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February 28, 2007

The world in 2020, according to Mark Leonard.

Mark Leonard has published another work that extends his analysis of Europe’s significance in a future world that he sees as likely to continue to be divided between broadly ‘democratic’ and broadly ‘autocratic’ countries (Divided World: The struggle for primacy in 2020, Centre for European Reform, 2007). Leonard is interested in ‘current policy’, that of Europe in particular, rather than in ‘futurology’. What does he say? Is his image of international action in a world made up of new and powerful economies helpful?

According to Leonard, we are not experiencing the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy. Ideology is back with a basic split developing between ‘democratic’ and ‘autocratic’ countries. The move is from a single polar world based on the United States to a ‘quadripolar’ world. This world will be one of extreme international competition (in terms of economics and of power) but will be bound up together as a result of continued globalization. In this envisaged future, the United States (and no doubt India), will be seeking democracy as the international norm. China and Russia, together are likely to be seeking to ‘use international law to protect autocracies from external interference’. The European Union (EU), will favor democracy and the further development of international law and ‘multilateral institutions’. The Middle East will be a ‘faith zone’, lacking in democratic practices. By 2020 the significant world economic powers will be China, India, the United States and the EU. Brazil will only emerge as globally significant if Latin America becomes better integrated economically and politically and Russia will have an economy of roughly the size of France. In such a world there will be fierce competition for natural resources and for establishing predictable (stable) supply-chains. Key international political issues will be climate change, water shortages and large-scale population movements.

Leonard looks at each of the four components of this imagined 2020 world in turn, suggesting the kind of international policies that will emerge up and through that time from each of the parts. For the Americans, national democracies are, Leonard holds, drawing upon Kagan and Fukuyama, of greater significance than international institutions. US policy is based on the notion of spreading democracy and balancing power (e.g. key allies such as India, Australia and Japan acting to balance China in Asia and the Pacific). Europe now has its own ambitions and in the future world will be acting even more independently. The EU favors international institutions and international law. What the EU will wish for in Asia is economic integration between China and its neighbors. Russia and China will continue to support the international order more or less as it stands and will be acting in the world as it develops towards 2020 as ‘status quo powers’. China will tackle the reform issue as it grows economically but the reforms will be about maintaining the position of the Party rather than about ushering in a liberal democratic order. Russia will favor ‘leadership and stability’ over ‘democratic participation’. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (see an earlier guest web-log by David Wall) will be China’s preferred mechanism for regional security and for stabilizing Central Asia. China and Russia’s policy of ‘non-interference’ has already proven popular with some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The EU will continue, according to Leonard, to attempt to ‘pool’ sovereignty through international institutional development as witnessed by the Kyoto treaty and the International Criminal Court. The European attachment to the legitimacy of the United Nations could be exploited by Russia and China.

Leonard acknowledges that the future of the Middle-East is hard to predict. A possible ideological battle is between mainstream Islam and radical Islam. Either way the regional will experience severe economic problems by 2020. Depressingly perhaps Leonard predicts that it will remain a ‘playground for great power politics’ with China’s interests and involvement there rising. China’s ‘status quo’ interests (state sovereignty and integrity) will probably find some support in the region as a means of counter-acting American activities. China and Russia will seek to continue to use the UN as a means of constraining American power.

A main point of the exercise is for Leonard to reach policy prescriptions for Europe. It has a number of advantages in that it is the leading regional model; the international institutions that the EU has promoted are successful and attractive; it will develop its economic and military power; it will continue to act as a ‘transformative power’. The EU will need to develop clear thinking on international institutions including its attitude to regional institutions such as the African Union.

By basing his argument on economic predictions from an impeccable source (the Economist Intelligence Unit) he has as secure a basis as any for the rank ordering of future economies and regional groupings. The picture that he paints is based on very broad brush strokes. This is both its strength and weakness. The strength comes from the simplicity of the arrangement of the elements of the ‘quadripolar world’ and from the identification of a few key motivating factors for each of the areas under consideration (including the rise of ‘soft power’ from sources other than the United States). The text is clear and the pace is vigorous. The weakness is that whilst there are interesting mini-episodes with more detailed scenarios or information (such as on the ‘Beijing consensus’) the future scoping does not cover significantly ‘what ifs’ such as the collapse of Communist Party power in China or the political significance in domestic and international policy terms of the popular and growing awareness in the United States of global warming and of its global and local implications. Consideration of actions, reactions and interactions are necessary limited. There is a place for broad-brush analysis. This pamphlet gives useful ways of looking at the more distant future as a means of asking questions about policies and their consequences in the present and nearer future. It pursues its own questions and will prompt others. I can see this being usefully read and used in a number of contexts including undergraduate teaching or in local foreign policy discussion groups and other such forums where ideas matter.


February 20, 2007

Iran, the United States and the mirror effect

There is a curious mirror effect in the attitudes of Tehran and Washington. Conservatives in Tehran tend to see the United States as a ravenous wolf and conservatives in Washington have branded Tehran as part of an ‘axis of evil’. The distance between Washington and Tehran is dangerous for both countries. Now that there is some resolution with respect to DPRK, some sort of resolution is needed with respect to relations between Washington and Tehran. What are Washington’s plans? Opportunities for détente have been bungled in the past thanks to the United States over-estimating its military power. What will it take to give diplomacy a chance?


Any public statement by the Iranian President has to be treated with interpretative care. Any speech, by any politician usually addresses more than one audience. Ahmadinejad is seen as a demagogue, though in making such judgments there is a need for care. Persian rhetorical style does not necessarily correspond to Western models of political discourse. He needs to maintain his revolutionary credentials and his support amongst working class Iranians. He has also understood that by raising the rhetorical stakes, he can gain significant international attention and this helps to divert attention away from internal problems faced by a deeply conservative regime. He is listened to by far too much and at the same time, not at all. Dialogue is essential. There is a huge gap in understanding between Washington and Tehran and such gaps are dangerous. There is a need to recognize the dangers that Iran poses: the threat to Israel and the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons elsewhere in the Middle East. Its possible direct or complicit involvement in Iraq is treated with some skepticism beyond military circles. Iran’s official line is that it supports the Iraqi government and that a fundamental condition for peace is the withdrawal of American forces. There is also a need for diplomacy. The United States has encouraged the Europeans (Britain, Germany and France) to talk with Tehran. The imposition of sanctions by the Security Council in December as a result of a negative response from Tehran to the European initiative puts a constraint in place. The talks with the DPRK have also benefited from the support of China and Russia. Is a similar process possible for the Iranian issue? Ahmadinejad is talking about being in favor of ‘logic’ and of accepting unconditional talks, to be held under ‘just conditions’. The IAEA is still making efforts to edge the Iranians into talks. Such may well be possible with a concerted effort. His tone is to be assessed as conciliatory. Wendesday's talks in Vienna with the IAEA may lead to a significant outcome.

President Bush has been at pains to let it be known that the United States is not preparing to attack Iran. In describing ordinary Iranians ‘as good people’ he is clearly acknowledging that there are people in Iran who do not support Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad is equally aware that there are many people in the United States who do not support George Bush. Iran is aware that it is being prepared as a ‘scapegoat’. Tit-for-tat exchanges such as are taking place over detained Iranian diplomats lead nowhere.

Bush has authorized the build up of American defense forces in Iraq and in the Gulf, placing aircraft carriers within easy reach of prospective Iranian targets. Washington has also acknowledged that the military has contingency plans for knocking out the country’s military structures. According to the BBC, there are two developments that would ‘trigger’ a US attack. Iranian involvement in a deadly attack on US forces in Iraq and steps towards the creation of an Iranian nuclear bomb. The publicity and indeed uncertainty surrounding the intentions of the United States must cause concern in Tehran. The next round of sanctions will be financial and such sanctions have a history of effectiveness. It remains to be seen whether the physical presence in the Gulf and the threat of further UN sanctions taken together will persuade Tehran of the need to talk. Tehran’s call for ‘unconditional’ talks may not be enough of a move, but if there is more to come, then let’s hope that the signals are recognized in Washington. The lack of regular diplomatic contact is a hindrance to the interpretation of events. If we only talk to people that we agree with or if we only talk to the mirror, we often miss the obvious.

February 19, 2007

Japan takes a hard line on PDRK (North Korea) deal

The PDRK (North Korea) has agreed to shut down the significant Yongbyon reactor in exchange for fuel and other economic aid. Japan’s nuclear sensitivities were reactivated when the PDRK fired a missile over its territory in 1998. Why is Japan taking a hard line on the nuclear issue and North Korea? What are the chances of the agreement sticking?

Nuclear weapons are a highly sensitive issue in Japan and the firing of a missile over Japan in 1998 was a deliberate and highly provocative act. With its abundance of missiles the regime in North Korea has made it clear that Japan is a potential target. The tensions between the two countries have historical origins. Japan colonized the whole of the Korean Peninsula and the consequences even in South Korea have not yet been fully worked through. Japan has no ambassador in the PDRK. The PDRK expects compensation in some form from the Japanese. Japan, on the other hand, has made a major issue of the fate of Japanese civilians, abducted by North Korea in the 1970s with the aim of indoctrination and subsequent employment as North Korean spies. Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister of Japan, still holds that the abduction issue (admitted by North Korea in 2002) is still unresolved so long as the remaining abductees are not returned. Japan, according to Abe, will not help finance the present compromise on the nuclear issue. Some of his opponents think that the two issues should be treated separately.

Bush referred to the PDRK as part of the ‘axis of evil’. With present American problems in the Middle-East at the top of the political agenda, the tactic with respect to the PDRK has been to try and negotiate. China’s irritation with North Korea over the nuclear bomb test, and the subsequent economic pressure that it placed on the regime (directly and indirectly through the United Nations), provided the chance to re-focus the diplomatic initiative. The pressure from China, and the fact that United States continued to freeze some North Korean funds in an attempt to dissuade the regime from massive dollar counterfeiting activities, seems to have provided the diplomacy with effective leverage. China played a key role in getting the talks, suspended since November 2005, restarted.

What is the deal? The regime is to shut down, within sixty days, the Yongbyon reactor, and as a result the regime is to be given access to fuel aid and economic aid to the same value as the fuel aid. Japan has thus far refused to fund any of the energy or of the other aid that has been part of the deal. Japan’s refusal is, as I have said, linked to the issue of the abductees. The regime has also agreed to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as to make its current nuclear programs known to the wider world. The United States has agreed to bilateral talks with the PDRK (a key aim of the regime in North Korea and one that was psychologically important for its survival).

What are the chances of success? Some aspects of the current agreement have not been specified (at least not in public). How is the aid going to be paid for? Japan has linked any potential payment to the question of the abductees. Critics in Japan and in the United States were quick to point out that Kim Jong Il has a problem with keeping his word. Earlier agreements were abandoned. Make enough noise and you will be bribed into line is the tenor of the criticisms. Critics are quick to link the behavior of the PDRK (and the current response) to the strategy being pursued by Iran. What the United States hopes is that attention can now focus on Iran. As the agreement bites, the fear is that Kim Jong Il will become recalcitrant. However, China has already been severely irritated by its communist neighbor. China lost face and reacted by supporting UN sanctions. China will have no wish to be humiliated again. This is a significant check on potential actions. The regime has also gained what it longed for, which is a return to the Geneva Framework (hitherto a framework rejected by George W. Bush). This envisages dealing with the nuclear issue within a framework set by the normalization of relationships (essentially unresolved since the end of the Korean War) between the two countries.

It is now over to the leadership of the PDRK and of the United States. This is only the start of a process. It takes two to tango.

February 9, 2007

Endgame in Zimbabwe?

There is an economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Slow decline over the last few years has tipped over into what looks, according to the International Herald Tribune, like ‘freefall’. What has happened and is there a way back?

Robert Mugabe’s regime looks as if it is in serious political difficulties. Last week it was reported that the Zanu PF politburo refused to endorse a policy that would extend his rule to 2010. His term of office is therefore still due to end on March 2008. For the first time the contrived system of political economy that has kept him in power is not providing him with unquestioned support. It is not hard to seek the reason: the economy is in chaos and the annual rate of inflation is the highest in the world. Mugabe holds that if he quits the party would disintegrate. It increasingly looks that if the present policies continue, the country itself will disintegrate although as with all periods of hyperinflation there are some winners, such as those in the informal sector and those with direct access to foreign exchange, as well as many losers. Annual inflation was reported to be 1,281% by December 2006. Brazil recovered from 6,000% inflation by tough action and the Governor of the Central Bank of Zimbabwe believes that he can achieve the same outcome. This is greeted with skepticism by many of the middle-class in Harare.

With fears of a collapse of the electricity supply, problems with water supply and continued problems in the business sector, there has been a split of sorts in the party. The hardliners are still loyal but the moderates within Zanu PF fear that the country is on the edge of ruin. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the main opposition, is arguing that Mugabe is on the way out and that the transition to a new system of government is on its way. Mugabe deprived commercial farmers (members of the white community on Zimbabwe) of their land and divided it amongst his supporters. Many farms stand idle whilst the new owners are in receipt of subsidies. Senior government officials have allegedly been given access to foreign exchange on favorable terms and so help them to stave off some of the hardships imposed on the population as a whole, according to the MDC. The MDC was formed in 1999 and thereafter continuously harassed by the Government. Dairy production has dropped dramatically and commercial beef farming has become insignificant. Ordinary Zimbabweans are finding it difficult enough to survive and high-valued foods have dropped out of their diet. The health of the population is at risk. The Government has run out of any growth areas from which to derive tax revenue and has resorted to the printing press to bridge the gap between revenues and expenditure and this has led to inflationary results. In an effort to sustain itself, it continues to harass any opposition.

Those with economic knowledge of Zimbabwe doubt that the government has the economic skills and the political capacity to quickly set the economy on a path to recovery. To get commercial farms back into production would require rethinking the recent land re-allocation and challenging directly the government’s own supporters (including according to John Robertson an economist in Harare, withdrawing subsidies from very inefficient small-scale farmers) . There are no significant and legitimate sources of new taxation. The wage and price control measures proposed by the Central Bank are unlikely to succeed even if there was the social will for them to work. Such measures tackle the outcomes and not the causes. The cause is the policy-inspired contraction in the the tax base and the huge growth of the government deficit and the means chosen to finance it. Market forces could help constrain corrupt practices but the market is still treated with suspicion. More and more government control in a situation where electricity supply cannot be guaranteed or other basic services nominally under government control are under stress, is not likely to bring a solution.

Whilst some of the problem can be directed at the withdrawal of international aid, Zimbabwe’s economic troubles are self-inflicted. Politics have dominated over economics. Buying-off Mugabe’s supporters has been of greater significance that ensuring continued economic development and increased living standards. Unprincipled land reform is a significant factor. Contracted output and contracting exports has meant that imports cannot be so easily financed. When property rights are in doubt, capital takes fright. Falling real incomes and rising unemployment add to social unrest whilst under-investment and lack of imports puts strains on significant services. Death rates increase. Life expectancy is now alleged to be half what it was only a few years ago and so it goes on.

Mugabe’s policy of rewarding those who supported him during the liberation struggle and of punishing any opponents, have led to an acute economic mismanagement that many think now fuels a decline that is completely out of control. Whilst Mugabe is a skillful politician in the sense of ensuring his support within the Party, he seems to be running out of easy options. The lack of good governance is at the center of the crises. It looks to the MDC as if only a radical change in policy or in leadership and government will be required to get things right. A radical change in attitudes at the top, rather than on the streets, is certianly required and currently this seems unlikely. Even if Mugabe plays the China card, the problems will remain. There is no quick and easy solution to Zimbabwe’s ills.


February 2, 2007

Blair and his Battle for Global Values

The journal Foreign Affairs has published in its January/February 2007 Issue a political speech by Tony Blair. I am often asked ‘How did Blair get embroiled with Bush?’ The best place to look for an answer to that question is Tony Blair himself. The article has been given a lot of publicity and has drawn a lot of comment on the web. What does Blair say? How do I evaluate his ideas?

Tony Blair as a politician came to power determined upon an ethical foreign policy. He has maintained this stand throughout his period of office. He has, in addition, talked many times about the significance of the values that he thinks are required for working together in an interdependent world (see an earlier web-log ‘Blair and reform of economic institutions’). When talking about the reform of global economic institutions he talked in terms of ‘liberty, democracy, tolerance and justice’ which are to my mind an up-dated version of the ‘four freedoms’ listed by the Allies towards the end of the second world war.

International terror has its roots, according to Blair, in alienation and political oppression in the Muslim, in particular the Arab world. Terrorist movements have their origins in ‘a combination of religious extremism and populist politics’ and the enemy is ‘the West’ and ‘Islamic leaders who cooperated with it’. Extremists reject the modern world: ‘They want the Muslim world to retreat into governance by a semifeudal religious oligarchy’. Blair is clear that globalization is essentially about modernization and democratization. Globalization is on the one hand and extremism is on the other: that is the nature of the clash and this is to be interpreted as a clash between good and evil. The clash is not one of civilizations for Blair holds that there are universal values but the ‘age-old battle between progress and reaction— between those who accept the modern world and those who reject its existence…’ This is a battle of value and the values that Blair supports are those of people who believe ‘in religious tolerance, in openness to others, in democracy, in liberty, and in human rights administered by secular courts’. These are, in essence I suppose, the secular values of liberal democracies and it is these values that are to be ideologically constructed as global values for a globalized world. Blair later in the article outlines the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and constructs the issues in the two countries as ‘in its most pure form … a struggle between democracy and violence’. It was ‘value-change’ that motivated intervention (in other words democratization) rather than ‘regime-change’.

Leaving aside the details, the core of Blair’s argument, since September 11th, is that ‘This is ultimately a battle about modernity’ and again ‘This is a battle of values and for progress’. Justice is part of the concerns and the commitment to global values outlined by Blair (here and elsewhere) requires a foreign policy of engagement and securing peace it the Middle-East or debt relief in Africa or securing policies effective against global warming.

Blair is essentially constructing an ideology of ‘progress’. His notion of ‘progress’ is reflected upon but not very profoundly. His ideas of universal values would seem to be based on the philosophers of the European Enlightenment, on Locke’s notion of ‘toleration’, on the universal progress of the human mind and (perhaps) on ‘philosophy’ versus ‘superstition’. It was the case then and it is the case now that those who live a spiritual life feel that the values of capitalism and the Enlightenment project as a whole are basically intent on undermining the basis for such ways of living. To those not deeply imbued with liberalism, it can look like a radicalized secular faith and there is something of that kind of conviction in Blair’s thinking and use of language. The rhetoric smacks of the Church Militant. The 11th September links Blair to Bush, so does his conviction.

If there is such a community of interest as Blair seems to be suggesting then to me it needs to be manifest in a variety of meeting places and political engagements. It does not come ready-made in any simple sense. Blair is certain that there is a global fight to be had against terrorism. This is a point of view that can work against seeing particular problems in particular places and hence finding particular solutions. He is equally certain that ‘we’ will need to fight to defend ‘our values’. The fight, in his terms, is clearly intended to be both physical when necessary but also moral. The trouble is that globalized capitalism has produced almost as many problems as it has solved and the fight for universal values needs to be carried on (as Blair recognizes) in world meeting places (such as the Doha Round or G8) that have little directly to do with terrorism. Blair’s ‘universal’ values need to be promoted (to richer nations as well as to poorer) rather than simply ‘defended’ (against populist radicals) or conveniently ‘assumed’. Thomas Aquinas held that it was justifiable to remove a tyrant provided that the damage done in the process was less than that that would be experienced if the tyranny endured. Values, in this sense, need to be backed by political judgment and clear thinking on Iraq did not happen from the outset. There is still a question mark with respect to current policy choices. Collective values also have to be lived and the problem is that where violence is unleashed it usually leads to an irrational dynamic. Values surely are better chosen rather than imposed, one way or another.