Is there an EU Role in Asia? (1): EU-Korea Relations beyond just Trade

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This entry is cross-posted at the excellent European Geostrategy. Leave comments there as well. Part 2 is here.

On May 6-7, 2010, the EU Center of the Pusan National University is holding a conference on EU-Korea relations. This is a good time to think about the EU’s relations in Asia, about which I have been pretty critical so far. Here is a summary of my paper. I intend to submit this for publication, so comments would be especially welcome. Email me if you want the whole thing.

In 2009, Korea and the EU signed an free trade agreement (FTA), and the EU is regularly a top five export market for Korea. Interest in future cooperation is high, however the research on which this post is based finds that deeper engagement is unlikely. Most importantly, neither side is relevant to the basic security issues of the other. Specifically, the EU cannot assist Korea in its acute security dilemma, and ‘sovereigntist’ Korea does not share EU preferences for soft power, regionalization, and multilateral collective security. However, Korea is likely to pursue the relationship for cost-free prestige-taking. And the EU will understand this ‘Asian bridge’ as a success for the promotion of liberal-democratic values in a non-European context. Europhile, pro-regionalist elites may pursue ‘inter-regional’ ties to bolster the European Comission (EC) within Europe, but deep Korean attachment to the Westphalian state model will stymie pan-regionalism.

Neither the EU nor Korea can meaningfully contribute to the other’s primary security challenges – a central pillar for deeper bilateral relations among states. As James Rodgers and Luis Simon note frequently, the EU lacks serious power projection far from the Continent. Its ‘loss of strength gradient’ toward East Asia is severe since the British retrenchment from east of Suez. The EU cannot meaningfully deter NK or China. EU land forces do not bolster US Forces in Korea. Although a participant in the Proliferation Security Initiative and the (now defunct) Agreed Framework, the EU plays no role in the new Six Party frame. Similarly, Korea is irrelevant to big EU security issues, such as the course of Russia, terrorism and the Middle East, or Eastern Europe’s stabilization. Their shared liberal democratic values place them broadly in the liberal security community of the democratic peace, but a more positive military contribution to either’s security is unlikely.

Both sides derive prestige from the relationship. Korea, small and peripheral to the global economy until recently, captures most of these benefits. A bilateral relationship with Europe flatters the Korean imagination of its stature in world politics. Instead of a half-country whose international image is dominated by a clownish rogue despot, Korea lusts for Europe’s status and rank. Its famous antiquities, high-profile tourism locations, rich history of art and culture – all nested in a wealthy, healthy, international society broadly at peace with itself – strongly attracts the Korean imagination.

A well-known, highly recognized ‘global player,’ the EU captures little direct prestige from Korea. However, the Korean partnership does benefit pro-European elites within the EU, most notably in the EC/EU bureaucracy. The ‘eurocracy,’ trapped in a decades-long turf-battle with the national bureaucracies, is likely to seize on the prestige of a direct EU-level relationship with a G-20 economy. This is ammunition against critics that the EU is simply a trade deal or that other states do not take it seriously. If the 2010 host of the G-20 summit takes the EU seriously enough to label it a ‘strategic partner,’ then the eurocracy gains in the intra-European conflict to establish the EU more soundly and eventually build a real Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Finally, the EU does reap psychological gains of domestic values validation. Korea is a great successes in the transplantation of liberal, democratic, Enlightenment values outside of the West; Korea is routinely touted a central case that these values not ‘western,’ but in fact universal. This excises the cultural-racial bite of the ‘Asian values’ and ‘human-rights imperialism’ arguments of Asian actors such as the Chinese Communist Party or Matathir Mohamad. Conversely, Korea will find little back-traffic, despite heroic efforts to export the ‘Korean Wave.’

The EU and Korea have an unremarkable relationship. Given the mutual irrelevance of one’s security to the other, it is easy to predict that no alliance is likely. The FTA is step forward, but ultimately one based solely on material utility. The EU also trades with Iran, and Korea has a ‘strategic partnership’ with Kazakhstan. This provides perspective on the mutual, post-FTA rhetoric of ‘strategic partners.’ A ‘friendly partner’ is a more credible assessment. The EU-Korea relationship will not mature into a meaningful bond to rival the more critical relations of either with the US, China, Japan, or Russia.

The EU’s preference for Asian regionalism will generate friction, although Korea will tolerate it in order to retain the huge prestige boost an EU relationship. Hence the greatest frustration will fall on the European side. Korea’s prestige gains are already achieved by the completion of the FTA and the ‘strategic partnership,’ and the EU cannot leverage a security contribution to the peninsula to push Korea into the East Asian Community (EAC) or Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). So long as Korea, and East Asia generally, remains committed to the ‘ASEAN Way’ of talk-shop intergovernmentalism, Kantian-Europhilic elites – pro-EU, pro-EAC, and pro-ASEM – are likely to find nationalist Korea, and Asia, a frustrating ‘inter-regional’ partner.

Lessons for Asia from the Collapse of Eastern European Communism


So this month is the 20 year anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse. Most of the retrospective focus, naturally, on Europe. But here are a few thoughts for Asia:

1. National unification with communist basket-cases is ridiculously expensive. Germany has dumped a staggering 1.2 trillion euros into East Germany, but the east is still only 9% of GDP with 20% of the population. The South Koreans are downright freaked out by these sorts of numbers. The Korean situation is worse than the German one. The GDR was a more functional economy than the DPRK is today, and its people far less brutalized and abused. West Germany was a wealthier and more politically mature country than South Korea is today. So the costs (economic and social) to the South will be higher than they were to the West, at the same time that the South’s ability to pay for and manage (political capacity) them is lower than the West’s.

2. Have no illusions about just how bad communist governance really is. Before the Wall came down, all sorts of western liberals, neo-marxists, social democrats,etc. hemmed and hawed about the economic and human rights performance of the communist bloc. We constantly heard hopeful rhetoric about how Yugoslavia was a possible model, that East Germany was an ‘advanced’ economy, that the Czechs/Poles/Hungarians were putting a ‘human face’ on socialism, that communism might somehow turn a corner and become what Western academics wanted it to be. Open sympathy with the egalitarianism of communist theory lead far too many otherwise intelligent leftists to constantly forgive Soviet-style governance, to indulge the Koestler-esque notion that the bloodbaths and privation were just ‘transition steps,’ and give credence to shallow excuse-notions like ‘real existing socialism.’ (This willful leftist blindness about the East Bloc also helped birth US neo-conservatism.)

In the end, it was pretty much as right-wing Cold Warriors feared though – lots of repression, lots of misery, an ‘egalitarianism’ of brutalizing poverty side-by-side with a pampered, hidden elite, plus an ecological catastrophe to boot. When the Wall came down, the captive populations sprinted as fast as they could to the West. No one wanted socialism, a ‘third way’ for East Germany, or the foggy notions of communist equality so dear to the western left.

And the same will happen when NK, Vietnam, and China begin to unravel. When NK opens finally, the inside will look much, MUCH worse than we ever thought, and defenders like Bruce Cumings will be ashamed they ever defended the camps, family executions, forced labor and all the rest.

3. Autocracies can learn. China has very clearly learned from the Soviet implosion, as Kim Jong Il did from Ceausescu. This is critical in explaining why the PRC and DPRK keep hanging up, despite the 1990s optimism they would implode. This runs counter to the conventional wisdom that autocracies don’t adjust well because information flows are highly politicized and communication tightly controlled and regulated. (In other words, bad news does not make it up the food chain, and dogmatic elites don’t want to hear it anyway.) Azar Gat even thinks that China is the new model for IT-age autocracy.

4. Communist autocracies collapse rapidly. This lesson is most applicable to NK, as China is not really communist anymore and is reasonably stable. And Vietnam too is trying the China path, albeit more haltingly. But the DPRK is hanging tough on confucian stalinism, with all the explosive potential that suggests when the change finally does come. South Koreans frequently talk of a gradual reunification, a slow integration in which a North/South Korea federation would be like China and Hong Kong – 2 systems, 1 country. I find this highly unlikely. Stumbling reform like China or Russia in the 90s is likely insofar as radical change can be demonized as a foreign/western plot. But in Korea, the nationalist card will be neutered, because unhappy North Koreans will simply look at SK and say, why can’t we live that way?

This is what happened in East Germany in 1989/90. East Germans had little time for western stability notions of gradual integration, or GDR intellectuals’ notions that a reformed East Germany could somehow find a third way between capitalism and communism. Quite the opposite. East Germans rushed to unity as fast as possible to get all those things so long denied and so tantalizing close – legally protected freedoms like human rights and travel, and nice products like telephones and good quality cars. Once unleashed, the nationalist passion was impossible to stop. The momentum for unity in 1989/90 rolled a like snowball going downhill. It got bigger and faster, and no one could stop it without massive, illegitimate intervention. Helmut Kohl had historic insight and audacity to ride this tiger rather than fight it.

Korea would do well to prepare for unity on such fast-moving, erratic terms. The Kim NK regime is so illegitimate, so hated, so obviously awful and unsuccessful, that it is extremely likely that change will produce an explosion of popular desire, first in the North and then throughout the peninsula, for rapid unification regardless of the economic or diplomatic costs. In fact, South Koreans should welcome this likely explosive popular enthusiasm, because its intense nationalism and tremendous speed will help deter the Chinese from seriously intervening to slow or otherwise structure Korean unification.

What the Europeans Might Learn from Korea about Free-Riding on US Power

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For almost 40 years, since the Nixon doctrine, the US has complained that its allies free-ride on its power. The US does heavy lifting like fighting in Afghanistan or building a huge and costly military against the USSR. The Europeans enjoy the benefits, without providing much for the costs. Stephen Walt has made this argument in IR theory, as has Robert Kagan more popularly. Kagan particularly is the best-known proponent of the idea that the EU is ‘post-modern’ and focuses on soft power. By contrast the Russians are playing the ‘modern’ nation-state game of power politics in Eastern Europe, and the Middle East is ‘pre-modern’ insofar as supranational identities (Arabism, Islam) and sub-national identities (tribes and clans) contest the state and make state function very difficult. I like to think of Europe as an ally for the US and concerned about terrorism, Russian misbehavior, N Korea, etc., but it increasingly looks like Kagan is right. My thoughts are here and here.

This well-worn argument strikes me as wrong though in Korea. I am repeatedly impressed at Korea’s willingness to go along with US military ventures for the sake of global public goods provision. I go to conferences a lot here and constantly hear about the US as a ‘strategic partner’ for Korea, and that Korea must move into things like peacekeeping. My students genuinely seem to be aware of what the US provides here and that Korea should make a reciprocating effort. Consider the last line of this Korean op-ed about the current ‘what to do in Afghanistan’ debate: “The Korean government has to consider its obligations as a responsible member of the international society and find a way to help reduce the suffering of the people of Afghanistan from a humanitarian point of view.” Find something like that in European op-ed.

It is true that the Koreans went to Iraq, because they need the US against N Korea. And Poland signed up because of Russia. France and Germany have the luxury of Poland as their front-yard, so they can play hard-to-get. But it is also clear that ‘old Europe’ just doesn’t want to contribute to collective goods that much any more. Their defense spending is atrociously, irresponsibly low; only 5 out of 28 NATO members meet the ‘required’ NATO defense spending minimum of 2% of GDP (see Table 3 of this NATO 2009 defense spending report). Germany, supposedly a great power, spends just 1.3%. They like US power when things get hairy, but they are quite content to free-ride otherwise. Bush was a gift to western Europe in that his belligerence allowed them to duck the war on terror. But now Obama can’t get them to contribute either, and he was supposed to initiate a new era. European restrictions on troop behavior in Afghanistan mean too many European troops are just glorified policemen. Consider the ridiculous German reaction to the civilian deaths of a recent anti-Taliban airstrike. The deaths, of course, are regrettable, but ‘collateral damage’ is ‘normal’ in war and permissable under international law. But now the Germans want to leave. It is a European luxury to say ‘we can’t participate in any dirty operations at all.’ That just bucks the burden and blood to the US. The Europeans can retain their moral purity while enjoying the benefits the US military gives by trying to win (whatever that means) in Afghanistan. It is very poor form and smacks of deep selfishness.

By contrast, I find Koreans far more understanding about the costs of global order maintenance. Maybe this is because they live next to NK and every male has to serve in the military. But I find a moral shame at the idea of Korean free-riding that I do not when I talk to Europeans. The Europeans I meet here (a lot inevitably, because foreigners in Korea clump together) are quite content with the Der Spiegel-Le Monde image of the US as imperialist bully, and when I mention NATO obligations, I might as well be talking about space travel. The idea that European NATO members are treaty-obliged to help in Afghanistan (they are – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty was invoked after 9/11) falls on tone-deaf ears. For shame! The Europeans are natural US allies, because of high cultural and political similarity, and Islamic radicals target all of us. Yet Koreans seem to realize better the costs of the US commitment in the war on terror, and they feel some sense that the should help. I find this reversal stunning and disappointing.

Giving Kim Jong-Il the Nobel Peace Prize would have Done more Good


I agree with just about everybody else in the blogosphere that Obama did not deserve it. As many have noted, he has not done anything really. I also concur with the emerging center and center-left conventional wisdom that he should have declined it. The US Right will certainly pick this up as confirmation that Obama is just a celebrity, more interested in placating Europhilic cosmopolitan elites than defending Sarah Palin’s ‘real America.’ Fox can be counted on to get a week or so out of bashing ‘arugula-eating, latte-sipping, Mapplethorpe-loving bicoastal elites who like to be liked in France.’ You’ve already heard that story from Coulter & Co. for years, but Obama offers them ammunition when he revels in the glow of post-modern euros. He should have ducked this one. More importantly, he should do something.

The other obvious insight is that giving this to Obama does not really promote peace in the future. Maybe the Nobel committee is trying to bind/blackmail him into not bombing Iran or paying the US back dues to the UN. But basically, this is an award for not being George W. Bush. Far more useful to actually improving peace would have been to award it to those struggling to overturn or moderate some of the world’s worst regimes. Andrew Sullivan suggested some of the Iranian dissidents. A friend thought Morgan Tsvangirai. I thought perhaps some of those Russian journalists who get killed for reporting on Chechnya. The point of these choices – besides the obvious fact that they deserve it and O does not – is that the Prize might actually help their causes significantly. These dissidents need resources to press on and international press coverage to make sure they are not killed by the regimes they challenge. Tsvangirai, e.g., is almost certainly only still alive, because he garners so much western attention. The Prize would bring powerful moral credibility to those desperately in need of it.

But you want to know what Kim Jong-Il has to do with it. The Dear Leader’s greatest fear now is execution in post-unification South Korean courts. Survival, not juche, is the real ‘ideology’ of the regime. Kim basically wants to survive to die warm and secure in his bed, like his dad. As Hobbes famously said in the Leviathan, he fears not death, which is inevitable, but a violent death. He does not want to got the way of Mussolini, Ceauşescu, or Saddam Hussein. And before he goes, Kim wants to party for a few more decades. He loves the movies, the booze, and the ‘joy brigades.’

Because of his fear of hanging in a South Korean prison, he holds on to NK as best he can. So why not make a deal with him? The Nobel committee already gave the Peace Prize to Yasir Arafat. How about a secret deal to give it to Kim in exchange for an opening of NK? If Kim had a peace prize in hand, the SK government would certainly never execute him.

If this sounds pretty far-fetched, recall how damaged the Nobel Peace Prize’s credibility already is. If Yasir can get one and Gandhi can’t, who cares if Kim gets one? If it helps convince him he won’t get executed, then so much the better…

Top 10 Eurasian Sociopaths of the 20th Century

stalin-mao In myriad ways, living and working outside your own country helps you see things you never would at home. I teach American Government and American Foreign Policy at PNU, and the questions I get asked are frequently astonishingly naive or extremely creative. On the naive side, students frequently ask me about CIA plots to run the the Middle East or tell me about the JFK conspiracy. On the insightful side, they frequently bristle at the self-justifying language of US foreign policy. When I tell my American students about American exceptionalism, they love it. US students swoon when they learn that John Winthorp called the US ‘the city on the hill,’ or Abraham Lincoln said we were ‘the last, best hope for mankind.’ At best, I get some smirks and sheepishness about how purple and immodest US self-justifying rhetoric can be. (Read W’s second inaugural for your most recent, ‘God-has-a-special-mission-for-America’ hyperbole infusion.) So my average American student carries the US belief in the righteousness of US power acting in the world. Foreigners, on the other hand, go ballistic when you talk like this. When I explain how Americans talk about their own foreign policy, they laugh, smile, and roll their eyes. To them, American exceptionalism smacks of arrogance, imperialism, hubris, etc.

On of my favorite moments is teaching Eurasians about the US view of Eurasia as a sinkhole of US power and the spawning ground of world-breaking fanaticisms that ultimately Americans are tasked to destroy. Eurasians are generally convinced of their cultural superiority to Americans, so they are pretty shocked when they hear that US foreign policy sees the Old World as the land of the Kaiser, Stalin, bin Laden, etc. Whether living in Germany or Korea, one trope I have heard again and again in the 6 years I have lived in Eurasia is how young the US is, how primitive and shallow we are, how we have no culture, no deep traditions, watch too much TV, can’t write poetry, etc. This is old news though; any US expat has heard this for years. And there is some truth to it. The US has no author who has scaled the heights of Tolstoy, Dante, or Shakespeare. We have no architecture to rival the Forbidden Palace or Saint Peter’s. American philosophy, until recently, was a pale reflection of the long, rich traditions of, say, Germany or Confucianism.

But turn-around is always fun, and Eurasians are stunned when I tell them how dysfunctional Americans find their politics. If Eurasia is the font of world culture, it is also the breeding ground for the world’s most bloodthirsty ideologies and ideologues. Hah! That is always good for a laugh, as my non-American students look up in amazement.

The US view of Eurasia is that we should stay out of its entangling alliances, but unfortunately, we get pulled in when Eurasia’s pathologies attack us (the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, 9/11). Put another way, if Eurasians want to kill each other in huge wars, the US attitude is ‘fine, it’s not our show, we’ll sit it out and get more powerful as you destroy yourselves.’ But since the 20th C, Eurasia’s psychotics have a growing taste for attacking the US. So increasingly the US attitude toward Eurasia is a paternalistic one: they can’t run their own house without slaughtering each other over religion, ideology, territory, etc., so we must order their affairs for them. If we don’t stay in Europe and Asia, eventually their paranoias (communism, fascism, Islamism, etc.) will metastasize and attack the US. When my foreign students tell me the US is arrogant, I tell them to try to see the world the way the US does. The long American foreign policy tradition toward Eurasia is isolationism and offshore balancing– stay out of its wars; intervene only if one power is on the cusp of controlling all of Eurasia (Nazi Germany, USSR). But now, the wars are brought to us, so we feel we must intervene.

My Eurasian students have never even thought this way, so I like to provide a list of the various ideological sociopaths Eurasia has given the world – just in the 20th Century.

 Top Ten: Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Tojo & the Japanese WWII military junta, Mao, Kim Il Sung, Pol Pot, Kim Jong Il, Ayatollah Khomeini, bin Laden.

B-List: Kaiser William II, Czar Nicholas II, Mussolini, Franco, Sukarno, Tito, the Saudi clerical establishment, Zia ul Haq, Hoxha, Brezhnev, Ceausescu, Erich Honecker,the Shah of Iran, Suharto, Ho Chi Minh, Hafez al Assad, Yasir Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Milosevic, the absolutist megalomaniacs running the Central Asian ‘Stans’ in the 1990s, Mullah Omar

Runners-Up:  Park Chun-hee, Syngman Rhee, Marcos, A.O. Salazar, G. Papadopoulos, Chang Kai-shek, Indira Gandhi

That is a pretty grim list of the worst of the worst. Who else would you add ? (It can’t be a henchman like Beria or Himmler.)

Tell Fox News that Gordon Brown Has Joined the Global Conspiracy

anti-united-nations The prime minister of Britain says a lot of good things about global coordination to overcome shared, global problems in his recent op-ed. But I am pretty stunned at his concluding remark that we should ‘create the first truly global society.’

The idea of course has a lot to recommend it. The global scale of some problems (global warming, terrorism, drugs) suggests we need globally-scaled solutions, and a global society, or ideally a world government (WG), would be able to coordinate that a lot more easily than the messy, choppy circus of multilateral meetings that passes as ‘global governance’ today. When I teach International Organization, I spend a week or two on the counterfactual of WG. We talk about what the benefits might be, why it has not happened, what its prospects are, how it might be organized, etc. (If you are curious about some detailed ideas, try here.) The economies of scale and efficiency benefits of WG are basically the same as those of any integration scheme – NAFTA, the EU, ASEAN, etc. And there is a great logic question in why human political organization has risen to the level of the sovereign state, but no further. In other words, we progressed from families to tribes to city-states to nation-states, and some of our nation-states are continental-sized. But we have not moved to WG. Why not?

The best answer I can think of is nationalism. And this is why Brown’s remark shocked me so much. The big reason we don’t have a ‘global society,’ much less WG, is because no one wants it. People remained deeply psychologically wedded to their nation, even if those nations are recent, artificial, rickety, etc. Look at how much the Iraqis want the US to leave even though the Iraqi ‘nation’ feels like a myth. Or consider how hard European integration has been. Yes, there are organizational problems with the EU that hamper more integration. The EU is a bureaucratic morass that only specialized academics fully grasp, but this is a second-order reason. The EU would work better if the EU’s citizens really wanted it to, if they really felt like ‘Europeans,’ not Irish, French, Poles, etc. Then they would vote to give it real constitutional and organizational clarity. But the Eurobarometer evidence does not suggest that Europeans are shifting their cultural-national allegiance and identification from their national community to the European one.

If the postmodern, ‘we’don’t-have-militaries-anymore’ Euros can’t forge a continental identity, then how can the rest of us possibly build a ‘global society’? And certainly, the US, the audience of the Brown op-ed, is dead-set against this. The American Right thinks state health care is the beginning of socialist tyranny, and before 9/11 John Bolton called global governance the greatest threat to the United States. The American Right is deeply committed to American exceptionalism. Serious talk of a ‘global society,’ much less a WG, would provoke a huge backlash. To the US right, Kyoto was a major breach of US sovereignty, and even NAFTA may be a bridge too far. I can only imagine American conservatives flipping out on reading that line by Brown. Can you picture the Fox News hysteria if an American official actually concurred with the leader of our most important ally? Glenn Beck would be in tears again, and there’d be rioting in the streets…

“Paris would not support Tibetan independence,” or the Importance of Self-Importance in IR

Pity Sarkozy. He leads a former great power slowly sliding into second tier status. France is stuck with: a small population, normal economy (ie, ok, but not drawing any particular positive excitement or attention), seemingly immovably high unemployment for an OECD country, a seemingly permanent domestic ‘social fracture’ of reinforcing race and class cleavages which damage France’s reputation, a tepid, inward-looking Germany that simultaneously outweighs and burdens it, a constant struggle with Amero-philic Britain and Eastern Europe, and the long shadow of the French military’s dismal record in the last 100 years. In short, outside of Europe and its near periphery, why would anyone give a d— what Sarkozy thinks?

As I was reading about Sarkozy’s embarrassing effort to get China to pretend it cares what he thinks about Tibet, it made me think about how frustrating it must be for former great powers to live with their declining relevance. Someone really needs to write this dissertation, because you could argue that French foreign policy since WWII or Russia’s since the Cold War has been primarily focused on trying to get others to take them seriously – to listen to them and accord them ‘weight’ as a ‘player.’ National glory, or rather its recognition by others, not national interest is the foremost driver of these resentful former great powers’ foreign policy. The psychology here is fascinating, because the deep aching for peer recognition, for ‘respect,’ is so obvious. I recall reading some article about how Spain, another middle power with a burden of past imperial greatness, was so desperate to get invited to the G-20 – to make the global top 20 cut – that Zapatero actually begged G Brown for an invitation.

I am trying to imagine Hu Jintao wondering why he is even listening to the French at all on East Asian questions. Who gives a hoot out here what the EU or its member states think? Honestly, no one.

It seems to me there are at least 2 good strategies to make others think you matter when you really don’t.

1. French: Bluff.

Act like you still matter and maybe you will. DeGaulle, Chirac, and Sarkozy were masters of this. Act with all the obnoxious swagger of a viceroy of New Spain or the British Raj. Go to general conferences, but have side conferences with others and make ostentatiously sure that the non-invited know you are having a meeting and they weren’t invited. Give press conferences talking about ‘core players’, ‘contact groups,’ ‘main actors,’ ‘critical relationships,’ etc. Obscure worsening power balances behind a cloud of pop-IR jargon about ‘new structures,’ ‘changing regional orders,’ ‘a revised international architecture,’ ‘dynamic forces of globalization,’ etc. When desperate, pull a Chirac and just tell rising powers to shut up.

2. Russia: Make as Much Trouble as You Can.

Crises you help keep boiling will always ensure your ‘relevance.’ Putin is a master at this. Putin’s goal is restoration not growth. Once Gorby and Yeltsin became collaborative, Russia’s ‘relevance’ declined, even as its ‘normality’ rose – a rich irony. Russian cooperation helped make Eastern Europe a happier, freer place, isolate the DPRK, tame Saddam, open Central Asia to gas export and growth, pacify the Balkans. But this Russian good behavior threatened to make Russia into something like Germany, France or Japan – a power of moderate strength with a limited ‘greatness,’ generally cooperating in liberal-minded efforts led by the US. This is what Russia should be for awhile, and it’s not so bad to be normal.

Ironically, such cooperation is in Russia’s national interest, traditionally defined. A wealthier, unified Korea might trade more with Russia (especially its backward Far East), as E Europe now can. A quieter Middle East would certainly relieve secessionist fears in Russia’s Muslim fringe. A nuclear-armed Iran is hardly in Russia’s interest, nor is a bizarre, erratic DPRK.

However, by stirring up trouble, obfuscating issues, and obstructing progress and breakthroughs, Russia maintains its importance.If Korea or Iran were solved, everyone else would promptly forget about Russian opinion. That is ultimately the great fear of the Kremlin. Russia doesn’t care a shred for about Korean unification or the Shiite awakening. Rather, as long as these issues remain unresolved, Russians will get invited to important conferences, can posture in front of TV cameras at the UN, issue foreign policy statements about Russia’s importance that will get western attention, etc. Take the Balkan example of the 1990s. Russia had no national interest at stake in the Balkan wars. There was no critical national resource or long-standing Russian interest. Nothing was going to return the Serbs, much less the other Yugoslav ethnic groups to a Russian sphere of influence. (They’d left under Tito long ago.) Russian backing of Serbia was solely to defend Russian relevance for its own sake. Orthodoxy was not the issue, but Russia’s right to be called up – to have the ‘red phone’ on its desk ring too – when the big boys work out problems. As long as the Balkans was a mess and Russia had influence with some of the actors, then the west worried about Russian opinion.

In IR we usually worry about managing rising powers. How do we integrate China, perhaps later, India and Brazil, into global rules? But the converse is pretty interesting too. How do former imperial or great powers learn to live with their diminished importance? Germany and Japan required cataclysmic defeats and humiliation to become good global citizens living within their means. But not even the full awfulness of Stalinism seems to have convinced Russia that the rest of the world would like it to play a less obstructive, tedious role.

That ‘Significant’ EU-Korea Relationship – Yawn…

Last week I attended the opening of a study center on the European Union at my university. The EU apparently opens these things all over the world at universities. The irony is just how weak the relationship between Korea and the EU actually is.


1. The EU ambassador to Korea doesn’t speak Korean. (By contrast the US consul in Busan can.) He spoke in English to a room with less than 10 westerners, and 100+ Koreans. Nor did he bow before speaking, nor even say ‘hello’ or ‘thank you’ in Korean (even I have learned that stuff). Come on already.

2. He told us about the ‘significance’ of the EU-Korea relationship, but two days later the EU-Korea FTA collapsed. I quietly laughed at that one…

3. These sorts of speeches usually reel off a list of statistics about how much such-and-such western state trades with Korea and vice versa. I am guilty too, but at least when Americans talk, we can expand on combined defense, shared values, a long-standing alliance. (I try to.) The EU ambassador, to his credit, didn’t even bother, because the EU just isn’t even trying out here anymore. After a few perfunctory words about the EU’s ‘commitment’ to peace on the Korean peninsula, it was all just economics and trade (how ‘bout those Samsung TVs?). If the significant relationship is just utilitarian, then the relationship with SK is not much different than that with Iran with whom European firms trade also.

4. The ambassador couldn’t even cough up a few words of solidarity over the imminent NK missile launch. That was a pretty glaring and sad omission.

All this made me think about my previous post about EU’s slow self-neutering of its hard power capability and its growing propensity to navel gaze. A few European states fought in the UN coalition of the war, but today it is all an American show. Does anyone really expect the Europeans do do anything to help SK if things get really hairy with the North, or worse, with China? The South Koreans surely don’t.

All this is a pretty disappointing commentary on the EU, its posturing about soft power, and its language of human rights and multilateralism against cowboy aggressiveness. Liberated from the Soviet threat, the EU can’t seem to find a few good words about another democracy threatened by the last bastion of stalinism. Liberalism in Korea is a philosophical transplant of European values. This is high praise for Europe’s heritage, as Confucian societies have struggled a good deal with the pluralism liberalism implies. How about a little Enlightenment solidarity with one of its strongest outposts in Asia?  

Where are those European Troops for Afghanistan already?

For years under W, I understood the European desire to avoid American military adventures. We were openly contemptuous (‘Old Europe’) and simply ignored them (Iraq) when it was useful. I remember reading a paper by William Wohlforth once, where he noted how revolutionary it was that the Bush administration simply ignored the allies because the transaction costs of corralling them to do anything were higher than the benefits to be gained! And living here in SK, it is easy to see the benefits of those good alliances Obama and Biden want to restore. The ROKA is first class military, and if it weren’t for NK sitting right on top of it, I have the feeling it would be a more reliable allied military force than some of the European allied militaries.

So what is it with the European militaries and deployments anyway?

1. Sarkozy was supposed to bring France back to the game with the military reintegration. He certainly talks big, so where’s the beef? Sure, its nice that France is back in the military integration, but if they won’t go in the field, then what’s the point? It has one of the few power-projectable militaries in the alliance. And reintegration should not let NATO become ideological cover for French illusions of a semi-militarized loose Francophonie alliance [gang?] in Western Africa.

2. If reintegration is supposed to be the big story from the 60th anniversary this week, then the Europeans really are insular. None of the members in North America, Eastern Europe, or Turkey really gives a hoot about that. Nor do they much care for the greying symbolism of Franco-German enmity overcome. That’s nice, but at this point, continuing to celebrate it so really represents Western European navel-gazing and self-importance.  If I were the new eastern members, I’d be pretty miffed at having to constantly genuflect at this relic, when the real action was on my doorstep. DeGaulle and Adenauer are almost 50 years past, the Wall has been gone 20 years now, and both Germany and France have aging, welfare-state-coddled populations hardly willing to engage in peacekeeping in the Balkans, much less attack each other. France and Germany are an old story now, one that is well-known and not that interesting anymore. Let’s get to what really matters – out-of-area operations, the Balkans, Russia, Afghanistan, the ME. Kagan really nails it when he notes how few NATO states actually meet their required defense spending minimums, and how parochial their publics are about hard power capabilities. I cringe at his assessment that Europeans are from ‘Venus,’ but Obama has removed the W excuse. If they don’t seriously burden-share sometime soon, the US can hardly be blamed for going around them.

3. At what point is the alliance just a sham if they can’t provide for a force that is even authorized under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty? That is crucial here. Iraq was our show, but after 9/11, NATO voted that an attack on a member had occurred. The Europeans are treaty-obligated to at least try to do something in Afghanistan.