Latin America experienced an unprecedented wave of left-leaning governments between 1998 and 2010. This volume examines the causes of this leftward turn and the consequences it carries for the region in the twenty-first century.The Resurgence of the Latin American Left asks three central questions: Why have left-wing parties and candidates flourished in Latin America? How have these leftist parties governed, particularly in terms of social and economic policy? What effects has the rise of the Left had on democracy and development in the region? The book addresses these questions through two sections. The first looks at several major themes regarding the contemporary Latin American Left, including whether Latin American public opinion actually shifted leftward in the 2000s, why the Left won in some countries but not in others, and how the left turn has affected market economies, social welfare, popular participation in politics, and citizenship rights. The second section examines social and economic policy and regime trajectories in eight cases: those of leftist governments in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, as well as that of a historically populist party that governed on the right in Peru.
Featuring a new typology of Left parties in Latin America, an original framework for identifying and categorizing variation among these governments, and contributions from prominent and influential scholars of Latin American politics, this historical-institutional approach to understanding the region's left turn—and variation within it—is the most comprehensive explanation to date on the topic.
Is the Greek crisis an isolated case or the first of a series of future failing developed states? The Greek financial crisis is not on the front page of the Financial Times anymore, but it is far from over. The financial crisis did not manifest itself in Greece alone. Ireland has also sought an equally large EU-IMF rescue plan. Portugal and Spain have been under the microscope of the media and credit rating institutions. Such other instances in the Eurozone’s periphery have repercussions for the currency as a whole as well as for the EU (Straubhaar, 2010). Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are members of the Eurozone area, which means that they share the same currency with economic giants such as Germany and France.
Analogies will be drawn in the coming weeks between the recent popular uprisings, most notably in Egypt, and the events beginning in 1989 and continuing into the early 1990s that brought democracy to much of the former Eastern bloc. In what is known as the third wave of democratisation (the first being in the early 1800s and the second being after the second world war), the Solidarity movement in Poland informed the peaceful transitions in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the transition to democracy in Hungary and the reunification of Germany.
It is no stretch to say that the political leadership and leaders of the opposition movements learned from one another throughout the tumult of the 1980s and into the 1990s. Much as social media today has been touted as a spur to democratic movements in the Middle East, pirate radio bombarded the Eastern bloc with information about democratic successes in other countries, as well as the ominous alternative posed by Tiananmen Square. But while the wave following the fall of the Berlin Wall created a period of unprecedented security across the European continent, the current wave of uprisings could create a corridor of failed states stretching from the Democratic Republic of Congo to the frontiers of Europe in southern Turkey.
The "fourth wave" narrative goes something like this: just as a host of communist dictators—Jaruzelski in Poland, Honecker in Germany and Németh in Hungary—were swept away by the third wave, the fall of Bakiev in Kyrgyzstan and Ben Ali in Tunisia and the uncertain perches of Mubarak in Egypt and Saleh in Yemen signal a new wave of democratisation. The continuing crisis in Egypt, Saleh's announcement that he will not seek re-election, the reshuffling of the Jordanian cabinet and whispers of protest in Syria contain the promise of a "1989 moment" throughout the greater Middle East.
But important differences between recent events and the third wave are already apparent. In the third wave, Romania was the only country that experienced a violent transition to democracy. Things look different this time around, in great part because today's nondemocratic leaders took their own lessons from the third wave. Instead of tanks and troops, and top-down repression a la Tiananmen Square the new oppressors of democratisation are the Basij, the "pro-government protesters," the plainclothes security personnel, the agents provocateurs inciting violence and instability.
As the iron curtain began to fall in Europe, leaders such as Honecker and Jaruzelski weighed the costs of violent repression on the stability of their regimes, essentially deciding between increased authoritarianism and liberalisation. If there truly is a "new wave", it is characterised by a group of regimes that have learned to pass the decision between power and stability on to the protestors by creating environments of insecurity and fostering the conditions for state failure through tactics such as throwing open the prison doors and sponsoring thugs engaged in street violence. The opposition movements are left to decide whether to continue to press for their ideal outcome while the apparatus of governance teeters closer to collapse, or to negotiate with the regime while facing the potential erosion of the movement's credibility.
Further complicating this "new wave" is the role political Islam plays in western security circles. The transition of Soviet bloc states into the democratic fold was seen and understood as a victory against an ideological enemy: the vast USSR. The third wave delegitimated the Soviet style of governance as the massive bureaucratic state crumbled under increasing pressure for political liberalisation, both internally and externally. In the "new wave", things are different. In the eyes of the west, the crowds are as likely to be its ideological enemies as are the regimes in power—autocracy in the presidential palace is balanced by the spectre of radical Islam in the streets. Whether these fears are well grounded remains to be seen, but western states look to the electoral successes of Hamas and Hezbollah as establishing a worrying precedent in the region.
And for all the democratising potential of social media, today's improved analogue to Radio Free Europe, its powers are particularised and circumscribed. While it is true that social media have increased the capacity of the population to hold autocrats more accountable, they cannot solve pressing problems such as blocked social mobility and sky-high unemployment rates. Even if today's movements manage to oust dictators and move toward free and fair elections, the frustrations and grievances of the populations supporting the movements will not necessarily be addressed. Such a development might lead to further disillusionment inside the protest movements—and this time with democracy.
The characteristics of this "new wave" matter for reasons that go beyond the potential satisfaction of seeing democracy flourish in new spots on the globe. Where in the past authoritarian leaders clamped down on their populations, snuffing democracy but maintaining security, there seems to be an emerging trend of authoritarian leaders letting their states collapse like poorly built houses of cards, with no guarantee of democracy or security.
While it is possible that the Egyptian uprising may result in a Turkish-style democratic state, a corridor of state failure from Kinshasa to Beirut is also not an unlikely outcome. That such stakes are now in play only underscores the necessity of re-examining the west's historical role in supporting the type of personalistic dictatorships that are now under siege, and the familiar cultural arguments that these states have never been democratic—and lack the capacity ever to be become democratic.
Co-author Wilder Bullard is a research assistant at the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia.
During the three days that the Greek Parliament was discussing and voting on the latest round of austerity measures, 138 police officers were injured, more than 500 protesters were hospitalized with breathing problems caused by the use of tear gas by the police, Syntagma metro station resembled a wartime hospital, tens of protesters were wounded, while 46 demonstrators were taken to police stations and 11 of them arrested on June 29 alone.
The police brutality was unprecedented according to Skai news and many witness accounts. Through Twitter, Facebook, email, and text messages, the Greek protesters spread the word of indiscriminate police beatings.
A peaceful protester injured by the police called a radio station to express his consternation at the attack he suffered at the hands of the police, “who are supposed to be there to protect citizens.” He further argued that he was there to “protest for Greece and its rights, so why was I attacked by another Greek?” Another citizen claimed that he was almost beaten by motorcycle police while walking around recording the events with a camera and that what saved him was an old expired press pass. At the same time, families were calling in reporting brute force without any provocation on their part. Many citizens, especially older ones, claim that they tried to talk to the police officers and dissuade them from using chemicals against simple protesters but to no avail.
Amnesty International had already condemned Greece for the use of force against protesters on June 15. June 29 was much worse.
There are several possible explanations for why Greek police used such force. One view is that it was hard for them to tell which were peaceful demonstrators and which were troublemakers. The police might have felt threatened by the mayhem. They may have determined that if they did not strike first, the protesters would attack them.
An alternative explanation is that the government wanted to break the “Indignant” movement using force. The vast majority of protesters saw the events as a strategy employed by the state to keep them from protesting. After all, most protesters were family types who were not going to remain there under such circumstances. And as expected, they fled the scene.
The ones left were younger, more determined and enraged and, again expectedly, engaged in street fights with the police. Thus, what was a peaceful demonstration that challenged the legitimacy of the government, if not the Parliament as a whole, turned into the “usual” fight between the “known unknowns” -- as they are often referred to -- and the police forces.
On top of this, some believe the government planted provocateurs among the peaceful protesters to justify the escalation. Regardless of whether this hypothesis is true or not, the mere perception is damaging to the reputation of the government and the police. Let’s hope that these events have not killed peaceful protest.
All this violence was happening while those inside the Parliament had just voted in favor of the new austerity measures. Many think that it was much more convenient for the government that people were discussing police brutality rather than the midterm plan that was being voted on. Regardless of motivation, that was indeed the case. The next day, June 30, when the government had to vote on the implementation law of the plan, there was hardly anyone in the ruins of Syntagma Square and the discussion within the Parliament had turned into a discussion about the quality of democracy and the right of people to demonstrate freely.
Public Order Minister Christos Papoutsis, who is ironically now called the citizens’ protection minister, made an analytical distinction between governmental and police responsibility.
The head of the main opposition New Democracy party, Antonis Samaras, suggested that the scenes raised questions about the existence of state-sponsored provocateurs. However, ND deputy Manolis Kefaloyiannis later rushed to congratulate the police officers and, together with Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, repeated the high number of police officers wounded during the street battles.
The leader of the right-wing nationalist Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party, Giorgos Karatzaferis, suggested that special recognition should be given to the Evzones presidential guards because they remained in position before the Parliament during the fighting despite the fact that tears were running down their faces due to the chemicals used against the protesters.
Dora Bakoyannis, the head of the Democratic Alliance political grouping who was expelled from the main opposition ND party in 2010, commented only on the destruction of Hania MPs’ offices by a raging crowd.
The parties of the left were furious and suggested that the democratic foundations of the political system have cracked.
Of course, in the end the vote passed.
Fareed Zakaria is one of our most perceptive analysts of
America's role in the world, and I generally agree with him. But in the case of
his new special essay for Time, "Are
America's Best Days Behind Us?," I think he paints too gloomy a picture of
American decline. Americans are prone to cycles of belief in decline, and the
term itself confuses various dimensions of changing power relations.
the American problem as imperial overstretch (though as a percentage of
GDP, the United States spends half as much on defense as it did during
the Cold War); some see the
problem as relative decline caused by the rise of others (though that
could still leave the United States more powerful than any other
country); and still
others see it as a process of absolute decline or decay such as occurred
fall of ancient Rome (though Rome was an agrarian society with stagnant
economic growth and internecine strife).
Such projections are not new. As Zakaria notes, America's Founding
Fathers worried about comparisons to the decline of the Roman Republic.
A strand of cultural pessimism is simply very American, extending back
the country's Puritan roots. English novelist Charles Dickens observed a century and a half
ago: "[I]f its individual citizens, to a man, are to be believed, [America]
always is depressed, and always is stagnated, and always is at an alarming
crisis, and never was otherwise."
In the last half-century, polls showed
Americans believed in their decline after the Soviet Union launched
1957, after Richard Nixon's devaluation of the dollar and the oil shocks
in the 1970s,
and after the closing of Rust Belt industries and the budget deficits of
Reagan's administration in the 1980s. At the end of that decade, a
majority of Americans believed their country was in decline; yet within
the next 10
years they believed that America was the sole superpower. And now, after
the 2008 financial crisis and recession, polls show a majority believes
decline again. These
cycles of declinism tell us more about Americans'
collective psychology than underlying shifts in power resources, but as
journalist Gideon Rachman argued
in these pages recently, maybe this time decline is real. After all, as the
Congressional Budget Office warns, on current trends the U.S. national debt
will be equal to its GDP in a decade, and that will undermine confidence in the
Zakaria lists other worrying
indicators related to education and infrastructure. According to the OECD,
American 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. The
United States is 12th in college graduation rates, 23rd in infrastructure, and
27th in life expectancy. On the other side of the ledger, America ranks first among
rich countries in guns, crime, and debt.
All these are very real problems,
but one could also note that the United States is still first in total R&D
expenditures, first in university rankings, first in Nobel prizes, first on
indices of entrepreneurship, and according to the World Economic Forum, the
fourth-most competitive economy in the world (behind the small states of
Switzerland, Sweden, and Singapore).The
United States remains at the forefront of technologies of the future like biotechnology
and nanotechnology. This is hardly a picture of absolute economic decay, ancient
Rome style. The truth is that one can draw a picture of the United States today
that emphasizes either dark or bright colors without being wrong. No one can be
sure which shade better portrays the future because the number of potential
futures is vast, and which one comes to pass will depend in part on decisions
not yet made.
Drawing on the thinking of Mancur
Olson, the late great political economist, Zakaria believes that America's very
success has made its decision processes sclerotic, like that of industrial Britain. But
American culture is far more entrepreneurial and decentralized than that of Britain,
where the sons of industrial entrepreneurs sought aristocratic titles and
honors in London. If Olson is right, Zakaria says, the solution is to "stay
flexible." And despite recurrent historical bouts of concern about it,
immigration helps keep America flexible. In 2005, according to Forbes, foreign-born immigrants had
participated in one of every four technology start-ups in the previous decade.
As Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew once put it, China can draw on a talent pool of 1.3
billion people, but the United States not only draws on a talent pool of 7
billion, but can recombine them in a diverse culture that enhances creativity
in a way that ethnic Han nationalism cannot.
Zakaria also worries about the
inefficient American political system. But the Founding Fathers created a
of checks and balances precisely to preserve liberties at the price of
efficiency. Moreover, just because we are now going through a period of
partisan politics and mistrust of government doesn't mean the American
political system is in decline. Some aspects of the
current mood are probably cyclical and related to unemployment, while
represent discontent with the bickering and deadlock in today's
process. Compared with the recent past, party politics has indeed become
polarized, but nasty politics is nothing new and goes all the way back
to the Founding Fathers. Supporters of John Adams reputedly once called
Jefferson "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a
half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father."
the problem of accurate assessment is that faith in government became
abnormally high among the generation that survived the Great Depression and won World
War II. Over the long view of American history, it was overconfidence in
government in the 1950s and early 1960s, not low levels thereafter, that was
the anomaly. American government and politics have always had problems,
sometimes worse than today's. In assessing political decline, one must beware of
the golden glow of the past. It is easy to show decline if one compares the
good in the past with the bad in the present.
addition, we sometimes mistakenly idealize the efficiency of the
process in authoritarian countries like China. When it comes to
for example, it is far easier to build high-speed rail lines where there
weak property rights and few lawyers. But if one looks at the important
question of how Chinese leaders are struggling to implement their 12th
five-year plan -- reducing dependence on exports, shifting to internal
reducing regional inequality by moving industry to the west -- China is
efficient. Although central bankers and economic planners know that
yuan would promote these goals and help head off inflation, a strong
of coastal export industries and associated local party bosses seeks to
preserve the status quo.
notes that one Asian country after another is learning the secrets of Western
success, and he is right. In The Future
of Power, I argue that one of the two great power shifts of this century is
the recovery of Asia to what it represented before the Industrial Revolution
led to the ascendance of the West: more than half the world's population and its
economic production. We should herald Asia's recovery -- it has brought
millions out of dire poverty-- but
those with excessive fear of China should remember that Asia is not one entity.
In his important book Rivals, Bill
Emmott reminds us that Japan, India, and others that are concerned about the
rise of China welcome an American presence. Can anyone similarly imagine Canada
and Mexico seeking a Chinese alliance to balance American power in their
Nor is China likely to surpass
America anytime soon. Yes, barring political uncertainties, China's size
high rate of economic growth will almost certainly increase its strength
to that of the United States. Still, China won't necessarily become the
powerful country as a result. Even if China suffers no major domestic
setback, many of the current projections based on GDP growth alone are
too one-dimensional. They ignore what are likely to be enduring U.S.
military and soft-power advantages, as well as China's geopolitical
disadvantages in the internal
Asian balance of power.
is correct that the United States faces serious problems. But issues that
preoccupy us today, such as long-term debt, are not insoluble; see for example,
of the Simpson-Bowles commission, and remember that only a decade ago some
people worried about the government surplus.
Of course, such solutions may forever remain out of reach. But it is worth
distinguishing situations for which there are no solutions from those that could,
in principle, be solved.
danger to America is not debt, political paralysis, or China; it is parochialism,
turning away from the openness that is the source of its strength and resting
on its laurels. As Zakaria says, in the past, worrying about decline has helped
avert it. Let us hope that his intelligent though darkly drawn picture will yet
again start that healthy process.
Using state-level variation in the timing of political reforms, we find that an increase in female representation in local government induces a large and significant rise in documented crimes against women in India. Our evidence suggests that this increase is good news, driven primarily by greater reporting rather than greater incidence of such crimes. In contrast, we find no increase in crimes against men or gender-neutral crimes. We also examine the effectiveness of alternative forms of political representation: large scale membership of women in local councils affects crime against them more than their presence in higher level leadership positions.
Harvard Business School Working Paper No. 11-092, March 2011.Download PDF
Three weeks of peaceful street protests; a couple of Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) members of parliament resigning this week; a few more PASOK members of parliament challenging the leadership qualities of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou; rampant unemployment; violent clashes with the police; and one of the worst financial crises in modern Greek history culminated today in...a cabinet reshuffle.
Prime Minister Papandreou is facing the most intense criticism since his election in October of 2009, both from his party and from Greek society. What on Wednesday night looked like a grand coalition government with the main opposition party, Nea Demokratia, was transformed on Thursday into an intra-party “reshuffling for elections.”
The new government was sworn in on June 17 and will be up for a confidence vote on June 21. The opposition parties are not impressed with the reshuffle. Most citizens reacted by saying “same old, same old.”
Not much is expected from this new government. Why is that? To begin with, Papandreou's effort to regain the confidence of the Greek public began with the ambitious idea of a coalition government including many technocrats but ended up with a mild cabinet reshuffling satisfying the narrow interests of the ruling political party rather than effectively tackling the mounting problems.
For example, his efforts to recruit Lucas Papademos, an experienced economist that has served as vice president of the European Central Bank, as a Minister of Finance did not bear fruit. This is just one example of the failure of Papandreou to bring technocrats into the government. Instead, Evangelos Venizelos, a professor of constitutional law and until today defense minister, took up the burden.
Moreover, Theodoros Pangalos remained deputy prime minister despite the fact that he has been the target of most of the chants of the street protesters for the past three weeks. Most ministers were not changed and three important ministers were demoted but not fired—the Ministers of Finance, Interior, and Justice. However, there is a more positive way to read the news. Papandreou managed to build a team that agrees with him, to improve the internal cohesion of the party, and to share the burden with the rest of PASOK.
One step was to remove Katseli, who was probably a victim of her disagreements with the Troika (European Central Bank, IMF, European Commission), from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. To appease the political base of PASOK and silence a wave of internal criticism that has been mounting within his party he removed from the government some of his close friends that had been intensely criticized and included some of his personal critics in the government. Last but not least, by promoting Venizelos—his party rival and contestant for the leadership of the party just a few years ago—to deputy Prime Minister. Adding a second deputy Prime Minister position for Venizelos, Papandreou significantly changed the dynamic within PASOK.
Party cohesion is a arguably a precondition for the government to pass the new bundle of austerity measures required to secure more loans from the EU/IMF. Despite these cooptation tactics, however, the new government has already found its critics from within the party. A few minutes after the new government was sworn in, PASOK MP Voudouris argued that the reshuffle was unsatisfactory. Regardless, as a result of this reshuffle, the whole political party is seen as an “accomplice” of Prime Minister Papandreou in this effort.
There are also important changes in the functioning of the government. The Prime Minister re-created a “Government Committee”—something that has been a demand of many party members—where the most important policies are normally decided. The irony is that it is both oversized, with ten Ministers participating, and lacks the key Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense.
These changes aim to enhance Papandreou’s ability to delegate responsibility and for the government to coordinate more efficiently. Another important fact is that Pangalos will not be part of the “Government Committee” — something that might appease some of his many critics.
Turning to the Ministry of Finance—the hot potato of this affair—most people believe that Venizelos may be better in the negotiations than the previous Minister of Finance, Papaconstantinou. Venizelos is an experienced politician and charismatic speaker. He has served as minister of culture, justice, transportation, and development. Nevertheless, he is not an economist and thus he will have to rely on the advice of others.
Finally, two promising new faces in the government are Stavros Lambrinidis, (BA from Amherst, JD from Yale), the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, and LSE Professor Elias Mossialos, the new government spokesman and Minister of State.
In the meantime, this Sunday the Eurogroup is meeting in Brussels to decide on the next installment from the EU/IMF bailout package. It seems that the developments in Greece have also alarmed Sarkozy and Merkel to the point that they rushed to declare that they will provide further assistance to Greece and that the private sector can also participate in this scheme on voluntary basis — a highly contested point so far.
Nevertheless, with few exceptions, the changes have not impressed the Greek people—who are still waiting for social justice, more just redistribution, and have grown impatient with political parties— and it is unlikely that they will restore the confidence of our foreign creditors.
If this new government fails to regain the confidence of the people then we will have early elections. And one thing is certain. From these elections a one party government will not emerge.
Today's wide economic gap between the postindustrial countries of the West and the poorer countries of the third world is not new. Fifty years ago, the world economic order - two hundred years in the making - was already characterized by a vast difference in per capita income between rich and poor countries and by the fact that poor countries exported commodities (agricultural or mineral products) while rich countries exported manufactured products. In Trade and Poverty, leading economic historian Jeffrey G. Williamson traces the great divergence between the third world and the West to this nexus of trade, commodity specialization, and poverty.
Analyzing the role of specialization, de-industrialization, and commodity price volatility with econometrics and case studies of India, Ottoman Turkey, and Mexico, Williamson demonstrates why the close correlation between trade and poverty emerged. Globalization and the great divergence were causally related, and thus the rise of globalization over the past two centuries helps account for the income gap between rich and poor countries today.
The ripples from the debates in the capitals of European powers concerning military intervention in an oil-producing Middle Eastern country run by an enigmatic dictator once thought to have a WMD program spread far. Accusations of military adventurism under the cloak of humanitarian intervention strain alliances. This could be a description of the relationship between the Bush administration and the United Kingdom on one side, and France and Germany in the 2002–03 buildup to the Iraq War.
But now the roles have changed. US Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged caution and limited goals and methods. French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe recognized the Libyan rebels as the legitimate government and flew the first sorties against targets in Libya before the allies could agree on a proper course of action. Only Germany has remained constant by effectively withdrawing from not only the campaign in Libya, but from its Mediterranean NATO presence. What has changed?
The drama of the Surge, followed by the new administration in Washington, made uncertain the possibility of another military intervention in the Middle East or elsewhere. In the US and in France, Obama and the new French President Sarkozy opposed the war in Iraq and sought to rebuild their alliance. Although Sarkozy changed the direction of France’s foreign policy during the Chirac years, Rumsfeld’s label of Old Europe remained.
Sarkozy pushed and received parliamentary support for France's military mission in Afghanistan and, while holding the EU rotating presidency, spearheaded the effort to begin negotiations and a ceasefire for the Russia-Georgia War in 2008. France, from the opposition, began turning into a member of the “coalition,” leading up to a more aggressive role patrolling the Horn of Africa, conducting military operations in West Africa, and most recently in the Libyan and Ivory Coast interventions.
So what caused this change? New leadership in France, the United Kingdom and the United States? A spirit of multilateralism over unilateralism? Another period of UN activism, similar to the early 1990s—at least before the Somalia failure?
The legal explanation would be to assert that unlike the current campaign in Libya, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 had no direct and public support from the United Nations, the European Union, NATO, or the Arab League. However, while UN Security Council Resolution 1973 authorized a no-fly zone over Libya, France acted unilaterally, conducting offensive operations before the allies, both Atlantic and Middle Eastern, agreed to a course of action and the scope of operations. The public support of Arab states, absent in 2003, might have also added to the legitimacy of the French unilaterally beginning kinetic operations and recognizing the rebel leadership. The Tricolor can be seen waving in the streets of Benghazi.
But skeptics remain. Following a slow start getting in sync with the "Arab Spring," Sarkozy's charge in Libya comes from a desire to recover prestige lost in Egypt and Tunisia and hopes for his countrymen to rally around the flag during election season. A show of successful military intervention in the cause of humanitarian intervention can help in the polls. Still material determinists look to the oil refineries at Ras Lanuf or Brega and see an explanation there, but Ivory Coast is less of a clear-cut case.
While the true motivators for France’s “return” may remain unclear in perpetuity, a more assertive France has large implications for business-as-usual across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. When many European powers have contributed men and firepower to the mission in Libya, the European Union has been remarkably absent. When discussions of the Common Security and Defense Policy of the EU begin, the question "Where were you in Libya?" might be a difficult one to overcome.
Ironically, European states seem to take more action when the EU is not involved. Cathy Ashton, the bloc’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, was hardly central in the decision to intervene or the coordination of the multinational force. The unintended consequence of Sarkozy’s policy may be the erosion of the EU as a security policy-making institution. Until the crowds in places like Benghazi or Yamoussoukro cheer a flag with golden stars on a blue background, the Tricolor, the Union Jack, and the Stars and Stripes will continue to be the key players in international security.
Co-author Wilder Bullard is a research assistant at the Program on New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia.
In the wake of the Cold War, the United States faced an ongoing dilemma of superpower proportions: Should it accept the global policeman’s badge and use its military might to patrol the world’s trouble spots? In many cases, it did. Ironically, following a decade-long spending spree, the question is no longer whether the US should continue honoring this responsibility, but rather whether it can afford to do so.Trumpeting the benefits of economic interdependence around the globe, US policymakers have overlooked the potential costs of free trade and unrestricted capital flows that developing country politicians internalized years ago. Now U.S. officials are reminded that when economic interdependence turns into economic dependence, it creates a harsh reality where the politics of possibility can quickly become the politics of austerity. A growing foreign debt has not only changed US domestic politics, but also infused more of a multilateral tone into its global politics. Notwithstanding the US’s seismic economic and military strength, partisan conflict over domestic budgetary pressures exposes the fault lines of the post-Cold War hegemonic order.
Over the last decade, the US government adopted a strategy from the Latin American playbook, opting to use foreign funds to finance its budget deficits. In a management blunder of historic magnitude, George W. Bush swung the federal budget surplus deeply into the red. Borrowing trillions of dollars from foreigners, including China, the Bush administration funneled debt proceeds toward lofty tax cuts, a dual-front war in Iraq and Afghanistan, “global war on terror,” and homeland security spending. Shockingly, the Bush administration not only expanded national debt by one-quarter of its size in eight short years, but in doing so, became increasingly reliant on foreign creditors. This practice was a clear break from the past. By the end of Bush’s time in office, foreigners held about two-thirds of the government’s total debt.
In light of the dollar’s global reserve currency status, the US government should continue to readily attract foreign capital for the foreseeable future. However, the US suffers from a more immediate vulnerability. Against the backdrop of the Republicans’ mid-term election victory, spending cuts have again taken center stage. Reminiscent of the Contract for America, House Speaker John Boehner and his cadre of Republican peers are proposing billions in budget cuts that include foreign military and developmental aid. In his State of the Union address, President Obama similarly seized the “post-crisis” political window, emphasizing the need to reverse the country’s “legacy of deficit spending.”
The emergence of austerity politics in North America has important geopolitical implications. Is the United States’ ability for global leadership waning? While a wave of democratization and the proliferation of new states flourished in the 1990s under the watchful eyes—and active support—of the United States (and its allies), today this commitment may be wavering. The substantial drop in US foreign aid, investments and contributions toward weak states around the developing world could be seen as important signs of this trend. Pundits have commented on the US absence in the most recent wave of protests in the Middle East; part of this was dictated by the politics of austerity at home. Despite its low-profile and multilateral approach during the Libyan intervention, the Obama administration still met significant domestic resistance from across the political spectrum.
In the hopes of enhancing its geopolitical sphere of influence, the US government has often invested in the smallest nations (e.g. trading preferences, IMF financing privileges, military investments, and development aid). Indeed, although the economic rules of the game are skewed in its favor, the US sometimes changes these rules to benefit the smallest nations for political purposes. With the rise of austerity politics, however, the U.S. may not be as willing—or able—to extend such trade and finance benefits to smaller nations.
Cloaked in a rhetoric of economic nationalism and austerity, the US may withdraw support from small, strategically less important countries, like Djibouti, placing the latter’s economic and political survival at risk. The US urges developing nations to open their borders, yet it champions “Buy American” shovel-ready projects and its own protection for pharmaceuticals. Refusing to liberalize its agricultural sector, the US has left the multilateral Doha development round mired in a stalemate, instead aggressively negotiating bilateral deals with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia.
Faced with such economic institutional gridlock globally and higher budget constraints domestically, does the United States still have the political will and resources to preserve all of its spheres of influence? Is it willing to be the world’s sheriff, especially given its recent difficulties in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
There is a very real temptation for the United States to neglect the prosperity and security of the periphery. Mired in its own economic struggles, the US may contemplate withdrawing from its geopolitical commitments. But there is rarely a void in the international system. Other actors, such as Iran, Russia or China, may seek to fill it. Whether conflict is instigated internally such as in Libya or by the interference of stronger neighbors such as in Bahrain, political opportunism could quickly escalate into full-blown conflict. Like the slow plunging of ice shelves into the arctic, the vulnerabilities least visible from the center may be precisely those that most threaten the global system’s long-term viability.
Co-author Stephen B. Kaplan is an assistant professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.
This article examines the compelling enigma of how
the introduction of a new international law, the North American Agreement on
Labor Cooperation (NAALC), helped stimulate labor cooperation and collaboration
in the 1990s. It offers a theory of legal transnationalism—defined as processes
by which international laws and legal mechanisms facilitate social movement
building at the transnational level—that explains how nascent international
legal institutions and mechanisms can help develop collective interests, build
social movements, and, ultimately, stimulate cross-border collaboration and
cooperation. It identifies three primary dimensions of legal transnationalism
that explain how international laws stimulate and constrain movement building
through: (1) formation of collective identity and interests (constitutive
effects), (2) facilitation of collective action (mobilization effects), and (3)
adjudication and enforcement (redress effects).
America's last 10 years might be called “The Decade the Locusts Ate.’’ A nation
that started with a credible claim to lead a second American century
lost its way after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Whether the
nation will continue on a path of decline, or, alternatively, find our
way to recovery and renewal, is uncertain.The nation began the
decade with a growing fiscal surplus and ended with a deficit so
uncontrolled that its AAA credit rating was downgraded for the first
time in its history. Ten years on, Americans’ confidence in our country
and the promise of the American Dream is lower than at any point in
memory. The indispensable superpower that entered the decade as the most
respected nation in the world has seen its standing plummet. Seven out
of every 10 Americans say that the United States is worse off today than
it was a decade ago. While many of the factors that contributed to
these developments were evident before 9/11, this unprecedented reversal
pivots on that tragic day - and the choices made in response to it.
Those choices had costs: the inescapable costs of the attack, the chosen
costs, and the opportunity costs.Inescapable
costs of 9/11 must be counted first in the 3,000 innocent lives
extinguished that morning. In addition, the collapse of the World Trade
Center and part of the Pentagon destroyed $30 billion of property. The
Dow plunged, erasing $1.2 trillion in value. Psychologically, the
assault punctured the “security bubble’’ in which most Americans
imagined they lived securely. Today, 80 percent of Americans expect
another major terrorist attack on the homeland in the next decade.Were
this the sum of the matter, 9/11 would stand as a day of infamy, but
not as an historic turning point. Huge as these directs costs are, they
pale in comparison to costs of choices the United States made in
response to 9/11: about how to defend America; where to fight Al Qaeda;
whether to attack Iraq (or Iran or North Korea) on grounds that they had
chemical or biological weapons that could be transferred to Al Qaeda;
and whether to pay for these choices by taxing the current generation,
or borrowing from China and other lenders, leaving the bills to the next
generation.Unquestionably, much of what was done to protect
citizens at home and to fight Al Qaeda abroad has made America safer. It
is no accident that the United States has not suffered further
megaterrorist attacks. The remarkable intelligence and Special Forces
capabilities demonstrated in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden
suggest how far we have come.But
the central storyline of the decade focuses on two choices made
by President George W. Bush—his decision to go to war with Iraq and his
commitment to cut taxes, especially for wealthy Americans, and thus not
to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.The cost of his
decision to go to war with Iraq is measured in 4,478 American deaths,
40,000 Americans gravely wounded, and a monetary cost of $2 trillion.Bush
justified his decision to attack Iraq on the grounds that Saddam
Hussein might arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction, arguing
that “19 hijackers armed by Saddam Hussein… could bring a day of horror
like none we have ever known.’’ In retrospect, even Bush supporters
agree that we went to war on false premises—since we now know that
Saddam had no chemical or biological weapons.Suppose,
however, that chemical weapons had been found in Iraq. Would that have
made Bush’s choice a wise decision? What about the many other states
that had chemical or biological weapons that could have been transferred
to Al Qaeda, for example Libya, or Syria, or Iran? What about the state
that unquestionably had an advanced nuclear weapons program, North
Korea, which took advantage of the US preoccupation with Iraq to develop
an arsenal of nuclear weapons and conduct its first nuclear weapons
test?As for cutting taxes for the wealthy, Bush’s decision left
the nation with a widening gap between government revenues and its
expenditures. Brute facts are hard to ignore: having entered office with
a budgetary surplus that the CBO projected would total $3.5 trillion
through 2008, Bush left office with an annual deficit of over $1
trillion that the CBO projected would grow to $3 trillion over the next
decade.Finally, and most difficult to assess, are opportunity
costs, what could be Robert Frost’s “road not taken.’’ In the immediate
aftermath of 9/11, the United States was the object of overwhelming
international sympathy and solidarity. The leading French newspaper
declared: “We are all Americans.’’ Citizens united behind their
commander in chief, giving him license to do virtually anything he could
plausibly argue would defend us against future attacks.This rare
combination of readiness to sacrifice at home plus solidarity abroad
sparked imagination. Would Americans have willingly paid a “terrorist
tax’’ on gas that could kick what Bush rightly called America’s “oil
addiction’’? Could an international campaign against nuclear terrorism
or megaterrorism have bent trend lines that leave Americans and the
world increasingly vulnerable to future biological or nuclear terrorist
attacks? What impact could $2 trillion invested in new technologies have
had on American competitiveness?That such a decade leaves
Americans increasingly pessimistic about ourselves and our future is not
surprising. American history, however, is a story of recurring,
impending catastrophes from which there is no apparent escape—followed
by miraculous recoveries. At one of our darkest hours in 1776 when
defeat at the hands of the British occupying Boston seemed almost
certain, the general commanding American forces, George Washington,
observed: “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.’’
Most social scientists would like to believe that their profession contributes to solving pressing global problems. There is today no shortage of global problems that social scientists should study in depth: ethnic and religious conflict within and between states, the challenge of economic development, terrorism, the management of a fragile world economy, climate change and other forms of environmental degradation, the origins and impact of great power rivalries, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, just to mention a few. In this complex and contentious world, one might think that academic expertise about global affairs would be a highly valued commodity. One might also expect scholars of international relations to play a prominent role in public debates about foreign policy, along with government officials, business interests, representatives of special interest groups, and other concerned citizens. Yet the precise role that academic scholars of international affairs should play is not easy to specify. Indeed, there appear to be two conflicting ways of thinking about this matter. On the one hand, there is a widespread sense that academic research on global affairs is of declining practical value, either as a guide to policymakers or as part of broader public discourse about world affairs. On the other hand, closer engagement with the policy world and more explicit efforts at public outreach are not without their own pitfalls. Scholars who enter government service or participate in policy debates may believe that they are "speaking truth to power," but they run the risk of being corrupted or co-opted in subtle and not-so-subtle ways by the same individuals and institutions that they initially hoped to sway. The remainder of this essay explores these themes in greater detail.
KS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP11-030, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.Download PDF
Over the past quarter century, researchers have successfully explored
the inner workings of the physical and biological sciences using a
variety of social and historical lenses. Inspired by these advances, the
contributors to Social Knowledge in the Making turn their
attention to the social sciences, broadly construed. The result is the
first comprehensive effort to study and understand the day-to-day
activities involved in the creation of social-scientific and related
forms of knowledge about the social world.The essays collected here tackle a range of previously unexplored
questions about the practices involved in the production, assessment,
and use of diverse forms of social knowledge. A stellar cast of
multidisciplinary scholars addresses topics such as the changing
practices of historical research, anthropological data collection,
library usage, peer review, and institutional review boards. Turning to
the world beyond the academy, other essays focus on global banks, survey
research organizations, and national security and economic policy
makers. Social Knowledge in the Making is a landmark volume for a
new field of inquiry, and the bold new research agenda it proposes will
be welcomed in the social science, the humanities, and a broad range of
Like corruption, crime, and asbestos, “inflation” is a word that many
Americans imagine in all-red capital letters, flashing across TV screens
amid warnings of crisis. For anyone who remembers the gloomy, scary
1970s, when the inflation rate in the United States reached double
digits, the word is shorthand for an economy that has spiraled out of
control, the dollar losing value and prices climbing feverishly.
“Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber,
and as deadly as a hit man,” said Ronald Reagan in 1978, as nervous
citizens imagined the day when they’d have to push a wheelbarrow full of
cash to the grocery store in order to buy a loaf of bread.That
particular nightmare never came to pass, thanks to drastic measures
taken by the Federal Reserve. For the better part of the past 30 years,
the dollar has stayed stable, reassuring American families and the
nation’s trading partners, with the central bank standing guard over the
economy and doing everything necessary to keep inflation low.You
might say that Kenneth Rogoff has been one of the guards. As a research
economist at the Federal Reserve during the first half of the 1980s, he
helped ensure that the word “inflation” would never again flash across
American TV screens. His reputation as a conservative-minded inflation
hawk followed him from the Fed to the International Monetary Fund to his
current position in the economics department at Harvard.But then
came the financial crisis of 2008, and the ensuing slump. And as the
economy has continued to stagnate, Rogoff, 58, has become the
flag-bearer for an unlikely position: that as we struggle to help the
economy find its way out of the darkness, inflation could be the answer.
It’s time, Rogoff says, to put Reagan’s “hit man” to work for the good
guys.Over the past several years, Rogoff has emerged as one of
the world’s leading experts on the history of financial crises and how
they work, a unique perch that has given him a long view on what is
happening to our economy and what lies ahead. In the bestselling 2009
book “This Time Is Different,’’ he and Carmen Reinhart, currently a
senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics ,
laid out a detailed analysis of financial crises that have taken place
around the world going back 800 years, and they put forth an alarming
idea about our current predicament. What we’re going through, they
argued—what we’ve been going through ever since the subprime mortgage
crisis—has not been just a typical recession, as our leaders have been
treating it, but something much worse, something that demands
altogether different tools to stop it.One
of these tools, Rogoff believes, is a temporary burst of inflation. And
for the past several weeks, as the stock market has convulsed and
debate raged over the Fed’s next move, he has been making his case
publicly, through syndicated opinion columns, high-profile TV
appearances, and numerous interviews. It’s an argument that Rogoff
himself admits is “radical,” and one he says he’d rather not be making.
But as he sees it, what’s holding the country back from recovery is not
just a lack of consumer confidence or suppressed demand, as in a normal
recession, but an immense overhang of debt: thanks to the collapse of
the real-estate bubble, millions of American families owe so much to
banks that they’re focusing all their energy on paying down their debts
instead of spending their money on new investments. There will be no
recovery until the painful process of working through that debt is
behind us, Rogoff argues, and an increase in the annual inflation rate,
which has floated around 2 percent since the early 1990s,would make it
easier for debtors to pay down what they owe.“There’s
no penicillin for this,” he said in an interview. “There’s no quick
getting better. What you’re really talking about is taking the edge off
the downturn and coming back to normal growth somewhat faster.”Rogoff’s
call to raise inflation has come under attack from several different
directions. Some economists think it wouldn’t do any good—that trying
to raise inflation wouldn’t create demand or spur growth the way Rogoff
thinks—while others believe that, given that prices actually seem to
be in danger of falling at the moment, the Fed couldn’t make it happen
if it wanted to. But perhaps the biggest problem for Rogoff is that, for
most policymakers, elected and otherwise, the idea of courting
inflation on purpose sounds downright crazy—not to mention politically
disastrous.“Going around the country saying, ‘We need more
inflation’ is not going to be a big seller,” said Michael Mussa, a
senior fellow at the Peterson Institute and a former adviser to Reagan.
“Inflation means that the costs of everybody’s goods and services are
going up … And I believe it’s a substantial symbol of mismanagement by
the government and the central bank.”Rogoff, however, remains
convinced that as the situation grows more desperate, our leaders will
feel pressure to start considering their options with more open minds.
“As more and more people realize that we’re not quickly going back to
normal,” he said, “they become more flexible.”Though Rogoff speaks with unflinching steadiness, hearing him explain how
badly our leaders misdiagnosed the economy after the crash, one imagines
a doctor banging his fists against the door of a surgery ward, trying
to warn his colleagues that he has checked their patient’s chart and
realized they’re about to make a huge mistake.The mistake we all
made, as Rogoff sees it, was thinking this was going to be nothing more
than a regular recession, the same kind of thing that has happened in
the United States once or twice every decade for the past 150 years.
These cyclical recessions come and go, and we have a pretty reliable
playbook for dealing with them: usually, an increase in government
spending and lower interest rates to encourage money to flow. Recessions
tend to end after about a year, at which point unemployment starts to
fall and normal growth resumes.Far
less frequently, something more serious grips an economy: a financial
crisis that breaks the pattern, and from which it is much more difficult
to recover. Rogoff and Reinhart’s book suggests that such contractions
are characterized above all by severe, widespread debt, which leads to
long periods of economic stagnation and uncertainty. Rogoff puts our
current situation in that category, along with the Great Depression, and
he fears that if we do not act quickly and creatively to dig ourselves
out of it, we risk settling into a long-term slowdown along the lines of
what Japan has been going through since the 1990s. Mistaking this
crisis for a typical recession, he says, is like mistaking pneumonia for
a stubborn cold. “They’re very, very different animals.”The
animal we’re wrestling with today, of course, was born of the vastly
overheated real estate market that collapsed in 2007, temporarily
paralyzing the global financial system and taking some powerful banks
down with it. Today, its legacy is a towering mountain of consumer debt,
government debt, and millions of underwater mortgages that are gumming
up the economy and preventing it from coming back to life.“It’s
very unlikely that all these debts are going to get repaid in full,”
Rogoff said. Banks have loans on their books that people simply don’t
have—won’t have—the money to pay off, and expecting it to happen
means we’ll just stay frozen in place, waiting. What needs to happen,
Rogoff says, is “some transfer from creditors to debtors.” The ideal way
for that to happen, he says, would be through loan renegotiation,
whereby banks would forgive some homebuyers and strike repayment deals
with others. But that sort of piecemeal renegotiation has proved very
difficult to carry out.A
more viable way to start fixing the nation’s balance sheets, Rogoff
argues, is by inducing a temporary bout of inflation. If the Federal
Reserve raises its target inflation rate by several percentage points—up from around 2 percent, where it’s been for the past decade, to
somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 6 percent—and injects new money
into the economy until it gets there, then debtors will get some relief
and the wheels of the economy will once again start to turn.Rogoff
first laid out the argument for embracing inflation in one of his
columns in December of 2008—a move that came as such a surprise to
people who knew his reputation that he got letters from central bankers
who were sure they’d misunderstood him. Rogoff had worked at the Fed
under none other than Paul Volcker, whose mandate as Fed chairman was to
drive inflation down at any cost. Under Volcker’s watch, inflation fell
from 13.3 percent in December of 1979 to just 3.8 percent four years
later. And though Rogoff at the time was just starting out as an
economist—indeed, he was still transitioning from his first career as a
professional chess player—he soon became an intellectual force in the
movement to make central banks the economy’s first defense against
inflation. In 1985, he published what would become one of his most
widely cited academic papers in the Quarterly Journal of Economics,
arguing that healthy economies depended on central banks being reliably
committed to holding inflation down in all but the most extreme
circumstances.Rogoff says he hasn’t changed his mind on how
central banks should behave, and still thinks our fears of runaway
inflation are well-founded. He just thinks that right now, it’s a risk
worth taking. “There’s certainly some benefit in a society having a
very, very strong conviction about keeping low inflation,” Rogoff said.
“But I think right now it’s not helpful. You can have a very strong
conviction that you don’t want to take medicines … And I respect that,
but there are times when there’s really no choice.”Though
Rogoff’s idea about raising inflation has so far not gained much
purchase in the economics profession - Mussa, for instance, called it “a
hare-brained crackpot scheme”— he is not alone in his thinking.
Versions of the same call have been taken up by several prominent
economists across the political spectrum, including Olivier Blanchard,
the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund; Joshua Aizenman,
co-editor of the Journal of International Money and Finance; Harvard’s
Greg Mankiw, a former adviser to George W. Bush; and Paul Krugman, the
Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist.THOSE
WHO disagree with Rogoff cite several key objections. One is that
inflation can be hard to stop once it starts: if the Fed turned on the
spigot, there’s no guarantee they’d be able to turn it off before
inflation got out of hand. Another objection is that if the Fed does
raise its inflation target, pumping more money into the system and
allowing the dollar to lose some of its value, lenders here and abroad
will lose faith in the currency and respond by raising interest rates,
which would ultimately make it harder for Americans to borrow money. A
third objection is practical: that even if the Fed tried to trigger
inflation, it simply might not be able to. The problem with the economy
right now, some critics say, is a lack of demand for workers and
products, and blowing air into the money supply would not change that.“This
idea that there’s some separate policy instrument called ‘creating
inflation,’ I think, is a little problematic,” said Lawrence Summers,
the former secretary of the Treasury and Harvard president who also
served as the director of President Obama’s National Economic Council.
Increasing demand should be the primary goal, with inflation a possible
byproduct, Summers said. “I don’t think the idea that you could simply
get more inflation by saying you want more inflation is a promising
one.”Rogoff is not swayed by these arguments. He emphasizes that
the level of inflation he is calling for is very modest—and that
there’s no really no reason to think that the Fed would be incapable of
inducing it or reining it in at will. As for damaging the central bank’s
credibility, Rogoff reiterates the extraordinary nature of the present
circumstances. “This is a very exceptional situation—a once in
Halley’s Comet kind of phenomenon,” he said. As he wrote in his column
earlier this month, “These are times when central banks need to spend
some of the credibility that they accumulate in normal times.”Trying
to persuade central bankers to go for that plan involves a different
kind of problem: a political one. Inflation devalues the dollar and
makes things more expensive, making it an easy political target. Earlier
this month, as Wall Street and Washington waited to hear how the Fed
would approach monetary policy going forward, Texas Governor Rick Perry
more or less threatened Fed chairman Ben Bernanke with violence if he
“prints more money” before the next election. What he was talking about
wasn’t even inflation, but a policy called “quantitative easing,” in
which the Federal Reserve injects new money into the economy by buying
billions of dollars worth of Treasury bonds from banks. The Fed has
already tried this twice since 2008, and each time it has been
controversial. While Rogoff’s plan to raise the inflation rate target is
conceptually different from quantitative easing, it would involve the
same mechanism, and would push the same political buttons in an even
more extreme way.Underlying
that opposition is more than just patriotism: it’s also a moral
objection. Transferring the debt burden from borrowers to creditors,
after all, effectively bails out borrowers by punishing the banks that
lent them money, as well as devaluing the savings of their more prudent
neighbors. That kind of rescue plan strikes many as fundamentally
unfair.Rogoff understands this objection, and doesn’t dispute
that what he’s proposing is on some level unfair. But ultimately, he
argues, this contraction is dragging us all down together, and even
those lenders and savers will be better off if America’s debt overhang
is taken care of swiftly. Once that happens, and the economy starts to
recover properly, we’ll be able to focus on designing better policies
that will make us less vulnerable to financial crisis in the future. For
now, a little inflation might just be the cost of getting us to where
that might be possible.“One way or another,” said Rogoff, “we’re going to be doing things we would not dream we would ever do before this is over.”
The Treasury can cry foul all it wants, but the decision by Standard & Poor’s to downgrade America’s credit rating by one notch last
Friday, and the subsequent plunge in the stock market, are serious
symptoms of a loss of confidence—an assessment that is fundamentally
political, not economic.
There is little question about the technical ability of America to make
good on its debts—but there are grave questions about the political
system’s ability to resolve our nation’s financial problems.
The debt-ceiling deal between President Obama and Congressional
Republicans merely staved off a crisis of confidence for the moment. It
does not address our immediate need to avoid falling back into
recession, or our longer-term need to raise enough revenue to pay for
the social spending Americans want.
Moreover, the deal sidesteps the fundamental challenge the country now
faces: who will pay to fix what was broken during the past decade by
irresponsible tax cuts, ruinously expensive wars, failures of regulation
and the resulting housing and financial booms and busts?
In the short term, the plan cuts a bit of discretionary nondefense
spending, a category that in fact has not grown particularly rapidly.
This is a mistake. With unemployment at 9.1 percent, and long-term
joblessness at record levels, we need more spending, not less. But the
agreement all but rules out new spending to boost the economy, at a
dangerous time. The chances of a double-dip recession are growing—and a
further slowdown will increase, not reduce, the budget deficit.
The longer-term spending and revenue commitments are no better.
Certainly spending, in particular on Medicare and Medicaid, needs to be
restrained. But the deficits cannot be reined in without tax increases,
and the “framework” does little or nothing in this regard. The S. &
P. decision to downgrade reflects, in large part, the expectation that
Republicans will not allow the Bush tax cuts to expire.
The recent skirmishes all dance around the central issue: the United
States is in the midst of the world’s largest debt crisis. The Treasury
now owes the public almost $10 trillion, including $4.5 trillion to
foreigners—and that doesn’t include what households and companies owe.
For decades to come, Americans will face the core problem of every
heavily indebted nation: who will bear the burden of adjustment?
Countries borrow for many purposes: canals and railroads in the 19th
century, factories and highways in the 20th, and in the last decade, a
housing and financial boom in Europe and America. When the projects
don’t pan out and the debtor country falls into crisis, what happens to
the accumulated debts? Who pays? Creditors or debtors? Workers or
investors? Rich or poor? The European Union is tearing itself apart over
this question, which divides creditor nations from debtor nations and
which divides groups within nations. The American variant of this
conflict is just beginning.
Perhaps, some Americans believe, we can shunt the adjustment costs onto
foreigners. Indeed, our creditors worry that the United States will
reduce its debt burden the old-fashioned way, by inflating it away. A
few years of moderate inflation, and a weaker dollar, would
significantly lessen the real cost of servicing the country’s debts—at
our creditors’ expense.
But adjusting to the reality of America’s accumulated debts will
inevitably require sacrifices at home. The battle over who will be
sacrificing has already begun, albeit under veils of rhetoric. The
Republicans seem unconcerned about stimulating recovery, and primarily
concerned that none of the long-term costs of balancing our budget be
paid by upper-income taxpayers. No surprise: unemployment among the
one-third of Americans with the highest incomes is barely 4 percent,
while for the lowest third it is more than four times that level.
The Democrats, for their part, seem content to insist that the
adjustment burden not fall on beneficiaries of government spending,
whether public employees or recipients of social spending. This reflects
their base in the labor movement, the public sector and the poor.
We lost the first decade of the 21st century by squandering our wealth
and borrowing as if there was no tomorrow. We risk losing this decade to
an incomplete recovery and economic stagnation.
An economically responsible, politically feasible distribution of the
costs of working our way out of the crisis will require higher taxes, a
more efficient tax code, and restrained growth of social spending,
particularly Medicare. To ignore these realities, and the contentious
choices they entail, is merely to postpone the inevitable day of
reckoning—and probably to make it worse.
The recent debt deal will slash the defense budget over the next decade.
And if Congress can’t agree on an additional $1.5 trillion in cuts, the
law’s “trigger mechanism” will lead to deeper reductions in military
spending. The initial cuts will not imperil America’s national security,
but the deeper cuts could.
The administration of George W. Bush nearly doubled the defense budget
following 9/11. With the winding down of Mr. Bush’s two wars, we could
cut our ground forces to 1990s levels, reduce the planned purchases of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters,
make greater use of cheaper drones and other technologies, and deal
with the escalating costs of the defense health care system — without
serious damage to national security. Indeed, President Obama’s budget
had already planned for $400 billion in defense savings by 2023.
But it is not enough to tinker with the defense budget. We also need to
rethink how we use our military power. Unlike the state of affairs
during the cold war, the United States and its allies today account for
over 70 percent of world military expenditure. The No. 1 power no longer
has to patrol every boundary and seek to police every country.
Opponents of defense cuts are raising the specter of isolationism and
the weakening of American power. But there is a middle way.
At the height of the cold war, President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided
against direct military intervention on the side of the French in
Vietnam in 1954 because he was convinced that it was more important to
preserve the strength of the American economy. Today, such a strategy
would avoid involvement of ground forces in major wars in Asia or in
other poor countries. While it will take time to extricate ourselves
from Mr. Bush’s post-9/11 strategy, we must start, as the National Security Strategy of 2010
states, “by recognizing that our strength and influence abroad begins
with the steps we take at home.” Eisenhower could have said that — and
no one could accuse Ike of being an isolationist.
Counterinsurgency is attractive as a military tactic but it should not
lead us into a strategy of nation-building in places where we do not
have the capacity to engineer change. The maxim of avoiding major land
wars in poor countries does not mean withdrawing our military presence
from places like Japan and South Korea, or ending military assistance to
countries like Pakistan and Egypt. Some analysts call this “off-shore
balancing,” but that term must mean more than just naval and air force
activity. For example, in Japan and South Korea, our allies pay a
significant portion of the cost for basing American troops there because
they want an insurance policy in a region faced with a rising China and
a volatile North Korea.
Over the course of this century, Asia will return to its historic
status, with more than half of the world’s population and half of the
world’s economic output. America must be present there. Markets and
economic power rest on political frameworks, and American military power
provides that framework. Military security is to order as oxygen is to
breathing: underappreciated until it becomes scarce. That is why the new
bipartisan Congressional commission must provide the revenues that
allow America to continue to play this vital role while avoiding the
trap of overly ambitious nation-building.
Such a strategy is also sustainable at home. The British historian Niall
Ferguson, an enthusiast for empire, lamented at the time of the Iraq
war that the United States lacked the capacity for empire because of
three domestic deficits: personnel (not enough boots on the ground);
attention (not enough public support for long-term occupation); and
financial (not enough savings and not enough taxation relative to public
expenditure). He was correct.
Lacking a stomach for empire or colonial occupation is one of the
important ways in which American political culture differs from that of
imperial Britain. Americans like to promote universal values. But rather
than succumbing to the temptation to intervene on the side of “the
good,” we can do it best by being what Ronald Reagan called “a shining
city on a hill.”
The alternatives we face today are not an untouchable defense budget or
isolationism. A smart strategy for preserving America’s power and global
role will depend on wisely tailoring our foreign policy to fit the
cloth we have. Eisenhower knew this well.
The work of a Harvard history
professor has bolstered the case of a group of elderly Kenyans who are
seeking reparations from the British government for rape, castration,
beatings, and other abuses that they say were part of systematic
colonial-era efforts to suppress Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising.The case passed a critical milestone in July when a British judge
allowed it to move forward despite government arguments that, if the
abuses happened, the current government isn’t liable for colonial
transgressions.The Kenyans are former detainees in British prison camps set up
during the 1950s Mau Mau rebellion, which set the stage for Kenyan
independence in 1963. The plaintiffs allege that their abuse came at the
hands of British jailers in what was a systematic and
government-sanctioned campaign to break the rebellion.Though there had been talk of reparations for colonial atrocities for years, the case was given new life by Professor Caroline Elkins’ Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya.
The book, published in 2005, blended government documents and
eyewitness accounts to tell a compelling story of a horrific, systematic
campaign by the British colonial government to crush the rebellion not
only in the field, but through abuse of those held in camps around the
country.“Caroline’s work has been absolutely fundamental to the case,” said Daniel Leader, a barrister for the London law firm Leigh Day & Co.,
which is representing the former Kenyan detainees. “She was uniquely
responsible for beginning to change the public’s understanding of that
period in history….The victims are forever in her debt. She put their
stories on the map.”It was Elkins’ work, Leader said, that indicated that the abuse was
not only systematic, but known by the British government in London.George Morara, program officer for the Kenya Human Rights Commission,
which has worked to identify plaintiffs who could bring the case before
the courts, said that Elkins’ research built an important foundation
that allowed the case to move forward.“Without her seminal work,” Morara said, “this story wouldn’t have come to the fore.”Elkins’ critics, however, have charged that, though there may have
been abuses in the system, there was no systematic effort by the
government to abuse detainees.The July 21 ruling denied a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds
that the current British government has no responsibility for actions
by the colonial government in Kenya. While the judge didn’t rule on the
merits of the case itself, the decision represents a key victory for the
former detainees.“I have decided that the claimants have arguable cases, fit for
trial,” High Court Judge Richard McCombe wrote in a summary explaining
his judgment. “I emphasize that I have not found that there was
systematic torture in the Kenyan camps nor that, if there was, the U.K.
government is liable to detainees, such as the claimants, for what
happened. . . . I decided that the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office]
have not established that the claimants are bound to fail.”The decision sets up a hearing on a second government motion to
dismiss the case, Elkins said, this one based on a statute of
limitations for such cases. The court can make exceptions to the statute
of limitations, however, and Leader said the plaintiffs will use
examples of other atrocities cases that have been prosecuted long after
the acts were committed to illustrate that a fair trial is possible.
Should the case clear that hurdle, expected in early 2012, Elkins
expects the trial itself to begin next spring or summer.In addition to revelations contained in “Imperial Reckoning,” Elkins
and two other historians acting as expert witnesses have submitted
lengthy reports to the court; they’re also reviewing thousands of pages
of previously undisclosed, colonial-era documents the government has
brought forward because of the case. Elkins said the experts’ review of
these documents has already yielded numerous memoranda that further
substantiate both her thesis of systematized violence and the witness
testimony she collected recounting abuse and torture in the camps.For Elkins, the court decision and the new documents substantiating
her work provide a bit of vindication. Though her book garnered a great
deal of praise in the U.S., winning the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for general
nonfiction, it was also attacked in both Britain and Kenya as inaccurate
and based on unreliable witness testimony.Elkins said she’s grateful for those at Harvard who stood by her
while, as a graduate student, she worked on her dissertation, which was
the basis for “Imperial Reckoning,” and when, as a junior faculty
member, she endured the attacks on her work.In 2006, Morara and the Kenya Human Rights Commission began
interviewing veterans in hopes of bringing a case to British courts.
Three men and two women were chosen, one of whom, Susan Ciong’ombe
Ngondi, has since died. The four remaining plaintiffs, Ndiku Mutua,
Paulo Nzili, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, and Jane Muthoni Mara, are all elderly,
in their 70s and 80s. The case was filed in 2009.The case itself seeks an apology from the British government for
abuse in the camps and establishment of a welfare system for former
detainees, some of whom, Leader said, were unable to have children due
to their treatment. In Kenya’s traditional culture, where children
provide for their elderly parents, detainees’ inability to have a family
leaves them with little means of support, he said.From a historian’s viewpoint, the case is one of what actually
happened versus what people say happened, Elkins said. The government
and its supporters have dismissed the firsthand testimony and eyewitness
accounts of those who suffered, compounding what occurred in the
detention camps decades ago.“It’s now a duel between colonial-inspired history and revisionist
history,” Elkins said. “On top of it all, some have called the people
who survived these horrific tortures liars. The British government
behaved badly in Kenya, and many have continued to do so in an effort to
conceal or minimize colonial abuses.”