Since Donald Trump unexpectedly won the presidency in November, his foreign policy pronouncements have received considerable scrutiny from those anxious to elicit from them how potentially detrimental his presidency is liable to be to the so-called liberal international order. By this expression is meant that web of alliances and international arrangements and organizations that the United States has been instrumental in helping to create and support since 1945 to promote global peace and prosperity. Most notable among the elements of this global order are such bodies as the United Nations, NATO and the European Union, as well as that medley…
The economic costs of ditching the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement are substantial, but there are geopolitical costs as well. TTP was designed to cement an Asian alliance to contain a rising and yet still communist China. Trade agreements often have political as well as economic purposes. The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade was initially a Cold War instrument. Its core members were originally those of the anti-communist alliance. Growing their economies faster helped the West have more resources to contain the Soviet bloc. But it also brought officials and citizens of these nations into more common enterprises, promoting their overriding common purpose.
An international trade legal regime is one of the most effective soft power methods of containing adversaries. For instance, in the case of TTP we not only strengthened our alliances but provided incentives to China to open up its economy, if it wanted to become a member. A more open economy provides a long-run counterweight to the Communist Party and foreign adventurism. When we give up such tools, we are left with less palatable alternatives—using more military force or pursuing a balance of power diplomacy. Both require sacrifices.
President Trump’s Secretary of State designate has already suggested that the administration may be inclined to a more robust military approach to China.
I well remember being almost persuaded by Francis Fukuyama’s wonderfully argued The End of History and the Last Man. The book suggested that the West and perhaps the world had reached an endpoint where democracies constrained by the rule of law and powered by market economies would dominate. If so, the future looked happy. The synthesis of the principles of democracy and economic liberty would lead to a peaceful prosperity where the chief excitement might come from the relentless doubling of computer power.
At least so far, however, The End of History has collided with history. Much of the Islamic world has not gotten the message. To be sure, the fall of the Soviet Union has led to many ex-communist states with an admirable commitment to law and the kind of economics that gains long-term prosperity. But there remains Russia, where democracy seems incapable of sustaining a loyal opposition, the state looms as leviathan, and the economy has large elements of a kleptocracy. Readers of Russian history should not be surprised. Richard Pipes has long argued that since the 15th century, Russian culture has been marked by disdain for rights of property and an enthusiasm for a patrimonial regime with little separation between state and economic and civic society.
But nothing better represents the failure of Fukuyama’s thesis than plight of Euro and the Greek crisis. The Euro was the monetary representation of history’s end in the birthplace of the West.
Lord Salisbury, Britain’s 19th century strategist and prime minister, famously remarked to a correspondent that “if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.” Alarms that experts raised from their own preoccupations, he believed, required tempering with common sense before such warnings could offer a reasonable guide for policy. Much of the discussion of American security over recent years brings to mind Salisbury’s observation. Mark Helprin’s “Indefensible Defense” in National Review’s June 22 offers a case in point.
This edition of Liberty Law Talk discusses with the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens his recent book, America in Retreat. Stephens argues that an America which declines to engage globally with its military is accepting a false promise of peace at the expense of rising disorder. The introduction chapter is entitled “The World’s Policeman” where Stephens quotes President Barack Obama’s proclamation in a 2013 speech: “We should not be the world’s policeman.” Similarly, Rand Paul states that “America’s mission should always be to keep the peace, not police the world.” “This book,” says Stephens, “is my response to that argument.” Our conversation focuses on…
If there was any hope left that a Putin-led Russia might still transition to a democracy with a stable rule of law and truly independent civil society, Karen Dawisha’s Hayek Book Prize nominated Putin’s Kleptocracy would seem to have squashed it. Indeed, Dawisha argues that Putin basically rules through and with a criminal conspiracy whose goals are to “control privatization, restrict democracy, and return to Russia to Great Power (if not superpower) status.” She cites as powerful evidence the penalties imposed by the United States in April 2014 following the Russian invasion of Crimea. The American government didn’t primarily target…
Celebrating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy was an obligatory ritual for two generations of American statesmen. As the decades passed however, mention of it and of “our European allies” has come with decreasing conviction and increasing embarrassment. Few dispute that, today, the alliance’s formalities are a pretense likelier to get its members into trouble than to pull anyone out of it. Civilizational changes have emptied it of substance. Readjusting American strategy to take account of those changes makes far more sense than talking about “revitalizing” or “rebuilding” an alliance on bases that no longer exist.
As Vladimir Putin was taking over Crimea, I noted in this column that his strategy – using Russian special forces masquerading as and mixed with local sympathizers to take over key institutions, threatening full-scale war by asserting the Ukrainian government’s illegitimacy while massing troops on the border – depended for its success on his opponents fearing to confront him. Only after both the Ukrainians and the West put up no resistance did regular troops march in.
By bold paramilitary action, Vladimir Putin is seizing full power over eastern Ukraine. At the same time his empty threat of outright invasion is leading the Ukrainian government—supported by Barack Obama as a rope supports a hanging man—to agree to a “federative structure” for the country.
The current Liberty Law Talk is with Nicholas Johnson on his new book Negroes and the Gun. Paul Rahe pens a compelling review essay in our Books section this week on Mark Blitz's Divine Law and Political Philosophy in Plato’s Laws: [Blitz] thinks Plato’s Laws may be a better guide to the manner in which reason and revelation can to good effect interact (at least where revelation takes the form of law) than the various works dedicated to that subject by Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and the leading figures of the 18th century Enlightenment. David Henderson and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel: The Inevitability of a…