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January 11, 2010
Foreign Policy In a Vacuum06/01/2010
Posted by opemipo3655 in Brazil, Cross posted, Foreign Policy, International Relations Theory, Power (IR), Realism, State Sovereignty, Superpowers, United States, World Politics.
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International and Domestic Constraints On Foreign Policy
Even though a head of state/ government may have an overarching philosophy or theme they want to guide foreign policy; neo-/ realism, liberalism, democracy promotion, multilateralism among others, their available actions/moves are constrained by domestic politics and the actions (and possible actions) of other statess. This blog-post from the London Review Blog looks at the restraints on the Obama administration’s foreign policy towards Brazil.
The honeymoon between Barack Obama and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva didn’t last long. When Obama was elected, the US press imagined a natural alliance between the two men, expecting them to sideline the ideologues and set the Western Hemisphere back in greased grooves. ‘This is my man, right here,’ Obama said at the G20 summit in London in April, grinning and shaking Lula’s hand. ‘I love this guy.’
Always be wary of the “natural alliance” or “special relationship”. There is no such thing in the international system.
Actually why would there be a natural alliance? They are both centre-left governments, both democracies and presumably interested in democracy promotion in South America. The Obama administration aspires to multilateralism and engagement with allies and foe which should dovetail neatly, if not seamlessly, with Brazil’s aims to become a major international actor; the US should reach out to Brazil so that Brazil can flex its muscles (no matter how controlled the flexing would be).
The first bump in the road was the coup in Hondurasin June, which sparked a clash of wills between the US and Brazil over how best to settle it. ‘Our concern,’ said Lula’s foreign-policy adviser, Marco Aurélio Garcia, is that Washington’s push to legitimise the Honduran elections ‘will introduce the “theory of the preventive coup”’ – an extension of Bush’s doctrine of preventive war – ‘in Latin America’.
Then the Obama administration let it be known it was going forward with plans to lease seven military bases in Colombia.
Next came Washington’s decision to pick a fight with Brazil over a visit by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with Obama sending a letter to Lula reminding him of his international obligations. The tone of the letter must have annoyed someone high up in Lula’s foreign-policy team, who leaked it to the press. This further irritated the US.
You cannot expect others to act in the same way you want them to (even though they might seem to be natural allies) or even accept your judgements (oh sovereign one) and policies without some retaliatory action (neo-/realism preaches insecurity and action begets reaction). Also do not interfere in other states’ affairs (especially in an arrogant manner, it might insult them and even states can get petty).
As in all politics “anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the” international arena. It might be “preventive war” to save your citizens today, tomorrow it’s “preventive coup.” Today it’s converting the heathen and civilising the barbarians, tomorrow it could be foreign intervention in sovereign affairs.
Finally there was Copenhagen. Lula showed up at the climate conference with an ambitious pledge to reduce Brazil’s carbon output by 40 per cent before 2020 and to slow deforestation of the Amazon by 80 per cent. After the conference ended with a tepid statement and no fixed plan to move forward, Brazil strongly criticised Obama’s leadership. ‘Do something, Obama,’ said Carlos Minc, Lula’s environmental minister, ‘or return the Nobel Prize.’
In a unipolar world, without the “hegemon” being willingand ableto police the world and whip other states into shape, nothing will be done. If there is a hegemon, and it is unable or unwilling to show an example, leading to failure in achieving collective world action, that hegemon will be blamed, whether it is at fault or not.
Insiders report that top officials in the State Department are furious with what they see as Brazil’s third-world grandstanding. They would do better to focus their ire at domestic targets, for the real obstacles to progress in US-Latin American relations are not to be found in Caracas, Managua or Brasilia, but much closer to home.
Obama could have used the Honduran crisis to showcase his ‘new multilateralism’, working with Brazil to restore democracy. But the legislative Republican right, led by two first-term senators, South Carolina’s Jim DeMint and Florida’s George LeMieux, pushed the other way. The White House caved.
The president could have scaled back plans for US military expansion in Colombia. But that would have meant rethinking a failed, decades’ long, multi-billion dollar, bipartisan War on Drugs – from which the Pentagon, influential US private security firms like DynCorp and blue-state based defence contractors like Connecticut’s United Technologies all profit – and Obama has other wars to extricate himself from.
He could have made some concessions to Brazil’s agricultural sector, promising to reduce tariffs and subsidies. But another senator, Charles Grassley, representing the corn state of Iowa – and the interests of Monsanto – put a hold on Thomas Shannon’s confirmation as ambassador to Brazil until the White House pledged not to.
The White House could move quicker to normalise relations with Cuba, as Brazil, along with the rest of Latin America, has long demanded. But that would mean taking on the Cuba lobby. After Grassley dropped his hold, LeMieux froze Shannon’s nomination until he was sure there would be no Cuba opening. The ability of unimpressive politicians to paralyse US foreign relations is summarised in the fitful progress of Shannon’s nomination: in between Grassley and LeMieux, DeMint stopped the confirmation until Obama turned on Honduras.
Obama could also try to come up with a new vision for a hemisphere-wide post-crisis political economy, one that abandons failed neoliberal prescriptions and tries to balance Latin American calls for sustainability, equity and development with the demands of corporate balance sheets. But the Democratic Party is the Wall Street party. Obama has long since abandoned his pledge to renegotiate Nafta, and there are indications that he will soon endorse the stalled free-trade agreement with Colombia – objectionable not only because of the country’s high body count but because the treaty would grant foreign corporations the right to overturn national environmental laws and would require the liberalisation of Colombia’s financial sector, including the deregulation of disruptive ‘hot money’ speculation.
Lula, no less than Obama, operates within constraints. Brazil has powerful agricultural, financial, and industrial sectors and a large, interest-aware military. But like most of the rest of South America, it also has a vibrant, influential left that holds politicians accountable. In the presidential elections later this year, Lula’s Worker’s Party is being challenged from the left by Lula’s former environment minister, Marina Silva – one reason for his strong stance in Copenhagen.
“Unimpressive” legislators looking after number 1 (their image to the kingmakers –the electorate) while holding up a major (ambassador to the closest power) executive appointment, which shows one of the drawbacks of the much needed separation of power for protection against tyranny (of the majority but not in these cases of minority tyranny- “paralyse US foreign affairs”). It also shows the serious implications of protection against majority tyranny by providing a veto to the minority on legislation that affects the minority’s interests.
Special interests, such as the military-industrial complex, Wall Street (financial markets), political parties and the agricultural sector, can all influence foreign policy even when a government has been given a mandate for its foreign policy (as the phrase is used here in the UK). They can assert influence by donating (or not) to individual campaigns or whole parties (aka BRIBERY ANDCORRUPTIONwhen practiced in the developing world), threatening to move their precious operations overseas (as if they would) and in the case of political parties, factions abstaining or voting against a “whip” on other essential bills (at least threatening to), leadership challenges and votes-of-confidence, as in the British parliamentary system.
All these force policy makers into pursuing certain policies they do not want, even when they know or believe them to be the wrong policies.
The US, in contrast, is still very much in thrall to a vibrant, powerful right. And that leaves Obama little more to offer Latin America than military bases, coups and the empty rhetoric of free trade.
(End of quasi-academic reasoning- ha)
Why do we even have a political right? They have nothing to offer other than these (above), free, open economy and freedom from government except in the case of abortion, same-sex marriage and all the rest that should be banned or supported (marriage). Salute Uganda. Come to think of it, politics is the only thing I want to be on the left of. Oh well, so much for my right-favoured asymmetrically planned life.
Execution of Akmal Shaikh- IR Theory31/12/2009
Posted by opemipo3655 in Capital Punishment, China, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, IR in the News, International Law, International Relations Theory, Liberal IR Theory, Politics, Power (IR), Realism, State Sovereignty, United Kingdom,World Politics.
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Akmal Shaikh, 53, from North London was executed in China for drug smuggling on the 30th of December, 2009. The UK government and Reprieve, a legal charity had remonstrated with the Chinese government against an execution due to the mental illness suffered by Mr Shaikh, a personality disorder, which made him amenable to criminals who convinced him to transport 4.030g of heroine into the country.
Now, while there are legitimate questions to be asked about the use of capital punishment and about the its use on someone who is “not himself” (I know this is pejorative, but I think it best captures the illogic of executing someone who by virtue of his being ill can be duped into doing something that anyone in their right mind wouldn’t), I do not want to focus on this now; I will instead look at what it says about international relations (IR) especially from his cousins’ comments on the response of the UK government.
In their letter, Amina and Ridwan Shaikh:
• Accuse most of the media of ignoring Akmal’s case until it was too late. "We were shocked that apart from Sky News, his case received only sporadic media attention during his two years in prison. Only when news was released of his imminent execution did it get the coverage it deserved. Wouldn’t more media attention at an earlier stage have applied more pressure to the Chinese authorities? Wasn’t this lack of coverage an injustice in itself?"
This doesn’t have much to do with IR, however, it shows how the short-term focus of the media can, does, and in this case did lead to a loss of focus on longer term issues in favour of what sells in the short term. Example; before Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 2009, there wasn’t (and this is anecdotal from my perspective of the news) as much focus on Climate Change until an explosion after emails of climate scientists were hacked and released into the public domain. Afterwards, there were complaints about it’s weakness and then all sign of it disappeared. You also rarely hear about the EU until there is a “scary EU or wasteful EU” story or whenever elections come around. The public then doesn’t get the information about these issues that it needs to understand them fully and have to rely on provocative sound-bites (which are ubiquitous when the issue is current).
• Say that while they are "indebted to Reprieve and others for efforts they made on our cousin’s behalf … we were not comfortable with the strategy pursued". They say: "We didn’t say anything as we respected the wishes of those concerned. We understand the strategy was based on expert advice that, as the Chinese regime is a brutal one, the best approach is to not criticise it as this may make things worse." They cite the high-profile campaign by Moazzam Begg’s family to secure his release from Guantánamo Bay.
I think this can be best understood using Liberal IR Theory and especially theDemocratic Peace Theorywhich points out that no two democracies (and definitions of differ thus weakening the theory) have gone to war with each other and posits that relations between and among liberal democracies will always be peaceful. There may be disagreements, but since in domestic politics, statesmen are used to disagreement, discussion and compromise in decision making, it is assumed or expected that they will use these skills in the international arena and thus forestall war. Other things which constrain democratic war include public opinion- seen as always or generally peaceful except when war is undertaken in self defence- which is needed for politicians to remain in power, and the effects of checks and balances created by separation of powers which (should) make it virtually impossible for a government to go to war at the whim of any specific group. Also it claims that when dealing with other democracies, states know of these constraints and the likely actions that will result thus giving them the peace of mind to bargain instead of looking for the zero-sum win.
Arguments against the theory include problems with defining a democracy; was Germany under Hitler a democracy since the Nazi party won elections. “For example, one study (Oren 1995) reports that Germany was considered a democratic state by Western opinion leaders at the end of the 19th century; yet in the years preceding World War I, when its relations with the United States, France and Britain started deteriorating, Germany was gradually reinterpreted as an autocratic state, in absence of any actual regime change.” There have also been post-hoc reclassification of states as non-democracies or conflicts as non-wars (no true Scotsman fallacy) to “fix” the history of democratic peace. Other arguments include the effects of political similarity(there has also been an autocratic peace with no wars between autocrats), effects of economic interdependence as liberal democracies also tend to have liberal economies which are involved in free international trade; as two states trade together, they become linked and begin to share cultures, understand each other and just generally get along. Also, for economic growth to be sustained and in line with its long run average, the absence of shocks to production that wars bring is necessary.
With this we can explain the quote by saying in dealings with the US, the Begg family was able to run a vocal campaign because they knew that, even though Guantanamo Bay was illegal, a democratic US state would/ could be brought to see reason and to release the man while an autocratic (“brutal”) China would not be brought to discussion (according to the experts) as there are routine human rights violations and this one would just be the next.
• Accuse the government of hypocrisy in its dealings with China. "One of the justifications we are told for invading countries like Afghanistan is ‘human rights violations’. If it is accepted by all that there are gross violations taking place in China, why aren’t they too invaded? This is purely to do with the fact that China is a powerful country economically. Britain’s economic dependence far outweighs these ‘individual cases’."
Ah, the bane of liberal/ humanitarian intervention. Why thereand not there. The answer is simple, “It’s POWER stupid!” You do not intervene, liberally or illiberally, in an area or state where you will get beaten and leave yourself open to attack. Power is the most important concept in Realist and Neorealist IR theory is defined as the summation of all the capabilities of a state; size of army, state of military technology, tactical acumen and advantages, size and strength of the economy (to support build up of arms and troops), effectiveness of diplomatic service, possession of vetoes at international organisations especially the UN Security Council, population and demographic trends (ageing=bad because of increased dependence on the labour force) among others.
Comparing Afghanistan and China on these criteria; troops: 240,000 to 7 million; nominal GDP per capita: $400 to $3000; it’s ridiculous (and impossible, for me anyway) to compare the state of military technology and the list goes on. The figures place China at the level of the UK (except GDP per capita, but then they do have a population of 1.3 billion) and suggest that while we were falsely gung-ho about going into Afghanistan and liberating them “quick as a flash” that expectation was a realistic one at the time given the weak capabilities of the Afghanistan state, the Taliban and al-Qaeda compared to the combined force of the western nations and our inability to see the future (shame).
It would be foolish to go to war against China, they have the largest army,nuclear weapons, a strong economy (rebounding quicker than anyone else from the recession), state of technology not too far from the rest of the world if not close to the front, 20% of the world’s population and most importantly a seat at the UN Security Council with a veto meaning that no resolution can be passed calling for military against China (why would it agree to be liberally intervened in when it can just say no).
Also as the article notes, the UK strategic interest is in keeping relations “sweet”, so that UK businesses can still operate in China and wealthy Chinese tourists continue to flock into our overpriced shops and their students continue to study here benefitting our economy.
• Condemn the government’s approach to the Chinese. "Did the British government pull out its diplomats in protest? Did it have a hard-hitting strategy to persuade the Chinese authorities to change their decision?"
The British government has made clear there will be no formal diplomatic retaliation beyond criticism. The cousins say in the letter: "This is an example of Britain’s powerlessness in the world. Their strategy of being shoulder to shoulder with the US in the ‘war on terror’ has not given them the status they so desperately desire.
Since the end of the WW1, the UK’s status has been falling, from being the only superpower and a super-empire in the 19th Century, to a middling power, along with the other European old powers, in a hegemonic world (US) with rapidly rising powers (BRICs). With this in mind, it is difficult to see what the UK could do that would make the Chinese take note and change their stance. Right now, it seems that UK needs China more than they need us.
Realism and Neorealism; Who you know counts for nothing in the international system. The international system is a self-help arena. If you do not improve on your capabilities there will be no international “Good Samaritan” state or world government to help further your interests. If the UK government thought (and I doubt they did) that joining the ‘war on terror’ would bolster their status in the world then they would be mistaken (they might be thanked for going along but nothing more). There is no such thing as a Special Relationship. It is only a special relationship if special means friends-when-it-is-in-my-interest-to-be-friends, though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite well, but I’m sure it will catch on.
"We are not mourning simply for our cousin as a lot of other people, including Muslims in China, have experienced and will continue to experience the same fate, without any real justification; our hearts pour out to them too."
The Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis has said that as well as official representations, ministers made 27 separate appeals on Shaikh’s behalf in the two years after his arrest. Brown, Lewis and David Miliband, the foreign secretary, all delivered critical statements yesterday. Brown said he condemned the execution "in the strongest terms" and was "appalled and disappointed that our persistent requests for clemency have not been granted".
The realist “catch-phrase” comes to mind: The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must. As long as China remains a strong nation, and no one can see this changing, there will be no outside intervention to bring about respect for human rights or democracy in China, no matter how much western citizens and their governments claim to want it (Realpolitikrules). Everything will continue to be said “in the strongest terms” and people will continue to be “appalled and disappointed” but it will all come to nothing unless Chinese citizens themselves rise up.
Lewis said: "Engagement with China is non-negotiable and any alternative strategy is simply not credible. But by being so clear in our public criticism of China’s handling of this case we are demonstrating that it is not business as usual."
Engagement is compulsory, but I believe it is futile in the area of human rights. I think the only other mechanism through which public criticism can have an effect is in the Chinese leadership’s reaction to Global opinion and I think they have really thick skins. I mean to become a leader in the Chinese Communist Party, you must be hard as nails (I’m guessing, I’m not a member). Also theirreportedbehaviour at the Copenhagen Summit suggests they take no heed to the rest of the world and focus only on what will keep their citizens content.
The issue also shows the failure of international law to regulate the international system as long as long as states can act with impunity because courts act in an advisory capacity and do not have the power to coerce states into acting in accordance with international law.
It also brings up the issue of state sovereignty. Should the UK be interfering in the affairs of another sovereign state’s judicial system? (linkand link). I think in this case they were well within their rights to remonstrate on behalf of their citizen in a foreign country as long as they were not asking for a pardon (he did commit a crime).