Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola: A Case for US Retrenchment?

The case for the United States’ declining hegemony is hard to overlook. The costs for maintaining such international dominance and the emergence of balancing powers in China, Europe and China grow more and more apparent. The United States, not unlike other great nations, has a choice to make: to be or not to be. A global hegemon, that is. No American wants to see the U.S. decline in prominence and strength, but historically every great power does. To prevent such a catastrophic collapse in power and prestige as Germany and France experienced in previous centuries, the U.S. needs to start thinking strategically about how best to preserve its interests abroad while not overextending itself to the point of collapse. The case of Ebola interestingly exemplifies how limited retrenchment would be beneficial to preserving its sense of primacy and national interests.
The authors of “Don’t Come Home, America push for continued U.S. hegemony, claiming U.S. national interests dictate international policies and ultimately serves our best interest. While the U.S. may have its footprint on every continent, its focus and military might is not felt everywhere. The lackluster response to the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa that has infected more than 9,000 people and killed more than 4,000 is case in point. The U.S. only began ramping up the much needed medical support and aid when it became clear Ebola would be a plague leading to a “lost generation” as Liberian president Johnson Sirleaf pleaded for more international assistance. And is still well below what is requested or needed.

Based on the assessment by Stephen Brooks et al., the response to Ebola was in line with U.S. hegemony. Africa is generally further down on the U.S. radar except as it pertains to terrorism and regional proximity to the Middle East. Clearly the U.S. was more intent on coalition building against ISIL directing attention away from this pandemic. By not prioritizing Ebola the attention from European countries, whose historical relations with Africa are better attuned to evaluating and addressing these issues, was also diverted elsewhere. U.S. national interests won't always align with global interests; the U.S. will not always have proper intelligence to understand potential threats allowing issues like Ebola to slip through the cracks. If U.S. hegemony persists in the current form the ordering of U.S. interests would in turn determine the level of importance and response to global issues and epidemics like Ebola. The U.S. capability and propensity to direct and prioritize international support towards their national goals and initiatives largely prevents other nations from stepping up and leading the fight against periphery threats like Ebola. If the U.S. didn’t consider it an urgent threat to be addressed, who else would?

Should the U.S. hegemonic role continue to decline and turn towards aspects of retrenchment then it needs to start empowering the international organizations it helped create like the UN, WHO, and NATO to better address international dilemmas. As the current hegemon, the U.S. can use its strength to promote the use of these organizations in response to global dilemmas. Doing so bolsters the prominence and respect of these organizations to oversee issues that aren’t seen as priorities for the U.S. before they rise to a threatening level. Doing so allows the U.S. to continue its defense spending and maintain it military commitments to its allies. The rich and powerful neglectfully overlook regions and third world problems, but that won’t prevent the Red Death from knocking on their door to join their ranks. 

The problem with U.S. hegemony in an ever-growing and interconnected global society is everything tends to matter. The U.S. cannot afford to monitor, manage and oversee operations all over the globe to make sure that they are handled with U.S. interests in mind. This will inevitably lead to failure. Instead, the U.S should recognize its limitations where they exist and call upon the international institutions to step up and manage crises like Ebola as they come up with sincere and resolute actions. Whether or not the U.S. chooses forms of retrenchment or further hegemony, it has the power and responsibility to direct international policy. U.S. retrenchment by relying on international organizations would free up resources and energy to maintain its hegemonic role while making sure another Ebola is not overlooked until it crosses the pond.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Combating Climate Change

Recently the Department of Defense (DoD) released a Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. Although the DoD first recognized climate change as a threat to U.S. national security in the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, few people have taken notice of this new, evolving aspect of national security. Sure, climate change is important and needs to be addressed, but is it actually an issue of national security?

The White House notes that a climate change is a “threat multiplier.” Furthermore, it says that “rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” Climate change will aggravate already existing problems and will also make it increasingly difficult to respond to more traditional crises or new issues that arise.

Therefore, the DoD is seeking to better identify and understand the effects of climate change and then integrate that knowledge into policy, training, plans, and future endeavors. As obvious as it is, it is important to acknowledge that climate change is a global problem and requires global action. It does not start or stop at nations’ borders and ultimately it will affect everyone. Although India and China failed to attend the UN summit on climate change back in September, it would behoove them to join the international community in more fully addressing this topic. Reports indicate India is extremely vulnerable to climate change and that its economy will experience negative impacts, and that threats to its food security could also occur. Earlier this year China promised to work with the U.S. on addressing global climate change but what the details of this cooperation will include is not yet particularly clear. As countries realize the extent to which climate change will have an impact on them, they are more likely to agree to contribute towards polluting less, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and so forth.

Last month, President Obama signed an executive order highlighting the importance of climate resilient international development. This executive order lays out policy and discusses how to incorporate climate resilience into international development, how to enhance data and tools, how to report progress, and it also establishes a working group. Encouraging other large and powerful nations to join the U.S. is vital, but so is providing assistance to developing countries.With a multi-agency and international approach, the U.S. is looking to protect its interests in relation to this immense challenge. 

Abroad, climate change perhaps most notably affects America’s strategy in the Arctic and its pivot towards Asia. Domestically some areas of concern for the U.S. is the impact of rising sea levels, wildfires, and the role that the National Guard will need to play. Part of risk management is foreseeing potential future problems and trying to avoid them in the first place while simultaneously creating a plan for how to address them should it become necessary.

Complaints raised in the past have lamented a lack of action, despite an abundance of talking. However, many are hopeful that this time serious efforts and changes will be made. The 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review succinctly notes that "the impacts of climate change may increase the frequency, scale, and complexity of future missions, including Defense Support to Civil Authorities (DSCA), while at the same time undermining the capacity of our domestic installations to support training activities." With this in mind, the importance of climate change to the U.S. is highlighted. Furthermore, it is not an issue that can be crammed into a single category, for it has far reaching implications and affects a wide range of policies, including our defense strategy and national security policy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Decade at Kim’s

The absence of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, from the country’s political stage has roused the suspicions of the foreign policy, internet and media communities. Kim may well return to the political spotlight after recovering from some mysterious ailment, and he may not. If he doesn't, and it turns out that there has been some type transfer of power in the country, East Asian anxiety will be piqued by the possibility of the collapse of the anachronistic regime.

Is this a bad thing? Could this just be an additional footnote on the inherent instability of dictatorial regimes and command economies? There was an interesting retort in Foreign Policy this week to the implicit jubilation and hand-wringing of those watching for signs of drama from within the "Hermit Kingdom", but I don’t think it went far enough in developing the gravity of what was being speculated. A dramatic North Korean collapse, according to Peter Hayes, lies within a "2 % per year probability" with a positive outcome hovering at around 1-2% at the peaceful end of the spectrum. The rapid disintegration of the current DPRK regime would provide a real challenge for American grand strategy in this decade and it would raise the stakes of the Asian pivot. Here’s a quick overview of how it might affect American grand strategic thought.

It would be expensive.

Some analysts place the cost of the unification of North and South Korea at $2 Trillion. The estimated costs of building and updating DPRK infrastructure alone (based on figures from the cost of German unification) range between $ 40 to $ 400 Billion dollars. These numbers, of course, don’t take into account the cost of rebuilding after a possible war. This would be enormous burden on South Korea, and by extension, the United States. Even with heavy capital injections by international and multilateral financial institutions, the United States would probably still have to pick up a large part of the cost. The amount of the cost shared with regional actors, particularly China, would be illustrative of how the current administration sees itself as a world power and organizer of international cooperation. An aid and re-construction policy that sought to marginalize China’s involvement may point to an American grand strategy of hegemony.

It would require the type of military commitment that the US is actively trying to avoid.

A collapse of North Korea, especially a sudden and violent one, would probably require the application of American military capabilities beyond air power and targeted drone strikes. At the outset, American Special Forces would be required to secure nuclear weapons and material, as well as chemical and biological weapons. This would probably be part of a larger strategy to secure production facilities and knowledgeable personnel.  It would also likely involve a large influx of regular American troops (on top of the 28,000 already stationed in the country) that would work in concert with our South Korean allies to keep the peace and put down any intransigent North Korean regular or Special Forces units. The military would also be responsible for facilitating the amelioration of the resulting humanitarian crises and mass migration problems. For Neo-conservatives, this could be salient justification for the expansion of the military’s capabilities in a post sequester political environment hostile to military spending.

It would force the US to make tough choices about the shape of its wider foreign policy.

US involvement in the stabilization, rebuilding and unification of the Korean peninsula, because of the enormity of the challenge, implied investment of time and regional implications, would denote a task that must be considered in grand strategic terms. A US, aware of its limitations or interested in offshore balancing, would not be able to fully commit its power around the entire globe without acknowledging significant costs, explicit and implicit. An expanded military, with a much larger budget, may be required to maintain a US hegemonic position in a world after a North Korean collapse. In the spirit of Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforths,Reshaping the World Order, it could also be the perfect moment for the United States to work on re-shaping international institutions as well, with the Korean project as legitimating evidence in America’s case for its primacy and status as protector of the public good.

Even without Kim Jong-un, the DPRK could continue under a military dictatorship, or gradually liberalize its economy like China and Vietnam. There is even the possibility of a peaceful unification, with an animated Psy dancing Gangam style (a la Hasselhof) on the 38th parallel. All of these are equally interesting scenarios with intense implications for the people living on the Korean peninsula, within the surrounding states, and US foreign policy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Is a Grand Strategy really Grand?

Formulating a grand strategy is not an easy task at all especially with the given situation today. The world today poses too many uncertainties and complex challenges. The unsolved old regional problems, the growing number of failed states, epidemic and other unpredicted diseases, natural disasters, climate change, are just to name few challenges that each country has to face. Furthermore, World Economic Forum has its own version of risks through Global Risk 2014 that mentioned 10 Global Risk of Highest Concerns in 2014. The concerns include fiscal crises in economies, structurally high unemployment/underemployment, water crises, severe income disparity, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, greater incidence of extreme weather events, global governance failures, food crises, failure of major financial mechanism/institutions, profound political and social instability.

source PEW Research Center 
                                                            Those challenges combined with the existing architecture, which is a relic of preoccupations and power relations of the previous century, make the old ways of solving problems might not work anymore. It is not adequate to address the problems of terrorism and radicalism to solely using the military technology. Economic incentives, reaching out to society, law enforcement, and the maximum utilization of internet would establish a more comprehensive solution than that of just using weapons.  

When all factors are interconnected and interdependent, particular focus may be necessary as a starter without undermining other priorities. A good particular focus should have spillover effect to enhance other priorities, not undermine them. Too much attention on certain issue will also risk in undermining other priorities. There is no guarantee that one way would be a panacea. Therefore, managing balance may help.

Due to the constant change, a strategy which was deemed as the best now could be expired. Like a company, the state also has to adapt to the changing environment to keep the domestic audience satisfied as well as maintaining influence abroad, not to mention trouble shooting. Action speaks louder than words. The stated grand strategy would not be so convincing if the action is different from what it had stated. People pay attention to the action and observe where the budget goes. For example, the international community will not be convinced if the US lead by the Obama administration has come nearer to ending the War on Terror when it spends more money to fight the terrorist groups.  

The US as a superpower has a special need that should be accommodated in its grand strategy. Its vast resources may tempt the US to extend itself with its military before other priorities are considered. Small states may formulate priorities easier with limited resources compared to big states. Power projection may confuse the real priorities and may shape the importance for others.

Whatever the grand strategy will be, it should be inherent with maintaining its standing. A good strategy if not maintained should not be considered as a good strategy either. Why? Because the US has invested so much in building the international system albeit the system is now out of synch with the current challenges. If the US is reluctant to maintain its standing, other emerging powers will fill the vacuum in the absence of the US in its leadership role.

A grand strategy should also not waste resources. It should be able to address problems in effective and efficient manner. There is a cost in the loss of opportunity while the US focuses on terrorism response as foreign policy. If a strategy is too costly, it will reduce the resources for other sectors like investment in infrastructure, trade, and human security that are important to accumulate power in the long term.

Amy Zegart views that the US should strive for "orienting principles," policy ideas that lie between ad hoc reactions to arising situations and grand visions of how the future should unfold. According to Zegart, orienting principles hold out the better prospect than foreign policy a la carte or a grand strategy that mis-estimates the threat environment and misunderstands the organizational requirements for success. Grand strategies should also anticipate and articulate a compelling future state of the world and galvanize the development of policies, institutions and capabilities at the domestic and international level to get us there.

Daniel W. Drezner convinces that a clear, coherent, and well-defined grand strategy is not a guarantee either that it is a good grand strategy, especially when its implementation leads to more harm than benefit. Strikingly surprising, although critics stress the importance of choosing the right grand strategy and catastrophic implications of selecting the wrong one, history suggests that grand strategies do not alter the trajectory of great power politics all that much. Despite the complexities of the grand strategy and the outcome of its implementation, Drezner views that doctrines are still needed in uncertain times.

Considering the analysts’ suggestions, the current challenges, different perceptions of threat, and anticipation of the future, there should be many questions we ask in thinking about the grand strategy: what are the anticipated challenges? May the grand strategy involve other parties (private/corporate, non-government organizations) in its implementation? How about the resource used in implementing it? How much and to what extend we would allow the use of resource for one priority? Will the strategy emphasize on cooperation or competition? Will the implementation of one strategy strengthen the other priority in certain way? How would other countries and non state actors respond to the strategy? Would we anticipate for that? What is expected from this strategy? How the existing environment can cope with this strategy? What is the opportunity cost of this strategy? What do we tolerate to sacrifice for this strategy? Is this a reactive strategy or an active one? How consistent should the strategy be implemented? What are the corrective measures when it goes wrong or being misinterpreted? How far the corrective measures will be? Should the corrective measure spend less or we allow it to spend more than what is being corrected? Should we reassess the strategy periodically or just let it flow and see how far it goes? How flexible is the strategy? How realistic is the strategy? How much is the gap between the aspirations and the capabilities? Is the expected outcome worth our spending? Will the outcome last in the long term? What are the exit strategies when things go wrong?