of John Ikenberry’s precis – his article in the recent May/June edition of Foreign Affairs, “The Future of the Liberal World:  Internationalism After America”  of his most recent book, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order.

It may well be that a final evaluation of Ikenberry’s examination of the evolving global governance system will require a close reading of the book.  But for the moment let me assume that this FA is a relevant summary of the Liberal Leviathan’s thesis.

The question that John poses is whether we are witnessing  just the decline of the United States – or I suppose slightly more correctly the ‘rise of the rest’ – or, in fact, we are also witnessing the decline of the liberal world order promoted most fiercely by the United States. If the latter is true then the global order will not only look less American but less liberal. As the newly emerging states become more central to the world order, they will bring a more illiberal – less open, less rules-based and less democratic – world order.  As John identifies this:

Rather, the struggle will be between those who want to renew and expand today’s system of multilateral governance arrangements and those who want to move to a less cooperative order built on spheres of influence.

The global governance system of the future will be more fragmented, less multilateral and more mercantilist.  But John argues that this is not the future of the international order.  And he suggests this more illberal outcome is not necessarily in our future by  distinguishing and separating the current multilateral order from the United States.  So while the global governance system has been built by the United States and supported by its traditional allies, liberal internationalism, “openness and rule-based relations enshrined in institutions such as the United Nations and norms such as multilateralism” will continue to exist without the United States as the hegemon. While the US, according to John, will not rule in the way it has in the decades since World War II, it will still be able to lead – and presumably it will do so.  And the reason for this is:  the rising powers – the Chinas, Brazils and Indias – are also wed to the global governance order of liberal internationalism.

For John the current global order is built on two ordering principles – the first  built on the evolution of states and the principles of state sovereignty and and norms of more or less collaborative great power relations.  And the second is built on the liberal order of a open, rules-based and and democratic international order.  Indeed the building of the state system was necessary for the building of the second – the liberal order.

Now international relations specialist have long debated whether a hegemon – the UK in the 19th century and the United States in the second half of the twentieth century – is a necessary element for maintaining a liberal order.  With John’s identified bifurcation, we need to determine whether the evolving international system of great powers is able to maintain a stable international order and to promote a liberal order.

John is certainly right that there is no strong evidence that the current Chinese leadership – the exemplar of the newly arrived rising states – rejects either element of the order – that is collaborative great power relations and as well a liberal order of open trade and a rules-based system.  But not having rejected the order as it currently exists is not the same thing as saying the Chinese leadership accepts and is prepared promote these norms and mechanisms of the global order.  And it it is possible that China might accept one principle – say great power stability – and yet fail to promote the other – the liberal order.  John acknowledges that stability is required for a liberal order.  But could it be that the evolving system may promote stability and great power accomodation – of a rather classic form – without necessarily promoting or even maintaining the current liberal order.

Where is the Chinese leadership?  There is no question that China has benefited dramatically from both elements of the order – international stability and openness – but China’s emergence as a great power and the perception – and I emphasize perception of US decline – may have led some of China’s current leaders to reassess China’s place in the global order and reflect on how it must act or indeed how others – especially the United States – must act.  Further, the perception of decline worryingly may have “infected” the next generation of leadership that will assume leadership in another year.

Let me look briefly at the second element of the current order – its Liberal nature.  Certainly China has become deeply integrated in the international economy – and that the degree of integration contrasts vividly with other rising powers of earlier decades.  But many suggest that China has dramatically benefited from advantages not employed by others.  China’s export trade policy has driven its economic growth – and it has been a boon to US multinational corporations as well, might I say – but the imbalances generated in the system are creating volatility and instability.  And it would appear the leadership – notwithstanding all the statements of a turn to a more domestic consumption-based model – is unwilling to abandon the export growth model that brought it such rapid economic growth.  Remember the leadership believes that it is essential to maintain high growth to avoid social unrest.

And as for democracy, the Party appears to determined to maintain one-party rule notwithstanding that the rule of law and democratic practices are the foundation of modernity.  While democracy may be the ideal there appears to be no appetite for it among the current leadership and there is nothing to suggest that the coming new generation of leadership is in any degree more enticed by the ideal notwithstanding the rise of a middle class in China. As a punctuation mark it is clear that China does not accept humanitarian intervention the newest aspect internationally of the liberal world order.

And as for multilateralism and the acceptance of restraint and collaborative great power relations, the signs are there but unilateralism and regional dominance have not disappeared from Chinese policy.  Just when you think the Chinese have accepted collaborative great power relations and multilateralism, there are the behaviors, or lack of behaviors, over Korea, the South China Seas and military – to – military relations with the US.

So there is a large question mark and not an explanation mark on Chinese policy and its support for a liberal order.  But the question of the passing of a liberal order is not just to be laid at the doorstep of China.  It is also a question mark  that now lies over US policy.  The continuing illiberalism over trade policy – the assertion continuously of a lack of a level playing field   – is a marked contrast in US foreign policy to earlier periods of liberal leadership.  The so-called “leading from behind” strategy – whatever that is – of the current US Administration leads to rising questions of US leadership – not just rule.  The chaos of domestic politics that undermines the prospect of the US dealing with its fiscal situation also raises concern that it will – and maybe cannot lead.

The saving element of this particular question – the maintenance of a liberal order, may come down to definition.  As one of my close colleagues Arthur Stein from UCLA asks “What is the liberal order?”  Maybe just as we have built a literature that examines the varieties of capitalism, so, according to Arthur, we must try and determine the varieties of liberalism that may still represent an international liberal order.   It may still be a liberal order notwithstanding more managed exchange rates and new rules on capital controls.  Or maybe not.

So the question of what is recognized as a liberal order may strongly influence whether we we are able to assess whether a liberal order can be maintained with or without the United States.  The likely reality is that the liberal order is not just built on US leadership but it surely includes US leadership.  It is a more open question whether we need China and others to sustain the liberal order.  But it too is a question that needs to be answered.

The liberal order – however defined – may survive China’s growing great power presence,  but I think it quite possible that without US participation not only will US leadership disappear but also the liberal order it built over the decades.  Then the remaining question will be, can we retain collaborative and accommodative great power relations.



The agenda for the renewal of the liberal international order should be driven by this same imperative: to reinforce the capacities of national governments to govern and
achieve their economic and security goals. … In this new age of international
order, the United States will not be able to rule. But it can still lead.

Meanwhile – The Beat Goes On

My last blog post The Inflation Tiger Rising concerned the rising tide of inflation in the BRICS countries – and the government efforts in China and Brazil to rein inflation in.

This post examines the other side of that coin – the impact of the US dollar on global prices and interest rates. A recent article by Tom Lauricella at The Wall Street Journal (see “Dollar’s Decline Speed Up, With Risks for the US” (April 23, 2011) chronicles the decline of the US dollar.

The US dollar as we all know is the international reserve currency.  Most international transactions, and much of the key international pricing – oil for example – is done in US dollars.

The US dollar has declined 1 percent in the past week against a basket of of currencies, repeating a similar drop of the week before.  In the past week the dollar as measured by the ICE US dollar index hit its lowest point since the lowest point of the index on March 16, 2008 – the Index fell to 70.698 (the Index had begun in 1973 after the demise of the Bretton Woods System of fixed rates at 100.).  Just before the 2008 global financial crisis the dollar had lost some 40 percent of its value against the basket of 6 currencies including the Pound, Euro, Canadian dollar and Japanese Yen.  This low point in 2008 represented a a steady decline of six-years of the dollar’s value.  As noted above, the Index is approaching that low once again.

The US dollar depreciation is a product of a low and continuing interest rate policy and the the growth differentials with the emerging market countries.  The rising price of oil is also a product of the depreciating dollar adding to inflation fears in the US.  The inflation impulse in the BRICS could add another element in the decline of the dollar as well, of course, the fears of the US deficit and debt and the fears that US politics will make reaching a sensible deficit strategy almost impossible.

The declining US dollar has led China officials to allow a steady appreciation of the renminbi in the last few weeks.  While US officials have urged a significant appreciation in the renminbi,  it leads Chinese officials to be less needful of purchasing US dollar debt with China’s now outsized $3 trillion exchange surplus.

The vicious as opposed virtuous cycles of exchange remain.

Can the US Steer in Turbulent Waters?

As I read the posts of two friends and colleagues, I realize how much I miss our conversations.  This exchange serves as a poor substitute.  The current prod for discussion is Henry Kissinger’s review of a new biography of Bismarck and what can be learned about how the US can manage a difficult and mixed-motive relationship (one that contains elements of conflict as well as cooperation) with China.  In his post, Alan Alexandroff puts the challenge as one of holding “irreconcilables together.”  And he concludes,

“If the policy is a product of a unique diplomatic skill – as proved to be the case with Bismarck – then such behavior and policy – keeping China as both a friend and a foe – will prove equally impossible.  The future then will be riven with competition and even conflict.  Not a happy thought.”

Dick Rosecrance’s reply to the possibility of an ambivalent and inconsistent policy towards China is to argue that the requisite Chinese reciprocity has not been forthcoming and that the US is already shifting towards a policy of linking with allies in the hope that “a stiffening of this enlarged Western position can produce a change in Beijing.”

I want to make only one observation, and that is to ask whether the kind of policy Bismarck pursued is possible in a polity such as the US.  Kissinger himself discovered, as National Security Advisor and as Secretary of State, that such inconsistency was difficult to sustain in the US political system.  In his review, Kissinger quotes from Jonathan Steinberg’s biography, noting that Bismarck accomplished what he did “without commanding a single soldier, without dominating a vast parliamentary majority, without the support of a mass movement, without any previous experience in government and in the face of national revulsion at his name and his reputation.”  Moreover, he served for 28 years, first as minister president of Prussia and then as chancellor of Germany.  Neither such continuity in office, nor such an independent ability to craft policy exists in the US today.

On the other hand, without a coherent grand strategy, and given the shifts in recent administrations, the US has generated plenty of inconsistency and ambivalence in our treatment of China.

Banishing “Scary Images” and Behavior in the China-US relationship

I think it’s fair to conclude that the Hu Jintao State visit will be viewed in retrospect as a mild success.   Now in the context of the US-China relationship recently, that’s not bad.   The relationship didn’t go backwards and there was some sense that the two Leaders were working off the same page – building a comprehensive and closely coordinated bilateral relationship.

The key question is whether the two – through their speeches and actions –  helped to dispel each nation’s “Scary Image” of the other.

For the Chinese the true Scary Image is a US foreign policy that seeks to encircle and contain China.  In that regard of course there is the evident discussion of Taiwan – the continuing provision of Taiwan military with new weaponry – and the close-in approach of various US carrier flotillas in areas surrounding China, the tension over the South China Sea and of course the Korean Peninsula.

In this regard President Obama’s statement on the positive good that China’s rise can bring goes some way in assuring the Chinese people that the US is not focused on a containment strategy.  The following comment by President Obama was targeted directly at the containment view: “I absolutely believe China’s peaceful rise is good for the world, and it’s good for America.”  For good measure the President went on to declare that the United States wanted to sell all sorts of stuff to China – underscoring the need to broaden trade and increase American exports to China.

On the US side, the Scary Image of China is the new assertiveness of China being the product of American declinism.  In this scary image all the pessimism over the US economy and the growth of  China’s military leads China’s military in particular, or the leadership generally, to press the United States on various territorial and policy fronts in the belief that the US has been fundamentally weakened.  Such a view could give rise to miscalculations that might leave both sides unable to back down in a crisis.

But President Hu sought to counter this overly assertive China view.  As Jeffrey Bader, President Obama’s chief Asia adviser concluded in the NYT:

The message seems to be you don’t need to fear us, but you should also know that we can’t do do everything you want.

Again Bader concludes:

“The notion that they can challenge our supremacy in our lifetimes is not in the cards.  They can challenge us on certain technologies”, and militarily, “in areas close to their shores – but not globally, not for a long while.”

Now this won’t stop congressmen and those on the right from beating the drum of Chinese economic and military pressure, but the behavior and words of President Hu give no fodder to those who focus on “the China Threat”.

And that’s a positive outcome.

Defining the Key Relationship

With the state visit by Hu Jintao to the United States scheduled for this month, experts ad former officials are ‘coming out of the woodwork’ to give their evaluation of the US-China relationship and to declare what is necessary from the meeting of the leaders of these two key powers.

One of those experts and former officials is Zbigniew Brzezinski – formerly a national security adviser in the Carter administration.  In an op-ed in the NYT on Monday, Brzezinski in “How to Stay Friends with China” sets out his perspective.  What Brzezinski wants is a “joint charter”.  What he hopes this will lead to is to:

… set in motion a process for defining common political, economic and social goals.  It should acknowledge frankly the reality of some disagreements as well as register a shared determination to seek ways of narrowing the ranges of such disagreements.  It should also take note of potential threats to security in areas of mutual concern, and commit both sides to enhanced consultations and collaboration in coping with them.

For him the hope is that this joint declaration will:

… provide the framework not only for avoiding what under some circumstances could become a hostile rivalry but also for expanding a realistic collaboration between the United States and China.

It is an odd request – or maybe I’m just too far from diplomacy. But why spend effort on setting a broad declarative statement.  I t would seem to me that making some progress on key issues – bilateral to be sure – but also likely to have clear implications for multilateral policy – seems to me to be a far more useful effort and far less likely to be condemned for rhetorical overkill.

As I’ve expressed in earlier blogs starting with “Jumping to Conclusions“,  is that US-China relations swings from being a fried to being a foe.  What will advance global governance is for the US and China to take steps in global economic imbalances or climate change which points the way to a more collaborative policy that can foundation for collaborative multilateral policy.

Such steps move the yardsticks in global governance. Declarations are little more than rhetoric – and potentially wrong.

China Cannot Rise Peacefully

The title in this blog post is the declared bottom line from John Mearsheimer’s recent speech (given in Australia in August 2010) and the article from the China Journal of International Politics, (Vol 3, 2010, “The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia”).  Now I promise to get off this US-China relationship thing soon but I couldn’t leave without evaluating John’s speech and recent article.

For those who don’t know John, he is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago.  He is an IR celebrity – a rather hard thing to do.  He is well known for developing what is called, “Offensive Realism,”  an international relations approach that asserts that all states in an anarchic international system seek power and dominance in the international system.  This is not classic realism but realism that sees nations seeking hegemony more from uncertainty than defensive actions.  Offensive realism in contrast is realism on steroids.

So John looks at the current situation and sees US-China relations through this offensive realism lens:

Thus, the core question that any leader has to ask him or herself is this: what is the best way to maximize my country’s security in a world where another state might have significant offensive military capability as well as offensive intentions, and where there is no higher body I can turn to for help if that other state threatens my country?  This question—more than any other—will motivate American as well as Chinese leaders in the years ahead, as it has in the past.  … The best way for any state to ensure its survival is to be much more powerful than all the other states in the system, because the weaker states are unlikely to attack it for fear they will be soundly defeated. No country in the Western Hemisphere, for example, would dare strike the United States because it is so powerful relative to all its neighbors. To be more specific, the ideal situation for any great power is to be the hegemon in the system, because its survival then would almost be guaranteed.

John is a mild-mannered –  and a thoroughly likable colleague (actually I went to graduate school at Cornell with him) – who is seriously committed to international relations. So while I can, and do, disagree with him frequently – I always take him seriously.  But as you can see from the quotes above, offensive realism is anything but mild-mannered.

For John the actions of China will be not unlike the United States.  The emergence of the United States as a great power is defined by the US’s achieving regional hegemony.  It is the only great power, according to John, to have done so, and having done so it has dedicated itself to not facing another hegemon.  In John’s world of great powers – best expressed in: The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (NY: Norton, 2001)  – a rising power like China will imitate a previous great power – the United States.

It is unlikely that China will pursue military superiority so that it can go on the warpath and conquer other countries in the region, although that is always a possibility. Instead, it is more likely that Beijing will want to dictate the boundaries of acceptable behavior to neighboring countries, much the way the United States makes it clear to other states in the Americas that it is the boss. Gaining regional hegemony, I might add, is probably the only way that China will get Taiwan back.

China will seek hegemony in Asia – pushing out the United States as the United States pushed out the Europeans in the Western Hemisphere to establish regional hegemony.  China will then claim regional hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.  The struggle will not be identical to but also not unlike the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

For John the world is a world of great powers, not identical to the past but not that different either.  And the significant differences that describe global relations today fade into insignificance in the face of great power dynamics.  As it was; so will it be. Even the dynamics of globalization so dramatic over the last decades fade away and are assessed as insignificant:

My view is that economic interdependence does not have a significant effect on geopolitics one way or the other. After all, the major European powers were all highly interdependent and prospering in 1914 when First World War broke out.

And though the interdependence that John acknowledges was present in the twentieth century, I think most would recognize as significantly different in scale and influence taking into account financial, trade and investment trends.  These trends describe a tight global economic system far beyond the world understood in 1914.  And China is so much more integrated into the world economy than earlier rising powers.  Is conflict impossible? Of course not.  But the dismissal of the global economic context by John is not realistic.

I remain convinced that US-China relations are best described as “yi di, yi you” ( 亦敌 亦友) – “Both Friend and Foe” (see recent posts including “Jumping to Conclusions“).  China and the United States will have to work through periods of rivalry and periods of partnership. Those periods of rivalry could be quite tense but the periods of partnership in global leadership are likely to be quite restorative.

The picture narrated by John Mearsheimer is tragic –  possible  but not likely.  We do not have to conclude as he does:

Indeed, it is downright depressing. I wish that I could tell a more optimistic story about the prospects for peace in the Asia-Pacific region. But the fact is that international politics is a nasty and dangerous business and no amount of good will canameliorate the intense security competition that sets in when an aspiring hegemon appears in Eurasia. And there is little doubt that there is one on the horizon.

Jumping to Conclusions

I am becoming slightly obsessed, I think, with the views from the commentariat on the US-China relationship.  So I am joining in on examining the ‘horse  race’ slightly after arguing, I think correctly that you need to avoid the kind of analysis that focuses on  – ‘who is ahead, who is behind’ in the US-China relationship – ‘who can dis the other’ – in the ongoing diplomatic discussions. It will yield little in understanding the state of US-China relations.But I will focus on one of these pieces because it underlines the inherent difficulty of analyzing the US-China relationship in trying to read that relationship from the latest diplomatic effort.

The latest article I found was again – surprise, surprise – by David Sanger at the NYT.  In this instance David co-wrote with Michel Wines (see, “North Korea Is a Sign of Chilled US-China Relations“).

Their negative framing comes early:

But in Beijing, both Chinese and America officials and analysts have another explanation: the long silence epitomizes the speed with which relations between Washington and Beijing have plunged into a freeze.  This year has witnessed the longest period of tension between the two capitals in a decade.  And if anything, both sides appear to be hardening their positions.

Then for good measure they quote Bonnie Glaser a China scholar from CSIS Washington and elsewhere with: “I don’t think this is easily repairable, and I think we’re going to have a fairly cold relationship over the next two years, and potentially longer.”

But wait a minute.   Just last spring we were all commenting on the positive turn in relations between the US and China with President Hu’s call to President Obama and then his attendance at the US nuclear security conference in Washington.

Ah but today’s ‘horse race’ is around the Korean Peninsula.  There things have not gone well.  China has been notably absent in condemning the North Koreans – the DPRK- for the attack on the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and a weak Chinese follow up.  Not surprisingly, I think, the Chinese have been reluctant to condemn their ally. For China given the strong PLA (military) support for the DPRK – the short term policy remains to encourage diplomacy and eschew any demarche and public disapproval of DPRK actions.  As the authors note: “…China’s strategy is to reassure the Koreans about their security, not lecture them about diplomatic obligations.” Indeed far down in the article the journalists are more pointed in acknowledging that Chinese leadership is having a difficult time – it always thus where leadership consensus is required – defining a policy direction.  As they say, “… the Chinese leadership is still debating how to balance its interest in propping up North Korea with their interest in preventing more incidents or another nuclear test, …”

But Sanger and Wines are not content to draw out the differences between the two on Korea, and suggest that this tense diplomatic relationship over Korea only reflects a part of the growing chill between the two.  As they argue: “But the lack of cooperation on North Korea only hints at the deterioration in the US-China relationship.” Well maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.  For Wines and Sanger this unwillingness to condemn DPRK actions is more reflective of a decision – reached at the the time of the global financial crisis in 2008 – to oppose the US where “… Chinese officials have railed loudly and publicly against what they consider to be American efforts to smother their rightful emergence on the global stage.”

While the US has not fully been able to adjust itself to a world without a hegemon, I see nothing in immediate US policy toward China that smacks of ‘hegemonism’ as the Chinese would say.  And while there is a ‘China can Just Say No” school of thought in Beijing there is no indication that this School of foreign policy thinking is now the accepted consensus in Zhongnanhai.

Their analysis of current US-China relations is – “Jumping to Conclusions”.  I have not altered my view that this key leadership relationship is one of, ” yi di, yi you” ( 亦敌 亦友) – “Both Friend and Foe”.  And in that complex relationship there will be rivalry and competition as well as partnership and collaboration. It can get nasty.  But it can be friendly as well.

The Tools of Influence

Again this weekend David Sanger of the NYT has provided some real insight into the ways the US has implemented Barack Obama’s commitment as a candidate to restore “engagement” in US foreign policy.  While I have posed to you – the reader – that a key issue in clarifying the success – or not,  of global governance is an examination of current US leadership.  I am working through – as quickly as I can honestly –  Steven Weber (Berkeley) and Bruce Jentleson’s (Duke University)  recently released, “The End of Arrogance: America and the Global Competition of Ideas”.  I suspect further clues will emerge from that future post on this new book on US leadership.

But back to David Sanger.  Relying on WikiLeaks, David examines Obama Administration behavior and comes away suggesting:

Engage, yes, but wield a club as well – and try to counter the global doubts that he is willing to use. … Mr. Obama’s form of engagement is a complicated mixture of openness to negotiation, constantly escalating pressure and a series of deadlines, some explicit, some vague.

This article then describes the successes but also the failures in applying the Administration’s policy of engagement as just described above.  While successes have occurred – Russia policy most evidently – there are evident limits – Iran, North Korea and China.  The dilemma is that engagement is only part of the equation; another element is influence.  Fortunately, in this week’s “Week in Review”  is just full of insight in of all things United States foreign policy.

And particularly useful – that is in giving us some perspective on “influence” – is  Tom Friedman’s op-ed in his Sunday NYT piece, “The America Big Leak“.  What Tom points to – and to be fair he has been beating on this drum for some time- the US has little leverage – what I define as influence. The reason – oil.  What external trade is to China; oil and oil US consumption is to the United States.  It is all addiction.

For the United States, as described by Friedman:

When we [United States] import $28 billion a month in oil, we can’t say to the Saudis: “We know the guys who would come after you would be be much worse, but why do we have to choose between your misrule and corruption and their brutality and intolerance?” … We also lack leverage with the Chinese on North Korea, or with regard to the values of China’s currency, because we’re addicted to their credit. Geopolitics is all about leverage (emphasis added).  We cannot make ourselves safer abroad unless we change our behavior at home.  But  our politics never connects the two.

While it may not represent the entire picture, leverage or influence – the same are critical to leadership.  And the US needs to change the equation of influence starting currently  with cheap oil.

Less US dependence on oil would have a major impact on global governance leadership.  But it would not be the whole picture.  Beyond “influence” we need a clear behavioral strategy.  Stay tuned.

Posted in US

Whose Irresponsible Stakeholder?

My good colleague from the the Council on Foreign Relations, Stewart Patrick has recently examined the dynamics of global governance in his Foreign Affairs article, “Irresponsible Stakeholders?  The Difficulty of Integrating Rising  Powers” that appears in this November/December issue of the journal.  Now, I always thought that it was slightly patronizing for the United States to call on -in the first instance – China  to become a responsible stakeholder.  So, I find it even more patronizing to call the large emerging market countries the former G5 (Brazil, China, India, South Africa and Mexico) I assume “irresponsible stakeholders” though at least he use a question mark.  I mean really who defines responsible or for that matter irresponsible.  I suspect you can guess.

In any case leaving aside the characterization, Stewart explores the dynamics and architecture of the new global governance order – yes, I use the dreaded ‘global governance’ phrase as opposed to the apparently more acceptable – “multilateralism”.  For Stewart the objective of this US administration and presumably the follow on ones is:

Over the next ten years and beyond, the United States will have to accommodate new powers in reformed structures of global governance while safeguarding the Western liberal order it helped create and defend.

The fear for Stewart, and others, is that the global governance will become increasingly chaotic and that the rising powers will – not possessing the same norms and rules of the current global  governance leadership e.g. the G7 – become the new rule makers as opposed to the old rule takers.  Furthermore the United States will be required to alter its role in the world – leave behind hegemony for a far more multilateral/multi-partner (the current phraseology of the Secretary of State)  role.  The fear for Stewart, and indeed his boss Richard Haass CFR President, is that power will become increasingly diffused and lead to a rather dark scenario: “What if the new global order leads to an era of multipolarity without multilateralism?”

So what impact will the diffusion of power have in this situation?  The principal concern is that such a diffusion will exacerbate the strategic rivalry between the traditional powers and the rising powers.  While these powers may agree on certain policies they may not cooperate on others.  And such rivalry could complicate global governance. To that I say – well yes that will occur but that strategic rivalry will not simply polarize rising and traditional states.  I mean look at the most recent efforts to create a framework for global imbalances in the global economy.  At the G20 Seoul summit there certainly was contention between the US and China.  But the most outspoken critic of US proposals and in the case of the Federal Reserve – actions –  was Germany  – a traditional power and long time ally of the the United States.  And for good measure India was rather positive to the US suggestions and options.

The reality is the United States will have to get used to the pulling and hauling required in building a dominant coalition.  No more – or at least little – hegemony.  The US will be required to do the heavy lifting required of a ‘first among equals’ only member of the international system.  And the multiple identities possessed by all powers of consequence here – and not just the rising powers – will have to be engaged.  The US doesn’t need strategic partners, but it will face shifting coalitions in the context of differing issue areas.  As Stewart writes:

In this complex international reality, fixed alliances and formal organizations may count for less than shifting coalitions of interest.

Stewart is probably correct in assuming that the US will be required to form “partnerships of convenience.”  But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the US must follow the path – expressed by Richard Haass – of a la carte multilateralism.  The US will have to possess a little more “stick- to-itness.”  Less noticeable frustration in various forum would be helpful.  For instance the G20 is likely the ‘proper’ institutional setting for reforming the global economy. Crafting agreement among these diverse interests in this forum is not easy.  This not hegemony or even ‘hegemony lite’.

But as my old heroes – Firesign Theatre – of yesteryear used to say  – believe it or not over the radio:

Living in the future is a little like having bees in your head.  But there they are.