Friday, March 24, 2017

Can Germany Really Lead Western Democracies?

Can we expect Germany to be the bearer of global morals and norms, such as human rights and free trade? Normally, hardly anyone asks a question like this, but the advent of “America First” Trump administration terrifies foreign policy pundits around the globe. If America were to withdraw from the world order that she made, someone else needs to replace. In such a destabilized global security atmosphere, it is nothing odd that people anticipate German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stand out the most vocal critic against nationalist US President Donald Trump to defend Western democratic values. Merkel impressed the global public with her steadfast attitude to deny Trump’s fake claim of Germany’s freeride on NATO, while advocating immigration tolerance and free trade, at the last US-German summit (“Opinion: Clumsy Trump meets confident Merkel”; Deustche Welle; 18 March, 2017). Shortly after the visit to the White House, Merkel met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address a joint message against protectionism, and even launched a new plan for an EU-Japanese free trade agreement (“Abe, Merkel take stand against protectionism”; Nikkei Asian Review; March 21, 2017). Prior to these diplomatic successes, former Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin in the Clinton administration commented that Trump’s self-interested nationalism and naïvely pro-Russian views are eroding American leadership, while boosting experienced and consummate Merkel’s reputation in the Western alliance (“The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump”; Politico; March 16, 2017).

However, Germany is by no means a superpower candidate. In terms of sheer hard power, Germany is far smaller than the United States. American GDP is 6 times larger than German one in 2016. Military power is no comparison. Germany’s real power lies in multilateral diplomacy. Aligned with France, Germany has been the anchor of European integration. Also, Germany is a vital nation in the age of NATO and EU expansion to Mitteleuropa. More importantly, the euro is the second largest IMF Special Drawing Rights currency, owing to the German economy. We can see the euro a de facto Deutschemark. Therefore, it is nothing strange that people expect Germany to counterbalance Trump’s America through leading a coalition of Western democracies, if this administration infringes on liberal and democratic values. But if Germany is so reliable, British Prime Minister Theresa May would have taken much softer Brexit. Above all, May would not have been so flattering to Trump when she visited the White House. This is also the case with Abe, though he raised the case against Trump’s protectionism with Merkel at the bilateral talk. Above all, he even met Trump before the presidential inauguration. Pax Germanica cannot replace Pax Americana, even if Trump abolishes all the global engagement, and simply pursues his perceived national interests. Therefore, it is necessary to assess current German weaknesses to assume proactive roles in the world.

The most evident weakness is defense contribution to the trans-Atlantic alliance. Germany’s defense spending is far below the NATO requirement of 2% of GDP, which erodes her credential to lead Europe against Trump’s poorly rooted skepticism to NATO. Moreover, security challenges have been diversified since the end of the Cold War, such as Islamic extremism in the Middle East and Africa, cyber warfare, and resurging Russia. But after the Ukrainian crisis, Germany has become more aware of regional security, and she is re-boosting defense expenditure since Cold War heydays. This is irrelevant to Trump’s pressure (“MP claims increased German defence spending would alarm European neighbours”; UK Defence Journal; March 14, 2017). The biggest economy in the EU, Germany can boost European defense a lot, once she is determined to build up her military capability. However, Germany’s defense augmentation is too modest to meet the NATO pledge, because she is still in pacifist mindsets like Japan (“Amid Growing Threats, Germany Plans to Expand Troop Numbers to Nearly 200,000”; Foreign Policy --- Cable; February 23, 2017).

Though some people expect Merkel’s Germany to stand against ignorant, irresponsible, and unpredictable Trump, the landscape of international politics is not necessarily favorable to this country. Merkel herself comments such an idea “grotesque” and “absurd”. Despite Germany’s long-standing liberal foreign policy after World War II, Germanophobia is still prevalent throughout Europe. Due to the rise of right wing populism in Western Europe, and autocratic governments in Poland and Hungary, Germany is more isolated in Europe than popularly believed (“The isolation of Angela Merkel’s Germany”; Financial Times; March 6, 2017). In addition, Germany is not necessarily good at taking leadership in the economy, as typically seen in the Euro crisis. Particularly, the global public sees her remedy debt crisis in Greece and Cyprus somewhat bullying and reluctant (“Blame Germany for Greece’s uphill euro zone struggle”; Globe and Mail; April 24, 2015 and “Cyprus showcases Germany's clumsy leadership in Europe”; EUobserver; 19 March, 2013).

Germany may be a locomotive to sustain European and global order, but she cannot act alone. Her leadership rests on a staunch Franco-German axis. However, the international presence of France is weakening these days. I have been wondering why the third largest nuclear power in the world is so obscured, despite the power shift to the Indo-Pacific region in international politics. People take Brexit seriously, partly because France fails to live up to what they expect. Though France has the same number of votes in the IMF, her budget contribution to the EU is almost half as large as that of the United Kingdom. According to the budget survey of 2015 by the European Commission, the EU would have lost 12 billion euros if Britain had left, while losing 6 billion if France had done. In addition, the total defense expenditure of France was almost the same as that of militarily reluctant Germany, while Britain spent 1.5 times more than she did in 2016 (“How Brexit Means EU Loses Cash, Influence, Might: Six Charts”; Bloomberg News; February 27, 2017). The Franco-German tandem worked well when both countries in a mutually complementary relation. However, as German preeminence grew in European economic and monetary integration after the Cold War, France has been dwarfed precipitously. A revitalization France is necessary for Germany to exert more leadership in global and regional affairs.

The most imminent problem is the rise of right wing populism in elections in Europe, including Germany and France. Fortunately, the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated the nationalist opposition Geert Wilders in the last Dutch general election (“Steve Bannon’s dream of a global alt-right revolution just took a blow”; New Republic --- Minuites; March 15, 2017). This will be a critical damage to National Front leader Marine Le pen in France and AfD leader Frauke Petry in Germany. The French election will be held on April 23 and May 7, and it is most likely that the presidential race will be intensified between a centrist ENArque Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen (The Amazing Race: Tracking the twists and turns in France’s presidential election”; LSE Blog --- EUROPP; March 9, 2017). Meanwhile, in Germany, though Merkel is supposed to win in the September 24 general election, popular fatigue with established political parties is widespread, and frustration with tolerant immigration policy is growing. A coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by Martin Shulz may stop the AfD (“When is the German federal election 2017? Will Angela Merkel LOSE power? “; Express; March 16, 2017). However, SPD also suffers from anti-establishment sentiments among voters (“Socialist Schulz loses early momentum in German election race”; CNBC; 10 March 2017). On the other hand, it is noteworthy that GreenLeft leaped greatly to win 14 seats in the parliament from 4 before the last Dutch election (“GreenLeft proves to be big winner in Dutch election”; Guardian; 16 March, 2017). Greens are cosmopolitan by nature, though anti-business. They will be a strong counterbalance against right wing populism in Germany.

In view of international and domestic challenges as I mention hereby, Germany needs to adapt the Franco-German axis to the new age. In the past, Germany and France rivaled against the Anglo-American duo over the influence within the trans-Atlantic community. However, the axis needs to evolve. French Gaullism has become already outdated, and both NATO and the EU have expanded eastward. Therefore, it is no use for the Franco-German axis to assume themselves to represent the Continental interest against the Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Rather, the Franco-German tandem should be more inclusive to rebuild Western democracy, and embrace Britain, Japan, and bipartisan mainstream foreign policy architects in the United States who strongly oppose Trump’s vision of the world. Therefore, Germany has to improve relations with Britain over Brexit. As to Japan, Abe confirmed common values and commitment to liberal world order with Merkel on his visit. Let’s see how Germany and her partners will act in practice.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Dangerous Nature of America First

Since the election campaign, President Donald Trump has been stressing the foreign policy key word of “America First”, which raises critical concerns among American allies, while Russia and China are exploring more vigorously to overturn Western supremacy, and Iran and North Korea are testing the new administration in Washington. Some people believe naïvely that there is no problem for any nation state to give priorities to her own people and national interests. Things are not so simple, and we should never dismiss the dangerous and caustic nature of this ideology.

First of all, Trump understands US foreign policy so poorly that he falls into believing in selfish and defensive views of the world. As a Jewish immigrant from the old Soviet Union in the childhood, Max Boot criticizes Trump’s bigoted zero-sum perspectives. Notably, Trump sees that America has been so altruistic that her trade partners have exploited the working class in the Rust Belt. To the contrary, it is universally understood that American help to reconstruct her former enemies to become friendly trade partners and allies is a successful landmark of her foreign policy. It is quite worrisome that Trump does not evaluate highly of American ideals, including human rights, and that is bitterly criticized by European allies and international NGOs. Actually, human rights advocacy has weakened American enemies such as the Soviet Union, and bolstered American power, through promoting democracy and freedom. An immigrant from the Soviet Union like Boot is well much more aware of it than Trump (“Grave Dangers and Deep Sadness of “America First”: .Foreign Policy --- Voice; January 23, 2017).

Meanwhile, far right nationalists in Europe and Japan are emotionally empathetic to Trump’s vision, though it hurts national security interests of their countries. This is because such self-assumed grassroots patriots detest globalist élites, and they want bullying Trump to defeat cosmopolitan ruling class. It is White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who provides the philosophical foundation for Trump’s America First. Professor Daniel Kreiss at the University of North Carolina points out that the pillars of Bannnon’s idea are economic nationalism and antipathy to corporatist global élites. In Bannon’s view, the world is inherently an arena of nation state competition. From this point of view, he believes that trade, immigration, and multilateral cooperation erodes national sovereignty and identity. Instead of universalism that modern enlightenment advocates, Bannon understands international politics in terms of the Clash of Civilization, and sees Islam inherently belligerent. Seen from Bannon’s theory of global class struggle, cosmopolitan élites are so corporatist as to sacrifice American interests for the sake of their business, and the media are on their side. In order to overturn such an élitist nation, he wants to destroy the administrative state that is closely tied with corporatist ruling class and infringes on people. America First is based on a dangerous populist idea like this (“Stephen K. Bannon’s CPAC Comments, Annotated and Explained”; New York Times; February 24, 2017).




Since Trump suggested abolishing alliances with Europe and Japan, his foreign policy is commonly seen isolationism. However, Kreiss insists that Bannon’s thoughts are essentially nationalism, and that does not hesitate foreign intervention, only in order to maximize national interests in a ruthlessly competitive world. Unlike neoconservatives’ regime change, Trump’s intervention is not based on such a universal ideal but sporadic recognition of international affairs. Trump is unpredictable not just because of his temperament, but because of Bannon’s ideology. Elliot Cohen and his proponents are right to denounce Trump’s swing from disengagement to belligerent adventurism in the open letter. In view of Bannon’s influence on Trump like this, so called flattery diplomacy by major power leaders notably British Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is no guarantee to develop stable relations with the new administration. Professionalism of ex-generals in the cabinet, notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis and new National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, can curtail Bannon’s alt right influence, as seen in their objection to Trump’s anti-Muslim policies and remarks. Marine General Joseph Dunford who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Senator John McCain joins them. The three generals lived under the same roof with Muslims to fight against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan, and McCain is a highly credentialed Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (“Trump's new security advisor differs from him on Russia, other key issues”; Reuters News; February 22, 2017).

Max Boot argues that such hatred against rootless cosmopolitan simulates xenophobia and anti-Semitism, which is closely associated with undemocratic nationalists like Josef Stalin and Charles Lindbergh. He says that he has not seen the rise of anti-Semitism ever since he settled in the United States, until quite recently (“The Bannon Administration?”; Commentary; January 31, 2017). Boot’s worries have come to reality in Trump’s appointment of Sebastian Gorka to the Deputy Assistant to the President. Prior to acquiring US citizenship in 2012, Gorka was in close contacts with Hungarian far rights, anti-Semitic, and racist people and organization through his careers in politics and journalism. Moreover, he is an “in-house think tank” for Bannon, as a counterterrorism expert (“Exclusive: Senior Trump Aide Forged Key Ties To Anti-Semitic Groups In Hungary”; Forward; February 24, 2017).

In resonance with the alt-right in the United States, a Russian neo-Eurasianist Alexander Dugin is exploring to seize the opportunity to work with the Trump administration to repeal the current liberal world order, while expanding Russian influence from Ukraine to the Middle East, including Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia calls Dugin “Putin’s Bannon”. Dugin told Turkish President Recep Erdoğan that America and NATO allies conspired the coup d'état led by Fethullah Gülen to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey. That echoes Trump’s skepticism to NATO. America First is the ideology of dissolving the Western democratic alliance (“The One Russian Linking Putin, Erdogan and Trump”; Bloomberg News; February 2, 2017). There is no wonder why Trump and Putin are so closely entangled, and Bannon’s anti-globalism charms nativists in Europe and Japan so much. The danger of America First is too critical to dismiss.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Trump Has Made America a Trouble Spot on Human Rights

The United States has been assuming herself an indispensable nation to promote democracy and freedom throughout the world. Since American values are deeply intertwined with her global strategy, hardly anyone has doubted her commitment to human rights. However, a new year report by Human Rights Watch told shockingly, that Trump’s America has now become a threat to human rights in the world.

The report entitled “The Dangerous Rise of Populism” presents an overview that the global economy has marginalized numerous people, and they are frustrated with their governments and global élites, as they feel themselves completely forgotten despite growing inequality. The problem is that demagogues abuse such populist resentment by assuming themselves to represent the grassroots majority. They impose the majority will at the expense of human rights to every domestic and foreign citizen. Deplorably, Western political leaders appear to have lost confidence in human rights values to face off bigoted and dangerous populism, except few of them like German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But that is too weak to stand against the Trumpian mega shock. Also, British Prime Minister Theresa May is too receptive to nationalist upheavals, while Merkel faces tough challenges by the AfD in the general election this year.

In view of such trends, I would like to narrate how the Human Rights Watch report sees the impact of the Trump phenomenon. While Trump’s provocative rhetoric to scapegoat immigrants and trade partners satisfies know nothing bluecollar supporters, that will simply bring about economic stagnation, if implemented. Despite that, he signed the executive order to repeal the TPP and impose a Muslim ban, because he sees Middle Eastern refugees as security risks. In this context, Trump tightens surveillance on domestic citizens, which is beyond judicially supervised and targeted one. Trump’s Muslim ban is criticized unconstitutional (“Immigration analyst: Trump refugee ban is illegal”; Hill; January 28, 2017), and federal judges in some states block the order, meanwhile, Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates as she refused to follow his executive order (“Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: What We Know and What We Don’t”; New York Times; January 29, 2017).

Immediately after the inauguration speech, Human Rights Watch Executive director Kenneth Roth said “Even if President Trump acts only on ten percent of the most problematic of his campaign proposals, it will cause a momentous setback for human rights at home and abroad.” He continues to say, “By trampling on the rights of millions of people in the US and abroad, Trump’s proposals if enacted would weaken everybody’s rights”. While putting American democracy into confusion, Trump does not hesitate to collaborate with autocracies, which is further a concern for human rights promotion (“US: Dawn of Dangerous New Era”; Human Rights Watch; January 20, 2017). Quite alarmingly, Trump issues the executive orders rapidly though most of them were severely criticized during the campaign, without consulting government agencies and the Hill (“White House failed to consult federal agencies on Trump's executive orders, report claims”; Aol News; January 26, 2017). Considering his egomaniac and flamboyant temperament, it is quite questionable whether Trump listens to advices by British Prime Minister Theresa May on Russia and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on refugees seriously.

Furthermore, Trump’s poor awareness of human rights is typically seen in his reckless remark that torture was effective to get information from terrorist suspects. However, when Trump asked Ex Marine General James Mattis for his Secretary of Defense, he withdrew the idea, and accepted Mattis’s idea that trust and rewarding would lead the suspect to more cooperative (“Marine General 'Mad Dog' Mattis got Trump to rethink his position on torture in under an hour”; Business Insider; November 22, 2016). However, his suggestion to bring back torture, spurred controversies at the Hill, and Senator John McCain demanded the President to act legally (“McCain to Trump: 'We're not bringing back torture'”; Hill; January 25, 2016). Though Trump mentioned that he would follow the advice by Mattis at the press conference of the US-UK summit (“Laura Kuenssberg's stern questioning of Donald Trump angers president's supporters”; Daily Telegraph; 27 January, 2017), it reveals that Trump is extremely uneducated and even desperately illiterate in human rights.

The appointment of Rex Tillerson to the Secretary of State raises additional concerns. Some people expect high job performance to him with his management and negotiation skills as a former Exxon Mobile CEO. However, public service is not so simple as profit chasing. At the hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tillerson exhibited poor knowledge in key American foreign policy issues like ISIS (“Rex Tillerson is unqualified to be secretary of state”; Boston Globe; January 12, 2017). In addition, his questionable ties with Russia, his poor awareness of human rights is a critical disadvantage for his job. At the hearing, he failed to answer well on some critical human rights questions, such as female rights in Saudi Arabia, R2P in Syria, repressive Duterte policies in the Philippines (“Tillerson doesn’t seem to realize speaking up for human rights is part of the job” Washington Post; January 12, 2017). Donald Trump’s imprudent slanders show that he is utterly incognizant of human rights. In view of poor performance at the hearing, it is quite hard to expect that Tillerson can supplement Trump’s terrible drawbacks.

How should the global community, particularly the Western alliance, manage Trump’s America like this? We have to notice that his America First is based on the idea of survival of the fittest in a completely competitive and orderless world. Since he wants to exploit such a disorder to maximize his perceived American interest, he is weakening current global norms and multilateral framework by all means. It is nothing strange that Trump is so disdainful to human rights. Spiegel editorial argues that Western democracies be united against Trump to defend international norms and universal values (“Time for an International Front Against Trump”; Spiegel; January 20, 2017). We can reaffirm human rights in this way.

Also, the leaders of democratic nations have to explore the channel of influence in the United States. First of all, we should not equalize Trump and America. British Prime Minister May was obsessed with building strong ties with the Trump when she visited the White House. However, her weak response to the Muslim ban has led to vehement criticism in the UK, as she appears too flattery to Trump (“Theresa May has put the Queen in a 'very difficult position' over Donald Trump's UK visit”; Business Insider; January 31, 2017). I am not endorsing confrontation with Trump, but we have to remember that his credentials and legitimacy as the president is extremely poor.

He is not only the most unpopular president since the end of World War II, but also an unprecedentedly illegitimate leader as he gained 300 million popular votes fewer than Hillary Clinton. In other words, we can regard him as a president of gerrymandering. As a politician of democracy, Trump is poorly trained. His blames against the media and the judge show this. He hardly understands checks and balances, and the rule of law. Rather than flattering to Trump, democratic nations should have firewalls in America to protect themselves from his irrational pressure. For example, Senator John McCain defended Australia against Trump’s verbal abuse. Also, Secretary of Defense James Mattis joins the Trump cabinet, on behalf of the mainstream of the national security community.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How Europe Responds to the Trump Shock?

The Trump shock is inflicting tremendous malimpacts on global security as Donald Trump launched “America First”, that he would repeal American alliance network, in order to save the cost of overseas defense. Furthermore, Trump even praises Russian President Vladimir Putin, and suggested concessions to Russia over Crimea and Syria. Therefore, European nations are seriously considering joint regional defense, in case the United States falls into terrible isolationism under the Trump regime, while Russian threats are growing.

The most critical problem of Trump’s foreign policy is an extreme obsession with costs and benefits. There is no denying that America spends disproportionately on defense, as it accounts for 70% of NATO total. Since the Cold War, any US president or presidential candidate has been demanding burden sharing to European allies. However, hardly any of them have doubted that it is America’s vital interest to maintain European security by NATO. However, Trump is overturning this, as he does not believe in American power as the global public goods. In view of his extreme zero-sum views on international politics, Europe needs to boost defense spending, and remind him how much contribution they make to American wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans. Otherwise, Trump would not cooperate with European allies, as to the issues like Russia and the Iran nuclear deal, and just pursue his own perceived interests of the United States. Also, European nations must show strong unity to save the Trans-Atlantic alliance from Trump’s dire pressure (“Does 'America First' mean EU defence at last”;Centre for European Reform Bulletin; 22 November, 2016).

At the NATO military official meeting in Berlin on November 30, European allies concluded that they increase defense spending (“Defense spending boost best answer to Trump: EU, NATO officials”;Reuters News; November 30, 2016). For this objective, the EU announced a plan to found a common defense fund for regional defense cooperation, particularly in research and innovation. It is expected to lower the unit cost of newly developed aircrafts, and assist the local defense industry. Despite Brexit, Britain considers collaborating with the EU on defense research and procurement (“Spurred by Trump and Brexit, EU plans five-billion-euro defense fund”; Reuters News; November 30, 2016). This is vital to boost joint efforts, since Britain is a leading military power in Europe. Contrary to Eurosceptic reputation, Britain has led major joint defense projects like Tornado and Eurofighter Typhoon, while supposedly more Europhile France has joined neither of them. From this point, Anglo-German cooperation is the key to the regional defense initiative. A British engagement with EU defense efforts would facilitate non-European democracies such as Japan, Australia, and India to make some contribution to it. Japan joins the UK led Meteor air-to-air missile project, and Australia provided a test site for BAE Systems’ Taranis stealth drone. Non-European participation in some projects, would help common European defense to overcome the Trump shock.

Also, I would suggest that Europe keep in mind that mainstream defense officials in the United States do not share pro-Russian views of Trump and his National Security Advisor nominee Michael Flynn. To the contrary, American military leaders are critically concerned with increasingly aggressive Putin, and regard Russia as the primary threat. Meanwhile, Europe worries that Russia would act boldly in Ukraine and Syria, before Trump is inaugurated (“The US military now sees Russia as its biggest threat”; Business Insider; December 5, 2016). Also, Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution testified that Russia was shaking confidence in Western political heritage, like sponsoring the far right, and plotting for more refugee flows from Syria to Europe, while people are growing skeptical American power and devotion to the stability in conflicted areas, at the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 6.

As mentioned above, American foreign and defense policy circles do not share Trunpian views of the world. The transition team may be appointing former military senior officials, but it is too simplistic to make a sweeping generalization simply by professional backgrounds. Notably, Flynn was a complete heresy in the military and intelligence community when he was in the Army. This is a tip of iceberg to show the erratic nature of the foreign policy lineup of the Next President. Trump has neither diplomatic philosophy, nor sufficient number of reliable advisors. He will have to rely on established national security communities in the end, if he is seriously dedicated to the presidency. Europe can work with bipartisan foreign policy establishments in the United States. American allies in the rest of the world share common interests with European nations to manage the Trump shock. Everything after January 20 presidential inauguration looks dismal, but there are some ways to manage the crisis.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Question to Japan’s Defense Self-Reliance to Manage the Trump Shock

Donald Trump’s unexpected and unwanted victory in the presidential election is horrifying American allies around the world. Since Trump suggested repealing the alliance network worldwide, and even demanded some allies like Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia to nuclear arm by themselves, people fear New Global Disorder resulting from unilateral abandonment American hegemony. Some people in Japan and Europe argue that that the Trump shock is an opportunity to rethink the postwar security framework, and explore self-reliant foreign and defense policies.

While foreign policy pundits are critically concerned with unpredictable insecurity under the Trump presidency, Japanese nationalists are overjoyed with his suggestion to pull out US troops from Japan, as they want to seize an opportunity to wipe out “postwar political submission to the United States” (“Japanese Nationalists Increasingly Welcome Trump’s Ascendency”; Yahoo News Japan; March 27, 2016). More rational and somber voices emerge from Europeans. Matteo Garavoglia, an Italian and German dual citizen fellow at the Brookings Institution argues that Europe develop independent defense capability, deepen mutual security cooperation within the region, and explore partnerships for global stability with major democracies beyond Europe, like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, and India (“Never waste a crisis: Trump is Europe’s opportunity”; Brookings Institution; November 10, 2016).

The problem is, Japan does not join any multilateral regional security organizations, because Asia is still too diversified in terms of culture, history, and political economic development. Also, Japan still has territorial disagreements with some potential security partners such as South Korea and Taiwan. Therefore, Japan’s so-called self-reliant national security policy, would simply result in isolation from the world. While nationalists are overjoyed to imagine their long awaited dream of the resurgence of the Imperial Japan, it takes quite a long time to build up truly self-reliant military power, even if Japan is willing to increase defense spending rapidly. Weapons are made to order, and they do not arrive to the customer as soon as payments are made. Also, soldiers need training to use these weapons. Remember how Iraq felt uneasy with the Obama administration, as they delayed to deliver F-16 fighters and train Iraqi pilots, when ISIS was almost taking over Baghdad (“From Iraq to Syria, splinter groups now larger worry than al-Qaeda”; Washington Post; June 10, 2014). From this point of view, an independent nuclear deterrence against North Korea that Trump once suggested is ridiculous.

The problem is not just defending the Japanese a territory including Senkaku Island from China. Without associating with the United States, it is hard for Japan to edge out Chinese influence from Asia, both in terms of geopolitics and business. While Japan appeals universal value of rule based international relations, Asian nations more or less embrace China as an irresistible rising power. In the economy, high quality of Japanese goods and services does not necessarily charm Asian customers over inexpensive and aggressively marketed Chinese ones. A self-reliant Japan would be so vulnerable in Asia, even though it could barely defend its own territory from China. Asian neighbors are not unanimous, regarding the threat of China. Some like Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are pro-Chinese. Even supposedly pro-Western and pro-Japanese countries can appease China. It is vital for small powers to pursue national survival among competing great powers, rather than to uphold lofty ideals. Thus, they sometimes embrace “irresistible” rise of China as seen in AIIB membership and Indonesian super express railway. Nationalists' dream of a Japanese-led Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere is simply absurd and dangerous.

Despite Trump’s isolationist election promise, Asia is historically a natural sphere of American influence even before the disappearance of the frontier in 1890. This is the vital reason why Matthew Perry’s fleet was sent to Japan in 1853 and 1854. That is starkly in contrast with America’s engagement in the Middle East, which was inherited from British imperial legacy. If Trump were to be a realist in foreign policy, he must understand such deeply embedded US presence in Asia, rather than to adhere to myopic profit and loss mindset of a typical businessman. However, Robert Kaplan at the Center for a New American Security criticizes that Trump does not understand realism. He says that Trump has no accurate vision of America’s role and position in the world, and he is hardly dedicated to defending allies and harness American power for global stability (“On foreign policy, Donald Trump is no realist”; Washington Post; November 11, 2016). During the election, what Trump remarked, were utterly contrary to Kaplan, and extremely obsessed with predatory zero sum ideas like racketeers. That has spurred worries among foreign policy pundits both in the United States and abroad.

The Trump shock is by no means an opportunity for Japan to end “servile” relations with the United States, and adopt “independent” and “proud” foreign policy. Then, how should we manage the crisis? Above all, we have to understand Trump’s fundamental thinking pattern. According to Professor Emeritus Gerald Curtis of Columbia University, Trump’s making a deal obsession comes from negotiation techniques of a real estate developer, that is, to show maximum demands at first in order to explore how much the counterpart can make compromises.

Bearing this in mind, we need to think of domestic channels to manage uncertainties of the Trump presidency. Curtis comments that checks and balances through the Congress, the media, think tanks, and the bureaucracy at the State Department and the Pentagon shall not approve of annulling the alliance with Japan. Also, he argues that fundamental national interest will not change whoever the President is (“Trump couldn't change Asian policy even if elected, Columbia professor says”; Nikkei Asian Review; November 8, 2016). In addition, we must work with like-minded Western democracies, and find common resolutions with Washington élites. Fortunately, poorly educated Trump supporters in the election can hardly have influences on policy interactions at this level. Also, a complete beginner in politics, Trump will need help from renowned experts when he finds himself incompetent to fix the problem. Nothing can control an erratic president perfectly, but we must explore every means.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Rebuild Western Democracy to Overcome a World of Uncertainties

People talk about a multipolar world of uncertainties, as the rise of isolationism in the United States is leading the public less willing to support the role of the world policeman. There is no denying that Russia and China are increasingly self-assertive, as they see that America and its Western allies are less interested in engaging with the liberal world order, and Western hard power is in relative decline. But it seems to me that people focus too much on raw power aspects, and dismiss much more worrisome trends, which is the decline of Western democracy. When people lose confidence in democracy, autocratic nations and demagogues are emboldened. This makes the world increasingly unstable and unpredictable.

Let me talk about the general background of democracy in crisis today. The rise of populism in an age of uncertainties is found everywhere in the world. Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard University presented an overview of this at the Barclays Asia Forum in Singapore on October 20. As seen in Brexit and the Trump phenomenon, antipathy to immigration, free trade, and “corrupt establishment has become more virulent in developed economies, as a result of the financial crisis. On the other hand, people in emerging economies crave for strongman leadership to satisfy their nationalist sentiment, which weakens checks and balances, and also transparency in those countries. See the video below.




How populism deteriorates democracy? A Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt warned about “terrible simplifier” in a letter to his friend Friedrich von Preen in 1889 that “ruffian” leaders would assume their omnipotence to resolve complicated national issues, which would ultimately deny the rule of law. Today, bills and treaties have become extremely lengthy and complicated, compared with those in the past. While historical documents like the Magna Carta and the Declaration of Independence were just a few sheets of papers, the draft of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) totals 5,554 pages and the Obama care does 961 pages (“Simplifiers v. complicators”; Boston Globe; October 3, 2016). In a circumstance like this, politicians are liable to debate trivial details each other, without sufficiently understanding the overview of the issue. As élites are confused like this, people are increasingly defiant to their “preaches”, and driven by ugly emotion (“It’s Time for Elites to Rise up against Ignorant Masses”; Foreign Policy; June 28, 2016). People today are more susceptible to “ruffian leaders” than those in the Burckhardt days.

Donald Trump is the most notable “terrible simplifier" today, who could discredit Western democracy and destabilize the world. Nevertheless, he is a savior for anti-establishment working class. Not only does Trump disdain economic freedom of choice in his support of protectionism and government controls, but also belittle democratic procedure as shown in his remark “I alone can fix the problem”. Referring to Max Weber’s analysis on charismatic authority, Washington Post columnist George Will argues that popular crave for Trump’s charisma implies that Americans are unprecedentedly receptive and credulous to a magical savior. It is such changes in social norms and national character that helps the rise of a demagogue (“If Trump wins, the Republican party will no longer be the party of conservativism.”; National Review; September 28, 2016). Furthermore, I would argue that Trump’s lifetime career as a family business owner does not match well with checks and balance requirements of governmental administrator. Like employed management professionals, presidents and prime ministers are hired by the state. Trump’s “business acumen” is more adaptable to dictatorship rather than democracy.

Democracy decline in the West emboldens autocratic great powers. This is typically seen in the US presidential election this year, which has fallen into vulgar blame games between the Democrats and the Republican candidates, rather than serious exchanges of policies. The global public is disillusioned with American democracy, which was an exemplar of good governance. Nevertheless, Hillary Clinton showed her superiority in policy common sense to Donald Trump in all presidential debates. Her victory would lessen deleterious impacts of “ruffian” populism that nurtures nativism, racism, misogynism, and isolationism. No wonder Russian President Vladimir Putin meddles into the election to boost Trump. The global public already knows vulgar and anti-intellectual nature of populism in Trumpism, Brexit, and far right surges in Continental Europe. Ironically, NIMBY xenophobia among those self-assumed patriots simply harms the reputation and international standings of major Western powers.

How should policy élites reinvigorate liberal, open and rational democracy? There is no simple answer to this question, but at least, I would argue that they should not compromise with popular nativism. For example, the Obama administration cut democracy promotion budget through the USAID during their terms, as the American public loses interest in it. According to the Pew survey in 2013, only 18% of Americans regard democracy promotion as a foreign policy priority, and 80% of them say the government focus more on nation building at home rather than overseas intervention. However, such disengagement trend puts critical dangers to US national security. They should remember Western indifference to Afghanistan after Soviet withdrawal was so fatal as to cause 9-11 attacks. The rise of far right movements like Trumpism and Brexit is the consequence of élites’ failure to educate the nation to the right direction.

But not everything is pessimistic to Western democracy. Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution maintains that slowing economic growth is eroding the legitimacy of autocracy in China and Russia. Democracy is not perfect, but it is less violent, more respectful to human rights, and more likely to develop the market economy, as he says. Alt-right ideals are not so open and liberal, and completely the opposite. They are more like those of national socialism. Regarding implication of democracy in global security, we have to recall a comment by Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “Not every democracy in the world was or is a close ally of the United States, but no democracy in the world has been or is an American enemy. And all of America’s most enduring allies have been and remain democracies” (“Democracy in Decline”; Foreign Affairs; July/August 2016). Ironically, malfunctioned democracy at home poses threats to the free world as dreadful as external threats. Therefore, it is necessary to rebuild our domestic democracy and revitalize our effort for democracy promotion, to restore the stable world order that we rest on.