Over at Blinded Trials the esteemed Dr. Saunders has a post up about how W. Mitt Romney, much like John McCain before him, has managed to alienate potential voters with his mendacity and pandering to the Republican base. In response to said post Jaybird says:
There is a part of me that is vaguely troubled by the fact that the main page has only seen one “here’s why you oughtta vote for Romney!” post while it’s seen several pro-Obama posts. Surely I could rub some brain cells together and generate an argument on behalf of Romney. That’s what dispassionate philosophical analysis is for!
Of course a sentence later, Jaybird admits that he feels greasy even looking at Mr. Romney and declines the challenge.
Now among the front-pagers of our fine site, I am:
- Reliably liberal.
- A foreign policy writer.
- Write often from an odd mixture of realism/constructivism/liberal institutionalism.
As a result, a good number of my posts have been critical of the Republican foreign policy architecture, particularly that which has supplied the foreign policy expertise to the Romney Campaign.
In an attempt to make amends, I’m going to try to write a post spelling out the case to be made for Mr. Romney’s foreign policy positions, starting with an overview of the theories that inform the case, then spelling out how his stated positions will work to enhance the ends advocated by the theories.
So without further ado….
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team has a number of theoretical heavy-weights, but perhaps the most significant are Eliot Cohen (professor of strategic studies at SAIS at John Hopkins) and Robert Kagan (Brookings institute fellow and author of The World America Made). Additional names of note are Eric Edelman, Dan Senor, Michael Hayden, Michael Chertoff and Dov Zakhein. Much of the focus in recent times have been their involvement in the Administration of George W. Bush, but for the most part their biggest contributions tended to be of the Bush Team during the second half of the presidency, after the departure of the likes of Douglas Feith and Paul Wolfowitz.
The worldview of these advisers is more varied than popular accounts would suggest (particularly the rather caustic profile in Foreign Policy) but they rest on a series of fundamental assumptions about the international system. A handful of these assumptions are shared by both old school realists and this “offensive realist” school and are as follows:
- The international system is anarchic.
- States are rational actors that can weigh the consequences of their actions.
- Survival is the primary goal of a state.
- States seek to maximize their security to secure their survival.
- States can’t trust one another.
Those like Kagan, Cohen and Senor differ from neorealists of the Kissinger stripe in what they view as the most secure world. While Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski pushed for the maintenance of a stable status quo, trusting that powerful states would feel secure in an equilibrium, the new breed of offensive realists view such balances with mistrust.
First, they argue that the concept of balance of power and balancing coalitions is inherently wrong. While states might have formed balancing coalitions in old European Balance of Power politics, this was done reluctantly and often avoided as much as possible. Instead, the belief is that states will usually resort to “buck-passing”, that is they will attempt to shift the burden of countering another state to someone else if they can. Further, while there may have been a minority of statesmen who viewed stability as desirable, they argue that history shows a propensity for states to attempt to expand their military power and influence.
Stemming from this view, their second argument is that under these circumstances, the United States and its interests are most secure when it has a preponderance of military power. In short: a unipolar world is the safest world. US foreign policy in turn should be about the maintenance of unipolarity as much as possible.
Further, because states are often uncertain of intentions, signalling through investments in military power, as well as public pronouncements from politicians are often seen as good barometers of gauging intention. A substrain of international relations theory called Strategic Conflict Avoidance (SCA) theory suggests that states carefully watch the domestic popularity of politicians, along with economic indicators to gauge their likelihood of conflict (and adjust their behavior accordingly). Under this theory the political leaning of a politician (whether hawkish or dovish) along with the domestic approval rating for the politician himself will signal how likely the country in question is to resort to diversionary uses of force.
Finally, because global hegemony is practically impossible due to geographic limitations, most states will instead seek to establish itself as the undisputed regional hegemon. Because of the buck-passing behavior of states, most regional hegemons are unlikely to face a balancing coalition once established. Consequently an important corollary is that the interest of a state with strategic interests in regions outside of its geographic location is to prevent the establishment of a hegemon.
With the theoretical underpinnings out of the way, let’s look at the world around us with this knowledge.
The world today is in a state of flux. Traditional Great Powers like the United Kingdom, France and even Germany have lost relative power and are mired in a financially fragile Europe, while new states begin establishing regional bases of power.
In the Middle-East traditional US allies such as Egypt face uncertainty as their governments are replaced by unstable revolutionary governments. The traditional economic preponderance of Saudi Arabia, and the nuclear hegemony of Israel are being challenged. The growth of non-western demand for oil has helped Iran skirt the western sanctions against its oil revenues, and its acquisition of nuclear technology will allow it to challenge Israel’s nuclear hegemony. Within a few years, Iran may be capable of establishing itself as a regional power with a strong nuclear deterrent, forcing the United States to draw down its influence. Geostrategically, the current state of affairs in the Middle-East and Maghred threatens American influence in the region.
Central Asia and the Caucuses, which had seen liberalization and decentralization since the fall of the Soviet Union may face a resurgent Russia flush with oil wealth. When the United States did not intervene on behalf of Georgia in the South Ossetian War of 2008, it helped to encourage Russian designs for a sphere of influence and eroded confidence in American power regionally. Further, the growing importance of natural gas makes the likes of Kazakhstan an important energy provider for the 21st century. Allowing Russia to establish regional hegemony would have dangerous consequences for global natural gas markets in the coming few decades.
East Asia and the Pacific face the rise of China. There the influence of China and the growing size of the People Liberation Army Navy threaten to dislodge US regional hegemony that it’s maintained since the end of the Second World War. The lack of a strong US response to Chinese economic manipulations have helped embolden Chinese designs on the South China Sea and beyond. China’s defense expenditures are expected to increase from $112 billion today to over $250 billion by 2014. This is more than the rest of Asia combined. No sane defense planner would cut American expenditures at such a time.
And even in its own hemisphere, the US faces challenges to its hegemony that it’s maintained since the Monroe doctrine. The rise of Brazil, the challenges presented by the leftist governments in South America and the oil wealth of Venezuela threaten to make the US a regional has-been.
Mitt Romney’s foreign policy goals and his clear commitment to increasing military spending would be the best way to maintain the world system as we have it today. American primacy is perhaps the best way to prevent other states from establishing regional hegemonies and creating spheres of influence. Only by showing a strong commitment to deploying American hard power will potential hegemons be deterred. Cutting $50 billion/year out of the DoD budget while China, Russia and Iran increase their spending with their GDP estimates each year will only invite more overstepping and challenges.
Witness the Chinese behavior with the Senkaku Islands or the South China Sea. Denying regional access is a cornerstone of their island chain strategy.
The United States ought to be able to demonstrate its capability to project power into a wide range of regional locations. Unlike Barack Obama who has suggested an off-shore balancing approach, the Romney foreign policy team would propose a stronger US presence with American power at the forefront of its signalling. Without such signals, more states are likely to pass the buck on balancing new regional powers, and even worse hop onto the new powers as bandwagoners. Such a world would ultimately lead to less trade, more regionalism and the greater threat of conflict. In short: the world that America made after the Second World War would be under threat, and with it would challenge the opportunities for US citizens to earn money abroad.