Sunday, September 28, 2014

Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published an essay in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?” that thrust him into the center of public debate. Although often misunderstood and maligned, its central argument was straightforward and sensible: With the collapse of Communism, liberal democracy stood alone as the only form of government compatible with socio­-economic modernity. Over the years since, Fukuyama has continued to argue the case, and has now summed up his efforts with a two-­volume magnum opus that chronicles global political development from prehistory to the present. A quarter-century on, he remains convinced that no other political system is viable in the long run, but concludes his survey with a sobering twist: Liberal democracy’s future is cloudy, but that is because of its own internal problems, not competition from any external opponent.

Fukuyama began the first volume, “The Origins of Political Order,” which appeared in 2011, by stating that the challenge for contemporary developing countries was how to “get to Denmark” — that is, how to build prosperous, well-governed, liberal democracies. This, in turn, required understanding what “Denmark” — liberal democracy — actually involved. Drawing on the insights of his mentor Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama argued that political order was all about institutions, and that liberal democracy in particular rested on a delicate balance of three distinct features — political accountability; a strong, effective state; and the rule of law. Accountability required mechanisms for making leaders responsive to their publics, which meant regular free and fair multiparty elections. But elections alone were not enough: A true liberal democracy needed to have its institutions of accountability supplemented by a central government that could get things done and by rules and regulations that applied equally to ­everyone.

Fukuyama showed how throughout human history these three factors had often emerged independently or in various combinations. China, for example, developed a state long before any existed in Europe, yet did not acquire either the rule of law or political accountability. India and much of the Muslim world, by contrast, developed something like the rule of law early on, but not strong states (or, in much of the Muslim world, political accountability). It was only in parts of Europe in the late 18th century, Fukuyama noted, that all three aspects started to come together simultaneously.

“Political Order and Political Decay” picks up the story at this point, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of modern development from the French Revolution to the present. Fukuyama is nothing if not ambitious. He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not). So in this volume, as in the previous one, he covers a vast amount of ground, summarizing an extraordinary amount of research and putting forward a welter of arguments on an astonishing range of topics. Inevitably, some of these arguments are more convincing than others. And few hard generalizations or magic formulas emerge, since Fukuyama is too knowledgeable to force history into a Procrustean bed.

Thus he suggests that military competition can push states to modernize, citing ancient China and, more recently, Japan and Prussia. But he also notes many cases where military competition had no positive effect on state building (19th-century Latin America) and many where it had a negative effect (Papua New Guinea, as well as other parts of Melanesia). And he suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.

Perhaps Fukuyama’s most interesting section is his discussion of the United States, which is used to illustrate the interaction of democracy and state building. Up through the 19th century, he notes, the United States had a weak, corrupt and patrimonial state. From the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, however, the American state was transformed into a strong and effective independent actor, first by the Progressives and then by the New Deal. This change was driven by “a social revolution brought about by industrialization, which mobilized a host of new political actors with no interest in the old clientelist system.” The American example shows that democracies can indeed build strong states, but that doing so, Fukuyama argues, requires a lot of effort over a long time by powerful players not tied to the older order.

Yet if the United States illustrates how democratic states can develop, it also illustrates how they can decline. Drawing on Huntington again, Fukuyama reminds us that “all political systems — past and present — are liable to decay,” as older institutional structures fail to evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. “The fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain so in perpetuity,” and he warns that even the United States has no permanent immunity from institutional decline.

Over the past few decades, American political development has gone into reverse, Fukuyama says, as its state has become weaker, less efficient and more corrupt. One cause is growing economic inequality and concentration of wealth, which has allowed elites to purchase immense political power and manipulate the system to further their own interests. Another cause is the permeability of American political institutions to interest groups, allowing an array of factions that “are collectively unrepresentative of the public as a whole” to exercise disproportionate influence on government. The result is a vicious cycle in which the American state deals poorly with major challenges, which reinforces the public’s distrust of the state, which leads to the state’s being starved of resources and authority, which leads to even poorer performance.

Where this cycle leads even the vastly knowledgeable Fukuyama can’t predict, but suffice to say it is nowhere good. And he fears that America’s problems may increasingly come to characterize other liberal democracies as well, including those of Europe, where “the growth of the European Union and the shift of policy making away from national capitals to Brussels” has made “the European system as a whole . . . resemble that of the United States to an increasing degree.”

Fukuyama’s readers are thus left with a depressing paradox. Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.


From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy

By Francis Fukuyama

Illustrated. 658 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $35.

Henry Kissinger on the Assembly of a New World Order

The concept that has underpinned the modern geopolitical era is in crisis


The Wall Street Journal – August 29, 2014
Libya is in civil war, fundamentalist armies are building a self-declared caliphate across Syria and Iraq and Afghanistan's young democracy is on the verge of paralysis. To these troubles are added a resurgence of tensions with Russia and a relationship with China divided between pledges of cooperation and public recrimination. The concept of order that has underpinned the modern era is in crisis.

The search for world order has long been defined almost exclusively by the concepts of Western societies. In the decades following World War II, the U.S.—strengthened in its economy and national confidence—began to take up the torch of international leadership and added a new dimension. A nation founded explicitly on an idea of free and representative governance, the U.S. identified its own rise with the spread of liberty and democracy and credited these forces with an ability to achieve just and lasting peace. The traditional European approach to order had viewed peoples and states as inherently competitive; to constrain the effects of their clashing ambitions, it relied on a balance of power and a concert of enlightened statesmen. The prevalent American view considered people inherently reasonable and inclined toward peaceful compromise and common sense; the spread of democracy was therefore the overarching goal for international order. Free markets would uplift individuals, enrich societies and substitute economic interdependence for traditional international rivalries.

This effort to establish world order has in many ways come to fruition. A plethora of independent sovereign states govern most of the world's territory. The spread of democracy and participatory governance has become a shared aspiration if not a universal reality; global communications and financial networks operate in real time.

The years from perhaps 1948 to the turn of the century marked a brief moment in human history when one could speak of an incipient global world order composed of an amalgam of American idealism and traditional European concepts of statehood and balance of power. But vast regions of the world have never shared and only acquiesced in the Western concept of order. These reservations are now becoming explicit, for example, in the Ukraine crisis and the South China Sea. The order established and proclaimed by the West stands at a turning point.

First, the nature of the state itself—the basic formal unit of international life—has been subjected to a multitude of pressures. Europe has set out to transcend the state and craft a foreign policy based primarily on the principles of soft power. But it is doubtful that claims to legitimacy separated from a concept of strategy can sustain a world order. And Europe has not yet given itself attributes of statehood, tempting a vacuum of authority internally and an imbalance of power along its borders. At the same time, parts of the Middle East have dissolved into sectarian and ethnic components in conflict with each other; religious militias and the powers backing them violate borders and sovereignty at will, producing the phenomenon of failed states not controlling their own territory.

The challenge in Asia is the opposite of Europe's: Balance-of-power principles prevail unrelated to an agreed concept of legitimacy, driving some disagreements to the edge of confrontation.

The clash between the international economy and the political institutions that ostensibly govern it also weakens the sense of common purpose necessary for world order. The economic system has become global, while the political structure of the world remains based on the nation-state. Economic globalization, in its essence, ignores national frontiers. Foreign policy affirms them, even as it seeks to reconcile conflicting national aims or ideals of world order.

This dynamic has produced decades of sustained economic growth punctuated by periodic financial crises of seemingly escalating intensity: in Latin America in the 1980s; in Asia in 1997; in Russia in 1998; in the U.S. in 2001 and again starting in 2007; in Europe after 2010. The winners have few reservations about the system. But the losers—such as those stuck in structural misdesigns, as has been the case with the European Union's southern tier—seek their remedies by solutions that negate, or at least obstruct, the functioning of the global economic system.

The international order thus faces a paradox: Its prosperity is dependent on the success of globalization, but the process produces a political reaction that often works counter to its aspirations.

A third failing of the current world order, such as it exists, is the absence of an effective mechanism for the great powers to consult and possibly cooperate on the most consequential issues. This may seem an odd criticism in light of the many multilateral forums that exist—more by far than at any other time in history. Yet the nature and frequency of these meetings work against the elaboration of long-range strategy. This process permits little beyond, at best, a discussion of pending tactical issues and, at worst, a new form of summitry as "social media" event. A contemporary structure of international rules and norms, if it is to prove relevant, cannot merely be affirmed by joint declarations; it must be fostered as a matter of common conviction.

The penalty for failing will be not so much a major war between states (though in some regions this remains possible) as an evolution into spheres of influence identified with particular domestic structures and forms of governance. At its edges, each sphere would be tempted to test its strength against other entities deemed illegitimate. A struggle between regions could be even more debilitating than the struggle between nations has been.

The contemporary quest for world order will require a coherent strategy to establish a concept of order within the various regions and to relate these regional orders to one another. These goals are not necessarily self-reconciling: The triumph of a radical movement might bring order to one region while setting the stage for turmoil in and with all others. The domination of a region by one country militarily, even if it brings the appearance of order, could produce a crisis for the rest of the world.

A world order of states affirming individual dignity and participatory governance, and cooperating internationally in accordance with agreed-upon rules, can be our hope and should be our inspiration. But progress toward it will need to be sustained through a series of intermediary stages.

To play a responsible role in the evolution of a 21st-century world order, the U.S. must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself: What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? What do we seek to achieve, or prevent,only if supported by an alliance? What should we not engage in, even if urged on by a multilateral group or an alliance? What is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? And how much does the application of these values depend on circumstance?

For the U.S., this will require thinking on two seemingly contradictory levels. The celebration of universal principles needs to be paired with recognition of the reality of other regions' histories, cultures and views of their security. Even as the lessons of challenging decades are examined, the affirmation of America's exceptional nature must be sustained. History offers no respite to countries that set aside their sense of identity in favor of a seemingly less arduous course. But nor does it assure success for the most elevated convictions in the absence of a comprehensive geopolitical strategy.

— Dr. Kissinger served as national security adviser and secretary of state under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Adapted from his book "World Order," to be published Sept. 9 by the Penguin Press.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Dark Side of Interdependence

How Global Ties Tied Our Hands in Russia 

By Stuart Gottlieb and Eric Lorber

Foreign Affairs – August 5, 2014 

In recent months, the United States and the EU have ratcheted up diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia in response to its activities in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Although the United States has hit major Russian companies with significant sanctions, the EU has remained decidedly more hesitant. It took the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, purportedly by Russian-supplied separatists, and Russia’s increased involvement in eastern Ukraine in the weeks thereafter, for the EU to even begin matching its threats with real action. 

The EU’s reticence is understandable; the union’s countries are some of Russia’s main trading partners and rely heavily on Russian energy exports. This attitude has nevertheless drawn the ire of U.S. policymakers, many of whom believe that Europe’s hesitance is indicative of a general unwillingness among the United States’ transatlantic allies to punish international aggression. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said as much on a recent television interview. “The Europeans are not going to do anything,” he said, continuing, if anyone believes the Europeans will impose firm sanctions, “I have some beachfront property for them in Arizona.” 

Those with such mindsets, however, have forgotten something important. Economic interdependence between the EU and Russia is the direct result of U.S. policies in the 1990s. During the Clinton administration, the United States actively tried to integrate Russia and the former Soviet republics into the liberal free trade framework that it was promoting throughout Europe. The policies were based on a deeply held belief that political and economic integration is the best way to avoid potential conflict in Europe.
And that creates a paradox. Greater interdependence might, in fact, reduce the likelihood of conflict between nations or groups of nations. After all, it increases the cost of conflict for all of them. However, as the EU-Russian case shows, the logic can also work in reverse. It is incredibly difficult to punish economic partners for international aggression. The rational fear of economic backlash creates high tolerance for international wrongdoing.

This is not to argue that the United States should turn its back on liberal integration as a primary foreign policy goal. Rather, it should recognize the downsides of integration and explore ways to ameliorate its effects.


Following the end of the Cold War and the breakup of the Soviet Union, the United States actively fostered interdependence and closer economic and political ties throughout Europe. It also created or supported a number of forums -- the World Trade Organization’s Working Group on Russia, NATO’s Partnership for Peace, and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Russia to name a few -- to help integrate Russia and the former Soviet republics into the larger European political and economic framework. 

Building on the political scientist Francis Fukuyama’s idea of the “end of history” -- that political, economic, and social systems were evolving toward some liberal endpoint -- and the George H. W. Bush administration’s concept of a “new world order” -- that U.S.-led global liberal institutions would help usher in a new era of post-Cold War cooperation -- the Clinton administration touted increased economic ties between the West and the former Soviet Union as “win-wins” all around. “The short-term difficulties of taking Central and Eastern Europe into Western economic institutions,” the administration stated in its 1994 National Security Strategy, “will be more than rewarded if they succeed and if they are customers for America’s and Western Europe’s goods and services tomorrow. . . . One of our priorities, therefore, is to reduce trade barriers with the former communist states.”

Efforts by U.S. policymakers to integrate the EU countries and Russia were not purely economic; they were also oriented toward politics and security. U.S. President Bill Clinton’s push for NATO expansion, for example, was about enlarging the realm of collective security interests to match the newfound economic engagement. Indeed, from then on, NATO was expected to not just fight wars, but also protect common liberal values. Strobe Talbott, Clinton’s undersecretary of state, made this clear when, in a 1997 speech on NATO enlargement, he offered up the possibility that Russia -- the country NATO was created to fight -- would one day be welcomed as a full member, so long as it met minimum democratic political requirements.

Integration might have been a top priority for U.S. foreign policy -- and the United States certainly led the charge -- but it also fit EU interests and goals. In addition, many former Soviet republics were the initiative’s biggest supporters. Russia, of course, was wary of NATO encirclement, but the benefits of economic integration proved difficult to ignore.   


Economically at least, the approach seemed to pay off. It helped produce significant benefits for the EU and Russia. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Russia has become the EU’s third-largest trading partner, while the EU is currently Russia’s largest trading partner. Overall, trade between the two entities is now valued at nearly 300 billion euros (over 400 billion dollars) a year, and roughly 75 percent of total foreign direct investment in Russia comes from the EU. Over the past 20 years -- in no small part because of the United States’ promotion of economic and political integration -- the EU and Russia have become increasingly economically tied at the hip. Meanwhile, former Soviet satellites and republics -- such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic states -- were incorporated into NATO and the EU, and Russia became a member of the G-8, the elite global economic forum. 

All of this integration, however, has had an unexpected consequence: Although the original policy was hailed as a way to ensure that Russia would be incorporated into the Western economic and political order -- and therefore would be less of a threat to the West -- it may have actually decreased the West’s ability to deter Russian aggression against other countries. For example, European concerns about their relationships with major Russian companies, such as Rosneft and Gazprom factored heavily in the EU’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia businesses. Indeed, with Russia in possession of the world’s largest gas reserves (and major oil reserves), energy had always been an important factor in integration -- the EU expected a new “stable” supply of energy. Although the EU recently agreed to impose somewhat stricter sanctions, it will continue to be more hesitant than the United States to turn the screws on one of its largest trading partners, even as that trading partner continues to make a mockery of Ukrainian sovereignty. 

Further, this dynamic illustrates a broader problem for liberal internationalist theory: Although economic interdependence may keep states from coming to blows, it may also limit their wherewithal to pressure their partners into complying with international standards of behavior.


Although economic integration may limit policymakers’ ability to put pressure on their trade partners, it does not mean that promoting such integration is wrong. If the EU and Russia did not have any economic ties, the EU would lack any significant leverage -- short of military action -- with which to threaten Moscow. In other words, policymakers must recognize that, although integration can achieve many shared goals, it can also box them in. 

In addition, rather than blaming the Europeans for supposed fecklessness, the United States should face up to the role that its own global liberal ideology and policy promotion played in creating the present dilemma. And both the United States and the EU should develop strategies to increase the credibility of their threats to impose sanctions on trading partners who engage in reprehensible global conduct. A good start would be for the EU and possibly even NATO to reconsider their policies of unanimity within the group to authorize any collective action. This would permit stronger action by these organizations, without the real and perceived political stalemate in the face of global threats.

For 70 years, U.S.-led global liberal institutions that promote free trade, interdependence, and international law have helped create a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic world. But it is not a perfect world. If liberal values and institutions are going to continue to lead the way, Western policymakers need to recognize and address their shortcomings. Otherwise alternative, anti-liberal forces will certainly step up to the challenge.

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