Singapore’s Foreign Policy at a juncture


November 9, 2017

Singapore’s Foreign Policy at a juncture

by  Ja Ian Chong, National University of Singapore

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for vivian balakrishnanCall on Myanmar State Counsellor, Union Minister in the President’s Office and Union Minister for Foreign Affairs Daw Aung San Suu Kyi by Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan on 18 May 2016 during his introductory visit to Myanmar [Photo: MFA]

 

In July 2017, a rare public debate occurred within Singapore’s foreign policy establishment. In contention was whether the city-state should defer to major powers or insist on pursuing its longstanding foreign policy principles.

 

This discussion came against a backdrop of China’s new willingness to assert its foreign policy preferences, apparent fissures within ASEAN as well as US capriciousness. Such developments have the potential to shake longstanding pillars of Singapore’s external relations. The debate reflects unease about shifts in East Asian politics and uncertainty over how best to respond.

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Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong with President Xi Jinping of China–Engaging China while tilting towards the United States

Engaging China — especially in terms of economics — while encouraging comprehensive US engagement in Asia are integral to Singapore’s longstanding approach of ‘not choosing sides’ between Beijing and Washington. This policy assumes significant overlap in US and Chinese interests, shared major power desire for self-restraint and mutual accommodation and US commitment to the liberal international order it created after World War II. Recent developments seem to cast doubt on these long-held presumptions. In fact, the 2017 Qatar Crisis that sparked the debate stemmed partially from US disinterest and ambivalence.

Singapore is especially discomforted by China’s reclamation and arming of artificial islands in the South China Sea despite widespread opposition, and Beijing’s non-participation in and lambasting of the Philippines-initiated arbitration tribunal process. Beijing was also exceptionally harsh in criticising Singapore over the latter’s insistence on the rule of law in relation to maritime issues and the arbitration tribunal. The detention in Hong Kong of Singaporean armoured vehicles en route from Taiwan and the apparent exclusion of the Singapore Prime Minister from Beijing’s Belt and Road Forum further heightened Singaporean concerns.

One of Donald Trump’s first moves as US President was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Other major trade arrangements hang in the balance as the US administration threatens punitive action against trade partners. The rashness with which President Trump seems to treat North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons could also destabilise the region. Potential US global retreat is similarly disconcerting despite reports that the Trump administration dropped calls to make security commitments contingent on payment from allies and partners. Such actions detract from efforts by US officials to assure East Asia of active and consistent US engagement.

Behaviour by Beijing and Washington endangers another important pillar of Singapore’s foreign policy: its preference for international law, institutions and norms. Such mechanisms give smaller states a degree of formal equality with major powers, since all actors are technically restrained by the same rules, requirements, and procedures. Notably, participants in the July 2017 debate agreed on Singapore’s need for institutions such as the United Nations and ASEAN as well as international law to be robust. They differed on how strongly to advance such arrangements.

Beijing’s rejection, mobilisation against and dismissal of the South China Sea arbitration tribunal process along with its expansive maritime claims and broad interpretation of exclusive economic zone rights suggests a desire to adjust internationals laws in fact if not in form. China’s ability to break ASEAN consensus on positions Beijing deems inimical to its interests and Washington’s new suspicion of multilateral institutions — seen in the TPP withdrawal and its criticism of the UN — portend greater pressure on key institutions.

Some ASEAN members seem ready to accede to China on the promise of economic gain, even as Washington appears to be turning into an increasingly unreliable institutional partner. Then there is worry about major powers eroding sovereign autonomy by intervening domestically through business, academia and other sectors. Prevailing laws, institutions and norms are familiar to Singapore and it has historically excelled in working with them to its own benefit. Shifts on these fronts — which Singapore cannot influence — are cause for anxiety.

The debate abated with a reiteration of longstanding principles by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan without new policies or strategic directions. Such trepidation is unsurprising given the many complex variables currently at play. Circumstances surrounding China’s rise and the United States’ relative decline are unprecedented for Singapore, and the country is on the cusp of a generational leadership transition. ASEAN is no longer the same conservative, anti-communist Cold War club, where member interests were relatively predictable and consensus was easier to develop. Climate change, long-term economic sustainability, and terrorism too present serious challenges.

Singapore is not alone in trying to find its foreign policy footing — the July debate parallels ongoing discussions in Australia, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere about how to reposition strategic priorities. Singapore may ultimately wish to re-examine how best to pursue its enduring interests in maintaining freedom of action, economic openness and the containment of tensions given the evolving external environment.

Possible considerations range from reducing reliance on ASEAN in favour of other partnerships to investing in far-reaching ASEAN reform, perhaps at some expense to autonomy. Contemplating such change, particularly in public, may be uncomfortable for Singapore’s foreign policy traditionalists, but it is necessary for charting the city-state’s future in an increasingly uncertain world and hence deserving of sustained and open discussion.

Ja Ian Chong is Associate Professor of Political Science at National University of Singapore.

Can Trump strengthen America’s influence in Asia during his visit?


November 4, 2017

Can Trump strengthen America’s influence in Asia during his visit?

by David Shambaugh

David Shambaugh says the region, an economic powerhouse, is vital to US interests and Trump must win over leaders with reassurances of US commitment. Boorish behaviour will not be tolerated.

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As Donald Trump embarks on what the White House describes as the longest visit by a US president to Asia in a quarter of a century (12 days, seven stops, five countries), a very nervous Asia is looking for reassurances of stability and continuity of commitments from him. If Trump sticks to the script – always a huge “if” – prepared by US government staff, countries in the region should be reassured by the outcomes. But if he spontaneously veers off script with provocative language, he could do much damage to regional stability and US interests. Rude behaviour by the president – as he exhibited in Europe earlier this year – will also go down poorly with “face”-conscious Asian leaders and publics.

Despite the symbolically and substantively damaging withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the first days of his presidency, it must be said that the Trump administration has undertaken some gestures to reassure Asia of continued American commitment. Trump began by meeting Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and China’s President Xi Jinping early in the year, and has remained in close contact with both since.

This was followed by meetings at the White House with the leaders of India, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. Trump met separately Indonesia’s Joko Widodo and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on other occasions. This is an impressive record of presidential engagement in just 10 months.

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Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defence James Mattis have also visited Asia on several occasions.

This high-level engagement has been particularly noticeable since the summer. During the first half of the year, there was a palpable American absence across the region – creating a strategic vacuum ready to be filled by China. The past few months of stepped-up engagement has helped assuage nervous governments, particularly in Southeast Asia.

Yet, there remain doubts about the overall strategy and staying power of the US towards the region. The Trump visit will be closely scrutinised for signs of US priorities. Will Trump explicitly reaffirm the five core alliances with Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand? He is likely to refer to the “free and open Indo-Pacific” region in his speeches, but does this really reflect a change in American strategy? Will he make any commitments to deployments of US military forces in the region?

What – if anything – will he say about significant human rights transgressions in China, Myanmar, North Korea, the Philippines and Thailand? Will he discuss democracy, as all previous American presidents have done? Will he emphasise Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as an American priority? Will he speak positively of multilateralism? How outspoken will he be about his “America First” trade and investment agenda? Can the US-China relationship, which steadily haemorrhaged during the Obama administration, be stabilised and improved? What will Trump say about the US-South Korean relationship to reassure Seoul? And perhaps, above all, what will he say about the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile threats? Asia awaits answers to these and other pressing questions.

Trump visits Asia at a time of change and dynamism across the region. Politically, there is relative stability. Not only are Japan’s Abe, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and China’s party general secretary Xi all fresh from recent elections and possessing new political mandates – but in Southeast Asia, Trump will encounter a similar set of well-ensconced leaders.

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Economically, the region continues to boom. The gross domestic products of China, Japan and India rank among the top 10 nations in the world, while South Korea, Indonesia and Australia all rank in the top 20. Asian economies account for around 40 per cent of the aggregate global economy, are the primary drivers of international GDP growth and account for one-third of global trade volume.

Asia accounts for 66 per cent of global currency reserves, and about 60 per cent of global capital inflows, around US$150 billion per year. Given this economic dynamism, Asia is vitally important for the United States.

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Demographically, Asia comprises 60 per cent of the world’s population. Eight of the world’s 15 most populated nations are in Asia, including the world’s three-largest Islamic nations. Despite the impressive growth in disposable incomes and standards of living across the region in recent decades, 800 million Asians still live on less than US$1 per day.

Given rising regional tensions, the Indo-Pacific region still looks to America as the primary stabilising force

In terms of security, Asia may be the most militarised region in the world. Asia possesses five of the world’s 10 largest standing armies (China, India, North Korea, South Korea and Vietnam), and four nuclear states (China, North Korea, India and Pakistan). Five of the world’s 15 largest defence-spending nations are in Asia. Collectively, regional defence expenditure has increased by more than 60 per cent over the past decade, to US$450 billion in 2016, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, reflecting the rising tensions across Northeast, Southeast and South Asia.

The region is bristling with increasingly sophisticated weaponry as almost all militaries are modernising their forces. Given rising regional tensions, the Indo-Pacific region still looks to America as the primary stabilising force.

It will be interesting to see if Trump takes note of these regional realities in his speeches. He is expected to give three public speeches during the trip – at a joint US-Korean military base, to the South Korean national assembly, and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Da Nang, Vietnam.

Trump inherited from Barack Obama an unprecedentedly strong position for the US in Asia. With its “pivot” policy, the Obama administration prioritised Asia as no previous US administration had – while the Trump administration has yet to “brand” its Asia policy, thus far we see prioritisation for a continued strong and influential American role in Asia.

There remain doubts about the depth of the administration’s understanding of the dynamics at work across Asia.
Nonetheless, there remain lingering doubts about America’s and Trump’s commitment to the region, and the depth of the administration’s understanding of the deep dynamics at work across Asia. China, in particular, is seen to be stealing a march on the US – in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and across the Indian Ocean with its “Belt and Road Initiative”.

 

While we can expect reassuring rhetoric from Trump during his tour, the US needs to substantively increase its engagement with all Asian societies on a continual basis. Periodic “parachute” visits by US presidents and senior officials, giving reassuring speeches, is not enough. Asians have long witnessed this approach from Washington. After Trump departs, only continuing substantive engagement at both governmental and societal levels will suffice to reassure Asia that America can be counted on.

David Shambaugh is Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science & International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and co-author of The International Relations of Asia

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy


November 2, 2017

Image result for asia-pacific bulletin

Number 403 | November 1, 2017

ANALYSIS

India’s Evolving Subregional Strategy

 

By K. Yhome

Development and security issues are interconnected in India’s eastern subregions – the Bay of Bengal, the Himalayas, and the Mekong subregion. Together, these subregions form India’s first geostrategic chain in the wider Indo-Pacific region. A subregion is a small group of geographically adjoining countries sharing a common ecosystem with interconnected development and security spaces. New Delhi’s evolving subregional approach needs to view the three subregions as a single strategic arch.

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The recent military standoff between India and China in the Himalayas, the winning of strategic port contracts in key littorals of the Bay of Bengal by Chinese companies, Islamabad’s reluctance to be part of regional initiatives and China’s growing regional political clout – as demonstrated by the willingness of most nations in the subregions to join the Chinese ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ – have further complicated India’s subregional policies.

Within this challenging environment, India and its smaller neighbors in the subregions have been looking to strengthen alternative subregional institutions such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) Initiative, and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC). The renewed focused on these subregional groupings contributes to both India’s domestic and regional governance needs.

That New Delhi has been recalibrating its approach toward its subregions is evident through the launching of the “Neighborhood First” policy and the “Act East” policy. However, in the changed geo-political context, traditional compartmentalized views of the subregions are unlikely to provide the fullest benefits to India.
India’s eastern subregions play a critical role in advancing two objectives of the Act East policy. Together the subregions provide India with both land and maritime options to access the East, and have emerged as key spaces for New Delhi to push its cross-border connectivity projects. The ongoing trilateral highway project – linking India’s Northeast with Thailand through Myanmar – is one such initiative with plans to further extend it to Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in the next phase.
As New Delhi strengthens its security engagements with the region, nations in the three subregions are emerging as important partners. In 2011, New Delhi put into practice its subregional approach in defense cooperation when it set up trilateral maritime security cooperation with Sri Lanka and Maldives to enhance maritime security. The idea was later expanded by inviting Mauritius and Seychelles to join the initiative.
India has entered into new defense and security agreements and initiated joint patrols and exercises with several nations in the subregions. Recent signings of memoranda of understanding for defense cooperation and offers of extending credit for purchase of arms and ammunition to subregional countries such as Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Vietnam, are indications of New Delhi’s renewed increase of subregional security cooperation.
The following elements define India’s evolving approach:
New Delhi’s subregional strategy aims at finding synergies between domestic and external policies, with the goal of advancing its foreign policy interests. Development of its frontier regions is thus a priority, because those regions play a critical role in the effective implementation of the strategy. In this context, India’s Northeast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands – along with the entire eastern seaboard – are key spaces in pushing forward India’s subregional strategy.
Building partnerships with like-minded countries in the development and security of the sub-regions forms another vital element of India’s approach. Unlike the past, when New Delhi was wary of collaborating with external actors in its subregions, India is now willing to leverage its partners where strategic interests converge. The subregions are opening up new opportunities for such collaboration. In this context, a shared vision of an Indo-Pacific region guided by ‘values-based’ and ‘rules-based order’ forms the basis for building partnerships.
New Delhi also has been giving greater roles and responsibilities to its states under the principle of cooperative federalism. The emphasis on the states’ role in regional diplomacy is another facet of the subregional approach. In practice, this is a work in progress. For cooperative federalism to support the subregional strategy there is need for effective coordination between the two. There is also need for creating a cadre of subregional specialists in the bureaucracy and a new policy for India bureaucratic services based on geographical zones that are in line with its subregional strategy.
The rebuilding of mutual trust with neighbours is another critical feature of India’s subregional approach. At a time when China is a willing partner in these subregions, and the smaller neighbors are seeking to maximize benefits, New Delhi is trying to minimize the mistrust that has long characterized its relations with smaller neighboring countries. One such attempt is by reviewing past bilateral treaties and agreements that are considered ‘unequal’ by smaller neighbors. In 2007, India updated the 1949 friendship treaty with Bhutan and last year a joint mechanism between India and Nepal was set up to update all bilateral treaties and agreements.

As India’s global aspirations grow, there is recognition that an unstable neighborhood can guarantee neither economic development, nor security. In this context, India’s vision in its eastern subregions has been to share its economic growth and enhance security cooperation, with the aim to build an ‘interlinked destiny’ of peace and prosperity in the region.
India’s eastern subregions are critical in safeguarding the country’s primacy and in expanding its strategic reach. As New Delhi fine tunes its subregional approach, there is need for constant nurturing of the strategy and assessment of its effectiveness in these ever-changing regional dynamics. This revisiting of the strategy should be aimed at injecting it with new dynamism and innovative ideas to keep pace with the changing times.

About the Author

K. Yhome is a Senior Fellow with New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation (ORF). He can be reached at khriezo@gmail.com.
The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
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The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Ops Lalang: Time to set things right


November 1, 2017

Ops Lalang: Time to set things right

Dr. Mahathir Mohamad must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang

by Dato’  Dennis Ignatius

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and Ops Lalang

The 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang has rightly generated much discussion about a dark chapter in our history when 106 of our fellow citizens were unjustly arrested and detained under the ISA. As a nation, we need to hear again the personal accounts of the detainees and their families, we need to confront the injustices of the past, if only to remind ourselves of the unfinished task of building a more just and democratic nation.

Taking responsibility

At the time, the government offered various reasons for the arrests including the need to forestall imminent racial riots. We know now that it was nothing but a sideshow to forestall a challenge to Dr. Mahathir’s rule from within his own party and to subdue opposition from without. And if racial tension had reached alarming levels, it was because the government then, as it still does today, sought to manipulate racial and religious issues to serve its own ends.

As Prime Minister and Home Minister at the time, Dr. Mahathir must assume ultimate responsibility for Ops Lalang. The then IGP was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more. To argue otherwise is both dishonest and disingenuous.

Dr. Mahathir may now concede that many of those who were detained were good people that he had simply demonised for political purposes but it is not enough. He should take personal responsibility and apologise to each and every detainee for the injustice he visited upon them.

Dr. Mahathir today is, of course, not the same man he was thirty years ago. He is now part of the political struggle for change and, though he is loathe to admit it, he is working to undo much of the damage that he himself inflicted upon our nation. I hope he will rise to the occasion by doing what is right.

Some have argued that insisting on an apology from Dr Mahathir would simply detract from the on-going efforts against UMNO-BN. On the contrary, an apology would immensely strengthen those efforts. It would also reaffirm that the struggle we are embarked upon is not simply about ousting an unpopular government at the next elections but about building a more just and democratic nation.

A national apology

UMNO-BN’s current leaders are no doubt relishing the fact that Dr. Mahathir is being taken to task over Ops Lalang but they should not be too smug. Some of those presently in government collaborated, acquiesced or defended Dr. Mahathir’s actions 30 years ago.

Image result for Najib Razak and Ops Lalang 1987The then IGP, (Tun) Hanif Omar was simply a willing accomplice, nothing more.

 

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, for example, was UMNO Youth Chief at the time and did his share of sabre-rattling in support of Dr. Mahathir. Other BN parties, for their part, never challenged Dr. Mahathir’s narrative or protested the mass arrests.

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And besides, if those in authority today disagree with Dr. Mahathir’s action, they have it in their power to set things right by issuing, on behalf of the government, a public apology to all those who were detained during Ops Lalang and awarding them appropriate compensation for the wrong that was done them.

After all, it was done for the judges whose removal from office Dr. Mahathir contemptuously engineered during the 1988 judicial crisis; there’s no reason why it cannot be done for the victims of Ops Lalang as well. It’s the honourable thing to do if there is still any honour left to be found in this government.

Other countries – South Africa, Chile, Argentina, to name a few – have taken courageous steps to confront their dark past through an open accounting of the wrongs that were done. It’s time for us to do the same with Ops Lalang. It is the only way to bring closure to this dark episode in our history and a measure of comfort to those who were so badly wronged in 1987.

Tyranny triumphs when people do nothing

The other point that is worth remembering, as we mark the 30th anniversary of Ops Lalang, is that undemocratic rulers only succeed when there are people who go along with what’s morally wrong in order to get along, who bend their knees to what their heart denies, who turn away from the truth because it is inconvenient or who simply “menurut perintah” regardless of conscience or consequence.

I was Political Counsellor at the Malaysian Embassy in Washington DC when Ops Lalang took place. We were deluged by protests from concerned US politicians and civil society groups and it fell to me and my colleagues to defend the government’s actions, unwittingly repeating the falsehoods about racial tension, Marxist agitators and threats to our democracy and stability.

Now, whenever I hear the stories about how even women were tortured and mentally abused while in detention, how those in power manipulated events and people for political expediency, I am filled with dismay and remorse that I was part of the machinery that caused the detainees and their families so much anguish.

The truth is its not just Dr. Mahathir who is culpable but the entire machinery of government, the judiciary, the police, and the politicians; they may not have given the orders but they stood by and watched it happen, or worse still, allowed themselves to be used in one way or another.

To paraphrase a well-worn quote, evil triumphs when ordinary people do nothing in the face of injustice.

The unfinished struggle

The Ops Lalang detainees have modelled for us courage and determination in the face of injustice and tyranny. Years later, many remain committed and active, undeterred by their ordeal. It is now up to us to be inspired by their example and continue the unfinished struggle for justice and democracy in Malaysia.

Dato’ Dennis Ignatius is a former ambassador.

Book Review: JASTA and a Third World War


October 24, 2017

Book Review: JASTA and a Third World War

How a US act could trigger a nuclear conflict. By Kamil Idris. UK Book Publishing, Hard Cover, 176 pp. with index

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 In May of 2016, the US House of Representatives unanimously passed the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act allowing victims of bombings or other terrorist acts to sue the governments of countries where the terrorists had originated. It was subsequently passed unanimously by the Senate. Both houses then overwhelmingly overrode a veto by then-President Barack Obama.

The act was aimed at Saudi Arabia, the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers recruited by Osama bin Laden who on September 11, 2001 brought down the World Trade Towers in New York and ushered in an era of vulnerability to terrorism that has continued to this day. Using the act, known universally as JASTA, 1500 injured survivors and 850 family members of 9/11 victims filed a class action lawsuit against Saudi Arabia, alleging the government had prior knowledge of the attack and that some of its officials and employees were al Qaeda operatives or sympathizers.

Obama suffered the first and only veto override of his presidency out of a very real fear that allowing such lawsuits against not just Saudi Arabia but other countries could trigger escalating confrontations that would lead to a nuclear conflagration. Prior to passage of the act, such suits were possible only if the US Department of State designated such a state as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Now, virtually any citizen can initiate such a suit.  And, as Obama feared, it could trigger retaliation in which the citizens of, say, Yemen or Afghanistan or Pakistan or any of several other countries could sue the United States government for the deaths of their relatives in the myriad drone strikes the US has delivered that have killed large numbers of citizens by accident.

The result could be a tit-for-tab worsening of relations with any number of countries as any of their citizens become plaintiffs to take on such demands for reparations. This whole situation is deeply troubling to Kamil Idris, the ex-director general of two United Nations agencies and now a member of several other organizations including the United Nations International Law Commission.

Idris is hardly alone. A long list of legal scholars have questioned the wisdom, even the sanity of the act. But Idris raises deeper concerns, saying that, given the fanatical motivation of terrorists who have anyway complete contempt for international law or boundaries, the act is unlikely to discourage any terrorism, or play a role in efforts by other countries to contain terrorism within their bothers.

“My chief concern, however,” he writes, “is that JASTA will seriously affect the carefully established and sometimes precarious goodwill and understanding between the US and other nations by attempting to undermine their legitimate sovereignty.”

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President Obama was a chief executive whose caution in his dealings with other nations was praised by his supporters and decried by his opponents.  The President of the United States is now Donald J Trump, a loose cannon who, although Idris never says it, shows no qualms whatsoever – or takes any advice – in firing off condemnations of other countries.  JASTA in his hands is a potent and frightening weapon.

JASTA, Idris argues, is a violation of the sovereignty of foreign states, has no standing in international law, violates the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act passed in 1976, which holds that individuals do not have standing to sue in such cases and protects a foreign state from being liable for damages.

“JASTA is likely to lead to other countries adopting similar acts which would lead to the US itself facing lawsuits from all over the world,” Idris writes. “This is why President Obama himself was so critical of JASTA during the last few months of his administration.”

Obama’s fear of reciprocal claims, Idris says, is no joke. Indeed, According to several different sources, even as long ago as 2011, hundreds of civilians have died in drone strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism found at least 15 percent of the total killed by drone strikes were either known civilians or unknown.  At least 160 children have been killed in Pakistan. The New American Foundation estimated that the non-militant fatality rate was 20 percent between 2004 and 2011. “Collateral damage,” the euphemism for such killings, has taken the lives of hundreds in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, according to former President Jimmy Carter.

So far, Saudi Arabia is the only country to come under a lawsuit inspired by JASTA. But, Idris writes, if it is fully implemented, “I am arguing that there could be a consequent retreat into a hardening form of nationalism as a protective measure.” Certainly in the United States, the retreat into nationalism has been marked under President Trump, leading US Sen. John McCain, in a dramatic speech on Oct. 16, to refer obliquely to the administration as retreating into “some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems (which) is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”

Idris’s reasons for raising questions over rising nuclear tensions, he said “is because I believe we are now close to mirroring conditions that eventually led up to the First World War. It is imperative that we learn and apply the lessons of history and we ignore the facts at our peril.”

In sum, Idris has written a disturbing and important book. It is an irritating one – he has a habit of citing dozens of cases only by title with no explanation of what the cases are about. The index is little more than a list of single names, with no indication of what the cites deal with. But within the pages of this book he lists a long litany of specific cases in countries that could trigger JASTA.

‘It is a sobering thought that any of these areas of conflict could quickly ignite and set off a chain reaction in the wider world. Once again it is aggressive nationalism that is the main contributing factor to the tensions and if JASTA becomes a reality, then the problem will only intensify.” A deeply respected jurist, Idris has delivered a clear-headed warning that a tense world – and the President in Washington – needs to heed.

 

The Sovereignty that Really Matters


October 23, 2017

The Sovereignty that Really Matters

by Javier Solana

The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by imposing strict isolation. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not.

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MADRID – In his famous “political trilemma of the world economy,” Harvard economist Dani Rodrik boldly claims that global economic integration, the nation-state, and democracy cannot coexist. At best, we can combine two of the three, but always at the expense of one.

Until recently, the so-called Washington Consensus, with its emphasis on liberalization, deregulation, and privatization, shaped economic policy worldwide. While the 2008 global financial crisis eroded its credibility, the G20 countries quickly agreed to avoid the protectionist policies against which the consensus stood.

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Meanwhile, the European Union remained (and remains) the only democratic experiment on a supranational level, taking pride in its promising advances, despite being burdened by multiple defects. In other words, economic integration, anchored in the nation-state, remained in favor globally, while democracy was made secondary to international market dynamics.

But 2016 marked a turning point, though we still do not know toward what. A “Beijing Consensus” has emerged, which some view as an alternative model of development based on greater government intervention. But it was the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump as US president that really reflected the move to upend the long-established balance among globalization, the nation-state, and democracy.

“Let’s take back control” was the Brexiteers’ winning slogan, expressing a sentiment that clearly resonated with the slim majority of British voters who supported withdrawal from the EU. Likewise, many Trump voters were convinced that the accumulated powers of Wall Street, transnational players, and even other countries had to be reined in to “make America great again.”

It would not be wise to scorn this diagnosis, to which Rodrik himself subscribes (at least in part), just because one dislikes the proposals put forward by Trump and some of the Conservative proponents of Brexit. Their approach consists in hindering globalization – while maintaining or even enhancing other aspects of the Washington Consensus, such as financial deregulation – and strengthening democracy through the nation-state.

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In his first appearance before the United Nations General Assembly, Trump delivered a 42-minute speech in which he used the words “sovereignty” or “sovereign” 21 times –an average of once every two minutes. And in Europe, the United Kingdom is not the only country to be carried away by a neo-Westphalian current: Poland and Hungary are in its grip as well. Even the Catalan pro-independence movement, headed by various parties, most of which would not feel comfortable being labeled “anti-globalization,” follows a similar logic of retreat into nationalism.

All of these forces overestimate their capacity to dilute or circumvent existing economic integration, which has been strengthened in recent decades by the rapid development of cross-border value chains. Unless these forces reverse course, they are more likely to dilute the influence that their nation-states (or the states they seek to create) might be able to wield over globalization. In short, an increase in formal sovereignty could paradoxically result in a loss of effective sovereignty, which is the kind that really matters.

Consider Britain: by exiting the EU, the British will have no say over what is, far and away, their most important export market. As for Catalonia, a supposedly pro-independence and pro-sovereignty movement could end up creating a polity that is less sovereign and more at the mercy of international events.

Just a week after Trump’s UN speech, French President Emmanuel Macron presented his vision of Europe’s future in an address at the Sorbonne. Macron also mentioned the word “sovereign” repeatedly, making it clear that it forms the basis of his vision for Europe. But, unlike populists, he favors an effective and inclusive sovereignty, European in scope and supported by two more key pillars: unity and democracy.

Relations between states are driven by cooperation, competition, and confrontation. There is little doubt that a certain degree of confrontation will always be present internationally. But the EU has clearly demonstrated that its incidence can be reduced by exponentially increasing the opportunity cost of conflictive dynamics. Unfortunately, the movements that understand sovereignty in isolationist terms usually revert to extreme nationalism, which is not given to promoting the common spaces that allow international society to prosper.

The preference of some countries to isolate themselves within their borders is anachronistic and self-defeating, but it would be a serious mistake for others, fearing contagion, to respond by avoiding engagement with these states. The spirit of cooperation, along with constructive competition, should structure relations between all players that possess international legitimacy. Even in states that have succumbed to reductionist discourses, much of the population has not. Such is the case of the 48% of British voters who opposed Brexit, or the 49% of Turks who voted “no” to expanding the Turkish presidency’s powers, implicitly rejecting a narrative that used the EU as a scapegoat. Many of these voters would surely be disappointed if the EU turned its back on them.

The vitality of international society depends on dialogue. And, to avoid perpetuating the deficiencies of the Washington Consensus, which were revealed with such clarity in 2016, this dialogue must occur within the framework of a common and democratic public sphere. If we cultivate this common public sphere, reducing the pre-eminence of the nation-state, we could advance step by step toward the least explored side of the triad described by Rodrik: global democracy.

Of course, a universal democracy would be a very difficult objective to achieve (Rodrik himself rules it out). But, with technological development and the multiplication of economic and cultural synapses, it is not a chimera. In this sense, the EU has already forged a new path, one that aims to expand democracy beyond the realm of the nation-state. For Europe, as well as for other regions, it is a path worth following.

*Javier Solana was EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.