Nightcap

  1. The Philadelphian System: Sovereignty, Arms Control, and Balance of Power in the American States-Union, Circa 1787-1861” (pdf) Daniel Deudney, International Organization

Why Pakistan can not afford further deterioration of ties with the West

Introduction

While in recent days a lot of attention has been focused upon the political events in Pakistan (the vote of no confidence on April 3, 2022, will decide Pakistan PM Imran Khan’s fate), what was interesting to see was an address by the Pakistan Army Chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, at a two-day Islamabad Security Dialogue on April 2, 2022.

Imran Khan has accused the US for plotting his downfall, pointing to a ‘threat letter’ and citing his independent foreign policy (especially support for Russia) as the main reason for the same. During his address to the nation on Thursday, March 31, 2022, Khan said that the US was keen to dislodge him (though later on he said that mentioning the US specifically was a slip of tongue), and also said that the opposition was working against the national interest at the behest of certain forces abroad.

While Pakistan had summoned a US envoy to lodge a complaint against interference by Washington in its domestic affairs, the US State Department has vehemently denied this accusation. 

It would be pertinent to point out that while Khan’s anti-West tirade has drawn criticism from the opposition parties, the military, too, has not been particularly happy with his remarks. Significantly, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek E Insaaf led coalition had lost the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) on March 30, 2022, and was left with the support of 164 legislators in the national assembly, while the magic number is 172.

Last month, Khan had lashed out at Islamabad-based Western envoys (including those of EU member countries) after 22 of them had written to the Pakistan Prime Minister seeking Pakistan’s support on the Ukraine issue (Pakistan had abstained from voting in favor of a UNGA resolution criticizing the Russian invasion of Ukraine). Khan had said that Pakistan is nobody’s slave.

During his address at the Islamabad Security Dialogue — which was held a day before the vote of confidence in Pakistan — Bajwa said:

We share a long history of excellent and strategic relationship with the US, which remains our largest export market. We seek to continue our ties with both countries [China and the US].

While it is true that ties between the US and Pakistan have deteriorated significantly (US President Joe Biden has not called Imran Khan after taking over), it would be pertinent to point out that there are lobbies in both Washington and Islamabad which are in favour of mending ties and at least having a working relationship. Both the US and Pakistan worked closely on the issue of Afghanistan, and given Islamabad’s economic challenges it needs to have a working relationship with the US (especially with regard to assistance from international organisations like the IMF) and the European Union (EU), and cannot look only to Beijing. In recent months, senior officials within the PTI government have repeatedly batted for improving Pakistan-US economic ties.

Interestingly with regard to the Ukraine crisis, Bajwa criticised Russia’s invasion, while batting for immediate cessation of hostilities. Said Bajwa:

despite legitimate security concerns of Russia, its aggression against a smaller country cannot be condoned.

Bajwa’s address and the criticism of Imran Khan’s anti-West/US pitch by opposition parties in Pakistan clearly points to the fact that, while in recent years due to the changing world order and the geopolitical architecture of South Asia, Islamabad may have moved closer to China and to an extent Russia, there is a realisation that Pakistan cannot further damage its relations with the West, and needs to strike a genuine balance between China/Russia and the West.

The US-France-Germany triangle and the Ukraine crisis

Introduction

After French President Emmanuel Macron’s visits to Ukraine and Russia, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz embarked on visits to Ukraine and Russia as well. Scholz had visited the US last week and discussed the Ukraine issue with Biden.

The timing of Scholz’s visits to Ukraine and Russia were important, given that the Biden administration has said that Russia could attack Ukraine at any point in time (significantly, only last week, Putin had assured Macron that Russia had no plans of escalating conflict, and would not like to escalate tensions). In a media interaction on Monday, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby had said:

This is a military that, that continues to grow stronger, continues to grow more ready. They’re exercising, so we believe that he has a lot of capabilities and options available to him should he want to use military force.

The US has pulled out its diplomatic staff from Ukraine, while EU and NATO member states, including Germany, have urged their citizens to leave Ukraine. 

Economic repercussions

The US and other members of the G7 have issued a stern warning to Russia, saying that it would face strong economic repercussions if Moscow invades Ukraine. During his conversation with Vladimir Putin, on February 12, 2022, Biden had conveyed that any aggression by Russia would result in strong measures, and G7 Finance Ministers also reiterated the same in a statement on Monday, February 14, 2022.

It would be important to point out that apprehensions with regard to a Russian invasion of Ukraine have also impacted global markets and oil prices. European indexes, including the UK’s FTSE 100, Germany’s Dax, and France’s CAC 40, dropped significantly on Monday, February 14, 2022, along with US and Indian markets. Apart from this, crude prices went up to a seven-year high, crossing $95 a barrel.

Differences between the US and France and Germany

One of the reasons cited for Russia’s aggressive stance is US support for Ukraine’s membership in NATO. France and Germany have, however, differed with the US on this issue. In 2019, then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a constitutional amendment which made a commitment towards making Ukraine a member of both the EU and NATO.

During his visit to Ukraine, Chancellor Scholz said that membership is not such an important issue, and that it was “strange that Russia makes this the subject of major political problems.”

The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, also said that for Ukraine, “NATO membership is not the absolute goal.”

It would be pertinent to point out that Ukraine’s Ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko, in a media interview, had made remarks indicating that Ukraine may consider giving up its stand of joining NATO, in order to avoid war, but later denied the same.

Before embarking upon his visits to Ukraine and Russia, Scholz had warned that Germany would be compelled to impose sanctions, and that the Nord Stream 2 Project, which runs from Western Siberia to Germany, would be shelved (Russia accounts for 40% of Germany’s energy supplies). During Scholz’s US visit, Biden had also said that if tensions rise then the $11 billion project owned by Gazprom would not go ahead. Said Biden:

The notion that Nord Stream 2 is going to go forward with an invasion by the Russians — that’s not going to happen.

The role of both France and Germany has been important; while on the one hand they have kept the channels of communication with Putin open, and conveyed the reservations of the US and its allies, on the other their stand vis-à-vis Ukraine membership in NATO is different. 

Biden’s focus on working with allies has been beneficial, but at the same time the reality is that there are differences between the approach of the EU and the US vis-à-vis the Ukraine issue. EU countries, especially Germany, can not overlook their economic interests and the logic of geography. It is not just France and Germany, but many other allies which would be concerned over escalation of conflict and the likely economic consequences – specifically the rise in oil prices.

The Russian-American-Chinese Triangle: A Changing Global Landscape

Introduction

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on February 4, 2022 (this was the 38th meeting between both of them after 2013). Putin and Xi met hours before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Putin was in China to attend the Olympics and his presence was important in symbolism given that a number of countries – including the US, the UK, Australia, and India announced a diplomatic boycott of the games.

Both sides forcefully pitched for further enhancing their bilateral relationship and referred to the need for a ‘no limits partnership.’ Putin and Xi are also supposed to have agreed on the need for finding common ground in areas like artificial intelligence, technology, and climate change. A statement issued by the Kremlin after the meeting between Xi and Putin said that Beijing was opposed to the US aim of expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe (both Xi and Putin argued that NATO was promoting a ‘cold war’ ideology). During the meeting, Putin also made it clear that Russia endorsed China’s stand on Taiwan and opposed Taiwanese independence in any form. The Russian President was critical of the US for creating blocs in the Indo Pacific. Both sides expressed concern with regard to the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) security partnership.

The joint statement made two interesting points; first, that the China-Russia relationship is ‘superior to political and military alliances of the cold war era’ and second, that both Moscow and Beijing were firmly committed to multilateralism. 

US-Russia-China triangle 

The steady deterioration between the US and both Russia and China have resulted in Moscow-Beijing relations further strengthening in recent years.

A number of US strategic analysts have argued that Washington needs to work with Moscow and find common ground on certain global issues, and to ensure that Moscow is not compelled to move closer to Beijing. 

There has been high level engagement between both sides in recent months, and they have found some common ground on the Iran nuclear issue/JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). After his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said that Iran nuclear deal was an example of how Washington and Moscow could work together. The threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine have ensured that ties between US and Russia remain strained in spite of high level interactions between both sides.

Russia-China ties and the impact of US sanctions

A day before the meeting between Xi and Putin, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Chinese counterpart had met and are supposed to have discussed a number of issues, including Ukraine and Afghanistan. In response to the meeting, officials in the Biden administration had stated that a close economic relationship with China would not be enough for Russia to face the impact of US sanctions. Ned Price, Spokesperson of the US State Department, also warned Chinese companies in case attempts were made to circumvent US sanctions:

We have an array of tools that we can deploy If we see foreign companies, including those in China, doing their best to backfill U.S. export control actions, to evade them, to get around them.

Russia-China economic relations 

There has been a growing thrust in both Moscow and Beijing on strengthening economic relations. After the meeting between Xi and Putin a number of trade and energy related deals were signed. Russia’s Rosneft also signed a 10-year deal with China’s state-owned CNPC to continue supplying 200,000 b/d of crude to China via Kazakhstan (shipments will flow from Kazakhstan’s Atasu-Alashankou pipeline to refineries in northwest China).

Will China support Ukraine at the cost of economic ties with the EU?

While it is true that in the current global world order, Russia-China relations are likely to further strengthen, there is also a belief that China may extend support to Russia on the Ukraine issue – only to a certain point — because Beijing shares close economic links with Europe and the US. While trade between China and the EU and US account for a significant percentage of China’s total trade, trade with Russia accounts for only 2% of China’s total trade. At a time when China’s growth rate is slowing down considerably due to a number of reasons – such as some of Xi Jinping’s economic policies seeking to prevent ‘disorderly expansion of capital,’ a serious real estate crisis, and a drop in consumer spending – China would not like its economic links with the EU to be adversely affected. Apart from this, as mentioned earlier, the US has warned China that it will be affected by the economic and security challenges arising out of any further Russian aggression vis-à-vis Ukraine.

In conclusion, while there is no doubt that Russia-China bilateral ties, which are already robust, are likely to expand in a number of areas. And in a changing global world order there is likely to be growing convergence on important geopolitical issues.  It is important, however, to bear in mind that interests are not always identical and China’s economic interests – especially its economic links with the EU – are important in this context. 

Biden’s newest foreign policy challenge: Iranian and Israeli hardliners

Introduction

After the triumph of Ebrahim Raisi in the June 2021 Iranian Presidential election, the US and other countries, especially the E3 (the UK, Germany, and France), which are party to the JCPOA/Iran Nuclear deal would have paid close attention to his statements, which had a clear anti-West slant. Raisi has made it unequivocally clear that while he is not opposed to the deal per se, he will not accept any diktats from the West with regard to Iran’s nuclear program or its foreign policy in the Middle East.

In addition to Raisi’s more stridently anti-US stance, at least in public, what is likely to make negotiations between Iran and the US tougher is the recent attack on an oil tanker, off Oman, operated by Zodiac Maritime, a London based company owned by an Israeli shipping magnate, Eyal Ofer. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid did not take long blame Iran for the attack, referring to this as an example of ‘Iranian terrorism’ (current Israeli PM Naftali Bennett’s policy vis-à-vis Iran is no different from that of his predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu). After Raisi’s win in June, Israel had reiterated its opposition to negotiating with Iran, and the Israeli PM termed the election of hardliner Raisi as a ‘wake up call’ for the rest of the world. Two crew members — a Romanian and a Briton, were killed in the attack.

While the Vienna negotiations between Iran and other signatories to JCPOA (the US is participating indirectly) have made significant progress, Raisi could ask for them to start afresh, in which case the US has said that it may be compelled to take strong economic measures, such as imposing sanctions on companies facilitating China’s oil imports from Iran (ever since the Biden administration has taken over there has been a jump in China’s oil purchases from Iran).

It would be pertinent to point out that pressure from pro-Israel lobbies in the US, as well as apprehensions of Israelis themselves with regard to the JCPOA, were cited as one of the reasons for the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy vis-à-vis Iran, as well as the Biden administration’s inability to clinch an agreement with the Hassan Rouhani administration. While at one stage the Biden administration seemed to be willing to get on board the JCPOA unconditionally, it is not just domestic pressures, but also the fervent opposition of Israel to the JCPOA which has acted as a major impediment. While GCC countries Saudi Arabia and UAE were fervently opposed to the JCPOA and also influenced the Trump administration’s aggressive Iran policy, in recent months they have been working towards improving ties with Iran, and have softened their stance.

Washington should refrain from taking any harsh economic steps

At a time when the Iranian economy is in doldrums (the currency has depreciated and inflation has risen as a result of the imposition of sanctions and of Covid-19), Washington would not want to take any steps which result in further exacerbating the anti-US feeling in Iran. While commenting on the attack on the Israeli managed tanker, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:

We are working with our partners to consider our next steps and consulting with governments inside the region and beyond on an appropriate response, which will be forthcoming

There is no doubt that the maximum pressure policy of the Trump administration of imposing harsh sanctions on Iran did not really benefit the US, and Joe Biden during the presidential campaign had been critical of the same. Reduction of tensions with Iran is also important given the current situation in Afghanistan, and Tehran’s importance given its clout vis-à-vis the Taliban.

US allies and their role

US allies themselves are looking forward to the revival of the JCPOA, so that they can revive economic relations with Iran. This includes the E3 (Germany, the UK, and France) and India. As mentioned earlier, GCC countries like Saudi Arabia and UAE, which in recent years have had strained ties with Iran, are seeking to re-work their relations with Tehran as a result of the changing geopolitical environment in the Middle East.

The role of US allies who have a good relationship with both Israel and Iran is important in calming down tempers, and ensuring that negotiations for revival of JCPOA are not stalled.

Conclusion

It is important for Biden to draw lessons from Trump’s aggressive Iran policy. Biden should not allow Israel or any other country to dictate its policy vis-à-vis Iran, as this will not only have an impact on bilateral relations but have broader geopolitical ramifications. Any harsh economic measures vis-à-vis Iran will push Tehran closer to China, while a pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Tehran may open the space for back channel negotiations.

Raisi on his part needs to be flexible and realize that the most significant challenge for Tehran is the current state of its economy. Removal of US sanctions will benefit the Iranian economy in numerous ways but for this he will need to be pragmatic and not play to any gallery.

China and the Taliban

Introduction

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with a nine-member delegation of the Taliban on July 28, 2021. The delegation was led by Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the Taliban’s political office in Doha. In July 2021, the Taliban had visited Russia and the Kremlin envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, had met with the delegation. Kabulov said that the Taliban had assured him that the territory of Afghanistan will not be used against Russia or any of its allies in Central Asia.

The meeting between Yi and the Taliban delegation is the first high level public meeting after the Taliban has managed to gain control over a significant portion of Afghanistan’s territory, including Badakshan province, which shares a border with China’s western Xinjiang region (given the changing geopolitical dynamics, Beijing had of course opened its back channels earlier with the Taliban). It would be pertinent to point out that China has previously hosted Taliban delegations in 2015 (Urumqi, Xinjiang) and in 2019 (Beijing).

Significance of meeting

Wang Yi’s meeting with the Taliban delegation is significant for more than one reason; it comes days after Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had undertaken a two-day visit to China (July 23-July 24, 2021) for a strategic dialogue. During this meeting, both sides had agreed to work jointly to address the security challenges posed by the situation in Afghanistan. Apart from supporting peace talks and reconciliation, China had also made it clear that action needed to be taken against terror groups, which pose a security threat to Beijing, and both Islamabad and Beijing need to work jointly in this direction. In a press release posted on the website of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi said:

We will work together to combat terrorism and push all major forces in Afghanistan to draw a clear line against terrorism, firmly combat the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and other terrorist forces, and resolutely stop Afghanistan from becoming a hotbed of terrorism.

China believes that the recent terror attack in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK province), which had resulted in the killing of 13 individuals (including 9 Chinese nationals) in a bus explosion (engineers and staff working on the Dasu Project were in the bus), was a possible handiwork of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). Beijing also sent a delegation to Pakistan to be part of an enquiry being conducted by Islamabad into the attack.

Finally, the meeting between Wang Yi and the Taliban delegation took place at a time when US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken was in India, and during his discussions with the Indian side Afghanistan was high on the agenda. Blinken had expressed concern about the rise in atrocities committed by the Taliban, and also said that the Taliban could not gain legitimacy by such steps and ultimately:

There’s only one path. And that’s at the negotiating table to resolve the conflicts peacefully, and to have an Afghanistan emerge that is governed in a genuinely inclusive way, and that is representative of all its people.

Beijing’s recognition of Taliban’s importance

At the same time, Wang Yi was unequivocal in flagging the threat to China from ETIM, and asked the Taliban to ‘completely sever ties’ with the group. The Taliban, on its part, assured Wang Yi that Taliban will not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against China. Wang Yi’s meeting send outs a strong message that Beijing clearly recognizes the role of the Taliban in resolving the current situation. The Taliban had also assured China earlier that it would ensure the safety of Chinese investments. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen had, in a media interview in July 2021, stated:

China is a friendly country and we welcome it for reconstruction and developing Afghanistan…if [the Chinese] have investments, of course we will ensure their safety.

Difference between China-Russia and the US

The US approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan has been different from that of Beijing. While flagging its concerns, Beijing, realizing the ground realities, has sent out a clear message that it is willing to do business with the Taliban; the statements of Blinken, on the other hand, indicate US hesitancy vis-à-vis the Taliban. What is extremely interesting, however, are Blinken’s remarks during his visit to India stating that China’s involvement in Afghanistan could be positive. Given the fact that numerous commentators have been arguing that China and the US need to find common ground and that a zero-sum approach will not benefit anyone, this is a very interesting remark and should be welcomed since all stakeholders will need to work jointly in order to find a solution.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the situation in Afghanistan is perpetually evolving and requires all stakeholders in the region and outside to adopt a nuanced approach. The priority in the short run is to navigate the turbulence. In the midst of strained ties between Washington and Beijing, the US Secretary of State’s remarks regarding Beijing’s role in Afghanistan need to be welcomed.

What the rise of Raisi means for regional security and nuclear bargains

Introduction 

The triumph of hardliner Ebrahim Raisi in the recently-held Iranian Presidential election is likely to pose a challenge with regard to the renewal of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA/Iran Nuclear Agreement (in 2019, US had imposed sanctions on him for human rights violations). Raisi, who has been serving as Iran’s Chief Justice since March 2019, will take over as President in August 2021 and will be replacing Hassan Rouhani, a moderate.

While he has not opposed the JCPOA in principle, Raisi is likely to be a tougher negotiator than his predecessor. This was evident from his first news conference, where he said that Iran will not kowtow to the West by limiting its missile capabilities or addressing concerns with regard to Iran’s role in the region’s security. In the news conference, he also stated that he will not be meeting US President Joe Biden.

The US has been guarded in its response to the election result. Commenting on the verdict and its likely impact on the Iran nuclear deal, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated: 

The ultimate decision for whether or not to go back into the deal lies with Iran’s supreme leader, and he was the same person before this election as he is after the election

Iran-China relations in recent years  

Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Raisi on his triumph, describing Iran and China as ‘comprehensive strategic partners.’ The Chinese President said that he was willing to work with Iran on a host of issues. Only last year, Iran and China had signed a 25-year strategic comprehensive agreement which sought to give a strong boost not just to economic ties between Tehran and Beijing, but security ties as well. One of the reasons cited for Tehran moving closer to Beijing has been the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran-P5+1 agreement/JCPOA in 2018 and its lack of flexibility. From Beijing’s point of view, the deal was important not just for fulfilling its oil needs (according to the agreement, China would receive Iranian oil at a cheaper price). 

While there is no doubt that the Biden administration has made attempts to revive the Iran nuclear deal in recent months and the Vienna negotiations in which US has been indirectly involved, a solution does not seem in sight in the short run given that Raisi will replace Rouhani only in August. Also, if both sides stick to their stated position things are likely to get tougher. Interestingly, a senior Iranian official, presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi, indicated that the US had agreed to move over one thousand Trump-era sanctions, including those on insurance, oil, and shipping. 

The JCPOA has taken a break at the Vienna talks for some days and, commenting on this, Mikhail Ulyanov, permanent representative to Russia, said:

The task is to make full use of this break to ensure that all participants get final political instructions on the remaining controversial issues

Obstacles  

While many Democrats and strategic analysts had been arguing that the Biden administration needed to show greater urgency and move away from stated positions with regard to a return to the JCPOA, opposition from not just Republicans but hawks within his party made any such agreement impossible.  

Apart from domestic opposition, Biden will also need to deal with pressure from Israel. While it is true that GCC countries, like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, earlier opposed to the deal have been seeking to improve ties with Iran and have also softened their opposition to the deal, Israel has been opposed to JCPOA. The recently-elected Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s stand vis-à-vis JCPOA is the same as Benjamin Netanyahu’s. After the Iranian election, the Israeli PM said: 

Raisi’s election is, I would say, the last chance for world powers to wake up before returning to the nuclear agreement, and understand who they are doing business with

Role of China and Russia  

It would be pertinent to point out that, days before the election, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had stated that the US should remove sanctions vis-à-vis Iran. Given the fact that Raisi is anti-West, it is likely that China and Russia could play an important role in the revival of JCPOA.  

While there is merit in the Biden administration’s approach of removing sanctions against Iran in a stage-wise manner, since this may be politically more feasible, Washington needs to think innovatively and bear in mind that a rigid approach vis-à-vis Tehran will only make anti-Western sentiment in Iran more pronounced, and leave it with no choice but to move closer to China. GCC countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which have been working towards resolving tensions with Iran, could also play an important role in talks between the Biden administration and a dispensation headed by Raisi.

In conclusion, the Biden Administration clearly has its task cut out. While negotiating with Raisi may not be easy, the fact that he has support of the supreme leader could be favourable, and the US could also use some of its allies to engage with the new administration.

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 8 of 11)

A Different Way to Process Refugees

The current policy for would-be refugees consists in inviting them to apply inside or very near the country followed by catch-and-release with an honor-based request to appear for final legal disposition, at a distant and undefined date, or never. It’s as if designed for failure. It’s not really part of an immigration policy because it predictably manufactures illegal immigrants.

The policy ignores the obvious fact that would-be illegal immigrants and their carriers and facilitators are continuously alert to American immigration related events and policies. This is difficult for many Americans to believe because they are habitually uninterested in and indifferent to happenings beyond our borders but there are whole subcultures nearby that are vitally concerned about what goes on in the US. They are well equipped to stay informed thanks to the internet and to cellphones. Every anodyne comment on immigration by a high level American politician or public servant is immediately interpreted – and over-interpreted – as the forerunner of a policy change (as we saw in the first three months of the Biden administration with respect to child refugees). In brief, immigration controls begins much before anyone reaches the border. Even loose words often appear as de facto policies. They may signal that doors into the US will be more or less open, or at least ajar.

The current official policy combined with its soft application must unavoidably act as a powerful attractant for very poor people living under conditions of chronic insecurity and within traveling distance of the southern US border. Look at it from the standpoint of a parent of a 14-year-old, say a Honduran: Bad schools leading to unemployment or to very poorly paid employment; lives lived in constant fear of gangs; no expectation of any sort of happy future.

You are told by people whose knowledge you trust the nearly incredible news that if you can manage to move your child to the US-Mexico border, there is a better than even chance that he will end up inside the US. There, he will be allowed to attend school, (no questions asked) and he will be given at no cost better health care than he has ever had in his life or, that he has any right to expect in Honduras. As soon as he is eighteen or, likely sixteen (no one really checks), he will be able to earn more in two hours than skilled adult men earn back home in one day. You are aware that the endeavor is both dangerous and a little complicated. You probably underestimate both danger and complexity because your main sources though well informed have no interest in emphasizing them. (I wonder about charitable organizations with no financial interest in the process. I don’t know if they publish warnings nor how frequently.)

The true news is that your son or even you if traveling with him, may apply for refugee status calmly at many designated points on the border with little fear of anything. Failing this, they say, you will be able simply to surrender to any member of the Border Patrol and be taken care of. I can’t see how such information can help but act like a powerful advertisement enticing you to begin moving north. Finally, and, repeating myself, the fact that most of those who say that they are seeking refuge status, when caught, or surrendered, are shortly released inside the US, probably sounds too good to be true. But, even the very poor have cellphones and the whole happy truth gets around quickly.

Under the current system, the authorities are forced to practice catch- and-release with would-be refugees who have little chance of being formally accepted in the end. That is because there is a huge backlog, a backlog of several years, in finally disposing of refugee applications. This is difficult to understand in light of the seeming broad consensus that only a small percentage of those who apply have a valid case that would eventually gain them official refugee status if their case were examined properly. I am also told that laws pertaining to refugee or asylum status are not especially difficult or complicated. If that is correct, the federal government should be able to recall hundreds of retired judges, and to draft many attorneys to act as pro tem judges to adjudicate thousands of cases within a short time. One the backlog is removed in this manner, the original small contingent of professional judges could finalize positive decisions.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 8 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 7 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Biden’s Summit on Climate and Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative

Introduction 

US President Joe Biden hosted a Summit on Climate (April 22-23, 2021) which was attended by 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping. Ever since taking over as President, Biden has sent out a strong message that the US would take a leadership role as far as climate issues are concerned. During his address at the Summit, the US President also dubbed this decade as decisive. Said Biden: 

Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade – this is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis. 

Under the Trump Administration, the US had withdrawn from the Paris Agreement, while one of Biden’s first steps was getting the US to re-join the Paris Agreement, and he has also made a commitment of $1.2 billion to a Green Climate Fund.  Another important component of Biden’s climate change agenda includes an infrastructural package, which seeks to invest in clean energy transition. The Biden Administration has also been laying emphasis on creating clean energy jobs, and greater investment in Research and Development (R and D) related to clean energy. 

US-China scope for cooperation? 

While ties between US and China have witnessed a serious deterioration in recent weeks, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the Climate Change Summit. Days before the Climate Summit, Xi, while addressing the Boao Forum at Hainan, was critical of the US for promoting a cold war mentality, but did clearly leave the door open for cooperation with the US in dealing with common challenges posed by climate change.

In spite of the downward spiral in bilateral relations, Biden and members of his administration have also repeatedly stated that there is scope for the US and China to work together.

Biden’s Climate Change envoy, John Kerry, had visited China earlier this month, and during the course of his trip exchanged notes with China’s special envoy for climate change, Xie Zhenhua. A joint statement released by both sides stated

The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis, which must be addressed with the seriousness and urgency that it demands,

An invitation to Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend the Summit was extended during Kerry’s visit, though China did not give any confirmation (Xi gave his confirmation to attend the Summit one day before).

Agenda of the Summit

During the summit, the US President made a commitment that US would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by around 50% below its 2005 emissions levels, by 2030. (Former US President Barack Obama had made a commitment to reducing emissions around 26-28% by 2025.) Biden’s announcement has been hailed by some, and being cited as a reiteration of the point that Biden wants to show the way on climate change. Biden’s announcement may be opposed by certain quarters within the US who feel that the US should not be compelled to reduce emissions drastically.

Before the Summit, China had made it clear that it would not toe the US line. During John Kerry’s China visit the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister, Le Yusheng, said:  

Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.

While addressing the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated a commitment he had made last year while addressing the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA): that China would achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, and to peak carbon emissions by 2030. He reiterated the need for global cooperation. 

How Biden and Xi linked their commitment to environment with their economic visions 

What was interesting was that both Biden and Xi Jinping also linked the climate goals to their economic goals. Xi Jinping spoke about a focus on a ‘green’ Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Interestingly, the mega connectivity project, often dubbed as China’s ‘Marshall Plan,’ has often been criticised not just for its lack of transparency, but also for the fact that it is not environmentally friendly (in fact many observers have argued that Biden’s infrastructural plan is a counter to China’s BRI).

Biden has repeatedly spoken about creating clean jobs and infrastructure and repeated the same during his address. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, while Washington-Beijing ties are likely to face numerous strains, climate change seems to be one area where there is space for cooperation between the two. While the US under Biden is likely to follow a significantly different approach from that under Trump, China is unlikely to budge from its commitments. What would be interesting to see is whether Beijing actually addresses criticisms of the BRI not being environmentally friendly. While China and the US may find some common ground on climate change, it is likely that the Biden administration, given its focus on the environment, may come down more harshly on the BRI and may come up with an alternative.

Elective Affinities in Institutional Design, 1951

[Note: this is a piece by Michalis Trepas, who you might recognize from the now-defunct NOL experiment “Be Our Guest.” Michalis is a newly-minted Notewriter, and this is the first of many more such pieces to come. -BC]

The Treasury and the Federal Reserve System have reached full accord with respect to debt-management and monetary policies to be pursued in furthering their common purpose to assure the successful financing of the Government’s requirements and, at the same time, to minimize monetization of the public debt.

– Joint announcement by the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, and of the Federal Open Market Committee, of the Federal Reserve System, issued for release on Mar. 4, 1951

The Allied High Commission appreciates that these responsibilities [for the central bank] could not, without serious inconvenience, be given up so long as no legislation has been enacted establishing a competent Federal authority to assume them.

– Letter from the Allied High Commission to Chancellor Adenauer, Dated Mar. 6, 1951


A Financial Fable by Carl Barks, a short story starring Donald Duck and his duck-relatives, was published in Mar. 1951. It featured concepts like supply/ demand, money shocks, inflation and the ethics of productive labor, from a rather neoclassical perspective. Read today, it seems out of synch with the postwar paradigm of a subordinated monetary policy to the activist state and, more generally, with what came to be known as the Golden Age. As you have already probably noticed, this March also marks the 70th anniversary of two more instances against the currents of the time. It was back then that two main traditions of central bank independence – based on political consensus and judicial (“Chevron”) deference in the case of US, based on written law and judicial review in the case of Eurozone (read: Germany) – were (re)rooted. In the following lines, I offer an outline focused on institutional interplay, instead of then usual dramatis personae

The first instance is the well-known Treasury – FED Accord. Its importance warrants a mention in nearly every institutional discussion of modern central bank independence. The FED implemented an interest rates peg – kind of capping the yield curve – in 1942, to accommodate public debt management during World War II. The details were complicated, but we can still think of it as a convenient arrangement for the Executive. The policy continued into the early 50s, with the inflationary backdrop of the Korean War leading to tensions between a demanding Executive and an increasingly resistant central bank. Shortly after the dispute became more pronounced, reaching the media, the two institutions achieved a compromise. The austere paragraph cited above ended the interest rates peg and prompted a shift of thinking within – and without – the central bank, on monetary policy and its independence of fiscal needs.

The second one is definitely more obscure, and as such deserves a little more detail. The Bank deutscher Länder (BdL) was established in 1948, in the Allied territory of occupied Germany. It integrated central banking institutions, old and new, in a decentralized fashion á la US FED. Its creation underpinned the – generally successful – double reform of that year (a currency conversion with a simultaneous abolition of price controls), which reignited free market forces (and also initiated the de facto separation of the country). The Allied Banking Commission (ABC) supervised the BdL and retained the sole right to issue direct instructions, a choice more practical than doctrinal or ideological. As the ABC gradually allowed a greater leeway to the central bank, while fending off even indirect German political interventions, the resulting institutional setting provided for a relatively independent BdL. 

In late 1950, the Occupational Authority wanted out and an orderly transfer of powers required legislation from the Federal Government. Things deadlocked around the draft of the central bank law, the degrees of centralization and independence being the thorniest issues. The letter cited above, arriving after a few months of inertia, was the catalyst for action. The renewed negotiations concluded with the “Interim Law” of 10 Aug. 1951. The reformed BdL was made independent of instructions from the Federal Government, while at the same time assuming an obligation to support government’s general economic policy – without prejudice to its monetary duties. 

This institutional arrangement was akin to what the BdL itself had pushed for, a de jure formalization of its already de facto status. Keep in mind that the central bank enjoyed a head start in terms of reputation and experience versus the Federal Government, after all. But it can also be traced to the position articulated by the free market-oriented majority in the German quasi-governmental bodies back in 1948, a unique blend of explicit independence from/ cooperation with the government. The 1951 law effectively set the blueprint for the final central bank law, the Bundesbank Act of 1957. The underlying liberal creed echoed in the written report of the Chairman of the Committee for Money and Credit of the parliament:

The security of the currency… is the highest precondition for the retention of a market economy, and hence in the final analysis that of a free constitution for society and the state… [T]he note-issuing bank must be independent of these [political bodies] and subject only to the law.

The Financial Fable was the only story featuring Disney’s characters that made it to an important history of comics book, published in 1971. Around that time, the postwar consensus on macroeconomic stabilization policy was reaching its peak. A rethinking was already underway on the tools and goals of monetary policy, taking it away from the still garbled understanding of the period. It took another decade or so for both sides of the Atlantic to recalibrate their respective monetary policies. The accompanying modern central bank independence, with its foundations set in 1951, became a more salient – and popular – aspect a bit later.

Nightcap

  1. God’s many mansions Christopher Howse, Spectator
  2. America, the exceptional? Steve Lagerfeld, Hedgehog Review
  3. Liberté sans Frontières and ‘Western Guilt’ Jessica Whyte, Radical Philosophy
  4. Have you paid that poll tax? Rachel Gunter, Not Even Past

Nightcap

  1. It would take at least 6,300 years to reach the closest star to our sun MIT Review
  2. How far aggressive aliens? Robin Hanson, Overcoming Bias
  3. America’s long (and beautiful) anti-socialist history Matthew Wills, JStor Daily
  4. Big business got bigger in America during the pandemic George Dance, Political Animal

Nightcap

  1. The genealogies of migration Danijela Majstorović, Disorder of Things
  2. States versus societies Michael Koplow, Ottomans & Zionists
  3. Free expression and evolving standards Ryan Muldoon, RCLs
  4. Engakuji and the Winds of War Peter Miller, Views

Hazony’s nation-state versus Christensen’s federation

Yoram Hazony’s 2018 book praising the nation-state has garnered so much attention that I thought it wasn’t worth reading. Arnold Kling changed my mind. I’ve been reading through it, and I don’t think there’s much in the book that I can originally criticize.

The one thing I’ll say that others have not is that Hazony’s book is not the best defense of the status quo and the Westphalian state system out there. It’s certainly the most popular, but definitely not the best. The best defense of the status quo still goes to fellow Notewriter Edwin’s 2011 article in the Independent Review: “Hayekian Spontaneous Order and the International Balance of Power.”

Hazony’s book is a defense of Israel more than it is a defense of the abstract nation-state. Hazony’s best argument (“Israel”) has already been identified numerous times elsewhere. It goes like this: the Holocaust happened because the Jews in mid-20th century Europe had nowhere to go in a world defined by nationalism. Two competing arguments arose from this realization. The Israelis took one route (“nation-state”), and the Europeans took another (“confederation”). Many Jews believe that the Israelis are correct and the Europeans are wrong.

My logic follows from this fact as thus: the EU has plenty of problems but nothing on the scale of the Gaza Strip or the constant threat of annihilation by hostile neighbors (and rival nation-states).

The European Union and Israel are thus case studies for two different arguments, much like North and South Korea or East and West Germany. The EU has been bad, so bad in fact that the British have voted to leave, but not so bad that there has been any genocide or mass violence or, indeed, interstate wars within its jurisdiction. Israel has been good, so good in fact that it now has one of the highest standards of living in the world, but not so good that it avoided creating something as awful as the Gaza Strip or making enemies out of every single one of its neighbors.

To me this is a no-brainer. The Europeans were correct and the Israelis are wrong. To me, Israelis (Jewish and Arab) would be much better off living under the jurisdiction of the United States or even the European Union rather than Israel’s. They’d all be safer, too.

Nightcap

  1. Russia’s Ambassador writes to the New York Times
  2. What AOC gets that Bernie didn’t Michael Grunwald, Politico
  3. Coronavirus class conflict is coming Olga Khazan, Atlantic
  4. Re-centering the United States in American foreign policy TNSR