Monday, April 24, 2006

The Waning Momentum of Freedom

The disheartening discrepancy between the potential importance of the discipline of International Relations and the actual low relative dominance in output of analytical ideas of its main producers is again underscored by one of its brightest outsiders, Robert D. Kaplan (any shortlist of the most influental pieces of IR literature in the 1990s cannot but include three titles by non-IR-scholars: Kaplan's The Coming Anarchy, Fukuyama's End of History and Huntington's Clash of Civilization?).

As with his last Washington Post piece this new one is brillant in both academic and real terms: do go read "Old States, New Threats". The last piece was a call for more emphasis on stability and less on "democracy": as stated in this post there are several caveats to bear in mind before embracing his analysis. This new one basically takes its outset in the logic of states' lowered cost of entering the international security politics market because of the falling relative price of devastating disruptive and other coercive technologies and practices:
Borders may be eroding and stateless terrorist groups like al-Qaeda proliferating, but don't be fooled: The traditional state remains the most dangerous force on the international scene. Perhaps the greatest security threat we face today is from a paranoid and resentful state leader, armed with biological or nuclear weapons and willing to make strategic use of stateless terrorists. These old-fashioned bad guys often have uncertain popular support, but that does not make them easy to dislodge. We don't live in a democratic world so much as in a world in the throes of a very messy democratic transition, so national elections combined with weak, easily politicized institutions produce a lethal mix -- dictators armed with pseudo-democratic legitimacy. (...)

Globalization is a cultural and economic phenomenon -- not a system of international security. Indeed, the notion that a state's sovereignty carries less weight these days because the international community will not tolerate grave human rights abuses seems relevant only in the case of poor, marginal states like Liberia, Somalia and Haiti, where no great power has an overriding interest in maintaining the regimes. Nevertheless, just look at how hard it has been to get Sudan's president, Omar Hassan Bashir, to cooperate in alleviating the humanitarian catastrophe in Darfur.

Meanwhile, the tyrants from big states continue to use the global media as an equalizing weapon against the United States and the rest of the West. They may also use what Yale political science professor Paul Bracken calls "disruptive technologies," referring to nuclear and biological weapons -- the secrets of which cannot ultimately be protected. A host of new powers, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, can, by concentrating on such technologies, render our tanks, bombers and fighter jets impotent. Our military edge against these traditional bad guys is slipping even as our military gets better because our relative power in the world depends on a status quo that cannot be maintained.

We are entering a well-armed world, with more players than ever who can unhinge the international system and who have fewer reasons to be afraid of us. That's why a resentful state leader, armed with disruptive technologies and ready to make use of stateless terrorists, poses such a threat.

What would Kaplan's two latest pieces mean in combination? A less pro-democratic agenda coupled with a more cynical realist preference for stability; multilateral means for the former and old-school bilateral stick and carrots for the security related crisis situations, perhaps ... which sounds ominously like a Cold War paradigm where less change is in the cards. That may not be a bad thing if it contributes to uphold the economic integration process known as globalization which serves both to feed the world and potentially to be a building block for the spread of freedom in the long run (even if it does result in postponing the cashing in).

But it would mean, on the other hand, that the special moment -- one of plasticity and remoulding of base lines in world politics -- identified by Condoleeza Rice as akin to the 1947 situation, is gone. That analysis is supported by another bright guy, Sebastian Mallaby's piece on multilateralism's new weakness: "Why Globalization Has Stalled".
Fifteen years ago, there were hopes that the end of Cold War splits would allow international institutions to acquire a new cohesion. But the great powers of today are simply not interested in creating a resilient multilateral system. Europe is distracted by its economic malaise and by the challenge of building its own union. Japan has yet to translate its economic clout into political or military power. China's dictators care about keeping the lid on simmering unrest, not about helping to resolve global financial imbalances or Iran's nuclear crisis. India has huge potential as a Democratic superpower, but has only just begun to realize it. The United States remains the only plausible quarterback for the multilateral system. But the Bush administration has alienated too many players to lead the team effectively. Its strident foreign policy started out as an understandable response to the fecklessness of other powers. But unilateralism has tragically backfired, destroying whatever slim chance there might have been of a workable multilateral alternative.
The momentum sensed a few years ago does seem to be waning. Whereas the rest of the OECD has in practice been bandwagoning around the American world order, China and other countries like Chavez' Venezuela point to a future of renewed indirect confrontations over what a reasonable state should look like. The balancing struggle looks increasing like a Cold War setup except for the fact that the opposing camp has as its only common agenda the opposition to a too American-looking globalization of not so much economics but of democratic politics.

And with the major players on the Western side wavering in their commitment and failing ability to promote the latter agenda,
realpolitik is definitely on the rise -- as exemplifed in the American policies on the autocracies in the former Soviet Union, such as Azerbaijan and Kazahkstan (see Jackson Diehl's piece on "Retreat from the Freedom Agenda"). That is a pity.

Later UPDATE: Robert Kagan's monthly piece in the Washington Post -- "League of Dictators?" -- touches on the same subject as this post and the one below on China. Interesting as always.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

China's African Policy: Proxy Wars over Good Governance

Is China derailing the West's African development policies? Will the East-West proxy wars of yesteryear be repeated in the economic realm -- with negative consequences for the largely Western sponsored intention to diminish the reach of kleptocratic dictatorships? Peter Brookes of the Heritage Foundation has an interesting piece, "Back to the Maoist Future", on these questions in the Weekly Standard:

Across the planet, China is aggressively seeking new friends and allies, and proving to be a less-demanding alternative to the more scrupulous United States and European nations. Africa's traditional European colonial and American partners now find their vision of a continent governed by free-market democracies and the rule of law challenged by Beijing's scramble for influence and resources. Nothing is driving China into Africa more than its insatiable appetite for oil and gas. For the past decade, the Chinese economy has expanded annually at near double-digit rates, requiring an enormous influx of resources. China is already the world's second largest energy consumer, leading Beijing to Africa's door in an effort to reduce its reliance on volatile Middle Eastern sources. Today, Africa provides China with 30 percent of its energy imports. (...)

China is rapidly expanding its influence in Africa to secure natural resources, expand Beijing's influence, and even isolate Taiwan through generous but self-serving diplomatic, financial, and military assistance. Chinese policies are endangering U.S. goals by supporting African dictatorships, hindering economic development, and exacerbating conflicts and human rights abuses in troubled countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. What is needed is a comprehensive U.S. strategy that encourages democratic principles, human rights, free markets, and cooperation in regional security and energy development in concert with like-minded partners, looking beyond traditional European friends to democratic Asian and Latin American nations for support. Otherwise, China's broad energy, trade, political, diplomatic, and, yes, military interests threaten to undermine long-standing efforts to promote peace, prosperity, and democracy in Africa.

Brookes, of course, makes his analysis from the slightly broing perspective of the instinctual (Pentagon) China basher. Strategist Thomas P. M. Barnett's positive vision of a future with China provides a far more interesting and proactive framework for analysis. Nevertheless, in the case of Africa, it is interesting to see how the Chinese intend to behave and how that clashes with the immediate expression of our political goals (the latter foggy expression just to make a distinction between present policies and later, different policies which may well both be results of the same political aspirations).

China's recent African Policy document outlines an extensive interest in engaging in African development. The most notable difference from Western development policies is the abs
ence of good governance as a leitmotiv -- and its logical counterpart, the adherence to the "Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence". The Principles support non-interference: as such they are at odds with the essence of Western development policy which posits that there can be universally applicable most-effective ways of undertaking government, i.e. "good governance".

China's African Policy identifies the African Union NEPAD-strategy as "[drawing] up an encouraging picture of African rejuvenation and development." The most interesting mechanism
in the NEPAD is probably the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), which intends to create an African driven initiative to strengthen and encourage good governance in a cooperative way.

The problem is of course here, that reforms are seldom, if ever, implemented wholeheartedly without incentives, whether positive or negative. And since "Africa Works" already in the sense that the leading power structures do benefit from the present situations such incentives will most likely have to be external to the given country. If external incentives are to be continued with the help or at least non-obstruction of China, it will be necessary to find a way to work around the Chinese adherence to the Five Principles and thus non-interference.

The APRM could represent one model for doing so. A primary objective of any kind of externally supported wish for policy and institutional changes must always be to coopt the local leadership, which is what the APRM would be doing given that it comes to function. Furthermore, because the ARPM is African driven, it has a potential legitimacy with the Chinese given that it is not perceived to be what the West hopes it to be: a trojan horse. Yet, evidently, the most likely outcome is that a) the cooperative nature of the APRM will itself make it ineffective for any but maybe a few medium-crisis-beset countries, and b) China itself will attempt to coopt or obstruct the APRM. But still there might be an opportunity here. As Brookes notes, the Chinese engagement has a number of drawbacks:

While some Africans see the Chinese as kindred spirits who understand Africa's development plight and welcome the Chinese infrastructure projects, the PRC presence is also a source of consternation. Chinese firms underbid local companies, and PRC contractors often use cheap, imported Chinese labor, adding little to local employment or skill development. Moreover, cheap Chinese goods flood African markets, especially textiles, shuttering factories across the continent. And concessionary PRC loans have put International Monetary Fund and other bank projects on hold because of concerns about economic mismanagement and corruption.

Basically, what is needed is fact based examination of the broader economic effects of the Chinese African engament. This should be joined with an effort to make clear the cost of the trade off of preferring to deal with the Chinese over the Western policies. The latter will surely be more demanding up front and more beneficial in the long run.

Unfortunately the setup allows a Tito-like playing on both sides. As such it has the potential to create even more of the kind of double tongued lipservice, which corrupt leaders on the continent have for a long time mastered with regard to development aid. Moreover, the most crucial countries are the natural ressource rich kleptocracies that from the outset will be least inclined to ever participate in good governance initiatives. Here, the intention of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative already suffers from combination of the Chinese need for oil and the willfully blind perspective of the Five Principles.

In short, the good governance agenda looks set to really suffer from China's African engagement. And unfortunately, that effect will be the same elsewhere too.

Later UPDATE: Robert Kagan's monthly piece in the Washington Post -- "League of Dictators?" -- touches on the same subject as this post and the one above. Interesting as always.