Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How A League of Democracies Could Work

Matt over at Foreign Policy Watch has an excellent post challenging the recently-popular concept of a League or Concert of Democracies. Such a league, which I've been writing about for sometime now (here, here, and here), has been championed by Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Rudolph Giuliani, the Princeton Project on National Security, and Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan. So what doesn't Matt like about the idea?

...this concept is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the world really works and is based on three false premises: that democracies are somehow more inclined to act in the name of the common goodwill; that democracies will agree not only on what is broken, but what needs to be done to fix it, and; that alliances are forged from common values, and not shared interests.

1. Democracies are more inclined to act... There is no reason to suspect that the creation of the League of Democracies will prompt increased attention to a situation such as, say, Darfur....In the case of Darfur, the international community has - to put it crudely - simply been too busy elsewhere. The ongoing conflict there has been only of peripheral interest to the US - it scarcely has the time or human resources at its disposal to provide the type of attention a challenge like Darfur requires. A nation acts when it is in its interest to do so and, most importantly, is actually available to do so. If anything, the competing priorities on the US foreign policy agenda (I'm looking at you, Iraq) prevent Washington from taking the sort of action on the ground in Darfur that would be necessary to end the bloodshed.

2. Collectively, democracies will do what needs to be done... To solve the litany of problems plaguing the international community today requires that states involved in the effort not only agree on what the threat is, but define its nature and agree on the steps needed to resolve the problem. By what objective standards are democracies more capable of this than other states?

In the end, the world's leading democracies already enjoy perhaps some of the closest and most interlinked alliances in all of history, yet are split on numerous foreign policy decisions - from Iraq and Iran to missile defense and arms sales to China. How would codifying their relationships into a formal "League of Democracies" make their ability to face today's threats to international security or their ability to agree any differently?

3. Alliances are built on shared values... This is the largest conceptual flaw behind the push for creating a League of Democracies, mistaking alliances among states for a nod that the two are in agreement for how the world should look both within and among states. Alliances are forged when interests between one or more states converge and a cooperative relationship between two states becomes the most realistic means of achieving shared goals. This is why the US has a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia than it does with, say, Belgium. (Pervez Musharaff and a few other Central Asian autocrats have often made quite useful partners in recent years, one might add.)
All of Matt's critiques are excellent, and right on the money. But the sum of his arguments don't add up to the total of his conclusions. He's right on all of his points: Democracies aren't necessarily any more likely to act on issues of low national interest, democracies aren't necessarily any more capable of coming to consensus, and shared values aren't always the strongest or best metric of mutual alliance.

But, to take the critiques in turn, the whole point of the league is to create a mechanism that will be more effective at spurring these countries into action. When Daalder and Kagan speak of creating a "formal mechanism" they presumably are thinking of some kind of enforcement mechanism as exists in the WTO that would bind states to their institutional commitments. The impetus behind finding a institution to replace the UN is to find one that works: That punishes states that break the rules and that forces its members to act when those rules have been broken.

Matt wonders why democracies would be any more likely than a mixed body to agree on means. Perhaps. But to discard the notion of an alliance on those grounds would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater. First, NATO, the WTO, and other institutions made of up like-minded states have certainly been more able to design coherent plans of action than has been the UN. Matt points to the problems experienced by the US surrounding the invasion of Iraq, but that seems to work against his argument, as Iraq was conducted outside of the framework of an institution. Iraq was done by the whims of the US, ignoring the advice and warnings of America's allies. A league would create some formal mechanism for planning, akin to NATO's unified command structure. Now, before you mention Kosovo, yes, I'm aware Kosovo was a problem for NATO planners. But it was still better than the UN could have done.

Finally, Matt argues that interests rather than values are the basis for partnerships in international politics, asking why, if the opposite were true, would the US have a closer relationship with Saudi Arabia than it does Belgium. This is a very short-sighted understanding of interest. While it's true that interest plays a role, the American interest in Saudi Arabia is a tactical one; oil. The American interest in Belgium is a much more long-term one; shared values. So while America may need to placate Saudi Arabia in the short-term to get access to oil or to get cooperation in counter-terror efforts on Iraq, the US relationship with Belgium is much stronger and deeper and is ultimately more fundamental to US and global security.

Matt's critiques are trenchant and powerful, but ultimately, unconvincing. Properly constructed (and that is no easy task), a league of democracies could be a powerful and meaningful force in international politics. The WTO has fired the first shot across the bow...will there be more?

Monday, August 27, 2007

A New and Improved France?

Much has been made of the new French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his seemingly overt pro-American leanings. He has already vacationed in New England, and his policies seem to be much warmer towards Washington than those of his predecessor. But today, Sarkozy has given us a clear signal that his France will not be the sissified, wishy-washy, knee-jerk anti-American France of Chirac.

In his first major speech on foreign policy, Sarkozy warned that a serious diplomatic effort on Iran's nuclear program is the only alternative to "an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran." Sarkozy made it clear that he prefers the diplomatic option, but even the mention of the use of force is a refreshing change coming from France.

I have blogged before about a critical problem in the push for more multilateral action: The unwillingness of the international community -- such as France, Germany, and the UN -- to back their negotiations and threats with military force. There is little chance that the US will trust its international security to multilateral efforts if those efforts won't even consider using force when and where diplomacy fails. It is refreshing to see Sarkozy discuss the use of military force, even if he does so in the context of a bad option to be avoided. But only when France and other countries that lead the drive for multilateral action step up and recognize that sometimes force is a necessary option, and one that is more often needed in the background of diplomacy, can multilateral action be truly successful.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Antigua 1, US Nil

Typically, international politics is an arena dominated by power. In conditions of anarchy, those who can do, and that rule is frequently followed by the US, which uses its hegemonic status to ignore rules that the US finds inimical to its interests.

International institutions are the primary ways in which anarchy is mitigated in international politics, as strong institutions can create norms and rules that states must follow or risk falling afoul of the enforcement mechanism of the institution. The WTO is one of the most significant of these institutions, as it possesses a relatively credible and powerful enforcement mechanism (described here) and has succeeded in forcing states to change their policies and domestic laws.

However, the WTO now faces a difficult situation by virtue of its very strength. The WTO has found that US laws barring American citizens from gambling on-line with off-shore casinos are a violation of free trade and of the US's obligations under the WTO. The ruling, initially made in 2004 and upheld in two appeals, supported Antigua's claim that the US law has unfairly impacted Antigua's trade in Internet gambling (Antigua's second-largest business behind tourism), and the case is now in damage assessment, with Antigua claiming $3.4 billion in damages and asking for the right for reciprocal violations of US intellectual property. If the US wishes to avoid allowing Antigua to violate US IP protections (to the amount determined by the damage assessment hearing), the US will either have to allow Americans to gamble with off-shore casinos on the Internet or ban all forms of domestic on-line gambling, such as the on-line purchase of state lottery tickets, off-track betting on horse-racing, and even fantasy sports leagues in which prize money is awarded.

The problem is, as the New York Times notes, that:
For the W.T.O. itself, the decision is equally fraught with peril. It cannot back down because that would undermine its credibility with the rest of the world. But if it actually carries out the penalties, it risks a political backlash in the United States, the most powerful force for free-flowing global trade and the W.T.O.’s biggest backer.

“Think of this from the W.T.O.’s point of view,” said Charles R. Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School. “They’re this fledgling organization dominated by a huge monster in the United States. People there must be scared out of their wits at the prospects of enforcing a ruling that would instantly galvanize public opinion in the United States against the W.T.O.”
Over at his blog, Dani Rodrik sees this as a serious problem for the WTO, writing that "this is another example of how existing WTO practices are leading to the narrowing of policy space to the detriment of legitimacy (and economic logic). When the system serves to enforce new restrictions on domestic policy autonomy that would be wildly unpopular at home, it is time to rethink the system."

But I don't see why this example is any different than any other trade dispute for which the WTO has jurisdiction. The point of the WTO is to allow states to tie their own hands. That is, states know that free trade is an overall good, but that they have powerful short-term domestic reasons to opt for protection. Committing to the WTO allows states to avoid the collective actions problems that are so endemic in trade and stick to a free trade policy. There are exceptions, under which states are allowed to impose protectionism, such as protection of domestic morals, national security, public safety, and so on. But states often try to disguise protectionist policies with legitimate rationales, like France's attempt to ban GMOs.

Indeed, the US invoked such language, claiming that the US has the right to ban Americans from on-line gambling "on moral grounds, just as any Muslim country would be within its rights under international trade agreements to ban the import of alcoholic beverages." However, given that the US allows many types of gambling, including on-line wagering, the claim rang hollow, and was rejected by the WTO.

Despite Rodrik's claim, this is exactly the kind of issue that the WTO should be dealing with. The US has no legitimate reasons to ban on-line gambling, given that gambling is obviously legal and quite prevalent in this country. There are entire cities devoted to gambling, states run massive gambling operations, and every local paper prints sports odds on a daily basis. Gambling has long been subject to massive protectionism in this country for no good reason, but the advent of on-line gambling has changed the venue and scope of the country's ability to maintain that protection. As other countries, like Antigua, developed gambling industries, the US's double standards looked more and more like unfair and illegal protectionism.

It is very important that the US comply with the WTO's decision. The WTO is one of the cornerstones of the international order, and is vital for insuring the continued prosperity of this country, and nearly every other country in the world. Furthermore, the US has been trying to get smaller, developing countries to accept American intellectual property rights laws under the WTO. Why would they do so if the US refuses to play by the rules (of course, the American, European, Japanese, and Korean refusals to ease or cease agricultural subsidies are already driving this line of thought, but at least ag policy is not currently covered by the WTO)? Refusing to comply will fundamentally damage US credibility and interests to a degree that not even the invasion of Iraq was able to do. It is vital to the US that other countries commit themselves to the WTO and comply with its obligations; it is equally vital that the US do the same.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Few Days Off

I'll be taking a few days off...the wife and I are heading out to Yellowstone National Park for several days of hiking and relaxing. We'll definitely be hanging out in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (pictured above)....

See you next week!!

The Abomination That Is The Farm Bill

There are few things in the world I hate more than domestic politics, and fewer things still that illustrate why I hate domestic politics so than the US farm bill. In testimony before Congress on July 24, the General Accounting Office revealed that the US Department of Agriculture:

paid $1.1 billion in farm payments in the names of 172,801 deceased individuals. ... 40 percent went to those who had been dead for three or more years, and 19 percent to those dead for seven or more years.
Over $200 million went to farmers who had been dead for more than 7 years. Meanwhile, farmers in Africa are unable to find decent prices for their goods as global prices are suppressed by artificially inflated supply from the US. This year alone, the US farm bill will cost the average American family about $320 in subsidies.

But wait you say...the farm bill preserves the tradition of small farming, a la Willie Nelson's Farm Aid.


As Nicholas Kristof notes in his recent mea culpa revealing that he, a New York Times journalist who writes most often about human rights, is paid $588 a year not to farm the land he owns in Oregon, "the majority of payments go to commercial farmers who earn more than $200,000 annually, while 95% of farmers get little or no benefit from the farm bill." Meanwhile, the Democratic Congress defeated a proposed $200,000 cap on payments, preferring to set the maximum that any single farmer can receive at $1 million (per farmer, so a farming couple can get $2 million).

And as John Stossel notes, the farm bill undercuts American legitimacy on free trade. Why should developing countries join the WTO and comply with US intellectual property laws if the US won't play by the rules on agriculture (it goes without saying that Europe is even worse, but that's no excuse for the US).

The farm bill is shameful. But unfortunately, it is not surprising. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, "government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one."


Monday, August 13, 2007

How NOT To Deal With Hamas

The British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has released a report criticizing the UK's policy towards Hamas and the Palestinians, stating that the refusal to deal with or talk to Hamas has been counter-productive. The all-party committee concludes that:

that the decision not to speak to Hamas in 2007 following the Mecca agreement has been counterproductive. We further conclude that a national unity Government could and should have been established much earlier than the spring of 2007. We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out when it began to actively support the establishment of a national unity Government in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
This is exactly the wrong solution. There is no possibility for a successful unity government between Hamas and Fatah, and given the civil war, it's hard to imagine why the committee feels it would have been better to create a unity government earlier (to be fair, the committee also wants the UK to end the political and economic isolation of Hamas, so it may be that it's thinking is that if economic conditions hadn't been so dire, things would have worked out differently).

As I have written on numerous occasions, the problem in the Palestinian territories is that neither side, nor the government in a general sense, possesses a monopoly of violence, which enables each side to undermine the other. There are only two ways to deal with this situation (assuming one wants to eventually reunite the West Bank with Gaza in an independent Palestinian homeland): support Fatah against Hamas, or support Hamas against Fatah. So long as the two groups maintain military/police power outside of the aegis of the government, there will no lasting peace and no political stability. Creating a unity government merely papers over this situation, but only until a divisive problem arises that splits the two parties. I don't have any intrinsic problems with Hamas ruling (although I would prefer it be Fatah); what is critical is that whichever group controls the government do so completely and totally.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Source of Legitimacy in International Politics

As President Bush has learned as a result of the invasion of Iraq, legitimacy is exceedingly important in international politics. Soft power and interdependence have become such prominent features of the international landscape that acting in opposition to global norms and mores can be very costly.

However, while legitimacy may be important, its sources aren't clear. Most people look to the UN -- the closest thing that exists to a global parliament or legislative body -- for that legitimacy. But ultimately doing so makes no sense. Legitimacy must stem from a collective of shared values; that is, the actors from whom legitimacy is sought must agree on the basic values and rules to be followed that define the legitimacy. But the UN does not represent the kind of values that should define American (or global) legitimacy. The UN stands for sovereignty, nothing more. Every state is treated equally no matter how reprehensible the state, no matter how many of the UN's own rules it violates. Thus, we get states like Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Sudan not just participating, but leading committees and being treated as normal. However, despite this seeming democratic nature, the UN is fundamentally non-democratic, as the UN's institutional structure allows one of five states (the permanent members of the Security Council) to veto any action and block the will of the rest of the international community.

Seeking legitimacy from this institution makes no sense. Why is it acceptable to allow Russia or China to veto international action in Kosovo or Darfur? Why should the US seek approval from an organization that allows Sudan to serve, and chair, on the Human Rights Committee? That allows Zimbabwe to chair the Sustainable Development panel? That repeatedly condemns Israel but makes no mention of the genocides in Darfur, the brutalization in Zimbabwe, or the misery of North Korea? And the UN is, obviously, subjected to the politics of national self-interest which undermines its ability to define legitimacy. As Ivo Daalder and Robert Kagan note in their Washington Post op-ed from Monday:

the U.N. Security Council, no longer suffices [as a source of legitimacy], if it ever did. Under the United Nations Charter, states are prohibited from using force except in cases of self-defense or when explicitly authorized by the Security Council. But this presupposes that the members of the Security Council can agree on the threat and the appropriate response. From Rwanda to Kosovo to Darfur, however, and from Iraq to North Korea to Iran, the Security Council has not been able to agree and has failed to act decisively. Its permanent members are deeply divided by conflicting interests as well as by clashing beliefs about the nature of sovereignty and the right of the international community to intervene in the internal affairs of nations.
If the UN can't provide legitimacy, where should states look? According to Daalder and Kagan, "the answer is the world's democracies, the United States and its democratic partners in Europe and Asia." They continue:

As the war in Kosovo showed, democracies can agree and act effectively even when major non-democracies, such as Russia and China, do not. Because they share a common view of what constitutes a just order within states, they tend to agree on when the international community has an obligation to intervene. Shared principles provide the foundation for legitimacy.

A policy of seeking consensus among the world's great democratic nations can form the basis for a new domestic consensus on the use of force. It would not exclude efforts to win Security Council authorization. Nor would it preclude using force even when some of our democratic friends disagree. But the United States will be on stronger ground to launch and sustain interventions when it makes every effort to seek and win the approval of the democratic world.

Eventually, perhaps, these matters could be addressed and decided in a more formal arrangement, a Concert of Democracies, where the world's democracies could meet and cooperate in dealing with the many global challenges they confront. Until such a formal mechanism has been created, however, future presidents need to recognize that legitimacy matters, and that the most meaningful and potent form of legitimacy for a democracy such as the United States is the kind bestowed by fellow democrats around the world.

I have supported this idea many times in these pages. Back in May, I wrote about John McCain's idea of a league of democracies, arguing that:

that the democratic states of the world need to create, perhaps using the WTO and NATO as foundations, a meta-institution that can spread western values, enforce international laws and norms, maintain peace and security, and bolster the international economic order. The general vision is to connect the various economic and political institutions together, whereby membership in one is predicated on adherence to commitments in the others. Thus, violating the NPT or the genocide convention is met by punishment in the WTO. Such a strategy is based on the logic of engagement which has been working reasonably well in China, where the desire to participate in and receive the benefits of the international economic order (and the fear of the economic damage that would result from being excluded) creates incentives to maintain a status quo posture. Such a network, or meta-institution, could go a long way in dealing with the issues with which the UN is incapable of dealing.
I also claim that its not as important that the members of the group be democratic so long as they are committed to globalization, economic interdependence, and preservation of the status quo.

The UN is simply not capable of dealing with issues of global security, nor should it be seen as a source of legitimacy where such issues are concerned. The UN is invaluable when it comes to peace keeping, nation building, and social initiatives like disease prevention, education, and the like. But it is time to recognize the UN's limits. While the UN dithered getting a weak, watered down resolution in Darfur, more than 200,000 people died and millions more were displaced. If such an parallel institution existed, perhaps the Kosovo model, in which the democratic members of NATO authorized their own intervention contrary to international law, could have applied and countless lives saved.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Making Politics A Little More Real

People often refer to the academic study of politics as if it is somehow not the "real world." Maybe, although most academics would argue that the theoretical issues and policy applications we study are critical for actually making policy.

But the Politics and Government Department here at the University of Puget Sound is doing its best to keep our study of politics connected to the real world. To that end, we have begun working with Kiva. Kiva is a microcredit organization that matches up individual donors with people in the developing world who need small amounts of cash to start their own businesses. Several donors contribute to make up one loan package, typically amounting to around $1000, which the recipients pay back over time on a manageable schedule. The interest charged goes to maintain the program, and the donors get their original seed money back, which can then be reinvested. To date, Kiva boasts a repayment rate of over 99%. My department is currently contributing to Sorn Sophea in Cambodia who got $1000 to open her own tailoring business.

A quick peek at Kiva's business-in-need page reveals an interesting mix: Lots of women, lots of Iraqis...lots of people trying to get up on their own feet and provide for their families. Microcredit is one of the best ideas in development, as evidenced by the last Nobel Peace Prize going to Muhammed Yunis and the Grameen Bank, one of the pioneers in microcredit lending who has probably done more to end poverty and encourage development than all the government organizations combined.

I would encourage any of Security Dilemmas readers to get involved with Kiva. Make a loan, change someone's life!!!

UPDATE: I decided to take it one step farther, and became a Kiva lender on my own. I lent $25 to Dung Truong Thi of Ham Thuan Nam, Viet Nam so she can expand her pig business to care for her family. It looks like Dung is now fully funded, so let's hope her business flourishes!!

The Return Of The Club For Growth

The passage of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 is now widely seen as one of the most disastrous laws ever passed by Congress. The high tarrifs lengthened and intensified, if not caused, the Great Depression and contributed to the coming of World War II by exacerbating poor economic conditions in Europe and undermining any sense of international trust. At the time, it was opposed by 1,028 of this county's leading economists, who called themselves the Club For Growth. Unfortunately, Congress thought it knew better than the economists and ignored their advice.

History seems to be repeating itself today as a newly protectionism-minded Congress prepares to pass legislation that will impose punitive tariffs on China if China does not raise the value of its currency, the yuan. While the yuan has risen by about 9% in value relative to the dollar, it may still be undervalued by 40%.

Fortunately, the Club For Growth has returned, as 1,028 of our leading economists have once again signed a petition urging Congress to abandon punitive tariffs as a policy tool. Unfortunately, it's likely that the current incarnation of the Club will be ignored just as was the first.

There are so many reasons why these tariffs would be a bad idea. First, they are little more than protectionism disguised as congressmen seek to protect their inefficient and struggling manufacturing industries from foreign competition. Succeeding will cost this country, and the global economy, billions of dollars, and will punish the poorest Americans who can least afford to waste their money on tariffs.

Second, this policy threatens to undermine the long-standing US policy of engagement towards China. While China is not a model global citizen, there can be no question that the China of today is infinitely better -- economically, socially, politically -- than the China of 20 years ago, and little doubt that the China of tomorrow will be better than the China of today. And there is little question that economic interdependence, globalization, and engagement are large reasons why.

Undermining such a critical long-term policy for short-term political benefit is so short-sighted as to be moronic. But why would we expect anything less from our elected officials?