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Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Normalization

uscubaflagsAfter decades of Cold War hostility and economic embargoes, President Barack Obama held a historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on April 11, marking an important step toward diplomatic normalization between the two nations. At a news conference, President Obama emphasized that “it was time to try something new…to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future.” In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization.

CHINA

Chinese media reflected positively on the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations.  (more…)

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Policy Brief: Putin Goes Nationalist

putinNationalism has recently become more salient in Russian foreign policy debates, especially after the annexation of Crimea last year. How does this resurgence of nationalism affect Russia’s foreign policy and its relationship with the United States and Europe? Should we expect to see a more assertive Russia in the coming years?

There are three broad schools of thought in Russian foreign policy discourse: 1) liberal westernizers; 2) great power balancers; and 3) Russian nationalists. President Vladimir Putin came into power as a great power balancer who at times tacked toward the liberal westernizer camp and at times toward the Russian nationalist camp. But with his decision to annex Crimea one year ago and later in the spring and summer of 2014 to directly support an insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, Putin has firmly placed himself in the camp of Russian nationalists, in fact, quite a chauvinistic strain of Russian nationalism at that.

The question one year later remains why Vladimir Putin took this dramatic and dangerous step. It appears he did so to more firmly consolidate domestic political support for his leadership. Over the course of more than twelve years of his two terms of de jure leadership as President and one term of de facto leadership as Prime Minister, Mr. Putin’s high popularity ratings were principally buttressed by robust economic growth and a sense of growing prosperity among the Russian people.

However, when he returned to the Presidency in May 2012, Russia’s economic performance began to plummet. In 2013, growth stagnated to a meager 1.3%, and on the eve of the military occupation of Crimea at the end of February, growth was close to zero, the ruble was losing value, and capital flight was at an all-time high rate. (more…)

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RPI Author Rajesh Rajagopalan: “Iran Nuclear Agreement: Unclear and Extremely Vague

irannucleardealRajesh Rajagopalan, Professor at the Centre for International Politics, Organisation and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, recently offered his critical view on the Iran nuclear deal reached last Thursday between US Security Council plus Germany and Tehran, in a piece published by Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He argues that the lack of details in the deal makes the conclusion of a final agreement, expected by the end of June, difficult, and that “the Iranians are correct about Obama and Kerry trying to spin what has been agreed to.”

Iran and the major powers (EU3+3) have reached a very preliminary and extremely vague agreement on principles for an agreement, released in the form of an exceedingly brief joint statement of less than 500 words. Whether this ’agreement about an agreement’ would lead to an actual deal is anybody’s guess, but it’s not going to be easy. Both sides have agreed it will be done by June 30, but no one should be surprised if this self-imposed is missed.

One reason for the difficulty in reaching an actual deal is that in their desire to conclude this political framework, a lot has been left fuzzy which will need to be clarified in the actual deal. The advantage of leaving things unclear is that both sides can claim victory (and they are), but the problem is that they are already disagreeing in their interpretation of what has been agreed. Within hours of the joint statement being released, the Iranians criticised the Obama administration for ’spinning’ the deal in a factsheet the White House released. For their part, the Iranians also released their own ’factsheet’, with their interpretation of the agreement.

The joint statement released by Iran and the EU3+3 provides few details. The White House factsheet is three times longer and provides specifics, but it’s a US interpretation of what was agreed, parts of which Teheran has already dismissed. For example, the White House factsheet specifies durations for the deal: number of centrifuges will be limited for 10 years, uranium enrichment will be limited for 15, no new enrichment facilities for 15 years and so on. But the official joint statement mentions no time limits for the agreement, using phrases such as ’specified duration’ and ’mutually agreed period of time’.  (more…)

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Policy Alert: Iran Nuclear Deal Sparks Reactions from Rising Powers

irandealLast Thursday, the 18-month-long negotiations between the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5 + 1) and Iran finally reached a framework agreement designed to curtail the Iranian nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions against the country. President Barack Obama called the deal a “historic understanding” between Washington and Tehran, urging Congress, U.S. allies in the Middle East, and the Iranian regime to work toward a final agreement by a June 30 deadline. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, South Korea, Japan, and Brazil on the Iran nuclear deal. (more…)

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Policy Alert: Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank Sparks Debates in Asia and Beyond

AIIBDecisions by America’s European allies-the U.K., Germany, France, and Italy-to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a new China-led multilateral development institution for Asia, generated debates about Beijing’s potential challenge to existing global financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and about Washington’s response to this challenge. Despite its initial opposition to the Chinese initiative, the Obama administration recently reversed its position, proposing to co-finance projects with the AIIB by utilizing existing multilateral institutions. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, and South Korea, as well as the United States and European countries on the AIIB.

CHINA

Responding to U.S. concerns regarding the bank’s standards of governance, some Chinese media brushed over these concerns, instead urging the United States to ‘get on the boat.’ (more…)

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RPI Author David Shambaugh: The Coming Chinese Crackup

Shambaugh WSJ columnRPI author David Shambaugh discusses the future – and a potential demise – of the communist rule in China in the wake of the National People’s Congress’ annual session last week. This op-ed originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

The endgame of communist rule in China has begun, and Xi Jinping’s ruthless measures are only bringing the country closer to a breaking point.

On Thursday, the National People’s Congress convened in Beijing in what has become a familiar annual ritual. Some 3,000 “elected” delegates from all over the country—ranging from colorfully clad ethnic minorities to urbane billionaires—will meet for a week to discuss the state of the nation and to engage in the pretense of political participation.

Some see this impressive gathering as a sign of the strength of the Chinese political system—but it masks serious weaknesses. Chinese politics has always had a theatrical veneer, with staged events like the congress intended to project the power and stability of the Chinese Communist Party, or CCP. Officials and citizens alike know that they are supposed to conform to these rituals, participating cheerfully and parroting back official slogans. This behavior is known in Chinese as biaotai, “declaring where one stands,” but it is little more than an act of symbolic compliance.

Despite appearances, China’s political system is badly broken, and nobody knows it better than the Communist Party itself. China’s strongman leader, Xi Jinping, is hoping that a crackdown on dissent and corruption will shore up the party’s rule. He is determined to avoid becoming the Mikhail Gorbachev of China, presiding over the party’s collapse. But instead of being the antithesis of Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Xi may well wind up having the same effect. His despotism is severely stressing China’s system and society—and bringing it closer to a breaking point. (more…)

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Policy Alert: U.S. Fight against Islamic State Spurs Reactions from Rising Powers

policyalert_ISIS_Obama

Last month, President Barack Obama held a world anti-terrorism summit in Washington, D.C., calling on more than 60 nations to join the fight against “violent extremism.” During the summit, he reiterated his position not to call war against Islamic State (IS) as a religious one and emphasized the need to address the social origins of terrorism, such as twisted interpretations of Islam, local economic grievances, and IS propaganda. This followed a series of terrorist attacks in Paris, Sydney, Copenhagen, and Ottawa, and the White House’s request to Congress for a new war authorizationagainst the terrorist group. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Russia, India, South Korea, and Japan on the recent development on the fight against IS.

CHINA

Chinese editorials expressed dissatisfaction in the way the United States has dealt with terrorism. (more…)

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RPI Author Rajesh Rajagopalan: The Aam Aadmi Party and Indian Politics: Winners and Losers

indiaelectionThe Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) spectacular victory in the New Delhi state elections is a continuation of the churning in Indian politics.  It presents a warning for both the main national political parties but particularly to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won equally spectacularly in the national elections last summer and in a series of state elections subsequently.  The AAP’s prospects beyond New Delhi are still unclear and its path is likely to be difficult, especially because this will depend at least partly on its performance in Delhi.  The AAP represents both the future and the past of Indian politics: it is responding to a politically weak but growing and restive middle class that has not yet found a political party home, while its ideology, especially on economic policy, represents a failed past.

The AAPs victory is not record-setting in the Indian political context, but it is close: its 67/70 seats result has been bested only twice, both times in Sikkim.  In 1989, the Sikkim Sangram Party won all 32 seats in the Sikkim state legislature, a feat repeated twenty years later in 2009 by the Sikkim Democratic Front.  But nonetheless, considering the importance of New Delhi, the fierceness of the campaign in which Prime Minister Modi himself took part, and the BJP’s performance in the recent national elections (when it won all seven seats from Delhi), the result was a clear defeat for the BJP.

The AAP’s victory represents a significant challenge to both national parties, the resurgent BJP and the crumbling Indian National Congress (INC).  For the BJP, which hopes to replace the Congress as the main Indian political party, the AAP is a signal that the path ahead will not be unchallenged or smooth.  The BJP’s victory in the national elections was more of a victory of electoral math than of majority support in the country.  Though the BJP achieved single-party majority with 282 seats in the Lok Sabha – the first time this has been accomplished in two decades – it did this with just 33% of the votes. In essence, the splintering of the non-BJP vote allowed the BJP to win because of India’s first-past-the-post electoral system.  On the other hand, the BJP’s 33% vote was the largest share it had ever cornered: much above the 24% it received when it formed a coalition government in 1999 and the 22% and 19% in the national elections in 2004 and 2009 respectively.

Still, the BJP’s support base is largely in the Hindi-belt in north and central India.  Even with the Modi magic, the BJP made only minor advances in the South and the Northeast of the country, and drew a blank in some states.  The challenge for the BJP comes not just from the fact that it could easily be defeated if the opposition coalesces but also from the possibility that it might potentially have to compete for the same electoral space if it seeks to widen its base to the growing middle class across the country.  The BJP has been trying to pursue the same voters that the AAP is also now addressing: the disaffected urban middle class that feels ignored by both the INC and the regional or caste-based parties.

The challenge that the AAP presents the INC is both greater and lesser than that for the BJP.  On the one hand, the INC’s decline is near terminal.  It fell from 206 seats with 29% of the vote share in 2009 to 44 seats with just 19% of the vote share in 2014 and was blanked out of Delhi in both the general election last year and the state election two weeks back.  On the positive side – if it can be called that – many of the INC’s problems are self-inflicted, especially the incompetence of the party leadership, suggesting that sorting out the leadership question could prevent the party from going into oblivion.  Additionally, the party has experience with climbing out of such holes, having recovered after a similar drubbing in 1979 and recovering from a similar slide in the 1990s.  Leadership was key in both instances, and the ingredient missing today.

But if the AAP presents a challenge to both national parties, it also faces challenges of its own.  It has so far been somewhat juvenile in its approach to politics, the best indicator of this being its decision to resign from the government last February and its ill-advised attempt to expand beyond Delhi in the last general elections.  Even if they manage to administer Delhi with a modicum of success and efficiency, their growth outside of Delhi is likely to be a hard slog.  Building a national political presence is not easy in India because of the country’s size and diversity, as parties as disparate as the BJP, the communist parties and regional parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have discovered.

The other challenge that AAP faces is in deciding its ideological base.  The AAP grew out of a middle-class based protest movement that targeted crime and the endemic corruption in India, but it has shifted to the decidedly un-middle class left of the political spectrum.  Indeed, a number of AAP supporters from the business sector have left the AAP because of its increasingly leftist orientation.  So the AAP faces a choice: it can become the voice of the urban middle class but it would have to backtrack along the ideological spectrum to a more centrist position on a variety of issues, which seems unlikely given the orientation of its leadership.  If it does move this way, the AAP could significantly cut into the BJP’s middle-class base which supports the BJP’s pragmatic economic agenda but is wary of its religious overtones.  If the AAP continues with its left-of-centre orientation, the middle class will continue to remain without a political voice, either splitting its vote or becoming a persistent anti-incumbency bloc until some other political formation rises that speaks to its concerns.

Alternatively, the AAP can move to take over the space on the Left that the INC has vacated and become the main centre-left party against the centre-right BJP.  Recent moves by the AAP suggest this, particularly its opposition to the reforms in the new Land bill that makes it easier to acquire land for infrastructure and industry as well as its general suspicion of the private sector and industry.  This could possibly spell trouble for the INC, considering that it occupies the same ideological space.

In short, the churning in Indian electoral politics will continue for a while.  Though there are other factors besides the rising urban middle class that influence Indian politics, the AAP rode to success mainly on this, just as the BJP did last year.  The question now is which, if either, will become the voice of this rising political force.

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Policy Alert: Rising Powers Debate Ukraine Ceasefire Deal

ukraineAfter sixteen-hours of diplomatic talks in Minsk last week, leaders from Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany reached a ceasefire agreement, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel described as a “glimmer of hope” for the longstandng military conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Although the ceasefire came into effect on Sunday, there have already been reports of fire by pro-Russian rebels in some towns. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from Russia, China, Japan, and India on the ceasefire agreement and the future of the Ukraine crisis.

RUSSIA

Russians took a cautious wait-and-see approach to the ceasefire, with some pondering the casefire’s implications for the global and regional order. (more…)

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Policy Brief: Return of Defensive Realists in Tehran

rohaniNationalism has greatly shaped debates in Iran on what role the country should assume in the Middle East and in the world. How have these debates evolved under President Hassan Rouhani’s administration over the past two years? How do they differ from the debates that occurred during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency? These questions were addressed by Farideh Farhi, Affiliate Graduate of Faculty, University of Hawaii at Manoa at a Rising Powers Initiative conference on “Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: A Resurgence of Nationalism?” held this winter at GWU. The conference reconvened authors to update their findings in the book Worldviews of Aspiring Powers: Domestic Foreign Policy Debates in China, India, Iran, Japan, and Russia (Oxford University Press, 2012).

Undercurrents in Iranian Politics

The 1979 revolution weighs heavily in influencing Iran’s foreign policy debates and nationalism. Regardless of leadership change, several undercurrents remain constant in Iranian politics. The first undercurrent is the fear of external manipulation of domestic cleavages to undermine the theocratic regime. Though Iran was never colonized, it has been subject to external powers’ intervention in internal affairs. The second undercurrent shaping Iranian politics, particularly post-revolution, is Iran’s sense of loneliness and isolation. Despite its regional power status, Iran does not possess strategic allies. This is important particularly in the Middle East, where every country is very clear on where it stands. This loneliness has led to a sense of insecurity for Iran in a region where conflict is rife. Efforts by superpowers to contain Iran constitute another undercurrent in Iran. While Iran has attempted to engage in the global economy as an oil exporter, the United States and other Western powers have prevented Iran from integrating into the global economy and partake in the institutions governing it, largely due to fear of Iran’s rise as an aspiring power in the region and its nuclear power status. These factors contribute to and shape Iranian nationalism which in turn shapes Iranian foreign policy debates. (more…)

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