Normative Narratives


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The Evolution of the Post-WWII International Order

As representatives from the IMF, World Bank, and the G20 converged on Washington last week, there was a sense that America may be losing its position as the main guarantor of international order:

As world leaders converge here for their semiannual trek to the capital of what is still the world’s most powerful economy, concern is rising in many quarters that the United States is retreating from global economic leadership just when it is needed most.

Washington’s retreat is not so much by intent, Mr. Subramanian said, but a result of dysfunction and a lack of resources to project economic power the way it once did. Because of tight budgets and competing financial demands, the United States is less able to maintain its economic power, and because of political infighting, it has been unable to formally share it either.

Other experts and historians, however, say too much can be made of the moment. Walter Russell Mead, a professor of foreign affairs at Bard College, noted that the rise of China as an economic force was inevitable, and that its establishment of a rival lending institution was far different from the international behavior of the Soviet Union and communist Chinese during the Cold War.

Then, he said, America’s rivals were trying to destroy and replace the economic order established by the United States and Britain after World War II. Now, emerging powers are emulating it, however imperfectly.

Sure other countries have risen in prominence since America stood as the lone super-power after the Cold War, but has this really resulted in America’s decline? I would argue that building up strong allies to help promote America’s vision of international order–one based on democracy, human rights, economic and defensive interdependence, and more recently environmentally sustainable economic development–was exactly why the U.S. took the lead in setting up the United Nations and the Brenton Woods Institutions (the World Bank, IMF, and GATT).

Therefore, in assessing America’s influence over international order, we should consider how these institutions have evolved. While they were all conceived with the best of intentions, good intentions do not always lead to good outcomes. Have these institutions been able to learn from their mistakes and make meaningful contributions to maintaining international order? Lets consider them on a case by case basis:

The International Monetary Fund (IMF):

The IMF was originally conceived to promote currency stability and help countries overcome short-term balance of payments issues. But as technological advances made the world smaller, the IMF took on a much larger mandate, and began extending loans to help developing countries modernize. The so called “Washington Consensus” linked development loans to “ex-post” (after the fact) conditions such as hitting fiscal targets (reducing the size of government) and liberalizing trade.

While these policies by and large do promote growth in already developed countries, they ignored the historic lessons of the world’s developed countries. Every advanced country relied on some degree of protectionism to cultivate its own industries and government spending to build both physical infrastructure and a skilled workforce as it modernized.

The “Washington Consensus” programs did not allow for policy space based on the historical experiences and current realities in the countries they intended to help. As I have often written, economics–particularly development economics–is highly context-sensitive; the “Washington Consensus” was simply to rigid and narrow-sighted to work.

The “Washington Consensus” was a consensus failure, and left many countries worse off than before they accepted this “help” (see “the lost decade” in Latin America). Thankfully the IMF abandoned this flawed set of policies.

The failure of the Washington Consensus led to IMF to reconsider how it does business–the “conditionality” attached to its loans. Instead of relying on a rigid set of targets a country must meet in order to continue to receive support, the IMF now focuses on pre-set “ex ante” conditionality. If a country has a sound macroeconomic position, it can tap into IMF financing while maintaining the policy space needed to address the needs of its citizens (and ultimately maintain its legitimacy).

The IMF will have to deal with the specter of the Washington Consensus for some time, but going forward it has evolved in meaningful ways.

The World Trade Organization (WTO):

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) officially became the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995. The WTO sets rules for global trade and provides a forum for airing grievances. With membership covering 96.4% of global trade and 96.7% of global GDP, the WTO is unquestionably an important institution.

Critics often argue the WTO is ineffective, but any organization whose stated goal is the resolve international trade disputes is by definition going to be contentious. I would argue that the WTO has helped keep trade disputes trade disputes, and that without it many of these disputes could have ended in armed conflict.

In recent years, international trade news has been dominated by two proposed regional agreements, the trans-pacific partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and Asian economies, and the trans-atlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) between the U.S. and Europe.

There is no consensus as to whether regional free trade agreements (FTA) such as these undermine the global free trade movement, or if they are building blocks towards this goal. But one thing is for certain–free trade agreements create winners and losers. The winners tend to be the wealthy who are positioned to benefit from greater market access; the losers tend to be wage earners.

In the context of political dysfunction and simmering class-warfare in America and beyond, it is necessary that policies to transfer some of the gains from the “winners” to protect the “losers” of any FTA are baked into the agreements themselves. The ability of governments to address the inequality and environmental impacts of any FTA will greatly affect its historical legacy.

The United Nations (UN):

The United Nations is arguably the most important of the international institutions. In addition to providing a forum for countries to address one another, the UN also serves a global policy adviser, giving it the strongest normative mandate of any of these organizations.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are 8 specific goals whose intent is to guide the trajectory of the developing world. The successes of these goals has been uneven–some countries have a great record, while others not so much. As these goals are set to expire at the end of 2015, they are commonly viewed as beneficial but imperfect. Their successors, the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aim to build on their successes while learning from their short-comings.

There are a number of ways the SDGs deviate from the MDGs. For one, they are much more inclusive and consultative. Seen as being drafted behind closed doors by the global elite, the MDGs were hampered from the start. Conversely, the SDGs are being drafted with input from numerous thematic and national consultations with the very people they are intended to benefit.

There is also greater emphasis on the roles of various stakeholders (governments, private sector, NGOs, civil society, and international organizations) with regards to both financing the agenda and being accountable for their operations in the developing world. “Who Will Be Accountable?” highlights these common but differentiated responsibilities, providing general guidelines for holding those who violate the SDGs accountable.

Between the launch of the Post-2015 Development Agenda (the SDGs) and the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris (which is expected to result in the first universal global climate treaty), 2015 will prove to be a pivotal year for sustainable human development initiatives.

One area the U.N. has not reformed sufficiently is in promoting global security. Given that security is a necessary precondition for sustainable human development, the significance of this shortcoming cannot be understated.

Nowhere has this problem been more acute than in the Middle East, where armed conflict has left 1 in 4 children out of school, led to immeasurable economic, physical, and psychological damage, and has completely overwhelmed the international humanitarian assistance network. The inability to protect children is especially alarming, as it plants the seeds for future conflicts.

The United Nations needs to respond more decisively against regimes that commit gross human rights violations. The concept of national sovereignty is meant to protect a country from outside invasion, not act as a shield for human rights abusers.

The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) was supposed to put peoples rights before national sovereignty, but it has proven to lack the teeth needed to provide meaningful protection. The need is clear, as I have called for in the past, for the UN General Assembly to have a mechanism for overruling UN Security Council vetoes. Such a reform would give the R2P the power it needs to fulfill its important mandate to prevent / end gross human rights violations.

The World Bank Group (WB):

The World Bank Group is responsible for financing development projects in the developing world. While its existence has been a “net benefit” for developing countries, the World Bank has had issues enforcing “good governance” standards on its projects, often resulting in adverse consequences for the worlds most vulnerable people:

The World Bank regularly fails to enforce its own rules protecting people in the path of the projects it bankrolls, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet, a new investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, The Huffington Post and more than 20 other media partners have found.

The investigation’s key findings include:

  • Over the last decade, projects funded by the World Bank have physically or economically displaced an estimated 3.4 million people, forcing them from their homes, taking their land or damaging their livelihoods.
  • The World Bank has regularly failed to live up to its own policies for protecting people harmed by projects it finances.
  • The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.
  • Ethiopian authorities diverted millions of dollars from a World Bank-supported project to fund a violent campaign of mass evictions, according to former officials who carried out the forced resettlement program.
  • From 2009 to 2013, World Bank Group lenders pumped $50 billion into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.

Days after ICIJ informed the World Bank that the team’s investigation had found “systemic gaps” in the bank’s enforcement of its “social safeguard” rules, World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim acknowledged “major problems” with the bank’s resettlement policies and vowed to seek reforms.

Being a “net benefit” for the developing world is not a high enough standard for the World Bank, it must adopt a “do no harm” principle in all its projects. To achieve this goal, the World Bank should emulate the UN in consulting with those who will be affected by their projects.

The World Bank has an important role to play in promoting the SDGs, but first it must get its own house in order.

Some may point to the recent rise of parallel international organizations such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB) as further signs of the deterioration of an American led international order. Indeed, there are serious governance questions these institutions must address, lest they be counter-productive in the pursuits of promoting peace and eradicating extreme poverty.

It would be most constructive to have the UN promote these values (accountability, good governance, etc.) to emerging international institutions, not the US. The UN has international legitimacy; the same message coming from the UN would likely be much more well received.

US-centric international organizations are free to work with these parallel institutions or not, and their positions can evolve as these new institutions reveal their values through their actions. But as professor Walter Mead aptly points out, these institutions are not challenging America’s Post WWII vision of international order, they are doubling-down on it. As the saying goes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery.


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Conflict Watch: 70 Years After “D Day”, Time To Move Foward

World’s top 15 military spenders in 2013

List by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (2013)[1]

Rank Country Spending ($ Bn.) % of GDP World share (%)
World total 1747.0 2.4 100
1 United States United States 640.0 3.8 36.6
2 China People’s Republic of China[a] 188.0 2.0 10.8
3 Russia Russia[a] 87.8 4.1 5.0
4 Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia[b] 67.0 9.3 3.8
5 France France 61.2 2.2 3.5
6 United Kingdom United Kingdom 57.9 2.3 3.3
7 Germany Germany[a] 48.8 1.4 2.8
8 Japan Japan 48.6 1.0 2.8

 

The Top 10 Providers of Assessed Contributions to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations in 2013 [A/67/224/Add.1] PDF Document are:

  1. United States (28.38%)
  2. Japan (10.83%)
  3. France (7.22%)
  4. Germany (7.14%)
  5. United Kingdom (6.68%)
  6. China (6.64%)
  7. Italy (4.45%)
  8. Russian Federation (3.15%)
  9. Canada (2.98%)
  10. Spain (2.97%)

I like to think of myself as a pretty laid back guy. I don’t get worked up when people joke about stereotypes in a non-malicious way, because that’s what stereotypes are–a joke (in that they hold no value). I also believe the ability to laugh about things and engage self-deprecating humor are signs of maturity and progress.

As a Jewish American, there is one thing I cannot tolerate joking about–the Holocaust. There is a saying associated with the Holocaust–“never forget”–to both honor the victims and ensure such evil acts are never repeated. I’m sure other cultural groups have their “red-lines”, and these lines should be respected.

While we must never forget the Holocaust, we must also move on from the legacies of WWII; 70 years is a long time, and the world is a much different place. Germany and Japan no longer represent the “Axis of evil”; both of these countries have proven themselves committed to the institutions and norms that have made the second half of the 20th and 21st centuries the most progressive in the history of mankind.

Both of these countries have also benefited greatly from the global economic system put in place after WWII.  Therefore, we must not only welcome but demand that Germany and Japan play a more active role in fostering the global security which allows this system to function.

Germany:

Anger at Washington mounted Wednesday with the disclosure that American intelligence agents were suspected of having recruited a second spy in Germany, this time linked to its Defense Ministry, prompting even robust allies of the United States to suggest that a fundamental reset was needed in one of the most important of trans-Atlantic partnerships.

“At some point, the ‘no comment’ will not be enough,” Norbert Röttgen, the committee’s head and an influential member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Party, said in a telephone interview from Washington. “The U.S. must understand what psychological damage it is inflicting. I think that will be a difficult process.”

At the same time, Mr. Röttgen cautioned his German colleagues to appreciate that Berlin and Washington had profoundly differing views on the role of an intelligence service and should not let this difference permanently damage otherwise strong ties. Analysts have said that Germans have a far more restrictive view of how intelligence agencies should operate and what a fair target is.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks led an effort to tighten cooperation with American intelligence, seemed at a loss to understand why the United States would spy on Germany.

“We speak to each other all the time, and nobody makes a secret of their views,” he said in an interview published Wednesday by the newspaper Saarbrücker Zeitung. “The attempt to find out about Germany’s position is not just unseemly, it is unnecessary.”

Despite hurt feelings, “psychological damage”, and a degree of mistrust, US and Germany have vowed to continue cooperating in the name of global security:

The United States and Germany put a brave face on an escalating espionage dispute, stressing on Sunday the importance of their cooperation to solving several global crises but offering little indication they’ve fully mended ties.

After a meeting on the sidelines of nuclear talks in Vienna, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry each extolled the value of the two NATO allies’ work together on issues such as Iran and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

“Relations between Germany and the U.S. are necessary and indispensable, and that’s for both of our sides,” Steinmeier told reporters in German. Still, he acknowledged the recent “difficulties” and urged that relations “revive on the basis of trust and mutual respect.”

Relations between the U.S. and Germany have never been more important. With the number of humanitarian and security crises rising, and extremist threats posing a challenge to democracy and capitalism abroad, the German-U.S. relationship must be redefined.

The U.S. must focus it’s intelligence efforts on its real enemies, and stop acting like a global hegemon that must know everything about everyone at all times, friend or foe. We must learn to loosen our grip and trust our allies, especially ones as strong and stable as Germany.

Germany, for its part, must contribute a greater share to NATO and UN Peacekeeping operations. Many German’s see their World Cup victory as the beginning of an age of global prominence–I would argue Germany, as the strongest EU economy, has held this distinction for some time. Either way, Germany must assume the responsibilities that come with being a global power.

Japan:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has disturbed many in Japan and increased anxiety in Asia by reinterpreting his country’s pacifist postwar Constitution so that the military can play a more assertive role than it has since World War II. While a shift in Japan’s military role was never going to be readily accepted by many, Mr. Abe’s nationalist politics makes this change even harder to swallow in a region that needs to reduce tension.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of what Mr. Abe has done. Since 1947, Japan’s Constitution, written and imposed by the American Army, has permitted the military, known as the Self-Defense Forces, to engage only in self-defense. That meant the large and technologically advanced armed forces was barred from “collective self-defense” — aiding friendly countries under attack — and thus was far more constrained than those of other nations.

With the reinterpretation, Japan’s military would still face restrictions on what it could do, but it would be allowed for the first time, for example, to help defend an American ship under attack, destroy a North Korean missile heading toward the United States or play a larger role in United Nations peacekeeping operations.

As I mentioned before, a large part of honoring those who perished in the Holocaust and WWII is making sure such deplorable acts are never repeated. As the world becomes more interconnected due to technological advances, people become more acutely aware of the gross human rights violations inflicted by terrorist organizations and totalitarian governments with relative impunity on a daily basis. While these acts may occur on a smaller scale than the Holocaust, they are nonetheless deplorable.

Security is a necessary precondition for both human and economic development. As the 3rd and 4th largest economies in the world respectively, Japan and Germany must contribute more than their current 2.8% of global military spending (they do perform better in terms of UN Peacekeeping contributions, but still do not do enough). To fully cast off their WWII legacies, Japan and Germany must take leadership roles alongside the U.S. in ensuring security and human rights are enjoyed by all.

As the U.S. (partially) winds down it’s disproportionate contributions towards global security, the “power void” must be filled by the rest of the international community, led by Germany and Japan. Thankfully, it seems that Germany and Japan are ready to make this transition. It is up to the rest of the international community to not only welcome this shift, but demand that it occurs to a scale that leads to real improvements to the world’s most vulnerable people.

As a Jewish American I will never forget the Holocaust. But I can forgive, so long as Germany and Japan take a more active role in defending innocent people through multilateral security pacts (such as NATO) and UN Peacekeeping operations.


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The Maturation of America

https://i0.wp.com/scorpionsecurityproducts.com/wp-content/uploads/4th-of-July-Wallpaper.jpg

The 4th of July; something about America’s “birthday” lends itself to personification. America is a country by the people and for the people; our strength has always come from investing in our citizenry.

America has historically been at the forefront of progressive politics, championing democratic and capitalistic values both at home and abroad. But “progressive politics” is, by its very nature, constantly evolving. Like a person, America has been maturing over the course of it’s 238 year history (the following is necessarily oversimplified…):

Childhood (1776-1812): The United States was born out of 13 British colonies revolting against a tyrannical sovereign. In order for the colonies to overcome the British, they had to enlist outside help, most notably from the French. This was America’s infancy, a time when America readily understood we needed help from outside powers.

Adolescence (1813-1913):  The 19th and early 20th century lent itself to the vast expansion of the American empire both domestically (within what is now the continental U.S.) and abroad (mainly in Latin America, the Spanish American Wars), known as “Manifest Destiny”.  The hubris and supreme belief in American exceptionalism, which underpinned Manifest Destiny, has many parallels to the image of a teenager that believes they are “invincible”.

Young Adulthood (1914-2008): Starting with WWI, America took on the roll as the world’s hegemon. This is the beginning of what I call the era of “Team America, World Police”. America began to recognize the concept of “extra-territorial human rights obligations”; how we interact with people abroad should reflect the values we champion at home.

The hubris of imperialism gave way to the paternalism of hegemony. While well intended, America’s young adulthood was marked by a number of failures (and successes!) due to the supreme confidence and closed mindedness often associated with young adulthood. The U.S. rescued the Allied powers in both WWI and II, rebuilt Europe with the Marshal Plan after WWII, and took the lead in building a system of institutions for global governance–all great achievements of the 20th century. But America’s folly was its  “White Man’s Burden” approach to both economic development (which ended with the failure of “Washington Consensus” policies in the late 20th century) and global security (which ended with the failure of the War in Iraq).

Middle Adulthood / Maturity (2008-Present):

In the Wake of the Great Recession, and in light of the failures of both the “Washington Consensus” and War in Iraq, America had some serious soul-searching to do. How could we take a leadership role in an increasingly globalized and multipolar world? America had to learn to work within the global community.

In my previous blog, I said America finally found its “Post-War-on-Terror Identity. We cannot afford to fight the world’s wars unilaterally, we need our allies to play a bigger role in global security (on this front, Japan recently amended it’s Constitution to allow it to play a greater role in global security). We cannot tackle issues such as climate change and tax avoidance by ourselves; the greatest challenges of the 21st century are diverse, but all involve “global commons”, and therefore require cooperation and coordination with other countries.

America has to assist with the democratic modernization of developing countries, providing technical / financial / security assistance while supporting the local capacity development and policy space. Instead of dictating how countries should modernize, the failure of the Washington Consensus emphasized the need to empower our partners to address the context sensitive impediments to development in a sustainable and self-determined manner.

The self-awareness and maturity needed to recognize the limits of ones own powers does not come easily. However, it seems that from past failures and successes, America may have finally arrived at this point. Of course the next presidential administration could come and flip the “Obama Doctrine” on its head, but for the sake of both America and the global community, hopefully it does not.

Happy Birthday America!!!

As a nation, we have come a long way, pushing the frontier on progressive governance as we go. To paraphrase Obama and many Presidents before him, “If we do not lead, no one will”. America must continue to push this frontier, while recognizing its limitations and the roles of our allies in this process.


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Conflict Watch: The End Of Team America World Police (Part 5)

Well, after no installments of “The End of Team America” for a few months, I now have back-to-back blogs on the “subject”. I don’t make the news people, I just analyze it! I suppose with the specter of a potential U.S. strike on Syria, unrest in Egypt, and complications with Iran, the timing wasn’t ripe to discuss winding down America’s military involvement around the world. However, this has always been a long term goal of the Obama administration; with Assad’s regime complying with international chemical weapons experts / “Geneva 2” peace talks in the works (I am personally skeptical the Syrian opposition will participate, which would derail these talks), Egyptian unrest seemingly subsiding (or festering under the surface?), and Iran entering the fold of international diplomacy with renewed optimism (but is it just a stalling tactic or a real attempt at change?), it seems that the tune of news outlets has shifted away from imminent U.S. military intervention back towards the long-term goal of winding down America’s role in global security measures. True none of these shifts represent concrete changes in their respective debates, but they do present an opening for a different focus by news outlets, at least for the time-being. 

Original Article:

Germany called for closer military integration between groups of NATO countries on Tuesday as the alliance grappled with how to keep its defenses strong at a time of falling military spending.

Germany’s proposal, discussed by NATO defense ministers at a Brussels meeting, is that big NATO nations act as “framework nations” leading a cluster of smaller NATO allies.

These clusters of countries would jointly provide some military capabilities or develop new ones for the benefit of the whole alliance, with the lead nation coordinating their efforts.

The idea was welcomed by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and by Britain but diplomats said some other countries, including France, had concerns about the proposal, fearing it could undermine countries’ sovereignty and lead to over-specialization.

“Does that lead to a kind of specialization which could be dangerous if some nations specialize only in certain types of mission and disengage from other missions?,” one diplomat said.

Some diplomats also worry that a cluster system could make it more difficult for NATO to use forces on operations because a parliament in one country could effectively veto military action by other nations in the cluster.

The United States has repeatedly voiced alarm about the growing gulf between U.S. military spending and capabilities and those of its European allies.

The German proposal would help share the cost of expensive military systems at a time when many NATO allies are slashing defense spending in response to the economic crisis.

Only four of the 28 NATO members – the United States, Britain, Greece and Estonia – met the alliance’s target of spending 2 percent of their economic output on defense in 2012.

As a block, the EU spends only 1.7% of it’s GDP on military expenditure. The U.S., by contrast, spends 4.7% of it’s GDP on military purposes. This unequal distribution of global security expenditure (39% of global military spending is by the U.S.) has placed an unfair burden on the American tax-payer, even as it has strengthened U.S. influence over global security decisions. The U.S. is expected to foot the bill of many multilateral security operations, which as led to roughly 1/4 of all Federal expenditures to go towards military purposes. This has constrained U.S. fiscal space, draining it’s economy of resources needed to reinvest in it’s future through social programs. The aggregate result has already begun to show in the form of increasing inequality and reduced social mobility.

It is not only in other countries best interest to reclaim some say in security matters, it is also in the U.S. best interest to have such a re-balancing take place. But absent other countries stepping up, the U.S. has no choice but to continue footing the bill, otherwise the “global security commons” would suffer. It appears that Germany now agrees with the U.S. and is taking the initial steps to more evenly distribute the burden of global security.

This plan certainly has snags, which are addressed in the article. Could more “specialized” NATO tie the hands of some of it’s smaller members, requiring an impossible consensus for military action? It is possible, although I would argue that states rarely make security decisions unilaterally (with the exception of the U.S., which would likely still retain it’s ability to act unilaterally in any foreseeable agreement). With each country having to take military intervention back to it’s legislature for a vote, having more votes ultimately complicates military action. I am sure that NATO members, headed by Germany and the U.S., will take necessary steps to streamline a more cooperative process, although admittedly I do not know what these steps would be at this time.

Germany was demilitarized after WWII, that was almost 70 years ago. Germany has, since that time, proven it has the political will, stability, and foresight to be a world power. It is time to allow Germany to become a true world power, by increasing its role in global security debates. I will be sure to keep my readers up to date on any news on this important proposition.