Thursday, August 24, 2017

Can Macron Boost France’s Standing in the Western Alliance?

President Emmanuel Macron shows consummate diplomatic skills to boost France’s position in Europe and on the global stage. While he had a successful meeting to invite controversial US President Donald Trump to the Bastille Day ceremony, he defied an American demand that NATO allies increase defense spending to 2% of the GDP, and gave priority to the economy. This sort of neither flatterer nor foe attitude was witnessed when Macron and Trump met each other for the first time at the NATO summit (“The reason behind Macron’s firm handshake with Trump, revealed: He was warned!”; Washington Post; May 25, 2007). Both leaders stared at each other, and gripped their counterpart’s hand firmly when they shook hands, as if they were dueling arm wrestling. It was quite impressive and illustrative of Macron-Trump relations. How Macron strikes a balance of these international and domestic requirements?

Let me talk about diplomatic approaches to President Trump by major Western allies. Germany is exploring more self-reliant and European-oriented foreign policy, rather than depending on whimsical Trump. That was typically seen at the icy press conference after the Merkel-Trump meeting in Washington. On the other hand, Britain and Japan are compelled to deepen security and even trade relations, despite Trump’s questionable America First values. Despite anti-Trump criticism at home, Theresa May and Shinzo Abe want to keep the special relationship with the United States to reinforce their international standings. Meanwhile, Canada takes an intermediary approach between German and Anglo-Japanese one. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in a starkly different position from Trump over migration, refugees, political freedom, political correctness, and trade (“How Trump Made Justin Trudeau a Global Superstar”; Politico; July 1, 2017). Therefore, Trudeau asked Vice President Mike Pence and state governors to persuade NAFTA-skeptical Trump to update the trade agreement on the occasion of the National Governors Association conference at Providence of Rhode Island (“Trudeau, Pence, Elon Musk, and 32 governors all in one room? In Providence?”; Boston Globe; July 14, 2017 and “Trudeau urges governors to stand with Canada on trade while agreeing to 'modernize' NAFTA”; CBC News; July 16, 2017).

Macron’s approach is more proactive and also more unyielding to Trump than those of other Western leaders. Gideon Rachman comments that Macron is in a strong position to deal with America’s new administration. At the first handshake with Trump, he showed that France would not give in to the flamboyant counterpart, while smiling gently. Macron has made it clear that he aligns with Merkel to advance internationalism. On the other hand, Rachman points out that May’s Global Britain does not impress world leaders, because Brexit is taken isolationist. Her aspiration for deeper ties with nationalist Trump makes her globalist self-assumption increasingly questionable (“Emmanuel Macron demonstrates fine art of handling Donald Trump”; Financial Times; July 14, 2017). May’s position is somewhat in common with Abe’s. Macron used his advantage effectively to impress the Franco-American friendship. More importantly, Trump did not gaffe anything so far as foreign policy and bilateral relations are concerned.

While Macron hosted Trump to the Bastille Day ceremony, he defied the pressure to boost defense spending. But this issue is not just Trump. France is an independent nuclear power, and her national security interest goes beyond a NATO commitment. The Chief of the Armed Forces General Pierre de Villiers resisted Macron’s plan to cut defense budget by 850 million euro vehemently, as he believes it necessary to restore the spending level to 2.6% of GDP in 2000 from 1.8% last year, in view of French military involvement in the Middle East and the Sahel Africa. However, Macron wants to keep the deficit below 3% of EU requirements, in order to manage budget strains after 2007-2008 global financial crisis. After a bitter conflict with the President, General De Villiers resigned (“Macron takes on the military’s chief, and the military loses”; American Enterprise Institute; July 20, 2017).

Considering Macron’s career in the bureaucracy, business, and the Minister of the Economy in the Hollande administration, he is supposed to place strong emphasis on the economy, and it is necessary to understand an overview of his foreign and domestic policy. Professor Zaki Laïdi at L’Institute d’etudes politiques de Paris (Sciences Po) comments that Macron has no clear foreign policy goals yet, but his foreign policy success depends on domestic economy. Poor domestic economy precluded his predecessor François Hollande from boosting France on the global stage (“The Macron Doctrine?”; Project Syndicate; July 4, 2017). Macron ran for the President to move his economic reform as the Economy Minister forward. To begin with, he plans to remove labor code to lower costs, stimulate productivity, and increase economic flexibility. Combined with such deregulations, he envisions to cut corporate tax to help French industry grow more competitive in the global market (“Will Macron's Overhaul of the French Economy Succeed?” National Interest; July 13, 2017).

However, the real problem is whether such a drastic defense spending cut serves French national interests. Macron may have won the bitter conflict, but the cost of sidelining highly esteemed De Villiers will be great, according to Martin Quencez at the German Marshall Fund. Cold-shouldered by the President in the policy making process, the armed forces would lose morale for their job, which would make them reluctant to tell critical security information to him (“French Chief of Defense's Resignation a Difficult Start for Macron”; Trans Atlantic Take; July 19, 2017). Jean-Baptiste Vilmer, Director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, which belongs to the French Ministry of Defense, mentions that France faces several vital security challenges out of the Euro-Atlantic area, such as the civil war in Syria, terrorism in the Sahel, the stability in Libya, the maritime expansionism of China, and nuclear threat of North Korea. In addition, France must manage Russian threats and domestic terrorism, and update nuclear arsenals (“The Ten Main Defense Challenges Facing Macron’s France”; War on the Rocks; May 10, 2017). Can France deal with so many national security challenges? The problem is beyond Trump. Anyway, Macron says that he will boost defense spending, once debt-ridden economy is resolved (“France in the World and Macron’s foreign policy paradigm”; Aleph Analisi Strategische; 19 July 2017).

The proposed defense spending cut focuses on the equipment, which could inflict long term impacts on French armed forces, particularly on power projection capability. In view of counterterrorism requirements in the Middle East and Africa, France needs more tanks, armored vehicles, and heavy-lift aircrafts (“French President Emmanuel Macron is wrong to cut defense spending”; Washington Post; July 19, 2017). Despite this, Macron shows his willingness to get involved in counterterrorism in the Middle East and Africa. After De Villiers’ resignation, he appointed General François Lecointre who commanded the EU Training Mission in Mali to the Chief of Defense Staff. Despite the cut, France deploys 4,000 troops in Africa to fight against terrorism, and urge other European nations to join her operations (“French Military Spending Squeeze Prompts Top General's Resignation”; VOA NEWS; July 20, 2017). However, Macron may appear hypocritical, if he fails to re-increase military spending from next year as he promised. Anyway, it is not clear when the economy will turn well enough to reboot the expenditure. Therefore, France is in a tricky position in the Western alliance.

One of Macron’s options to resolve such a quandary is to deepen defense ties with the United Kingdom despite Brexit. According to recent Wikileaks, Macron’s e-mail interactions reveal that France is considering whether to advance the CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) of the EU or maintain the Anglo-French military ties, as Britain remains most active in defense among European nations. Quite importantly, Macron is skeptical to Germany’s initiative for integrated European troops, because she does not pay sufficiently for joint military projects (“Macron email leak: British military ties to France 'more important' than flawed Germany-EU plan”; Daily Telegraph; 31 July, 2017). In other words, Germany is not necessarily reliable for France, regarding fiscal constraints. Beyond the Euro-Atlantic sphere, France shares more interest with Britain. In the Middle East, both countries have naval bases in the UAE and Bahrain respectively, in order to fill the power vacuum, in the case of America’s pivot to Asia. Also in Asia, both France and the United Kingdom join the Operation Freedom of Navigation in the South China Sea.

Nevertheless, it is domestic politics that could have significant influence on the success of foreign policy endeavors. Currently, Macron’s approval rate at home is declining sharply. One of the reasons for growing unpopularity is fiscal austerity. The budget cut is not just for deficit reduction. This is also for vitalizing the private sector whose growth has been clouded out by government expenditure and regulations. But as the following Financial Times video on July 26 tells, fiscal austerity is inherently unpopular. Particularly, military, teachers, and local governments denounce the spending cut vehemently. De Villiers resignation inflicts damage beyond defense. Furthermore, people blame Macron’s tax cuts and economic liberalization, because they see those policies exacerbate inequality.

More problematically, most of the Macronistas of En Marche are young and inexperienced. Traditionally, 5th Republic French politicians have been mostly ENArque, but Macronistas are represented by startup businessmen. Their lack of government experience confuses French politics (“Macron’s Revolution Is Over Before It Started”; Foreign Policy --- Argument; August 14, 2017). Ironically, Macron faces the same kind of trouble that his ideological opponent Trump does. His début was so impressive, but currently, En Marche needs a Nestor to rebuild his leadership. Can Macron’s policy advisor Jean Pisani-Ferry assume this role?

Monday, July 31, 2017

Don’t Dismiss the Insult to Akie Abe’s “English Fluency”

At the last G20 Hamburg summit, President Donald Trump sat next to Akie Abe, and said that the Japanese First Lady was so inept at speaking English that she did not even say “hello”, in an interview with the New York Times, dated on July 19, which turned out very controversial. The Anlgo-American media argued against him, and quite a few of them said Akie was cautious enough to avoid unexpected troubles if she speak something to Trump (”JAPAN’S FIRST LADY AKIE ABE MYSTERIOUSLY COULDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH WHEN SHE MET DONALD TRUMP AT G-20”; Newsweek; July 20, 2017).

Nevertheless, it does not matter so much, whether someone speaks English well or not. Rather, it is more problematic to shame someone in public, particularly a First Lady of a country. The media around the world, notably those of Anglo-American, should have talked about this. In ant case, Trump is so shameless as to enjoy locker room talks in public spaces, and therefore, it is quite unlikely that he cares how anyone whom he mentioned feel about what he says.

Among the US presidents from both parties, Trump is extremely illiterate in world history and culture, and I do not expect him to understand traditional Japanese compassion. However, I have to tell that Trump’s remark is quite unfavorable in terms of Western moral and ethics. Nevertheless, he has believed “only those who makes money is the winners of the society”, throughout his life, and thus, he may not give any consideration to gentleman-like behavior and presidential dignity.

However, we should not dismiss that his Slovenian wife Melania was scoffed for her foreign accented English when she gave an endorsement speech to him during the campaign. It was his supporters who reacted vehemently against that. In view of this, I would have to think that Trump’s utterance to humiliate Akie in public for her English implies that he does not love his own wife.

Furthermore, I suspect that Trump thinks lightly of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe deep in his heart. Abe rushed to meet Trump before his presidential inauguration, and he played golf with him after the inauguration. Trump turns cheerful when someone praises him like this, as also seen in the cases of Chris Christie earlier in the campaign, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions until he changed his mind in view of increasingly robust probe on the collusion with Russia. But we cannot dismiss Trump’s disrespect to Japan. Therefore, Japanese opinion leaders should protest strongly to Trump’s rude remark to Akie.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trump Should Abstain from Getting Involved in Diplomacy

Quite deplorably, it has turned out that President Donald Trump has not changed his America First campaign promise during the election, and more painfully, he ruined every effort to rebuild mutual trust with allies that his own cabinet staff had done before his trip to the Middle East and Europe. Shortly after Trump's inauguration, Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited Europe to reaffirm American commitment to the trans-Atlantic alliance, which soothed anxieties among Europeans. They paved the way for Trump’s diplomatic début on the global stage as the president. However, his trip has just raised questions about American dedication to regional stability. Now, we need to think seriously of Trump as a security risk, due to his poor understanding of the American role in global security. This risk was expected since his election campaign.

Let me talk about his attendance to the NATO summit first. At the meeting, Trump did not mention Article 5 obligations of mutual defense, which raised critical concerns on both sides of the Atlantic, because American presidents have always referred to this. More startlingly, he admits that he didn’t know much about NATO during the election, when he said the alliance was obsolete (“Trump didn’t know ‘much’ about NATO when he called it ‘obsolete’: report”; Hill; April 24, 2017). There is no wonder why he did not understand the importance of Article 5. Trump’s dismissal of the core of collective defense has astonished European allies, and bewildered his foreign policy staff. In fact, along with Mattis and Tillerson, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster recommended to include Article 5 in Trump’s speech draft. But the fact that Trump did not mention it implies he does not respect their expertise, and acts as he likes however dangerous it is (“The 27 Words Trump Wouldn’t Say”; Politico; June 9, 2017). Instead, Trump blamed low defense spending among European allies at the dinner. He even said he would pull the United States out of European defense. That has simply made America distrusted. Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Jim Townsend comments bitterly that Trump’s improper remarks indicate his lack of self-control to manage national security (“Trump Discovers Article 5 After Disastrous NATO Visit”; Foreign Policy; June 9, 2017).

Such ignorance and immaturity brought problems in the Middle East as well. While accepting Saudi Arabia’s bid for infrastructure investment in the United States, Trump permitted them to denounce and isolate Qatar in the region. Actually, Trump was primarily interested in business on his visit to the Middle East, and he did not listen to his advisors about the complicated nature of regional security (“Trump and the Damage Done”; Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; June 16, 2017). Qatar may be relatively conciliatory to Iran, but she hosts the largest US naval base in the Middle East. Actually, autocratic Saudi Arabia and her followers, including Egypt, the UAE, and Bahrain worry press freedom in Qatar, which gave rise to the Arab Spring. See the video below.

Therefore, Saudi Arabia offered a generous investment deal to Trump, in order to make use of his character of craving for flattery and respect, so that she can win his recognition to impose diplomatic blockade and sanctions on Qatar (“Saudi Arabia stroked Trump's ego. Now he is doing their bidding with Qatar”; Guardian; 7 June, 2017).

But rather than strengthening the anti-Iranian alliance in the Gulf, his generosity to Saudi Arabia’s pressure on Qatar has complicated regional power rivalries. Turkey intervened to help Qatar, because the Erdoğan administration endorses the Muslim Brotherhood that took power in Egypt during the Arab Spring (“Saudi Arabia is playing a dangerous game with Qatar”; Financial Times; June 15, 2017). As a result, tensions among Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are intensified. Trump’s reckless approach confuses American Middle East policy as well. At the Congress, Republican Senator Bob Corker denounced Trump’s tweet that agitated feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as the Chairman of Foreign Relations Committee (“Foreign Relations chairman stunned by Trump's Qatar tweets”; Hill; June 6, 2017). More seriously, a chasm has arisen between the President and the Department of Defense. The Pentagon and the Department of State defends Qatar from Trump’s pro-Saudi verbal abuse (“Trump takes sides in Arab rift, suggests support for isolation of Qatar”; Reuters News; June 6, 2017). As in Europe, current cabinet members and government bureaucrats are compelled to make huge efforts to do damage control.

In view of his diplomatic fiascos, I hope that Trump will not repeat the same mistake in East Asia, where Pence and Mattis reassured continual American military presence. Particularly, Japan and South Korea deadly need such reassurance to manage the North Korean crisis. As in Europe, Trump’s cabinet members did good jobs. However, if Trump were to visit the Far East, we would have to worry about his reckless remarks that would jeopardize the trans-Pacific security partnership. Currently, East Asia is one of the deadliest front lines of a 19th century-styled great power rivalry. Trump’s imprudent gaffe could trigger unexpected tension. Particularly, an insensitive remark about history would complicate relations among China, Japan, and South Korea. Remember, when he accepted China’s historical view to please Xi Jinping at Mar a Lago, South Korea rebuked harshly. Also, Asia does not need an ostracized ally like Qatar.

Trump’s ignorant and insensitive gaffes annoy the Axis of Adults in his cabinet, including McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. But among them, only Mattis keeps independent position. Also, any policy made by the cabinet is carried out by career diplomats, in order to ensure American interests. They even make every effort to lessen imposed damages by Trump, and keep friendly relations with foreign partners. Typically, when the President called London Mayor Sadiq Khan a terrorist, American diplomatic corps worked very hard to mitigate antipathy among British political leaders, and keep the special relationship. Despite their dedicated service to the nation, Trump rewarded them with a huge budget cut of the Department of State, and Tillerson just followed this (“Trump Is Cutting Into the Bone of American Leadership”; News Week; June 18, 2017). Clearly, the incumbent president is a heavy burden for American senior foreign policy officials.

Though Trump himself is a critical national security risk, Visiting Professor Anne Applebaum at the London School of Economics argues that it is quite dangerous to take all the responsibilities of diplomacy away from Trump. Technically, she is completely right. Let me mention her case about the war in Afghanistan, in which Mattis assumes full responsibility to command US forces there. Policymakers, both inside the United States and abroad are skeptic to Trump’s understanding of global security so much that they welcome Mattis leads the war. However, Applebaum points out institutional problems with this. Foreign policy run by a military technocrat lacks political legitimacy, because democracy requires support from the Congress and other governmental agencies to carry out the strategy. Also, she argues that military strategy needs policy coordination with other agencies, and the Pentagon cannot lead everything (“Why ‘Mattis in charge’ is a formula for disaster”; Washington Post; June 23, 2017).

But Trump is too incompetent to oversee the problem beyond sectional interests and to make a right decision. This is typically seen in his ignorance about the value of foreign aid in American diplomacy. Actually, it is military professionals, including Secretary Mattis, Ex-Army General David Petraeus, and Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, who understand the value of non-military aspects like foreign aid far better than Trump, through their experience in the battlefield. Interdepartmental coordination would be a problem, if some cabinet member were to lead national security policy. In that case, Vice President Mike Pence can oversee foreign policy of the cabinet. His visits to Europe, Japan, and South Korea are helpful to wipe out their worries about the alliance with America. Foreign service officials are dismayed with Trump’s poor understanding of diplomatic jobs and awkward governing skills (“US diplomats are increasingly frustrated and confused by the Trump administration”; Business Insider; July 2, 2017). His recent attendance to G20 simply impressed American isolation from the world. Shortly after his meeting with Putin on this occasion, his remark to strengthen cybersecurity cooperation with Russia startled the national security community in Washington. As a Japanese citizen, I do not want Donald Trump to visit Japan, as global security risks with his whimsical utterance are expected, like the cases in Europe and the Middle East.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Couldn’t Abe Have Mediated Merkel and Trump at G7?

Shortly after the NATO and the G7 summits this month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s commented bitterly to question the validity of the alliance with the United States and continual partnership with post-Brexit Britain, which startled the media and intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic (“After G-7 Summit, Merkel Says Europe Can No Longer Completely Rely On U.S. And U.K..”; NPR News; May 28, 2017). We know that Donald Trump is the worst American president both in terms of personality and political insights. Moreover, his uncultured words and deeds on his visit to Europe simply ruined American national dignity, as typically seen in his shoving of Montenegro Prime Minister Duško Marković in public at the NATO summit (See the video below). No other presidents, whether Republican or Democrat, have behaved so impolitely as Trump did.

Merkel’s resentment to him is widely shared among the global public. Yet, her harsh remarks raise critical concerns in the trans-Atlantic community. While admitting Trump’s fatal error to deepen American isolation at NATO and G7 meetings, Gideon Rachman comments critically to Merkel’s provocative remarks as European nations have failed to make sufficient efforts wipe out Trump’s doubts about the trans-Atlantic alliance for 4 months ever since his inauguration, particularly in burden sharing. Moreover, she blamed Britain along with Trump’s America for acting self-interestedly to disunify the Western alliance. Actually, Britain takes sides with the EU on climate change, and is fully committed to NATO. As Ranchman argues, Merkel is irresponsible to confront Britain and dismiss facts, just to proceed Brexit talks in favor of Germany. This simply weakens the Western alliance based on democracy and human rights values furthermore, that has already been inflicted horrible damages by Trump (“Angela Merkel’s blunder, Donald Trump and the end of the west”; Financial Times; May 29, 2017).

Merkel’s “German Gaullism”, which Ranchman criticizes so bitterly, reflects German domestic politics and European regional security. Trump’s contempt for European allies distresses German voters, and anti-Trump appeal is vital for Merkel to win the general election in September. Also, most of the NATO members except Britain and a few countries fail to meet the 2% of GDP for defense requirement, and they want Germany to stand firmly against Trump’s pressure on their behalf. In view of such domestic and international aspects, German élites equate the Trump phenomenon and Brexit, and they want Anglo Saxons to respect their standing in the Continent (“How to Understand Angela Merkel’s Comments about America and Britain”; Economist; May 28, 2017). Germany’s pursuit of self-reliance goes beyond verbal, and it is coming into practice. Merkel made a deal to incorporate Czech and Romanian troops into the German command structure for joint defense, this year (“Germany Is Quietly Building a European Army Under Its Command”; Foreign Policy --- Report; May 22, 2017). Every word and deed by Germany comes from critical alert to Trump’s alt-right vision of the world.

Considering trans-Atlantic affairs ever since Trump’s presidential inauguration, it was quite predictable that Germany and America would confront nastily each other at G7. Among the member states, it was Japan that was in the best position to mediate both. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has visited Trump before and after his inauguration to secure Japanese national survival, and to gain more leverage to manage international problems. Therefore, some Japanese opinion leaders argued that Japan use the Trump shock as an opportunity to boost her international standing. Whether to agree with them or not, Abe failed to play a vital role to bridge Trump and Merkel at the last G7. Actually, Abe was the second most experienced leader after Merkel, while British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron were newcomers to the Summit as Trump was. However, the emergent threat of North Korea was so critical that Abe needed to call an attention to Far Eastern security among European leaders.

It is quite regretful that both Western and Japanese media hardly considered Japan’s special advantage to lessen the trans-Atlantic rift. But this is not just the media’s fault. In Nagatacho, Abe has been preoccupied with so-called corruption scandals over the Moritomo Gakuen and the Kake Gakuen affairs, though his direct involvement in them is regarded doubtful. The Prime Minister is frequently bothered by daily chores. It is the role of the foreign and other civil service, intellectuals, and other stakeholders to provide national leaders with big pictures of international politics, for better preparation to attend key diplomatic events.

But things are not too late. To begin with, Japan can explore a close contact with the Macron administration, since leaders of both nations met each other at G7. Macron is an Atlanticist, and also advocates soft and practical agreements on Brexit, while Merkel keeps hard and dogmatic attitudes to Britain (“Macron ‘in favour of a softer deal’”; Times; April 25, 2017). Despite criticism to flattery, Abe’s experience with Trump and contacts with him are assets, and a good partner is helpful to make use of them. The job of mediating Germany and the United States is very difficult, but extremely important. Even if Trump is impeached, the scars left on the Western alliance is too deep to heal soon. Therefore, Japan needs to start it as early as possible.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Is Trump Really More Resolute than Obama?

President Donald Trump’s surprise attack against Assad’s Syria for their use of nerve gas astonished the global public as he was reluctant to intervene there. More startlingly, Trump gave a humanistic speech to show sympathy to gas attack victims in Syria, though his Muslim ban presidential orders were repeatedly rejected by the Federal Court. This is regarded as a strong warning against North Korea that defies the nuclear nonproliferation order through consecutive ballistic missile tests. However, it is inappropriate to assume that Trump is shifting away from notorious America First. Also, it is utterly wrong to understand that Trump is more reliable than strategically patient Obama. Trump may demonstrate prompt and steadfast response, but he does not have clear strategies to manage the crises in both Syria and North Korea. Nor does he have some kind of clear visions to make a deal with Russia and China. In any case, the current crisis in Syria and North Korea is a critical test to foresee Trump’s foreign policy.

Let me talk about Syria, first. Shortly after Trump launched a missile attack against the Assad regime, it appeared somewhat he was returning American foreign policy to the normal track from hermit isolationism. It is widely known that Obama’s failure to punish Assad when Syria crossed the redline to use chemical weapons in 2013 has lowered American influence in the Syrian Civil War critically, while augmented Russian and Iranian presence there. Therefore, Robert Kagan urges the Trump administration to act furthermore to help anti-Assad forces, and ultimately, to stop refugee outflux from Syria (“It’ll take more than a missile strike to clean up Obama’s mess in Syria”; Washington Post; April 7, 2017 and “'This is not the end': John McCain warns Trump, torches Rand Paul on Syria missile strikes”; Business Insider; April 7, 2017). However, Trump has not revised his strategy of embracing Assad and Russia to defeat ISIS.

Geopolitically, Syria is just beside the Northern Tier of the Middle East, where Russia and Britain confronted in the 19th century, and the Soviet Union and the United States did during the Cold War era. Currently, Vladimir Putin is exploring a czarist ambition to expand Russian influence in this area, from Turkey, Iran, to Afghanistan. Russia is hollowing NATO’s air defense system by exporting S-400 missiles to Turkey (“Turkey says in talks with Russia on air defense system”; Reuters News; November 18, 2016). Also, Russia helps Taliban uprisings in Afghanistan (“Afghanistan to investigate alleged growing military relations between Taliban and Russia”; International Business Times; December 8, 2016 and “Russia is sending weapons to Taliban, top U.S. general confirms”; Washington Post; April 24, 2017). Nevertheless, Trump’s missile attack was not the Copernican turn of his Syria and Northern Tier policy. As show in his gaffe about the Civil War (“He lacks a sense of American history and its presence with us today.”; National Review Online; May 3, 2017), he is so illiterate in history that he hardly understands the implication of Russian infiltration to the Anglo-American hegemonic frontline in the Middle East. The missile attack was more to demonstrate the power to North Korea than to regain American control in Syria. In addition, his sudden use of MOAB was so unilateral that people in Afghanistan were outraged as they felt themselves experimented for the attack on North Korea (“Why the Big US Bomb Was Dropped on Afghanistan”; VOA News; April 14, 2017). In any case, Trump’s Middle East strategy is not so much more resolute than Obama’s.

Then, I would like to mention North Korea. Seemingly, Trump is overturning Obama’s strategic patience that failed to stop the Kim regime from advancing nuclear bomb and ballistic missile technologies. But in reality, Trump relies on China to settle the dispute. China just wants to keep status quo, and is reluctant to impose long term sanctions (“Trump’s Risky Reliance on China to Handle North Korea”; Diplomat; April 24, 2017). More problematically, Trump’s understanding of security in the Korean Peninsula is extremely questionable. Also, he outraged South Korea on history as he remarked that Korea was a part of China (“South Korea to Trump: We’ve never been part of China”; Hill; April 20, 2017). Here again, he does not understand delicate problems associated with history in East Asia, and more appallingly, he was not ashamed of his ignorance and insensitivity in foreign history and culture. More problematically, Trump bullies South Korea so much on THAAD deployment and trade that National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster and Congressman Ed Royce urge him to focus on imposing harder sanctions on North Korea rather than bickering with an ally (“Congress wants Trump to pressure North Korea, rather than U.S. allies”; Washington Post; May 1, 2017). Meanwhile, Japan manages to avoid such conflicts with the Trump administration, though his “racketeering” outraged both American and Japanese experts during the election campaign.

Nevertheless, despite flamboyant words and deeds, Trump’s approach to North Korea is nothing so innovative. The United States waits for them to abandon nuclear weapons, while asking China to pressure furthermore. That is almost the same as Obama’s “strategic patience”. Actually, the catastrophic consequences of the war against North Korea are so obvious that few options are left for the United States, whoever the president is. In a circumstance like this, any conflict with South Korea over the issues like history and THAAD payment, is undesirable. In that case, South Koreans would be tempted to appeasement with an increasingly nuclearized North Korea rather than committing to the alliance with the United States (“Trump’s North Korea policy sounds a lot like Obama’s ‘strategic patience’”; Washington Post; April 29, 2017).

Besides specific aspects in detail, we have to see the inherent problems of Trump diplomacy. Both in Syria and North Korea, relations with Russia and China are critical. The missile attack in Syria does not imply that he has overturned pro-Russian policy. Most noticeably, Trump has not condemned the recent human rights oppression in Russia, though it was supposed that his friendly relation with Putin ended. The Kremlin murdered human rights activists of Nikholai Gorokhov (“Lawyer for Russian Whistleblower’s Family Falls Out of Window”; Wall Street Journal; March 22, 2017) and Denis Veronenkov (“Former Russian politician killed in Ukraine”; World Israel News; March 23, 2017), and arrested Alexei Navalny for leading nationwide anti-corruption protests (“Russian police detain hundreds during anti-corruption protests”; Euronews; 27 March, 2017). Abiding by national norms and criteria, any president, regardless of partisanship, should denounce Russia, and uphold American values against dictatorship.

To the contrary, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outraged the Washington foreign policy establishment, when he said scornfully about the importance of human rights and American values in foreign policy (“Tillerson calls for balancing US security interests, values”; AP News; May 3, 2017). This is startling, but what I expected. The media gave us an impression that Trump was shifting away from Russia shortly after the Syria attack, but as shown in the Comey case, his ties with Russia are inextricable. Trump has every reason to dismiss human rights oppression in Russia. Seemingly, he is shifting to bipartisan mainstream, as tensions between Russia and the West grew over the Baltic and the Black Sea regions. Still, Trump has been facing policy gaps with his national security staff since pro-Russian Michael Flynn was replaced by H. R. McMaster. While Trump sees Russia a strategic partner to manage Middle East terrorism, McMaster values the Western alliance as a former aide to John McCain (“WILL NEW NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MCMASTER CLASH WITH DONALD TRUMP ON RUSSIA?”; News Week; February 22, 2017). Also, foreign policy cabinet members of the Trump team are unanimously hardliners against Russia.

Meanwhile, James Carafano, Vice President of the Heritage Foundation and ex-foreign policy advisor to Trump during the transition period, says that Trump’s stances to Russia has not changed despite the Syria attack and vocal support for NATO. In his view, Trump just pursues practical deals with Putin (“On Russia, Trump and his top national security aides seem to be at odds”; Washington Post; April 18, 2017). If this is true, it is unclear how Trump will make a deal with Russia over security of Europe and the Middle East, while his own cabinet leaders are critically alert to Putin’s Neo-Eurasianism. Similarly, Trump’s deal-oriented direction on China raises another concern. At the bilateral summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump even said that he would be willing to make a concession on trade conflicts with China, in return for more pressure on North Korea (“On North Korea, Trump signals break with US-China policy”; CNN News; April 18, 2017). Such a deal-oriented policy swing provokes worry among regional allies whether Trump’s America is really committed to the denuclearization of North Korea. Rather, Trump could reach a half way agreement to admit their nuclear status, as far as their missiles do not reach the US mainland. Actually, former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns expresses a dire concern that Trump regards America as a hostage to the world order that she made (“The risks of the Trump administration hollowing out American leadership”; Washington Post; April 19, 2017).

Furthermore, Trump’s continual obsession with anti-establishment and anti-bureaucrat sentiment is a fatal problem. As Kunihiko Miyake, Research Director of the Canon Institute for Global Studies, comments, Trump is still so deeply indulged in campaign mindsets that he has not grown up to think and act presidentially (“Trump has not shed election mode yet. Will the Obama care repeal failure awaken him?”; Sankei Shimbun; March 30, 2017). The media may have lauded when Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council, but he still holds the Chief Strategist position in the White House. Also, it is utterly wrong to assume that Bannon’s decline and its consequential boost of the Ivanka Trump-Jared Kushner will lead the Trump administration to go more moderate. Their rise is turning the government increasingly family dominated, and ultimately, making America a Third World kleptocracy. Moreover, their growing influence erodes the authority and credibility of highly educated and trained civil service. If their expertise and dedication are sidelined by a dressmaker girl and a real estate boy, the rule of law and governmental transparency will collapse, which will endanger American democracy. Bannon and the Ivanka-Kushner duo are two sides if the same coin. Therefore, I strongly agree with Anne Applebaum for her resentment (“Ivanka Trump’s White House role is a symbol of democratic decline”; Washington Post; April 27, 2017).

Judging from all the points I mentioned, Trump is neither more resolute nor reliable than Obama. The only hope within the Trump administration is military professionalism of James Mattis and H. R. McMaster, that could drive US foreign policy towards a more mainstream direction. That may contradict with civilian controlled democracy, but there is no other alternative as long as Donald Trump still stays in power.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Third Times, Selected for International Publication

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

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

I am honored to be selected for the third time.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Can Germany Really Lead Western Democracies?

Can we expect Germany to be the bearer of global morals and norms, such as human rights and free trade? Normally, hardly anyone asks a question like this, but the advent of “America First” Trump administration terrifies foreign policy pundits around the globe. If America were to withdraw from the world order that she made, someone else needs to replace. In such a destabilized global security atmosphere, it is nothing odd that people anticipate German Chancellor Angela Merkel to stand out the most vocal critic against nationalist US President Donald Trump to defend Western democratic values. Merkel impressed the global public with her steadfast attitude to deny Trump’s fake claim of Germany’s freeride on NATO, while advocating immigration tolerance and free trade, at the last US-German summit (“Opinion: Clumsy Trump meets confident Merkel”; Deustche Welle; 18 March, 2017). Shortly after the visit to the White House, Merkel met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to address a joint message against protectionism, and even launched a new plan for an EU-Japanese free trade agreement (“Abe, Merkel take stand against protectionism”; Nikkei Asian Review; March 21, 2017). Prior to these diplomatic successes, former Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin in the Clinton administration commented that Trump’s self-interested nationalism and naïvely pro-Russian views are eroding American leadership, while boosting experienced and consummate Merkel’s reputation in the Western alliance (“The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump”; Politico; March 16, 2017).

However, Germany is by no means a superpower candidate. In terms of sheer hard power, Germany is far smaller than the United States. American GDP is 6 times larger than German one in 2016. Military power is no comparison. Germany’s real power lies in multilateral diplomacy. Aligned with France, Germany has been the anchor of European integration. Also, Germany is a vital nation in the age of NATO and EU expansion to Mitteleuropa. More importantly, the euro is the second largest IMF Special Drawing Rights currency, owing to the German economy. We can see the euro a de facto Deutschemark. Therefore, it is nothing strange that people expect Germany to counterbalance Trump’s America through leading a coalition of Western democracies, if this administration infringes on liberal and democratic values. But if Germany is so reliable, British Prime Minister Theresa May would have taken much softer Brexit. Above all, May would not have been so flattering to Trump when she visited the White House. This is also the case with Abe, though he raised the case against Trump’s protectionism with Merkel at the bilateral talk. Above all, he even met Trump before the presidential inauguration. Pax Germanica cannot replace Pax Americana, even if Trump abolishes all the global engagement, and simply pursues his perceived national interests. Therefore, it is necessary to assess current German weaknesses to assume proactive roles in the world.

The most evident weakness is defense contribution to the trans-Atlantic alliance. Germany’s defense spending is far below the NATO requirement of 2% of GDP, which erodes her credential to lead Europe against Trump’s poorly rooted skepticism to NATO. Moreover, security challenges have been diversified since the end of the Cold War, such as Islamic extremism in the Middle East and Africa, cyber warfare, and resurging Russia. But after the Ukrainian crisis, Germany has become more aware of regional security, and she is re-boosting defense expenditure since Cold War heydays. This is irrelevant to Trump’s pressure (“MP claims increased German defence spending would alarm European neighbours”; UK Defence Journal; March 14, 2017). The biggest economy in the EU, Germany can boost European defense a lot, once she is determined to build up her military capability. However, Germany’s defense augmentation is too modest to meet the NATO pledge, because she is still in pacifist mindsets like Japan (“Amid Growing Threats, Germany Plans to Expand Troop Numbers to Nearly 200,000”; Foreign Policy --- Cable; February 23, 2017).

Though some people expect Merkel’s Germany to stand against ignorant, irresponsible, and unpredictable Trump, the landscape of international politics is not necessarily favorable to this country. Merkel herself comments such an idea “grotesque” and “absurd”. Despite Germany’s long-standing liberal foreign policy after World War II, Germanophobia is still prevalent throughout Europe. Due to the rise of right wing populism in Western Europe, and autocratic governments in Poland and Hungary, Germany is more isolated in Europe than popularly believed (“The isolation of Angela Merkel’s Germany”; Financial Times; March 6, 2017). In addition, Germany is not necessarily good at taking leadership in the economy, as typically seen in the Euro crisis. Particularly, the global public sees her remedy debt crisis in Greece and Cyprus somewhat bullying and reluctant (“Blame Germany for Greece’s uphill euro zone struggle”; Globe and Mail; April 24, 2015 and “Cyprus showcases Germany's clumsy leadership in Europe”; EUobserver; 19 March, 2013).

Germany may be a locomotive to sustain European and global order, but she cannot act alone. Her leadership rests on a staunch Franco-German axis. However, the international presence of France is weakening these days. I have been wondering why the third largest nuclear power in the world is so obscured, despite the power shift to the Indo-Pacific region in international politics. People take Brexit seriously, partly because France fails to live up to what they expect. Though France has the same number of votes in the IMF, her budget contribution to the EU is almost half as large as that of the United Kingdom. According to the budget survey of 2015 by the European Commission, the EU would have lost 12 billion euros if Britain had left, while losing 6 billion if France had done. In addition, the total defense expenditure of France was almost the same as that of militarily reluctant Germany, while Britain spent 1.5 times more than she did in 2016 (“How Brexit Means EU Loses Cash, Influence, Might: Six Charts”; Bloomberg News; February 27, 2017). The Franco-German tandem worked well when both countries in a mutually complementary relation. However, as German preeminence grew in European economic and monetary integration after the Cold War, France has been dwarfed precipitously. A revitalization France is necessary for Germany to exert more leadership in global and regional affairs.

The most imminent problem is the rise of right wing populism in elections in Europe, including Germany and France. Fortunately, the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated the nationalist opposition Geert Wilders in the last Dutch general election (“Steve Bannon’s dream of a global alt-right revolution just took a blow”; New Republic --- Minuites; March 15, 2017). This will be a critical damage to National Front leader Marine Le pen in France and AfD leader Frauke Petry in Germany. The French election will be held on April 23 and May 7, and it is most likely that the presidential race will be intensified between a centrist ENArque Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen (The Amazing Race: Tracking the twists and turns in France’s presidential election”; LSE Blog --- EUROPP; March 9, 2017). Meanwhile, in Germany, though Merkel is supposed to win in the September 24 general election, popular fatigue with established political parties is widespread, and frustration with tolerant immigration policy is growing. A coalition of Merkel’s Christian Democrat Party (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) led by Martin Shulz may stop the AfD (“When is the German federal election 2017? Will Angela Merkel LOSE power? “; Express; March 16, 2017). However, SPD also suffers from anti-establishment sentiments among voters (“Socialist Schulz loses early momentum in German election race”; CNBC; 10 March 2017). On the other hand, it is noteworthy that GreenLeft leaped greatly to win 14 seats in the parliament from 4 before the last Dutch election (“GreenLeft proves to be big winner in Dutch election”; Guardian; 16 March, 2017). Greens are cosmopolitan by nature, though anti-business. They will be a strong counterbalance against right wing populism in Germany.

In view of international and domestic challenges as I mention hereby, Germany needs to adapt the Franco-German axis to the new age. In the past, Germany and France rivaled against the Anglo-American duo over the influence within the trans-Atlantic community. However, the axis needs to evolve. French Gaullism has become already outdated, and both NATO and the EU have expanded eastward. Therefore, it is no use for the Franco-German axis to assume themselves to represent the Continental interest against the Anglo-Saxon supremacy. Rather, the Franco-German tandem should be more inclusive to rebuild Western democracy, and embrace Britain, Japan, and bipartisan mainstream foreign policy architects in the United States who strongly oppose Trump’s vision of the world. Therefore, Germany has to improve relations with Britain over Brexit. As to Japan, Abe confirmed common values and commitment to liberal world order with Merkel on his visit. Let’s see how Germany and her partners will act in practice.