Friday, March 26, 2010

British Foreign Policy and the Forthcoming General Election

Britain will have the general election, which will most likely to be held on May 6 (“The most likely date for the next election is May 6th, 2010”; Spectator――Coffee House; 1 May 2009). This election is expected to be highly competitive, and it is important to compare foreign policy viewpoints between those of the Labour and the Conservative.

In order to explore British foreign policy and the election, I would like to talk of the panel discussion, entitled “Britain's Place in a Changing World” at Chatham House on March 3, and a lecture called “How to understand and influence the EU, or The UK attitude Toward the Future of the EU" at the LSE Forum in Tokyo on March 20.

The panel discussion at the Royal Institute of International Affairs was moderated by Director Robin Niblett, and Acting and Shadow Foreign Secretaries participated in it. They are David Miliband of the Labour Party, William Hague of the Conservative Party, and Edward Davey of the Liberal Democratic Party. Throughout the panel, Labour Miliband stressed that Britain be at the heart of the European Union, while Conservative Hague emphasized British national sovereignty and importance of bilateral relations. See the video below (the text here).

Currently, Britain is involved with tackling Middle East threats, notably Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Also, the world faces challenges by reemerging nationalism and rising economies, such as Russia, China, and India. In a changing global political environment, Britain needs to rearrange the relationship with the United States and the European Union.

Miliband foresees the world led by G3 (United States, China, and EU), not G2 (United States and China), and Britain will play a key role in global political economy through the EU. Also, he said that enlarged EU is upgrading its capability to manage relations with Russia, India, and Brazil, and also, fight wars like counterterrorist operations in Afghanistan.

On the other hand, Hague places more emphasis on relations with the United States, and he insists that Britain advise America to change its policy in case of wrong behavior such as mistreatment of Guantánamo prisoners. Also, he said the EU improve joint military capabilities to manage crisis like Bosnia.

Despite the above differences, both Acting and Shadow Foreign Secretaries agree that Britain has a distinct role as a hub of global political interactions through NATO, the Commonwealth, UN Security Council, and the EU. In my view, this role is strongly founded on imperial history and multiculturalism. The Japanese feel Britain “the most accessible” nation in Europe, though Japan has never been a British colony.

At the LSE Forum in Tokyo, Adam Steinhouse, Head of the School of European Studies at the National School of Government, talked about EU bureaucracy and successful lobbying process in Brussels. Also, he talked of British foreign policy between the EU and its own national interests.

Quite puzzlingly, the EU does not have sufficient personnel and financial resources to make pan-European policies. Steinhouse told the attendants that the decision making process in Brussels is bottom-up from Director’s level to the “Ministerial” level. Also, due to sectionalism among EU institutions, it is not clear who assumes the ultimate responsibility. For example, the EU has four “Presidents” in the European Council, the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. Furthermore, Steinhouse told that Brussels bureaucracy has less budget resource than each member state.

Considering these points, it is understandable that the British, particularly Conservatives, prefer bilateral diplomacy rather than EU based approaches. Steinhouse points out that Britain has more bilateral relations with nations like India and Pakistan. Certainly, Britain talks with them bilaterally on the Afghan War and South Asian security without EU channels.

However, the Obama administration prefers integrated Europe to bilateral diplomacy. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton remarked that she would rather hope pro-EU Labour to win the election over bilateralist Conservative, as Edward Davies asked a question about this to William Hague in the video above. However, such pan-Europeanist approaches could ruin transatlantic alliance, because European nations act as sovereign states when necessary. Moreover, Steinhouse told us that European politicians see Barack Obama a “light weight” deep at the bottom of their heart. When Obama visited Europe as a presidential candidate, the media and youngsters were overjoyed but consummate policymakers were not well-impressed with such a “rock star”.

Regarding Anglo-American relations, highly possible victory of Atlanticist Conservative may paradoxically be at odds with pan-Europeanist Obama administration.

US President Barack Obama may not regard the relationship with Britain as “special”, since he is more inclined to engage challengers and adversaries like Russia, China, and Iran rather than allies with common values and interests. However, no other countries make so great a contribution to the War on Terror as Britain does. Also, EU member states give priorities to their national interests when Brussels bureaucracy does not satisfy their necessities.

The forthcoming general election between Europhile Labour and bilateralist Conservative will have crucial influence on transatlantic and global security. At the same time, we must remember that Britain will continue to play a hub role in global policy interactions, whoever wins the election. The panel discussion at Chatham House and a lecture by Dr. Adam Steinhouse must be understood in such contexts.

For further information on the forthcoming UK general election, see this blog.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Membership for the Japan Forum on International Relations

I applied for the regular membership of the Japan Forum on International Relations. My membership wills start from April.

JFIR is one of the few independent foreign policy think tanks in Japan. When the Iraq War broke out, JFIR advised the Koizumi administration to support the United States as North Korea poses critical threats to Japan.

My first contact with JFIR began when one of its staffs invited me to contribute some commentaries to JFIP policy discussion board, Hyakka Saiho. They saw blog posts on Global American Discourse.

Also, I was invited for the regular membership of their policy discussion forum. I have decided to accept this, for the quest of personal contacts in Japanese and global political corridors, and fundraising for my advocacy activity. I hope the membership will be a good opportunity for a further step up.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Chinese Hurdle to Stop Iranian Nuclear Ambition

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband visits China from Sunday, March 14. Further sanction against Iranian nuclear project is the top agenda on this trip. Secretary Miliband meets Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Oil hungry China is reluctant to impose more sanctions proposed by the United States and EU3. Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled Gulf States to ask their support for tougher sanctions against Iran, in order to overcome Russian and Chinese opposition (“Britain says China won't risk isolation over Iran”; Reuters; March 12, 2010).

Prior to Secretary Miliband’s visit to China, Kerry Brown, Senior Fellow at Chatham House, talked of Iranian oil in the Chinese economy at the interview on February 22. See the Video below. Brown says that China is in a unique position because it keeps friendly relations with all nations in the Middle East including Iran, as a good customer of oil. However, he says that it is not China’s interest to confront the United States and its European allies over Iran. On the other hand, China is behaving increasingly assertive these days, which makes it harder to reconcile Chinese and Western interests.

In his latest article, Brown explores Chinese standpoint between energy resource and nuclear non-proliferation. Currently, economic prosperity is the top priority for China, and the Communist Party will lose legitimacy if it fails to achieve high growth rate continually. This is an important point mentioned by Brown, and it is the vital reason why China is eager to reach oil import deals so voraciously, regardless of the reputation of exporters. As shown in the Copenhagen COP negotiation, China is obsessed with its economic growth, and gives little consideration to the environment. It blames the West for denying growth opportunities for rising economies like China. Quoting a data of US State Department, Brown points out that a quarter of the air pollution in California comes from China.

It is not only these irresponsible behaviors that hurdles non-proliferation efforts. China is at odds with the United States on arms sale to Taiwan and Dalai Lama’s visit to Washington. Current US-Chinese relations are in a gloomy atmosphere.

Despite hunger for oil and unfavorable relations with the United States, China regards non-proliferation as a vital national interest. However reluctantly, China will support to strengthen sanctions, according to Brown. But Kerry Brown asks a critical question, “And most worrying of all, how long will it be before countries like Iran start looking towards China not just for economic backing, but for diplomatic support, in their clashes with the US?”, at the end of this article(”China, Iran and the United States”; World Today; March 2010). Recent growth of self assertive nationalism in China could provoke this country to stand against the West, at all costs. A possible axis of outsiders of the liberal world order between authoritarian China and theocratic Iran will be a substantial threat to free nations.

The Iran case is a critical test whether China will be a qualified stakeholder to manage the globe or not. President Barack Obama remarked that he would welcome the rise of China at the Singapore APEC Summit. This was too hasty. What China has in mind is just to maintain current repressive regime under the Communist Party rule, and impose its narrow sighted national interests, without serious consideration to global public interest.

A troublesome China, along with Russia, is a product of the Clintonian dream which is the end of nation state clashes after the Cold War. If Foreign Secretary Miliband does not reach a meaningful agreement on sanctions against Iran during his visit to China, we need to think of nation state conflicts in the era of “The Return of History and the End of Dreams”. Nationalism in China and Russia makes both country increasingly dangerous.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bitter Relations between Britain and Obama

Ever since inaugurated, President Barack Obama has been popular among Europeans who hope to heal the transatlantic rift caused by the Iraq War. However, Britain is an exception. Britain is the most significant contributor to the Iraq and the Afghan Wars since the Bush era. In addition, the British are outraged with Obama’s careless behavior to Queen Elizabeth and Prime Minister Gordon Brown last spring (“Why Won't Obama Honor Our Queen?”; Politics Daily; April 4, 2009). Also, Business Secretary Lord Peter Mandelson criticized the Buy American Clause. Furthermore, Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth complained that Obama could not make a decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan, before the surge.

The Obama administration may not consider the Anglo-American special relationship important. However, since the presidential election, Barack Obama has been insisting that the war in Afghanistan is an issue of high priority in the War on Terror and US national security, and Britain’s commitment to this war is by far the largest among American allies. Therefore, it is valuable to mention viewpoints expressed by British media and experts.

To begin with, I would like to mention British evaluation on the Obama presidency. Robin Niblett, Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, talked of American politics under the Obama administration at the panel discussion moderated by Bronwen Maddox, Chief Foreign Commentator of the Times. Niblett graded Obama 8 out of 10, though he said Obama had just started to implement his policy, and not achieved anything yet. Currently, Obama is preoccupied with key domestic agendas, such as passing the health care bill and driving jobless rate down. Therefore, Niblett says that Obama cannot afford to keep his eyes on some international agendas like the Middle East Peace Talk until the midterm election.

One participant asked how Obama repair American reputation damaged by unilateralism under the Bush administration. Niblett answered that Obama has been rebuilding bridges with "enemies" (Iran); adversaries (Syria) competitors (Russia, China); allies (Europe, Turkey, etc), since his inauguration. Despite vehement criticism by British media, Niblett commented optimistically that US-UK relations have been strengthened over Afghan operations and G20 London Summit last April (“Bronwen Maddox live: the Obama presidency one year on”; Times; January 19, 2010).

Some opinion leaders are not so warm to Barack Obama as Robin Niblett. The Economist says that Obama does not assume the responsibility as the commander in chief seriously, and he has not figured out how America should deal with captured terrorists, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran. Moreover, Obama is just appeasing Russia and China without sufficient return for the United States and its allies (“Is Barack Obama tough enough?”; Economist; February 25, 2010).

Regarding bilateral relations, British media and experts are much bitter to Barack Obama. Unlike his predecessor George W. Bush, Obama does not take with us, or against us approaches. Nor does he believe in Senator John McCain’s vision for the world managed by a League of Democracies.

A son of Kenyan father, President Obama is critical to British colonialism in the past, and he sent a Churchill bust back to the United Kingdom from the oval office. More importantly, his policy advisors, such as Michèle Flournoy, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, and Philip H. Gordon, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, are supporters of European integration. However, EU member states give priorities to their national interests when they disagree with Brussels bureaucracy. The cost of disregarding the most reliable ally will be substantial (“Obama Gives Britain the Cold Shoulder”; Wall Street Journal; December 13, 2009).

US Ambassador to Britain Louis Susman tried to placate such worries, and said that the special relationship was stronger than ever. Ambassador Susman mentioned that President Obama respected the leadership of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the United States was even following Britain in taxing banker’s income (“Special relationship with UK stronger than ever, says US ambassador”; Guardian; 1 January, 2010).

However, Barack Obama outraged the British again, as he kept neutral in the Falkland Dispute between Britain and Argentina this February. Nile Gardiner, Former Foreign Policy Staff to Lady Margaret Thatcher and Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at the Heritage Foundation, blames that Obama does not respect British contribution to the Afghan War (“The Special Relationship is under fire: Barack Obama’s refusal to back Britain over the Falklands is a disgrace”; Daily Telegraph; February 25, 2010). James Corum, Dean of the Baltic Defense College in Estonia, points out that Obama is utterly wrong to court leftist regimes in Latin America like the Kirchner administration of Argentina, because it is a bête noir in this region. Barack Obama simply hurts relations with America’s most reliable ally (“American neutrality on the Falklands is a symptom of US foreign policy drift”; Daily Telegraph; February 26, 2010).

Criticism rises from the American side as well. Some influential conservative blogs raises serious concerns with Obama diplomacy of appeasement to challengers and disrespect to allies (“The British Aren’t So Special to Obama”; Big Government; February 28, 2010 and also, “The Special Relationship is under fire: Barack Obama’s refusal to back Britain over the Falklands is a disgrace”; Blogmocracy; February 25, 2010).

President Obama has started new initiatives to engage challengers and adversaries, in order to overturn Bush foreign policy, and restore America’s reputation on the global stage. But bitter relations with friendly powers in return will do nothing but harm to US standpoint in the world. The Afghan War is a high priority issue, and therefore, current Anglo-American relationship needs to be reconsidered. Barack Obama’s popularity among leftists around the globe is nothing but Carterian.