In a recent article on Foreign Policy, analyst Yun Sun presented an on-going concern for China's relations with a "democratizing" Burma/Myanmar. Burma/Myanmar has been able to quickly improve its relations with the West (here used to mean mostly the U.S. with Europe, Canada, and Australia presenting a lesser concern to the Chinese foreign policy elite), and as a result China has reason to be concerned that it might loose its historically strong presence in this strategically important country.
The article points out that some people in China have remarked that they can leverage their ties to ethnic groups in northern Burma/Myanmar, namely the Wa and Kachin, in the event that Naypyidaw continue to distance itself from China and metaphorically hop into bed with the United States. The article directs our attention to the following statement:
...China should return to its old friends -- the border ethnic groups that are waging small-scale rebellions against Naypyidaw -- to enhance its leverage there. Liang Jinyun, a professor of political science at Yunnan Police College in southwest China, argued in an influential 2011 paper that these ethnic groups, if "used" well, "will become China's most loyal friend in the frontline of confrontation between the United States and China in Myanmar."
The author points out that in personal interviews Chinese foreign policy makers have neglected this idea as against the Chinese principle of non-interference, and concludes that siding with ethnic separatist groups would be sticky business for China when dealing with its Uighur and Tibetan populations.
I argue that such a policy would be the worst policy decision post-Maoist China has ever made with regards to regional stability and its general relations with ALL the nations it borders. While China may be able to play its "Kachin/Wa card" to help seek a solution to on-going wars between these nationalist forces and the Burmese military (Tatmadaw), the article argues that China might actively support these ethnic struggles to the detriment of the Burmese government. Supporting separatist causes will worry almost of all of China's neighbors. Lao's ethnically diverse north, Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek population, the non-Viet hinterland of Vietnam, and Russia's Siberian republics are just a few that come to mind. Furthermore, China would have to account for its continued maltreatment of its own national minorities, namely Tibetans and Uighurs.
It was not so long ago that China did encourage ethnically-based Maoist revolution in its neighbors territory. In interviews with Indian policy makers, it is clear that no one has forgotten China's role in supporting Maoists in northern India. For the time being, China has managed to craft a foreign policy that gives it the reputation of being a force for stability throughout Asia. Authoritarian governments in the region are happy to know that China will not force political liberalization, and democratic/semi-democratic neighbors recognize China as a more or less predictable, albeit difficult actor. If China were to once again resort to supporting revolutionary movements in Asia, then the country's credibility would be almost instantaneously lost, and even more homogenous states, such as Mongolia, would have to seriously rethink their engagement with the PRC. A likely consequence would be seeking closer ties with the U.S. to counter Chinese pressure, effectively achieving what China seems to fear the most.
It seems unlikely that China would make such an irrational and shortsighted policy decision, but if it did, it would absolutely be the worst thing China can do.
Part 3 of the summary posts of my M.A. thesis will detail how and why the United States and Europe support international democratization. This post is integral to understanding the final post, which will detail what this means for small states using Mongolia as a detailed case study.
The European Union and the United States of America have been the leading forces in global democratization. The United States’ primary goal has been to increase global security through democratization support. The E.U., on the other hand, has been largely focused on fostering democratization in Eastern Europe as a step towards EU integration, and has only recently displayed real interest in extra-regional democratization efforts.
THE UNITED STATES
While U.S. foreign policy has favored democracies since the country’s independence, it was in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that the promotion of democracy became a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and tied directly to the nation’s security. Democracy was viewed as essential for long-term stability and fighting terrorism around the globe. In the post-9/11 world, democratization became a U.S. strategic priority, being tied to two important concepts in democratization literature: democratic peace theory and the instability of authoritarian regimes. The Democratic Peace Theory maintains that democracies do not go to war with each other, meaning that with more democracies the world would be “safer” and more prosperous, thus furthering U.S. global and regional interests. A key caveat, however, is that the democratic peace theory seems to only apply to mature/established democracies, whereas transitional governments have proven far less stable. Democracy is supposed to facilitate long-term economic growth by allowing for the freedom of expression and innovation as well as promoting rule of law, which can foster predictability for investors and control corruption.
In terms of actually policy making, the U.S. has several key programs, including USAID and NED. USAID reported $1.5 billion dollars of expenditures directly related to the promotion of democracy in 2004; the National Endowment for Democracy provides funding for the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute for their non-governmental assistance to developing democracies. Through these programs the United States is able to reward democratizing regimes and further its own international interests.
EUROPE/ EUROPEAN UNION
The E.U. is the largest regional promoter of democracy; but the fact that it is comprised of sovereign member states, limits the extent to which one can identify a common foreign policy theme. However, the E.U. does possess several important mechanisms to further its democratization agenda, including membership privileges and a developing reputation as a moral international actor. The 2012 announcement that the E.U. would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, underscores the E.U.’s achievements as a force for democratization and, by extension, global stability and human rights.
In order to begin the process of obtaining E.U. membership, states must demonstrate a commitment to democracy and human rights. E.U. membership, by extension, not only carries a number of important economic advantages, but also provides some level of security as well. Organizations such as the E.U. constrain the larger powers’ options and work to level the playing field between large and small states by awarding each country an equal vote. The “leverage”, provided by economic and security incentives, is integral to understanding the democratization of Eastern Europe.
While the U.S. can rely on the federal government as a direct source of democratization funding and support, the E.U. is more fragmented and as such democratization efforts are largely on a country-by-country basis. The largest democracy-promoters in the E.U. include the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, Britain’s Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and Germany’s Stiftungen. While the E.U.’s foreign policy is largely handled by each of its member states individually, the promotion of democracy is probably the most accessible means to further its security interests. Democracy is both a goal and an instrument of European foreign policy, meaning that not only does the E.U. foster democratization for the stability and peace that are assumed to arise from this form of governance, but it also recognizes that simply by appearing to support democratization, the E.U. is looked upon more favorably. While the E.U. was devoted to the democratization of Eastern Europe immediately following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, today Europe is looking to promote democracy in various strategic areas, such as Central/Inner Asia and the Caucasus.
The European Parliament, through such initiatives as the European Foundation for Democracy through Partnership (EPD), the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, and the Democracy Caucus at the European Parliament, takes an active role in pan-E.U. foreign policy.
 Lagon, Mark P. Promoting Democracy : The Whys and Hows for the United States and the International Community. New York City, 2011. p. 3
 Dalacoura, Katerina. “US Foreign Policy and Democracy Promotion in the Middle East : Theoretical Perspectives and Policy Recommendations.” Ortadogu Etutleri 2, no. 3 (2010). p. 60
 Epstein, Democracy Promotion, p. 8
 Lagon, Promoting Democracy, p. 2
 Burnell, From Assistance to Appraising, p. 416
 Wivel, Small E.U. Member States, p. 395
 Ibid. p. 423
 Wivel, Small E.U. Member States, p. 416
 Olsen, Democracy as a Foreign Policy Instrument, p. 143
 Ibid., p. 144
The following is part 2 in the series of posts pulling off of my M.A. thesis, posted here. In this post, I present the second two theoretical contributions: small power. I argued in the previous post that small states do not have hard power options and argue in this post that soft power is an inappropriate tool for understanding small state foreign policy behavior. Rather, small power presents new possibilities.
In the absence of hard power capabilities, we may assume that soft power is the default option. Joseph Nye’s definition is simple enough: “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.” He goes on to say that the basic logic is to get others to want what you want. A country with a relatively large population, territory, resources, economy, military force, and social stability might be able to coerce other nations into working with it to achieve its own security objectives. However, a state that has managed to cooperate with other states because of shared interests has proven itself adept at exercising soft power. Generally, international soft power is produced through three different spheres: 1) culture; 2) political values; 3) foreign policy. All three are combined to further a given state’s interests and its attractiveness to other states.
The literature on soft power is primarily concerned with the United States of America, and serves as an oppositional voice to the connection between American military power and the country’s foreign policy. The concern of many articles on soft power is to point out alternatives to hard power as a way to achieve U.S. security goals and foreign policy objectives.
Although soft power is a useful analytical concept, it has some notable limitations in its application to small state foreign policy. First, large and small states will approach power projection in very different ways. For example, Nye observed the connection between soft power and democracy, when he pointed out that “soft power is a staple of daily democratic politics.” It may be that democracies are more adept at utilizing their soft power resources, as a result of their familiarity with political concession making at home. It seems likely that larger powers, such as the U.S. or regional actors such as the E.U. may be more familiar with soft power as a PR-campaign. For smaller states, however, it may actually be the reverse: democracy is a source of soft power, not a teacher of it. In other words, small states might be able to use democracy to attract international partners, not as a way to train themselves for other modes of power projection. Second, while larger states might be able to depend on the attractiveness of their culture, smaller less-well-known countries will have to restrict themselves to the later two options (i.e. political values and foreign policy). Third, the concept of soft power assumes that hard power is an available option, as indicated by Nye’s concept of “smart power” as the ideal combination of the two, which any global power must harness to remain on top. When hard power is not available, the projection of softer resources is not necessarily soft power; rather it is the only power available.
By combining what we know about soft power, with the previously presented two-sided definition of small states, we can begin to refer to some small state-specific power, which I will call small power. Small power is an analytical concept for understanding how small states will make themselves appear more attractive for partnerships with larger, often extra-regional powers as part of an effort to discourage threats from other states, often their neighbors. Working within the modes of asymmetry and behaviors that I have previously laid out to identify small states in today’s international system, the concept that small states will almost invariably engage in some sort of specialized balancing behavior has already been established. Small power is thereby defined as the power to affect the international system by attracting the attention of larger, less-threatening powers in an effort to balance against the role of a threatening state. Small power is tailored for states that have limited economic and/or mineral wealth and without clear geo-strategic advantages. Small oil-producing states, for example, can leverage their natural resources in their foreign relations, and strategically located states can leverage their territory for foreign military installations. What can a state leverage to make itself an attractive partner, when it has neither economic nor strategic incentives?
Small states have utilized a number of strategies to increase their small power resources. A number of states have volunteered a symbolic number of military personnel to peacekeeping operations (ex. Georgia, Mongolia, and Poland are three prominent examples of small states currently contributing troops to U.S. operations in Afghanistan), others have worked to build records of consistent adherence to international norms, and still others have sought to act in line with regional interests to help foster stability (ex. South Korea and Thailand).
This is the first of a number of posts pulling off my M.A. thesis. In a previous post, I provided a link to the full document. In these posts, I want to give a basic introduction to the main sections of the thesis, essentially attempting to condense a 70-page document into 3-4, 2-page posts, for my more casual readers.
One key contribution of my thesis is a new way to distinguish small states in today’s international system. I argue that “smallness” must be approached from a relative perspective, and divide my criteria into two sections: asymmetry and small behaviors.
All four of the following factors are required for a relationship to be defined as asymmetrical and to begin classify a state as comparatively small. (Some of you might recognize that the factors are vaguely similar to the first draft of figures I posted here- note,however, that I updated the images since making that posting!). This section is based largely on the following: Womack, Brantly, China Among Unequals: Asymmetric Foreign Relationships in Asia (World Scientific Publishing: New Jersey, 2010).
1. Difference in Perspectives: Two states in an asymmetrical relationship will have differing perspectives on both their own goals and the goals of the other side. The smaller state will perceive a direct threat from the larger power, and the larger state will see the smaller as irrelevant. Conversely, the small state will see itself as a victim, while the larger power will view its own policies as fair and justified.
2. Difference of Attention: The smaller country will give priority to its relationship with the larger power. For the small country in an asymmetrical, bilateral relationship, the larger country is the largest potential threat, and the relationship must be carefully managed. The larger country often has more important relationships with other large powers, and the relationship with the smaller state will not appear as pressing a concern.
3. Difference of Options: The smaller state in an asymmetrical relationship will be limited in what, how, where, and when it can resist actions taken against it by a larger state. That is not to say that it will have no options, but the options available will be limited by the overwhelming disparity between itself and the larger power.
4. Excludes Differing Symmetries: The relationship is not asymmetrical if State A>B for one variable and State B>A for another indicator.
With the addition of specific small state behaviors we can achieve a working definition of “smallness” in the contemporary international system that will better lend itself to analyzing small state foreign policy decision-making. I identify the following four behavioral characteristics as indicative of what I call an “engaged” small state, meaning a state that seeks to adapt to the international system without simply bandwagoning with a protector power (ex. Laos) or seeking isolation (ex. North Korea).
1. Perception of Vulnerability- The perception that the state is vulnerable to loosing its sovereignty and autonomy. Example: The state perceives that a neighbor could eventually control their economy, government, etc. (As explained in the following: Katzenstein, Peter J. “Small States and Small States Revisited.” New Political Economy 8, no. 1 (March 2003). p. 11)
2. Lack of Military Options: Asymmetrical military strength means the state cannot rely on military solutions for defense. Example: The state’s military capacity is so small, that the other side could win easily.
3. Adaptability- Changing course and policies in reaction to changing balances of power. Example: The rise of a neighboring state necessitates resetting relations with that country.
4. Specialized Balancing: Neither balancing nor bandwagoning with any state, but keep as many partners as possible. Example: The state seeks to improve relations with two other states that are widely acknowledged as rivals.
For the purposes of this blog post, I do not feel it is necessary to explain each behavioral factor, but I do want to point to the fourth factor in a little more detail. “Specialized balancing” refers to the fact that small states will seek to develop mutually beneficial relations with various partners in such a way as to most effectively safeguard their own sovereignty. While not necessarily a soft balancing measure since it is unlikely to escalate and the “balancing” partners will often include both the rising power as well as the established powers, small state balancing behavior does include many key elements of soft balancing. Through specialized balancing behavior, small states can more effectively balance the influence of large neighbors with the influence of extra-regional powers. In my thesis, I compare this balancing as akin to Evelyn Goh’s concept of hedging and omni-entrenchment in Southeast Asia, especially as in this publication: Goh, Evelyn. "Great Powers and Hierarchical Order in Southeast Asia: Analyzing Regional Security Strategies." International Security 32.3 (2008). p. 119.
By defining “smallness” as both a relational concept based on asymmetry and a series of behaviors, I have sought to establish a model for identifying small states beyond cut-offs in population, geographical size, economic or military power, and strategic importance. I have also differentiated between “engaged” and “non-engaged” small states, allowing future analysis to focus on those small states that seek to actively engage with, adapt to, and change their external security environment.
Analysis, Thoughts, Ideas
This blog will be an online publishing site for smaller analytical projects, news stories that I find relevant to small state foreign policy and indigenous autonomy, as well as a testing ground for new ideas and new projects that I may pursue.