2016 State of the Union – Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Patient and Discipline strategy?

Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

In his final State of Union, President Obama reflected on his past seven years in office, but most importantly tried to shape the debate on the campaign trail and for the next decades. On the question of foreign policy, President Obama raised two aspects: threats facing the country and his conception of leadership and American’s role in the world. One of his initial questions early in the address was  “How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?” Such question has driven Obama’s foreign policy choices these last seven years and will continue to live on.

ISIL – The Non-Existential, but Omnipresent Threat

His contextual framework was very narrow and limited. President Obama skipped over most of the regions of the world in order to pinpoint terrorist networks like the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”  Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the US has evolved in a unipolar and more recently multipolar world order. In this new global order, many states have failed and are now the roots of today’s regional chaos causing civil war, mass murders, fueling mass migration, and hosting terrorist networks.

In addressing the threat represented by ISIL, President Obama underlined that the first priority is protecting American people and going after terrorist networks. American foreign policy makers, as well as European partners, have been using tough rhetoric in order to defend their actions against ISIL, such as “rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” Such argument fits in the continuous war that the United States has been waging against terrorism since President Bush in 2001. But how constructive have these ‘tough’ rhetorics been in addressing the problem?

A Disciplined Leadership

Once again, President Obama has called for restrain in using extensive military force in fighting ISIL. He recalled the lessons learned in Vietnam and Iraq. And this brought Obama to talk about his vision of leadership and the way the US should be using its power. “There’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy” argued Obama “that uses every element of our national power.” Such statement does reflect on the way President Obama has responded to emerging and pressing crises like Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and so forth. Many experts and political leaders have compared such reflective type of leadership as a sign of weakness and

Credit: Politico.eu
Credit: Politico.eu

inaction contributing to the decline of American power and grandeur. But this reflective type of leadership ought to be merged with the Obama doctrine, which has been a foundation of his presidency.

Part of Obama’s foreign policy has been to increase cooperation with international partners especially European and some Asian powers. Obama underlined the need for the US of “rallying the world behind causes that are right.” In order to describe – and sale to a skeptical American electorate – the positives of international cooperation, President Obama listed a series of ‘successes’ like international efforts in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, the fight against Ebola, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TTP), the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba and so forth (read several analyses on Iran, the TPP, Cuba, and Syria). Each issue, at the exception of the fight against Ebola, is still ongoing and requires legislative approval/support. Interestingly enough, President Obama did not mention one core international partner like the European countries, deeply involved in the fight against terrorist networks, or international organizations and so forth. Obama’s multilateralism was principally an American definition of the term, which could be summed up by his comments about the TPP. “With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.”

Foreign Policy, or the Impossible Task

Obama’s comments on foreign policy were a long segment of his address. The section illustrated the overall tone of the address: a response to the constant attacks on the campaign trail and an assertion of the results of his strategy and policy choices. For such reason, it was a weak part. Narrowing the foreign threats at ISIL and other terrorist networks, and briefly mentioning climate change, was a disappointment. As mentioned, ISIL does not represent an existential threat to the US. The war on terrorism is seriously affecting and limiting the grand strategy of the US.

On the strategic aspects of the Obama doctrine and the successes of his foreign policy, once again it is difficult to identify any clear successes (as it is for any presidents). The Obama doctrine has permitted the US to use lethal force around the world without waging war on country, while violating core principles of international law. Merging the concept of multilateral successes and the issues from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, to Colombia in the same sentence may be far stretched as well. Historically, this segment of the address has been used in order to comfort the democratic base, infuriate the hawks, and sadden the foreign policy experts.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Cameron’s Gift to Europeans

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives to pose for a family photo during a European Union leaders summit in Brussels April 23, 2015. European Union leaders who decided last year to halt the rescue of migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean will reverse their decision on Thursday at a summit hastily convened after nearly 2,000 people died at sea. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

If reelected, David Cameron, British Prime Minister, promised to organize a referendum on British membership with the European Union (EU). With his reelection in May 2015, David Cameron is now working on the details of the referendum scheduled to eventually take place between autumn 2016 and winter 2017. Initially the government had designed the following question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” The response would have been ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But in early September, the Electoral Commission argued that such question was biased and gave an advantage to the ‘Yes’ camp. Ultimately, a new question was drafted and now read “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Citizens will have to choose between “Remain a member of the European Union” and “Leave the European Union.”

Aside from political, economic and social considerations, the British referendum on its future inside the European club is an excellent thing for Britain and the other 27 Membereu-referendum-british-eu-flags States. The reason is simple. Since Cameron’s reappointment, the question of the EU has been ever present in European and world press. Cameron is in fact offering a gift to the EU and his 27 partners as for a very long time – or even for the first time in European history – Europeans and their leaders will have to finally reflect on the meaning of a EU membership, the role of the EU, and the concept of Europeanness.

Since the 2007 financial crisis, the EU has become synonymous with oppression, incomprehension, and in short the enemy of national sovereignty and regional diversity. These ideas are not new and have always been shared throughout European history. But the degree of integration occurring right after the Cold War with the first stone laid by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 created a complex problem for governments. Integration has led to a double process of deepening (institutionally) and widening (enlargement). The degree of integration attained today requires more Europe for more cohesion in economic, financial, fiscal, immigration, security and defense policies. But Member States, for many different reasons, are reticent in moving towards deeper integration.

The United Kingdom, like Denmark, is an interesting Member State as it is neither a founding nor a British anti-EU‘fully integrated’ member considering its opt-out clauses. With the collapse of the financial markets, David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has driven its country based on highly conservative and ideological policies. He has been focusing on cutting British debt by slashing most of government spending from social policies to defense. In addition, he has sought to attract to the ultra-nationalist base, led by the UKIP party, and one way was to put British membership to EU on the table. As illustrated below, British public opinion is closely divided in either remaining in the Union or leaving it.

Source: The Economist
Source: The Economist

Over the next two years, the press, leaders, and European citizens will have to finally reflect on the EU organized around two questions: what has the EU done for us, Europeans? What can we – Europeans – do for the EU? The first question is historically redundant as Member States are always trying to denigrate the massive contribution of the EU in the quality of life, which includes a ‘perpetual continental peace,’ of its Members and citizens. For instance, Spain, Portugal and Greece all highly beneficed from their membership in terms of development. In a matter of a decade, the standard of living in these countries was considerably increased. Certainly the Eurozone crisis has caused great harm in these countries, but all cannot be blamed on the euro. National governments ought to receive their share of the blame.

The second question is the most interesting of the two, as it will lead to a bottom-up reflection. What can European citizens and countries provide and offer to the EU? Member States and their citizenry ought to finally see how their contributions are necessary in order to grow and shape the EU of the 21st century. Most European citizens complain about the lack of connection between Brussels and themselves. European citizens are not doing enough in order to have their voices been heard when one reflects on the degree of abstention at the latest European elections. Being opposed to specific EU policies is one thing, contributing to European civic life is another. By asking the second question, European citizens will re-discover the sense of togetherness, identity, Europeanness, and the ‘we’ in European.

Source: The Economist.
Source: The Economist.

David Cameron is facing a very tricky battle head, but the history of Britain inside the Union is quite complex. Back in 1967, French President Charles de Gaulle opposed to the inclusion of Britain within the European Economic Community (EEC). His rationale was that de Gaulle “accused Britain of a ‘deep-seated hostility’ towards European construction.” De Gaulle was not totally wrong and understood the complexity of a British inclusion within the Union. Once in, Britain has played an important role in the integration of the common market, defense policy, and foreign policy.

China and the US have expressed their opposition to a Brexit and are worrying about the negative consequences of Britain’s departure from the Union and global markets. In addition, European diplomats, civil servants and the national capitals have all expressed some degree of frustration with London as no clear points of negotiation for reforming the EU-Britain relationship have been sent to Brussels. Aside from broad wishes – limitation of movement of labor and people, greater power for national parliaments, limiting the growth of the single market in favor of Eurozone members, reduction of social benefits for EU nationals – and calling for Treaty change, Brussels has yet to receive very clear and implementable demands. Cameron has his back in the corner and is now managing to survive a very complex domestic debate. Until 2017, the EU will be at the heart of political debate around the world. Politically speaking, David Cameron does not want his legacy to be remembered as the PM whom could not keep Britain in the Union.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Interview with O Globo on Russia in Syria

Earlier this week, Henrique Gomes Batista, the foreign correspondent of the O Globo in Washington D.C., a daily major national newspaper in Brazil, wanted to talk about Syria, Russia and the West. Politipond previously posted an analysis on the Russian incursion in Syria and what it means for the West. Here is the interview below (in Portuguese):

 

O Globo

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

RIP Cold War – Cuba, Diplomacy and the Miamian Emotional Distress

Kerry

 

Listening on the radio John Kerry’ speech and the sounds of the trumpets and drums accompanying the rise of the American flag in Havana from Miami was an historical moment. It marks the end of the Cold War politics thanks to a sound diplomatic move by the Obama administration under a complex emotional cloud in the mind of some American policy-makers and Cuban-American citizens. Cuba and its authoritarian regime are the reminiscence of the “amber of Cold War politics” that technically ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. If the ceremony led by the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, symbolizes in some regards the last days of Cold War politics, it can be perceived from Miami as some sort of treason.

The US Mission in Havana

Kerry’s visit and remarks in the Cuban capital of Havana is historical as it is the first US Secretary of State to visit Cuba since 1945. The ceremony comported of Kerry’s remarks, the rise of the US flag by the three marines that brought it down for a last time in 1961, and a poem read by Cuban-American poet, Richard Blanco. The opening of the diplomatic relations with Cuba should not be framed as an Obama gamble, but rather as a sound diplomatic move by the Executive Branch (read here a previous analysis on the concept of diplomatic victories regarding Cuba and Iran). However, the opening of the US embassy, which officially took place on July 20th, does not mean that the embargo on Cuba has been lifted. Only Congress can decide and vote on the future of the embargo. Even if travel to Cuba has increased since January, travel restrictions for American citizens are still in place. In addition, American and Cuban diplomats are still confined to the capitals in terms of movements. They both require authorization in order to travel outside of the capitals.

So far, the leadership of the US mission in Cuba will be in the hands of long-time diplomat Jeffrey DeLaurentis. The Obama administration is waiting on the nomination of an Ambassador for Cuba. Such nomination will have to go through the confirmation by the Congress and will most likely translate into a deep ideological fight between the Democrats and the Republicans. In addition the nominee could become a hot-potato for both Democrats and Republicans currently seeking for the nomination of their respective parties for the 2016 presidential elections.

The Power of Diplomacy

The diplomatic opening between the US and Cuba is in many instances a textbook case of the diplomatic literature. The traditional definition of diplomacy implies that diplomacy is an act of negotiation processes between states. Diplomacy permits to inform the foreign policy making of states. Such diplomatic opening seeks to normalize US-Cuban relations by advancing American interests despite the ideological foundation of the Castro regime. Based on such assumption that Obama should not interact with the Castro regime because of the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime, the US should in fact cancel most of its diplomatic missions and rethink some of its most important ones like the ones in Russia (a ‘managed democracy’), China (Communist regime), Pakistan (authoritarian), Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and so forth. For the US not to be diplomatically engaged with such powerful and relevant state would be a serious strategic error.

The diplomatic smoothing of the US-Cuban relations demonstrates a certain strategic rationality by the Obama administration informed by fact rather than political ideologies. “We [the United States and Cuba] are separated by just over 90 miles” said President Obama in his speech in December 2014 announcing the opening of the relations. “But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.” President Obama underlined that the opening of the relations marked a policy turn and “will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests.” If the embargo’s primary goal was to contain Cuba leading to the survival of the Castro regime for over five decades, then it has succeeded. However, if the embargo was implemented in order to lead to political change and transition in the long term, then it has failed. August 14th ceremony was “a day for pushing aside old barriers” said John Kerry “and exploring new possibilities.”

The Emotional Embargo

Naturally, some American policy-makers, like two senators and presidential hopefuls, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas, former Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush, are all in favor of maintaining the embargo. In a speech last week at the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York City, Senator Marco Rubio argued: “President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime for its repressive tactics and persistent, patient opposition to American interests.” He went on denouncing the fact that the Obama administration has offered “legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror.” If all three are seeking for the support of the powerful Cuban leadership in Miami and South Florida, the case of Marco Rubio may be a little different as he in fact illustrates the general feeling of the Cuban-American community of absolute opposition to interact and deal with the Castro regime. In some level Kerry responded in his address to such concern by arguing that “we [the United States] will continue to urge the Cuban Government to fulfill its obligations under the UN and inter-American human rights covenants – obligations shared by the United States and every other country in the Americas.”

If most of the United States does not take heart at the opening with Cuba, for Cuban-Americans, whom are making of a powerful lobby in Washington D.C. in influencing Congress, it is a different narrative. A recent poll produced by Bendixen & Amandi illustrates such argument. 69% of Americans living outside Miami support the normalization of relations with Cuba against 41% in favor living in Miami. In addition, 60% of Americans born in the US support the end of the embargo.

Source: Bendixen&Amandi. 2015.p.9
Source: Bendixen&Amandi. 2015. p.9
image2
Source: Bendixen&Amandi. 2015. p.24

The Cuban file illustrates a generational gap between the elder generations – born before 1980 – and the younger ones (as well called ABC, American-Born Cubans) – born after 1980 – maintaining the status-quo. The concept of ‘emotional embargo’ is very much present in the mind of the Cuban-American community creating an emotional reaction to the policy-change of the Obama administration, which has been perceived as a betrayal from the leadership. The opening of the US embassy in Havana is principally a symbolic move because most of the work remains to be done. Obama is in fact dealing with a complex situation of working with an authoritarian regime on the one hand, and seeking to assist Cuban dissidents and civil society on the other.

A Timely Opening

The diplomatic relations with Cuba is a fascinating foreign policy case for several reasons. First, it holds a strong emotional and human dimension upheld within the mind and heart of many Cuban-American citizens. Some have accepted the situation, others are still,

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

understandingly, opposed to any relations with the Castro regime. Second, diplomatic relations are not about approval of ideologies and political regimes, they are about ‘government to government’ relations. “The establishment of normal diplomatic relations” argued John Kerry “is not something that one government does as a favor to another.” Nixon did it with China as part of the ping-pong diplomacy in the early 1970s and he was certainly not trying to empower Mao Zedong. Third, diplomatic opening is not an illustration of weakness but rather of character. Diplomacy was not designed to maintain relations with ‘friends’ but rather with ‘foes’ and ‘enemies.’ Opening relations with Cuba will allow both countries to turn the page of the Cold War and move on into the 21st century.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

 

Cuba and Iran – Obama’s Legacy or Diplomatic Victories?

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

President Obama appears to be working on solidifying his legacy in the last years of his second mandate. His two real diplomatic victories are coming at the last mile of his presidency with the closing of the nuclear deal with Iran and the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even if the future looks bright for President Obama in starting his last year in office, and especially for his legacy, his administration has been looking for a clear diplomatic identity throughout the reigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at the helm of the US Department of State.

The Cuban-Iranian Files

In a matter of weeks, the US diplomatic body has offered the US two great diplomatic victories starting with the nuclear deal with Iran and the resumption of diplomatic

Photo: U.S. Department of State
Photo: U.S. Department of State

relations between Cuba and the US. In the case of the nuclear deal with Iran, it began in 2003 with a European diplomatic mission, the EU 3+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Germany + the High Representative Javier Solana). In 2003 the US had just waged war against Iraq and was not inclined in participating in the nuclear talks with Tehran (still today the members of the Bush administration are still fighting against a diplomatic deal with Iran as illustrated in the recent piece by John R. Bolton). China, Russia and the US joined the Europeans in 2006 as part of the P5+1 format (5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). In September 2013, the US initiated the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since 1979. From 2013 to July 2015, both capitals with Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing worked on finding a deal. Even though a large part of the success goes to Kerry and his team, the Europeans, lead by three successive High Representatives with Javier Solana, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, played a crucial roles throughout the process. At the lowest point of the relations with Iran, the EU was axiomatic in initiating and maintaining the negotiations at least alive. The last two years of negotiations led by John Kerry and the US demonstrated to be essential in the agreement of a deal. Despite missing the original deadline of June, the world powers and Iran finally agreed on the Vienna accord, which now needs to be approved by the US, Iran and other powers.

The re-opening of the relations with Cuba is a second landmark for the Obama administration. If the Iranian file was not certain to translate into an agreement, the

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

opening of relations with Cuba was only a matter of time. Aside from the powerful Cuban lobby and its two republican spears, Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, wanting to maintain the 55 year old embargo, the rest of the US does not really feel any emotional connection to this reminiscence of the Cold War (read here an interesting piece by Simon Kuper about the perception of the US policy towards Cuba in Miami). In his December 2014 speech, President Obama announced the change of this “rigid policy” towards Cuba and that “a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban.” On July 20th, the Cuban embassy officially opened in D.C.

The Cuban and Iranian openings share one element in common, Obama’ strategic intelligence of cautious diplomatic negotiations. With both countries, the US has some serious concerns about democratic principles and values, the lack of free press, the oppression by the state of individuals and civil societies, their human rights records and so forth. But both countries are important for the US for several reasons: first, they are important regional players. Iran is central for the stability of the Middle East and finalizing wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Cuba is so close from the US southern borders that a failed state could be disastrous in terms of human and drug trafficking. Then, in order to bring ‘change’ or at least transformation in societies that have been locked since the 50s for Cuba and 79 for Iran, it will take time. The best way to open up the countries and permit from a bottom-up transformation is to bring them back into the community of nations.

Now the chances that both countries become allies of the US in the future remain thin. The Ping Pong Diplomacyopening of the US-China relations initiated by Nixon was central for the current relations between both superpowers. There are certainly not always peaceful, but both countries are today so interdependent and intertwined. However, China is not the type of country that the US dreamed of, an open-democracy. With almost five decades of cooperation between China and the US and a clear reflection on the level and depth of the current tensions between both partners, one could imagine how they could have been without the implementation of the ping-pong diplomacy leading to the visit of Nixon to China in 1972. So let’s apply this model on the Iranian and Cuban case.

Diplomacy in the 21st century

Diplomacy in the early 21st century has become a dirty word in American politics. In a field, that is extremely conservative and principally framed and informed by realists, for Obama to have implemented and closed, almost simultaneously, on two diplomatic deals is a real accomplishment in such. However, Obama’s foreign policy has certainly lacked of a clear identity and direction since 2008. For instance, Obama initiated once arriving in power a shift, or pivot, to Asia requiring American’s partners, namely the Europeans, to increase their power and influence in the neighboring regions. Aside from the French, the Europeans were unwilling (look at the Brits) and unable to perform such missions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Obama and the US were brought back in the European sphere of influence quickly considering the crises in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa (Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon), Iraq and Yemen. The US foreign policy appears to be, yes successful, but less influential in shaping world events. Obama could not do what he had envisioned and had to instead settle for what was possible/achievable.

Now let’s be clear on the fact that both diplomatic efforts are directly aligned with American interests. In the case of Iran, bringing back Iran into the community of nations is already a positive step. The Obama administration was right on focusing solely about the issue of nuclear production and avoiding Iran to get the bomb, at least in the next decade, instead of trying to include all types of prerogatives requesting for domestic reforms and change. Sticking to the nuclear deal was the main reason for a successful agreement. Certainly the US will have to reassure its regional allies, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will materialize through new arms deal and commitment of eventual engagement in case of serious tension. In the case of Cuba, the US has nothing to lose and will instead gain more. The US has to position itself considering that European governments have been shifting their positions towards the island. Both diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran are not an approval of the regimes and their ideologies, but simple diplomatic success on important regional and global security matters.

In the 1960s, France and Israel were extremely closed allies. So close that France provided

Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO
Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO

the nuclear bomb to Israel. After a long friendly relations between David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister and French President Charles de Gaulle, France started to shift from Israel to Arab nations as the country needed gas and oil. After this shift, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter to Charles de Gaulle, saying that he thought that they were friends. To this, de Gaulle responded that people have friends; nations have interests. By working with the Iranians and with the Castro regime, President Obama is not seeking for friendship, he is simply working on advancing American interests. Obama has certainly advanced American interests on both issues, but what about his legacy?

The concept of legacy needs to taken with some lightness for two reasons. First, legacies are made because of time. Historians are more inclined to validate one’s legacy than other social scientists much more focused on the present. A serious historical reading of Obama’s achievements can only take place in several decades (read here a piece by Robert Dalleck in Politico raising some caution about using the concept of legacy too soon). Second, one’s legacy is usually solidified by his/her successor. A continuation of Obama’s foreign policy, most likely with the election of Hillary Clinton, would ultimately play in favor of Obama in engraving his domestic and international landmarks. Until then, President Obama has sealed two diplomatic victories.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

British Elections, or the Illustration of a National Malaise

Source: Euronews
Source: Euronews

Is the United Kingdom, especially Britain, sick? For years, the media has called France the sick man of Europe, it appears that Britain has caught a similar cold. If France is facing dire economic conditions and is unable to implement real reforms launching the economic engine once and for all, Britain has for its part disappeared from the European and international stage. Britain is on election mode and these elections are serious for the future of Britain and its future within the European Union. Because Britain has fallen from the table of relevance, the general European public is unaware of them. May 7th will be a big day for Britain, the United Kingdom, and the European Union.

The election is being disputed between seven candidates. The two main candidates belong to the two big parties: conservative led by Prime Minister David Cameron; and the Labor led by Ed Miliband. The others are from smaller parties, which have nevertheless shaped the debate, like the Scottish and Welsh nationalists, the Democratic Unionists in Northern Ireland, the Greens, and UK Independence Party (UKIP). These smaller parties may not produce the next Prime Minister, but “could hold the balance of power in the next Parliament, making government policy subject to negotiation.” The expectation is to see either Miliband or Cameron winning the popular vote. So far, the campaign has revolved around the following three issues: the economy, health care, and immigration.

Risk-Aversion or Pessimistic Isolationism?

Since the election of Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010 Britain has lost some of its grandeur and relevance. Just on foreign and defense policy, Britain has disappeared from

Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Credits: Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

the international arena. From a mid-size power to a small power, Britain lost its appetite for international relevance and action. The turning point was the no vote by the Parliament for a military intervention in Syria against President Bashar al-Assad in August 2013. Since then, Prime Minister Cameron has just looked inward and tried to clean up the house letting foreign affairs aside. Ed Miliband, Labor Party Leader, has described Cameron’s foreign policy of “pessimistic isolationism,” and for electoral purposes argued that Cameron has “weakened Britain.”

In terms of foreign policy, Britain has been a no-show on really important issues like Ukraine (France and Germany signed the Minsk agreement with Russia), on sanctions against Russia, on Libya, on the migration crisis, on Africa, on fighting ISIS in Syria and Libya and so forth. Britain is only assisting the US on bombing ISIS in Iraq. In Africa, Britain is barely assisting the French in the mission in Mali and has expressed very limited interests in fighting Boko Haram. The absence of Britain and Cameron on dealing with Putin and Russia over the question of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine has been damaging to the credibility of the country and the EU on trying to solve serious regional crises.

One reason for such risk-aversion by Britain is the Iraq and Afghan campaigns. The costs on going to war in Iraq with the Americans in 2003 are still being felt. Then the mission in Afghanistan lasted over a decade and Britain does not want anymore to get drag down in another foreign campaign with no success at the end, which Syria and Libya could very much be. In Iraq and Afghanistan, Britain has not been able to justify the size and length of both missions and the population has grown opposed to another foreign intervention.

Letting your Allies down

The US is now extremely worried about the future of the ‘special relationship.’ Britain may tend to believe that the ‘special relationship’ is set in stone, but like any relationship, without discussion and connection they tend to dry out and die. Britain cannot expect the US to be its closest ally when Britain does not reciprocate. Maybe the British leadershiparticle-0-0C42551000000578-462_634x393 believes that all GOP candidates ought to pass by London in order to be presidential, but so far none of them has been successful at it – recall McCain and Romney – and a talk in London by a non-elected and/or elected official in his personal capacity does not make up for the core of the ‘special relationship.’ Additionally, the US saw the move by the Foreign Office to decide to make Britain a founding member of Beijing’s new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, a competitor of the World Bank, as some sort of backstabbing. France, Italy, and Germany have followed the UK on this policy-choice.

For France and Europe, an inward looking Britain is a real concern as well. France and Britain have certainly a long past fighting one another, but there is one core dimension wherein Paris and London see eye to eye: defense and foreign policies. European defense was created, functioned and has deepened thanks to the Franco-British couple. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) was established ensuing the 1998 bilateral Saint-Malo meeting. Since the disappearance of Britain on common defense questions, France has become anxious. For instance, top French expert, Camille Grand of the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique argued in the New York Times that “We in Paris understand that Germany is a complicated partner on defense, but the assumption is that Britain is a like-minded country ready to intervene, would spend enough on defense and remain a nuclear weapons state. All this is being challenged, and it makes Paris feel lonely.” Despite some historical and cultural divergences, Paris and London have always shared a common acute sense of foreign affairs and valued their cooperation in foreign, security and defense policies.

So Long Britain?

Britain is an interesting European case for two reasons: first, the raison d’être of its political class has become so anti-European that it goes against its national interest; second, there is no long-term vision for Britain in interacting with Europe and the world.

Britain must for once and for all accept its role and place within the European Union. If it wants to leave, the referendum ought to be implemented and the country will adjust accordingly towards a Brexit or not (see the short video above). But having Britain being so anti-European and

628x-1
Credits: Olivier Hoslet/AFP/Getty Images

blocking any initiatives (against the CAP, against a large common budget, against police and judiciary cooperation, against the Schengen agreement, and so on) in Brussels is counter-productive for Britain, the EU, and the 28 EU Member States. For instance, having London fighting for the increase of the budget of Operation Triton is counterproductive. The perpetual fear of lost of sovereignty and stripping away British independence cannot last any longer. A balance ought to be found between anti-EU and constructive bargaining.

Second, the British political class, as its French counterpart, is composed of visionless politicians. There is no long-term vision for their respective countries with serious political, economic, social and financial agendas. There are only bureaucrats seeking for perpetual reelection at great cost for the country. Hopefully, the May 7th elections will allow British citizens and politicians to reflect on the role of Britain in Europe and the world. This is only wishful thinking, as in reality the general election appears to be another wasted opportunity for a clear national reflection on Britain’s future.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

A Book Review – The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries

eu-jigsaw-picture

“Conceptualizing EU foreign policy has been a contested matter, reflecting the sui generis nature of the EU as an international actor, and does not lend itself to single interpretative approaches” (Balfour 2015, p.42).

What is the relationship between the European External Action Service (EEAS) and national diplomacies? “Are the ongoing changes pushing towards greater coherence and effectiveness of EU foreign policy or, on the contrary, towards re-nationalization?” (p. 9). These are the overarching research questions of this recently published edited volume, The European External Action Service and National Foreign Ministries. Convergence or Divergence?, under the supervision of Rosa Balfour, Caterina Carta and Kristi Raik.

9781472442437.PPC_PPC Template

Structured in two parts, EEAS and National Foreign Ministries, convincingly analyzes the making and shaping of foreign-policy making between the Member States (MS) and the European Union (EU). The first part lays out the current global context wherein the Europeans are operating, and seeks to look inside the EEAS, its establishment, its staffs, role and the evolution of the relationship with Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs). In the second and much longer section composed of eight chapters, each one of them reflects on a or several Member States and on how their national diplomacies are being shaped by or are shaping the EEAS. The Member States selected for this edited volume are, by order, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain and Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland, Greece and Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland.

The Evolution of EU Foreign Policy

From the creation of the EU to today, the making of a EU foreign policy has been progressing from an intergovernmental cooperation to becoming a complex ‘service,’ as the EEAS is neither an agency nor an institution, mixing intergovernmentalism and supranationalism (see p.42-4). The 2009 Treaty of Lisbon solidified formal intergovernmentalism in the decision-making, while including supranational dimensions into the CFSP (foreign policy) and the CSDP (defense) (p. 2).

Credit: EEAS
Credit: EEAS

“The relationship between EU foreign policy structures and national diplomacies of the member state” write Balfour, Cart and Raik “is one of the key determinants of the EU’s ability for coherent and effective global action and of Europe’s position in the changing world order” (p.1). Richard Whitman makes a very compelling argument in drawing a complex picture of international relations in the early twenty-first century. Not only, as he writes, there are “changes in the structure of international relations” but as well “changes to patterns and practices in the flow of information” (p.17). European diplomacy is facing ‘outside in’ challenges due to the fragmentation of international relations (economic problems, new world order, intensification of globalization) and ‘inside out’ challenges in order to merging national with European interests.

EU & National Interplay in Foreign-Policy Making

The book’s contribution lays in looking and analyzing the complex interplay in the foreign-policy making between the EEAS and the national actors. The body of the overall arguments is based on the following three interplays (see the figure below):

  • downloading, a top-down process from the EU to the Member States – such process can lead to greater transfer of power to Brussels at the expense of the MFAs and Member States;
  • uploading, a bottom-up process from the Member States to the EU – such process is much more embedded in the inter-state bargaining power logic. MS are pushing for their national interests and preferences at the EU level. The EEAS is perceived as an over-shadowing presence over the MFAs;
  • crossloading, a mutual constitution leading to convergence – such process leads to an elite socialization at the EU level, wherein national and european interests and preferences become intertwined and ultimately converge.
Source:  Balfour, Carta, Raik. 2015. The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries. p. 8
Title: The EEAS and MFAs of the member states in the context of national, European and global structures.                          Source: Balfour, Carta, Raik. 2015. The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries. p. 8

Aside from the analytical framework based on uploading, downloading or crossloading, Whitman makes an important observation when claiming that EU MS often retreat to their national positions when responding to crises. And cooperation at the EU level usually takes place in the aftermath of conflict (p.30). This has been repeated on so many occasions.

MFAs, the EEAS and the World

The three leading EU MS, the UK, France and Germany, have all reacted differently to the creation of the EEAS. Daniel Fiott argues that the UK remains ambivalent about the EEAS.cameron-euro-5_2079690b London is clear on one aspect, “the EEAS must serve the interests of European Union (EU) member states: nothing more, nothing less” (p.75). Under Cameron, the UK has neither contributed to the growth of the EEAS nor the EU.

Fabien Terpan (read here a previous analysis on his article on the financing of CSDP operations) demonstrates that the position of France towards the EEAS is aligned with two core French foreign policy traditions: the Gaullist tradition (grandeur, independence, sovereignty) and the entrenchment of French interests with a deep European commitment. France has principally worked on uploading its national preferences. For the last of the Big three, Cornelius Adebahr argues that Germany is the strongest supporter of the EEAS and does not see it as overshadowing the German Foreign Office. The editors underline that France and the UK are “in a category of their own, […]. The EU, however, is not the only option for their foreign policy actions” (p.200) considering the weight and influence of their MFAs, their seats at the UN Security Council, NATO and other international institutions.

Considering the 11 other Member States selected, the authors underscore how these small, and middle-level powers see their role in the EU and how the EEAS is a way to increase their influence (Portugal and the Netherlands), while others (Poland and Sweden) seek to constantly upload their national foreign policies at the EU level. Considering the domestic context, Italy and Spain have welcomed the EEAS permitting them to maintain their foreign policy weight. Slovenia and Greece initially saw as well the EEAS as an opportunity to upload their priorities, which has gone in vein. In the case of Czech Republic, Estonia and Finland, they consider the EEAS an important instrument in order to reinforce their security from Russia.

The EEAS is a complex agency with different layers and formed on broad composition of staff with former DG RELEX staff, Secretary of Council’ staff and national staff (see chapter 3). It is headed by the HR/VP, Federica Mogherini, whom oversees the overall CFSP and EU foreign policy making process. It is the center of coordination in EU foreign policy making with a horizontal dimension (several EU institutions like the Commission, Parliament, European Council) and a vertical one (28 MFAs) (p. 46-7). Ultimately, “The EEAS epitomizes this hybridity,” writes Balfour “making foreign policy exposed to the strengths and weaknesses of ambiguity” (p.44).

Concluding Remarks

The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is an important contribution to an under-studied topic. The methodology applied in order to look at the positions of the Member States (semi-structured elite interviews and process-tracing) permits to develop a compelling argument and confirms the expectations of European experts. The editors make a strong case in justifying their qualitative methodology by arguing that the explanatory power of normative and ideational variables is central in order to explain “change, adaptation and reform” (p.196).

This multi-layered foreign-policy making machine – EEAS+COM+EP+EC+EU-28 –

468109400incorporating a juxtaposition of intergovernmentalism and supranationalism into one unit illustrates the degree of complexity in order to foster a common European position on very contentious foreign policy issues like the recognition of Kosovo’ sovereignty, the Iranian nuclear negotiations, relationship with emerging powers like China, India and Brazil, and toughening the voice against Russia. In addition, this book is deeply relevant considering the global and domestic forces affecting the EU and the Member States. The EEAS was institutionally designed at a time of rapid changes and needs to find its voice and role.

The EEAS and National Foreign Ministries is a complete work and very accessible despite the complexity of foreign-policy making in the EU. This edited volume finally stands as a landmark for two reasons: first, each chapter responds to the overall research question, where so many edited volumes have failed to do so; second, it offers a roadmap for understanding European foreign-policy making. This volume lays out the machinery of the EEAS and MFAs, the next volume should look at the way the EEAS and the MFAs work on solving crises like the Arab Spring, war in Syria, Iranian nuclear negotiations, Israeli-Palestinian tensions, relations with each member of the BRICS among many others.

Politipond highly recommends this edited volume and would like to thank Ashgate for providing a complementary copy for review. The book can be bought on Ashgate’s website, here.

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