RealClearWorld Articles

The Transatlantic Relationship Was Already Dying

David Wemer - November 30, 2016

Although America’s political theater has long fascinated and entertained Europe, real estate mogul Donald Trump’s entry into politics has provoked more fear than excitement on the other side of the Atlantic. The election of the brash businessman has caused some to already declare the Transatlantic relationship dead. Trump’s lukewarm statements toward NATO, his radical anti-immigrant proposals, and his embrace of Russia will make it difficult for European leaders to embrace him. For many, the Transatlantic community, the bedrock of global democracy, appears to be crumbling.

Yet, while Trump’s election has perhaps put the final nail in the coffin, the bond between the United States and Europe was already on life support well before any votes were cast this November. Recent years have seen a slew of high-profile disagreements on issues including Russian sanctions, government data collection and surveillance, and counterterrorism. In addition, the Obama administration has openly pushed for a “pivot” away from Europe and the Middle East toward the Pacific theater, and leaders on both sides of the Atlantic have struggled to agree on new trade deals. Once considered paramount for both Europe and the United States, today the transatlantic partnership has faded in significance. While many have bemoaned this development, it is not so much a political failure, but rather a sign of what Transatlantic ties have accomplished in transforming the international community.

The Transatlantic relationship -- a term used to define the shared defense, economic, diplomatic, and cultural ties between the United States and the democracies of Europe -- was born out of necessity after the Second World War. The fragile states of Western Europe relied on the United States to help rebuild their shattered economies, to guard against Communist pressure within their politics, and to defend against potential Soviet invasions. The United States, for its part, was paranoid of potential Communist domination in Europe and relied on its European allies to offset the growth of Russian power among Eastern European nations. Although disagreements and tensions routinely surfaced during the Cold War, the common goal of defeating Communism cemented the Transatlantic alliance as the cornerstone of each side’s foreign policy.

Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, the necessity of this alliance is now in question. Economically, Europe has transformed from a dependent of the United States to a primary competitor. At the same time, the fall of the Soviet Union has drastically reduced the threat of direct military conflict in the Continent. While Europe still must confront evolving security problems emerging from the Middle East, North Africa, and a more assertive Russia, these threats pale in comparison to those once posed by the Soviet Union. With Europe rich and the Soviet threat defeated, many Americans including Trump have questioned the need for using American resources to defend Europe. Why, they ask, should the United States continue to be responsible for the defense of these nations who are not actively threatened by a global power and who are more than capable of paying for their own defense?

The Swamp of War

Andrew Bacevich - November 29, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s message for the nation’s senior military leadership is ambiguously unambiguous. Here is he on 60 Minutes just days after winning the election.

Trump: "We have some great generals. We have great generals."

Lesley Stahl: "You said you knew more than the generals about ISIS."

Trump: "Well, I'll be honest with you, I probably do because look at the job they've done. OK, look at the job they've done. They haven't done the job."

The Surest Measure of How China's Economy Is Losing

Derek Scissors - November 29, 2016

American presidential elections are a patchy time for the use of facts. It turns out presidential transitions are, too. Donald Trump as president-elect has triggered a slew of comments and articles about China’s pending leadership of the world economy. Journalists and pundits may value words over money; economists should not.

There are data, grounded in real-world calculations, that show China’s economic importance falling -- not rising slowly, nor staying stable, but falling. The most important indicator is net private wealth, which is the single best measure of a country’s economic size and of the pool of resources available to its public sector for military or social spending.

In work dating back to 2000 and carried out with no geo-economic agenda, Credit Suisse has estimated private wealth. The new estimates, through the middle of 2016, show American private wealth at $84.8 trillion and Chinese private wealth at $23.4 trillion. Moreover, the gap is widening. With $60 trillion less in private wealth than the United States, China’s global economic leadership is a fable.

Private Wealth

A Fight for the Soul of the French Right

Robert Zaretsky - November 22, 2016

On Sunday night, as the returns were being counted in the first round of the French presidential primary for the conservative Les Républicains party, the nation’s political landscape shuddered not once but twice. Taking by surprise commentators and pollsters, former Prime Minister François Fillon came in first with 44 percent of the vote, outdistancing the favorite, former Prime Minister Alain Juppé. But -- and here the earth shifted a second time -- he also doubled the score of his onetime boss, former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who finished a distant third.

Overnight, Nicolas Sarkozy -- who for better and worse had dominated the French political scene for nearly two decades -- became history, while the man he condescendingly referred to as his “collaborator” became France’s future.

During the five years he served as prime minister, Fillon was widely seen as the brake to the bling-blinging of his boss. Stolid, steady, and sturdy, Fillon offered a soothing contrast to the sharp elbows and jutting jaws that marked Sarkozy’s confrontational approach to politics. Either unable or unwilling to turn politics into performance, governance into spectacle, Fillon at times was dismissed as “Mister Nobody.”

But, of course, only a Mister Somebody can win, as did Fillon, nearly half of the four million votes cast in the conservative primary. (Intriguingly, about 15 percent of those who voted in the open primary situate themselves on the political left.) Moreover, he is a somebody who in less contentious and more constant fashion embraces many of the policies on which Sarkozy had campaigned. The chance to have someone with Sarkozy’s values, without having to deal with Sarkozy himself in the Elysée, proved irresistible. As the political commentator Jérémy Collado remarked: “François Fillon was the alternative for those who wanted to avoid Nicolas Sarkozy, all the while remaining firmly on the right.”

Consequences of a U.S.-China Trade War

David Benson - November 21, 2016

In the wake of a uniquely unpredictable U.S. election, international relations scholars are now trying to predict how a Donald Trump administration will affect American foreign policy. The president-elect’s repeated criticism of Chinese trade policy during the campaign has brought even more attention to the crucial U.S.-China relationship. Regardless of the president, a fragile Chinese economy is entering a tense phase, and Trump's election suggests that American domestic economics are likely to further raise the stakes.

Until recently China had been alarmed at the possible passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which could put them at a trading disadvantage compared to member states. Trump -- who pledged to abandon TPP during his campaign -- has no doubt eased more than a few minds in Chinese policymaking circles. Unfortunately, the real estate mogul’s willingness to abandon the TPP reflects lower support in the United States for free trade, which is just as bad for China.

China's economy is still heavily reliant upon exports, especially exports to the United States. Diminished returns from free trade will put increased pressure on China's already weakened economy, and the likelihood of civil unrest in the country will increase. China is a large economy, mostly by virtue of its population.  GDP per capita remains just below $8,000, and that GDP is not equally distributed, meaning the common Chinese has little wiggle room before economic contraction becomes catastrophic. Put simply, China can ill afford to reduce exports.

Trump's victory reflects dissatisfaction with globalization in the United States. Such dissatisfaction has manifested itself around the world, and consequently was likely to find home in America eventually. While on balance free trade has been good for the United States, not everyone has benefited equally. Additionally, globalization has imposed unwelcome changes to domestic social structures. Support from free trade skeptics has freed the president-elect from some constraints to renegotiate free-trade agreements, and puts pressure on him to do just that.

Mitt Romney for Secretary of State

Harry Kazianis - November 19, 2016

Donald Trump and Mitt Romney: political allies? Now there is an idea I never thought I would put to paper or pixel. And yet, there it is. 

Proving that anything is possible in American politics, Team Trump is contemplating the 2012 Republican nominee for president as the next Secretary of State. Despite a war of words between both men that seemed more personal than political, President-elect Trump now seems poised to make amends with one of his harshest critics, hosting him yesterday at his New Jersey golf course for what seems was a substantive discussion of world affairs. 

Clearly such discussions are warranted. The post, which would make Romney America’s chief diplomat, is of supreme importance -- Trump must consider the appointment very carefully. The world is replete with challenges: The Islamic State is still a major threat, Russia can cause huge problems in Ukraine and Syria, and China wants to dominate the Asia-Pacific. The new administration will come into office on day one needing the most talented men and women it can recruit. 

By whatever metric Trump may choose to judge, Mitt Romney is clearly the best candidate for the job. The reasons, when considered from a pragmatic and non-political standpoint, are clear. I would offer three key points for why Trump could make no better choice than Mitt Romney: 

Why Are We Bringing Montenegro Into NATO?

L. Todd Wood - November 18, 2016

The world has changed with the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Business as usual is clearly over. That is a good thing.

Trump said during the campaign, to much derision, that the relationship between the United States and its NATO partners needs to be re-examined. Countries that are not paying their fair share should be made to feel uncomfortable. They have been existing under the nuclear security umbrella of the United States for too long, all the while taking our companies to court for antitrust issues. No longer should the national security or economic situation of the United States be put on the back burner to the globalist agenda. The needs of a progressive Europe will come second. Many NATO governments need to do some soul-searching about the role they are playing in collective defense.  

The United States can no longer afford to defend the world, at least not until we get our own fiscal house in order. This means we should stay out of conflicts where our national security is not directly threatened. The world is no longer black and white; it is much more gray than it used to be.  

Amid this change in circumstance, we are enlarging NATO, but why? Does this process make us more safe? Of course, the newly minted members of the alliance will sleep better at night; but do we really want to be putting the lives of American men and women on the line for some of these countries? Do we really want to be spending more money on the defense of Europe when our debt is on its way to $30 trillion?

Think the World's a Mess? 4 Things You Can Do

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos - November 17, 2016

Brexit. Trump. Climate change. The financial system. The arms trade. Hardliners. You name it, it’s causing anxiety. The state of the world upsets you, but what can you, a poor little meaningless individual lost in a powerful and complex system, do to change anything? How can you make any difference?

There are actually numerous ways you can engage politically – as often as every day. Here are four to think about.

1. Be a reflective producer

What we do as a job ends up being our biggest contribution to society in terms of productive capacity. We spend decades labouring in a particular sector of the economy and for particular employers, producing a particular “output”. Some of these jobs are neutral, some harmful, some more helpful.

Jobs in finance, agriculture, manufacturing, NGOs, marketing, energy or education fulfil different functions in society. Even within these sectors there are differences in the moral stature different employers and employees can genuinely claim for themselves.

Come the Revolution

George Friedman - November 17, 2016

When the Bolsheviks took power, their intention was to create the dictatorship of the proletariat. They took control of government buildings in St. Petersburg, and the trains and telegraph system that tied the country together. They also formed an army to fight a civil war against a counterinsurgency of monarchists who intended to destroy the Bolsheviks. British and American troops supported these Russians.

Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky was given the task of forming the Red Army, and he didn’t have much time given what was arrayed against him. One problem was that he had never served in an army, let alone commanded one. Vladimir Lenin, who led the revolution, appointed Trotsky primarily because Lenin trusted him, not because Trotsky had experience building an army, although he had read several books on the subject. Lenin trusted Trotsky would not betray him. In a revolution, the hardest thing to know is who will betray you and who will not. Anyone could be an opportunist, an agent of the enemy or a turncoat. During revolutions, competence is a luxury.

Vladimir Lenin addresses the Red Army on May 5, 1920 in Moscow. In the original picture, Leon Trotsky and Lev Kamenev stood on the left of the platform. They were later removed from the image. AFP/Getty Images
Lenin understood his dilemma, and one of his first acts was to create the state security apparatus – the Cheka – led by former patrician Felix Dzerzhinski. The Cheka was heir to the Czarist Okhrana and the father of today’s Federal Security Service. As an intelligence agency, the Cheka’s initial task was to spy on the members of the apparatus Lenin was building and eliminate those who might betray the revolution.

What drove Lenin was this: He wanted to liquidate the old regime – a very antiseptic term for killing those who comprised it. The problem was that if he killed them he would have few experts who knew how to run trains or command an army. The Bolshevik leadership was composed of intellectuals who wrote impressive books on what would happen, come the revolution, and who made speeches on the subject but didn’t actually know how to do anything. Once the revolution ends, knowing how to make stirring speeches to Moscow’s workers is less important than making things work.

Can Trump Keep His Balance in Asia?

Bates Gill - November 17, 2016

During his first Asian trip as president, in 2009, Barack Obama said, “[t]here must be no doubt. As America’s first Pacific president, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world.”

Following on that declaration, America’s so-called pivot to the Asia-Pacific aimed to bolster American influence in the region through deepened economic interaction, greater diplomatic engagement, stronger promotion of human rights and democratization, and an increased U.S. military presence. The pivot toward the Asia-Pacific, or the rebalance as it has since become known, became one of the Obama administration’s most prominent foreign policy initiatives.

Seven years later, the policy has led to many successes. Stepped-up American engagement helped midwife the remarkable democratic transition in Myanmar; deepened U.S. ties to states in Southeast Asia (including the unprecedented summit in California earlier this year between Obama and the leaders of the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations); and saw the expanded presence of U.S. forces, ships, and aircraft in places such as Singapore, the Philippines, and Australia. The reason is simple. American engagement in the Asia-Pacific is not only a strategic imperative for the United States, but is also encouraged and welcomed by most of the region.

However, it has not been all smooth sailing. The past year has been an especially difficult one for U.S. policy in the Asia-Pacific. Indeed, as the Obama administration winds down, the pivot appears to be increasingly in trouble.  

Europeans Will Now Decide What Europe Will Be

Josef Janning - November 17, 2016

Despite his celebration this weekend with British politician Nigel Farage -- in a Trump Tower golden elevator, no less -- the president-elect of the United States is not an anti-European in the sense we in Europe are most familiar with.

And despite his “Brexit plus, plus, plus” predictions, Donald Trump’s presidency does not necessarily presage an attempt to disrupt or to destroy European integration. Trump is no Farage or Marine Le Pen. In fact, President Trump will care little about Europe and whether it rises or falls. What Trump wants is to right the imbalance between the commitments and returns he sees in the United States’ foreign relations. Like the now-wealthy nations in East Asia, EU countries fit Trump’s dictum about self-defense and American support: The United States should not provide to them what they could afford themselves.

What this means is that what Europe is to become will be for the Europeans to decide.

This could hardly be news to European policymakers. No president has ever spelled out the link between burden-sharing and the U.S. security assurance in such drastic terms as has Donald Trump, but several have looked at the issue in similar ways, particularly since the demise of the Soviet Union. Other presidents have muted their criticism because of the value of U.S.-led alliance systems to America’s global role. Now, the precondition for partnership with the United States will be Europe's ability to defend itself, and no longer its inability to do so.

A Simple Tool For Understanding Trump

Reva Goujon - November 16, 2016

We hear all the time about how the world "should" work. Self-proclaimed liberals and conservatives, Keynesians and Reaganites, humanists and hawks, globalists and nationalists have crammed the airwaves and filled our Twitter feeds with policy prescriptions, promoting their worldview while scorning others'. But after the emotionally charged year this has been, I suspect many people are growing weary of big theories and cursory character assassinations. Instead, it may be time to replace the pedantry with something more fundamental — and less divisive — in which to ground our thoughts and make sense of the world.

Rather than focusing on what should happen, perhaps we would do better to turn our attention to what will happen. And in this, geopolitics can come in handy. It is a deceptively simple tool, one that won't bury you in academic pretension or require a fancy algorithm to model. But its simplicity doesn't make it any less powerful. When you boil down the frothy mixture of ideas, personalities and emotions that have bubbled up over the past year, what is left are some fairly obvious answers on how we got to this point and, more important, where we are heading.

Geography Doesn't Argue

It all starts with the map. And not just any map, but one that emphasizes topography over political borders. The beauty of such a map is that it doesn't leave much room for polemical debate. As the Dutch-American geopolitical thinker Nicholas Spykman once put it, "Geography does not argue. It simply is."

It Did Happen Here

Nick Turse - November 15, 2016

“So is he going to win?”

The question washed over me as I slumped in my hard plastic chair.  I had passed the day walking through a town where most homes lay in ruins and human remains were strewn across a field, a day spent looking over my shoulder for soldiers and melting in the 110-degree heat.  My mind was as spent as my body.

Under an inky sky ablaze with stars, the type of night you see only in the rural world, I looked toward the man who asked the question and half-shrugged.  Everyone including me, I said, thought Donald Trump was going to flame out long ago.  And he hadn’t.  So what did I know? 

At that point, I couldn’t bear to talk about it anymore, so the two of us sat speechless for a time.  Finally, my companion looked back at me and broke his silence.  “It can’t happen, can it?” he asked.

How Trump Can Make the Pivot to Asia Great Again

Harry Kazianis - November 14, 2016

Amid an endless stream of policy elite speculation over the greater meaning of a President-elect Trump, there are very real foreign policy challenges the next administration will need to tackle on day one -- a long list of problems that the Obama administration failed to address time and time again. 

I would argue there is no more pressing long-term challenge facing America internationally than the behavior of the People’s Republic of China. Beijing has made it clear that the regional order in Asia is not to its liking, and that it aims to change it. China pushes against Japan in the East China Sea, asserts that Taiwan is no more than a renegade province that needs to "come home," and engages in endless so-called salami-slicing -- island building in the South China Sea

Such change runs directly counter to the vital national interests of allies Washington has sworn to protect, and it undercuts the freedom of sea and air lanes that bring job-creating trade to and from America’s shores. Indeed, if China were to reduce the Asia-Pacific to nothing more than a sphere of Beijing's influence, it is a near certainty that other nations -- think Russia and Iran, for starters -- would copy China’s tactics -- tactics like creating borders around seas, pushing critical U.S. allies around, and bullying adversaries to change the global system as Beijing sees fit.  

A pivot that petered out

Why Trump Should Preserve the Iran Deal

Barbara Slavin - November 11, 2016

President Donald Trump is going to be a very busy man on Jan. 20, 2017, reviewing, revising, and in some cases reversing President Barack Obama’s legacy.

One very important element in that legacy that he should leave in place is the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) negotiated with Iran by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, Germany, and the European Union and implemented on Jan. 16 this year.

Unlike many of those who ran against him for the Republican nomination, Trump criticized the JCPOA during the campaign but did not threaten to rip it up on day one as president. For a businessman like Trump, it makes no sense to break a contract without a replacement in hand, especially when that contract is continuing to deliver important benefits to the United States and the international community.

Those benefits include:

President-Elect Donald Trump

George Friedman - November 10, 2016

Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States. The extent of the bewilderment is significant. The pollsters were shocked. The media was surprised. The financial markets were stunned. Many in the Republican Party were astonished. And the Democratic Party was totally taken off guard. The thought that a man with Trump’s values and behavior could become president was, to many, unthinkable. I do not mean that they disagreed with him, or hoped that Trump would lose. They thought it inconceivable that a man like Trump could win.

That is the reason Hillary Clinton lost. The Democratic Party that nominated her has moved far away from the party that Franklin D. Roosevelt crafted or that Lyndon B. Johnson had led. Their party had as its core the white working class. The liberalism of FDR and LBJ was built around this group, with other elements added and subtracted. Much has been said about this group having become less important. Perhaps so, but it is still the single largest ethnic and social group in the country.

This group, as I have argued before, is in trouble. The middle class, with a median take-home pay in California of about $4,300 a month, can buy a modest house and a car but certainly can’t afford to send their kids to college. Hence the massive student loans their children must take out. The lower-middle class has a take-home pay of about $2,600 a month. A generation ago the lower-middle class could buy a small house in a not-so-great neighborhood. Now they are hard pressed to rent an apartment. Liberals are concerned with inequality. People in the lower-middle class are simply concerned with making enough money to live a decent life. They are two very different things.

Trump, it turns out, understood this problem. He also understood that these people had lost the culture wars that had been waged for the past generation. Their churches and parents raised and taught them that homosexuality is a sin, as is abortion and premarital sex. Evangelical Christianity wasn’t so much the issue, but rather the gut values with which they were raised. Many of this class had sinned, but they knew it was a sin and they valued the standards they’d been taught, even when they didn’t live up to them.

Australia Must Prepare for an Asia Without America

Hugh White - November 10, 2016

Our first thoughts should be for Americans, and the damage that has been done to their institutions, their society and their national self-respect. But there is nothing to say about this American tragedy that has not been said far better by Americans themselves. So let’s leave it at that.

Our next thoughts should be for ourselves. It seems only prudent to expect that a lot will go wrong over the coming months and years, as America’s role in the world, including and perhaps especially in our region, swerves off the rails. The temptation will be to blame everything that goes wrong on Donald Trump. If only Hillary Clinton had won, we will be inclined to think, then all would have been well.

That would be a mistake. The problems that confront America in Asia are exacerbated but not caused by Trump’s idiosyncratic brand of pugnacious isolationism. They spring from a fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth and power.

America’s bipartisan foreign-policy establishment has never acknowledged the seriousness of China’s challenge to the US-led order, or the costs and risks to America of trying to resist it. The pivot therefore assumed that China could be persuaded or compelled to abandon its challenge though small symbolic gestures that cost America little. It has become steadily clearer that this is not true. But there was no sign at all from Clinton or her followers that they understood how and why the pivot was failing, and what could replace it.

Can America Remain a Pacific Power?

Michael Kugelman - November 7, 2016

Through his tough talk and shrill rhetoric, the president of the Philippines is giving voice to deep concerns quietly harbored by other leaders in the Asia-Pacific.

Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines’ shoot-from-the-hip president, has generated headlines for his withering and often profane anti-American views. He routinely insults the United States, and in recent days has suggested that such strident sentiment could translate to policy shifts. 

On Oct. 21, Duterte, speaking in Beijing, threatened his country’s “separation” from its long-standing alliance with the United States (a threat he later walked back somewhat). Then, on Oct. 26, this time speaking in Tokyo, Duterte called on U.S. troops to withdraw from his country within the next two years. Such a move would jeopardize a bilateral mutual defense treaty that is a cornerstone of the U.S. defense umbrella in Asia.

Coming from a leader in a region where the United States enjoys more friends than foes, this is all quite unsettling.

How the Elite Misjudge the U.S. Electorate on International Engagement

Jordan Tama - November 7, 2016

The long and divisive presidential election may soon be over, but one consequence of the campaign is likely to stay with us. In the Trump phenomenon, we have seen a surfacing of angry nationalism brought on by a portion of the American electorate who feel betrayed by political elites’ support for international engagement, free trade, and legal pathways for immigrants. 

Despite the noise and drama of the presidential campaign, survey evidence suggests that these views are not widely representative of public opinion but are a minority viewpoint -- one particularly pronounced among Trump supporters. 

But what do foreign policy leaders think, and do they have an accurate understanding of public opinion?

Under the aegis of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Texas National Security Network, we have just concluded a survey of nearly 500 leaders working for U.S. institutions with expertise on American foreign policy. They are drawn from the Executive Branch, Congress, think tanks, academia, media, business, labor unions, religious organizations, and interest groups.