PM Harper’s Foreign Policy Shift Towards China

In the National Post, Peter Godspeed argues that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s pending visit to China represents somewhat of a foreign policy pivot for the Conservative government.

Like the United States, Canada is in the midst of a foreign policy pivot in Asia…

…Tuesday, Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister, arrives in the Chinese capital for what almost amounts to a traditional “Team Canada” trade mission, seeking to strengthen economic ties with Canada’s second-largest trading partner.

With four cabinet ministers — John Baird, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Ed Fast, the International Trade Minister, Gerry Ritz, the Agriculture Minister, and Joe Oliver, the Natural Resources Minister — and seven MPs and 40 business executives and academics, he hopes to build on rapidly expanding ties that have pushed bilateral trade to US$57.7-billion a year in 2010.

“China’s growth as an emerging market is very significant for Canada’s business community, and it is an economic relationship that requires the attention of the highest political level,” said Peter Harder, president of the Canada-China Business Council.

From the perspective of foreign-policy decision-making in IR theory, the makeup of the Team Canada mission to China would indicate the importance of the pluralist and organizational/bureaucratic models. The pluralist model notes the impact of powerful interest groups, such as the Canada-China Business Council, and business executives and academics. Radicals, especially Marxists, would note the absence of any environmental or union groups amongst the mission’s members.

About the tone of the trip, NDTV reports that

The visit can be seen as a change in attitude for Canada, which has a record of taking a hard stance on the Chinese regime’s human rights abuses, as it looks as if economic ties between the two nations are warming.

Joseph Nye on Shifts on Smart Power

One of the leading scholars of IR theory is Joseph Nye, who teaches at Harvard University. He, along with co-author Robert Keohane, wrote one of the seminal works in IR theory–Power and Interdependence. Here is a short, but interesting TED talk in which Nye explains, amongst other things, the distinction between power transition and power diffusion, the “rise of China” and what “smart” power is.

Helpful series of videos explaining IR theory

If, like many beginning students of IR theory, you are stumped by some of the nuances of the various IR theories, there is a helpful set of videos in which IR experts try to explain the theories in everyday language. (H/t to a student of mine–sensnation–for alerting me to the existence of these videos.)

I’ve posted the video of Caleb Gallemore of The Ohio State University, who talks about constructivism. Among many other insights in this short video, Gallemore stresses that while realists take the existence of what they find in the world as a given–“all states want to increase their power”, “we must stop at a red light”–constructivists understand that the world is “socially constructed” and would ask questions such as these: “what are states?”, “why was red (and not some other colour) chosen as the `stop’ colour?”

Have a look at this, and other videos in this series:

My Intro to IR Class is full of Realists

Last Tuesday in POLI 1140, the students completed an class oil-market exercise in which pairs of students engaged in a strategic situation that required them to sell oil at specific prices. Many students were able to understand relatively quickly that the “Oil Game” was an example of the classic prisoner’s dilemma (PD). As Mingst and Arreguin-Toft note on page 78, the crucial point about the prisoner’s dilemma:

Neither prisoner knows how the other will respond; the cost of not confessing if the other confesses is extraordinarily high. So both will confess, leading to a less-than-optimal outcome for both.

From a theoretical perspective (and empirical tests have generally confirmed this) there will likely be very little cooperation in one-shot prisoner’s dilemma-type situations. Over repeated interaction, however, learning can contribute to higher levels of cooperation. With respect to IR theories, specifically, it is argued that realists are more likely to defect in PD situations as they are concerned with relative gains. Liberals, on the other hand, who value absolute gains more highly, are more likely to cooperate and create socially more optimal outcomes. What were the results in our class?

The graph above plots the level of cooperation across all six years (stages) of the exercise. There were seven groups and what the probabilities demonstrate is that in each year there was only one group for which the interaction was cooperative. In year 2, there was not a single instance of cooperation. Moreover, it was the same group that cooperated. Therefore, one of the groups cooperated 5 out of 6 years, while none of the other six groups cooperated a single time over the course of the sex years!! What a bunch of realists!!

If you were involved in this exercise, please let me know your reactions to what happened.

Sarah Palin should have taken PLSC250

Had one of my Introduction to International Relations students been taking questions from Charlie Gibson tonight, s/he would have been well prepared to answer his question regarding the “Bush Doctrine”.  As my students (still?) know, the “Bush Doctrine” was most clearly and forcefully enunciated in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States.  While there are three major components to the “Bush Doctrine”, the most important of which (at least the one that received the most attention and presented the most radical departure from the part-realist, part-liberal, bi-partisan, pre-9/11 US foreign policy framework was the idea of using preemptive military force, without the need for there to be an imminent threat.

Democratic critics have often charged Bush and his administration with claiming that Saddam Hussein posed an “imminent threat”, but I have yet to see any evidence that anyone speaking for the administration did so.  And it’s not a surprise, as the Bush Doctrine allows the use of force without imminent threat.  Maybe Governor Palin should bring some of those critics along with her to my class.  And if the Republican Party would like to hire a IR tutor for Governor Palin, they’ll find my rates more than reasonable.

Fareed Zakaria calls John McCain’s Foreign Policy Vision Radical

I won’t be posting much over the next week or so as grading and exams are taking up most of my time. I did want, however, to alert my students to this interesting article by Newsweek editor Fareed Zakaria on Republican Presidential candidate John McCain’s foreign policy philosophy. Zakaria agrees with Pat Buchanan and others at the American Conservative magazine that McCain’s foreign policy views are a radical break with past administrations (Democratic and Republican). Zakaria writes:

On March 26, McCain gave a speech on foreign policy in Los Angeles that was billed as his most comprehensive statement on the subject. It contained within it the most radical idea put forward by a major candidate for the presidency in 25 years. Yet almost no one noticed.

I guess that’s because the American media knows what the real issues are–Barack Obama refusing coffee for orange juice at a diner in Pennsylvania, Hillary Clinton doing shots in a Pennsylvania bar (were they body shots?), and lapel flag pins.

In his speech McCain proposed that the United States expel Russia from the G8, the group of advanced industrial countries. Moscow was included in this body in the 1990s to recognize and reward it for peacefully ending the cold war on Western terms, dismantling the Soviet empire and withdrawing from large chunks of the old Russian Empire as well. McCain also proposed that the United States should expand the G8 by taking in India and Brazil—but pointedly excluded China from the councils of power.

We have spent months debating Barack Obama’s suggestion that he might, under some circumstances, meet with Iranians and Venezuelans. It is a sign of what is wrong with the foreign-policy debate that this idea is treated as a revolution in U.S. policy while McCain’s proposal has barely registered. What McCain has announced is momentous—that the United States should adopt a policy of active exclusion and hostility toward two major global powers. It would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries into the global order, a policy that began under Richard Nixon (with Beijing) and continued under Ronald Reagan (with Moscow). It is a policy that would alienate many countries in Europe and Asia who would see it as an attempt by Washington to begin a new cold war.

This is bang on. Hillary Clinton and others, who have tried to trash Obama on his views about dialogue with putative enemies would do well to remember that it was ultimately dialogue with China and the Soviet Union that lessened tensions between these states and the United States. What McCain wants to do is to return the world to the situation ex-ante, for what strategic reason I’m not sure. This is, in the immortal words of Chazz Michael Michaels, “mind-bottling!”

I write this with sadness because I greatly admire John McCain, a man of intelligence, honor and enormous personal and political courage. I also agree with much of what else he said in that speech in Los Angeles. But in recent years, McCain has turned into a foreign-policy schizophrenic, alternating between neoconservative posturing and realist common sense. His speech reads like it was written by two very different people, each one given an allotment of a few paragraphs on every topic.

The neoconservative vision within the speech is essentially an affirmation of ideology. Not only does it declare war on Russia and China, it places the United States in active opposition to all nondemocracies. It proposes a League of Democracies, which would presumably play the role that the United Nations now does, except that all nondemocracies would be cast outside the pale. The approach lacks any strategic framework. What would be the gain from so alienating two great powers? How would the League of Democracies fight terrorism while excluding countries like Jordan, Morocco, Egypt and Singapore? What would be the gain to the average American to lessen our influence with Saudi Arabia, the central banker of oil, in a world in which we are still crucially dependent on that energy source?

How many of these questions do you think will be asked at the first Presidential Debate? My over/under is one. Zakaria is right that McCain’s foreign policy vision is a triumph of ideology over strategy. Here is where McCain would most clearly take the mantle from George Bush and embark upon a third term for the ideological and policy goals of the current administration. “The King is dead…long live the king!”

Poor Countries, Agriculture, and IMF Policies

There has been a rapid increase in food prices over the last couple of years, seen most dramatically in the recent 30% one-day rise in the price of rice worldwide.  This is putting tremendous pressure on the poor and is leading to instability in countries around the world.  There have been violent demonstrations–and equally violent government responses–to food rioting in Egypt and Haiti in the last couple of weeks.  They may be but a harbinger of the economic and political instability to come.  Here is a report from the BBC, in which an expert argues that IMF policies have contributed to the rise in food prices:

“Poor countries need to invest heavily in agriculture to feed their people.  There’s been a dearth of investment in agriculture in poor countries, mainly because of IMF and World Bank policies…”