There are many countries which lack regular reporting of basic economic data. In many African countries, for example, annual GDP reports are calculated using base year estimates and an annual multiplier adjustment calculated from a few key indicators. The problem is that the further we move from the base year, the mess accurate the economic measures become. Indeed, the problem was so pronounced in Nigeria that a 2012 revision added nearly $100 billion to the national economy overnight, increasing the size of the economy by 40%. The revision was not based on any real change in the country’s economic output—it was certainly not a function of a dramatic level of economic growth. Rather, it was simply a recalculation of the figure based on more up-to-date (and arguably more accurate) data. In 2010, Ghana similarly experienced a 60 percent increase in its GDP.
So does all this matter? Should we worry about the accuracy of GDP figures in the United States? Or unemployment figures, which would be similarly affected by the proposal? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
It’s important to note that recognition here is not the same as formal diplomatic recognition, though media reports make it difficult to understand the difference. Diplomatic recognition refers to the formal recognition of states and their governments. States will often use diplomatic recognition as a tool to promote or punish particular actions. The most notable examples of this include Taiwan, which the United States recognizes but China does not.
Diplomatic recognition can also take de facto or de jure forms. De facto recognition refers to the informal recognition of a new country. In this sense, Taiwan has de facto recognition by China in so far as China engages in negotiations with the Taiwanese government. But it does not give de jure, or legal, recognition. There is no Chinese ambassador to Taiwan. Similarly, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, Great Britain and the United States offered de facto recognition well before they engaged in the de jure exchange of ambassadors.
So if the United States’ decision via-a-vis Venezuela is not referring to diplomatic recognition, what exactly is it referring to? Here, we’re considering whether or not the United States considers the outcome of the election to be reflective of the will of the people? Were Venezuela’s elections, in other words, free and fair? The United States is effectively asserting they were not, and the government that resulted from them thus lacks legitimacy (and by extension, recognition).
What do you think? Should the United States withhold recognition of the new Venezuelan government? Are Venezuela’s most recent election results reflective of the will of Venezuela’s people? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin (R).
One of the unique features of the U.S. Foreign Service that it’s highest ranking personnel are not generally professional diplomats. Sure, for some posts—mostly places people don’t want to spend a lot of time—they are. But for many posts, including in many important U.S. allies, the ambassador is a political appointee who raised a lot of money for the winner of the presidential election.
When President Barack Obama was elected, 32 of the 58 ambassadorial appointments he made were to large campaign contributors. And less you think that Obama is an anomalies, he was simply following a longstanding tradition. Fifty of Preside George W. Bush’s ambassadors were each responsible for campaign donations of at least $100,000. Since the Eisenhower administration, approximately 30 percent of all ambassadorial appointments have been to campaign donors. That is an exceedingly high figure when you think that the United States has embassies in approximately 198 countries around the world.
American political appointee Ambassadors are usually neophytes – all too often innocents abroad – as opposed to career people who have worked their way up the ranks of the all too hierarchical U.S. foreign service and have had extensive exposure to the country, language and culture to which they are being assigned – e.g. the professionals usually know something about the country of their posting, or if not, know how to make an Embassy function, the policies of whatever the administration is in the White House and how to deliver them as well as basic Ambassadorial does and don’ts.
What do you think? Does the appointment of campaign donors to key posts in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps undermine U.S. foreign policy and national security? Or can business leaders make effective diplomats? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
The North Korean government released a new propaganda video this week. The video, complete with amateurish graphics, threatens the United States with devastation, noting that “The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb.”
The video echoes the trailer for the 2012 remake of the Cold War classic Red Dawn. The 2012 remake positions North Korea as the invading force occupying the Pacific Northwest. (In an interesting aside, the studio spent more than a million dollars in post-production to change the enemy forces after the film had been shot. Originally, the invading army was supposed to be Chinese, but they were recast as North Koreans in an effort to expand box office earnings in China).
North Korean belligerence seems to come in regular cycles. But the current cycle appears to be more intense that others, leading some spectators to question whether the current leader, Kim Jong Un, is more dangerous and less predictable than his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, both of whom led the country previously. Interestingly, North Korea’s closest ally, china, appears to be growing increasingly frustrated with the regime, and has supported expanding sanctions on North Korea in recent months.
What do you think? Does North Korea pose a threat to the United States and South Korea? If so, what measures should be taken to address the North Korean threat. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Ben Emmerson, the leader of a United Nations team investigating the U.S. drone program in Pakistan yesterday said that Pakistan “does not sanction” U.S. drone strikes in the northern part of the country. The statement, made following a recent visit to Pakistan, came as a bit of a surprise. According to Emmerson, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights, “The position of the Pakistani government is quite clear. It does not consent to the use of drones by the United States on its territory and considers this to be a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The UN team was struck in January and is not expected to publish its conclusions until October. Yet if Emmerson’s comments are any suggestion, it appears likely the UN team will find the program a violation of Pakistani sovereignty.
Officially, the Pakistani government has repeatedly objected to U.S. drone strikes in the country, which have killed an estimated 3,460 people since 2004, the vast majority under President Barack Obama’s tenure in office. Privately, however, many observers believe that the program depends on the tacit consent—and indeed, the support—of the Pakistani government. Classified documents released in 2010 by WikiLeaks suggest that Pakistani military and intelligence officials have given approval to the U.S. program, but publically criticize the program.
So is the program a violation of Pakistani sovereignty? It’s a more difficult question that first appears. Sovereignty can be defined in several ways but is generally thought of as exercising independent or autonomous control over a given territory. This control is usually thought of as the ability to enact binding decisions, or laws, and to rule over the people in that territory. In practice, the principle of sovereignty is never as clear cut as the theoretical definition suggests. Many countries, particularly those in the global south, claim legal sovereignty over their territory but often lack the ability to enforce its claims. In such cases, international relations scholars often describe the country as possessing juridical sovereignty.
In the case of Pakistan, the claim is further complicated by the apparently covert agreement between U.S. and Pakistani authorities.
What do you think? Are U.S. drone strikes a violation of Pakistani sovereignty, as Emmerson contends? Or does the covert agreement between U.S. and Pakistani authorities undermine assertions of sovereignty? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.
For those who have not been following domestic U.S. politics over the past few months, the sequestration is a series of automatic, across-the-board cuts to government spending. Republicans and Democrats agreed to the system last year in an attempt to force themselves to reach a compromise on debt reduction. The idea was to make the cuts so painful that both sides would prefer to negotiate more targeted cuts than allow the sequestration to take effect. But in a signal of the degree of dysfunction and political polarization in Washington, D.C., the sequestration went in to effect on Friday when the two parties could not reach agreement.
While there has been much discussion of the domestic impact of sequestration, less attention has been paid to the foreign policy effects. We know, for example, that the U.S. military will face more than $500 billion in cuts under sequestration, $46 billion of which would take effect this year. Outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned that the sequestration cuts would “seriously damage a fragile American economy and…would degrade our ability to respond to crisis precisely at a time of rising instability across the globe.” The self-made crisis, he added, “undermines the men and women in uniform who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to protect this country.”
Beyond the U.S. military, however, sequestration will affect our international efforts more broadly. The United States contributes about 27 percent of the cost of UN peacekeeping operations and about a quarter of the organizations regular budget. Sequestration will mean a cut to these contributions in the short term, with the U.S. withholding approximately $100 million in funding towards peacekeeping and a similar amount from the regular budget. However, as Goldberg notes, any savings would be illusory.
Those cuts won’t actually end up saving the USA any money in the long term because the USA is treaty-bound to pay its membership dues to the UN. So, rather than cutting UN spending, the real effects of the sequester will be the accrual of American arrears. Eventually, the USA will have to pay off those arrears so there will be no real saving.”
But the impact on UN operations would be very real indeed. As Goldberg describes it, “A $100 million cut to UN peacekeeping could mean that countries that have expressed willingness to contribute troops to an international mission in Mali may not be able to deploy. The preconditions necessary for a peacekeeping mission — food, fuel, equipment — requires reliable funding.” Not a pretty picture.
What do you think? How will sequestration affect the ability of the United States to achieve its foreign policy goals? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
An F-35 Joint Strike Fighter during a test flight over Texas.
The entire fleet of F-35 fighter jets was grounded last week following the discovery of a cracked engine blade during a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The F-35 is the world’s most advanced fighter jet, and versions of the aircraft are flown by the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
When it was proposed, the F-35 was intended to be w joint weapons system that could meet the needs of all three branches. It was built as a stealth fighter with extensive ground strike capabilities. However, it has suffered from extensive cost overruns, quickly becoming the most expensive weapons program in the history of the United States, with a total cost of nearly $400 billion. And despite the cost, repeated revisions and setbacks have led to higher costs and a slower delivery schedule. While the United States plans to purchase more than 2,400 F-35s at $89 million each, to date, only 32 aircraft have been delivered at a cost of $207.6 million each (excluding the cost of research and development). The aircraft that have been delivered have not seen combat operations and have been grounded twice in the past year.
Further, the F-35 was developed in the 1990s as the next-generation stealth fighter designed to replace a wide range of aircraft currently in operation. For the Air Force, the F-35 is a strike fighter to replace the F-16 Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt. For the navy, a short takeoff version of the F-35 will replace the F-18 Hornet attack fighter and the AV-8B Harrier jump fighter. The Marine Corp plans on using its vertical takeoff version of the F-35 to replace its Harrier jets.
This has led to several problems, though. In attempting to meet the often competing demands of the various branches, the F-35’s designer, Lockheed Martin, has had to sacrifice design elements that were desirable to other branches. The Air Force, for example, is dissatisfied with the short range of the jet, necessitated by structural reinforcements to make the aircraft capable of carrier operations, as required by the Navy.
Perhaps more importantly, though, the global environment for which the F-35 was designed has shifted as the program has developed. The use of drone aircraft was virtually unheard of when the program was developed in the 1990s. Today, drone operations are increasingly becoming the first option for U.S. air operations abroad. The F-35 was designed to sneak past and eliminate enemy radar, clearing the way for non-stealth aircraft to attack without opposition. The use of the F-117 Nighthawk in U.S. operations during the first Gulf War illustrates precisely this role.
But today, drones are viewed as a more cost-effective option to achieve this and other goals. With a cost of just $4 million per unit, the RQ-1 Predator Drone (and, with a $36.8 million per unit price tag, its admittedly more expensive MQ-9 Reaper sister) are able to accomplish many of the primary tasks of the F-35 at a fraction of the cost.
Given its high cost, slow delivery, challenging track record, and increasingly questionable purpose, why has the F-35 program not been shelved or more dramatically cut back?
That’s the real genus. The production line for the F-35 program is spread across 25 different states, employing workers in each. This makes the program difficult to cut, as Senators from each of those states (which comprise half of the U.S. Senate) are usually reluctant to just programs that employ people in their home districts. The exemplar of this was a request last year by the U.S. military to eliminate funding for a second engine for every F-35. The President wanted the cuts, the Pentagon said the engines were unnecessary.
Production Locations for the F-35.
But Congress refused to cut the second engine program. Indeed, several high ranking members of Congress sharply criticized the Pentagon after it ordered the shuttering of the program. The program was eventually shuttered despite opposition, but not before more than $3.5 billion in federal funding had been spent. Not a single engine was delivered.
What do you think? Does the F-35 joint strike fighter have an important role in maintaining American military readiness? Are its primary functions now performed by drone aircraft? Why has the program continued? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
South Korean Television covers the North Korean Nuclear Test
On Monday North Korea tested a nuclear device, prompting sharp criticism from the Obama administration and provoking renewed discussions of expanded sanctions in the United Nations Security Council. The Central Intelligence Agency reported that Monday’s test was more powerful than previous nuclear tests conducted by the North Korean government in 2006 and 2009.
The test, conducted in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions, led North Korea’s closest ally, the People’s Republic of China, to summon the North Korean ambassador in protest. The North Korean government defended its action as an act of self-defense necessitated by “U.S. hostility,” and promised to continue its efforts if necessary. According to the United States and its allies, North Korea is operating in violation of its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.
What does the NPT actually do? The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty spells out the obligations of signatory states under three separate areas. First, non-nuclear weapons states agree not to pursue the development or deployment of nuclear weapons. Second, recognized nuclear weapons states (under the NPT, these are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, who coincidently are also the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) agree to undertake efforts towards total nuclear disarmament. Finally, the right of all states to the peaceful use of nuclear power is guaranteed. However, there are several nuclear weapons states which are not party to the treaty. India, Israel, and Pakistan—all of which are believed to possess nuclear weapons—are non-signatories and thus fall outside the obligations of the treaty. North Korea was a signatory but formally withdrew from the agreement in 2003. Iran remains a signatory to the treaty but is believed to be developing nuclear weapons in violation of its treaty obligations. South Africa developed nuclear weapons in the 1980s but decommissioned its nuclear stockpiles in the early 1990s, making it the only state ever to voluntarily decommission an existing nuclear weapons capability.
So is North Korea in violation of its obligations? The answer depends on who you ask. The United States’ position (generally supported by the international community) is that North Korea’s nuclear program violations its international obligations. North Korea, however, regularly asserts that it withdrew from the NPT and can therefore pursue a nuclear program in its self-defense.
This, of course, raises the broader question about the effectiveness of nuclear weapons as a deterrence. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction, popularized during the Cold War, suggests that the threat of total destruction associated with the use of nuclear weapons by two nuclear weapons powers renders the use of those weapons unfeasible, as no winning strategy could result. The use of nuclear weapons is essentially self-defeating. But the threat posed by possessing nuclear weapons—indeed, the prestige of nuclear weapons—is a powerful motivator for states to pursue such weapons, often even in the face of high social and political costs, as the cases of Iran and North Korea attest.
What do you think? Does North Korea’s nuclear program present a threat to the United States? Is North Korean nuclear policy best explained as a rational pursuit of the national interest? And how does international law help us understand the debate surrounding the North Korean nuclear program? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.
The French government last week called on West African leaders to “pick up the baton” and support military operations against Islamic insurgents in Mali. France has already deployed more than 2,000 soldiers and is currently conducting air and ground operations authorized by a United Nations Security Council resolution. Other governments, including Chad, Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Niger, Togo, Benin, Ghana, and Guinea have committed to sending soldiers, and Britain, Denmark, and Belgium are providing material support. The United States has offered to provide communications support, but has declined so far to commit soldiers or air support.
It is clear that France has already moved beyond the original UN-backed strategy, which called for Western governments to provide training and material in support of an African-led military intervention. Rather, French forces appear to be taking the lead in operations, with other governments in the region responding more slowly.
The politics of military coalitions are always interesting. Basic behavioral economics suggest that there is little incentive for a government to pay for something it can get for free. In game theory, this is referred to as the free-rider dilemma. In global politics, more powerful countries (often the hegemon) pay a disproportionate cost. The United States, for example, has borne the lion’s share of the costs associated with interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But recent developments in Libya and Mali suggest a slightly different strategy at play. In both cases, the United States appeared willing to let others—France in the case of Mali, and the European Union in the case of Libya—take the leading role.
Does this represent a shift in American military thinking? Likely, the answer is no. While the Obama administration expresses a stronger commitment to multilateralism than the Bush administration did, it has already shown a willingness to undertake unilateral action when it perceives the national interest is at stake. The ongoing drone strikes in Pakistan are case in point.
However, where it sees the US national interest is less at play, the Obama administration appears far more willing to let other states pursue policies that align with US interests abroad.
The government of Mali has been struggling to counter the growing influence of al Qaeda-linked groups in the northern part of the country. Two groups, the National Movement of the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) heave been pushing for greater independence.
Blogging at Turtle Bay, Colum Lynch notes that the Security Council resolution provides broad authorization for foreign governments to “take all necessary measures” and provide “any necessary assistance” in support of Mali’s fight against Islamic extremists. Such measures could range from the deployment of military advisors and the provision of training and material support, to the use of drones or other forms of direct military intervention in northern Mali.
The Security Council’s decision was somewhat surprising, particularly given the fact that the organization had been so hesitant to consider the situation in Mali previously. However, the decision also reflects a new tactic in the war on terror. Rather than engaging directly in operations against Islamic extremists, the United States and other western nations are deferring to local and regional governments in the region to address the issue. This tactic raises an interesting question. What happens if the regional peacekeeping forces are unable to address the threat? How far should U.S. support go? At what point does the United States transition from “advice and support” to “direct intervention”? Would such a (revised) role require Congressional approval? Would Congress even support such an initiative? And more generally, would such a move transition the role of the United Nations from peacekeeping to peacemaking? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.