Monthly Archives: November 2013

Competing for Control of the East China Sea

China's Declared Air Defense Zone.

China’s Declared Air Defense Zone.

The Obama Administration today issued new guidelines urging US air carriers to comply with China’s demand that it be informed of any flights through its new “maritime air defense zone.” The Chinese government announced the new zone on November 23, and has sent military flights to intercept and monitor several aircraft operating in the area. Close US allies in the region, including South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, have rejected China’s call, stating they will not honor the new zone and declaring that China’s unilateral declaration unnecessarily raises tensions in the region.

There are several theories as to what’s driving China’s move. One is that it’s the result of growing tensions between Japan and China, which to date have centered on the status of the uninhabited Senkaky/Diaoyu islands which lie inside the region. Another asserts it results from China’s fear of being “hemmed in” by US regional allies and by China’s desire (much like that of Russia during the Cold War) to maintain access to oceans and support for its blue water navy. A funny (and perhaps a bit scary) video made by Taiwanese civilians highlights the tensions.

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Negotiating Free Trade

TTIPThe establishment of the World Trade Organization in 1995 marked the high point in multilateral negotiations to liberalize international trade. While it was originally envisioned that the WTO would continue to liberalize trade through a successive series of rounds of talks, the ability of the WTO Member States to reach consensus—and growing public opposition to the WTO—left the organization stalled. Instead, states have generally opted to pursue bilateral talks directly with one another.

The United States and the European Union were last week engaged in just such a negotiation, with the aim of establishing a new Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. According to officials, a new EU-US trade agreement could be worth more than 2bn euros (approximately $2.7 billion) per day, with as much as 80 percent of these gains realized from harmonizing regulatory policy.

But this is the stick. Whose regulatory policy should reign supreme? Each of the two trade partners maintains extensive regulations governing public safety and protecting human health and the environment. But the regulations often focus on different areas, and agreement on the most controversial aspects of regulatory policy (such as genetically modified organisms) remains elusive. Critics of the WTO and other free trade agreements warn of the “downward harmonization” of standards, meaning that regulations could tend to favor the lowest level of protections, weakening environmental and health standards.

What do you think? Would a new trade agreement between the United States and the European Union provide beneficial economic growth for the two trade partners? Would the new agreement undermine existing environmental, health, and safety standards? Or can the US and the EU reach agreement that would liberalize trade while maintaining strong regulatory standards?

Force Projection, Soft Power, and the Fungibility of Military Power

The USS George Washington

The USS George Washington

In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the United States announced that the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and two escort destroyers have arrived in the Philippines to assist in the relief effort. According to a statement by the White House, the George Washington will provide support for search-and-rescue operations and will assist in the transportation of relief supplies. The British government similarly announced that the aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious will be sent to aid in the relief effort.

The use of the military in such relief effort raises some interesting questions about the fungibility of power in foreign policy. Traditionally, a strong military—particularly a powerful blue water navy like that of the United States—was primarily a vehicle for force projection. That is, a strong navy allows the United States to respond to crises and assert itself around the world. The changing nature of international conflict, however, has caused some policy makers to debate the need for restructuring the US military. A greater reliance on force projection through the use of drone aircraft and missile strikes, for example, have allowed the United States to pursue an aggressive stance against suspected terrorists around the world with relatively little risk to American soldiers. But the crisis in the Philippines suggests that some military assets have greater fungability; that is, they can be used to address a wider variety of issues than just national defense and security.

Does the crisis in the Philippines suggest that the extensive reliance on drones as the central component of US military policy should be rethought? What does it suggest about the nature of power and the dynamics of US foreign policy?

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Birth Rates and Development Myths

Hans Rosling’s group GapMinder has produced some powerful video representations of development trends over the years. Indeed, his 2007 TED talk has been described as the “best slideshow ever.” More recently, Rosling’s River of Myths has been making the rounds in social media. The video challenges many of the outdated assumptions about development, child mortality, and population growth that dominate our consideration of development. It’s well worth a watch.

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Intelligence, Surveillance and Diplomacy in the Digital Age

AP_angela_merkel_cell_phone_spying_jt_131024_16x9_992The governments of Germany and Brazil on Friday asked the United Nations General Assembly to adopt a draft resolution establishing a right to privacy in the digital age. The draft resolution would declare that United Nations is “deeply concerned at human rights violations and abuses that may result from the conduct of any surveillance of communications,” explicitly including “extraterritorial surveillance of communications, their interception, as well as the collection of personal data, in particular massive surveillance, interception and data collection.”

Because it would be passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would not represent a binding commitment. Instead, it expresses the sentiment of the international community. Its strength would thus depend on the ability of Brazil and Germany to garner consensus among the 193 United Nations Member States on the resolution.

The decision of the German and Brazilian governments to introduce the resolution was driven by expanding accusations of widespread US surveillance abroad, including accusations that it had eavesdropped on the cell phone communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. According to one source, such surveillance has been underway for a decade, but President Barack Obama claims he was unaware of the program. Other governments have also weighed in. Spain last week warned of a breakdown in trust as a result of the operations, and the government of France cautioned that such operations could hinder international cooperation on the war on terror.