The Fatal Conceit of Foreign Intervention

The fatal conceit is the assumption that the world can be shaped according to human desires. This paper argues that the logic of the fatal conceit can be applied to foreign interventions which go beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed by reason alone. In suffering from the fatal conceit, these interventions are characterized by: (1) the realization that intentions do not equal results, (2) a reliance on top-down planning, (3) the view of development as a technological issue, (4) a reliance on bureaucracy over markets, and (5) the primacy of collectivism over individualism. These characteristics explain why interventions extending beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed tend to fail.

The authors are Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers and you can read the rest for free here.

Iran’s ISIS policy

This article assesses Iran’s strategy in dealing with the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It examines the implications of the rise of ISIS in Iran’s immediate neighbourhood for Tehran’s policies in Syria and Iraq and investigates how each of these countries affects Iranian national interests. It provides an overview of the major events marking Iran and Iraq’s relations in the past few decades and discusses the strategic importance of Iraq for Iran, by looking at the two countries’ energy, economic and religious ties. It also considers Iran’s involvement in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The article sheds light on the unilateral action taken by Tehran to counter ISIS, the adjustments it may have to make to its involvement in Syria, and the potential areas for tactical cooperation between Iran and the United States, as well as other key regional states such as Saudi Arabia. The article investigates three likely scenarios affecting the developments in Iraq and Iran’s possible response to them as the events in the Middle East unfold.

That is the abstract and the rest can be found here.

 

The Machiavelli of Maryland

 

People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests. The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC – can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.

 

Luttwak is a self-proclaimed “grand strategist”, who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls “the logic of strategy”, which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune.

Long article but highly readable. You can read the rest here.

Do Economic Sanctions Cause a Rally Around the Flag?

Sanctions are usually the first option in coercive diplomacy considering that the use of force is so morally tainted. But how effective they are is highly contested. There are costs and benefits to their use and one of the most notable cost is the “rally around the flag effect.”

Timothy Frye looks at this very aspect of Russian sanctions and writes,

I studied this issue in a recent working paper and found little evidence that economic sanctions influenced levels of support for the Russian leadership.6 To reach this conclusion, I conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,000 respondents in Russia in November 2016 just following the US presidential election, in which I randomly assigned respondents to receive questions with different prompts.7 In the baseline condition, respondents were asked, “To what extent do you support the Russian leadership (rukovodstvo) on a 5-point scale where 1 equals very negative and 5 equals very positive?” In the baseline condition where respondents received no additional information, the average level of support for the Russian government was 3.52.

Prior to receiving this question, one group of respondents was reminded that “since 2014 the United States has levied sanctions against Russia,” and another group of respondents were told that “since 2014 the European Union has levied economic sanctions against Russia.” If the “rally around the flag” argument was correct, we would expect support for the Russian government in these two groups to be higher on average than in the baseline group. Instead, in these groups the level of support for the Russian government was 3.40 and 3.46, respectively—lower than the support in the control group. Reminding respondents that the United States and the European Union had levied economic sanctions against Russia produced no discernible effect on the respondents’ support for the Russian government.

Short read and you can access the rest here.

Chinese-American tensions in the South China Sea.

China also established its first overseas military base, conveniently located in Djibouti, near a valuable global shipping lane and just four miles from a U.S. installation. In addition, Chinese warships have been popping up all over the globe, including near Alaska, Japan, and Australia. While their movement thus far has been through international waters, and therefore not in violation of any international law, it is a clear sign of China’s desire to be taken seriously as a global military power. Too bad Beijing doesn’t respect that same right when other countries attempt to exercise their freedom of navigation in the South and East China Seas.

and there is this as well.

There is a slight cause for optimism on this front. An exclusive story from Breitbart last week claims the White House has approved a proposed plan crafted by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to conduct regular freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea, or FONOPs. According to an anonymous U.S. official, Mattis wants to change the nature of conducting FONOPs. Instead of sending discrete requests to the National Security Council each time the U.S. Navy plans such an operation, he allegedly outlined a schedule for conducting them regularly throughout the rest of the year.

 

Carrying out FONOPs is a good way to challenge Beijing’s claims on the high seas. Despite China’s aggressive provocation, the Obama administration put an end to FONOPs from 2012 to 2015, and only conducted three in 2016 out of fear of upsetting Beijing (because appeasing a revanchist power always turns out so well). So far this year, the Trump administration has carried out three FONOPs and clearly has plans for several more. Let’s hope the Breitbart story is accurate and these become much more frequent as the year wears on.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and Sunni monarchies.

The second element shared by both revolutionary Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood is a model of political Islam that uniquely combined popular sovereignty and Islamic values in the paradoxical phrase, “Islamic Republic.” This hybrid theory departed from the long-seated Sunni model of functional differentiation between the political and the religious in Islamic history and has invited fierce opposition from both clerical establishment and the throne. In Saudi Arabia, Islam and the state are two separate entities that have come together only on the basis of the exigencies of practical politics. Hence, Saudi Arabia supports a minimalist, literal reading of Sharia law in which what matters are symbolic private laws and issues of personal piety including the hijab, abstinence from alcohol, marriage and divorce, and so on. According to this pattern of interaction between mosque and state, Islamic authorities don’t intervene in the larger political issues of foreign policy and macroeconomics, which goes against the version of Islam both Iran and the Brotherhood advocate.

Much more of interest in this short read.

You can read more here.

Course Correction: How to Stop China’s Maritime Advance

Here is one piece

U.S. policymakers should recognize that China’s behavior in the sea is based on its perception of how the United States will respond. The lack of U.S. resistance has led Beijing to conclude that the United States will not compromise its relationship with China over the South China Sea. As a result, the biggest threat to the United States today in Asia is Chinese hegemony, not great-power war. U.S. regional leadership is much more likely to go out with a whimper than with a bang.

here is another

For the same reason, U.S. President Donald Trump’s idea of reviving President Ronald Reagan’s strategy of “peace through strength” by beefing up the U.S. military will not hold China back on its own. The problem has never been that China does not respect U.S. military might. On the contrary, it fears that it would suffer badly in a war with the United States. But China also believes that the United States will impose only small costs for misdeeds that stop short of outright aggression. No matter how many more warships, fighter jets, and nuclear weapons the United States builds, that calculus will not change.

The publication is Foreign Affairs. I disagree with most of what the author has to say but the piece is well written and worth a read.

You can read the rest here.

History With Chinese Characteristics

Xi’s narrative of rejuvenation has resonated deeply among today’s Chinese. It places the country not only at the center of the international system but also above it, casting the nation as one that inspires emulation by the force of its advanced culture and economic achievements. It also evokes historical memories of a time when China received tribute from the rest of the world, was a source of world-class innovation, and was a fearless seafaring power. And it implies that in the past, China did not need to use force: its virtue alone engendered deference from others.

The subtile of the article is How China’s Imagined Past Shapes its Present and the author is Elizabeth Economy. You can read the rest here.

“NATO allies boost defense spending in the wake of Trump criticism.”

From the WaPo

NATO allies of the United States plan to boost their defense spending by 4.3 percent this year, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday, a response in part to intense pressure from President Trump that the nations invest more in their militaries.

The rest can be found here.

What Does Xi Jinping Want?

According to Graham Allison, he wants

How will Xi “make China great again”?  After studying the man, listening to his words, and speaking to those who understand him best, I believe for Xi this means:

  • Returning China to the predominance it enjoyed in Asia before the West intruded;
  • Reestablishing control over the territories the Communist Party considers to be “greater China,” including not just Xinjiang and Tibet on the mainland, but Hong Kong and Taiwan;
  • Recovering its historic sphere of influence along its borders and in the adjacent seas so that others give it the deference great nations have always demanded;
  • Commanding the respect of other great powers in the councils of the world.

and then notes

At the core of these national goals is a civilizational creed that sees China as the center of the universe. In the Chinese language, the word for China, zhong guo (中国), means “Middle Kingdom.” “Middle” refers not to the space between other, rival kingdoms, but to all that lies between heaven and earth. As Lee summarized the worldview shared by hundreds of Chinese officials who sought his advice, they “recall a world in which China was dominant and other states related to them as supplicants to a superior, as vassals that came to Beijing bearing tribute.” In this narrative, the rise of the West in recent centuries is a historical anomaly, reflecting China’s technological and military weakness when it faced dominant imperial powers during a “century of humiliation” from roughly 1839 to 1949. Xi Jinping has promised his fellow citizens: no more.

This is from a May 2017 and you can read the rest here.