Washington Tone-Deafness in a Changing World: Part IBy Francis A. Kornegay // Monday, December 17, 2012
By Francis A. Kornegay
Senior Fellow, Institute for Global Dialogue, Pretoria
Before Daniel M. Kliman and Richard Fontaine of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) unveiled their foreign policy advice to the re-elected Obama administration, perhaps they could have saved themselves the effort by going over the speeches of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Indeed, what may have been Secretary Clinton’s valedictory address at the Foreign Policy Group’s “Transformational Trends 2013” Forum on the 29th of November might serve as a counterpoint to Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Future of International Order by Messers Kliman and Fontaine. In other words, the administration might do better to continue doing what it has already been doing than get itself think-tanked into a foreign policy modeled on American ‘swing state’ electoral politics.
Just the fact that American elections have been reduced to a few ‘battleground’ states, excluding most of the rest of America, might raise cautions on extrapolating this model into a global strategy. There is also the likelihood that the quartet on which Kliman and Fontaine have settled might have mixed thoughts, to say the least, about being so anointed. They are, after all, emerging powers jealously protective of their strategic autonomy. Essentially, to appreciate why the authors may be off on the wrong track, one has to move outside the limiting policy wonk environs of Washington to understand how the rest of the world, especially, the world of the non-West, perceives the tectonic shifts underway in the world and their ambivalent perceptions of America. This is especially true amongst emerging powers.
In other words, we as Americans must make an effort to see ourselves, and the world we want to preserve, the way others see us, as well as recognize how they view the system we want their help in preserving. The authors of Global Swing States are well-meaning and this critique has not the space to delve deeply into many of the proposals they make which, in and of themselves, have merit. The main problem is their outdated worldview. They assume that their anointed quartet is amenable to being co-opted as ‘sub-imperial’ co-conspirators in propping up US and Western dominance at a time of accelerated Western relative decline, when their own national and collective interests may tell them otherwise. In conveying this assumption, Kliman and Fontaine repeat what has been an ongoing failing in Washington thinking. This is a tendency toward dismissiveness and willful ignorance of emerging powers and the global South as a diverse community of actors in their own right. For example, the Non-Alignment Movement and the G77 (now plus China) have never carried any weight in Washington.
To some extent, the Kliman-Fontaine perspective reflects residual cold war thinking, the assumption being that there are challengers threatening the prevailing global order. Therefore, the US needs additional allies in defending the status-quo against those who would — do what? Overthrow it? And who might those be: China? Russia? BRICS maybe? Ah, BRICS! Now we may be on to something since Brazil and India are founding members of BRICS, who are both in good standing. BRICS is the unmentioned ‘elephant in the room’ of the GMF-CNAR report. Thus, Kliman and Fontaine may have in mind some good ol’fashion divide-and-conquer techniques based on the foursome’s “commitment to democratic institutions” while “critically, each nation’s precise international role is now in flux.” They can therefore be ‘bought off’ “because their approach to the international order is more fluid and open than those of China or Russia…”
Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps this is an exercise in wishful thinking especially regarding Brazil and India, which are both committed to BRICS and IBSA (the India-Brazil-South Africa Trilateral Dialogue Forum), and to their climate change partnership with China: BASIC. Other emerging powers, like Indonesia and Turkey, actually aspire to being members of BRICS and, within the context of the G20, form a BRICS + 6 with Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Argentina. Moreover, the Obama administration has already targeted this entire grouping as a class of countries warranting priority bilateral strategic partnerships. This aligns with Secretary Clinton’s goal of turning a multipolar world into a ‘multi-partnership world.’
Kliman and Fontaine, in advocating a more exclusive bilateralism in Washington’s engagement with emerging powers, base their case on what has to be considered an outdated ‘alliance paradigm’ when, in fact, save for the transatlantic, global relations are in a post-alliance era of multilateral strategic partnerships and coalitions of convergent interests. This is what BRICS and IBSA are all about. The authors make things even more unpalatable to BRICS members, like Brazil and India, by touting how “the rise of four powerful democracies…could bolster today’s international order” and should thus be considered “promising partners” when, in fact, they are already strategic partners with both the European Union and the US. These countries are promising because “although they desire changes to the international order, they do not seek to scrap it,” as if that is Beijing and Moscow’s goal. The diplomacy resulting in Christine Lagarde becoming IMF president should have scotched that myth as should Chinese national, Cai Jinyong, becoming executive vice-president of the International Finance Corporation.
The BRICS are not rejectionists as much as reformists. They are not erecting parallel institutions as much as initiating supplemental ones to leverage long-overdue reforms in existing institutions. Where the US may ill-afford complacency is in the launching of the BRICS Banking Mechanism with its aim of internationalizing BRICS currencies, especially China’s yuan. Suffice to say the threat to the status of the dollar that local currency trade financing might pose has much to do with the American domestic politics of rebalancing the US economy, wherein the Republican party extremism poses a veritable national security threat. Reversing the offshoring of American jobs, consumer income, GDP, and tax base by taxing corporations in accordance with where they add value to their products might help to shore up the American dollar in what promises to be an increasingly multipolar currency environment.
Among their recommendations, there are two areas that demonstrate the unnecessary contentiousness of proposals that, without the China fixation, have merit. These have to do with Africa and with maritime cooperation. Apart from the fact that their call for partnering with India, Brazil, and Turkey to establish a model for African development smacks of marginalizing the continent in the name of helping it, South Africa is left totally out of the picture. Why? South Africa is closely aligned with India and Brazil within IBSA and BRICS, especially because of its leadership role on the continent, a role enhanced by former Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma serving as African Union chief. Why should Brasilia and New Delhi enter into the kind of partnership Kliman and Fontaine are recommending without South Africa?
They would also have Washington encourage trilateral partnerships in Africa involving India, Brazil, and Turkey, but with Europe to counter China. Yet Beijing is already involved in the very partnerships they are advocating. Indeed there is a promising dialogue between the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Africa program, Romano Prodi, the AU, and the Chinese on peace and security issues. As for South Africa, it also figures centrally in the regional maritime and naval cooperation initiatives that Kliman and Fontaine foresee for the US with India and Brazil. But again, their approach is selectively bilateral. Perhaps they are unaware of the IBSAMAR maritime-naval initiative that Brazil and India are engaged in with South Africa. Would it not be better, then, for Washington to engage in a US-IBSA maritime security dialogue than to pursue separate bilateral initiatives that involve leaving South Africa out of the South Atlantic-Indian Ocean equation when it is the linchpin to security and functional cooperation between these two oceans? These issues will be explored further another installment of this piece, which will be posted January 21, 2012.