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Britain’s “Shock-and-Awe” Plan for Syria

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When evidence emerged on August 21, 2013 that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime launched a series of lethal chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held towns outside of Damascus, President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged a firm response.  Nearly a week after the attacks that killed over 1,300 Syrians—many of whom were sleeping in their beds or cowering in basements to escape the middle of the night bombardment—Kerry stepped up to the State Department podium and was unequivocal in what the United States and the international community needed to do.  “This crime against conscience,” Kerry said at the time, “this crime against humanity, this crime against the most fundamental principles of international community, against the norm of the international community, this matters to us.  And it matters to who we are.  And it matters to leadership and to our credibility in the world.  My friends, it matters here if nothing is done.  It matters if the world speaks out in condemnation and then nothing happens.”

Of course, nearly a year later, we now know that the U.S. did not take military action.  Bashar al-Assad was forced to give away his chemical arsenal—which for years he denied even existed—to international inspectors for destruction, and by doing so escaped a coordinated air campaign that would have degraded a significant portion of his military power.  Eleven months later, the war in Syria goes on, and Assad is clawing back territory that was once the exclusive domain of his armed opponents.

At the time, commentators and pundits from across the political spectrum speculated as to why President Obama decided to opt for a last-minute, Putin-orchestrated diplomatic deal that would largely save Assad from military punishment.  Republicans in Congress, led by Senator John McCain, argued (and continues to argue) that the president’s unwillingness to use U.S. military power when it’s most needed diminishes the credibility of the United States in the eyes of friend and foe alike.  Obama was called gun-shy, naïve, too cautious for his own good, or simply overwhelmed by the world around him. 

Equally important, however, was the fact that America’s strongest ally across the Atlantic, Great Britain, opted out of an anti-Assad air operation as Washington and a good chunk of Europe’s capitals were debating whether military force was required to send a message.  Prime Minister David Cameron, a man who assumed that he could convince his colleagues that British involvement in a humanitarian mission was a necessity, failed to gain the votes in the House of Commons.  In a blink of an eye, the discussion for intervention in Washington became even more intense, and proponents for military action inside the Obama administration saw their position losing momentum as America’s indispensable partner decided to stay out of any operation.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, we are all now afforded to opportunity to discover that the Syria debate in London was far more comprehensive than original thought.  In fact, if recent reporting is accurate (there is no reason to doubt that it isn’t), some British military officials were more muscular and innovative on the Syria problem than some of their counterparts in the United States.

Courtesy of the good investigative work compiled by the BBC’s Newsnight program, we now learn that political and military leaders in Britain were actively considering a more aggressive and hawkish policy towards the Syrian civil war as early as 2012—a time when the Assad regime was at its most vulnerable as thousands of Syrian troops were deserting to the other side.  From the BBC:

“The UK drew up plans to train and equip a 100,000-strong Syrian rebel army to defeat President Bashar al-Assad, BBC Newsnight can reveal. The secret initiative, put forward two years ago, was the brainchild of the then most senior UK military officer, General Sir David Richards..." 

"...With ministers having pledged not to commit British "boots on the ground", his initiative proposed vetting and training a substantial army of moderate Syrian rebels at bases in Turkey and Jordan. Mr. Cameron was told the "extract, equip, train" plan would involve an international coalition. It would take a year, but this would buy time for an alternative Syrian government to be formed in exile, the PM was told. Once the Syrian force was ready, it would march on Damascus, with the cover of fighter jets from the West and Gulf allies. The plan envisaged a "shock and awe" campaign, similar to the one that routed Saddam's military in 2003, but spearheaded by Syrians.”

General Richard’s strategy was serious enough to be pushed through the chain-of-command, where the British National Security Council discussed the merits and practicality of the plan and whether it could be implemented without any significant risk to western personnel and the security of the region. 

Fast-forward to July 2014, two long and grueling years later, and a strategy to train 100,000 moderate Syrians to take back their country from a depraved regime seems prophetic and visionary.  The Syrian civil war has only gotten bloodier, sucking in virtually every power in the region and thus turning a sectarian conflict into a proxy war between Sunni and Shia powers.  160,000 lives later, Assad seems to be in the best shape militarily since the protests first turned into an armed insurgency in the fall of 2011.  And, to add insult to injury, the very same influx of Islamist extremists that the United States hoped to preempt by not intervening are now in complete control of Syria’s oil-rich Deir-ez-Zor province.

We will never know whether Lord Richards’ ambitious, hybrid “shock-and-awe” campaign would have succeeded in overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and destroying his regime.  Assuming that it would betrays the many dangers, complexities, and scenarios that could have resulted if the Americans and British did in fact go that route.  But now that the Obama administration has announced a $500 million spending pool “to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the moderate Syrian armed opposition,” it adds credence to the assumption that the White House may be feeling some buyer’s remorse. 

Image: Wikicommons.  

TopicsSecurity RegionsSyria

"A Palestinian State Cannot be Created by Israel..."

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Paul Pillar’s conspiratorial take on the collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process assigns responsibility to a familiar nemesis: Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet Mr. Netanyahu has made it clear that he supports a two state solution in the context of a genuine peace agreement. The Palestinian cause has come undone not just because recent violence threatens to incite another intifada, but also because the same insuperable obstacles have plagued the peace effort since Oslo. Israel has the right to expect any Palestinian national government would actively prevent citizens from waging war on their own. It is hard to find many Arab governments today that could pass this test - certainly not the PLO. Sadly, there is no tangible prospect of Palestinian statehood because no peace treaty could encompass or control the dynamics capable of destroying such an accord. Nor is there foreseeable peace for Israel in the Middle East, only the judicious management of emerging threats and the unhappy prospect of sustained border wars.

Any agreement on established Palestinian borders will not resolve the fundamental issue of self-determination. The West Bank and Gaza have been occupied by the IDF on multiple occasions, generally in response to neighboring Arab states using the territory to attack Israel. Mr. Pillar unreasonably dismisses the strategic importance of the Jordan River Valley in this regard. Meanwhile the PLO remains hostage to broader Arab objectives; and hobbled by disunity, extremism and diaspora. Mahmoud Abbas diminished his political independence by reuniting with Hamas, and by seeking the Arab League’s sanction to parley with Netanyahu in 2009. Palestinians will only realize their legitimate aspirations when they are prepared to divorce their interests from the hostile pan-Arab agenda – and neighboring states support them in doing so.

This inherent tension will not be easily overcome. Moderate Arabs must face down their radical wing to achieve rapprochement with Israel. The latest accord between Fatah and Hamas notwithstanding, the Palestinian claim is delegitimized by the recourse to violence still enshrined in Hamas official policy. Meanwhile, the era of strongmen capable of inspiring (or enforcing) peace with Israel is dying on the Arab street. The rudderless populism of the Awakening gives little clue to its final destination, except it is unlikely to be charitable towards Israel.

At Georgetown recently President Bill Clinton labeled Yasser Arafat as a key impediment to peace during his administration. On the other side, critics of Israel (including President Obama and Mr. Pillar) single out Israeli troops and settlements in the West Bank. Yet peace remains unattainable, even when both issues are addressed. Mahmoud Abbas matched Mr. Arafat in his inability to conclude an agreement with Ehud Olmert in 2008. Meanwhile, conditions in Gaza only deteriorated following the unilateral Israeli withdrawal of troops and settlements in 2005, and subsequent election of Hamas. A five-fold increase in rocket attacks on Israel culminated in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09.

Ultimately, it is unlikely a Palestinian state would have succeeded even if Mr. Arafat had signed on, or Mr. Abbas, or even Mr. Netanyahu. No leader has proven capable of marshaling the Palestinian movement to reach a pragmatic settlement with Israel. No fledgling Palestinian state could survive the dynamics of today’s Middle East: sectarian violence, extremism, eroding national sovereignty and the absence of any credible arbiter or external authority willing to intervene.

Despite this morning's airstrikes in Gaza, Mr. Netanyahu understands that Israel is incapable of imposing the peace it craves. But look around the neighborhood. Security on the Egyptian border is in question as the government descends into tyranny. With Syria engulfed in civil war, established norms in the Golan Heights offer scant comfort. Iran’s nuclear program remains unresolved. Violent stalemate presents gathering dangers in Gaza and the West Bank. Existing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan could easily become casualties of the Arab Awakening. These are unpropitious times for peace, and strategic outcomes are uncertain. For now, Mr. Netanyahu is justified in projecting strength rather than seeking accommodation.

It is fair for Mr. Pillar to criticize contemporary Israeli leadership for a lack of strategy and deficit of inspiration. However a Palestinian state cannot be created by Israel, the UN, or distant countries treating it as a foregone conclusion. Nor would another intifada advance the cause – tragedy would fall most heavily on the Palestinians. Rather, peaceful Palestinian statehood will require an extraordinary confluence of visionary, popular leaders on all sides: willing to make painful sacrifices, and capable of dominating competing factions. Leadership of this caliber is in short supply in the Middle East, where violence continues to overtake opportunity.

Christopher Johnston is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, and served with the Australian Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He recently travelled to Jerusalem and Ramallah to meet with members of the Knesset and PLO.

Image: Office of the Prime Minister, Israel. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsIsrael

The Great Eurasian Rebalancing Act

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The news from Iraq makes it seem as though the battle for Baghdad is approaching. Yet an even bigger story is playing out on opposite sides of the great Eurasian land mass. Events unfolding there exhibit striking parallels. A resurgent Russia is pushing its expansionist ambitions in its “Near Abroad” just as an emboldened China is claiming vast stretches of its “Near Seas” as its sovereign domain. The actions of both nations are frightening neighbors, challenging US alliances, and stirring up regional rivalries. It is worth taking a closer look at these parallels: understanding the dynamics at play in one region shed light on the other and suggest policy lessons for dealing with both.

Drawing Russian and Chinese Parallels

At times the incidents on Russia’s western borders and China’s eastern seem like distorted reflections of one another in a carnival mirror. Russian security services are fomenting trouble on Russia’s border with Ukraine, while stepped-up Chinese maritime patrols are prowling waters within its “first island chain.” US Navy ships have been buzzed by Russian fighter jets in the Black Sea and come dangerously close to collisions with Chinese vessels in the South China Sea. Both Russia and China have been increasing annual spending on their armed forces at double-digit rates. US forces have tightened cooperation with nervous counterparts in NATO and in Asia.

Moscow’s and Beijing’s assertiveness has similar motivations – to reestablish their preeminence as dominant regional powers. Both regimes expect outside powers to defer to their claims of predominance in their regional spheres of influence. Both nations are also inspired by memories of past greatness tinged by feelings of resentment from humiliations at the hands of major powers. And since neither can look any longer to communism to bolster the legitimacy of their authoritarian regimes, they have had to find other means of rallying support.

The promise of rising incomes has powerful appeal in both countries, but those prospects are becoming increasingly frayed. Both economies are slowing, especially in Russia, which is teetering on the brink of recession. So the alternative for both Moscow and Beijing is appeals to nationalism. To consolidate popular support at home, their leaders present themselves as defenders of their peoples, avengers of past wrongs, and advocates of national greatness.

Both Moscow and Beijing see the United States and its allies as threats to their ambitions. Putin accused the US-led West of aiding and abetting the “coup d’état” against the Yanukovych regime in Kiev. Meanwhile, Beijing has convinced itself that the US is conspiring with its friends and allies in the region to encircle China and thwart its rise.

Russia’s and China’s neighbors have seized on commercial opportunities offered by the big powers next door, but they have also been made painfully aware of the downsides of this relationship. Russia has had no qualms about using Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas as leverage. Nor has China been timid about playing economic hardball to get its way with recalcitrant trading partners.

Thus, though Russia and China may feel like victims, they are acting in the eyes of their neighbors like bullies. These fears are causing many nearby countries to look to their stronger friends for support, in particular to the United States. They are eager, if not desperate, for assurances that the US won’t abandon them to the tender mercies of big powers at their doorsteps. 

Managing the Eurasian Balancing Act

Russia’s and China’s actions challenge broadly accepted rules for international interactions. President Obama enunciated them in his speech at West Point on May 28: big countries cannot prey on small ones; territorial disputes should be resolved without force or intimidation; and rights of free navigation must be respected. Regardless of whether core US interests are directly jeopardized, those of its treaty allies are.

These concerns were in part behind the Obama administration’s decision to initiate a policy of “rebalancing” toward Asia. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound down, it was increasingly clear that the United States needed to focus more on Asia, the region where the future’s main strategic challenges and economic opportunities converged.

Though the strategy was designed as a “whole-of-government” approach, its strictly military aspects grabbed the most attention. In fact, the plan involved only a relatively modest shift of military assets to the region. More important were its political and diplomatic elements. Those included updating US defense agreements with its allies, bolstering ties with emerging regional powers, and putting much more emphasis on regional institutions (especially ASEAN).

Trade initiatives were important too. The centerpiece was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a cutting-edge free trade agreement grouping some of the most dynamic economies on the Pacific Rim.

Putin’s annexation of Crimea and moves against Ukraine show that the rebalance needs to give greater weight to Europe. As long as Putin’s brand of assertive ethnically-based nationalism holds sway, Russia will be seen as a threat to its neighbors and to European security. Eurasia’s western flank now demands as much attention as its eastern flank.

The United States is not in the best position to pursue new exertions abroad. Iraq now grips Washington’s attention. At home, it faces gridlock, budget constraints, and a public mood still smarting from interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. But these impediments notwithstanding, what should a new rebalance toward Europe look like? The Asian rebalance provides a few pointers.

First, don’t overplay the military component. Limited military deployments are warranted. Increasing surveillance flights and sending US soldiers to join in NATO-led exercises, for example, make sense. So do discrete efforts to strengthen the defense capabilities of Ukraine and others on Russia’s western border. But think long and hard before committing major hard power assets.

Second, renew NATO. Unlike in Asia, Europe doesn’t have to create a new security structure. Rather, it needs to make the most of what it has. That includes refocusing the organization founded to protect its members against the Soviet threat on responding to Putin’s expansionist agenda.

Third, reassure US allies but don’t embolden them. As in Asia, European partners want to know the United States is not so self-absorbed that it no longer has the will to back up its commitments. It is important to provide such assurances, but also not to encourage them to act in ways that would incite conflict and drag the United States into fights not of its choosing.

Fourth, act multilaterally. Just as the US is encouraging new regional approaches in Asia, so too should it be acting in lock step with its NATO allies. It is smart to coordinate closely with Germany and other European friends in ratcheting up economic pressure on Russia. Cajoling them into taking more forceful measures may be necessary, but there is nothing to be gained from getting out in front of those whose economic and security interests are most on the line.

Finally, negotiate the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Like the TPP, a free trade deal with Europe would send a powerful message of economic solidarity and strategic reassurance. That means redoubling negotiating efforts and winning Congressional support for fast track authority.

As usual, the hard part will be execution. This new approach will require combining diplomatic, economic, and military tools in a smart strategy to address the sharpening strategic pressures on Eurasia’s western as well as its eastern rim.

Marc M. Wall is senior visiting scholar in global studies at the University of Wyoming. He was foreign policy advisor to the United States Pacific Command over 2012-13. The views expressed in this article are his own. This article was first published in CSIS: PACNET newsletter here

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

The Fatal Flaw in the American Decline Debate

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The fall of Mosul to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) has intensified the debate over the proper objective of America’s grand strategy.  Should it continue “the preservation of a very happy status quo” (Joshua Rovner)?  Adopt a posture of “restraint” (Barry Posen)?  Attempt to “forge a sustainable path ahead for American internationalism” (Michèle Flournoy and Richard Fontaine)?  Sustain “a liberal world order that [will] defend not only America’s interests but those of many other nations as well” (Robert Kagan)? 

This debate is healthy and essential, even if reaches no resolution.  Less clear, however, is the prescriptive value of the question that often attends discussions of America’s role in the world: “Is the United States in decline?”

For starters, it is highly ambiguous.  When we say “United States,” are we addressing its government?  Its military power?  Its economic power?  Its overall power?  Its influence in international affairs?  Some of the above?  All of the above?  How should we measure each of them?  “Decline” is further problematic.  From what baseline are we assessing America’s trajectory?  Are we discussing absolute or relative decline?  What are the criteria for each?  When does relative decline become absolute?    

It is not only definitional and methodological questions, however, that arise.  One’s take on the decline question also depends, for example, on how one ranks the importance of different forms of power.  One who places priority on power-projection capability and command of the commons is less likely to agree that the U.S. is in decline than someone who believes that geoeconomic instruments of power are increasingly important.  One’s verdict also depends on the strategic objectives one believes the U.S. should be pursuing.  One who believes the U.S. should focus primarily on maintaining its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and baseline power resources is less likely to agree that the U.S. is in decline than someone who believes the U.S. should attempt to preserve a liberal international order indefinitely.  Last but not least, one’s conclusion also depends on one’s appraisal of the challenges faced by other major powers.  One who concludes that China’s internal difficulties place an upper bound on its ascent is less likely to agree with the assessment of U.S. decline than someone who assumes China will be able to address them over time.

The discussion above only scratches the surface; there are many other considerations that could inform one’s answer to the decline question.  Indeed, given how many permutations of variables and metrics one can use to tackle the decline question, it is possible for folks on opposite sides to debate one another without engaging each other’s arguments in much depth—a possibility that helps explain why the debate has grown stagnant.  While the specific evidence that declinists and anti-declinists cite has necessarily changed over time, their theses have not.  The declinists conclude that this time is different, lamenting that the hastiness of previous predictions has lulled those who disagree with them into complacency.  The anti-declinists point to America’s formidable residual strengths and longstanding regenerative capacity, treating their sparring partners much like the boy who cried wolf.  Befitting a debate of such endurance and complexity, each side has persuasive proponents.  Reading Gideon Rachman or Edward Luce will leave most fair-minded observers more concerned about America’s prospects than they were before; reading Joseph Nye or Josef Joffe will leave most more reassured.  There is little evidence to suggest that either camp is changing the other’s views.  It is more likely, in fact, that those views will calcify over time.

The decline debate is likely here to stay, in part because the fears it reflects seem to be integral to the American psyche.  As Cullen Murphy explained to James Fallows in early 2010, “If you go back and pick any decade in American history, you are guaranteed to find the exact same worries we have now….Poke a stick into it, and you will get a gushing fount of commentary on the same subjects as now, in the same angry and despairing tone….Fifty years from now, Americans will be as worried as they are today.”  While a perpetual fear of decline would seem to be a source of exhaustion, Americans have channeled it quite constructively in the postwar era; just consider the wave of American innovations that followed the launch of Sputnik.  Reflecting on the declinist debate a quarter century ago in Foreign Affairs, Samuel Huntington reassured readers that the U.S. “is unlikely to decline so long as its public is periodically convinced that it is about to decline….the more Americans worry about the health of their society, the healthier they are”

Particularly since the global financial crisis, however, this concern has increasingly appeared to coincide with a mood of resignation.  According to a report this past December by the Pew Research Center, 48% of Americans think China is “the world’s leading economic power” (31% think the U.S. is).  According to another Pew report, this one released just last month, 49% think America’s “best years” are over (44% think they lie ahead).  Only 35% think “it’s best for the future of the country to be active in world affairs.”  The current wave of declinism reinforces—and is, in turn, amplified by—a familiar tendency in intellectual and political circles: adducing each new crisis abroad as evidence of U.S. impotence in international affairs. 

Paradoxically, though, while this inclination stems from concern about declining U.S. influence, it also seems to reflect a belief in—or, at a minimum, a hope for—something approaching U.S. omnipotence: that is, the U.S. can generally prevent or reverse bad outcomes if it chooses to do so.  In truth, though the U.S. may remain the world’s most powerful and influential single actor, the policies it implements are only one of an infinite number of phenomena that shape the day’s events.  While it is natural to worry about U.S. influence abroad when fires seem to be burning all around, the intensity of alarm in certain quarters seems disproportionate in view of the past 70 years.  Every administration of the postwar era has struggled—not only to reconcile crisis management with strategic vision, but also to address the charge that it was hapless as momentous strategic developments multiplied abroad. 

Few would—or could—deny the magnitude of the foreign-policy challenges facing the U.S., whether the ascendancy of ISIS, the carnage in Syria, Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine, China’s approach to solving its territorial disputes, or the latest North Korean provocation.  These challenges are more a reflection of the world’s complexity, however, than of the failure of U.S. foreign policy.  That policy should be graded less on the basis of how it responds to a given crisis than on the extent to which it shapes trends in the international system over time.  Even if one believes that U.S. credibility suffers when it responds “weakly” to a given crisis, adopting a “do something now” doctrine is not a prudent alternative: much like thrashing around in quick sand only makes one sink faster, operating one’s foreign policy in perpetual crisis-management mode can only culminate in exhaustion and confusion—thereby, ironically, compounding the very weakness that proponents of that doctrine seek to reverse (Tom Toles’s April 20th cartoon “As the World Turns” makes the point well). 

Foreign policy requires strategic vision because crises alone are insufficient to provide a coherent basis for approaching the world.  They often occur at unexpected times and in unexpected places, bearing little relationship to one another.  Even if they did provide such a foundation, U.S. foreign policy would not be strategic if it undertook to prioritize each crisis equally.  As Francis Fukuyama explained recently, strategy “is about setting priorities, saying that some things are more important than others, and explaining why this is so.  The notion that there is no place unworthy of U.S. attention is not a strategy.”  One could go further: the existence of a crisis need not impel U.S. involvement.  The doctor’s mantra—“first, do no harm”—is also a sound principle in foreign policy.  The U.S. should concern itself primarily with those crises that affect its vital national interests or could do so if left unchecked.  When a crisis affects important (but not vital) or secondary interests, it should think carefully before deciding to get involved; it if it does, it should either work in close partnership with allies or play a backbencher role, ensuring that its efforts at crisis management do not detract from its strategic priorities.  

Fretting about decline does not contribute to making these distinctions; instead, it collapses the boundaries between them.  Here we get to the major problem with the decline debate: it offers little, if any, prescriptive guidance.  Whether or not the U.S. is in decline—however vaguely defined and imprecisely measured—it will have to contend with a range of crises across the globe, the emergence of more and more non-Western powers, and the shifting balance of power between states and nonstate actors.  It would be more productive to explore how the U.S. can position itself in this emerging operating environment than to invest in a stale debate whose participants do not appear to be making much impression on each other.  Ironically, one of the most compelling affirmations of this proposition comes from Paul Kennedy, perhaps the most influential declinist alive today: the “only serious threat to the real interests of the United States,” he explained over a quarter century ago in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, “can come from a failure to adjust sensibly to the newer world order.  Given the considerable array of strengths still possessed by the United States, it ought not in theory to be beyond the talents of successive administrations to arrange the diplomacy and strategy of this readjustment.”

Ali Wyne is a contributing analyst at Wikistrat and a coauthor of Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World (2013). Follow him on Twitter: @Ali_Wyne

TopicsDecline RegionsUnited States

Japan and Australia: Ready, Willing and Abe

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Australia is developing the habit of balancing an address to the Parliament by an Asia-Pacific ally with a matching speech by China’s President.

The contentious words in that sentence are “balancing” and “ally,” even if the pattern is evident.

In October 2003, US President George W. Bush and China’s President Hu Jintao addressed the Australian Parliament on consecutive days. Both were visiting Oz for the APEC summit in Sydney. Previously, only American presidents had addressed Parliament (Bush Senior, 1992; Bill Clinton, 1996).

Hu’s address could properly be described in a parliamentary monograph as “a moment of great ceremonial and symbolic significance,” representing “a high point in the Howard Government’s engagement with China.”

Tweaking those phrases, Shinzo Abe’s Canberra address tomorrow is a moment of symbolic significance, marking an economic high point and a security exclamation mark in the Abbott Government’s embrace of Japan. Abbott’s best mate in Asia is calling. Note this is the first Japanese PM to get to Canberra since 2002—perhaps that explains the need for a “new” special relationship.

Abe will join Abbott for the signing of the Australia-Japan free trade agreement and for a defense cooperation agreement for sharing equipment and technology. The defense deal is a step towards a next-generation Australian submarine with a Japanese diesel-electric drive chain and an American weapons system. Abe and Abbott will be in equal agreement when Abe gives another version of his speech announcing Japan is back as a defense and security player.

This year’s balancing parliamentary address from China will come in November when Xi Jinping visits for the G20 summit. That word “balancing” is useful in denoting the equal honor offered to two important Asian partners, as a reference to the US rebalance, and to discussion of Asia’s balance of power and balancing against the rising power.

Referring to Japan as an “ally” is where the semantics compound. The Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation that John Howard and Shinzo Abe signed in 2007, expressed an important and growing security partnership. The pact does not amount to a formal alliance; it’s not a treaty to be invoked if ships clash and missiles fly. Yet, increasingly, Australia and Japan act as allies, from cyber to submarines to Asia’s future.

A great impetus for this ally-type behavior is that Japan and Australia are both allies of the same ally. In the trilateral relationship with the US, the Japan–Australia leg is the weakest, but it’s getting more exercise. Here’s the DFAT-speak version:

“Australia and Japan now have a strong and broad-ranging partnership. Australia and Japan have taken practical steps to address regional and global strategic challenges of mutual concern. The United States is both Australia’s and Japan’s most important strategic ally, and the three countries progress cooperation on strategic issues through the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue.”

In his Shangri-La speech on Japan’s role in Asia’s security future, Abe referred to Abbott’s visit to Tokyo in April and gave this alliance-lite description

“We clearly articulated to people both at home and abroad our intention to elevate the strategic partnership between Japan and Australia to a new special relationship.”

Shinzo Abe will give a speech to Parliament on Japan’s intentions towards Australia that will be stronger in tone and temper than that of any previous Japanese leader. The man who signed the 2007 pact is back to give it a boost. The speech will express Abe’s personality and his past as well as his vision of Japan’s future. 

The headline on this piece plays on the phrase ‘ready, willing and able.’ Ponder if Abe will be able. He’s showing willing in the reinterpretation of the Constitution for collective self-defense (warmly welcomed by Australia) and the rewrite of the Japan-America defense guidelines, the first big overhaul in nearly two decades. Will he be able to get Japan to embrace and entrench that new mindset? Invective from China and South Korea might aid Abe, but will Japan truly commit?

The answer will define Abe as either a passing political outlier who couldn’t break the Japanese mold or the model for future leaders. Some of Abe’s habits of mind—especially his understanding of history as expressed by his Yasukuni shrine compulsion—play to the outlier view, even if those same qualities of will and self-belief make him a potential mold-breaker. Abe’s greatest external asset in his push to remodel Japan’s military role isn’t the US—it’s China’s recent belligerence and the moments of madness from China’s protectorate, North Korea. 

Abe’s parliamentary address will be more than a measure of what sort of ally Japan wants to be for Australia. It’ll be a measure that can be set beside—or balanced against—the picture Xi Jinping paints when he takes the same stage in November.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. This article was first published by ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

America's Economy: Going "Part-Time"?

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The recent employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed the US economy generated 288,000 jobs, the unemployment rate continued to decline, and the participation in the labor force held steady. By all appearances, it was a blockbuster month for jobs. But one level deeper into the report, it becomes a bit more complicated. Jobs were created, but the question of their quality lingers.

To say the least, the quality was poor. The job gains were solely part-time; 799,000 part-time jobs were taken. Worse still, 523,000 full-time jobs were lost. In fairness, most of these part-time jobs were not inherently bad. The majority of the June gains were in what is commonly referred to as “voluntary” part-time employment—people found part-time work who wanted it. The disconcerting element was the creation of part-time and the simultaneous destruction of full-time jobs.

Part-time jobs—with lower wages, less stability, and higher turnover—are less desirable than full-time ones for an economy. There are fewer fringe benefits associated with part-time work, and the jobs are generally considered to be of lower quality. Not to mention a lack of ability to negotiate for higher wages and lower amounts of job training. This leads to slower consumption growth than would normally be associated with similar levels of employment, a labor force that is likely to be much more volatile in future downturns, and workers with lower levels of on the job skills. A part-time economy simply does not have the economic robustness of a full-time one.

A single month of strong part-time employment creation and abysmal full-time employment would be interesting though not troubling. But this is by no means a outlying statistic. In June, the BLS released its May employment report showing that employment levels rose above their pre-crisis peak for the first time, and this was lauded as a seminal moment of the recovery. But this is deceiving. Full-time employment remains 3.7 million below its December 2007 peak after generating 7.6 million since the 2009 bottom. This means that to get back to the peak, the US must generate nearly 50 percent more full-time jobs than it already has during the recovery. The celebration was premature to say the least.

This struggle betrays some of the deeper scars left in the labor market. The Great Recession created more involuntary part-time jobs than at any other point in the post-war period. These jobs are involuntary in that people wanted full-time work but could not find it. Currently at almost 7.5 million, the number of involuntary part-time employees is 1.7 million below its all-time peak and around 2.5 million above recent long-term levels. Typically labor markets would convert these to full-time jobs as the economy improved. But since the end of the recession involuntary part-time employment has receded only slowly.

These involuntary part-time jobs are the 2.5 million or more “ghost” full-time jobs the economy will need to create just to bring the involuntary part-time employment numbers down to more normal levels. Interestingly, these involuntary part-time workers are already counted as “employed”, and finding full-time employment changes nothing. Instead, they will simply shift from involuntary to full-time, and it will have no effect on the unemployment rate. Also, because the commonly reported “jobs number” comes from a survey of businesses that does not separate part-time and full-time, the shift will not positively effect on the jobs number reported. Furthermore, it will make it much more difficult to reduce the unemployment rate even with an improving economy. This shift will have an effect on measures of underemployment, the figures that measure slack in the labor market, but that is all.

For many reasons, the unemployment rate is difficult to place in a historical context. Is it the current 6.1 unemployment rate comparable to previous periods? Probably not. The unemployment rate shields the part-timer effect. In calculating it, a job is a job; there are no delineations between part-time and full-time. Without understanding the underlying dynamics of the how the US got to its current unemployment rate, it would be easy mischaracterize the current employment situation as vibrant.

There is no question that the employment situation has improved since the recession, and being employed part-time is better than being unemployed. But there are “good” jobs, and there are “bad” jobs—good jobs that people take voluntarily, and bad jobs people accept involuntarily. For the moment, the US has far too many bad jobs and is creating too few good ones. The deeper into the statistics one goes, the less there is to be excited about yet in this recovery. Maybe a celebration will be in order when the economy regains its lost full-time jobs. For now, however, quality is lacking.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsUnited States

What to Expect from Modi's India

The Buzz

India's May 2014 election received far less attention from the U.S. media than it deserved.  The landslide victory of Narendra Modi and the BJP is significant for both India and the Indo-Pacific region. Notwithstanding important achievements - like the Indo-US nuclear deal - the previous Congress-led coalition government of Manmohan Singh, seemed to the electorate like a decade of missed opportunities and drift.  Internationally, many of India's friends and partners often found it too cautious.  In contrast, Modi will have an increased focus on Asia, leveraging Indian diplomacy to increase Asian investment in India.

Internal Focus

Modi's priorities are internal and focus on returning to high growth.  In recent years, the economy has grown just 5-6 percent annually instead of the 8-9 percent of a decade ago.  The view in Delhi is that India needs 7-8 percent growth rates.  Voters were concerned about issues like high commodity prices, job creation, corruption, and inadequate infrastructure. To achieve this growth, Modi seeks to develop infrastructure, build transit corridors, and increase the effectiveness of the Indian bureaucracy.  

Internal security will be a priority for the government, as seen by the selection of veteran counter-terrorism intelligence chief, Ajit Doval, as National Security Advisor.  In its election manifesto, the BJP stressed that it will have a "zero tolerance" policy toward terrorism, indicating that in the event of another terrorist attack, this government will take action unlike the passive response of Singh's government to the 2008 Mumbai attacks.  Beyond responding to the domestic call for a more hawkish stance, this emphasis on domestic security is necessary for growth. It will prove difficult to attract needed investment if foreign investors feel India is unstable.  In the 2000s, India was one of the countries most often struck by terrorist attacks, just after Iraq and Afghanistan.

Southern Asia

During his inauguration ceremony, Modi took the unprecedented step of inviting the heads of government from South Asia, including controversial guests like Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, Mahindra Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, and Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay.  His first foreign visit was to Bhutan.  Modi wants to be seen as the "leader of South Asia" to increase his status and expand regional economic ties.  This will prove difficult: South Asia is one of the world's least economically integrated regions and the regional organization, SAARC, one of the most ineffective.  In addition, China has invested heavily in both infrastructure development and military assistance to several of these states (in particular Sri Lanka and Bangladesh) so Modi will be playing catch up to balance Chinese influence in the region.

China

The most delicate relationship that the new government will have to manage is with China.  Although bilateral trade has grown 30 percent annually in recent years, the trade imbalance (favoring China) is a source of irritation.  China is India's largest trading partner, but India is only China's 10th largest.  Modi's government would like to increase India's access to the Chinese market for its IT and pharmaceutical industries, and increase Chinese capital and capital goods investment in Indian infrastructure.  The recent visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi focused on economic issues, in particular getting increased Chinese investment in India's industrial parks and railways.  Beyond economics, there have been murmurs of India becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (which is unlikely). 

Potential spoilers remain, however, such as the border dispute (last April there was another confrontation), Chinese support for Pakistan, and other issues.  Modi's government has indicated to China that while improved economic ties are important, India will remain firm against Chinese assertiveness.  Among these signals are: inclusion in the government of several figures known for their harder stance on China (VK Singh, Kiren Rijiju, etc.), Modi's invitation of the Tibetan prime minister-in-exile to his inauguration, and plans to develop infrastructure in border areas in Arunachal Pradesh (parts of which are claimed by China as "South Tibet").  When campaigning in Arunachal Pradesh, Modi criticized China's "expansionist mindset."

ASEAN

Modi will also look to resuscitate India's "Look East Policy" (LEP) of economic and security engagement with Southeast Asia.  The Singh government delayed initiatives for increased trade because of domestic politics.  Since one of Modi's priorities is to develop Arunachal Pradesh and other northeastern states, the LEP seeks to bring trade and investment to one of India's least developed areas.  For decades, Delhi has lost great sums of money and suffered many casualties in attempting to prop up these states in the face of violent insurgencies, minimal infrastructure, and poor economies.  Promoting economic ties between Northeast and Southeast Asia is part of a long-term strategy for developing (and bringing peace) to this region of India. 

India has also sought to engage Southeast Asia through military exercises (like the Milan exercises it hosts), and involvement in soft security issues like humanitarian assistance and disaster response.  It has positioned itself as a benign regional power in contrast with China's more assertive posture.  As India becomes more interconnected with Southeast Asia, it risks upsetting Chinese sensibilities, however.  In particular, India's cooperation with longtime friend, Vietnam, both in terms of oil exploration in the South China Sea and defense cooperation could be a spoiler for Sino-Indian relations in the future.

Japan

Much has been made of similarities and close ties between Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (Abe is supposedly one of only three people Modi follows on Twitter).  Abe was the guest of honor in January's Republic Day parade (a traditional method of signaling Indian priorities for the coming year) and Modi's second international visit will be to Japan (it is speculated that the delayed Indo-Japan nuclear deal will be finalized during the visit). And while Japanese funds were used to finance Delhi's metro system and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor, India needs Chinese as well as Japanese investment.

The burgeoning trilateral security cooperation between India, Japan, and the U.S. will continue and likely strengthen under Modi.  India and Japan regularly have joint military exercises and high-level defense dialogues.  It was announced that Japan will participate in the Indo-US Malabar exercises in the future.  Moreover, an Indo-Japanese arms relationship seems to be developing with Japan's new openness to arms sales and India's new policy on 100 percent FDI in the arms industry.  As the world's largest arms buyer, India is an attractive market (the Japanese US-2 amphibious aircraft is high on India's list).

America

Modi has been careful to send positive signals that he is ready to do business with the U.S.  There were several reasons why the new government could have started with a cooler U.S. relationship.  First, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat during the 2002 sectarian riots and the US had refused to give him a tourist visa since 2005, making Modi the only person ever denied a visa under an obscure law denying visas to people linked to "severe violations of religious freedom."  Second, last winter, law enforcement officials in New York arrested an Indian diplomat on charges of visa fraud.  What should have been a minor incident became a major diplomatic spat between the two nations.  Yet, even before the election, Modi sent signals that relations between the countries could not be adversely affected by individuals and his government is ready to rebuild Indo-U.S. relations.  The visit by Assistant Secretary of State Nisha Biswal in June, plans for Modi's state visit to the U.S. in September, the upcoming Yudh Abyas exercises in India, and prospective arms sales (likely to include helicopters and artillery) indicate movement in a positive direction.

In sum, there is a case to be made for cautious optimism.  Modi will be more decisive, and less risk averse than the previous government.  Modi intends to leverage diplomacy to encourage investment from China and Japan, and deepen economic ties with the U.S.  India will retain its traditional stance of "strategic autonomy," however, and remain inward looking initially.  While Modi won a clear mandate, he is under great pressure to deliver quickly on issues like economic growth, corruption, high commodity prices, and infrastructure.  Modi's government will give priority to economic growth and domestic politics to meet the electorate's high expectations.  There was a sense that the Singh government had invested too heavily in foreign affairs at the expense of domestic reforms.  Modi's government will seek to avoid a similar fate.  So while India will actively seek economic ties, it will retain its traditional hesitation to get too enmeshed into Asian security dynamics.  The difficult part will be courting all major players in the region for investment, and maintaining good relations if a crisis erupts and India is forced to pick a side.

Patrick Bratton is the director of Diplomacy and Military Studies Program and associate professor of Political Science at Hawaii Pacific University. This article was originally published by CSIS: PACNET here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsForeign Policy RegionsIndia

Wanted: A Real War Of Ideas With Russia

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Don’t look now, but Moscow is winning the media war.
 
Since the start of the crisis over Ukraine some four months ago, Russia has waged a massive, sustained media campaign to shape global perceptions about events taking place on the ground there. This offensive—carried out en masse via state-run outlets like Russia Today and through an onslaught of print, radio and television reports—has included everything from blatant mischaracterizations of Ukraine’s political parties to outright fabrications about the extent of the pro-Russian sentiment that exists in the south and east of the country.
 
The effort is unprecedented in scope. According to Russian political commentator Igor Eidman, it amounts to the “biggest information special operation” in modern history. And, up until now, it has gone on largely uncontested. The United States and Europe, divided over how best to respond to the Ukraine crisis specifically, and Russian policy more generally, have marshaled little by way of a strategic response.
 
Without a countervailing message, Russia’s outreach has resonated. At home, having spun his government’s incursion into Ukraine as a strategic victory, Russian president Vladimir Putin is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity. A new survey recently released by the Moscow-based Levada Center has found that Putin enjoys an 82 percent approval rating among Russians between the ages of 40 and 54—and an even higher one among those citizens who are too young to remember the days of the Soviet Union. Abroad, meanwhile, more than a few foreign publics have accepted the idea that Crimea’s annexation was more or less legitimate, and that further Russian action in Ukraine—while undesirable—might not be so unwarranted after all.
 
Belatedly, American public diplomacy is attempting to push back on this narrative. The various organs of U.S. international broadcasting (chief among them Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America) have done so by ramping up their coverage of events in the “post-Soviet space.” They have also launched initiatives like “Crimea Realities,” a new website dedicated to countering disinformation about conditions in Russia’s newest region. But much more needs to be done.
 
Most glaringly, U.S. outreach requires resources in order to properly compete with that of Russia. Currently, the Voice of America’s Russia Service is funded to the paltry tune of just $13 million annually—a mere fraction of the $300 million a year that Russia Today alone is estimated to spend on its particular brand of “news.” At this level, U.S. public diplomacy toward the Russian-speaking world lacks anything resembling the scope and reach needed to counter the Kremlin.
 
The funds to do so, moreover, are readily available, tucked away in various corners of the U.S. government (such as the U.S. Agency for International Development’s now-defunct U.S.-Russia Investment Fund). They simply require attention from Congress in order to be repurposed and harnessed for public diplomacy purposes.  
 
Even more vitally, U.S. broadcasting needs sustained attention from the White House. In its first term, the Obama administration made the idea of a “reset” of relations with Russia a centerpiece of its foreign policy agenda. That approach had fallen on hard times even before the recent events in Ukraine. In their wake, it has been utterly discredited. The White House has been at pains to articulate anything resembling a coherent policy toward Russia since. And because it has not, the official media response to Putin’s Russia has remained largely rudderless.
 
A new approach is sorely needed. Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine represents nothing less than a challenge to the established political and legal order in Europe. As such, it requires a robust, unified reply from Western powers. And by necessity, countering Russian propaganda will need to be an essential component of any such effort. If we are to have a hope of resolving the current crisis without further adventurism on Moscow’s part, Russian citizens need to understand the potential political and economic costs involved for them—and foreign publics must grasp the implications of the current crisis for long-term European security and unity.
 
It is long past time for the United States to begin telling them those things in earnest.
 
Ilan Berman is Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council in Washington, DC.
 
Image: Wikicommons. 
TopicsMedia RegionsRussia

Japan's Collective Self-Defense Play: A Game Changer?

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As anticipated, Japan’s Cabinet has reinterpreted the constitution to permit Japan to exercise the right of collective self-defense. After some initial histrionics – Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, opined that Prime Minister Shinzo “Abe is manipulating a dangerous coup to overturn the country's post-war pacifism and democratic ideals, as he hones in on releasing the shackles of the nation's legally tethered military and war will from its war-renouncing Constitution” – the decision was met by neighbors with resignation and the grinding of teeth. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson urged Japan “to earnestly respect legitimate security concerns of its Asian neighbors, deal with relevant issues with discretion, not to harm the national sovereignty and security interests of China and not to undermine regional peace and stability.” His counterpart in Seoul insisted that any Japanese exercise of collective self-defense affecting security and national interests on the Korean Peninsula “cannot be accepted unless we request it or agree to it.”  

If the reaction seems anticlimactic, it is because there is much less going on than meets the eye. The legal and constitutional constraints on Japanese security policy are less restrictive than many admit.  As Adam Liff noted recently, Japanese prime ministers have reinterpreted the constitution throughout the postwar era when they felt compelled to do so. Bureaucrats and politicians have been masterful practitioners of the “fudge” when addressing hard national security and alliance issues: recall the secret agreements regarding US nuclear weapons on Japanese territory. And Japan’s Supreme Court has traditionally deferred to politicians on such matters.

The real constraints on Japan’s security policy have been and will continue to be social and political. Recall that Abe took office with a desire to rewrite the entire constitution. That became an intent to change just Article 9. He has settled, after a much longer process than anticipated, for a change in the interpretation of the exercise of the right of collective self-defense – and now must wait for legislation to turn this week’s Cabinet decision into law. When that happens – it could take as long as two years – the use of Japan’s military will be subject to three conditions:

1: Japan can come to the aid of an ally with which it has a “very close relationship” if there is a threat to constitutional rights to life, liberty, and happiness of Japanese citizens. [Taken literally, Japan has only one ally, the United States, which considerably limits application of this change in interpretation];  

2: There is no other diplomatic or negotiated means to protect both that nation and its citizens but through the use of military force; and

3: The use of military force is kept to a “bare minimum.”

That scaling back of ambitions reflects powerful opposition. Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party isn’t united on the issue and its alliance partner, New Komeito, demanded the introduction of the three conditions as the price of its support for the measure. Opinion polls consistently show more than 50 percent of the public opposes the reinterpretation of the exercise of the right of collective self-defense. 

The rhetoric that has been used throughout the reinterpretation discussion – and by the prime minister himself when he announced the change Tuesday evening in Tokyo – underscores the power of those constraints. Abe framed the move as consistent with Japan’s status as a “peace state” and emphasized that any and all changes will be part of its strategy of “proactive pacifism.” Cynics may dismiss that as another empty slogan, but the fact remains that such language is needed to legitimate action to the public.

Those same cynics point out that the three conditions designed to limit Japanese action are undefined and potentially quite expansive. What is the “bare minimum” use of force necessary? Subsequent legislation will define that phrase, but its application will invariably be influenced by political considerations at the time of a crisis.

Any “adventurism” will encounter powerful headwinds in Japan. My study of Japan after the March 11, 2011 “triple catastrophe” suggests that there is no stomach among the Japanese for a high-profile “hard” security policy; there remains profound skepticism about the value of a military except in the defense of the homeland. Combine the Japanese ambivalence about engagement generally with a shrinking population that is aging and a military that would have to be significantly (and expensively) retooled to project power, and those headwinds reach gale force.

There is a temptation to see the return to power of Abe Shinzo as heralding a rightward shift in Japan. Resist it. Remember that Abe wasn’t the first choice to lead the LDP in the party election before the 2012 general election. The structure of the electoral system rewards large parties: in the absence of a unified opposition, the LDP took a disproportionate share of the seats in that ballot. (The LDP claimed more seats in 2012 than the DPJ did in its landslide win in 2009, even though the DPJ won more votes in the 2009 election.) Abe and the LDP won a mandate, first and foremost, to fix the economy, not lead a revanchist movement.

While Abe’s conservative views on security issues were well known, his first task remains an economic recovery. Failure to get the economy back on track will empower opposition to him within the LDP – and it is substantial. Foes within the party will likely use public protests against his security policy to help make the case for a change in the Prime Minister’s Office. If that is the case, change in Japan’s security policy may prove to have far greater impact than Abe and his supporters ever anticipated – and not in the way that they anticipated. 

Brad Glosserman is executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, Hawaii, which has provided policy-oriented analysis and promoted dialogue on regional security, political, economic, and environmental issues in the Asia-Pacific region for over 25 years. This article first appeared in the CSIS:PACNET newsletter here

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

Civil Rights, Fifty Years On: Partisan Realignment and U.S. Foreign Policy

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Fifty years ago today Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into federal law.  The Voting Rights Act followed just one year later.  Both pieces of legislation were important nails in the coffin of Jim Crow, the oppressive system of laws that had segregated the American South along racial lines since the end of Reconstruction.  A corollary was to reshape U.S. party politics and, by extension, foreign policy for generations to come.

As well as keeping African-Americans subjugated and disenfranchised, Jim Crow had been the political foundation of the Democratic Party’s century-long lock on the so-called Solid South.  In approving the Civil Rights Act, Johnson is said to have confided that he had signed away the South “for a generation.”  The president knew that white segregationists would not forgive the national Democratic Party for supporting civil rights.  Although he hoped (misguidedly) that newly enfranchised blacks would be enough to buoy the Democratic vote share, Johnson was mostly clear-eyed that embracing civil rights would mean losing the South.

Johnson’s concerns were well founded.  Beginning with Nixon and his so-called “Southern Strategy,” the Republican Party in the late 1960s began a long march towards absorbing disaffected Southern Democrats and establishing political control over the South.  The process was slow, only to be more-or-less completed by the 2000s, by which time most of the old Confederacy was reliably GOP territory.

The reconfiguration of America’s political landscape translated into new partisan differences over policy, many of which last until this day, particularly when it comes to the military.  By the mid-1960s, the American South was home to some of the biggest beneficiaries of the Cold War military-industrial complex.  Although the “gun belt” is not strictly coterminous with the South, there is considerable overlap: military bases were disproportionately located below the Mason-Dixon while arms manufacturing and related industries brought much needed jobs to a region with historically low income levels compared to the rest of the United States.

As part of the Democratic fold during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, the South had thus been a linchpin of the party’s support for containment of the Soviet Union and the massive investment in military hardware that containment entailed.  As southern votes migrated towards the GOP, however, so too did these preferences for privileging the defense industry.  Crudely put, a switch in partisan preferences took place: the Republicans becoming hawks and the Democrats doves.

Consider the differences between the Truman, Kennedy and Johnson administrations—each of which oversaw over massive increases in defense spending—and the post-Civil Rights Act administrations of Carter, Clinton and Obama—none of which are known for having lent robust support for investment in the military.  On the Republican side, the contrast is equally striking: Eisenhower and even Nixon sought to curb defense expenditure while their firmly post-Civil Rights Act successors (particularly Reagan and George W. Bush) were emphatic supporters of expanding the size of the military.

The history of civil rights is intimately connected with America’s history as a global power. Law professor Mary L. Dudziak once argued that the Civil Rights Act was, as much as anything, a foreign policy scheme concocted to improve America’s international image in the context of the Cold War.  From Dudziak’s perspective, U.S. foreign policy objectives drove political decision-making on the home front.  Yet the causal arrow also points in the other direction—that is, the domestic realignments of the civil rights era had a significant impact upon the nation’s external posture, much of which has carried through to the present day.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsUnited States

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