Month: November 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

The Grand Strategy debate London is avoiding

Originally published in CLAWS Delhi.

There’s a broad scholarly agreement that British grand strategy, was formed as a geopolitical gift. Britain, as argued in the Stratfor analysis linked above, traditionally was a naval power, but went on to dominate the globe and her peers, in a geopolitical game which was usually dominated by land powers. Despite early colonial ambitions, Britain was initially in no position to establish hegemony, and her losses in the American colonies made it look more unlikely. However, after the fall of Napoleon, and with Napoleonic hegemony decimating all the established continental forces, Britain was left challenged by other European power for the next hundred and fifty years. The only two near peer rivals were the United States, which was mostly busy solidifying its own hegemony in the Western hemisphere, and the Russian Empire, which despite her intentions, were economically, demographically and technologically far inferior to the might of the British Empire. The rest is well researched and archived. It dawned on British leaders that it could maintain this hegemony by tactically balancing opposing forces in continental Europe, even if it meant unwritten mega compromises with former rivals and colonies. This geo-strategic thinking, documented from Lord Palmerston to Winston Churchill, saw Britain form alliances with former rivals like France, Russia and Soviets as well as former colony United States to twice see off challenges and hegemonic aspirations of another rising continental superpower in Germany. Britain, aware of her radically diminished status after the Second World war and the Suez Crisis, also then subsequently joinedwith United States to balance the Soviet hegemonic ambitions.

Brexit brings this debate into forefront again. Surprisingly this time, amidst the chaos, no one seems to have a clue, about what British Grand Strategy would be. One reason is, as John Kerry once said, it is all very much like 19th century politics, and strategists usually do not openly talk like that in civilised circles anymore. Liberal consensus in foreign policy and strategic circles also moved from such structural analyses, and talks of amoral balancing and bandwagoning and great power politics are considered old fashioned. Unfortunately the lesson that was etched in the next two years since that speech was that great powers, regardless of whether they are powerful or declining, lash out when their “perceived” national interests and spheres of influence are threatened. Even when those perceptions might be severely misconstrued, and it might even lead the great power to commit forces beyond it can muster or support, the great power will carry on the course, even at the risk of punishing economic retribution. Kerry and co re-learnt something which Realists talked about for the last quarter century, that there’s no other way other than either a compromise and honourable retreat, or a full on geopolitical confrontation (not necessarily conflict) that are the two ways this challenges can be dealt with. And that nation states, and not values or culture or trade are still the single most powerful determinant in geopolitics.

United Kingdom similarly needs to decide on the number of challenges that it will inevitably face in the coming years. Firstly, assessment needs to be done on the plausibility and effect of market forces deciding geopolitics and how much economic pain are the Britons willing to suffer. Britain cannot survive without European market, or without foreign brains, mostly working in the finance and tech and educational sectors in UK. Regardless of the cavalier attitude displayed by the Conservative leaders recently, one needs to get facts clear. United Kingdom is not British Empire without the productivity, and market of India, Canada, Australia and New Zealand behind it, and British industry base, like most of the Western countries, has shifted from manufacturing, agrarian and hard industry to a more modern urban, finance and tech centric knowledge based economy. There is no way that is going to be reversed, and Britain simply will not survive a competition when it comes to the labour mobility and comparative advantages of India or China, or other Asian economies for example. Which brings to the more important question, as both United Kingdom and Europe needs each other, what about the European Union and how to deal with it?

The European Union, is a political construct, and as long as it stays, harsh though it may sound, it might tend to look at United Kingdom post Brexit as a rival source of competition. UK has unleashed, or at least inspired a lot of national socialist and populist forces within EU, and the survival of EU depends on dominating and defeating these forces and that cannot be done, unless UK either compromises with EU on single market or capitulates to a more powerful EU. Already there is extreme friction with regards to an European security force led by none other than Germany, which understandably leaves UK shaken as it leads to a separate division and bureaucratization of European security command alongside NATO, not to mention the nightmarish idea of a potential joint military force across a narrow sea, of which UK is not a part of. With regards to that, what then should therefore be the British strategy? Would she join forces with Russia, another great power (albeit a rogue one) which might feel threatened by the same development? Should Britain then try to persuade United States that a single economic and military union in Europe is actually a hegemonic idea which is not desirable and one that both US and UK should oppose, because frankly no one knows how this union might act in future? Or should it covertly instigate separatist conservative anti-centralisation forces across the continent?

This is not a a fortunate or necessary development, however, nor is it desirable and is being advocated here. It is just a plausible scenario that falls within the realms of statistical possibility and therefore must be taken into account in any such analysis. United Kingdom, without a shadow of any doubt, has got more in common with immediate neighbours in Western European nation states than for example Russia or Central-Eastern V4 states, when it comes to culture, political leanings, and values, just as United States has more in common with United Kingdom than other European continental powers. United Kingdom is also heavily dependent on both European brainpower and research funding and the market forces and labour, despite the bravado of her current leaders.

However, Britain, is also a great power, and just like any other power, is shaped and influenced by structural forces around her. And as the literature of alliance formation tells us, if Britain faces too much pressure from the European Union regarding Brexit deals, the spring might just snap, and London might have to look for other partners and a more confrontational grand strategy, not just economically but also geopolitically. A lot is at stake here, and even post EU Referendum, it would be imprudent for both London and Brussels to be uncompromising, just as it would be unwise for Washington to have a completely hands off attitude regarding the future of these negotiations. The entire Atlantic security depends it.

Addendum: “This article was written on October 14th. One of the three primary hypothesis was that Britain, should it face an intransigent EU, might consider tactical alignment with Russia. The author would like to note, that as of 31st October, 15 days after the article was first drafted, while not official policy, that hypothesis is well within official consideration among the ruling Conservative policy circles.”

Sumantra Maitra is a doctoral researcher at the University of Nottingham, UK. His research is in Great power politics and Neorealism. You can find him on Twitter @MrMaitra.

Lecture: The Russia Question

The wounds are not dry so to speak…in the sense the World is still trying to grapple with a Trump Presidency.

I have written my primary analysis…as well as I implore everyone to cut down on the hysteria. Foreign policy is not influenced by agents, and individuals, but rather is shaped by structural forces.

Henry Kissinger agrees on that, as well!

On that note, I gave a lecture today, on “The Russia Question“, on how to deal with Russia and have a Western grand strategy. I am adding the PPT and abstract here for anyone interested.

” russian-question ”

The Russian Question

 Abstract: ” Recently there is a policy paralysis in the West with regards to Putin’s Russia. The primary difference is on the causality of Russian revanchism, and therefore in effect prescribe completely opposing policy to counter this threat, which in turn highlight the two dominant schools of current Western political thought process. One is a minor but growing and influential conservative isolationism, and the other a more prevalent and mainstream liberal hegemony. I argue that neither of them either represent and define Realism as a school of foreign policy, or prescribe a Realist policy position to deal with Russia. ”

Read, and let me know what you guys think!



Republicans already failing in holding Trump accountable

Just weeks after Trump took a majority of the electoral votes on Election Day, Trump’s administration is already facing the potential for scandals, conflicts of interest, and corruption, as Trump has met with foreign business people and invited an executive vice-president of the Trump Organization (for which he himself remains president) to a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Who will hold Trump accountable? Republicans held many hearings to investigate the Obama administration. Many Republicans ran on a promise of keeping the next president honest.

Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman’s campaign pitch (in an ad) was, “If Donald Trump is the president, I’ll stand up to him. Plain and simple. And if Hillary wins, I’ll hold her accountable every step of the way.”

But will the Republicans actually be willing to hold aggressive hearings on Trump’s business dealings in his first months in office? They would be trying to get conservative bills passed Congress, like repealing Obamacare, and they wouldn’t want to tarnish their party’s president, especially early on. But being early in his administration is no excuse, since he’s already involved in business that creates conflicts of interest.

On November 21 reports emerged from Argentina that Trump asked Argentine President Mauricio Marci for help with an office project he is developing there.

While spokespeople for both parties denied it, the very fact that the president-elect would retain his position as president of a company with transnational interests with his children as executives creates the appearance of impropriety, the classical definition of conflict of interest, and the potential for impropriety. There is no way to verify what Trump discusses with foreign leaders and no reason to believe him. That’s why previous presidents have put their assets into blind trusts.

Trump is also reportedly trying to get Jared Kushner, his son in law and husband of Trump Organization executive vice president Ivanka Trump, who sat in on the meeting with Japan, a White House security clearance and position. Nevermind that would give the Trump Organization yet another avenue to access the White House, it is also potentially illegal under an anti-nepotism law.

But will the Republicans hold Trump accountable?

Time magazine reported:

Republicans, likewise, don’t see any conflicts at all in Trump’s family members managing the national government. “For goodness sake, JFK put his brother over at the Justice Department. It’s not like these things are new and unprecedented,” Rep. Tom Cole said.

Oh, right, the fact that JFK put his brother Robert Kennedy in charge of the Justice Department before a law was passed to bar such nepotism in response to JFK putting his brother in charge of the Justice Department. Would it hurt Tom Cole to read a little history?

Many Republicans are more concerned about excusing Trump’s abuses of power than investigating them.

Trump had GOP’s second worst performance with minority voters

Donald Trump really did perform terribly with minority voters.

Since Trump was elected president, analysts have noted that Trump outperformed 2012 candidate Mitt Romney amongst minority voters. Some have used the datapoint to argue either that the Republican Party doesn’t need to make any changes to appeal to minorities, as was advised by a Republican leadership committee in the aftermath of 2012.

Missing from this analysis is that Romney had the worst performance amongst minorities voters of any Republican candidate since exit polls have been recorded. So Donald Trump only had the second worst performance amongst minorities.

For context, Bombs + Dollars looked at the exit poll data summarized by Cornell’s Roper Center since 1976 and added in the exit poll data from CNN for 2016 and graphed it.

The results show Trump earned the ninth lowest rate of black votes of any Republican candidate in the past 11 elections, the seventh lowest rate of Hispanic votes, and the sixth lowest rate of Asian-Amnerican votes in the past 7 elections (Asian vote wasn’t recorded prior to 1992).

Read More

Trump caving on Muslim ban

Reuters reports that Trump advisor and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is advocating for the reinstatement of a Bush-era entry-exit program that put residents from certain countries deemed be at high-risk for terrorism under special scrutiny.

Reuters and Vox both used the term “Muslim registry” in reporting and commenting on the proposal, a reference to the Muslim registry (that would have applied to American citizens) that Trump briefly expressed support for. However, this is far from a Muslim registry. It would apply to citizens of specific countries, not just Muslims from those countries, and the countries would theoretically be selected based on the established risk of terrorism. Vox pointed out that most of those countries were majority Muslim countries, but that is just a function of where the risk of international terrorism is the highest. During the campaign, however, Trump raised the prospect of targeting French citizens for “extreme vetting” due to his idea that ISIS attacks in France indicated France was a high risk country. Either way, the system is far from the proposed registry of American Muslims that Trump expressed support for in November 2015.

The bigger news is that the program would blow up Trump’s promise to ban Muslims from entering the country.

Read More

Two articles on Trump

I don’t want to pile you with cliches, but the unthinkable happened.

Now, I have decided to focus on some other areas of my expertise, and my research…just because there are so many interminable, paranoid, hot takes going on, like this one for example…with nothing concrete, just peddling fear.

Anyway, I wrote two articles…first one for Quillette Magazine, where I critique this hysteria after Trump’s win.



Second one for National Interest, where I chart the foreign policy course for Trump in the near future, and the structural limitations he might face.


Have a read and let me know what you think!


Will Trump keep his promises?

Will Donald Trump keep his promises, as president of the United States, to build a wall, make Mexico pay for it, ban Muslims, allow Syrian refugees into the U.S., and send Syrian refugees back to Syria?

After flip-flopping on many issues during the campaign, Trump’s willingness to keep his promises will get a lot of attention as president. Already he seemed to walk back some of his promises in his post-election interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes.” About the wall, which he said was “not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference,” he said it might just be a fence in some places. As for prosecuting Clinton for alleged crimes that the FBI had already cleared her of, he said he hadn’t given much thought to it and that he “didn’t want to hurt” Clinton.

Bombs + Dollars will be tracking these and other promises during Trump’s tenure in office. Keep track here: Tracking Trump’s Promises

This Day in World History: The birth of Park Chung-hee

99 years ago today, South Korean strongman and father of today’s president Park Chung-hee was born.

Born the seventh, and youngest, child of a fallen scholar-official (Yangban) family in the years of Japanese colonialism, Park had dreams of leadership and military exploits from a young age. While attending a progressive “new-style” school, he became class captain and figured out how to get his classmates to “submit unconditionally to whatever I said.”

Interested in war heroes and military history, including that of Japan, he quickly developed the dream of becoming a soldier. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, with the Japanese pushing south of Beijing and taking Tianjin and Shanghai, Park enrolled in Japanese military academy. Upon graduating as one of the best students, he was made a lieutenant in the Manchukuo Imperial Army in 1944 and served Japan in its last gasps of World War II. Though forced out of the military upon returning to Korea, he got back in when North Korea invaded the South. He rose quickly, and by 1960 he found himself Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army.

That same year, the Korean public rose up in protest after years of authoritarianism by Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, who presided over the young nation’s defense in the Korean War but didn’t open up room for democracy. With the success of the April Revolution, Rhee was forced out of office and a parliamentary system replaced him. But with the economy ailing and protests continuing to rack the country, and fearing that he would soon be retired, Park and his allies took initiative and launched a coup on May 16, 1961.

Read More

Bush on Steroids

A new president is taking office after a winning a modest majority in the Electoral College but losing the popular vote. Though criticized for being inexperienced and lacking knowledge of policy, his opponent was uncharismatic and dogged by association with a certain controversial ex-president.

During the campaign he claimed he would pursue a modest foreign policy. But he puts great importance on talking tough and sounding like an unblinking leader. He doesn’t question his convictions, and he rarely admits mistakes.

We don’t know yet what kind of unexpected crisis the Trump administration might face, or how it will respond, but it’s easy to imagine it might look something like the last Republican administration. President Trump appears to have many similarities to the brother of the candidate he knocked out in the primaries, Jeb Bush.

Read More

Why we get Russia wrong (Long Form)

The idea of a long form, citation-heavy, analytical article on Russia and Russian foreign policy, was not something I was interested in, particularly for two simple and personal reasons. First of all, great power relations, their military and grand strategy, with a particular focus on Russia, NATO and Europe is my area of study, research and, dare I say the much-reviled word, expertise. Like every academic, I treat my subject of research with a cherished, revered detachment; not because I feel skeptical about sharing the information/knowledge/wisdom which I spend days studying, for free, but because it is something which I essentially do all day and I feel reluctant about writing or talking about it during my journalistic leisure. Secondly, there is already an insane amount of what we call “pop analysis” on Russian foreign policy that is available online, especially snowballing during election and referendum seasons and such fluid state of Western foreign policy in general. Some written by bleeding heart rights campaigners, some written by broadly partisan ideological commentators from both left and right. Yet others written by journalists covering a single beat or region, broadly missing the greater geopolitical long game. A lot written by op-ed writers and bloggers desperate to fill up their daily content quota. I started my career as a journalist, so I don’t blame any of them. A lot of these pop analysis and explainers are inevitably asinine and demonstrably flawed, and lack even the most fundamental understanding of International Relations theory and the structural forces that shape and influence how states and nations behave and interact with each other in this Hobbesian, anarchic world.

Here, I finally deal with the issue, in details. 


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