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Some further thoughts on Obama's trade stategy

My latest column for The National Interest Online is now available.  It takes a longer look at the implications of Obama's tire tariff decision.  The more I look at this move, the more freaked out I get.  I think I've figured out the precise contours of Obama's trade strategy -- and trade plays a very small role: 

With Obama... this dip in the protectionism pool feels like the beginning of something much greater. Many Democrats feel warm and fluffy about protectionism, as a mechanism to improve labor standards or an ironclad guarantor of union jobs. This love affair isn’t going to stop. Thea Lee, the chief economist of the AFL-CIO, told the New York Times that “the trade decision was the president’s first down payment on his promise to more effectively enforce trade laws, and it’s very much appreciated.” Unions are already demanding additional action against Chinese steel....

All presidential administrations engage in protectionism—it’s often the cost of pushing through other forms of trade liberalization. While the previous two administrations engaged in these kinds of actions, they could proudly point to ambitious agendas of trade liberalization as well. The Clinton administration sought to add contentious labor and environmental side agreements to its trade deals—but Clinton also spent political capital to get NAFTA and the Uruguay round through Congress. Bush imposed the steel tariffs—but his administration also secured the passage of (now expired) trade promotion authority, launched the Doha round, and completed major trade agreements with Australia and Central America. President Bush also rejected this action against Chinese tires on four separate occasions.

Barack Obama has no record of trade liberalization to fall back on when defending this measure. Indeed, this is the first major trade action his administration has taken. Based on the political reporting of this trade action, it seems clear that Obama will use trade policy as a sop to his base in order to keep them behind his major policy initiatives on health care, financial regulation, and environmental protection.

Obama has largely decided to become a domestic-policy president. His supporters, his base and the politicking of his underlings indicate things will only get worse. With the global economy in deep crisis, protectionism is a terrible way to build a recovery.

Go read the whole thing

Daniel W. Drezner

Theory of International Politics and Zombies

[NOTE TO 2011 AND BEYOND READERS OF THIS POST:  If you like what you read here, then trust me, you'll love the book that came from it:  Theories of International Politics and Zombies, (Princeton University Press, 2011).  This post is where it all began!!]

Alex Massie alerts us to this BBC story about modeling who would win if the dead actually did rise from the grave

If zombies actually existed, an attack by them would lead to the collapse of civilisation unless dealt with quickly and aggressively.

That is the conclusion of a mathematical exercise carried out by researchers in Canada.

They say only frequent counter-attacks with increasing force would eradicate the fictional creatures....

To give the living a fighting chance, the researchers chose "classic" slow-moving zombies as our opponents rather than the nimble, intelligent creatures portrayed in some recent films....

[T]heir analysis revealed that a strategy of capturing or curing the zombies would only put off the inevitable.

In their scientific paper, the authors conclude that humanity's only hope is to "hit them [the undead] hard and hit them often".

They added: "It's imperative that zombies are dealt with quickly or else... we are all in a great deal of trouble."  

Now, one could argue that this finding represents a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious. On the other hand, the report has clear freaked out Alex Massie:

[The researchers] are cheating. It's like something out of Dad's Army: You can't fight like that, it's not in the rules... Then again, if we can be destroyed by Zombie 1.0, just think how powerless we'd be when confronted by Next Generation Zombies...

To try to make Massie feel better let's have some fun with this and ask a different question -- what would different systemic international relations theories* predict regarding the effects of a zombie outbreak? Would the result be inconsequential -- or World War Z

A structural realist would argue that, because of the uneven distribution of capabilities, some governments will be better placed to repulse the zombies than others. Furthermore, anyone who has seen Land of the Dead knows that zombies are not deterred by the stopping power of water. So that's the bad news. 

The good news is that these same realists would argue that there is no inherent difference between human states and zombie states.  Regardless of individual traits or domestic instiutions, human and zombie actors alike are subject to the same powerful constraint of anarchy. Therefore, the fundamental character of world politics would not be changed. Indeed, it might even be tactically wise to fashion temporary alliances with certain zonbie states as a way to balance against human states that try to exploit the situation with some kind of idealistic power grab made under the guise of "anti-zombieism." So, according to realism, the introduction of zombies would not fundamentally alter the character of world politics. 

A liberal institutionalist would argue that zombies represent a classic externality problem of... dying and then existing in an undead state and trying to cause others to do the same. Clearly, the zombie issue would cross borders and affect all states -- so the benefits from policy coordination would be pretty massive.

This would give states a great opportunity to cooperate on the issue by quickly fashioning a World Zombie Organization (WZO) that would codify and promnulgate rules on how to deal with zombies. Alas, the effectiveness of the WZO would be uncertain. If the zombies had standing and appealed any WZO decision to wipe them out, we could be talking about an 18-month window when zombies could run amok without any effective regulation whatsoever. 

Fortunately, the United States would likely respond by creating the North American F*** Zombies Agreement -- or NAFZA -- to handle the problem regionally. Similarly, one would expect the European Union to issue one mother of a EU Directive to cope with the issue, and handle questions of zombie comitology. Indeed, given that zombies would likely be covered under genetically modified organisms, the EU would trumpet the Catragena Protocol on Biosafety in an "I told you so" kind of way. Inevitably, Andrew Moravcsik would author an essay about the inherent superiority of the EU approach to zombie regulation, and why so many countries in Africa prefer the EU approach over the American approach of "die, motherf***ers, die!!"  Oh, and British beef would once again be banned as a matter of principle. 

Now, avid followers of social constructivism might think that Wendt and Duvall (2008) have developed a model that would be useful for this kind of event... but you would be wrong. Back when this paper was in draft stage, I specifically queried them about wther their argument about UFOs could be generalized to zombies, vampires, ghosts, the Loch Ness monster, Elvis, etc.  Their answer was an emphatic "no":  aliens would be possessors of superior technology, while our classic sci-fi canon tells us that the zombies, while resistant to dying, are not technologically superior to humans. So that's a dead end.

Instead, constructivists would posit that the zombie problem is what we make of it.  That is to say, there are a number of possible emergent norms in response to zombies. Sure, there's the Hobbesian "kill or be killed" end game that does seem to be quite popular in the movies.  But there could be a Kantian "pluralistic anti-Zombie" community that bands together and breaks down nationalist divides in an effort to establish a world state. Another way of thinking about this is that the introduction of zombies creates a stronger feeling of ontological security among remaining humans -- i.e., they are not flesh-eaters (alas, those bitten by zombies are now both physically and ontologically screwed). 

Unfortunately, I fear that constructivists would predict a norm cascade from the rise of zombies. As more and more people embrace the zombie way of undead life, as it were, the remaining humans would feel social pressure to conform and eventually internalize the norms and practices of zombies -- kind of like the early-to-middle section of Shaun of the Dead. In the end, even humans would adopt zombie-constructed perceptions of right and wrong, and when it's apprpriate to grunt in a menacing manner. 

Now, some would dispute whether neoconservatism is a systemic argument, but let's posit that it's a coherent IR theory.  To its credit, the neoconservatives would recognize the zombie threat as an existential threat to the human way of life.  Humans are from Earth, whereas zombies are from Hades -- clearly, neoconservatives would argue, zombies hate us for our freedom not to eat other humans' brains.   

While the threat might be existential, accommodation or recognition are not options.  Instead, neocons would quickly gear up an aggressive response to ensure human hegemony.  However, the response would likely be to invade and occupy the central state in the zombie-affected area.  After creating a human outpost in that place, humans in neighboring zombie-affected countries would be inspired to rise up and overthrow their own zombie overlords.  Alas, while this could happen, a more likely outcone would be that, after the initial "Mission Accomplished" banner had been raised, a fresh wave of zombies would rise up, enmeshing the initial landing force -- which went in too light and was drawn down too quickly -- in a protracted, bloody stalemate. 

Readers are hereby encouraged in the comments to posit other IR theoretical prediction of the response to a zombie uprising. For example, would the zombie uprising confirm Marxist predictions about the revolt of the proletariat? 

*Alas, your humble blogger does not have the time to puzzle out the zombie effect on two-level games. 

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images