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 30, 2016
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
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.