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Decline in US Hegemony: Will this Result in Hegemonic War or not?

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One of the contemporary issues in international relations is that the current hegemon, the United States, has undergone a relative decline. It is argued that American hegemony that emerged aftermath the Second World War is undergoing a decline and with the rise of a potential challenger in China looming, one major issue concerning IR scholars is whether or not the relative decline of US hegemony will result in a hegemonic war.

Hegemonic wars occur when a rising challenger – revisionist power – isn’t content with the current international order and wants to change it so as to become a preponderant force and dictate terms of a new world order. This article assumes that although the US is in a relative decline it is still a dominant power and the rising power is content with the current status quo so no war occurs between the dominant and the rising power. In order to support the argument that a hegemonic war does not occur, this article provides explanation using several theoretical perspectives.

Structural Realism and Balance of Power

To begin with, prominent neorealist Kenneth Waltz contends that the end of the Cold War has changed the structure of international politics from bipolar to unipolar with the US being the dominant power. According to Waltz, days of US being unipolar force in world politics is numbered and slowly the world is moving towards bipolarity or multipolarity because changes in the structure of international system brings about changes in state behavior. It does not matter how much self-restraint and self-control a preponderant power is in its conduct of international relations; states are always wary and fear the dominant power and thus he maintains that balancing is universal. [1]

In order to explain why, he has resorted to the Balance of Power (theory). In most basic sense, international politics is a state of anarchy where there is no central government and states rely on themselves to protect their autonomy and perpetuate their survival. Balance of Power contends that states involve in a balancing act to check the powers of preponderant force so that no any single state has enough power to become a global hegemon. [2]

With the relative decline of US, China and America can enter into bipolar relationship much like the US and the USSR during the Cold War. Since Waltz himself posits bipolarity as the most stable of international configurations, it can be argued that act of balancing between the US and China brings the international distribution of power into an equilibrium and averts the risk of war. 

Socialization of Hegemonic Power 

Most scholars posit that hegemons use threats and rewards to get compliance from secondary states. Contrary to popular wisdom, scholars Ikenberry and Kupchan have contended that in addition to material power, hegemons also have the power of socialization to achieve compliance from secondary states. They call this the socialization process which involves ‘altering of the belief systems’ of elites.

Basically, hegemons project their vision of international order through normative principles (norms and values) and not by material incentives; elites in secondary states internalize them, and devise policies that are compatible to the hegemon’s ideal of the international order. The authors contend that the world order thus created can sustain even when hegemon undergoes a decline because the world order created is relatively inexpensive to maintain in the sense that altering of states preferences are by virtue of ideals rather than use of coercion. Thus, by virtue of socialization of hegemonic power, relative changes in hegemon’s distribution of material power (military and economy) does not put strain on the international system.

So, on viewing the world from the lens of socialization, it can be argued that the expansion of US normative principles on liberal economic norm to its former allies and enemies aftermath the second world war that led to the formation of the current liberal economic world order provides an explanation as to why in spite of US’ relative decline there is continuity for America’s liberal economic order. [3] The rising challenger China can be considered to have been socialized – it has accepted US led international norms, and participates in various International Organizations. Thus, it makes less sense for China to wage war against the hegemon whose ideals it has internalized.

Hegemonic Stability Theory

According to this theory, a hegemon creates a stable international economic order characterized by market openness but its decline results in global instability. This hegemonic effect of open trade benefits all participants, especially, weaker states that do not have any burden of public goods. In this sense, global economic stability is born out of hegemony and provides provision of collective public goods and in doing so facilitates a stable international system.

The motivation to create an economic openness lie in the interest of the hegemon – it has the largest economy and so benefits most from open markets. In addition, only hegemons have the material capability (political and military) to provide public goods and induce other states to embrace open trade. [4]

By virtue of the Hegemonic Stability Theory, the hegemon is an important element in creation and maintenance of the international system. As stated earlier, open trade benefits all participants, even the rising challengers that are accommodated in the system. In contemporary world politics, China is the fastest rising power and it is also reaping the benefits of the open economic order created by the US. By participating in the globalized economy, China has earned a comparative advantage in labor-market and its economy has been growing. On top of that China is an export-based economy and thus, it has very little incentive to jeopardize this benefit by engaging with the hegemon and thereby disrupting the order. In his article, Artur Stein has argued that decline in hegemony does not bring about a complete collapse of the trade regime as long as hegemonic power is committed to economic openness. Taking these two points in consideration, it can be argued that it is not in the interest of China to challenge US hegemony. On account, likelihood of war is averted. [5]

Robert Keohane and Institutionalist Approach

In After Hegemony, Robert Keohane uses an institutional approach to explain inter-state cooperation. He posits that states have common interest and in order to realize it requires achieving mutually beneficial agreements which is where international regimes come in. These regimes foster cooperation by making it easier to reach mutually beneficial inter-state agreements. They help overcome the problem of lack of qualitative and asymmetrical information, through institutional embeddedness reduces transaction costs, legal costs reduce incentive to cheat thereby reducing uncertainty and building confidence among states. Since hegemonic leadership is required to create regimes in the first place, even after the erosion of hegemony, they have high stakes and play important role in fostering cooperation (US role in the IMF and WTO). Because cooperation fosters absolute gain, all participants are benefitted. [6] By this approach, states see cooperation more beneficial than conflict. Thus, it can be argued from institutionalist approach that international regimes foster cooperation thereby reducing likelihood of conflict in the event of hegemonic decline.

Conclusion

The article provided four distinct perspectives with regards to declining US hegemony and potential of a hegemonic war. Using these approaches the article concludes that in spite of decline in American hegemony there will not be a significant change in the current structure of the international system mainly due to power differentials between the US and its nearest challenger China. The US is undergoing a relative decline but still, it is the largest economy boasts strongest military and has highest political leverage. In sum, prospect of a hegemonic war in contemporary world politics is only a far-fetched dream.

Works Cited

[1] Waltz, Kenneth N. “Structural Realism after the Cold War.” International Security 25, no. 1 (2000): 5–41. https://doi.org/10.1162/016228800560372.

[2] Baylis, John, Steve Smith, and Patricia Owens. The Globalization of World Politics an Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

[3] Ikenberry, G. John, and Charles A. Kupchan. “Socialization and Hegemonic Power.” International Organization 44, no. 3 (1990): 283–315. https://doi.org/10.1017/s002081830003530x

[4] Snidal, D. (1985). The limits of hegemonic stability theory. International organization, 579-614.

[5] Stein, Arthur A. “The hegemon’s dilemma: Great Britain, the United States, and the international economic order.” International organization 38, no. 2 (1984): 355-386.

[6] Keohane, R. O. (2005). After hegemony: Cooperation and discord in the world political economy. Princeton university press.

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Indictment of Trump associate threatens UAE lobbying success

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This month’s indictment of a billionaire, one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the United Arab Emirates highlights the successes and pitfalls of a high-stakes Emirati effort to influence US policy.

The indictment of businessman Thomas  J. Barrack, who maintained close ties to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed while serving as an influential advisor in 2016 to then-presidential candidate Trump and chair of Mr. Trump’s inauguration committee once he won the 2016 election, puts at risk the UAE’s relationship with the Biden administration.

It also threatens to reduce the UAE’s return on a massive investment in lobbying and public relations that made it a darling in Washington during the last four years.

A 2019 study concluded that Emirati clients hired 20 US lobbying firms to do their bidding at a cost of US$20 million, including US$600,000 in election campaign contributions — one of the largest, if not the largest expenditure by a single state on Washington lobbying and influence peddling.

The indictment further raises the question of why the Biden administration was willing to allow legal proceedings to put at risk its relationship with one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East, one that last year opened the door to recognition of Israel by Arab and Muslim-majority states.

The UAE lobbying effort sought to position the Emirates, and at its behest, Saudi Arabia under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed’s counterpart, Mohammed bin Salman, at the heart of US policy, ensure that Emirati and Saudi interests were protected, and shield the two autocrats from criticism of various of their policies and abuse of human rights.

Interestingly, UAE lobbying in the United States, in contrast to France and Austria, failed to persuade the Trump administration to embrace one of the Emirates’ core policy objectives: a US crackdown on political Islam with a focus on the Muslim Brotherhood. UAE Crown Prince Mohammed views political Islam and the Brotherhood that embraces the principle of elections as an existential threat to the survival of his regime.

In one instance cited in the indictment, Mr. Barrack’s two co-defendants, a UAE national resident in the United States, Rashid Al-Malik, and Matthew Grimes, a Barrack employee, discussed days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration the possibility of persuading the new administration to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a designated foreign terrorist organization. “This will be a huge win. If we can list them. And they deserved to be,” Mr. Al-Malik texted Mr. Grimes on 23 January 2017.

The unsuccessful push for designating the Brotherhood came three months after Mr. Barrack identified the two Prince Mohammeds in an op-ed in Fortune magazine as members of a new generation of “brilliant young leaders.” The billionaire argued that “American foreign policy must persuade these bold visionaries to lean West rather than East… By supporting their anti-terrorism platforms abroad, America enhances its anti-terrorism policies at home.”

Mr. Barrack further sought to persuade America’s new policymakers, in line with Emirati thinking, that the threat posed by political Islam emanated not only from Iran’s clerical regime and its asymmetric defence and security policies but also from the Brotherhood and Tukey’s Islamist government. He echoed Emirati promotion of Saudi Arabia after the rise of Mohammed bin Salman as the most effective bulwark against political Islam.

“It is impossible for the US to move against any hostile Islamic group anywhere in the world without Saudi support…. The confused notion that Saudi Arabia is synonymous with radical Islam is falsely based on the Western notion that ‘one size fits all,’ Mr. Barrack asserted.

The Trump administration’s refusal to exempt the Brotherhood from its embrace of Emirati policy was the likely result of differences within both the US government and the Muslim world. Analysts suggest that some in the administration feared that designating the Brotherhood would empower the more rabidly Islamophobic elements in Mr. Trump’s support base.

Administration officials also recognized that the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt constituted a minority, albeit a powerful minority, in the Muslim world that was on the warpath against the Brotherhood.

Elsewhere, Brotherhood affiliates were part of the political structure by either participating in government or constituting part of the legal opposition in countries like Kuwait, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain, Morocco, Jordan, and Indonesia.

The affiliates have at times supported US policies or worked closely with US allies like in the case of Yemen’s Al Islah that is aligned with Saudi-backed forces.

In contrast to UAE efforts to ensure that the Brotherhood is crushed at the risk of fueling Islamophobia, Nahdlatul Ulama, one of, if not the world’s largest Muslim organization which shares the Emirates’ rejection of political Islam and the Brotherhood, has opted to fight the Brotherhood’s local Indonesian affiliate politically within a democratic framework rather than by resorting to coercive tactics.

Nahdlatul Ulama prides itself on having significantly diminished the prospects of Indonesia’s Brotherhood affiliate, the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), since the 2009 presidential election. The group at the time successfully drove a wedge between then-President Susilo Yudhoyono, and the PKS, his coalition partner since the 2004 election that brought him to power. In doing so, it persuaded Mr. Yudhoyono to reject a PKS candidate as vice president in the second term of his presidency.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s manoeuvring included the publication of a book asserting that the PKS had not shed its links to militancy. The party has since failed to win even half of its peak 38 seats in parliament garnered in the 2004 election.

“Publication of ‘The Illusion of an Islamic State: The Expansion of Transnational Islamist Movements to Indonesia’ had a considerable impact on domestic policy. It primarily contributed to neutralizing one candidate’s bid for vice president in the 2009 national election campaign, who had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said militancy expert Magnus Ranstorp.

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Biden Revises US Sanctions Policy

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

In the United States, a revision of the sanctions policy is in full swing. Joe Biden’s administration strives to make sanctions instruments more effective in achieving his political goals and, at the same time, reducing political and economic costs. The coordination of restrictive measures with allies is also seen as an important task. Biden is cautiously but consistently abandoning the sanctions paradigm that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency.

The US sanctions policy under Trump was characterised by several elements. First, Washington applied them quite harshly. In all key areas (China, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, etc.), the United States used economic and financial restrictions without hesitation, and sometimes in unprecedented volumes. Of course, the Trump administration acted rationally and rigidity was not an end in itself. In a number of episodes, the American authorities acted prudently (for example, regarding sanctions on Russian sovereign debt in 2019). The Trump-led executives stifled excess Congressional enthusiasm for “draconian sanctions” against Russia and even some initiatives against China. However, the harshness of other measures sometimes shocked allies and opponents alike. These include the 6 April 2014 sanctions against a group of Russian businessmen and their assets, or bans on some Chinese telecommunications services in the United States, or sanctions blocking the International Criminal Court.

Second, Trump clearly ignored the views of US allies. The unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 forced European businesses to leave Iran, resulting in losses. Even some of the nation’s closest allies were annoyed. Another irritant was the tenacity with which Trump (with Congressional backing) threw a wrench in the wheels of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project. Despite the complicated relations between Moscow and the European Union, the latter defended the right to independently determine what was in its interests and what was not.

Third, concerns about sanctions have emerged among American business as well. Fears have grown in financial circles that the excessive use of sanctions will provoke the unnecessary politicisation of the global financial system. In the short term, a radical decline in the global role of the dollar is hardly possible. But political risks are forcing many governments to seriously consider it. Both rivals (Moscow and Beijing) and allies (Brussels) have begun to implement corresponding plans. Trade sanctions against China have affected a number of US companies in the telecommunications and high-tech sectors.

Finally, on some issues, the Trump administration has been inconsistent or simply made mistakes. For example, Trump enthusiastically criticised China for human rights violations, supporting relevant legislative initiatives. But at the same time, it almost closed its eyes to the events in Belarus in 2020. Congress was also extremely unhappy with the delay in the reaction on the “Navalny case” in Russia. As for mistakes, the past administration missed the moment for humanitarian exemptions for sanctions regimes in connection with the COVID-19 epidemic. Even cosmetic indulgences could have won points for US “soft power”. Instead, the US Treasury has published a list of pre-existing exceptions.

The preconditions for a revision of the sanctions policy arose even before Joe Biden came to power. First of all, a lot of analytical work was done by American think tanks—nongovernmental research centers. They provided a completely sober and unbiased analysis of bothха! achievements and mistakes. In addition, the US Government Accountability Office has done serious work; in 2019 it prepared two reports for Congress on the institutions of the American sanctions policy. However, Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election significantly accelerated the revision of the sanctions instruments. Both the ideological preferences of the Democrats (for example, the emphasis on human rights) and the political experience of Biden himself played a role.

The new guidelines for the US sanctions policy can be summarised as follows. First, the development of targeted sanctions and a more serious analysis of their economic costs for American business, as well as business from allied and partner countries. Second, closer coordination with allies. Here, Biden has already sent a number of encouraging signals by introducing temporary sanctions exemptions on Nord Stream 2. Although a number of Russian organisations and ships were included in the US sanctions lists, Nord Stream 2 itself and its leadership were not affected. Third, we are talking about closer attention to the subject of human rights. Biden has already reacted with sanctions both to the “Navalny case” and to the situation in Belarus. Human rights will be an irritant in relations with China. Fourth, the administration is working towards overturning Trump’s most controversial decisions. The 2020 decrees on Chinese telecoms were cancelled, the decree on sanctions against the International Criminal Court was cancelled, the decree on Chinese military-industrial companies was modified; negotiations are also underway with Iran.

The US Treasury, one of the key US sanctions agencies, will also undergo personnel updates. Elisabeth Rosenberg, a prominent sanctions expert who previously worked at the Center for a New American Security, may take the post of Assistant Treasury Secretary. She will oversee the subject of sanctions. Thus, the principle of “revolving doors”, which is familiar to Americans, is being implemented, when the civil service is replenished with personnel from the expert community and business, and then “returns” them back.

At the same time, the revision of the sanctions policy by the new administration cannot be called a revolution. The institutional arrangement will remain unchanged. It is a combination of the functions of various departments—the Treasury, the Department of Trade, the Department of Justice, the State Department, etc. The experience of their interagency coordination has accumulated over the years. The system worked flawlessly both under Trump and under his predecessors. Rather, it will be about changing the political directives.

For Russia, the revision is unlikely to bring radical changes. A withdrawal from the carpet bombing of Russian business, such as the incident on 6 April 2018 hint that good news can be considered a possibility. However, the legal mechanisms of sanctions against Russia will continue to operate. The emphasis on human rights will lead to an increase in sanctions against government structures. Against this background, regular political crises are possible in relations between the two countries.

From our partner RIAC

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Sea Breeze 2021: U.S. is worryingly heading closer to conflict with Russia in the Black Sea

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On July 10th, the 2021 iteration of the joint military exercise, Sea Breeze, concluded in the Black Sea. This exercise, which began on June 28th was co-hosted by the Ukrainian Navy and the United States Navy’s Sixth Fleet. According to the U.S. Navy, the annual Exercise Sea Breeze consists of joint naval, land, and air trainings and operations centered around building increased shared capabilities in the Black Sea.

This year’s Sea Breeze included participation from 32 countries, including NATO members and other countries that border the Black Sea, making it the largest Sea Breeze exercise since its inception in 1997. All other countries bordering the Black Sea were included in participating in the joint drills, except Russia.

Russia’s exclusion from these exercises is not unsurprising, due to its current tensions with Ukraine and its historical relationship with NATO. However, it signals to Moscow and the rest of the world that the NATO views Russia as an opponent in a future conflict. At the opening ceremony of Sea Breeze 2021 in Odessa, it was made clear that the intention of the exercise was to prepare for future conflict in the region when the Defense Minister of Ukraine, reported that the drills “contain a powerful message – support of stability and peace in our region.”

These exercises and provocations do anything but bring peace and stability to the region. In fact, they draw the United States and NATO dangerously close to the brink of conflict with Russia.

Even though Sea Breeze 2021 has only recently concluded, it has already had a marked impact on tensions between NATO countries and Moscow. U.S. Navy Commander Daniel Marzluff recently explained that the Sea Breeze drills in the Black Sea are essential deterrents to Russian assertions in region. However, these drills have consisted of increasingly provocative maneuvers that ultimately provoke conflict in the region.

These drills have done anything but act as a deterrent for conflict in the Black Sea. In response to the Sea Breeze drills, Russia conducted its own drills in the Black Sea, including the simulation of firing advanced missile systems against enemy aircraft. As the Black Sea is of utmost importance to Russia’s trade and military stature, it follows that Russia would signal its displacement if it perceives its claims are being threatened.   

Sea Breeze followed another rise in tensions in the Black Sea, when just a week prior to the beginning of the exercise, a clash occurred between Russia and Britain. In response to the British destroyer ship, the HMS Defender, patrolling inside Crimean territorial waters, Russia claimed it fired warning shots and ordered two bombers to drop bombs in the path of the ship. When asked about the HMS Defender, Russian President Vladimir Putin described the ship’s actions as a “provocation” that was a “blatant violation” of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Putin also went on to claim that Moscow believes U.S. reconnaissance aircraft were a part of the operation as well. Despite this, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded with a denial of any wrongdoing.

Russia’s actions to provocations by the United States-led Sea Breeze and interaction with the HMS Defender in the Black Sea signal its resolve to retaliate if it feels as its sovereignty and its territorial claim on Crimea is being impeded on. Despite Russia signaling its commitment to defending its territorial claims in the Black Sea, the United States still willingly took actions during Sea Breeze that would bring the United States closer to a clash with Russia.  

Provoking conflict in the Black Sea does not align with the national security interests of the United States. In fact, it only puts the United States in the position to be involved in a costly clash that only would harm its diplomatic relationships.  

As Russia has signaled its commitment to its resolve and scope of its military response in a possible conflict, any potential conflict in the Black Sea would be costly for the United States. Over the past few years, Russia has increased the size and capabilities of its fleet in the Black Sea. Two of these improvements would especially pose a challenging threat to the U.S. and NATO – Russia’s drastically improved anti-access/area-denial capabilities and its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile. This would mean any conflict in the Black Sea would not be a quick and decisive victory for U.S. and NATO forces, and would instead likely become costly and extensive.  

A conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only be costly for the U.S. and its allies in the region, but could irreparably damage its fragile, but strategically valuable relationship with Russia. If the United States continues to escalate tensions in the Black Sea, it risks closing the limited window for bilateral cooperation with Russia that was opened through increased willingness to collaborate on areas of common interests, as evidenced by the recent summit that took place in Geneva. After a period of the highest levels of tension between the U.S. and Russia since the Cold War, this progress made towards improving bilateral relations must not be taken for granted. Even if the U.S. and NATO’s maneuvers in the Black Sea do not ultimately materialize into a full-scale conflict with Russia, they will most likely damage not just recent diplomatic momentum, but future opportunities for a relationship between the two powers.

In such a critical time for the relationship between the United States and Russia, it is counterproductive for the United States to take actions that it can predict will drive Russia even further away. Entering into a conflict with Russia in the Black Sea would not only engage the U.S. in a costly conflict but would damage its security and diplomatic interests.  

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