Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The "E" in D.I.M.E.

You can find an article over at TheNationalInterest by Amb. Robert D. Blackwill, an adaption of remarks he gave at the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum, that give a solid tap-on-the-shoulder-and-point reminder to the national security minded that we are neglecting and important part of nation power. Indeed, one that we should have a comparative advantage in, at least for now;

Despite having the most powerful economy on earth, the United States too often in the past several decades has increasingly forgotten a tradition that stretches back to the founding of the nation—the systematic use of economic instruments to accomplish geopolitical objectives. America has hardly outgrown its need for military force, which will remain a central component of U.S. foreign policy. But this large-scale failure of collective strategic memory regarding geoeconomics denies Washington potent tools to accomplish its foreign policy objectives.
... geoeconomics (is) ... the use of economic instruments to produce beneficial geopolitical results. With this in mind, here is the Blackwill/Harris definition of geoeconomics:

“The use of economic instruments to promote and defend national interests, and to produce beneficial geopolitical results; and the effects of other nations’ economic actions on a country’s geopolitical goals.”
I don't fully agree with some of his specific policy recommendations, and he doesn't, for instance, give credit to what our European allies are doing with Ukraine in a economic and political development point of view, but his broad emphasis on what the USA is or is not doing is solid.

The decline of geoeconomics in American foreign-policy making in recent decades proves to be a complicated story, with lots of variables, subplots and nuances. But the short version is a combination of neglect and resistance. American economists tend to resist putting economic policies to work for geopolitical purposes, in part because the notion of subjugating economics in this way challenges some of their deepest disciplinary assumptions. As Michael Mandelbaum put it, “The heart of politics is power; the aim of economics is wealth. Power is inherently limited. The quest for power is therefore competitive. It is a ‘zero-sum game’ . . . Wealth, by contrast, is limitless, which makes economics a ‘positive-sum game.’” Because many U.S. economists and economic policymakers tend to see the world through this positive-sum logic and have little appreciation for the realities of power competition among nations, they tend to be skeptical of using economic policies to strengthen America’s power projection vis-à-vis its state competitors.

The notion has also encountered ambivalence from foreign policy strategists. Although they are steeped in traditional geopolitics and are not averse to viewing economic instruments of statecraft within a zero-sum logic, most strategists fail to recognize the power and potential of economics and finance as instruments of national purpose.

Thus, embraced by neither most economists nor most foreign policy strategists, the use of economic and financial instruments as tools of statecraft has become an orphaned subject. For a time, it seemed of no great consequence. In the years following the Cold War, the United States faced no serious geopolitical rival, no real struggle for international influence or in the contest of ideas. Liberal economic consensus pervaded. And as it did, what began as a set of liberal economic prescriptions aimed at limiting the rightful role of government in the market morphed over time into a doctrinal unwillingness to accept economics as subject to geopolitical choices and influence. Thus, certain liberal economic policy prescriptions, such as trade liberalization, that found favor initially at least in part because they were seen as advantageous to U.S. foreign policy objectives came over time to be justified predominantly on the internal logic of laissez-faire liberalism, not on the basis of (perhaps even in spite of) U.S. geopolitical grounds.
While there is nothing groundbreaking in his remarks, it may be for some who have yet to really look at the "Economic" part of national power along with its sisters "Diplomatic," "Informational," and "Military."

Read it all.

H/t Bob.

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