Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Grading the Bush Doctrine, Pt. 1

In a very interesting and provocative article in the Asia Times, Tom Engelhardt argues that the Bush Doctrine has been an abject failure. Engelhardt writes that:
The Bush Doctrine, of course, no longer exists. Within a year, it had run aground on the shoals of reality on its very first whistle stop in Iraq. More than six years later, looking back on the foreign policy that emerged from Bush's self-declared "war on terror", it's clear that no president has ever failed on his own terms on such a scale or quite so comprehensively
He then proceeds to grade different applications and outcomes of the Bush Doctrine, from dealing with al Qaeda to Pakistan, from Iraq to Iran, from Somalia to Lebanon. Security Dilemmas will, over the next days consider and analyze Engelhardt's grades, going in order.

1. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda: The "war on terror" started here. Osama bin Laden was to be brought in "dead or alive" - until, in December 2001, he escaped from a partial US encirclement in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan (and many of the US troops chasing him were soon enough dispatched Iraqwards). Seven years later, bin Laden remains free, as does his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably in the mountainous Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border. Al-Qaeda has been reconstituted there and is believed to be stronger than ever. An allied organization that didn't exist in 2001, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was later declared by Bush to be the "central front in the war on terror", while al-Qaeda branches and wannabe groups have proliferated elsewhere.
Result: Terror promoted. Grade: F
Engelhardt's analysis breaks down in his very first example. Clearly, it is problematic that the US has failed to catch bin Laden. But to assert that the only outcome of the US efforts against al Qaeda is "terror promoted" is simplistic at best. Al Qaeda has been seriously degraded as a result of the global campaign against it, to the point where, for the last seven years, the organization has only been capable of conducting traditional bombing attacks, as in Great Britain or Spain. While it may be true that al Qaeda is reforming in Pakistan, that very act highlights the damage that has been done to the organization. The war on terror has forced al Qaeda to decentralize and disperse away from its former state stronghold in Afghanistan, which undermined its ability to function as a global terror organization. The effort of reforming its centralized structure in Pakistan -- which in turn increases al Qaeda's vulnerability -- demonstrates al Qaeda's own frustration with what has happened to its organizational structure. The fact that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still at large, and that al Qaeda is reforming itself are serious problems, but the war against al Qaeda has not been a failure. A grade of C+ or so is more appropriate.
2. The Taliban and Afghanistan: The Taliban was officially defeated in November 2001 with an "invasion" that combined native troops, US special operations forces, CIA agents, and US air power. The Afghan capital, Kabul, was "liberated" and, not long after, a "democratic" government installed (filled, in part, with a familiar cast of warlords, human rights violators, drug lords, and the like). Seven years later, according to an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate, Afghanistan is on a "downward spiral"; the drug trade flourishes as never before; the government of President Hamid Karzai is notoriously corrupt, deeply despised, and incapable of exercising control much beyond the capital; American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, thanks largely to a reliance upon air power and soaring civilian deaths, are increasingly unpopular; the Taliban is resurgent and has established a shadow government across much of the south, while its guerrillas are embedded at the gates of Kabul. American and NATO forces promoted a "surge" strategy in 2007 that failed and are now calling for more of the same. Reconstruction never happened.
Result: Losing war. Grade: F
In the case of Afghanistan, Engelhardt's hyperbole and anti-Bush rhetoric undermines his mostly trenchant analysis. Afghanistan has clearly not gone well. The country is on a downward spiral, the drug trade is booming, NATO operations have resulted in large losses of civilian life and have alienated the population, and Karzai's government is corrupt and largely ineffective. Also, serious weaknesses and flaws in NATO's military capabilities have been exposed, as the US's allies have proven themselves to be incapable of and unwilling to engage in serious military operations.

But, the Taliban is not in power. And that's a big plus. Furthermore, al Qaeda was driven out of its sponsor state, an arrangement which greatly multiplied al Qaeda's capabilities. On those two grounds alone, the US invasion cannot be deemed a failure. The situation isn't good, by any stretch of the imagination, but a grade of D is much more appropriate.

That's it for now. Over the next few days, we'll run through the rest of Engelhardt's grades, which for those interested are: Pakistan (F), Iraq (F), Iran (F), Lebanon (F), Gaza (F), Somalia (F), Georgia (F), North Korea (F), Global Public Opinion (F), the American taxpayer (F).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Reports of the United States' Decline Are Greatly Exaggerated

There has been a lot of talk lately about the decline of American power. In this argument, the United States is currently going through a period of imperial overstretch, in which the US commitments to global leadership is being undermined by the on-going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- which have squandered American soft power, sapped the will of the American public to sustain international leadership, and cost billions of dollars -- and the credit crisis -- which has discredited American economic leadership and slowed the American economy.

While this argument is not new, it is being forcefully made today by Andrew Bacevich in his book The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. Bacevich's argument is echoed in a piece by H.D.S. Greenway in today's Boston Globe. Greenway writes that:

There is a mythical American narrative, according to Bacevich, that the United States is a nation "providentially set apart in the New World and wanting nothing more than to tend to its own affairs," only grudgingly responding to calls for global leadership "in order to preserve the possibility of freedom." In reality, the United States has sought expansion, first by pushing west until it reached the sea, then through a brief period of direct colonialism, and more recently through a ruthless if indirect imperial policy of control. It worked spectacularly. The United States became a great power replete with material abundance.


The actions of the Bush administration after 9/11 may have been designed to make the United States safe from another attack. But the chosen method was nothing less than to "assert American power throughout the Greater Middle East . . . to transform this region, to employ American power, both hard and soft, to impose order while ensuring stability, order, access, and adherence to American norms - in essence to establish unambiguous US hegemony so that the Islamic world will no longer serve as a breeding ground for terrorists who wish to kill us."


This grand imperial overreach never had a chance. Transforming Islam can only be done by Muslims themselves, in their own due time. The new "liberated" Iraq has not changed the Middle East. The passions of the Middle East have transformed Iraq, perhaps more stable now than a year ago but in no way destined to achieve what Bush, Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, et al wanted and expected.


Militarily, we threw containment and deterrence out the window, banking on the "shock and awe" of preventive war. It hasn't worked. We are bogged down in two wars with an end to neither in sight.
This is a powerful argument, that has been made by many critics of President Bush from camps on both sides of the IR theory aisle. But it doesn't ring true. Despite the current woes of the US -- and there are, to be sure, many -- the US is still the only game in town when it comes to international leadership. And the rest of the world should be happy that that is the case.

First, despite the economic crisis, the US is still the global economic leader, and its market is still the most important in the world. One only need to look at the counter-intuitive strengthening of the dollar during the current credit crisis to see this. Even if the US approach is under siege now, it's not clear that there are any meaningful alternatives. Furthermore, the US economy still functions as the engine that drives the rest of the world. No other actor is powerful enough to exert the kind of control and influence necessary to control the global economy (no, the EU doesn't count...it's financial and economic strength is undermined by its lack of coordination and absence of serious military power).

Second, if the decline argument is true, one would expect to see other states rising to challenge American leadership. Where is that happening? Nowhere. There is no evidence of balancing of either the hard or soft variety by other states. The recent Russian invasion of Georgia doesn't count...Georgia is simply too close to Russia to count. More telling, the attempts by Russia to get international approval of its move into Georgia failed, as did the efforts by Russia and China to form a strategic partnership. The Russian military, and particularly its strategic forces are in decline. And while the Chinese are developing niche capabilities, they are not developing the full-spectrum military capabilities they would need to challenge US leadership. China is well aware that doing so would provoke regional balancing from Japan and South Korea. The Europeans can't even agree on a common security policy, their soft power is in decline, and their military capabilities are a joke. The US is still the unchallenged military might in the world and its leadership is still essential in global institutions.

And that is the way the rest of the world should want it. American leadership and military might provides untold benefits for the international system. The security guarantees provided by the US make it possible for states to spend less on weapons and more on their welfare systems and make it possible for the concept of sovereignty to erode and enable the doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect" and the current emphasis on human rights and international law. Do you think the UN even considers such a doctrine during the Cold War? Or that the ICC can exist in a bipolar world?

This is not to argue that the US is a saintly paragon of ethical leadership. Far from it. But, as Niall Ferguson argues in his excellent Foreign Policy article "A World Without Power" (rr):
Anyone who dislikes U.S. hegemony should bear in mind that, rather than a multipolar world of competing great powers, a world with no hegemon at all may be the real alternative to U.S. primacy. Apolarity could turn out to mean an anarchic new Dark Age: an era of waning empires and religious fanaticism; of endemic plunder and pillage in the world's forgotten regions; of economic stagnation and civilization's retreat into a few fortified enclaves.


The prospect of an apolar world should frighten us today a great deal more than it frightened the heirs of Charlemagne. If the United States retreats from global hegemony -- its fragile self-image dented by minor setbacks on the imperial frontier -- its critics at home and abroad must not pretend that they are ushering in a new era of multipolar harmony, or even a return to the good old balance of power.

Be careful what you wish for. The alternative to unipolarity would not be multipolarity at all. It would be apolarity -- a global vacuum of power. And far more dangerous forces than rival great powers would benefit from such a not-so-new world disorder.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The US-India Nuclear Deal

On Friday, the United States and India will sign a very controversial agreement concerning India's nuclear program. The agreement "will provide India with access to U.S. nuclear fuel, reactors and technology, overturning a ban on such trade instituted after India first conducted a nuclear test in 1974." In exchange, India will agree to submit its nuclear facilities to oversight and inspections to ensure its security and stability.

The deal is controversial because India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its development and testing of a nuclear weapon is thus outside of the global non-proliferation regime, meaning that India is not supposed to be able to receive nuclear fuel and technology from NPT members. However, having a nuclear program as large and sophisticated as India's outside of any inspection or control regime was seen as problematic; thus the decision to make a deal that goes against the spirit and the law of the NPT.

The agreement constitutes, to some degree, a moral hazard. It sends a signal to other states that while the international community threatens to punish them if they proliferate, once nukes are a fait accompli, the international community will lift the sanctions in order to get the nuclear program under inspections. Thus, the disincentives for proliferation are moderated. The deal will, its critics argue, encourage more states to proliferate.

I don't buy this argument. The NPT has functioned better as a reward to states that do not want to proliferate than as a way of preventing the states that do want to proliferate from doing so. True, the NPT has made it more difficult for states to proliferate, but determined states (South Africa, India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, Iran) have managed to do so. These states have powerful security reasons to proliferate, and neither the threat of sanctions nor the incentives offered by the NPT are likely to overcome those reasons. So, the US deal with India is not likely to have any effect on the decisions of these states to proliferate.

Furthermore, other states aren't likely to develop nuclear weapons solely because India avoided punishment. Just look at the states of the Middle East that have, despite Israel's NW status, avoided proliferating. Their decisions not to proliferate are not based on fears of violating the NPT. Thus, the India deal is not likely to change their rationales either.

Ultimately, I don't see the deal as doing too much to undermine the global non-proliferation regime. States that want to proliferate will find ways to do so and the NPT does make it much more difficult for that to happen. But it is more important that India's nuclear program -- its fuel and materiel, its security systems -- come under international scrutiny than it is to make a point about the inviolate nature of the NPT.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The EU's Powerless Power

It has long been accepted that while the EU may be one of the world's most powerful actor, its power was not measurable in traditional metrics, particularly not in hard power. The EU is no great military power, as the difficulties in Kosovo made abundantly evident. Instead the EU's power was economic (taken as a single entity, the EU's economy is around the same size as that of the US) and, more importantly, moral. The EU has been seen as one of the main purveyors of global soft power, stemming from the EU's global commitment to development, human rights, and the spread of international law and order. Traditionally, hard power has been the primary currency of international politics, but the EU has committed itself to a large degree to a new type of international politics. So, how has that new direction worked out for the EU?

Not so well, according to a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations. The report, entitled "A Global Force for Human Rights: An Audit of European Power at the UN" makes a powerful, but not particularly surprising, conclusion. The report argues that the Europeans are losing their power and leverage at the UN: "this report shows that the EU
has also been the architect of its own misfortune. Europe has lost ground because of a reluctance to use its leverage, and a tendency to look inwards –with 1,000 coordination meetings in New York alone each year – rather than talk to others." The problem is that putting the European solutions into motion requires implementing a new, looser understanding of sovereignty. But:

If Europe can no longer win support at the UN for international action on human rights and justice, overriding national sovereignty in extreme cases, it will have been defeated over one of its deepest convictions about international politics as a whole. This is particularly true in cases involving the Responsibility to Protect against genocide and mass atrocities, when the humanitarian consequences of inaction are most severe.

The crisis facing the EU is apparent in the declining support among the UN’s members for European positions on human rights and the responsible exercise of sovereignty. That has been highlighted by 2008’s vitriolic Security Council debates, which have not only been about immediate crises but the principles of UN action. Russia justified its decision to veto action on Zimbabwe – despite an apparent promise to support it from President Medvedev at the G8 summit – as a defence of the UN Charter’s definition of sovereignty.


In the 1990s, the EU enjoyed up to 72% support on human rights issues in the UN General Assembly. In the last two Assembly sessions, the comparable percentages have been 48 and 55%. This decline is overshadowed by a leap in support for Chinese positions in the same votes from under 50% in the later 1990s to 74% in 2007-8. Russia has enjoyed a comparable leap in support. The trend away from the Europeans is markedly worse on the new Human Rights Council (HRC) where EU positions have been defeated in over half the votes.


The EU has lost much support from African states since the 1990s, despite common policies in some specific cases like Darfur. While African leaders are increasingly sympathetic to some forms of humanitarian intervention, they feel alienated by the European approach to matters like immigration.

The EU is faring even worse in the 47-member Human Rights Council (HRC). This was formed in 2006 – with European support against US opposition – to replace the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), which was the object of widespread criticism. But the EU and its human rights allies actually enjoyed a small but workable majority in the CHR, which it has lost in the HRC, primarily due to a reallocation of seats by region that EU diplomats had failed to anticipate.


The EU’s frustrations continue on the Security Council. Despite an even division among the current membership between the EU’s friends and foes, the Russian and Chinese vetoes are a permanent impediment to progress on human rights issues....

The EU has thus been forced to water down resolutions on subjects such as peacekeeping in Darfur to get them through; in 2007, a resolution on Kosovo had to be abandoned altogether because of Russian opposition. The 2008 Security Council debates on Burma and Zimbabwe resulted in further high profile failures for the EU – the former was presented by some Europeans as a setback for the Responsibility to Protect, while the latter was celebrated by Russia’s ambassador as a victory for traditional sovereignty.
What is to be done? The report makes several suggestions:
Europe must erect a big tent at the UN, constructing broad, shifting coalitions capable of isolating the hard-line minority of states which resist all attempts to impose limits on national sovereignty. It needs an engagement strategy to win back the support of the African and Latin American countries that it has lost, and win over more moderate members of the Islamic bloc. This coalition-building policy should help put pressure on the Security Council to act in crises.

To this end, the EU needs to mobilise all the political and financial resources it can – as well as examining the sanctions it can impose – to persuade other countries to support an international rule of law based on human rights and justice.
But these recommendations not only have the solution all wrong, they fail to properly identify the problem. The problem isn't the EU's inability to put together a "big tent" coalition; it's the UN's commitment to sovereign equality and the EU's lack of hard power. Go back and look at the one of the first passages quoted above: "If Europe can no longer win support at the UN for international action on human rights and justice, overriding national sovereignty in extreme cases, it will have been defeated over one of its deepest convictions about international politics as a whole." When has the EU ever overridden national sovereignty for internatinal action on human rights and justice? In Rwanda? In Bosnia? In Kosovo? In Darfur? It's not the EU's fault, it's the UN. The UN is simply not the correct forum for advancing such an understanding of the responsibilities of sovereignty in "extreme cases."

In fact, the only time sovereignty has been overridden in such cases was a direct product of American hard power when, in Kosovo, NATO was both politically and militarily strong enough to bypass the UN and take matters into its own hands.

The report recommends the imposition of sanctions to force countries to "support an international rule of law based on human rights and justice." How well have sanctions worked in convincing North Korea, Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Zimbabwe to respect human rights and justice? Sanctions are an inherently flawed instrument that are not only ineffective but that typically harm the wrong audience -- the public rather than the political elites.

The EU has proven itself time and time again -- in the early days of the Kosovo crisis, in the inability of the EU-3 to make any meaningful progress with Iran, in its unwillingness to take even minimal actions in Darfur -- to be a powerless power. It may have oodles of soft power, and a commitment to justice, international law, and human rights. But those things are meaningless and useless without enforcement. Just as domestic law needs the backing of the power of the state to enforce a society's norms and values, so is hard power is necessary if states are to spread an international ideal other than sovereign equality. The failure to recognize this and to seriously consider the relationship between hard and soft power has been of the biggest failures of the US in recent years. Now, the EU is making the same mistake.