Category: Regional

Luis Videgaray, Mexican foreign policy and the open contempt for expertise

For the past few months, I’ve been observing with horror all the cabinet appointments in the incoming Trump administration and the Theresa May government .  As someone who originally did a PhD with the intent to become a career diplomat (and yes, I realize there’s a foreign civil service pathway to achieve precisely that goal), to me expertise in top-level agencies was more than a mere technicality: it was a requirement. I wanted a PhD in international relations or political science because I wanted to be knowledgeable about the dynamics of global affairs, diplomacy and state-to-state relationships. Thus, watching Prime Minister May appoint Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and PEOTUS Trump appoint Exxon Mobil chairman Rex Tillerson to the State Department was shocking. To me, these kinds of appointments signal a complete disdain for expertise, career service and the foreign civil service structures and legacies.

Then came embattled Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the cherry on top. Peña Nieto has rescued his long-time aide from the depths of scorn and made him Foreign Affairs minister, substituting Claudia Ruiz Massieu (the niece of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari). Videgaray was the political operator of Trump’s visit to Mexico, the former finance minister, and was ousted after Peña Nieto was heavily criticized because of his willingness to host Trump and the fact that he extended an invitation to the then Republican candidate. Trump has been openly adversarial toward Mexico and Mexicans from the beginning of his campaign, and has repeatedly said that the US under his leadership would be building a wall and that he’d make Mexico pay for it.

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WPTPN: Global Cities in a Time of Populist Nationalism

This World Politics in a Time of Populist Nationalism (WPTPN) guest post is written by Fiona B. Adamson, an Associate Professor of International Relations at SOAS, University of London. 

In the aftermath of the UK Brexit vote, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo issued a joint letter committing themselves to work more closely together and to deepen connections between cities in Europe and across the world, declaring that “the 21st century belongs to cities.” They are not the only ones who think so – sociologists, geographers, urban studies scholars and others have long focused on cities as important sites of power in the international system – sites that increasingly make up a networked global structure that exists side-by-side with the system of nation-states.

The tension between the globalized world of interconnected cities and the still territorially-defined system of nation-states is one of the factors that has come to the fore in both Brexit and the US election. Voting preferences in both cases mirrored the rural-urban geographic divide – with urban centers overwhelmingly voting “Remain” in the UK and for Clinton in the US. Indeed, both the “Leave” and Trump campaigns played on this distinction. The Brexit vote was as much about perceptions of London’s “elites” and “experts” as it was about fact-based arguments or the actual workings of the European Union. Trump’s “America First” and “Make America Great Again” version of nationalism was pitted against the “globalism” of metropolitan elites – who were deemed to represent neoliberalism, mainstream media and corporate power – but also pluralism and cultural diversity.

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Trump, Brexit, and nationalist authority

In this, the first of a sequence of posts addressing Brexit in one way or another, I want to take a look at the shifting systems of authority in the current political climate and comment on how they might impact international relations into the future.

At the time of the Brexit vote, commentators and news reports drew parallels between the British decision to the leave the EU and the tumult of the US elections, particularly the rise of Donald Trump. Many pointed to the resurgence of nationalism, but here I want to argue that while the concept of nationalism as a practice of identity certainly sheds light on both Brexit and the rise of Trump, it also obscures some importance differences. In particular, part of nationalism is an aspect of governance, and in particular an embodied system of authority. In the case of Brexit, authority remained at the institutional level but shifted in aggregation, from the supernational to the national level. Continue reading

The UK and the EU Referendum

The UK’s vote on whether to remain in the European Union is tomorrow. I’m having trouble squaring a fearful nativist UK with the country I knew when I lived there from 1993 to 1995 completing a second undergraduate degree in international development.

The UK I knew was eclectic and increasingly multicultural, with its cultural scene perhaps even more comfortable than the United States in drawing on diverse influences to produce fantastic art. This was pre-Cool Britannia and pre-Tony Blair (and also before the Iraq War and the global recession), and there was an undercurrent of optimism that something great and better was in store for the country.

The UK had turned the country’s imperial history in to a source of advantage, with immigrants from former colonies bringing new influences in music, literature, food, and more to enrich the country. The willingness to mash-up, fuse, and experiment traditions of old with new tastes struck me as such a positive approach to life in a globalized world.

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China’s Great Contradiction

This is a guest post from Barry Buzan, Emeritus Professor at the LSE

For the past decade or so, China has been in the grip of a growing contradiction (in the classical Marxist sense) between a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still deeply Leninist in its outlook, and the increasingly capitalist society that the CCP’s highly successful economic reforms have created. As Jonathan Fenby has argued, the CCP remains unbendingly committed to remaining in power in perpetuity. Yet as knowledge, wealth, organization, information and connectivity spread through Chinese society, that society becomes increasingly diverse, opinionated, and able and willing to mobilise in its own interests.

The CCP increasingly, and correctly, feels threatened by this society, which it does not understand, and does not like. As a consequence, China’s domestic and foreign policies are extremely closely linked, with the insecurity of the CCP as the central concern (see work by Susan Shirk and David Shambaugh). Its paranoia is indicated by the increasing resources it devotes to domestic security, now outweighing what it spends on national defence (Jian Zhang makes this argument; see also Wang and Minzner and Bader).

This contradiction was set up by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms from the late 1970s, which were aimed at saving the country from poverty and the Party from self-destruction. Having abandoned the core of Marxist political economy, these reforms necessitated that the CCP base its legitimacy on spreading prosperity to the masses and cultivating a backward-looking nationalism that constructed the CCP as necessary for the ‘New China’. Prosperity could only be spread to the masses by adopting market economics, and that in turn quickly generated what Michael Witt argued is the Chinese variety of capitalism that is now obvious in any major Chinese city.

This contradiction has now ripened to breaking point. Given the lack of alternatives to the CCP, and the deep conservatism of Chinese society about wanting to avoid any return to revolution, national division, and weakness in the face of foreigners, there were always only two possible dialectical resolutions to it. Continue reading

Russia, Russia Burning Bright? (Spoiler: Not So Much)

Russia Comp GDP

GDP (PPP) for US, Russian Federation, and Major European Economies

The Russian Federation covers more territory than any other country. It has a large nuclear arsenal, skilled weapons designers, and the world’s fourth largest military budget—after the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia. But it maintains that budget—which comes it at roughly 12% of US military expenditures—by spending a larger percentage of its GDP on defense than does the United States, China, Britain, France, Japan, or Germany. Indeed, if the major European economies boosted defense spending to 3% of GDP—still short of Russia—they would each have larger military budgets.

Of course, military spending is a poor proxy for capabilities. Russia has a larger population than any other European state, along with a big army, extensive air-defense network, and other indicators of martial prowess. But it also has a smaller economy than the state of California, and still cannot indigenously produce much of the high-tech accruement of modern warfare. Moscow can certainly overwhelm many of its neighbors, but it isn’t a political-military juggernaut.

I consider such remarks necessary in light of the current freakout over Moscow’s intervention in Syria, including here at the Duck of Minerva.

Thankfully, a wave of cooler heads have started to push back against the hyperventilations of #resolvefairy acolytes. But the whole notion that Putin is a master strategist, and that whatever goes down in Syria is a result of his outmaneuvering the West in Ukraine, needs a reality check.

Let’s review. Continue reading

Making Sense of Afghanistan

This is a guest post by Erik Goepner, a Phd student at George Mason University.  He commanded units in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

American and international expertise, money, and blood have flowed into Afghanistan for 14 years, yet stability appears more elusive today than it did in 2002. High rates of civil conflict continue with record numbers of civilian deaths, corruption that plagues the government, and transnational terror groups such as the Islamic State appearing to grab power.

The first stop in America’s war on terror has not gone as planned.

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The Politics of Resettlement: Migrants vs. Refugees

We are witnessing the horror of war. We see it every day, with fresh pictures of refugees risking their lives on the sea, rather than risking death by shrapnel, bombs, assassination or enslavement. For the past four years, over 11 million Syrians have left their homes; 4 million of them have left Syria altogether. Each day thousands attempt to get to a safer place, a better life for themselves and their children. Each day, the politics of resettlement and the fear of terrorism play their part.

The last major resettlement campaign in the US came after the Vietnam War. Over a 20-year period 2 million people from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were resettled into the US.   The overall number of resettled refugees from this period is roughly about 3 million. Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Turkey alone has taken 2 million Syrian refugees within its borders. In short, Turkey has absorbed the same amount of war refugees in a four-year period that the US absorbed in five times the amount of time.

Turning to the Syrian case, which has produced the most refugees in any war in the past 70 years, we find a very dismal record of other than near neighbor resettlement. The Syrian conflict began in early 2011, and while the violence quickly escalated, I am taking the numbers of admitted Syrian refugees to the US starting in 2012. In 2012, the US admitted 35 Syrian refugees. In 2013, it admitted 48; in 2014, it admitted 1307. For 2015, the US is estimating admitting somewhere between 1000-2000 refugees. Even Canada, who tends to be more open with regard to resettlement and aid, has only admitted about 1300 refugees, pledging to admit 10,000 more by 2017.  In short, since the beginning of this war, one of the most powerful countries in the world, with ample space and the economic capacity to admit more people, has admitted an estimated total of 2400 people, and its neighbor, a defender of human rights, has admitted about half that. Thinking the other way around, the US has agreed to take in .0006 % of the current population of Syrian refugees, and this number does not does not take into consideration the 7 million internally displaced people of Syria, or the simple fact that one country (Turkey) has absorbed 45%.

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Europe, Greece, and the problem of identity: Doing it wrong, social psych edition

The Iran deal is the hot topic now, but since I wrote on the subject recently in another venue, I thought I would address the Greek/Euro crisis. I can’t help but borrow a bit of Josh’s title on the subject because it describes so well the situation in Europe. A lot of people are piling in on the Europeans.  While I have not read all the analysis on the crisis, I suspect much of it is economically oriented.  Ben Bernanke, for example, thinks Europe is failing to uphold its end of the deal by delivering equitable economic growth. Stephen Walt thinks Europe is in for a tough time mostly for economic and security reasons: because of overexpansion (too many different levels of economic development), the collapse of the Soviet Union (no external threat), the Euro crisis, deteriorating regional security environment (Ukraine, terrorism and migrants)*, and the persistence of nationalism. Continue reading

Thoughts on Subjectivity in Writing about Israel

This is a guest post from Mira Sucharov, an  Associate Professor at Carleton University. 

Particularly in areas of contested politics — controversial policy issues, protracted conflict, clashing narratives, and the like — how much responsibility do authors have to remain unbiased? It’s a problematic word, bias. It’s almost always used either in the context of accusation or in ingratiating self-deprecation. But what if we shift from the term bias to the more encompassing — and less value-laden term — subjectivity?

I recently reviewed four books on Israel and Israeli-Palestinian relations for International Politics Reviews (ungated access here). Each book deploys what some would call bias — and others would call subjectivity — in varying ways. Partly because of the respective narrative voice of the authors and partly because of the differing goals of each work, the effectiveness of the subjectivity tool varies in the hands of each writer. And if I’m going to take subjectivity seriously, I would be obfuscating if I didn’t say that their effects on me, as a reader, are no doubt partly a function of my own values and viewpoint — in short, both my own subjectivity and my subjective preference to see it used in the hands of my peers. Continue reading

Civil(ian) Military Integration & The Coming Problem for International Law

In late May, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) released a white paper on China’s Military Strategy. This public release is the first of its kind, and it has received relatively little attention in the broader media.   While much of the strategy is of no big surprise (broad and sweeping claims to reunification of Taiwan with mainland China, China’s rights to territorial integrity, self-defense of “China’s reefs and islands,” a nod to “provocative actions” by some of its “offshore neighbors” (read Japan)), there was one part of the strategy that calls for a little more scrutiny: civil-military integration (CMI).

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Mr. Netanyahu goes to Washington

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s looming address to the United States Congress has me thinking about the nature of authority in security. I think this is an issue that often gets overlooked, especially in security studies where the materiality of power (i.e. the ability o blow things up) takes up most of our collective attention. Certainly, Netanyahu seeks to make a security claim in his argument against the possibility of a deal between the United States and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. But in so doing Netanyahu is on relatively thin ground. In most domestic contexts there are speakers with institutionally-sedimented security authority, individuals whose ability to make security claims is much greater than others. In democracies, these are typically elected politicians and bureaucratic leaders of the elements of the national security apparatus. We often overlook these lines of security authority unless something occurs that imperils them, as was the case in the second George W. Bush administration in the wake of the disastrous invasion of Iraq.

But when a foreign leader visits an alien domestic political context, the importance of authority to speak security claims becomes obvious. This is certainly the case with Netanyahu and his speech before Congress. On what basis will Americans and their elected representatives, one assumes his target audiences, accept Netanyahu’s claims that a deal with Iran poses an existential threat to Israel and possibly the United States? On the Israel claim, Netanyahu’s security authority is stronger as the leader of that state. But on the claim of an existential threat to the United States, Netanyahu’s ability to speak security is much weaker—which draws our attention to the political conditions that facilitate security claims. Certainly shared democratic identity between Israel and the United States supports Netanyahu’s security authority, as does a long alliance between the two countries that helps generate shared beliefs about security. Continue reading

Tiny Ecuador – Two Videos to Make You Laugh And Cry

From 1997 to 1999, I served in the Peace Corps in the Andean country of Ecuador. Ecuador is rich with contrasts. With the Galapagos, the Andes, and parts of the Amazon, the country possesses stunning natural beauty. The people have an incredible generosity of spirit, yet the country is riven by racial and regional differences. Until recently, high oil prices papered over some of these differences, but the president, Rafael Correa, is a left wing populist in the tradition of Hugo Chavez. He has taken to castigating his domestic on-line critics through television naming and shaming efforts that are unbecoming for a head of state. John Oliver has a wildly funny take-down of Correa’s pompous self-importance, which prompted a vigorous response from Correa (some calling it an “international incident”) and another round of humor from Oliver. The original video is hilarious and worth a watch (I’m not sure if embedding worked on this video so here is the link here though I think clicking on the screenshot below will work).

Ecuador

John Oliver’s take-down of Ecuador’s mercurial president is hysterical, but the next video by Peace Corps volunteer Kyle King is extraordinary. Kyle created this video with Peace Corps Week approaching as a way to honor his counterpart host family, capturing their tremendous grace and humor but also the hardships and tragedies that families endure. It’s hard to talk about the video without sounding maudlin, but I found it to be really powerful film-making and brought back so many memories of my own Peace Corps experience.

Why John J. Mearsheimer is Wrong on Ukraine

When I arrived as an incoming graduate student at Ohio State University, I was labeled a realist since I studied extensively under John J. Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago. And despite the fact that I find such labeling exercises rather silly (plus, my advisor at both Chicago and OSU was actually Alex Wendt), there was, and still is, some truth to it. Power does matter in international politics and contrary to many others in our field I think that Mearsheimer’s theory of great power politics does make a lot of sense, and it explains large swaths of international politics throughout history.

However, despite the fact that his recent analysis in Foreign Affairs of the causes of the Ukrainian crisis makes a number of good points, most importantly, that Putin’s actions do not necessarily signal an attempt to build a greater Russian empire and that realpolitik matters, it is at the same time wrong. Continue reading

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