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Thinking Seriously While There Is Still Time: Classical Economic Wisdom at the Eleventh Hour

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 “The rich man glories in his riches, because he feels that they naturally draw upon him the attention of the world….At the thought of this, his heart seems to swell and dilate itself within him, and he is fonder of his wealth, upon this account, than for all the other advantages it procures him.”-Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)

 President Donald Trump’s jumbled economic policies, resembling his corona virus policies and public policies in general, remain fundamentally anecdotal and conspicuously incoherent. Because they are detached from any sound theoretical foundations,[1] these programs will be continually disruptive without adding any compensating benefits for the United States.  Lamentably, all this largely self-imposed economic dislocation is taking place at a time when rampant biological plague is quite literally decimating the American Republic.

This decimation is palpably sweeping, and includes precipitously rising population levels of food insecurity. In brief, under President Donald J. Trump, the United States is becoming an increasingly disadvantaged and sorely imperiled nation. Along certain explicit and authoritative criteria of taxonomic division or status-differentiation, we are now a “third world country.”

Irrefutably.

It is high time for appropriate warning bells to go off. It is finally time, therefore, to think seriously and to properly value serious thought. Though it has been more than two centuries since Adam Smith, a capable look back over his classical and well-catalogued insights would still be well advised. In terms of the pertinent parlance of contemporary social scientific classification, such a retrospective look would prove “cost-effective.”

Assuredly.

As is true for any other disciplined sphere of human study, the American economic realm is a product of antecedent thought. For better or for worse, this means not just self-centered considerations of money and finance, but rather the cumulative result of genuinely human and humane examinations. Always, moreover, these examinations must be premised upon the core idea of “system,” that is, on the persisting interrelatedness “of all things.”[2]

There is more.  Economics and the pandemic are inextricably intertwined; it would be foolish and futile, therefore, to expect any progress in the former without achieving corresponding scientific advances in the latter. In relevant philosophic terms, death is the prototype of all injustice –  including economic failure –  and American death rates during the current plague have had a great deal to do with prevailing distributions of national wealth. Contrary to Mr. Trump’s very curious sense of logic, death rates will not decline if the nation cuts back on Covid19 testing.  Indeed, that any single American with an elementary school education would be unable to recognize the overwhelming fallacy of such “logic” is altogether difficult to process.

There are overriding intellectual obligations here that warrant mention. Americans must go beyond the barren observations and clichés of current presidential policies; inter alia, this means purposefully recalling classical economic theory in its most densely-layered and meticulously nuanced content. Soon, we should look with suitably “modernized” detail at Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and also his better-known Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). To be sure, very few Trump-appointed policy makers or followers  actually read books – especially books that call for some serious analytic or scholarly exertions –  but there would still be some tangible recompense. This recollected scholarship would “pay for itself.”

Already, back in the 18th century, and quite plainly without benefit of any computers or electric light, Smith managed to examine certain bewilderingly complex elements of international trade within an impressively broad intellectual context.

Adam Smith knew many things. For one, he had already understood that thoughtful economic insights were not just about disjointed numbers or reassuringly growing  bank accounts. Wealth was not written to advance the monetary or social interests of one particular class over another. On the contrary, at a time when cultural and historical literacy were expected of European public commentators, he openly acknowledged the essential “oneness” of all human affairs.

This meant a core human singularity hailed, among others, by Marcus Aurelius, Lucretius and the Jewish Scriptures,[3] not to mention Hinduism and Buddhism.[4]

Without such an acknowledgment, Smith would have amounted to little more than the current crop of half-educated Trump commentators one is now forced to endure on television, in  the newspapers and online. Abjuring banalities, the seminal economic thinker from Scotland sought to understand genuinely intricate operations of society and the market place. More than likely, he would have agreed with German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s later instruction in Zarathustra not to seek the “higher man” at any place of commerce. In essence, Adam Smith took special pains to highlight the prospective errors of analytically-baseless protectionist strategies, most notably of tariffs that could very plausibly and quickly be reciprocated.

Most famously, of course, Smith identified an “invisible hand,” or a credible “convergence of satisfactions.” Together with such a markedly gainful fusion, he reasoned, the perpetual collisions of individual self-interest and the myriad interests of nations could somehow be reconciled. Moreover, in the trendy language of today’s career economists or financial managers, such reconciliations could eventually prove “optimal.”

But how might these classical insights help us today? What might this 18th-century stance on money and markets have to do with our present American economic system, a complex network functioning as part of a much larger worldwide economy and civilization? In part, the best answer must begin with the widespread American belief that accelerating consumption is per se indispensable to economic well-being – both individual and collective.

Though never a plutocrat, Smith had argued persuasively that certain arrangements of private wealth enhancement could at least permit the poor to live tolerably. Rejecting his contemporary Jean Jacques Rousseau’s fully contrary position –  that is, that “the privileged few…gorge themselves with superfluities, while the starving multitude are in want of the bare necessities of life” –  he foresaw in capitalism not just an enviably rising productivity, but also the necessary foundations for an enduring political liberty. Naturally, whether or not he was actually correct in this assessment depends pretty much upon who exactly is being queried.

 Karl Marx had offered a plainly alternate view to Smith’s general optimism concerning capitalism. From his own formal disciplinary framework – a multi-layered academic context that was fashioned with intellectual underpinnings and a corollary analytic dexterity (this point is frequently overlooked amid the visceral chorus of dismissals shouted by American politicians, especially those who could never make it through even a single page of Capital) –  Marx had seen in capitalism a hideously corrosive source of  personal defilement and communal self-destruction.

 In his own time, Adam Smith was undaunted by any determinedly specious political arguments that were detached from core considerations of intellect. By applying various capitalistic modes of production and exchange, he asserted, an inextinguishable social inequality might still be favorably reconciled with measurable increments of human progress. In those especially troubling cases where the prevailing facts could have taken him in variously different directions, we may presently assume, he would have felt bound to accept certain corresponding modifications of his own basic theories.

Conspicuously, even among US President Donald Trump’s most senior economic advisors,  there is no Adam Smith, not one who is even close intellectually. However much these shamelessly servile advisors may seek to wrap themselves in the presumed propagandistic messages of Wealth, they wittingly ignore the daunting depth and visible exertions of Smith’s conceptual thought. Unsurprisingly, in light of their almost uniformly undistinguished academic  credentials, they freely disregard that Adam Smith’s preferred system of “perfect liberty” can never be consistent with narrowly partisan encouragements of crude and feveredaccumulation.

Back when the United States was born, on a date that coincides exactly with publication of Wealth, Adam Smith already understood what present-day Trump trade policies so blatantly disregard. This is the fact that certain inexorable laws of the marketplace, driven by a natural human competition, demand a principled disdainfor all vanity-driven consumption. It’s not a particularly complicated set of laws; nonetheless, it does call for some modicum of intellectual exertion.

 Adam Smith could never have abided a Black Friday-type “conspicuous consumption,” a phrase that would later be used more popularly and more effectively by sociologist Thorsten Veblen. This especially vulgar species of consumption, one driven by variously recalcitrant cravings related to assorted feelings of individual self-worth, ought never expect to become a rational engine for economic or wider social improvement. This still crucial point should resonate loudly and instructively with all who could still heap gratuitous praise upon a White House that equates personal success with the elicited envy of others. 

To be sure, the Trump White House makes its principal stand upon precisely such a humiliating equation. Reciprocally, at a moment when substantive wealth gaps in the United States augur fundamentally undemocratic odds of living and dying, Donald Trump’s endlessly committed supporters stay “loyal” for one presumed reason above all others. This is the notion that their own personal economic success – including the “elicited envy of others” – requires another four years of Trumpian ant-reason.

In essence, this means another four years of communal citizen disdain for more serious and challenging thought.

There is more. Under no imaginable circumstances could Adam Smith have championed a system of consumption premised on the demeaning notion that material acquisition ought to stem from a craven wish to impress other people.

 Although Adam Smith had already understood the psychological and economic dynamics of “conspicuous consumption,” he also feared and even loathed these dynamics. From his personal point of view, it was entirely reasonable that the marketplace should routinely regulate the price and quantity of available goods according to certain unchanging and “natural” arbiters of public demand. This marketplace, he had urged accordingly, should never be manipulated from above, by governments,  and by way of deceptively manipulative policies.

Now, in the withering declensions of Donald Trump’s dissembling rule,[5] America is losing all residual sight of Adam Smith’s “natural liberty.” In vain, this nation still attempts to construct a viable economic posture upon great oceans of shallow slogans and on twisting rivers of hideously empty witticisms. At their core, our derivative national problems of orchestrated trade barriers and manipulated hyper-consumption are not primarily economic. Rather, as Smith would himself have warned, because they are spurred on by seemingly ineradicable personal doubts of self-worth and self-esteem, these problems should be examined at a more appropriately psychological level.

But who today even wants to undertaken such an examination?

All Americans already believe, and more or less directly, that our national economic efforts must be oriented toward status-based purchasing.  Oddly enough, however, disregarding Adam Smith altogether, almost no one seeks to inquire: “What sort of society can we ultimately expect from an economic system that is based  upon feverish social imitation and on absolutely crass conformance”?  The answer in part, is a flaccid society of “mass,” a disordered and disordering amalgam of unreasoning people who are no longer thinking individuals.[6] 

Hence, we elect Donald J. Trump.

Writing in the middle of the nineteenth century, the American Transcendentalist philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had remarked presciently on  “self-reliance.” Any foolish “reliance upon property,” Emerson warned, is the predictable result of a “want of self-reliance.” What suitable corrective was needed? Emerson had answered succinctly, and without any discernible hesitation: “High thinking and plain living.”

How far have we now come from this once hopeful conjunction? Today, the relentlessly conformist call of American mass society remains loud, manipulative and seemingly persuasive. This is especially the case under the aegis of a president who is conducting ceaseless and systematic war upon intellect, education and all vulnerable elements of genuine learning. “I love the poorly educated,” said Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign. “Intellect  rots the  brain,” said Third Reich Minister of Propaganda in 1934.

The true difference between these sentiments is not as great as might first be presumed.

In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith noted that human beings are not made any happier by their possessions, but that the rich, in seeking the “gratification of their own vain and insatiable desires,” may still advance the “interest of society.” With remarkable originality, therefore, Smith explained, the wealthiest members of the nation, without ever consciously intending any such generalized benefit, “are led by an invisible hand” to bring forth necessary reductions in social inequality.  

Back in the 18th century, however, Adam Smith would likely have shuddered with any foreknowledge of today’s brutally callous system of American economic exchange, not only because he would have been unsympathetic to the self-seeking supporters of such an injurious plutocracy, but also because he recognized the implacable consequences of any market theory founded upon  delusion. As long as our American economy remains animated, at its core, by rabid conspicuous consumption and by generally correlative trade wars, an accelerating process of class/cultural  warfare will be our sole driving narrative. As long as we inhabit a society that. at least in significant part, takes an evident pride in a presumptive presidential infallibility and a doctrinaire anti-intellectualism,[7] disease and economic dislocation will not merely coincide.

They will crush out any tangibly discernible remnants of a once-promising American civilization.[8]

Looking ahead to the November 2020 election, Donald Trump will remain fixedly intent upon garnering “the attention of the world.” Among many other grievous consequence of this president’s incoherent war against intellect and thought, this childlike objective will undermine America’s economy, safety and national security at the same time. Though Adam Smith could likely never have imagined any such far-reaching impairments spawned by crudely self-centered national goals, the largely unexamined synergies of pandemic and anti-reason could prove authentically lethal to the United States.

Perhaps even sooner rather than later.

At this fearful moment, when plague and nuclear war could erupt more-or-less simultaneously, the “whole” of  any American catastrophic outcome could far exceed the mere sum of its grievous “parts.” In the end, learning from Adam Smith, warnings about this portentous product could be anything but hyperbole. As always, thinking seriously is indispensable,[9] but such thinking must also always be undertaken in advance, “while there is still time.”

Very few “loyal” followers of Donald J. Trump could conceivably read and understand Adam Smith, but there is still abundant cause for the broader American society to favor Reason over further presidential manipulation and contrivance. Failure to understand this utterly vital obligation during a time of disease pandemic and economic uncertainty could prove not just discomfiting. It could also be abundantly lethal.


[1] “Theory is a  net,” we may learn from the German poet  Novalis, “only those who cast, can catch.” Later, this statement was famously cited by philosopher Karl Popper in his path breaking

work, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Eng. tr., 1959).

[2] “The existence of ‘system’ in the world is at once obvious to every observer of nature,” says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man, “no  matter whom….Each element of the cosmos is positively woven from all the others….”

[3] “The earth from which the first man was made was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”  (Talmud.)

[4] Apropos of such unassailable “oneness,”  we may learn from Epictetus, the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A still-broader idea of human singularity followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE; with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide secular background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Here, only in its relationship to the universe itself, was the world considered as a part rather than a whole. Says Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully

justified/explained in more purely historical/philosophic terms of human understanding.

[5] One ought not to set aside the single most fearful risk of such undisciplined rule, the risk of a catastrophic nuclear war by mistaken or calculated Trump decision. See, by this writer, Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  https://thebulletin.onuclear rg/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/  See also, by Louis René Beres, https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ (Pentagon).

[6] As we may learn from Swiss psychologist and philosopher Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.” At this point of almost fevered US citizen surrender to impresario Donald  J. Trump, a time also of ravaging disease pandemic, it is no longer difficult to imagine such a sweeping social downfall.

[7]  Twentieth century German writer  and Nobel laureate Thomas Mann would have called Trump a lethal champion of anti-reason, an aspiring “Fuehrer,” a sinister “magician.” See, on this extrapolation, Mann’s classic novella on the rise of Nazism, “Mario and the Magician” (1929). Regarding the post-Nazi idea of “anti-reason,” see too Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952). Thinking originally of Adolph Hitler, but still perfectly applicable these days to Donald Trump, is the German philosopher’s generic and timeless warning: “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument, and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition….” Apropos of  this warning, at the end of July 2020, literally millions of Americans were openly describing the Covid19 pandemic as a “hoax.”

[8] This brings to mind a timely warning by French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, in The New Spirit and the Poets (1917): “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” In the expansively demeaning time of Trump, such an allowance has not only been tolerated. Now, nationally, it has been made de rigueur.

[9] “All our dignity,” says Pascal in his Pensées, “consists in thought. It is upon this that we must depend….Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Among past American presidents, such sentiments would have been most conspicuously shared by Thomas Jefferson. Said the nation’s third chief executive: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth and most recent book is Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel's Nuclear Strategy (2016) (2nd ed., 2018) https://paw.princeton.edu/new-books/surviving-amid-chaos-israel%E2%80%99s-nuclear-strategy Some of his principal strategic writings have appeared in Harvard National Security Journal (Harvard Law School); International Security (Harvard University); Yale Global Online (Yale University); Oxford University Press (Oxford University); Oxford Yearbook of International Law (Oxford University Press); Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College (Pentagon); Special Warfare (Pentagon); Modern War Institute (Pentagon); The War Room (Pentagon); World Politics (Princeton); INSS (The Institute for National Security Studies)(Tel Aviv); Israel Defense (Tel Aviv); BESA Perspectives (Israel); International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence; The Atlantic; The New York Times and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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The American Initiative for a “Better World” and its difference with the Chinese Belt and Road

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During their summit held at the end of July 2021 in the city of “Cornwall” in Britain, the leaders of the countries (the Group of Seven major economic leaders “G7” led by Washington) have been announced the launch of an ambitious global initiative called “Rebuilding a Better World”. It is internationally, known as:

Build Back Better World (B3W)

  The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative aims to (meet the massive financing requirements for infrastructure needs). The most important differences and distinguishes between (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road and the American initiative to build a better world), are highlighted, through:

1) The intense Chinese interest in doing (development initiatives that are not politically conditional, unlike the American tool that sets political goals and conditions as a condition for the work of projects or the provision of loans, as well as China’s interest in infrastructure and community projects), and this is the most obvious and famous reason for the “Belt and Road” initiative, whereas the maps showed China’s roads, railways, and pipelines networks extending with partner countries, in addition to cooperation in (the field of digital technologies, educational and social institutions, and security services), which creates a network of relations that will continue in the future, in contrast to the US case or initiative.

  2) We find that while (the leaders of the seven major economic countries neglected to develop long-term strategic plans in their initiative for a better world to serve poor and developing peoples), the vision of the “Belt and Road” has been more clearly manifested through the spread of many other developmental initiatives and the other extensions with it, which include the “Silk Road” for its projects, such as: (The Health Silk Road Initiative to combat “Covid-19”, and the launch of the “Digital Silk” initiative, known as (Information Silk Road).

 3) At a time when Washington and its allies ignored the interests of developing countries, China has contributed to (leading the global development initiatives, especially the Healthy Silk Road to help countries affected by the spread of the pandemic), an initiative mentioned for the first time in the (White Book of Chinese Policy in  2015), Chinese President “Xi Jinping” announced officially the “Health Silk Road” that was presented in a 2016 speech delivered by the Chinese President in Uzbekistan, as well as the new road and the most recent Chinese initiative, known as the “Polar Silk Road”, which also known as the “Ice Silk Road”, which stretches across the “North Pole”, it was first highlighted in 2018.

 4) In the belief of China to lead global development efforts, in contrast to ignoring the “Better World Initiative”, it was represented in China’s leadership in the field of “climate and environmental governance”, so the Chinese government initiated the launch of the “Green Silk Road Fund”, which was established by Chinese investors to promote (Chinese projects that take into account environmental standards), and the latest and most advanced here is the Chinese announcement of the “Space Silk Road”, which is the development of the Chinese “Beidou” system for artificial intelligence technology, and others.

5) Here, we find that at a time when China’s desire to support and modernize all African and poor countries is increasing, the American initiative, which is alleged to be an alternative to the Chinese plan, has come to China’s interest in projects (the Chinese satellite navigation system), and it is scheduled to be used and developed China as an alternative to GPS services.

 6) The American President “Joe Biden” adopted the “Building Better for the World” project, stressing that its mainly focus on the (climate, health, digital sector, and combating social inequality), because the “Belt and Road” initiative – as stated by assistants to US President “Biden” – has transformed from a series of unauthorized projects connected to infrastructure, a cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy, and the initiative supported China with raw materials, trade links, and geopolitical influence, so the “White House” wants to engage in projects with greater environmental and labor standards than those funded by China, and with complete transparency regarding financial terms. Perhaps that point raised by Washington towards China comes without (the United States of America presenting concrete evidence of the validity of those accusations to China, as well as Washington’s failure to penetrate deep into the African continent compared to the Chinese side).

 7) American reports accuse Beijing of being (the reason for the decline of its influence on the African continent, and the United States faces many obstacles and challenges to regain its influence again in Latin American countries, which considers China as a trading partner and an important and vital investor in the African and Latin region).  For example, bilateral trade between Brazil – the largest economy in South America, and China increased from $2 billion in 2000 to $100 billion in 2020.  Perhaps this in itself (supports China’s credibility with its development projects to serve African and developing peoples, in contrast to African and Latin rejection, for example, of American influence and penetration in their countries).

8) The most important analytical thing for me is that the relationship of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative” with African countries supports “the call of China and Chinese President “Xi Jinping” towards a multilateral and multipolar world”. Therefore, we find that (China’s agreement with these African countries came in their support for multipolarity in the world, which the United States rejects), while African countries and the developing world mainly welcome the “Belt and Road Initiative”, which meets the needs of economic development in their countries, which the alleged American initiative will be unable to meet.

 9) It also represents the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road (a prelude to the China-Pacific cooperation road to link China and Latin America more closely, through the 21st century Maritime Silk Road from China to Latin America, which the United States strongly opposed, which reduces travel time between them, it works on developing infrastructure and connectivity, and investing in port works and ocean corridors between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Which (made the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean consider cooperation with Beijing a huge investment opportunity and a support for economic and social development plans, as well as an improvement in the region’s competitiveness).

 10) It is worth noting that what distinguishes (the Chinese initiative for the Belt and Road from the American Better World Initiative, is its “sweeping popularity globally”), especially if we know that more than 100 countries have joined the Beijing initiative, which made it stronger politically and diplomatically. China signed cooperation documents on Belt and Road construction with 171 countries and regions around the world, and the trade value between China and countries along the Belt and Road amounted to about 1.35 trillion dollars in 2020, accounting for 29.1 percent of the total value of China’s foreign trade which (the United States of America will be unable to provide in light of the current economic crisis, unlike China). The investment cooperation between them amounted to about $17.7 billion, and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce stated that the companies of the “Belt and Road” countries have established 4,294 institutions in China, with an investment value of $8.27 billion.

 11) and even came (confessions by well-known American bodies of China’s developmental role in confronting the United States of America), for example, a report by the “American Council on Foreign Relations” confirmed that: “Since the launch of the “Belt and Road” initiative in 2013, Chinese banks and companies have funded and the construction of power stations, railways, highways, and ports, as well as communications infrastructure, fiber-optic cables and smart cities around the world, and if the initiative continues to implement its plans, China will be able to stimulate global economic growth, and meet the needs of developing countries for the long term”.  This is an American testimony and a clear acknowledgment of the strength of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and its development projects around the world.

12) It remains to be noted here that (the American attempts to put forward alternative development initiatives for the Chinese Belt and Road is a kind of American political competition with China, so the question here is: Why did the United States not provide real development projects over the past long years), so we understand that the Belt Initiative  The road is the largest infrastructure program in the world, and indeed it has become an economic and political challenge for Washington.  Experts believe that the preoccupation of the United States with its financial and economic crises has contributed greatly to giving China the opportunity to extend its economic and development influence among the countries of the world. The “Rebuilding a Better World” initiative comes among other US initiatives to try to confront and confront China, such as the Ocos Defense Security Agreement with Britain and Australia, as well as the first meeting of the “Quad Quartet” with the leaders of India, Japan and Australia. The “Biden administration” is also seeking to hold bilateral talks with countries in order to promote the American initiative, and recently talks were held with Indian Prime Minister (Narendra Modi), especially since India has refused to join the Belt and Road Initiative due to border disputes with China.  Therefore, we understand (the targeting of the United States of America to countries with conflict with China to attract them to its alternative initiative, in contrast to the openness of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative to the whole world).

    Accordingly, we arrive at an important analysis that says that the term “rebuilding better in the American sense” ignores and neglects development initiatives to serve the people, a better world, which is (an American political initiative rather than a development one such as the projects of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative). Here it becomes clear to us that the American initiative for a better world appears to be (influenced by the slogans and policies of both US President “Joe Biden” and British Prime Minister “Boris Johnson”), Rebuilding Better is the slogan of the American campaign, but without setting specific agreed plans or a timetable for everyone.

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Russia and the United States Mapping Out Cooperation in Information Security

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Authors: Elena Zinovieva and Alexander Zinchenko*

The first committee of the 76th session of the UN General Assembly has adopted a draft resolution on international information security sponsored by Russia and the United States by consensus. The document has a record number of co-sponsors, with 107 countries putting their name to the document, although it is Russia and the United States that promote the document as its main sponsors. While the draft resolution still needs to go through a vote at the UN General Assembly this December, we can assume the vote will go more as less the same way it did in the committee.

The very fact that Russia and the United States came up with a joint draft resolution is a significant step forward in the bilateral cooperation in the field of international information security, especially given the fact that the United Nations hosted two competing platforms operating between 2019 and 2021, the Open‑Ended Working Group (the OEWG) established at Russia’s initiative and the Group of Governmental Experts (the GGE) led by the United States.

The joint draft resolution and a step towards an institutionalization of the dialogue came as a result of the agreements reached at the summit between President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Joe Biden of the United States on June 16, 2021. Four rounds of expert consultations have already taken place under the auspices of the security councils of the two countries, says Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the United States.

Besides, the Russian diplomat pointed to the successes in suppressing hacker activity and combating the criminal use of ICTs. The fight against cybercrime is one the main concerns voiced by the U.S. in this area, especially after the high-profile ransomware attacks on the energy and food industries in 2021. Subsequent dialogue led to a restoration of interaction in this area, which is occurring within the framework of the 1999 bilateral agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, a document that allows the parties to exchange information on cybercriminals in pretrial detention, including in matters when it comes to collecting evidence of the person’s guilt. Cooperation between the two countries has involved the United States transferring materials for the legal suppression of the activities of such international cybergroups as Evil Corp, TrickBot and REvil. In turn, Russia has informed the American colleagues that Moscow has managed to thwart the activities of a criminal group using the Dyre/TrickBot malware and prosecute those responsible.

Additionally, there has now been greater interaction between Russian and U.S. centers for responding to computer incidents, the Federal Security Service’s National Computer Incident Response and Coordination Center (the NCIRCC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s US–CERT. However, the sides still harbor their concerns, pointing to the fact that there is room for cooperation to be fostered and enhanced. For example, most attacks on Russian infrastructure in 2020, the NCIRCC suggests, were carried out from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands. By the same token, the Western media continues to level mostly unsubstantiated accusations against Russia for its supposed involvement in cyberattacks, while cyber defence activities have become overly politicized.

Meaningful interaction, once it produces positive results, facilitates an atmosphere of trust between the parties, opening the door for closer cooperation to establish a universal international regime for information security, including with respect to the issues that are more global and complex in their scope. Russia’s agenda in bilateral negotiations is not limited to combating cybercrime—Sergey Ryabkov, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, has stressed—as it includes a broad range of issues relating to international information security, including military and political use of ICT, which is the major threat to international stability today. Moreover, since 1998, Russia has been calling for a global regulation of international interaction in information security and for rules to be formulated under the auspices of the United Nations to guide responsible behaviour of states in this area.

The dialogue and the joint work in this area have been reflected in the draft resolution, and it takes Russia’s priorities into account. Specifically, the document sets out the important principles and rules of the responsible behaviour of states in the information space, which Russia has been advocating for since 1998: encouraging the use of ICTs for peaceful purposes, preventing conflicts arising in its use, preventing the use of ICTs for terrorist and criminal purposes. The document places a particular emphasis on the importance of preventing cyberattacks targeting critical infrastructure.

The draft resolution also welcomes the 2021 report adopted by the Open‑Ended Working Group on developments in the field of information and telecommunications in the context of international security, making special note of how important the renewed group’s proceedings will be for 2021–2025. At the same time, the resolution suggests that the OEWG’s activities may well result in a binding UN document on international information security to be adopted.

It would seem the United States and Russia have sent a positive signal to the international community, recognizing the threats to international information security and acknowledging the importance of norms to be devised that would guide responsible behaviour of states in the information space. These norms would underpin the international regime for information security, as is envisioned by the Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation on International Information Security adopted by the Russian President on April 12, 2021. The document aims to strengthen peace and international security, which are increasingly dependent on the advances in information and communications technologies. “The international community has proven in practice that it is capable of negotiating and working out acceptable solutions when it comes to resolving fundamental issues of national and international security,” noted Andrey Belousov, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office in Geneva.

First published in our partner RIAC

*Alexander Zinchenko, Ph.D. in History, Lead Expert at the Centre for International Information Security, Science and Technology Policy at MGIMO University

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How the Republican Party Has Tightened U.S.-Taiwan Ties

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Taiwan, also known as the sovereign Republican of China (ROC), set up in the aftermath of the revolution in 1911 in China. The U.S. government recognized the ROC as the legal government of China till the end of 1978 and has thereafter maintained a non-diplomatic relationship with the island after its official recognition of People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legal government of China in 1979. Even though the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is deemed as “unofficial” by the U.S. Department of State, official contacts between the two governments based on the Taiwan Relations Act have never ceased, the most important of which includes U.S.-Taiwan arms sales. The “strategic ambiguity” embedded in the three U.S.-PRC Joint Communiqués in 1972, 1979 and 1982 allows the U.S. to maintain its involvement in the regional security of Taiwan Strait under a statutory framework despite PRC’s countless opposition.

America’s long-standing commitment to Taiwan and involvement in the region is not only bound by the jurisdiction of the Taiwan Relation Act, but has created “historical and ideological connections”. The support for Taiwan, especially when in the face of an increasingly aggressive China, is usually bipartisan in the U.S., but the Republican party seems to be more provocative when it comes to defending Taiwan from the threat of mainland China. Historically, Republican politicians usually stroke first to take a pro-Taiwan stance when disputes across the Taiwan Strait arose. Meanwhile, the ongoing “asymmetric polarization” in the U.S. – the Republican Party is turning conservative more than the Democratic Party turning liberal – is influencing Washington’s policies involving the Taiwan Strait. In 2020, conservative Republican senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) and Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act respectively, both of which aimed at defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s oppression and even invasion. As Republicans are rapidly turning more conservative, is it likely that the U.S.-Taiwan relations will enter a honeymoon phase? And how that would affect U.S.-Taiwan arms sales?

Historical links between U.S. Republican Party and Taiwan

  1. 1949 – 1971: The China Lobby

Throughout the history U.S.-Taiwan relations, there have been multiple times when conservative Republican officials and public figures have worked at the forefront of campaigning for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties, often along with anti-PRC policies.The Republican Party’s intimacy with Taiwan dates back to 1949 when the Chinese Civil War ended. The defeat of Chiang Kai-shek split U.S. policymakers on the issue of whether to defend Taiwan if Communists from China initiated an attack. Democratic Secretary of State Dean Acheson was prone to abandon the island while Republican Senators Robert Taft and William Knowland, together with former Republican President Hoover adamantly demanded that America should protect Taiwan.

In the 1950s, the China Lobby, a broad network of people who shared the common goal of support Chiang Kai-shek’s recovery of mainland China from Mao Zedong-led communism, represented the apex of Taiwan’s success in America. It involved both Nationalist Chinese officials and right-wing American politicians who were mostly Republican politicians, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Jesse Helms, Senator Bob Dole, and Representative Dana Rohrabacher. Although not every supporter of Chiang actually cared about Taiwan issues since many of them simply took advantage of it to advance their own political agendas, the China Lobby, supported by the Republican Party, was capable of arguing for their cause aggressively and intimidating dissidents.

2.2 1971-1991: The Sino-US Normalization – Inner Conflicts among Republicans

Republican President Nixon won bipartisan support for his trip to China in 1972, which marked the end of U.S. efforts to isolate People’s Republic of China. Praises for Nixon’s China initiative came not only from leading congressional Democrats such as Senator Ted Kennedy and Mike Mansfield, but liberal communist James Reston. However, domestic controversy and criticism also arose and mostly came from conservative Republicans who complained that the preliminary rapprochement undermines America’s longtime ally – Taiwan. As the conclusion of Nixon’s visit to China, the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique (1972)” was issued, which incurred opposition and even wrath of Nixon’s conservative Republican supporters who were upset by the gradual reduction in U.S. forces in Taiwan as implied by the communique.

A decade later, Republican President Ronald Reagan issued the “U.S.-PRC Joint Communique on Arms Sales” – also known as 1982 Communique – which clarified that the U.S. intended to gradually decrease its arms sales to Taiwan, but Reagan’s secret Memorandum on the 1982 Communique specified that the reduction in U.S. sales of arms to Taiwan was “conditioned absolutely upon the continued commitment of China to the peaceful solution of the Taiwan-PRC differences”. As a matter of fact, not only did the Reagan administration have Republicans in Congress reassured through his written clarification that the communique would not disadvantage Taiwan, but he continued to work to assuage potential criticism from the pro-Taiwan Republicans by selling twelve C-130H military transport aircraft to Taiwan in 1984.

2.3 1992-2016: The Gradual Revival of Republican-Taiwan Ties

In 1992, an agreement was reached by PRC and ROC governments in the name of “1992 Consensus” in which the commitment of “one China, respective interpretations” was shared and seen as the foundation of the rapprochement between the two sides of Taiwan Strait ever since. Douglas H. Paal, the Director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) between 2002 and 2006, buttressed the 1992 Consensus by emphasizing its critical importance to maintaining cross-strait peace in 2012, days before the presidential election of Taiwan. However, the former Republican Senator Frank H. Murkowski supported Tsai Ing-wen’s challenge to the 1992 Consensus – “Taiwan consensus”, and claimed that Tsai’ proposal “represents the will of the Taiwan people”.

Two years after the proposal of 1992 Consensus, the Clinton administration sought to upgrade the U.S.-Taiwan relations but still restricted high-level Taiwanese government officials’ access to U.S. visas. In the same year, Republicans swept the mid-term elections, which led to a growing movement in the Congress that favored closer relations with Taiwan. In 1995, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House as well as the conservative Republican representative of Georgia stated that president of ROC should not only be able to visit the United States, but ROC itself deserved a seat in the United Nations.

The majority of House Republicans’ support for Clinton Administration’s efforts into bringing China into WTO was surprising, but harsh criticism against China also came from Republican politicians and public figures such as Representative Chris Smith, Representative Dana Rohrabacher, and 1992 Republican presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, most of whom were allies of conservative forces that held anti-PRC and pro-sentiment.

2.4 2017 – present: Increasingly Conservative Republicans and Closer U.S.-Taiwan Ties

After winning the 2016 U.S. president election, the Republican president-elect Donald Trump had a 10-minute conversation with the President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, an unprecedented move for a soon-to-be U.S. president and Taiwan’s top leader. This led many people to label Trump as a pro-Taiwan president and some even speculate his intention to support the independence of Taiwan.

The conservative Republican president’s policies toward Taiwan were as bold and aggressive as his domestic policies. Even though some may claim Trump’s attitude was “neither new nor Taiwan-specific”, it cannot be denied that his leadership, directly or indirectly, accelerated Republican Party’s right-leaning dash and that came with more pro-Taiwan policies that got under Beijing’ nerve. In 2018, Trump “gladly signed” the Taiwan Travel Act that encourages all levels of U.S. government officials to travel to Taiwan and high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the U.S.. The bill was introduced by the Republican representative Steven Chabot and won bipartisan support before being signed into law by Trump. In 2020, the Republican Senator Josh Hawley introduced the Taiwan Defense Act (TDA) to ensure America’s obligations of defending Taiwan from Chinese Communist Party’s invasion. In the same year, the Republican Senator Ted Cruz recognized Taiwan’s National Day and introduced Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty (Taiwan SOS) Act.

The conservative Republican Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also known for his staunch support for Taiwan. During the final days of Trump’s presidency, Pompeo announced that the U.S. was lifting restrictions on U.S.-Taiwan relations by allowing U.S. government contacts with Taiwan despite an increasing risk of invoking Beijing to trigger a new cross-strait crisis. Even in the post-Trump era, Republicans does not seem to put a stop to their pro-Taiwan cause. In April 2021, the Republican Representative John Curtis introduced the “Taiwan International Solidary Act” to condemn China’s overreach of the sovereignty of Taiwan – a year after he authored the “Taipei Act” to strengthen Taiwan’s international diplomatic recognition and had it passed by bipartisan support. The ongoing partisan divide has yet to show a sign of deceleration after Trump left the office. Based on the redder Republican Party’s historical favor toward Taiwan, it is likely that there will be more Republicans initiating anti-PRC and pro-Taiwan policies, including increasing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Asymmetric Polarization in the U.S.

As early as in the 1990s, themes of polarization, division, and fragmentation started to be discussed by media and political commentators of American politics. The editor of the Columbia Journalism Review declared the conservative politician Patrick Buchanan’s speech at the Republican convention in 1992 a “culture war” and asserted “There is increasing polarization in American society over race, religion, family life, sex education and other social issues”. Similar perceptions include “the sharpening cultural polarization of U.S. society after the mid-1970” and the two dividing values camps in America – the “culturally orthodox” and the “culturally progress”. As shown in Figure 1, Republican legislators have been turning more conservative and Democratic legislators more liberal, which makes the Senate and House more divided than ever since the end of the first World War.

Figure 1: Increasing Polarization in Congress 1870-2010 based on DW-NOMINATE Index

Each point represents the discrepancy between two parties’ mean DW-NOMINATE scores. Higher values along the y-axis indicate stronger political polarization. (source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

The Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., with their ongoing conflicts commonly acknowledged, are not simply mirror images of each other. A wealth of studies find that the two parties are not moving away from the center at equal speeds. Scholars such as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson point out that the phenomenon “asymmetric polarization” – Republicans have marched much further right than Democrats have moved left – is what has escalated partisan conflicts, which is also demonstrated by Figure 2. Nolan McCarty, the professor of Politics and Publica Affair of Princeton University, asserts that the polarization is “a Republican-led phenomenon where very conservative Republicans have replaced moderate Republicans and Southern Democrat”. The disproportionate share of rising polarization is thereby greatly explained by Republican party’s march toward the ideological extreme.

Figure 2: Asymmetric Polarization based on DW-NOMINATE Scores

(source: Moskowitz & Snyder, 2019)

Correlations between U.S. Asymmetric Polarization and US-Taiwan Relations and Arms Sales

Compared to 1991 when it had more than 20 countries as suppliers of arms, Taiwan only has the U.S. as its supplier nowadays. America, however, remains Taiwan’s sole and largest supplier of arms by taking advantaging of the strategic ambiguity of the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique of 1982 and the Taiwan Relations Act. More importantly, keeping arms sales to Taiwan can be used as political leverage by the U.S. for the U.S.-RPC relations. The U.S. military sales agreements with Taiwan amounted to $9 billion and delivers totaled $12.3 billion between 1991 and 1998. During the Bush and Obama Administration, U.S.-Taiwan arms sales were oftentimes delayed or cancelled due to concerns over relations with the RPC or U.S. domestic political disputes in Taiwan. However, to counter the cross-Strait military imbalance, the arms sales to Taiwan during the Trump Administration exceeded any previous administrations over the last four decades, including seven packages of arms sales in 2017, C-130 and F-16 fighter parts and accessories in 2018 and 2019. As shown by Figure 3, the overall volume of U.S.-Taiwan arms sales experiences an increase between 1981 and 2010 despite some fluctuations.

 Figure 3: U.S. Government Arms Deliveries to Taiwan 1981 – 2010 ($billion, values not adjusted for inflation)

The scatterplot is composed by the author of this article (source: Arms Control Association, n.d.)

For years, Republicans constantly praise the common value shared by the U.S. and Taiwan and never attempt to hide their stance on defending Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act should China violate the peaceful status quo across the strait. The U.S. support for Taiwan is oftentimes dominated by Republicans who tend to convert their anti-CCP ideology to pro-Taiwan policies. Those prominent Republican politicians include Senator Marco Rubio, Senator John McCain, and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Republicans’ pro-Taiwan impression culminated when Donald Trump, the Republican then-President-elect, had a phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, the first official U.S.-Taiwan conversation since 1979. Throughout history, most prominent pro-Taiwan Republican politicians have shown a higher level of conservatism than their colleagues based on DW-NOMINATE ideology scores, including Senator Barry Goldwater, Senator Frank H. Murkowski, and Senator John Curtis, whom of which have made great contributions to tightening the relations between the U.S. and Taiwan. According to those Republicans, Taiwan is a loyal friend of the United States who deserves their strong support which includes the timely sale of defensive arms.

With Republicans’ accelerating right-leaning dashing, the anti-China sentiment has been rising and a large portion of it has been translated into pro-Taiwan actions. The Trump Administration’s hardline reprimand of CCP has starkly juxtaposed Taipei and Beijing in the current international political environment. This has enhanced the image of Taiwan as “a tiny democratic ally threatened by a totalitarian neighbor”, which has given Republicans more legitimacy to take aggressive actions to defend democracy of Taiwan by means of promoting more arms sales to the island.

However, is the asymmetric polarization the only reason behind the increasing U.S.-Taiwan arms sales? Even the polarization of Republicans seems to proceed at a faster pace, Democrats’ process of radicalization is tagging along. The boundary between liberal and left had almost vanished by the end of the 1980s, and the self-identifying radicals started to be replaced by leftists relabeled as “progressive”. The progressive movement of Democrats has been accelerated by “neoliberal globalism” and the “Cyber Left” – an amalgamation of hundreds of thousands of online organizations, blogs, Twitter and Facebook groups. A study of Brookings finds that the ratio of progressive non-incumbent House winners to total democratic candidates was as high as 41% in 2018, a huge increase compared to 26% in 2016 and 17% in 2014. There is a chance that Democrats could also show stronger support for Taiwan to help the island stand up to the presence of increasingly aggressive China, which is also consistent with their emphasis on a harmonious global community and “social responsibility”. It is true that notable Democrats such as Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Ted Kennedy or Speaker Nancy Pelosi do have been open about their appeal for Taiwan’s rightful place on the global stage and have never been shy about celebrating Taiwan’s democracy. Whereas, it is also progressive Democrats’ pro-globalization stance that makes them tend to downplay anti-Communism ideology and thus provide insufficient legislative support for Taiwan. Therefore, military support for Taiwan is still and will be dominated by the conservative Republicans who uphold anti-Communism ideology and value a strong military power to increase security and peace.

Conclusion

The history has proven the Republicans’ overall pro-Taiwan stance from the perspective of ideological similarity, strategic purposes and common values. The increasingly right-leaning Republicans’ support for Taiwan is not only confined to the legislative branch, but has permeated the executive branch. Being regarded as the most pro-Taiwan president in the US history, Donald Trump lifted U.S.-Taiwan arms sales “to the next level” by not only upgrading the quality of arms, but significantly changing the frequency and procedure of sales.

Biden’s ambition to reunite the U.S. is not likely to happen on a short notice given the highly divided American society in terms of income inequality, identity politics, race divergence and so on. The ongoing asymmetric polarization is only going to get worse before it gets better, and that would lead more conservative Republicans, instead of moderate ones, to take power in the foreseeable future. Against the backdrop of deteriorating U.S.-PRC relations, hawkish policies for China will become the mainstream among Republicans. That may not necessarily increase the arms sales to Taiwan under the Biden Administration, but the partisan divide in the current American political environment has made and will make pro-Taiwan policies one of the few agendas that can reach a bipartisan agreement. Therefore, that would neither leave sufficient scope for the Biden administration to adjust its Taiwan policy nor make its China policy too different than his predecessor despites his eager to fix the relations with the second largest economy.

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