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Monday, 26 April 2010

Obama, Peace Prize President, Escalates Arms Race

The blog post below, which appeared last week in the excellent Kings of War blog run by the Department of War Studies at King's College, London, provides some sobering reflections on President Obama's latest concession to the military policies of President George W. Bush. It seems Obama has ok'd a plan to develop 'conventionally-armed' missiles that fly at speeds in excess of 3500 miles per hour and could strike targets anywhere on the planet in a matter of hours. The story was covered in the Sunday Times yesterday (25 April). Even the hawkish analysts at the Heritage Foundation don't think Obama will be winning a second Nobel Peace Prize.

It is clear that at the same time as Obama's cuts to US nuclear arsenals and the abandonment of the nuclear missile defence system plans in Eastern Europe are promoted as indicative of the US' peaceful intent, the country is working furiously to develop ever more lethal 'conventional' weapons and retain its military superiority. The notion of a permanent 'preponderance of power' in US capabilities goes back to the days of President Harry Truman, at the very start and embedding of Cold War mentalities: Obama's administration seeks to do precisely the same, despite the disappearance of the world communist 'threat', the ostensible reason for the adoption of Cold War mindsets and development of the military-industrial complex.

The big question is why is the liberal, anti-Bush Obama authorising Bush-era military policies? The big story is that Obama, as president, is a key figure in the US foreign policy establishment, as are his principal appointees to high office. To be sure, Obama has inherited much from the Bush administration over which he has little control - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular. Yet, he has shown little desire to alter the fundamentals of US policies as already established under Bush. In other areas, such as the proposed Prompt Global Strike missiles, where Obama could choose to act differently, he has not taken the opportunity. The mindset of the US foreign policy establishment remains "preponderance" of American power; that has not changed since 1945. Liberal, pragmatic, multilateral Obama, perhaps, 'sells' it better than did the unilateral, militarist, ideologue Bush: the difference to the world is marginal.

From Kings of War blog....

The Obama administration is poised to take up one of the more dangerous and hare-brained schemes of the Rumsfeld-era Pentagon. The New York Times is reporting that the Defense Department is once again looking to equip intercontinental ballistic missiles with conventional warheads. The missiles could then, in theory, destroy fleeing targets a half a world away — a no-notice “bolt from the blue,” striking in a matter of hours. There’s just one teeny-tiny problem: the launches could very well start World War III.

Over and over again, the Bush administration tried to push the idea of these conventional ICBMs. Over and over again, Congress refused to provide the funds for it. The reason was pretty simple: those anti-terror missiles look and fly exactly like the nuclear missiles we’d launch at Russia or China, in the event of Armageddon. “For many minutes during their flight patterns, these missiles might appear to be headed towards targets in these nations,” a congressional study notes. That could have world-changing consequences. “The launch of such a missile,” then-Russian president Vladimir Putin said in a state of the nation address after the announcement of the Bush-era plan, “could provoke a full-scale counterattack using strategic nuclear forces.”

The Pentagon mumbled all kinds of assurances that Beijing or Moscow would never, ever, never misinterpret one kind of ICBM for the other. But the core of their argument essentially came down to this: Trust us, Vlad Putin! That ballistic missile we just launched in your direction isn’t nuclear. We swear!

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t even muster that coherent of a defense.

“Everyone in the world would know that [the missile] was conventional,” he said in a press conference, “after it hit within 30 minutes.”

The new “Prompt Global Strike” plan is a little different from the old one. It relies on land-based missiles, instead of sub-based ones. The idea is that these conventional missiles sites would be open to Russian inspection, and wouldn’t accidentally drop debris on a superpower.

But Moscow doesn’t exactly seem soothed by this new plan. “World states will hardly accept a situation in which nuclear weapons disappear, but weapons that are no less destabilizing emerge in the hands of certain members of the international community,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said earlier this month.

When the idea of Prompt Global Strike was first proposed, the goal was to hit anywhere on the planet in under an hour. Old-school weapons had proved ineffective at catch terrorists on the move. Newer, quicker arms might be able to do the job, instead. Flight tests for some of those weapons — like a hypersonic cruise missile — are just getting underway. Until then, relying on conventional ICBMs to do the job, and risking a nuclear showdown, is just plain crazy.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Anglo-American Relations: "An Immensely Special Relationship"

A disappointing election debate last night from a foreign policy perspective.

What were the big questions (of interest to USBlog) on which hardly anything was said:
1. The Iraq War
2. British authorities' complicity in torture of terror suspects in US detention facilities
3. The timetable for withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan or the illegitimate character of the Karzai regime
4. The attitude to the emergence of China as a global power.

Nick Clegg stood out as the only candidate opposed to the next generation of Trident nuclear missile systems and both David cameron and Gordon Brown told him to "get real": New Labour has travelled very far since the unilateral disarmament days of the early 1980s. They don't even listen to elements of the UK military establishment on this matter, raising the spectre of a nuclear-armed Iran (no evidence advanced on that matter, of course) and North Korea.

USBlog applauds Clegg on taking that stand and not caving in to extreme pressure, though he did justify scrapping Trident on the grounds that Obama was also decommissioning large numbers of US nuclear missiles (ironic really given what he said later in the debate). Cameron repeated the usual guff about Trident being Britain's "independent" nuclear deterrent, although he knows full well that the United States controls the "trigger" and targetting of Trident.

It was also Nick Clegg who declared that Britain should not be at America's "beck and call" on all matters, although qualified his comment by preceding it with the usual line: the UK's alliance with America is "an immensely special relationship" - though he did not define the characteristics that make it "special". As a recent book by Durham's John Dumbrell argues, America has quite a few "special relationships".

Yet, Brown (quite gratuitously) accused Clegg of being "anti-American". On that issue, USBlog may comment later.

But let's be clear: all three parties are for continued war in Afghanistan; are likely to go for more interventions abroad in the global war on terror; and will spend whatever it takes to finance military operations. Indeed, Gordon Brown emphasised that Somalia and Yemen are already in Britain's (and America's) sights.

Why? Because "Britain is a force for good in the world", according to Nick Clegg last night, the MoD, and the other liberal and conservative interventionists that dominate debate and decision-making. There are monsters to destroy out there and Britain will do its bit.

"IT CAN BE DIFFERENT," according to Nick Clegg: not on last night's performance.

3 parties, one view!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Anglo-American Relations: Is Clegg the British Obama?

In a recent visit to the University of Manchester, Louis Sussman, the US ambassador to Britain, noted that the 'special relationship' was alive and well. Anglo-American relations, he implied, were as strong as ever, dismissing recently-expressed doubts - in documents ranging from a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report to a Ministry of Defence paper, not to mention statements by Tory and Liberal Democrat leaders - about America's commitment to an alliance that's over 60 years old.

Yet, as USBlog has noted, there appear to be increasingly-loud objections among British politicians to the Anglo-American alliance (see several posts below). Tonight's UK election debate, focusing on foreign policy, offers an opportunity for all three party leaders - Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Nick Clegg - to state clearly their own positions on this central relationship, the very foundation stone of Britain's post-1945 role in the world.

The clamour around Nick Clegg is now intense. Some hail him as "Britain's Obama", the real "change" candidate who will inaugurate a sea-change in British foreign policy. They point to the fact that the Lib-Dems, like Obama, opposed the Iraq War, which was fully supported by Tony Blair's government and the Tory opposition (indeed, David Cameron has stated that, despite the lack of WMD found in Iraq after the invasion, and the profound levels of deception that were used to justify aggression, that he would do exactly the same again). They point to the fact that Clegg is a relative "outsider" offering a fresh approach - a new politics of hope - just as Obama did. And some point out Clegg's mixed parentage (half-Russian father, Dutch mother) and cosmopolitan outlook - (a bit) like Obama's own background.

But is Clegg the British Obama? And if so, is this a good thing? After all, Obama's record on national security and foreign policy matters has disappointed large swathes of his supporters: the Guantanmo Bay detention camp remains open, Obama is appealing a district court decision to extend US constitutional protections to detainees at the Bagram air base detention camp, Israel continues to build illegal settlements and bomb and destroy Palestinian territories at will, and the war in Afghanistan continues to intensify under an illegitimate regime elected by a minority of the people, violating the constitution written with American endorsement.

Obama famously opposed the Iraq War: but on what grounds? That it was illegal? No? That it was wrong to attack a country that constituted no threat to the US? No. He claimed in Autumn 2002 that a war against Iraq was a "dumb war" with no strategic rationale. And as the war/occupation descended into crisis, he argued that it brought American power and liberal interventionism into disrepute. That is, the 'dumb' war in Iraq was discrediting American interventionism in general and rasing the spectre of the Vietnam 'syndrome' - a general fear of large-scale, long-term military commitments - not a good thing for the world's policeman. Obama was and is no pacifist. He's a firm believer in America's right to intervene within or beyond international law and the United Nations should America see fit. America remains the 'indispensable nation' which sees further and better than others.

Nick Clegg defines himself as a liberal interventionist. The Iraq War, he told a leading British foreign policy think tank (Chatham House) in 2008, undermined the general principle of liberal interventionism - the right of US, British and other western countries to send armies and other forces abroad to put a stop to whatever they deem unacceptable (usually in countries unfriendly to western interests). This viewpoint inevitably leads Clegg - and Cameron and Brown, however much they claim to be distancing themselves from the United States - back into the arms of the Americans. Without US support, Britain would find it almost impossible to commit military forces abroad. This was the case in the Falklands War of 1982, for example.

If Clegg is Britain's Obama, at least in foreign policy terms, we should be worried.

The only other problem is that both Cameron and Brown have near-identical beliefs to Clegg's. Three parties, one view: democracy in the twenty-first century!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Imperial mindsets dominate US foreign policy elites

Last week, USBlog engaged in a debate on the rights and wrongs of US democracy promotion. In an interesting and welcome response to USBlog's post, it was suggested that the United States is a different kind of global power to any others and has no genuine 'imperial' intent.

Below I present my own analysis of a report written by an elite group of liberal US academics and their allies and collaborators in the US state, and elsewhere. It is an analysis of the Final Report of the Princeton Project on National Security led by Princeton professors G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter (currently serving as head of policy planning in the State Department). The article below and the Final Report give a flavour of the kinds of thinking or mindsets that animate the post-Bush era. I believe it brings out the imperial character of US elite mindsets inside and outside the Obama administration. While the US may not be an empire in the strictest sense - it is certainly an imperial power. The difference, to life as it is actually lived - especially in the Third World, may be marginal.

For the full version of the article posted below, readers should take a look at: Inderjeet Parmar, "Foreign policy fusion: liberal interventionists, conservative nationalists, and neoconservatives - the new alliance dominating the US foreign policy establishment," in International Politics vol 46, no.2/3, March 2009, pp.177-209.

Final Report: Forging A World of Liberty Under Law. U.S. National Security in the 21st Century

Three specific aims -- securing the homeland against hostile attacks or fatal epidemics; building a healthy global economy, ‘which is essential for our own prosperity and security’; and constructing ‘a benign international environment’, grounded in security cooperation among nations and the spread of liberal democracy -- should constitute Washington's basic objectives, according to the Report. The Report was published in July 2006, in the very middle of Bush’s second term (2004-2008), at a time when criticism of the US war on Iraq was commonplace – from broad swathes of public opinion to neo-conservatives such as Francis Fukuyama and Richard Perle, Republicans such as Senator Charles Hagel, let alone leading Democrats such as Hilary Clinton and, later, Barack Obama. Disenchantment with the Bush strategy was reflected in emphatic victory for the Democrats at the mid-term elections of November 2006 – gaining control of both Senate and House of Representatives - which many predicted signalled the death of the ‘Bush doctrine’ of unilateralism, pre-emption, preventive war, and militarism as outlined in the National Security Strategy of 2002.

The following sections of the article consider the Report’s uses of history, its attachment to democratic peace theory, attitude to the United Nations, and the role of global networks in American power.

The Report’s view of ‘history’ is instructive: Pearl Harbor taught Americans ‘that the security of their homeland and the viability of the American way of life as a free society depended upon developments in the rest of the world… Simply put, we learned that aggressors in far away lands, if left unchecked, would some day threaten the United States. The implications of this lesson were profound. Rather than recoiling in isolation from great power politics, we decided as a nation that it was imperative to play an active and leading role in the world’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). That is, an innocent America was rudely awakened by an unprovoked military attack on its territory by a power to which it had done nothing, a version of US-Japanese relations in the period that may be comforting though not entirely accurate (Thompson, 1992).

The postwar ‘transformation of the Soviet Union from ally to adversary’ – how this happened or was engineered is not discussed - as well as the threat of economic depression further strengthened American resolve behind ‘global involvement in the early years of the Cold War’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). The uncritical assertion of the ‘Soviet threat’ as a key cause of America’s very neutral-sounding ‘global involvement’ is also worrying, given the weight of historical scholarship on the question (Leffler, 1992; Kolko, 1969; Shoup and Minter, 1977; Campbell, 1992). According to the Report, it was NSC-68 that brought together all the strands of an enduring national security strategy – ‘the seminal 1950 memo that reorganized and reoriented our national security policy for the Cold War. It laid out the doctrine of containment..’ as well as stressing the necessity of building a ‘healthy international community’ as the US ‘needed then, as we need now, a “world environment within which the American system can survive and flourish”’ (PPNS, 2006, 16). That the drive to develop and sell to the American public the aggressive and expansionist message of NSC-68 was led by the militaristic Committee on the Present Danger, receives no acknowledgement in the Final Report (Sanders, 1983).

Combined with such realizations – that the United States had global enemies and faced serious threats – and a response in terms of the containment doctrine, the Truman administration inaugurated an era of international institution-building to generate a ‘benign’ international environment (PPNS, 2006, 15). The IMF, World Bank, United Nations, NATO, as well as the Marshall Plan that catalysed European recovery and integration, helped to create and maintain a state of affairs that ‘served the interests of many other countries, making it easier to pursue our interests as well.’ In those days, the ‘United States led but listened, gained by giving, and emerged stronger because its global role was accepted as legitimate’ (PPNS, 2006, 16, 22).

This is a version of history that is presented as uncontested: it is, by definition, true for the PPNS. It conforms to the overall view that American power is benign, largely reactive and defensive, and relatively enlightened, rather than narrowly-construed and self-serving. It is to try and take from the past what is best for adaptation to the present that appears to animate the Report. The Truman era is then a ‘golden era’ of relative prosperity, security and order, which we need, in today’s conditions, to re-invent as ‘the world seems a more menacing place than ever’ (PPNS, 2006, 11): ‘it means safeguarding our alliances and promoting security cooperation among liberal democracies, ensuring the safety of Americans abroad as well as at home, avoiding the emergence of hostile great powers or balancing coalitions against the United States, and encouraging liberal democracy and responsible government worldwide’ (PPNS, 2006, 16).

The Princeton Project is persuaded of the efficacy of ‘democratic peace’ theory: democracies do not fight each other and the best hope for the world is democratization (PPNS, 2006, 25). Therefore, build alliances of liberal democracies, prevent other great powers or coalitions threatening the US, and promote democracy. Critiques of this view are left unaddressed (Rosato, 2003).

This sounds, of course, not dissimilar to the ‘neo-conservative’ orientations of the Bush administration and, of course, thinking within the Truman administration (O’Neil, 2006). This is understandable, according to Stephen Walt, as liberal internationalists and neo-conservatives share a belief in the essential goodness of American power and the necessity of its use for global improvement. That is why many liberal internationalists – some of them involved in the Princeton Project (Joseph Nye, for example) - supported the Iraq War (Der Derian, 2003). Both groups also want only America and its allies to own and control weapons of mass destruction (Walt, 2006, 2). They differ, however, on the role of international institutions with neo-cons skeptical due to liberals’ stubborn desire for observing international law and, thereby, hindering the realization of American interests. It is clear though that the Princeton Project recognizes the limitations of the UN, for example, and calls, first, for ‘radical surgery’ – abolition of the Security Council veto - to permit military interventions in sovereign states, and secondly, for a new organization of liberal democracies that would, in the failure of the UN to act, militarily enforce the UN’s ‘values’ (Walt, 2006, 7).

The overlaps between the Princeton Project’s Final Report and Bush’s 2002 NSS (and the core beliefs of Bush’s neo-con allies) are many and interesting. Where the NSS and neo-cons argued for spreading democracy, the Project argues for spreading ‘Liberty under Law’ (Walt, 2006, 2). Where NSS wanted ‘a balance of power that favors human freedom’, PPNS promotes ‘maintaining a balance of power in favor of liberal democracies’. Both agree that defending and promoting freedom/liberal democracy requires ‘continued high level of U.S. defense spending…’ (PPNS, 2006, 30). NSS emphasized preventive war and action which PPNS endorses against ‘extreme states’ after approval from the UN or ‘some broadly representative multilateral body…’ (Walt, 2006, 4).

To the PPNS, the United Nations system is broken and needs reform. Barring reform, the United States should build a new ‘Concert of Democracies’ to enforce international law and deter and intervene against aggressors, brutal states, terrorist havens and so on. The concert of democracies would be an American-centred alliance that would feature military burden-sharing. In practice, the concert of democracies is likely to be an alliance of the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and, possibly, India. It is not too far removed from what some have argued for over a decade now: a sort of alliance of the English-speaking countries – an Anglosphere (Lloyd, 2000; Hichens, 2007), the evolution of a hangover from late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Anglo-Saxonism: a racist belief in the innate biologically-determined superiority in economy, industry, government and culture of the Anglo-Saxon peoples (Anderson, 1981). This reappeared as Federal Unionism in the late 1930s and early 1940s, specifically between the US and Britain but including its white dominions as well as Scandinavia (Parmar, 2004, 71-2, 195-6). Its racism was underlined by the machinations among its sponsors to gerrymander power away from populous India in a future federal assembly – including techniques borrowed from the US deep south to disenfranchise African-Americans. The proposed concert of democracies may well follow in an updated version of this tradition. That is, it appears to be part of an imperial project.

Empire has become in many neo-cons’ and others’ eyes perfectly acceptable today. An empire of liberty is not really an empire at all. An empire that promotes and extends democracy is the very antithesis of the old colonial system. And democracies do not fight wars against other democracies. In many ways, these ideas are endorsed by the PPNS’ Final Report (Ikenberry, 2004). There is an expansive sense of ‘America’ in the Final Report when it argues that ‘U.S. borders [should] be defined for some purposes as extending to the port of shipment rather than the port of entry….[American officials should also]… strengthen the quality and capacity of a foreign government to control its territory and enforce its laws,’ a necessary corollary to ‘defining our borders beyond those established by land and sea’ (PPNS, 2006, 57). As Henry Kissinger is quoted as arguing, US foreign policy must ‘ “protect the extraordinary opportunity that has come about to recast the international system.”’ The Princeton Project seeks to help America to grasp this opportunity to lay the foundations for advancing America’s interests on every front, rather than just vanquishing one enemy [global terrorism]…a long-term strategy should strive to shape the world as we want it to be’ (PPNS, 2006, 58). As Samuel Huntington argued several decades ago, what there is of American empire was gained through territorial penetration rather than territorial acquisition: precisely the Princeton Project’s preferred mode of exercising power (Huntington, 1973).

One of the means by which American interests are to be realized is through the power of global networks: ‘We should establish and institutionalize networks of national, regional, and local government officials and nongovernmental representatives to create numerous channels for [democratic] nations and others to work on common problems and to communicate and inculcate the values and practices that safeguard liberty under law’ (PPNS, 2006, 7). The aim is to intersect ‘international institutions and domestic governments… institutions providing incentives and pressure to help conquer dysfunctional levels of corruption and bolster the rule of law…’ (PPNS, 2006, 23).

Despite denials, therefore, of an imperial project, the levels of global leadership, global military engagement, and degree of penetration of overseas nations – through border, port and other security cooperation and supervision, interventions through public diplomacy and education – and political warfare – for nipping threats abroad in the bud – all suggest that the PPNS effectively endorses an imperial approach to safeguarding American security. Kennan would, surely, have approved.

An instructive quotation: ‘[A] military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States' global responsibilities.

‘Of course, the United States must be prudent in how it exercises its power. But we cannot safely avoid the responsibilities of global leadership or the costs that are associated with its exercise. America has a vital role in maintaining peace and security in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. If we shirk our responsibilities, we invite challenges to our fundamental interests. The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership.’

The above statement is not drawn from the PPNS’ Final Report, but it would not be out of place there. In fact, the quotation is extracted from the 1997 Statement of Principles of the Project for A New American Century. It is instructive as to the degree to which the ‘centre’ has shifted to the Right since 1997.

The Final Report of the Princeton Project has received wide attention: it was launched on Capitol Hill by Charles Hagel and now Vice-President-elect, Joseph Biden, and presented to conferences across the USA normally co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, at private meetings between Ikenberry, Slaughter and Senate staffers. There were plans to lobby congressmen to organise ‘Princeton Project events in their home districts’, a visit to the UN to discuss the Report, and events in China and Europe (Quinones, 2006).

PPNS is an ‘alternative’ within a new consensus on US engagement with the world and its re-making post-1989 and post-9/11; this is a re-ordering of the world more specifically under a US- led global system requiring the redefinition of roles of global institutions , alliances and so on. This process, triggered after 1989, and ongoing since the 1990s, and especially after 9/11 includes developments under Bush as well as Tony Blair’s thinking on ‘international community’: i.e., it stands rhetorically as ‘alternative’ to Bush in theory but in practice able to go along; it is liberal imperial at its core.

The PPNS Report’s recommendations are an integral part of the liberal imperial project, not its rejection. It had to be this way due to the objectives of the Project, its leadership and participants, and the scholar-activists’ desire to be taken seriously by policymakers, affecting its design, leadership, membership, funding and networks. It was oriented to the US state and therefore had to enter its intellectual frameworks and underpinnings if it was to sound ‘realistic’ as an ‘alternative’ to the state or an opposition party in waiting.

The PPNS is therefore an example of scholarship in the service of the state – state intellectuals, organic intellectuals, behind an imperial programme that is undemocratic as it is centred upon US preponderance; socially and economically unjust to the third world through its attachment to ‘the generally beneficial process of globalization’ (PPNS, 2006, 7), has disturbing racist undertones through its championing of a ‘concert of liberal democracies’, militaristic in terms of its attempt to internationalise the burdens of the American world project, and imperialistic due to its recommendations for global penetration via network-building, state-building and social engineering.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The Anglo-American Alliance Lives

I reproduce below, in full, an analysis of Anglo-American relations by Professor Michael Cox, leading scholar from the London School of Economics. As ever, he adds considerable nuance and insight to the recently released UK House of Commons Report on the 'special relationship', analysed in USBlog a couple of weeks ago.

It will be especially interesting, in the light of the current frisson of 'activity' on this question, to hear what the three political party leaders have to say on the matter when they engage in their televised election debate on international affairs (the second of the three scheduled debates).

Professor Cox's analysis:

A recently released report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has received more than its fair share of analysis by the commentariat who rarely, if ever, look at the committee’s reports with much care. The reason for such attention is clear. The headline news coming out of the committee was that the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and the UK was either no more (if you read some newspapers) or (if you read others) was a term that should rapidly be expunged from public discourse. Nor was this all. The UK, it continued, should increasingly stand up for itself and not be as deferential to the United States as it had traditionally been in the past. It should even, sometimes, say no.

Of course, headlines are not designed to capture complexity or nuance; and so it would seem to be with this report. Indeed, its collective authors readily concede that the relationship still remained strong – stronger now than ever perhaps now that the popular Obama was in the White House. Moreover, they did not call for any new alignment with any other particularly special country, like say France or Germany. God forbid. Still, there was no doubting what the report was seeking to do: namely, set off a debate about why Britain’s relationship with the United States might be in flux and should therefore be re-examined.

Such a rethink after Bush and now in the era of Obama – who has other, rather more important things on his mind than to worry about the sensibilities of the Brits – is to be welcomed. That said, the report suffers from one basic flaw: a disjuncture between the evidence presented and the conclusions apparently arrived at.

Thus while we are told that the relationship should not officially be referred to as being ‘special’, largely because the term is ‘misleading’ and might offend others if used too frequently, most of the evidence presented would appear to suggest that it is precisely that, most obviously in the area of intelligence (see p. 5). Nor does the special quality of the relationship end there. In the areas of trade, culture and finance for example, according to the report the two countries look like having an especially dense relationship – one of the ‘densest’ no less. Furthermore, on many big issues, the UK and the US look like they agree about most things. We even like to visit each other’s countries in our millions. We also seem to like each other quite a lot. And we exchange our pop stars and movie actors and actresses with ease.

Finally, as Douglas Hurd pointed out in his written evidence, there is no chance at all of the UK waging a major war - and waging it successfully - without the complete backing of the United States. In short, it all sounds pretty “special” whether or not you like to use the term.

But this is not the main problem or the real issue. Basically, it is not so much what is in the report that is significant, as much as what remains unstated or understated. Put another way: what is really going on here?

Three things I would speculate. First, in spite of all the nice words about Obama in the report, there is an uneasy sense ‘over here’ that ‘over there’ they really don’t give a damn any more. So, we had better get used to the fact; and what better way of getting ready for rejection at worst (indifference at best) than by acting a little bit coy?

Second, British power is on the wane – as Stryker Mcguire of the LSE pointed out in a much quoted essay published in Newsweek last year (‘Forget the Great in Britain’, 1 August 2009). Decline does all sorts of strange things to people and states, but one thing more than anything else is for those so afflicted to speculate at length about who they are, what they are, who loves them and who doesn’t. In this sense, I read this report as symptomatic of a crisis in the making about Britain’s position in the world.

Finally, there is no doubt that whatever the UK might have gained from the relationship – and it has not been inconsiderable - it has fed British illusions about its role in the world. This was fine during the Cold War perhaps, and even during the 1990s before the rise of China, the uneasy emergence of the European Union, and 9/11. Now the relationship is proving more of a liability – however special it might remain. And this is what the report is really trying to say without, however, saying it too bluntly (that might after all damage the ‘special relationship’).

But where does this all leave the UK? In a most uncomfortable position I would suggest. Uneasy and uncertain about a relationship from which it cannot escape in a world that is now more dangerous than ever – and dangerous in large part because of the way Blair joined forces with Bush – the UK is caught between a very hard rock and equally hard place: between an affair she cannot abandon and a future she cannot contemplate without having her powerful, muscular lover by her side holding her hand and reassuring her that she still remains attractive.

Professor Michael Cox is co-Director of LSE IDEAS

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

US 'Democracy' Promotion - Some Problems

In a recent article in the online version of The Guardian ("US foreign policy isn't thuggish"; 12 April 2010), Drs. Tim Lynch and Nicolas Bouchet, respected London-based academics, rebut claims made by Martin Jenkins that the United States was motivated by 'democracy' promotion in their military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. They argue instead that US policy is and was motivated by perceived "serious national security threat(s)," justified by the rhetoric of democracy promotion to the American public.

This argument, part of which is almost beyond contention (the part that suggests that the US rarely, if ever, really promotes democrcay, western-style or other), contains serious flaws, an assumption that even Lynch and Bouchet's (numerous and robust) online critics have failed to address: the idea of "security threats" as the source of US behaviour. That's the first flaw, suggesting that US behaviour in invading Iraq, in particular, but in in its foreign policy pursuits in general, originates from external security threats. The broader assumption, left unexplored by critics, is that the United States is a defensive power, responding to external threats. Herein lies the main problem.

The fact of the case is that the United States has been a systematically proactive and expansionist power since 1945 (at the very least): external threats to that hegemonic project are forever wheeled out as justification for expansionism. Initially, it was Nazi/fascist aggression; then the Soviet Union. When the Soviet bloc collapsed there ensued a period of authentic confusion in US national "security" thinking - and the search for a plausible new "threat", new monsters to destroy, began. This was especially significant because of the deafening demands for a "peace dividend" - masses of people demanding that the Pentagon's budget be slashed and more spent at home dealing with educational failure, rising social inequality, and so on.

NATO, supposedly a north Atlantic alliance, which was formed in 1949 as a defensive military pact against the communist "threat", did not go out of business in the 1990s - it's now a global alliance, waging war in Afghanistan, part of the continuing global war on terror. US military forces were 're-set', as it were, but not reduced in fire power or world-wide deployment. The US is the world's 'regional power': it's "security" interests are universal.

9-11 provided new impetus to America's imperial ambitions by supplying it with a new, plausible, enemy: Islamic jihadism. But it did not fundamentally alter the hegemonic project. An article in The (London) Sunday Times' Business section (11 April, 2010) noted that the US military is the largest 'single-organisation' consumer of global oil. This is not a search for national security in any 'normal' sense of that term: this is an imperial project encompassing the entire globe and involving a complex combination of commercial, geo-strategic, financial, ideological and other interests.

By accepting the use of the term "national security" to frame US foreign policies, we fail to recognise the imperial character of the United States foreign policy establishment.

The second flaw in the Lynch/Bouchet case is its acceptance, by the end of their article, that US attempts at democracy promotion should be lauded, and that US democracy promotion "deserves to be improved and not abandoned". This is after stating quite clearly at the outset that democracy promotion was merely how liberal nations like the US "frame their actions", presumably because 'ordinary' Americans cannot possibly understand when their country's "security" is threatened, especially by small, distant, poorly-armed countries. This not only contradicts the initial argument; it also imports through the back door the idea that the US is interested in democracy promotion per se, rather than just as a rhetorical device to justify aggression or other forms of external intervention. (Nor does it unpack what the US actually defines as 'democracy": market democracy - one dollar, one vote which, in the real world of income and wealth inequalities, has devastating social and political consequences).

The Lynch/Bouchet case, as presently advanced, is a pretty uncritical apology for US foreign policy, as it goes about the world securing itself against threats and spreading freedom as a by-product: a veritable "empire of liberty" as the neo-conservatives would (and did) say. The bloodshed, however, in America's savage wars, and the friends with whom the US does business, tell a very different story.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Subtle changes in Anglo-American Relations or just Party Politics?

In a recent post, I noted the possibility of subtle changes in tone in regard to British government attitudes to Anglo-American relations. The recent Ministry of Defence document, Adaptability and Partnership, noted that the European Union was an increasingly important component of British 'defence' strategy in defining and combatting 'threats' to world peace and order. Defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, reiterated this sentiment to the New Statesman recently, contrasting Labour's greater recognition of the EU's growing confidence on the global stage with the Conservatives' excessive reliance on the 'special relationship' with the US. On the other hand, Tory Party leader, David Cameron criticised in January 2010 Labour's 'slavish' devotion to the United States. Cameron contrasted the state of affairs with the far better handling of the US by previous Tory leaders such as Harold Macmillan, Margaret Thatcher, and John Major.

Whatever the truth of the matter, neither party denies the fundamental importance of US power in the world nor in regard to British 'national' interests. This suggests that both political parties remain attached to the 'special relationship' but also recognise that Britain's unequivocal support of American aggression in Iraq has caused untold damage to the credibility of Britain's political class. Hence, attempts to 'distance' themselves from the United States appear to be aimed at a disillusioned electorate increasingly questioning the necessity of the war in Iraq, and the ever more costly and inexplicable war in Afghanistan (both of which received David Cameron's full support, even in hindsight). And that is the issue: both Labour and Tory leaders are very likely to continue to support American power because they fundamentally agree that the two powers together are best equipped to manage global order. But ordinary Britons obviously fail to understand the necessity of the 'forward' projection of British power, the necessity, obvious to the MoD and Labour, and Tories, that it is better to join the Americans and force the issue far from British shores than to fight once an attack has occurred on home turf. Pre-emption and preventive war are the order of the day. And when that mentality becomes embedded, human losses, or collateral damage, overseas are more acceptable than British and American lives lost closer to home. The logic of this argument is, like the logic of British and American power, imperial.