Friday, March 31, 2017

Third Times, Selected for International Publication

I am very delighted to notify that my article to the Japan Forum on International Relations was selected for international publication. It is entitled, “The Dangerous Nature of America First”, based on my blog post.

It is important that America First is beyond literally meaning. It is Bannon’s ideology of anti-establishment xenophobia, and that’s why the far right in Europe and Japan resonate Trump’s nationalism. This is a critical threat to the liberal world order that America has made.

I am honored to be selected for the third time.

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