Monthly Archives: September 2011

Bureaucratic Politics in Pakistan

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen told Congress on September 22 that Pakistani intelligence has been cooperating with terrorists in attacks on U.S. targets.

The U.S.-Pakistani relationship has become increasingly strained in recent weeks.  On September 22 Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) of aiding the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network in its September 13 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  Mullen went so far as to call the Haqqani network a “veritable arm” of the ISI.  Pakistan’s foreign minister fired back that the U.S. would “lose an ally” if such talk continued.  Then, three days ago the New York Times published a report on a 2007 attack in which Pakistani soldiers ambushed U.S. soldiers who were trying to settle a border dispute along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Pakistan’s seemingly incoherent “double-dealing” behavior (cooperation with the U.S. in some areas while undermining its interests in others) can be traced to the complexity of its domestic political situation.  As the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole writes in his blog, “Pakistan is a complex place, and its civilian politicians have a different agenda than its conventional army, which in turn has a different agenda from the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  Even within the ISI, there appear to be secret rogue cells.  Some ISI officers appear to be hooked up with the Haqqani Network and with terrorist organizations such as the Lashkar-i Tayyiba.  But Pakistan has lost thousands of troops fighting the more militant Afghan and Pakistani-Pashtun fundamentalist groups, and it is not a task the US could take on by itself.”

In short, there is a struggle for power among military, intelligence, and civilian political leaders in Pakistan, and the result is a series of foreign policy actions that are not coherently and centrally coordinated.  This power struggle fits the bureaucratic politics model as famously articulated by Graham Allison in his classic book Essence of Decision.  Allison argues that the rational actor model, which assumes states are unitary actors rationally pursuing the national interest, is oversimplified and misleading.  He contends that states frequently act in incoherent ways that can only be explained by looking at the competing interests and ugly compromises that occur among key governmental players.  For example, the Pakistani military’s main goal may not be advancing some overarching conception of the national interest, but rather promoting its own organizational interests.  The New York Times article on the 2007 attack quotes an American military officer as saying that Pakistan’s military “often seemed to retaliate for losses they had suffered in an accidental attack by United States forces with a deliberate assault on American troops, most probably to maintain morale among their own troops or to make a point to the Americans that they could not be pushed around.”

What are the implications of the bureaucratic politics model for the future of the U.S.-Pakistani alliance?  Can you identify bureaucratic politics shaping actions on the American side as well?  (Think about the interests of the U.S. military, the State Department, the intelligence community, etc.).

Constitutional Structures vs. Political Reality in Putin’s Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev are set to swap positions (again) in 2012.

The announcement that former Russian president (and current prime minister) Vladimir Putin plans to assume the presidency again in 2012–a position he can legally hold for up to 12 more years–has provoked a flurry of reponses from political analysts.  Some have expressed surprise and consternation, while others contend this is simply Russian politics as usual.

But these analysts all agree that there is a considerable gap between Russia’s pretensions as a liberal democracy and the reality of how the Kremlin exercises power.  (See the recent discussion, in this blog, of illiberal democracy).  Indeed, Putin’s dominance in recent years bears little resemblance to the distribution of power as envisioned by the constitution.  The Russian constitution invests the president with great authority and the prime minister with little power, yet when Putin relinquished the presidency in 2008 and became prime minister, it was Putin who remained the dominant figure.

Russia therefore provides a vivid example of a common phenomenon in politics: the gap between formal structures, as codified in documents like constitutions or organizational charts, and actual political behavior.  It was precisely this gap that motivated scholars to move from traditional political science (largely concerned with the study of formal documents like constitutions) to behavioral political science (focused on the empirical discovery of patterns of political behavior).  This “behavioral revolution” occurred in the 1950s and 1960s and behavioralism has become the dominant approach among today’s political scientists.  Behavioral political science has been criticized for its lack of concern with normative questions and its allegedly foolhardy efforts to discern lawlike generalizations about inherently unpredictable human behavior, but few would question the fact that its emphasis on actual political behavior has produced important advances over the traditional mode of inquiry.

What other examples of the gap between formal structures and empirical behavior can you identify?  Is the traditional approach to political science of any value today?  What are the shortcomings of the behavioral approach?

U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan: Capitulation to a Rising China?

The People's Liberation Army on display. China's growing economic and military might has caused concern in the West.

The Obama administration has reportedly decided not to sell Taiwan the new F-16 fighter jets it wants, but instead merely to help Taiwan refurbish its existing fleet of combat aircraft.  Senator John Cornyn (Republican-Texas) released a statement on Friday saying “today’s capitulation to Communist China by the Obama administration marks a sad day in American foreign policy, and it represents a slap in the face to a strong ally and longtime friend.”  The alleged “sellout” of Taiwan has prompted some members of Congress to pursue legislation requiring the administration to maintain closer relations with Taiwan on military and economic issues.

The U.S. originally recognized Taiwan as the legitimate government of mainland China after the Chinese Communists took over the mainland in 1949.  When the U.S. officially recognized the People’s Republic of China in 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act, which obligates the U.S. “to provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force  or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or  economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

But as China has grown in economic and military strength, and has begun to expand its conception of “core national interests” to include the South China Sea, the U.S. appears to be increasingly concerned with maintaining good relations with the rising giant.  Scholars who have studied power transitions (when a declining hegemon, or dominant country, is challenged and eclipsed by a rising power) have noted that these transitions are usually very violent.  But some research suggests that if the declining power is smart about managing its relationship with the rising power, the transition can be peaceful.  So perhaps the U.S. is right to be conciliatory toward China at this point.  After all, China is not only a potential threat in the military arena, but its economy is closely intertwined with America’s through trade and its possession of a sizeable portion of U.S. debt.  But critics have charged that this pragmatic approach ignores China’s human rights violations, unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, and increasing aggressiveness in the region.

Is America’s approach to China likely to prevent conflict and ease the power transition between America and its rising challenger?  Or does this conciliatory approach risk appeasing an autocratic regime that will only expand its ambitions as it grows in power, making a serious clash inevitable?

The UN Security Council, the General Assembly, and Palestinian Statehood

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said today he would seek UN Security Council recognition for a Palestinian state.

Palestinian leaders are expected to take their bid for statehood to the United Nations next week, potentially provoking a diplomatic showdown that could have serious consequences for Israel, Palestine, and the United States.  The UN Security Council has the power to approve Palestine’s admission as a full member state, but the United States is one of five veto-wielding permanent members of the council (along with Russia, China, Britain, and France), and the U.S. has promised to veto any resolution approving Palestinian statehood.  The U.S. and Israeli position is that Palestinian statehood should be achieved through direct negotiations with Israel.  Despite this veto threat, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said today that he would seek Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state.

While the Security Council effort is destined to fail, Palestine could gain a partial victory through the UN General Assembly.  The General Assembly has the power to upgrade Palestine’s status from “observer entity” to “observer state,” and such a resolution will almost certainly succeed since each UN member state gets one vote in the General Assembly (the majority of member states back Palestinian statehood).  As this article at Politico notes, “with that enhanced status, the Palestinians could take some actions against Israel, including filing cases in the International Criminal Court [ICC].”  The prospect of ICC charges stemming from Israeli actions is discussed here.

A Foreign Policy article entitled “ Train Wreck in Turtle Bay” describes the costs to all parties of a diplomatic clash over Palestinian statehood: “A diplomatic confrontation is not in the interest of any party. For Israel, it could prompt an outburst of public anger and possible violence in the occupied territories that would be a security challenge at home and deepen its growing isolation abroad. For Palestinians, it could mean a return to more restrictive forms of control by Israeli occupation authorities, more checkpoints and roadblocks, as well as other forms of retaliation, including punitive economic measures. For the United States, it risks bringing back traditional anti-American sentiment front and center to Arab political discourse at a time when the country has been increasingly perceived as a positive force standing with the people against dictators.”

What do you think?  Is the Palestinian effort to achieve statehood through the UN a wise idea, or will any statehood effort be counterproductive if it does not first gain Israel’s approval?

How Did 9/11 Change U.S. Foreign Policy?

Presidents Bush and Obama visit the 9/11 Memorial with their wives on September 11, 2011. The legacy of 9/11 is the subject of ongoing debate.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a variety of policymakers, scholars, and pundits have (at times heatedly) discussed and debated the broader significance of 9/11.  A common theme is that American foreign policy changed dramatically in the aftermath of the attacks, representing either a necessary reorientation toward a new threat environment (as defenders of the Bush administration suggest) or an over-reaching and self-defeating policy shift (as its critics allege).  But how exactly did 9/11 change American foreign policy, and how revolutionary were these changes?

The Bush administration certainly changed its foreign policy priorities, moving from a focus on relations with great powers such as China and Russia to an emphasis on the nexus between non-state terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda and “rogue states” such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, with known or suspected WMD programs.  Bush and his advisers also moved away from a reliance on deterrence and containment (status-quo oriented pillars of the Cold War era) and embraced the need for more transformational policies of preemptive action and regime change under certain circumstances.  Bush also jettisoned his pre-9/11 aversion to “nation building” and came to view failed states not only as a humanitarian problem but as a security threat of the highest order (insofar as they provided potential safe havens for terrorists).  Finally, Bush famously articulated a “freedom agenda” that centered on democracy promotion, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world, as an antidote to extremism.

But how revolutionary and long-lasting were these changes?  Noted historian Melvyn Leffler joins John Lewis Gaddis and other insightful scholars in noting that notions of preemptive action, unilateralism, primacy, and idealistic democracy promotion are nothing new in American foreign policy:

“The long-term significance of 9/11 for U.S. foreign policy, therefore, should not be overestimated. The attacks that day were a terrible tragedy, an unwarranted assault on innocent civilians, and a provocation of monumental proportions. But they did not change the world or transform the long-term trajectory of U.S. grand strategy. The United States’ quest for primacy, its desire to lead the world, its preference for an open door and free markets, its concern with military supremacy, its readiness to act unilaterally when deemed necessary, its eclectic merger of interests and values, its sense of indispensability– all these remained, and remain, unchanged.”

What do you think?  Was the Bush administration’s post-9/11 foreign policy a radical break from America’s past?  If so, how?  Which of these Bush-era policies have continued under President Obama, and which (if any) has Obama reversed?  Is America safer or more vulnerable as a result?

Are Economic Sanctions Effective?

The UN Security Council has recently imposed sanctions on countries including Iran and North Korea, and is considering sanctions against Syria.

Yesterday the European Union banned all imports of Syrian oil in an effort to halt the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators. In the past week or so the EU has also issued sanctions against Iran’s Al Quds military force due to its “technical and material support” for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s rule and the UN has moved closer to sanctions against Syria’s leaders.  Over the past few years, the United States, the UN, and other actors have sought to curtail Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs through economic sanctions. 

The prominence of economic sanctions as a tool of statecraft, together with the apparent intransigence of these sanctions’ targets such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria, raises serious questions.  Are sanctions actually effective in pressuring governments to change their policies?  Do they only harm the general population, or can they squeeze elites as well?  How can sanctions be made more effective?

Political scientists have addressed these questions and have arrived at some conclusions.  While differences in data and methods have produced somewhat different findings, the basic empirical results are as follows.  Economic sanctions are only successful in about a third of the cases in which they are used.  The work of Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, as reviewed here, shows that sanctions are most effective if the goal is simply destabilization of a target state (a 52% success rate) but are less effective if the objective is modest policy change  (33%) or major policy change (25%) by the target government.  Some scholars are even more pessimistic, suggesting that Hufbauer, Schott and Elliot overestimate the success of sanctions; Robert Pape argues that only 5 of their 40 claimed successes actually stand up to scrutiny.

There is also evidence that economic sanctions worsen target governments’ respect for basic human rights.  Dursun Peksen explains these findings as follows: “sanctions fail to attenuate the coercive capacity of the target elites and create more economic difficulties and political violence among ordinary citizens, [encouraging governments to] commit more human rights violations.”  Similarly Reed Wood finds that “…sanctions threaten the stability of target incumbents, leading them to augment their level of repression in an effort to stabilize the regime, protect core supporters, minimize the threat posed by potential challengers, and suppress popular dissent.”

Studies have also shown that multilateral sanctions are more effective than unilateral sanctions, and that factors including the initial stability of the target state, the length of time sanctions are in place, and the extent of trade linkages between target and sender affect the success of sanctions.  Sanctions may also be more effective when initiated by, and targeted against, democratic states.

Given this somewhat discouraging empirical evidence, should sanctions be utilized as frequently as they are today?  What are the moral and practical  implications of imposing broad-based economic sanctions as opposed to targeted “smart sanctions” against regime leaders?  In the cases of Syria, Iran, and North Korea, what other policy instruments should be the fallback if sanctions prove ineffective?

The Challenges of Building Democracy: Lessons from the Front Lines

Iraq has had free elections, but has it stalled on the road to democracy?

An interesting article in the New York Times this week features interviews with Iraqis who offer advice for Libyans on how to build a stable and prosperous country post-Qaddafi.  Based on their own bitter experience with corruption, sectarian violence, and political gridlock, they highlight mistakes to avoid in the transition from a repressive dictatorship to an accountable, representative government.

Not surprisingly, these Iraqis reiterated the now widely accepted lesson that the U.S. decision to pursue aggressive de-Baathification (removing members of Hussein’s Baathist regime from government positions) was counterproductive, stoking tensions and preventing capable officials from assuming key roles.  They urged Libyans not to repeat this mistake in dealing with former regime officials.

While this lesson might be dismissed as unoriginal and obvious, their views on democracy were rare in their candor and insight:  “The men said they had learned the hard way what they never understood living under decades of repression: that democracy is not just the absence of oppression, but that it also involves challenging concepts of tolerance, compromise and civic responsibility yet to take root in Iraq, or in Libya.”

Political scientists have distinguished between democratic institutions, which include checks on executive authority and free elections, and democratic norms, the more intangible values of tolerance and compromise that undergird these institutions but take much longer to develop a foothold in society.  What these weary Iraqis clearly recognize is that the institutions of democracy are nominally present but the norms are sorely lacking, which erodes the stability and legitimacy of those institutions.

The conclusions drawn by these ordinary Iraqis are sobering for the future of Iraqi democracy.  “The parliamentary system in Iraq has failed,” said Thaar Abdul Kadhum, 34, a contractor. “They should have a president who can make all the decisions, and not have all these blocs like we have now.”  Many Iraqis are tired of “the chaos of Iraqi-style democracy. Increasingly, they want a strong hand — elected by the people — to wield power.”  This raises the specter of illiberal democracy, a system that combines free elections with a lack of basic civil liberties and checks on governmental authority.  Democratic transitions often get “stuck” in this hybrid stage, as Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela attest.  Can Iraq and Libya escape this fate?