Opinion

The Great Debate

from Ian Bremmer:

Who loses most in Ukraine?

 

As we march toward Sunday’s Crimean referendum, the result is predetermined. Crimea will vote Russia, and tensions will only escalate. At this juncture, it’s important to take a step back and ask who “lost” here. What could the United States have done differently? What about Russia? Was the outbreak of violence and explosive geopolitical confrontation inevitable? Where does it go from here?

If the United States’ primary goal has been to keep violence in Ukraine and tensions between outside powers to a minimum, it has made a series of significant missteps. The United States failed to offer real economic support to the Ukrainian government before events reached a crescendo. Former President Viktor Yanukovich didn't want to just work with the Russians; he was looking to strike a balance between Russia and the EU while skirting economic collapse. Europe pushed too hard, and the IMF wasn't going to step in in time. The lack of support from the West helped push Yanukovich far enough towards Russia that protests in Kiev reached a point of no return.

On February 21st, key Ukrainian opposition figures and President Yanukovich signed a deal along with a group of European foreign ministers, only for it to soon break down and Yanukovich to flee. The United States eagerly jumped ship with the new pro-West Kiev government. This was a mistake. Washington could have expressed its reservations and urged that the signed deal at least be respected as a factor in determining political processes moving forward. Showing public support for that position would have been an important acknowledgment to Russia that the United States respects Russia’s interests. In Syria six months ago, the United States was perfectly happy to pretend (as were the Russians) that the chemical weapons deal was a breakthrough that would address the underlying conflict, even though it was just a smokescreen for relieving Obama of his obligation to intervene militarily. The Americans could have offered the Russians a similar face-saving gesture here, but they chose not to.

The United States could also have strongly urged Ukraine’s new government to respect legitimate Russian interests in Ukraine, including the adequate inclusion and representation of ethnic Russians in government, and respect for the sanctity of Russia’s lease on its Crimean military base. Instead, the United States offered eager, blanket support for the new West-leaning government.

When it was clear that the Russians were about to go into Crimea, the Obama administration issued a host of largely empty threats, warning that there would be “costs for any military intervention in Ukraine” and that there was a “huge price to pay” if Russia pushed into Crimea. Of course, the United States has the military capacity to contest Russia’s move into Crimea, but Washington was never going to retaliate on such a level -- the only response that could realistically stop Russian incursion. These kinds of unenforceable threats only serve to undermine U.S. credibility abroad. And like a red flag to a bull, these comments goaded Putin on; there was no credible “or else” from Washington that could come close to matching Putin’s resolve in Ukraine. Beyond his country’s borders, Putin’s single biggest priority is retaining influence in Ukraine.

The nuclear option for emerging markets

Last year, greenhouse gas emissions reached a record high of 39 billion tons. Emissions actually dropped in the United States and Europe, but substantial increases in China and India more than erased this bit of good news.

That is all the more reason to focus on innovative solutions that slow the growth in emissions from emerging markets.

The U.S.-India civilian nuclear deal is one such solution.

The key principles of this agreement were signed by President George W. Bush and Prime Minster Manmohan Singh eight years ago this week. The deal brought India’s civilian nuclear program under the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection regime. In return, Washington removed sanctions and permitted India to build nuclear power plants with foreign help. Most of the discussion leading up to the deal has focused on its potential effect on non-proliferation treaties and on the partnership between the U.S. and India.

China’s air defense zone: The shape of things to come?

China’s announcement of an air defense identification zone (AIDZ) that covers substantial portions of the East China Sea has unleashed a storm of concern among China’s neighbors — as well as in the United States.

For China’s action reflects the deeper challenge now posed by its growing military capability and international activism. Vice President Joe Biden was on solid ground when he objected strenuously to this new air defense zone during his recent trip to the region.

Washington and Beijing each insists it wants to build a “new kind of major power relationship.” If they are to succeed, however, and enhance peace and stability across the region, they must develop new strategies to manage their growing tensions.

Addressing China’s ‘soft power deficit’

Xi Jinping (L) met with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Feb. 14, 2012.  REUTERS/Jason Reed

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares for his landmark summit with President Barack Obama in California Friday and Saturday, the critical mission of improving China’s image in the world could well be uppermost in his mind.

The central challenge that Xi faces here is that China’s soft power – its ability to win the hearts and minds of other nations and influence their governments through attraction rather than coercion or payment – has lagged far behind its purposeful hard power built on its growing economic and military might.

Why the surge in obesity?

Editor’s note: This post is republished from the author’s blog.

The Weight of the Nation is a four-part series on obesity in America by HBO Films and the Institute of Medicine, with assistance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It’s been showing on HBO and can be viewed online. Each of the four parts is well done and informative.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. For a person 6 feet tall, that means a weight of more than 220 pounds. For someone 5’6″, the threshold is 185 pounds. People who are obese tend to earn less and are more likely to be depressed. They are at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer, and they tend to die younger. The CDC estimates the direct and indirect medical care costs of obesity to be $150 billion a year, about 1% of our GDP.

The chart below, which appears several times in The Weight of the Nation, shows the trend in obesity among American adults since 1960, the first year for which we have good data. The data are from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They are collected from actual measurements of people’s height and weight, rather than from phone interviews, so they’re quite reliable. After holding constant at about 15% in the 1960s and 1970s, the adult obesity rate shot up beginning in the 1980s, reaching 35% in the mid-2000s.

from MacroScope:

Is U.S. economic patriotism hurting?

Any Americans believing that their country is being bought up by the Chinese might want to pay heed to a new report from the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment. It says that China is a minimal player in terms of foreign direct investment in the United States and that Washington should in fact be doing a lot  more to get it to gear up its buying.

To start with, look at the magic number.  In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, only 0.25 percent of FDI into the Untied States came from China.  Switzerland, Britain,  Japan, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,  Canada were all far bigger. In the U.S. Department of Commerce's report on the year, China, numbers were so small they were lumped into a category simply called  "others".

This is not enough, the Vale Columbia report says. Given China's burgeoning economic role across the globe, America can benefit from a lot:

from Susan Glasser:

America’s biggest growth industry: declinism

By Susan Glasser
The opinions expressed are her own.

The Amerislump is upon us.

Conservative agitator Pat Buchanan’s new book says America might not survive until 2025; it’s called “The Suicide of a Superpower.” Even less alarmist observers are suddenly sounding a lot like Buchanan, as economists now predict that China may surpass the United States as the world’s largest economy a lot sooner than we thought, and important conferences are convened to deal with what Fareed Zakaria memorably dubbed “the post-American world.”

Over at Foreign Policy, my colleague Joshua Keating (coiner of the “Amerislump” phrase) has taken to tracking all the gloom-and-doom punditry under the heading “Decline Watch” on our website—and not a day goes by without a classic example, from the poverty-stricken new muppet on Sesame Street who doesn’t have enough to eat, to the supposed cocaine slump on Wall Street and the new government initiative to attract Chinese shoppers here — so they can buy Made in China goods, but at the cheap prices caused by our undervalued dollar.

The zeitgeist about America is so bleak that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even begins her speeches these days being forced to remind audiences that the U.S. economy is still the world’s largest and its workers by far the most productive. Clinton, no declinist, invariably does her best to convince us that America is not retreating from the world at a time of national angst. Or at least that it should not.

America still needs to engage the world

This is a response to Nader Mousavizadeh’s latest Reuters column,  “A smaller America could be a stronger America.”

By David Miliband
The opinions expressed are his own.

Nader’s statistics pointedly and appropriately speak to a dysfunctional political dynamic of short term promises without long term responsibilities in the U.S.  It is also striking (and worrying) that both sides of American political debate are determined to persuade voters that they won’t be too concerned by the rest of the world.

But the U.S. is doomed NOT to become the Netherlands!  U.S. GDP per head is ten times the Chinese level.   Its universities still dominate in key areas.  Its conventional military might is overwhelming.  Its entanglement with the global system – notably in economics, but today that is inseparable from politics – means that it needs a “global posture.”  So does every country, large or small.

from MacroScope:

The IMF to turn on the rich

The latest International Monetary Fund meeting ended with emerging market powers getting a pledge from the organisation for stronger and "more even-handed" scrutiny of what is going on in large advanced economies.

As Reuters correspondents Lesley Wroughton and Emily Kaiser report here, the decision is a response to long-running frustrations among emerging economies, which reckon the Fund has  not been tough enough on its biggest shareholders, led by the United States.

The move reflects a number of things. First, it shows the growing clout of emerging economies within international institutions. The G-20, for example, is arguably now more influential than the old , richer G7. Secondly, it graphically underlines the current world-turned-upside-down state of the global economy, in which profligate rich economies are struggling to keep above water while supposedly poorer and less-developed ones enjoy solid growth and relatively stable finances. This graph makes the point:

from MacroScope:

What are the risks to growth?

Mike Dicks, chief economist and blogger at Barclays Wealth, has identified what he sees as the three biggest problems facing the global economy, and conveniently found that they are linked with three separate regions.

First, there is the risk that U.S., t consumers won't increase spending. Dicks notes that the increase in U.S. consumption has been "extremely moderate" and far less than after previous recessions. His firm has lowered is U.S. GDP forecast for 2011 to 2.7 percent from a bit over 3 percent.

Next comes the euro zone. While the wealth manager is not looking for any immediate collapse in EMU, Dicks reckons that without the ability to devalue, Greece and other struggling countries won't see any great improvement in competitiveness. Germany, in the meantime, has sped up plans to cut its own deficit.  It leaves the Barclays Wealth's euro zone GDP forecast at just 1 percent for next year.

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