Archive for ‘Foreign Policy’

Don’t Dismiss New START

By , 24 December, 2010, No Comment

A Christmas Eve post at Foreign Exchange about the New START treaty and why it does actually matter:

New START is a disarmament treaty that is almost irrelevant as a step towards nonproliferation, because while the U.S. and Russia have 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons between them, their arsenals are reasonably secure. Reducing them is not going to end the Iranian nuclear program, stop the escalation on the Korean peninsula or prevent Pakistan from being overrun by the TTP.

What it is going to do, however, is create the basis for the next era in U.S.-Russia relations, burying the last hangovers of the Cold War (which is in many ways what the treaty is about) to acknowledge that as the competition for economic resources and influence in Central and South Asia heats up, Moscow and Washington will increasingly find themselves on the same side.

Go read it. And have a merry Christmas.

China’s New Pakistan Strategy

By , 21 December, 2010, No Comment

Post at Foreign Exchange today looks at the geostrategic significance of some new investment MOUs between China and Pakistan. The post is a follow-up to a story I wrote for Forbes in the spring about Chinese investment in Balochistan, where I highlighted a mining contract gone sour under Chinese pressure. That contract finally fell apart last week, and the lessons I learned reporting on it hang heavily over my analysis of the new deals:

Throughout my travels in South Asia, I’ve heard stories about what it means to do business with China. The running refrain has always been that Chinese investors are politically neutral, that they protect their own material interests while doing their best to appease local leaders with a cut of any deal, but with very little concern for the day-to-day running of local life. This is always subtly (or not so subtly) contrasted to an American approach of promoting foreign investment as a mechanism of societal makeover. In much of South Asia, Chinese investment has proven appealing to those who would rather not be re-made. That was very much the theme of my time in Balochistan. This weekend’s deals do not fit that mold…

Want to know why? Read it here.

What is China Thinking?

By , 1 December, 2010, 1 Comment

Latest post at Foreign Exchange waffles about trying to understand what’s happening on the Korean peninsula:

So here are the questions: to what extent is the DPRK acting with Chinese support, and to what extent is it acting alone? and if it is acting alone, how comfortable is Beijing with the decisions Pyongyang is making? How seriously should observers take Chinese expressions of dissatisfaction, if, as the pessimists suggest, the proposed solutions are empty? South Korean news is reporting that North Korean envoy Choe Thae-Bak is in Beijing till Saturday–is that a friendly meeting or an opportunity for reprimanding? Truth be told, we just don’t know.

What we do know is that the primary foreign policy imperative for China is its sphere of influence in northeast Asia, not the regime per se.

Go read the rest.

More on Ireland

By , 30 November, 2010, No Comment

Another quickie Ireland at Foreign Exchange today, this time looking at the politics of the deal with an Irish TD:

Going into the conversation, I was under the impression that Ireland might hope to renegotiate at a lower interest rate after the crisis has stabilized somewhat. Deputy Fleming was determined to disabuse me of this assumption.

Over time, he says, “people will begin to see that the interest rate is not so bad. If the financial situation stabilizes, by year 3 [of the loan period], it may be possible to be raising funds in the bond markets again at a rate that is lower than the rate on offer [in the EU settlement], and we may not have to draw it all down at that rate.” In other words, there’s no plan to renegotiate a better deal in Brussels, but there is a plan to aggressively hack at the deficit domestically, and then leverage the Brussels offer to renegotiate with the bond markets.

For more such optimistic predictions, read the whole thing.

Covering the Wikileaks

By , 29 November, 2010, No Comment

The latest at Foreign Exchange on the way news organizations are handling the Wikileaks:

as we come to see Wikileaks as just a source, news organizations are having to decide whether to cover them at all, and–as we often do with delicate subject matter–how to balance the scoop against the risk to those implicated. I have very minimal sympathy with Wikileaks’ overall agenda, which seems increasingly to be about embarrassing the US government for the sake of it rather than to advance any particular cause, but I do think that news organizations have an obligation to cover these leaks in some fashion once they’ve occurred. They can pick and choose what to include on the basis of what’s really significant, and they can avoid reprinting the actual documents if they see a risk to someone’s life, but they can’t just choose to ignore the whole development.  That’s why I think it’s deplorable that two major news organizations–the Wall Street Journal and CNN–chose to turn down access to the documents altogether, because, in essence, they were afraid of being compromised. National security reporting is inevitably compromised and risky, and to run from that challenge is unjournalistic, and wrong.

Go read the whole thing.

Turkey, Between Rocks and Hard Places

By , 14 November, 2010, 1 Comment

Latest post at Foreign Exchange is up, basically looking at a note I wrote a year ago about Turkey and unpacking why it’s still relevant. I wrote the note after President Obama announced his decision to move the NATO missile defense shield to Turkish shores, shortly before I packed off for South Asia. Here’s what I thought then:

Turkey has historically seen itself, and been resented by its former colonies, as a European power. After trying repeatedly to join the European Union, and failing, Turkey has spent the last few years in a painful process of reinvention, electing a conservative Islamist government and making overtures to its eastward neighbors. This theocratic turn is hardly in the interest of Turkey’s NATO allies. Luckily, it has had only limited success.

Now, one NATO ally asks Turkey to grant access to its shores to deploy missile systems against a Middle Eastern neighbor, and thereby to trade in any hard-earned goodwill in the region and risk its own security. Given its history, Turkey seems ill-suited to the region’s club of theocracies; but it is unfair to ask it to trade it this tenuous sense of belonging after summarily denying its more natural place in Europe. Moreover, as a NATO ally, Turkey has treaty rights to better protection than to be asked to play a dangerous and antagonistic role towards its own neighbors on behalf of a community to which it has only partial access.

For an updated version that takes into account some more recent headlines and current developments, go here.

A Very Quick Thought on Robert Kaplan

By , 12 November, 2010, No Comment

Crossposted from Foreign Exchange.

Robert Kaplan is a journalist and author whose work has had a huge influence on me, as someone with a background in history, and a particular passion for stories about Asia and Eastern Europe. But there is always a sense, at the end of his books, that something is missing.

He spins a great and colorful yarn and stuffs readers full of facts and anecdotes, but when he begins to articulate strategy, I often find myself raising my eyebrows. I know that Kaplan is widely regarded as a strategic thinker first and foremost, and so I’ve struggled to figure out why I dissent from that view.

While reading his latest offering, Monsoon, and some of the reviews of it, I’ve come to the following conclusion: the thing that makes Kaplan so compelling as a historian and journalist is his geographical determinism. Geography is a mostly fixed lens, a constant that lets you trace seamless stories across time. Kaplan’s approach allows him to cut through layers of information and show us The Way Things Are.

His fans like to think that this is also what makes him a great strategist: that geography can determine the way things will or should be. But the whole notion of strategic thinking is about choices, and options, and maneuvers; it is the opposite of determinism.

The result is that Kaplan’s ‘strategic’ conclusions are often too broad to be really useful, and one often feels as though the strategy has been stretched over what would otherwise be excellent travel writing. Shashi Tharoor makes this point best:

Shoehorning his travels into the book makes for an uneven effect, with some surprising inclusions and omissions, and one can’t help feeling that a country has been deemed to be important because he traveled there.

Ouch. That said, for a great story, you could do a lot worse.

India and Its Neighbors

By , 9 November, 2010, 35 Comments

I’ve got a piece in today’s Christian Science Monitor on India, China and the battle for South Asia.

China is certainly flexing its muscle. Last month, it sought to restrict exports of rare earth minerals to Japan, made overtures to a secession movement in southern Sudan, and wrestled with the G20 over its currency and trade imbalance.

Nowhere has China been more assertive than in South Asia. In a strategy it calls the “string of pearls,” China is building ports and infrastructure in Bangladesh and Pakistan; digging up minerals in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and refining hydropower in Nepal and Afghanistan.

According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s trade with India’s neighbors totaled $16 billion in 2008, growing at 14 percent annually. India’s regional trade was barely holding steady at $11 billion.

Yet China’s success in the Subcontinent reflects India’s own foreign policy blunders.

The takeaway: if India doesn’t improve its own regional relationships, it will not only lose South Asia to China, but it will be prevented from exercising power elsewhere. Don’t believe me? Read the whole piece.

The Stiff Upper Lip and Its Discontents

By , 22 October, 2010, 1 Comment

I’ve just written the longest blog post ever at Foreign Exchange. It filled about 6 pages in Microsoft Word as I was working on it. I don’t think bloggers are actually allowed to be so verbose, but I couldn’t help myself, as the subjects touched on in the post triggered too many of my wonkish fetishes:

On Wednesday, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in the U.K. unveiled its mammoth austerity program, aiming to take £81 billion off the deficit over four years. There are a few major sources of cuts: a reorientation of British foreign policy that should take 24% out of the Foreign Office and 8% out of the Ministry of Defense; a welfare reform program  that should yield close to £20 billion in savings; a push towards privatization and localism on everything from low-income housing to law enforcement; and across the board cuts–mostly efficiency savings and staff reductions–in all departments with a few notable exceptions: education, health and foreign aid spending will all keep growing.

The plan has taken a heavy beating in the first 48 hours. First, there are criticisms of the way the Spending Review plays fast and loose with data: leaving off half the cuts in order to claim that the overall effect is more progressive than it really is, conflating real and nominal figures or cash figures and percentages or departments’ capital ceilings and their actual expenditures. I can’t tell if that kind of fuzzy math is intentional obfuscation or just economic incompetence, but it’s a problem with the Review and one reason it took me a long time to develop a solid analysis of my own. Second, there are criticisms of the policies on the merits, in particular of the changes in taxes, disability and child benefits and housing. The most aggressive critique has come from the Institute for Fiscal Studies in a series of Power Point presentations that are getting a lot of positive play in the British press, but of which I’m a bit skeptical.

The rest of the post is a detailed analysis of the review, followed by an assessment of just how regressive it is. The figures I ended up with show that the Review is regressive in the broad sense (worse for the bottom half than the top half) but when it comes down to specifics, is actually going to squeeze the middle more than the absolute poor.

For more scintillating details, read the whole thing.

China’s Growing Contradictions

By , 19 October, 2010, 4 Comments

My post at Foreign Exchange today is about the Chinese Communist Party’s latest five-year plan, which aims to reorient the economy to be more equitable and more consumption and service driven. I’m skeptical that this is going to work without the political reforms that the Party remains hesitant to make.

The economic part is easy. Of course an authoritarian regime has the ability to mandate changes in wages, to make dramatic shifts in managing currency and to reorient capital investment towards services. And it’s heartening that China is now interested in doing so after several years of other countries’ whining falling on deaf ears. But the political part seems impossible. How do you raise wages at the bottom to the point where you have a consumer economy without producing enormous pressure for democratization (something this five year plan has chosen to kick down to the road and which the Party elders still seem in denial about)? The mantra of consumer-centric, service-heavy capitalism is “What about me?” It won’t last long in a political culture of “Shut up and sit down.”

Go read it all.