Competitive engagement’ needed to counter new illiberal authoritarianism

Confronting ideologically-motivated actors in globally competitive environments, the U.S. should adopt a more strategic and politicized approach to foreign aid, including democracy assistance, says a leading analyst.

“The United States is historically averse to picking ‘winners,’” says Nadia Schadlow, a Senior Program Officer in the Smith Richardson Foundation’s International Security & Foreign Policy Program.

“A consistent theme among both governmental and non-governmental actors in the democracy-promotion arena is the need to create a ‘level playing field,’ as opposed to supporting groups or individuals that represent a set of ideals consistent with American interests and values,” she writes in Competitive Engagement: Upgrading America’s Influence, an article in the latest issue of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

“The emphasis throughout the past decade at least has been on process as opposed to the advancement of ideals that tend to contribute to the creation of successful societies: ideas such as support for entrepreneurship, tolerance, and the decent treatment of minorities,” Schadlow contends.

Calling for the U.S. to adopt a “posture of competitive engagement,” she notes that the militarization of foreign policy “is neither good for American interests nor sustainable, since many political, economic, and ideological outcomes are not attainable through the use of military force.”

“Yet ongoing discussions about America’s nonmilitary power miss one important factor: in virtually every theater of the world, local, regional, and strategic competitions affect America’s ability to exert influence through its aid and diplomacy,” Schadlow argues:

From Pakistan to the Middle East to Africa, ideas about how to develop economies, shape educational systems, administer health care programs, and build political institutions, are contested. Until the competitive nature of aid and diplomacy is deliberately and explicitly considered, Washington’s ability to achieve outcomes using its non-military power—often called “soft” or “smart power”—will remain fundamentally limited.

Her analysis will resonate with many democracy assistance practitioners and it is consistent with the National Endowment for Democracy’s latest Strategy Document which identifies “new areas of competition” in what was largely uncontested political terrain.

It also echoes themes raised in a recent article for in which the Brookings Institution’s Michael Doran and Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations highlighted the need to restore the capacity to conduct “political warfare” which expired at the end of the Cold War:

The U.S. government should reinvigorate its capacity to wage “political warfare,” defined in 1948 by George Kennan, then the State Department’s director of policy planning, as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.” Such measures, Kennan noted, were “both overt and covert” and ranged from “political alliances, economic measures (as ERP — the Marshall Plan), and ‘white’ propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of ‘friendly’ foreign elements, ‘black’ psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”

But the nature of foreign aid has “subtly shifted” in the post-Cold War era, says Robert D. Kaplan, Chief Geopolitical Analyst at Stratfor.

“According to a commonly received narrative prevalent in the media, because communism has been vanquished, foreign policy is finally able to pursue idealistic ends untainted by realpolitik,” he notes:

Ironically, this very altruism that abjures national interest has made America’s foreign assistance programs not better but worse. Foreign aid is like any other organized pursuit: It requires a competitive mindset to excel. Aid workers must be aware of the ideological, philosophical and political opposition they will likely encounter in the field and prepare strategies to defeat it.

Winning hearts and minds?

The U.S. is in the midst of a global argument “which pits historic Western liberalism against various forms of illiberal authoritarianism and reaction,” Kaplan writes, calling for an integrated approach to reviving the U.S.’s “power to persuade.”

“A policy that is purely military and economic has no idealistic component, and in an age of global media an idealistic component is required for credibility in the public space.”

Governmental and non-governmental agencies working abroad should reassess their operating environments in order to address the newly competitive context of their interactions, Schadlow writes.

Aid is 10% technical, 90% political

“A posture of competitive engagement would require that the civilian actors who oversee U.S. economic and humanitarian programs account for the fact that new ideas, economic strategies, civic action plans, and even public health-related initiatives are contested by vested interests or ideological or political opponents,” she insists.

“It requires the recognition that even the building of a girl’s school in Afghanistan or a health clinic in the Sudan is a political act. As the head of the Australian government’s aid agency put it, ‘aid is 10 percent technical and 90 percent political.’”

But the United States and other Western donor governments “have adopted more political goals and methods in their aid over the past twenty years,” according to Thomas Carothers, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Diane de Gramont, nonresident research analyst at Carnegie.

Nevertheless, they “now face a fundamental choice: whether to stick to their convictions about the importance of melding the political and economic elements of development or instead retreat to more limited approaches and aspirations,” they recently wrote for Foreign Policy:

While some may be tempted to argue that aid should pull back from politics and focus only on basics such as healthcare or primary education, such an approach is neither feasible nor wise. Almost all major aid organizations, both bilateral and multilateral, have established a range of politically-oriented aid programs and accumulated considerable knowledge about how to make a positive political difference, whether explicitly framed as democratic progress or as more accountable and participatory governance. Donors pursue these objectives not just because they believe that democratic governance is intrinsically a good thing, but also because they consider it central to sustainable socioeconomic progress. 

“Dozens of governments have proposed or enacted measures to limit or block foreign aid flows to domestic groups, vilified local non-governmental organizations for working with foreigners, and harassed or kicked out international NGOs,” Carothers and de Gramont contend.

“By its very nature, foreign aid is politically sensitive,” they argue. “Efforts by one country to change basic elements of life in another through injections of financial and technical resources are inherently intrusive.”

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Pakistan in the Crosshairs

Credit: RFE/RL

The killing of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud not only presents the Waziristan-based militant group with a serious leadership crisis, but also casts a pall on much-anticipated peace talks with the Pakistani government. That a suspected U.S. drone strike caused Mehsud’s death only complicates the picture, as do stop-and-start peace initiatives with Afghanistan.

Join RFE/RL journalists and special guests in a live Google+ discussion to make sense of Pakistan’s figurative and literal battlefield: 

Google+ Hangout: Pakistan in the Crosshairs

(Will be streamed live on YouTube once Hangout begins. Post comments now on Facebook.)  

Friday, November 8, 2013

11 am (Washington, DC) / 5 pm (Prague)  

Daud Khattak (Moderator) – Senior Editor with RFE/RL’s Pakistan Service where he is an expert on the militancy in Pakistan’s tribal areas, the Pakistani Taliban, and Pashtun politics and society. Prior to joining RFE/RL, Khattak worked in Kabul for Afghanistan’s Pajhwok Afghan News and in Peshawar for the London “Sunday Times” and the Pakistani English dailies “The News International” and “Daily Times.” He has also written for “Foreign Policy,” “CTC Sentinel,” and “The Express Tribune.” 

Sen. Haji Muhammad Adeel – A senior member of the Awami National Party representing his native Khyber Pakhtunkwa province in the Pakistani Senate since 2008, Adeel is the Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs committee and serves on several other Senate committees including Defense and Finance.  

Shaheen Buneri – RFE/RL correspondent with more than 12 years of experience covering Pakistan’s Swat Valley, Peshawar, and tribal regions on the Af-Pak border. In addition to RFE/RL, Buneri has also worked as a correspondent for BBC World, is a Newsvine blogger, and was a fellow at the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting for 2011 where he focused on conflict in the Swat Valley. 

Jehangir Khattak – Senior Editor of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s “Voices of NY” project. A journalist since 1986, Khattak has written for several English daily newspapers in Pakistan before becoming news editor of “The Frontier Post.” During the 1990s, he covered the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent civil war, the rise of the Taliban, and upheavals in Pakistan, and now serves as an analyst on Pakistani and American radio and television programs. 

Follow additional coverage from Pakistan online and on Facebook, and Twitter. 

Follow breaking news from all of RFE/RL’s regions on Twitter and Facebook.

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Affluent Leninism’? Chinese leader’s economic plan aims to fortify party monopoly


china cpAs China’s ruling Communist Party prepares for a potentially historic plenum of the party’s Central Committee this Saturday, President, Xi Jinping “is about to plunge the country and himself into a risky experiment: an attempt to carry out market-driven economic overhauls while reinforcing the Communist Party’s pillars of political and ideological control,” Chris Buckley reports for The New York Times:

“This mixed agenda has magnified doubts about whether he can deliver on his promises of transformation,” he notes:

Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang have indicated that they want to nurture healthy, sustained growth by encouraging more market competition, private business, financial liberalization and individual consumption, leaning away from the state-focused policies of the past decade…Yet, Mr. Xi wants to achieve this economic shift away from the state while strengthening the ruling party…Many analysts say a fundamental overhaul would require a top-down campaign to change prevailing notions about state control over crucial sectors like finance that Mr. Xi shows no signs of embracing.

In fact, for much of this year, he has pursued campaigns to reinforce ideological conformity, tighten censorship of the Internet and mass media, and expunge liberal political ideas.

“I don’t see a political strategy,” said Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College. “If there is one, it is counterproductive. It is to limit the voices of the liberals; it is to limit grass-roots pressure for reform.”


Credit: Daily Telegraph

Xi vowed that China would break free of the “middle income trap”, the fate of countless states in Latin America and around the world after their catch-up booms in the 1960s, all failing to make the switch in time to a grown-up growth model, writes China-watcher Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

The reforms will, in theory, break China’s destructive reliance on investment – a world record 49pc of GDP – and allow the hard-working Chinese people to enjoy a less miniscule sliver of what they produce. This will reduce China’s excess manufacturing capacity over time, and therefore China’s trade surplus. Everybody will be happier, except the Communist Nomenklatura. That, at least, is the story….Yet at the same time Mr Xi is tightening the grip of the Party, reviving the Maoist “mass line” and rectification campaigns of the Cultural Revolution.

“All his reflexes are Leninist,” says Professor Pei. Mr Xi wants to have it both ways.

“State-owned companies and their government patrons, which have benefited from cheap, free-flowing loans from state-owned banks and privileged access to land and natural resources, are likely to resist shifts that would expose them and the banks to stronger competition from the private sector,” The Times reports:

It is this thicket of interests, not ideological conservatism or elite factional rifts, that poses the biggest obstacle to economic change, said Wu Wei, a former aide who helped design market reforms in the 1980s.

“Perhaps outwardly they’ll declare their support for reform,” he said, “but in reality they’ll resist reforms that involve them.”

stumbling giantChina’s average standard of living remains somewhere between those of Ecuador and Jamaica, and demographic trends will impede efforts to become rich and powerful according to Timothy Beardson’s book, Stumbling Giant: The Threats to China’s Future.

He pinpoints four areas where the population time bomb ticks the loudest,” the FT’s David Pilling writes:

The first is growth. China is reaching the end of a 35-year period when it was able to conjure gross domestic product simply by shifting workers from low-productivity farm jobs to higher-productivity factory ones. …

Second is ageing. The number of Chinese over 65 will triple to 300m by 2030… China may soon need institutional care for tens of millions of people, no easy task for a country with threadbare social services.

Third is the gender imbalance. Because of the preference for male children, there are now roughly six boys born for every five girls. In the next two decades that will mean tens of millions of men will have no chance of finding a wife. Mostly poorer and with fewer prospects, they could well become a source of social discontent and crime.

Fourth is absolute population. The number of Chinese is likely to peak at below 1.4bn some time after 2020. Today, there are four Chinese for every American. By the end of the century, that ratio could fall to between 1.9 and 1.25….that would have huge implications for the relative weight of the Chinese economy and thus its ability to project military power.


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Ortega moves to quash Nicaragua’s presidential term limits


Nicaragua‘s president, Daniel Ortega (second from left) , is pushing for changes to the constitution that would cement his second term in office by removing provisions that appear to rule it invalid, The Guardian and agencies report:

Critics have warned that if the change is enacted presidents would be able to serve unlimited consecutive terms in office. Nicaraguan lawmakers on Wednesday began studying the proposal by Ortega to remove an article in the constitution intended to bar consecutive presidential terms.

Ortega is following a precedent set by other Latin American authoritarian populists, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Rafael Correa in Ecuador, observers note.

If approved “the reform would set a dangerous precedent that could extend the time all elected officials can stay in power”, said political analyst Danilo Aguirre Solis.

Gabriel Alvarez, a constitutional law expert, said the proposal would only formalise the supreme court’s decision, which Ortega’s opponents contend was illegal and made by a heavily politicised judiciary.

“It’s an unnecessary change because the supreme court has already ruled on that, but I think they are doing it so that those who call [Ortega's government] illegal, spurious, de facto or unconstitutional can no longer label him that way,” Alvarez said.


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Courageous lawyer urges China to follow its own laws

Teng-BiaoThis week, while most China watchers focus on leaders gathering for a closed-door meeting to set economic policy, Teng Biao says he won’t be paying much attention, The Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt writes.

“We human rights lawyers are more focused on civil society,” Teng told me during a conversation here this week. “If it is pressured, the Communist Party will have to make changes. If not, it will never give up any power.”

As a scholar and lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law, Teng also practiced law at the Beijing Huayi Law Firm. He was a leading innovator in rights defense law, case strategy, and legal analysis, and acted as counsel in numerous human rights cases, including those of Chen Guangcheng and Hu Jia. That was until the authorities refused to renew his license because of his willingness to represent Tibetans allegedly involved in the March 2008 protests.

A recipient of the National Endowment for Democracy’s prestigious Democracy Award in 2008, Teng is one of a new generation of activists pressing the regime to honor its own constitution, which grants rights that its rulers have never honored, notes Hiatt:

Teng says a top-down, authoritarian system can’t solve the complex problems China faces now that it has reached “middle-income” status. And he warns that people outside China ought to be paying attention.

“If China becomes the strongest economically and militarily but without human rights or political freedom, it must be a threat to the whole world, like Nazi Germany,” he said.

He argues that the Internet is creating new opportunities for civic activism, for organizations like the New Citizens’ Movement.

It pains Teng to see so many of his countrymen risking arrest, imprisonment and torture with so little international support, Hiatt writes.

“The U.S. and other countries seem to have a policy to avoid making the Chinese government angry,” he said. “The U.S. needs China, but China needs the U.S. too. And freedom is something non-negotiable.”


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