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Cameron Defeated on Syria by Ghost of Blair


We welcome another guest post by Stephen Benedict Dyson.


The UK parliament has voted against authorizing an attack on Syria, in the most direct challenge to executive authority on foreign policy in recent British history. Britain will not be joining any U.S. action, and has taken the significant step of distancing itself from its superpower ally on the eve of a military strike. Prime Minister David Cameron is left a weakened figure, and the development poses terrific problems for President Obama’s Syria policy.

The high drama is reminiscent of Tony Blair’s troubles during the run-up to the Iraq war, when he won endorsement for his Iraq policy in the teeth of huge parliamentary rebellions by his own backbenchers. Blair’s choices then were repeatedly invoked during the Syria debate. Cameron will be reflecting upon the exquisite irony that it was Blair himself who established the precedent of asking for a parliamentary vote before committing armed forces. The government can do it regardless under royal prerogative, yet Blair was in such a pickle over Iraq that he felt he needed parliamentary backing. Cameron followed Blair’s lead and recalled parliament, to the chagrin of senior Conservative Party colleagues who saw the rebellion coming. After the final Iraq vote in 2003, The Guardian newspaper commented that parliament had been given “the power to stop war before it begins,” although it “did not take that chance, alas.” This time, it did.

Why did Blair win, and Cameron lose? Opponents of action in 2003 and 2013 used similar parliamentary tactics, asking for a vote not on the merits of the action per se but on the narrower question of whether the government had proven its case. Chris Smith was a Labour Member of Parliament who tabled the amendment opposing Blair in 2003. The amendment simply stated that “the case for war has not yet been established.” When I interviewed Smith several years ago for my book on Blair, he told me that the wording had been “very carefully chosen in order to try and unite everyone who had doubts, including some who would never under any circumstances have contemplated going to war, right the way through to some who, if the weapons inspectors had come up with evidence, would probably have voted for war.”

Similarly, in the Syria debate the core of Labour leader Ed Miliband’s critique was that the government was moving too quickly, and should follow a multi-stage roadmap of consultation with parliament and the United Nations. Miliband sketched out an elegant if opportunistic position: he was not against the use of force per se, but opposed precipitate military action before parliament had been consulted and the UN process had been exhausted. Beneath his headline moderation, the Labour leader spoke forcefully on the risks of taking action and raised doubts that he was persuadable. The contradictions in Miliband’s argument would have been exposed over time, yet his stance proved durable enough to hold together his own party on the issue and tar Cameron as over-eager to rush to war.

Cameron’s parliamentary position was much less favorable than that faced by Blair a decade ago. Blair made his decisions on Iraq atop a stonking parliamentary majority of 179. The opposition Conservative Party was fully supportive of intervention in 2003, and so Blair could survive a massive rebellion by his own MPs. Cameron presides over a hung parliament – no political party commands an overall majority. He governs in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, the only major British party to have opposed the Iraq war. Scores of Cameron’s own backbenchers rebelled on Syria, and several Liberal Democrat MPs voted against their own coalition. The Labour leadership took the highly unusual step of opposing the government on a major foreign policy crisis. The composition of parliament this time left Cameron with very few votes to play with.

The scope of the proposed intervention was also very different. It was clear in 2003 that Blair was asking for the commitment of massive forces by air, land, and sea in order to overthrow the Saddam regime. Although Blair profoundly underestimated – or undersold – the cost and duration of the occupation, he was clearly seeking authorization for a major undertaking. This time Cameron was careful to stress the limited aims and means of the intervention. It was not about regime change, invasion, or taking sides in the civil war.

Paradoxically, these limited aims made it harder for Cameron to win the vote. At every stage in the Iraq debate, Blair raised the stakes, casting the issue in stark world-historical terms and threatening to resign the prime ministership if he did not win parliamentary support. Blair outlined a policy of total commitment in service of era-defining goals. By contrast, Cameron found it difficult to specify the mechanisms by which limited military strikes would achieve limited objectives. Upholding a norm of non-chemical weapons use, or punishing Assad, seemed nebulous aims compared to Blair’s all-in rhetoric. With limited goals and lower stakes, the forensic questioning at which Parliament excels was to the fore: what do we do if Assad uses these weapons again after we have struck him? How will we know if we have been successful in upholding a norm, or punishing a dictator? In 2003, Blair dodged specifics with impassioned appeals to the weight of history and the duties of moral responsibility. Cameron could not.

The thinking of Blair himself is one constant across the years. Possessed of a Manichean worldview, an expansive conception of the UK’s international role, and a healthy regard for his own persuasive powers, Iraq was very much Blair’s war. In 2013, the former prime minister retains the same moralizing, interventionist stance. Syria represents a “crossroads for Western policy,” he has said. The “forces” in Syria are the same as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They have to be defeated. We should defeat them, however long it takes, because otherwise they will not disappear. They will grow stronger until, at a later time, there will be another crossroads and this time there will be no choice.” These comments reminded British legislators and the public of the Iraq controversies at the worst possible time for the current prime minister. Cameron, who has in many ways sought to emulate Blair, was doomed to defeat by the long shadow cast by the dominant figure in modern British politics.

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Action is not Synonymous with Force

This is a guest post from Deborah Avant, Sié Chéou-Kang Chair for International Security and Diplomacy and Professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.


The debate among Ivo Daalder, John Mearsheimer, and Hisham Melhem last night on the Newshour was quite poignant. All three actually agreed on the important point: the action the US is considering to punish the Assad regime for its use of chemical weapons will, as John Mearsheimer put it, “do little good”.  A very good set of arguments from CNAS arrive at similar conclusions.  There are many nods to the brutality to Assad’s regime but no one thinks the options being considered will improve the situation.

Really?  The US is thinking of launching a missile attack at no insubstantial cost (extrapolating from the costs of the Libyan intervention, which of course no one can agree on, we are looking at $1 billion minimum or as much as $2 billion/day) that will kill Syrians and promise many disruptions. Yet we cannot possibly foresee—when the vast majority of experts who agree on little else finally agree—that it is likely to do little good?

The conversation on the Newshour demonstrates how poorly the options the US is considering address the concerns American leaders feel.  Ivo Daalder admits (and Hisham Melhem is incensed by) the fact that we are considering only something that will punish Assad, not something that will help the situation on the ground.  The best one can say about the action being considered is that punishment is meant to “deter” future action, but Jon Mercer and others have demonstrated how fraught such a deterrence strategy is. I disagree with John Mearsheimer’s assumption that we should only act in ways that further our narrowly defined national interest, but he does have a point that taking action that promises to do little good makes little sense.  The other implicit option in this conversation, though, is doing nothing.  This is also hard to stomach (on that, see George Packer’s conversation with himself).

Perhaps it is time to move beyond the fallacy that the only action that counts is military force.  There are many, many things the US could do (and may be already doing) – working with the Arab League, working with global businesses who have impact in Syria, engaging people close to Assad…maybe even engaging with Hassan Rouhani.  These are all actions too.  Indeed, as Charli Carpenter points out, even if all the US wants to do is to punish Assad, there are many actions that may be more effective than a military strike.  The exercise of power does not require military force.  Power comes in many forms and often the most effective forms are the least violent.

Rather than being boxed in to a military strike (serious action) vs. no military strike (doing nothing) frame, Obama could use his considerable rhetorical skill to reframe the question as: what can the US do to either 1) reduce the chance that Assad will not use these weapons in the future or 2) improve the situation for civilians on the ground?  I am not suggesting there are easy answers to either of these questions. But at least if the US frames the questions in the right way, it will be less likely to take costly action that is worthless – or worse.

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Threading needles in Syria

Erica, Erik, and several scholars over at the Duck have done a great job of rounding up and discussing political science research on intervention that might be relevant to the likely US attack on military installations in Syria.  I think I agree with Erik, however, that the cases typically studied (frequently peacekeeping operations) probably don’t have a lot to tell us about this one.

As explained by administration officials—in  remarkable detail— they are thinking about this as a punitive action to impose costs on Assad for violating an international norm that they believe is important to uphold.  Degrading Assad’s military capability is also mentioned, but seems to be secondary or rather the means by which costs are to be imposed, rather than the core objective.  So the most relevant comparison cases would be punitive strikes designed to “reestablish deterrence,” such as, in part, recent Israeli interventions in Gaza and southern Lebanon; the US strikes against a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan and al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan in 1998 in reply to embassy bombings; the US air attacks on various targets in Iraq in 1998; perhaps Reagan’s bombardment of Syrian positions in Lebanon in 1983 after withdrawing the Marines from Beirut; and, going farther back, the US’s graduated bombing campaigns of North Vietnam, which were carefully designed to try to send the sort of signals that the Obama administration now wants to send to Assad, but which didn’t work so well.

See Wallace Thies’ book for an analysis of this last case.  He found, if I recall, that the North Vietnamese didn’t really get the careful, contingent messages the Johnson administration was trying to send.  I’d add that they did correctly get that bombing was not very costly for the US and thus didn’t convey a willingness to actually invade the North.  That would be all the more so in the case of Obama and Syria, since his officials have been very clear that they do not intend an intervention in the sense of using force to give a decisive advantage to one side (as in Kosovo or Bosnia).  I can’t think of a case where the idea was to use force to thread such tiny needles.

Needle 1:  The attack can’t be so large that it kills so many civilians that the reaction is, You killed almost as many as the gas attack did!  (And you can bet that the Assad regime will do what it can to make it so attacks do kill, or appear to kill, a lot of civilians.)  Further, at least according to Max Fisher’s reporting, the administration doesn’t even want to cause the Assad regime to collapse completely, because they imagine that the best endpoint is not rebel victory but some kind of negotiated power-sharing deal.  (At least that’s how I interpret Fisher’s explanation of what they are thinking).

But, as many have pointed out, the attack can’t be too small, or it looks pathetic and pointless, and you have Assad still there thumbing his nose at you.   This needle eye is so small that it may not exist.

Needle 2:  The strike has to serve its purpose for enforcing an international norm against the use of chemical weapons, but at the same time not really take sides in the civil war, or commit us more seriously to military action on behalf of the rebels.

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Americans Are Reticent About Attacking Syria — and Why That Doesn’t Matter

I think that the fact that the polls say Americans are wary in Syria does not mean all that much. If the Obama administration is able to do something that has a decisive effect, they will look like heroes. And if they look impotent in their use of military force, it will rebound against them. But the polling numbers showing American reticence, as of right now, doesn’t add up to much, because it’s really not a salient issue. It’s not enough to look at the numbers of people opposing intervention; you have to look at how much people care and at this point it isn’t very high on the list, as of today. That can change if things escalate and it starts to look like a “real” war, as opposed to Libya — which was obviously real if you were there — but from the United States the perspective was that no Americans were on the ground and no American planes were being shot down. If Syria looks like that, the pubic won’t get all that engaged. It would potentially be foreign policy success for the Obama administration, though coming awfully late, after a lot of horrible things have happened there. But if it doesn’t go well and America is gradually sucked in — throwing good resources after bad — eventually it could become a big political liability, and you could get significant public engagement. This could have happened in Afghanistan, too, if more Americans started getting killed. But it hasn’t escalated in that way.

From an interview with Matthew Baum at Journalist’s Resource.  More here.

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Militaries: An industry in decline


Apropos of nothing in particular that’s in the news (except maybe this), here is a graph of how two measures of military effort have evolved from 1945 to 2007, by region.  (I’m working on a project that has gotten me mired in available data on military spending and force sizes, and I just thought this was interesting.)

The black line is the average across countries of military spending as a percentage of GDP, using the Correlates of War (COW) estimate of total spending divided by World Bank GDP figures (which only start in 1960).  The red line is the average across countries of armed forces per 1,000 population, again using COW estimates.

You see really striking long-run declines in the West, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, and Asia.  In these areas it almost looks as if demobilization from World War II has taken place gradually and over 60+ years.  In Latin America and North Africa/Middle East,  you see pretty striking declines since the end of the Cold War, and perhaps some decline in subSaharan Africa since around 2000.

Why the long-run declines?  Many factors, surely, but on the international side it’s plausible to credit the disappearance of intense conflict among the militarily strongest states, which completely dominated international politics before 1946.  US-Soviet conflict was pretty intense into the mid-1960s, but since then the major powers have been less and less concerned about being invaded by each other.  I’d credit the nuclear revolution above all else, although there’s a lot of debate on this question and even without nukes there are probably other things that have been pushing in the same direction.  Such as, perhaps, democracy …

On the domestic side of things, there is pretty good evidence that the spread of democracy has been a significant factor.  Not worth getting into the details here, but if you look at the data country by country you find that on average, when countries transition to democracy their military spending and army sizes go down, quite substantially.*  In fact they tend to go down when they transition from very autocratic to only somewhat autocratic (that is, to “anocracies”, or semi-democracies using the Polity data).  The effect of a democratic transition on arms levels in the state in which the transition occurs looks to be larger than the effect of transitions in neighbors on a state’s own military spending, although this is hard to be sure about statistically due to endogeneity issues.  I would guess that most of the democracy effect is a domestic matter—for instance, autocracies want bigger militaries to help put down domestic opposition or to pay off cronies, or democracies want smaller militaries to lower coup threats—but some of it might also be an international effect.  That is, if democracies want smaller militaries then this could reduce the demand for big armies in their neighbors.

The graph also shows some interesting variation across regions.  E. Europe/FSU and N. Africa/Middle East stand out for high levels of military spending during the Cold War, though both now appear to be converging towards the rest of the world (except maybe for army sizes in the Middle East).

Update:  Mark in comments asked what the data for the US looks like, so at risk of the Wrath of Gelman I’ve added these to the graph for the West.  We spend and hire considerably more than other countries, both in absolute terms (which is well known, I think), and relative to GDP and population (maybe less so).  Note also the upward movement following 9/11, especially in military burden.

Cleaner pdf version here:  milburbyregion


*This is based on models with country and year fixed effects, so it’s probably not just that there is a coincidental global trend up in democracy and down in arms spending.  Benjamin Goldsmith reported the same pattern concerning democracy and the military spending in his 2003 JCR article “Bearing the Defense Burden,” (gated), looking at data from 1869-1989 (though he didn’t include time fixed effects in his model).


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Reactions to Obama’s Decision to Cancel Summit with Putin in September

Earlier today the White House announced that President Obama would cancel his planned September summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Here are some thoughts on this decision from my colleagues at PONARS Eurasia:

Kimberly Marten, Barnard College, Columbia University:

Obama did exactly the right thing: a symbolic personal rebuff for a symbolic personal rebuff. Obama had made it clear that the Snowden case was his line in the sand, and Putin crossed that line unnecessarily. Putin could have chosen instead to give the Snowden request the 3-month administrative consideration period that the Kremlin originally mentioned when he originally made his asylum application, rather than granting Snowden the yearlong temporary asylum straight off. It looks like the meeting in Washington tomorrow between Secretary of State Kerry and Secretary of Defense Hagel and their Russian counterparts is still on, and that is the truly substantive part of the diplomatic interaction anyway. Assuming that the Russian side doesn’t cancel their participation in that meeting, then there has been no real change in the quality of the relationship.

Andrey Makarychev, Public Service Academy (Nizhny Novgorod, Russia) and Free University of Berlin:
The cancellation of the Russia – US summit is a strong indication of the growing international isolation of the Kremlin. It is quite predictable that the G20 summit in St.Petersburg may turn into an event devoid of substance and therefore a diplomatic / PR failure for Moscow. Also expectable is that Putin won’t be able to win the already launched information war against the Sochi Olympics. The key question is how soon Putin will understand that he overrated his resources.

Cory Welt, George Washington University:
The decision to cancel the bilateral summit was unfortunate but expected. It does leave one wondering about the decision to schedule the summit in the first place. The official explanation for the cancellation focused less on Russia’s decision to grant Snowden asylum than the fact that there has not been “enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda” to justify a summit. That is obviously true – but it was also true when the administration announced the summit to begin with. In the end, we’re back to the point we should have been – lower-profile efforts to move forward on a multi-pronged agenda without the high expectations that a summit would bring.


Pavel Baev, International Peace Research Institute (PRIO), Norway:

I think the ‘Snowden affair’ has provided a useful pretext for canceling a really useless summit. The Obama administration has taken the worst possible course in the awkward situation, making it impossible for Russia to extradite Edward Snowden or even to send him to a “safe haven”, and implicitly adding credibility to his revelations. What is, however, a far greater blunder is the belief that Putin might be convinced to proceed with deep reduction of strategic and nuclear arsenals, so that the policy of “reset” would produce historic legacy of Obama’s presidency.

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The Imperfect but Real Effects of International Institutions on LGBT Rights in Europe

So far I have made two points in my mini-series on human rights: that international human rights institutions at best have modest effects in countries where the opportunity structure permits international influence and that I am not persuaded by the argument that human rights institutions would work better if they focused only on the “ideals that inspired the human rights movement in the first place.”

It makes sense to follow up with some evidence that an international human rights institution did successfully influence non-traditional rights, albeit in a limited way. The case that I will discuss is the impact European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings have had on LGBT rights in Europe. It is based on a paper (forthcoming in International Organization) that I wrote with Duke law professor Larry Helfer. With Europe we mean all 47 Council of Europe member states, which includes Russia, Turkey, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Serbia and many other countries where public acceptance of homosexuality is among the lowest in the world.

The document that the ECtHR is supposed to interpret, the European Convention on Human Rights, makes no mention of homosexuality or sexual orientation. Thus, states have not explicitly delegated the Court the authority to uphold LGBT rights. Yet, we find that ECtHR rulings that find a certain practice, such as criminalizing homosexuality, a violation of the Convention have a substantial effect on policy change. However, this effect is only manifest in countries where public support for homosexuality is low and where a government is in power that does not draw its primary support from rural, religious, or nationalist bases (see graph below).

In countries with high levels of public acceptance and an urban and non-religious government, policy change happens without international legal action. Rural, religious, and nationalist governments tend to resist liberalization regardless. Yet low public support but a government that is not necessarily ideologically opposed to liberalization creates an opportunity for an international intervention to make a difference. We estimate that a substantial number of countries, especially in Eastern and Southern Europe, have more liberal LGBT rights laws than we would have expected in the absence of international court action.

Let me back up a bit and explain how we got there and what all of this means in the context of the current backlash against LGBT rights in some of these countries, most notably Russia.
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The Political Science of PRISM and International Privacy

The Financial Times has an editorial warning gravely that the European Union may overreact to the PRISM revelations.

If recent leaks about US internet surveillance spur Europe’s political leaders to press ahead with a proposed privacy directive, so much the better. That looks like one potential outcome from disclosures about the National Security Agency’s Prism program, with German chancellor Angela Merkel this week joining the chorus in favour of moving ahead with a privacy overhaul that was first put forward at the start of last year. There is a danger, however, that ill-considered responses to the Prism leaks will also risk Balkanising the internet and hampering companies that have been at the forefront of digital innovation. Protecting citizens’ privacy is an important job for governments – but so is using the new tools of online surveillance to make those citizens secure. These two goals should not be confused, and knee-jerk responses to populist outrage could do more harm than good.

I suspect that what is driving this is the realization that international business (i.e. the FT’s readership base) is likely to get hit as the regulatory politics of privacy and espionage start to get messy. Abraham Newman at Georgetown and I recently wrote a piece for Foreign Affairs’ website describing the complex forms of coordination that have sprung up between the EU and US over information sharing, and describing the likely consequences of the current scandals for this security cooperation. The article draws on a book we’ve been writing over the last couple of years on the transatlantic politics of data sharing, which has suddenly become a rather livelier issue than it was when we first started writing about it. This forthcoming article in World Politics on the ‘new interdependence’ will give political scientists some idea of the kinds of argument we are using, although it doesn’t address the empirics (it’s framed around a review of other people’s work).

There are a number of misunderstandings in the general coverage of this dispute – I’ll write about them as opportunity arises, drawing ideas (if not always empirical evidence) from the joint research that Abe and I have been doing. One such is reflected in Ed Luce and Tyler Cowen’s hope that the Europeans can be relied on to press for privacy protection in e.g. transatlantic trade negotiations. Luce and Cowen may turn out to be right – but only post-hoc. Europe has been having its own internal fight between officials and politicians who privilege security, and officials and politicians who privilege privacy, and until the last few weeks, the security-focused officials were winning. Instead of privacy-focused officials using transatlantic negotiations to reform American politics, security focused officials were using transatlantic negotiations to reform European politics. The EU, which had vigorously fought US proposals on terrorist financing tracking (the US so-called TFTP program) and airline passenger information in the 2000s, had agreed in principle to build its own TFTP, and was likely to introduce airline passenger data screening too along US lines. The transatlantic agreements that had resolved these disputes was leveraged by security-focused officials to bring through domestic changes within Europe.

This has changed thanks to PRISM and revelations (which weren’t really revelations – but that’s another story) that the US was tapping European Union communications in the Council of Ministers. Senior officials, including German officials, still privately think that this is a fuss over nothing. But they are finding themselves constrained by domestic politics to take action that seems to restore privacy protections. Nowhere is this clearer than in Germany. We know, from the Wikileaks cables about the previous TFTP dispute that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was never on the side of the privacy advocates in the confrontation with the US.

Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust (CDU) told Ambassador today (2/12) that he had met with Chancellor Merkel last night and she was “very, very angry – angrier than he had ever seen her” with the outcome of the vote. Beust said that the Chancellor had personally lobbied German MEPs from the CDU/CSU parties to support the agreement, but that most of these MEPs ended up voting against the agreement anyway. Merkel expressed concerns to Beust that Washington will view the EP veto as a sign that Europe does not take the terrorist threat seriously. Merkel also worried about the ramifications (presumably within Europe and for transatlantic relations) that might follow were a terrorist attack to occur that could have been prevented had SWIFT data been exchanged.

This helps explain the anodyne response of the German government to the crisis. Merkel and her allies quietly agree with the US, and desperately want the controversy to go away. But the scandal is allowing the main opposition parties, the SPD and Greens, to put Merkel on the defensive. This pushes her in turn to take a more active position than she would like with respect to US spying, while also pushing for a stronger EU privacy framework more generally. This last can be expected to have knock-on repercussions for relations with the US – but that is a topic for another post.

Journalists, bloggers and indeed most international relations scholars like to think of disputes like this as face-offs between different states, with fundamentally different ways of doing things. But in fact, the more interesting politics often goes on in the dubious interzone between transnational and domestic politics. The US push for security over privacy has had many supporters within Europe, who have used the transatlantic relationship to bring through laws and policy changes that weaken the previously existing privacy regime. These security focused officials were becoming increasingly dominant in Europe as well as the US. Now they are at least temporarily beleaguered, which may, somewhat unexpectedly, lead to a new eruption of privacy disputes between Europe and the US.

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Morsi was No Role Model for Islamic Democrats

The following guest post is from UT-Austin political scientist Jason Brownlee, the author of Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the U.S.-Egyptian Alliance.  The post originally appeared on the website of the Middle East Institute.


Before 3 July 2013 enters the annals of U.S.-backed anti-Islamist coups[1] it is worth noting that Mohamed Morsi’s ill-fated presidency differs from prior cases. Whereas the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Hamas posed a threat (however chimeric) to Washington, Morsi quickly won plaudits from U.S. officials. Meanwhile, he menaced the domestic opposition with an autocratic panache. When Morsi exceeded his elected mandate and refused to share power, secularists and Salafists rose against him—while the U.S. Embassy in Cairo urged restraint.

The distinctness of the Egyptian example limits how much one can generalize from this month’s events to the past overthrow or future prospects of elected Islamists. Morsi’s tenure diverged from other cases in three key respects: his assault upon rival state institutions; his alignment with U.S. foreign policy; and his adversarial relationship with more conservative Islamists.

Speaking a week ago to ABC, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad said the Egyptian military’s takeover displayed “all the ingredients, political science-wise, of a coup.”[2] Referring to how the army had shut down pro-Morsi television stations and detained Muslim Brotherhood leaders, he added: “It’s every ingredient of a full police state.” True enough, but if those are the ingredients of autocracy, el-Haddad’s colleagues in the presidential palace had been baking the same pie since last November. That’s when Morsi executed what was, “political science-wise,” a self-coup, or auto-golpe,[3] by placing himself and the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly above judicial review. Although Morsi magnanimously let his supreme powers expire after voters approved the constitution in a referendum, his supporters besieged Egypt’s highest court to ensure it could not thwart the president.

In subsequent months, Morsi used a familiar bag of dirty tricks against his opponents while his partisans captured the state. A caretaker legislature, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, tried to weaken the judiciary, thugs menaced television stations critical of Morsi,[4] and the public prosecutor targeted the country’s most trenchant dissidents. El-Haddad’s observation notwithstanding, the 3 July coup is not a post hoc validation of Morsi’s own power grab. While some observers may liken the fallen president to Salvador Allende,[5] his tactics recall the worst years of Ferdinand Marcos and Alberto Fujimori, democratically elected presidents who clutched more power than voters gave them.

For the same reason that Morsi belongs in the company of Marcos, it is fallacious to place him and the Brotherhood alongside Islamist parties who were never so repressive. Before the FIS even built a legislative majority, much less started legislating, the Algerian army froze elections. In the Palestinian Authority, Hamas sought to build a bi-partisan coalition[6] after its January 2006 election victory—only to be rebuffed by Fatah, which was in turn being egged on by the George W. Bush administration. The reported U.S.-backed coup attempt of 2007[7] was a final attempt to prevent the two sides from forming a national unity government. In sum, analogies between Morsi and other cases should start with his assault on institutions, not his religious ideology.

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Military Primacy Doesn’t Pay (Nearly As Much As You Think)

Continuing our new series of collaborations with political science journals, we are pleased to present the following guest post from Tufts University political scientists (and blogger for Foreign Policy magazine) Daniel Drezner to discuss his article “Military Primacy Doesn’t Pay (Nearly As Much As You Think)” that appears in the current issue of International Security.  In conjunction with this post, MIT Press will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here.


For the past generation, U.S. military hegemony has been a concrete fact of life in world politics.  The coming austerity to the defense budget has triggered anxiety from some quarters of the U.S. national security community.  Advocates for a large military argue that the world is safer and more prosperous today precisely because of the United States’ outsized security capacities and deep engagement with the rest of the world.  Critics, however, have long questioned whether military preeminence yields the benefits claimed by proponents.  Given the unchallenged military supremacy of the United States, some argue that is natural to target cuts in defense spending after a decade of dramatic budgetary increases.  While these debates over the economic merits and demerits of military predominance are common in policy circles, there is less discussion about their theoretical and empirical foundations.  What can international relations scholarship say about the relative economic benefits of military primacy?

This article evaluates whether the economic benefits of military preeminence and deep engagement are as great as advertised.  This evaluation proceeds by analyzing the most plausible arguments put forward for how military primacy can yield economic returns – and then assessing what the scholarly literature and evidence can conclude about those causal mechanisms.  There are three plausible pathways:  The “geoeconomic favoritism” argument posits that private capital will gravitate towards the military superpower because it provides the greatest security and safety to investors.  The “geopolitical favoritism” argument is sovereign states, in return for living under the security umbrella of the military superpower, voluntarily transfer resources to help subsidize the costs of hegemony.  Finally, the “public goods” logic argues that a unipolar distribution of military power is most likely to lead the provision of global public goods that accelerate global economic growth and reduce security tensions.  These public goods benefit the hegemon as much if not more so than other actors.

After reviewing the evidence, each of these arguments is less empirically persuasive than is commonly articulated in policy circles.  There is little evidence that primacy yields appreciable geoeconomic gains.  The private sector responds positively to a country’s military capability, but only up to a point; military primacy is hardly a prerequisite for attracting trade and investment.  The evidence for geopolitical favoritism is also modest.  Geopolitical favoritism does occur, but only during periods of bipolarity.  Economic exchange is actually less correlated with security ties under conditions of unipolarity.  The evidence for public goods benefits is strongest; military primacy does appear to be an important adjunct to the creation of an open global economy and a reduction in militarized disputes and security rivalries.  Military supremacy is only one component of unipolarity, however.  A decline in the hegemon’s economic power undercuts many of unipolarity’s posited benefits.  It is only full-spectrum unipolarity that yields appreciable economic gains.  At a minimum, therefore, this article suggests that the economic benefits from military predominance alone have been exaggerated in policy and scholarly circles.  The principal benefits that come with military primacy appear to flow only when coupled with economic primacy.

There are clear implications for U.S. foreign policy and fiscal policy.  When applying the lessons from this analysis to U.S. grand strategy, the prescription seems clear; an overreliance on military preponderance is badly misguided.  Again, it is not that military power is useless, it is that the law of diminishing marginal returns has kicked in.  The United States would profit more from investing in nonmilitary power resources than in more military assets.  An excessive reliance on military might, to the exclusion of other dimensions of power, well yield negative returns.  Without a revived economy – and the global recognition of a renaissance in American economic power – the United States runs the risk of strategic insolvency.  The United States needs to focus primarily on policies that will rejuvenate economic growth, accelerate job creation, and promote greater innovation and productivity.  If the U.S. economy is perceived to be rebounding, then the biggest economic benefits that have been hypothesized to flow from military predominance will be preserved.  As policymakers must choose between maintaining a large military and taking steps towards fiscal solvency, the results in this paper point strongly towards deeper cuts in defense expenditures.

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