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  • Author: Scott Lincicome
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: Both the American left and right often use “national security” to justify sweeping proposals for new U.S. protectionism and industrial policy. “Free markets” and a lack of government support for the manufacturing sector are alleged to have crippled the U.S. defense industrial base’s ability to supply “essential” goods during war or other emergencies, thus imperiling national security and demanding a fundamental rethink of U.S. trade and manufacturing policy. The COVID-19 crisis and U.S.-China tensions have amplified these claims. This resurgent “security nationalism,” however, extends far beyond the limited theoretical scenarios in which national security might justify government action, and it suffers from several flaws. First, reports of the demise of the U.S. manufacturing sector are exaggerated. Although U.S. manufacturing sector employment and share of national economic output (gross domestic product) have declined, these data are mostly irrelevant to national security and reflect macroeconomic trends affecting many other countries. By contrast, the most relevant data—on the U.S. manufacturing sector’s output, exports, financial performance, and investment—show that the nation’s total productive capacity and most of the industries typically associated with “national security” are still expanding. Second, “security nationalism” assumes a need for broad and novel U.S. government interventions while ignoring the targeted federal policies intended to support the defense industrial base. In fact, many U.S. laws already authorize the federal government to support or protect discrete U.S. industries on national security grounds. Third, several of these laws and policies provide a cautionary tale regarding the inefficacy of certain core “security nationalist” priorities. Case studies of past government support for steel, shipbuilding, semiconductors, and machine tools show that security‐​related protectionism and industrial policy in the United States often undermines national security. Fourth, although the United States is not nearly as open (and thus allegedly “vulnerable”) to external shocks as claimed, global integration and trade openness often bolster U.S. national security by encouraging peace among trading nations or mitigating the impact of domestic shocks. Together, these points rebut the most common claims in support of “security nationalism” and show why skepticism of such initiatives is necessary when national security is involved. They also reveal market‐​oriented trade, immigration, tax, and regulatory policies that would generally benefit the U.S. economy while also supporting the defense industrial base and national security.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, National Security, COVID-19, Free Market, Deindustrialization
  • Political Geography: China, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Alex Nowrasteh
  • Publication Date: 02-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: A cost‐​benefit analysis finds that the hazards posed by foreign‐​born spies are not large enough to warrant broad and costly actions such as a ban on travel and immigration from China, but they do warrant the continued exclusion of potential spies under current laws. Espionage poses a threat to national security and the private property rights of Americans. The government should address the threat of espionage in a manner whereby the benefits of government actions taken to reduce it outweigh the costs of those actions. To aid in that goal, this policy analysis presents the first combined database of all identified spies who targeted both the U.S. government and private organizations on U.S. soil. This analysis identifies 1,485 spies on American soil who, from 1990 through the end of 2019, conducted state or commercial espionage. Of those, 890 were foreign‐​born, 583 were native‐​born Americans, and 12 had unknown origins. The scale and scope of espionage have major implications for immigration policy, as a disproportionate number of the identified spies were foreign‐​born. Native‐​born Americans accounted for 39.3 percent of all spies, foreign‐​born spies accounted for 59.9 percent, and spies of unknown origins accounted for 0.8 percent. Spies who were born in China, Mexico, Iran, Taiwan, and Russia account for 34.7 percent of all spies. The chance that a native‐​born American committed espionage or an espionage‐​related crime and was identified was about 1 in 13.1 million per year from 1990 to 2019. The annual chance that a foreign‐​born person in the United States committed an espionage‐​related crime and was discovered doing so was about 1 in 2.2 million during that time. The government was the victim in 83.3 percent of espionage cases, firms were the victims of commercial espionage in 16.3 percent of the cases, and hospitals and universities were the victims of espionage in 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent of the cases, respectively. The federal government should continue to exclude foreign‐​born individuals from entering the United States if they pose a threat to the national security and private property rights of Americans through espionage. A cost‐​benefit analysis finds that the hazards posed by foreign‐​born spies are not large enough to warrant broad and costly actions such as a ban on travel and immigration from China, but they do warrant the continued exclusion of potential spies under current laws.
  • Topic: Crime, Immigration, Risk, Espionage
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Scott Lincicome, Inu Manak
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: With several Section 232 tariffs still in place, and the status of other investigations unclear, the law presents an early test for the Biden administration and a signal about its future trade policy plans. President Biden took office at the height of modern American protectionism. The trade policy legacy he inherited from the Trump administration puts the United States at a crossroads. Will Biden go down the problematic path of executive overreach like his predecessor, or will he forge a new path? We may not need to wait long to find out. In his first trade action, President Biden reinstated tariffs on aluminum from the United Arab Emirates under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which authorizes the president to impose tariffs when a certain product is “being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten to impair national security.” Though infrequently used in the past, Section 232 was a favored trade tool of the Trump administration, which was responsible for nearly a quarter of all Section 232 investigations initiated since 1962. While Congress has constitutional authority over trade policy, Section 232 gives the president broad discretion to enact protectionist measures in the name of national security. Why is this law a problem? First, the statute’s lack of an objective definition of “national security” permits essentially anything to be considered a threat, regardless of the merits. Second, the law’s lack of detailed procedural requirements encouraged the Trump administration to cut corners in applying the law, thus breeding cronyism and confusion. Third, President Trump took advantage of the law’s ambiguity to shield key Section 232 findings from Congress and the public, undermining both transparency and accountability. The Trump administration’s abuse of the rarely used Section 232 has allowed the statute to become an excuse for blatant commercial protectionism, harming American companies and consumers and our security interests. It’s unclear whether the Biden administration will continue this troubling trend or seek reform. The best course of action would be the latter: Biden should avoid using Section 232 and support congressional efforts to rein in presidential power, thus ensuring an end to the calamitous episodes that were common during the Trump era.
  • Topic: National Security, Trade Policy, Protectionism
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Neal McCluskey
  • Publication Date: 04-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: In one year, COVID-19 contributed to the permanent closure of at least 132 mainly low‐​cost private schools. But that was better than some feared. As COVID-19 struck the United States in March 2020, sending the nation into lockdown, worry about the fate of private schools was high. These schools, which only survive if people can pay for them, seemed to face deep trouble. Many private schools have thin financial margins even in good economic times and rely not only on tuition but also on fundraisers, such as in‐​person auctions, to make ends meet. When the pandemic hit, many such events were canceled, and churches no longer met in person, threatening contributions that help support some private schools. Simultaneously, many private schooling families faced tighter finances, making private schooling less affordable. Finally, families that could still afford private schooling might have concluded that continuing to pay for education that was going to be online‐​only made little sense.
  • Topic: Education, COVID-19, Private Schools
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: John Mueller
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: The Cato Institute
  • Abstract: China, even if it rises, does not present much of a security threat to the United States. Policymakers increasingly view China’s rapidly growing wealth as a threat. China currently ranks second, or perhaps even first, in the world in gross domestic product (although 78th in per capita GDP), and the fear is that China will acquire military prowess commensurate with its wealth and feel impelled to carry out undesirable military adventures. However, even if it continues to rise, China does not present much of a security threat to the United States. China does not harbor Hitler‐​style ambitions of extensive conquest, and the Chinese government depends on the world economy for development and the consequent acquiescence of the Chinese people. Armed conflict would be extremely—even overwhelmingly—costly to the country and, in particular, to the regime in charge. Indeed, there is a danger of making China into a threat by treating it as such and by engaging in so‐​called balancing efforts against it. Rather than rising to anything that could be conceived to be “dominance,” China could decline into substantial economic stagnation. It faces many problems, including endemic (and perhaps intractable) corruption, environmental devastation, slowing growth, a rapidly aging population, enormous overproduction, increasing debt, and restive minorities in its west and in Hong Kong. At a time when it should be liberalizing its economy, Xi Jinping’s China increasingly restricts speech and privileges control by the antiquated and kleptocratic Communist Party over economic growth. And entrenched elites are well placed to block reform. That said, China’s standard of living is now the highest in its history, and it’s very easy to envision conditions that are a great deal worse than life under a stable, if increasingly authoritarian, kleptocracy. As a result, the Chinese people may be willing to ride with, and ride out, economic stagnation should that come about—although this might be accompanied by increasing dismay and disgruntlement. In either case—rise or demise—there is little the United States or other countries can or should do to affect China’s economically foolish authoritarian drive except to issue declarations of disapproval and to deal more warily. As former ambassador Chas Freeman puts it, “There is no military answer to a grand strategy built on a non‐​violent expansion of commerce and navigation.” And Chinese leaders have plenty of problems to consume their attention. They scarcely need war or foreign military adventurism to enhance the mix. The problem is not so much that China is a threat but that it is deeply insecure. Policies of threat, balance, sanction, boycott, and critique are more likely to reinforce that condition than change it. The alternative is to wait, and to profit from China’s economic size to the degree possible, until someday China feels secure enough to reform itself.
  • Topic: Government, GDP, Geopolitics, Economic Growth
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Arzan Tarapore
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: The still-unresolved Ladakh crisis has created a new strategic reality for India, marked by renewed political hostility with China, and an increased militarisation of the Line of Actual Control. This new strategic reality imposes unequal costs on India and China. India is likely to defer much-needed military modernisation and maritime expansion into the Indian Ocean — which would impair its ability to compete strategically with China. In contrast, China incurred only marginal material costs; it was probably more concerned with the prospect of continued deterioration in its relationship with India. Even that cost was more threatened rather than realised, and largely reduced when the disengagement plan was agreed.
  • Topic: Crisis Management, Strategic Competition, Militarization, Disengagement
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Patrick Porter, Michael Mazarr
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: There is a growing bipartisan consensus in Washington on a tighter embrace of Taiwan, which may soon become a stronger implied US commitment to go to war in the event of a Chinese invasion. Taiwan matters to US security and the regional order, and the United States should continue to make clear that aggression is unacceptable. But those advocating a stronger US security commitment exaggerate the strategic consequences of a successful Chinese invasion. The stakes are not so high as to warrant an unqualified US pledge to go to war. American decision-makers, like their forebears confronting the seeming threat of communism in Indochina, may be trapping themselves into an unnecessarily stark conception of the consequences of a successful Chinese invasion of Taiwan. It would be irresponsible for the United States to leave itself no option in the event of Chinese aggression other than war. But nor should Washington abandon Taiwan. There is a prudent middle way: the United States should act as armourer, but not guarantor. It should help prepare Taiwan to defend itself, to raise costs against aggression, and develop means of punishing China with non-military tools.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: China, Taiwan, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Greg Raymond
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Lowy Institute for International Policy
  • Abstract: China has land borders with mainland Southeast Asia and strong strategic imperatives to develop land routes to the sea. It has both potential and motivation to pursue an infrastructural sphere of influence in the Mekong subregion through Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects joining southern China and mainland Southeast Asia. The poorer states, especially Laos and Cambodia, have been receptive to the BRI and infrastructure investment, but Thailand and Vietnam, strong states and protective of sovereignty, have been more cautious. This means China’s impact is significantly varied across the subregion. China’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar are in some cases dissolving borders and in others carving out Chinese-controlled enclaves, all increasing the People’s Republic of China (PRC) presence and influence.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Foreign Direct Investment, Regional Integration, Borders, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Laos, Myanmar
  • Author: Flavio Fusco
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: Located at the heart of the Middle East, connecting the Levant to the Persian Gulf, Iraq has always been at the centre of regional dynamics. Yet, the country is today reduced to a quasi-failed state fundamentally damaged in its political, social and economic fabric, with long-term consequences that trace a fil rouge from the 2003 US-led invasion to the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) and the country’s current structural fragility.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, European Union
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Europe, Middle East, United States of America
  • Author: Lorenza Errighi
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: If 2020 was the year of “mask diplomacy”, as countries raced to tackle the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and acquire the necessary protective gear and equipment, 2021 is likely to be remembered as the year of “vaccine diplomacy”. Growing competition between states to secure the necessary quantities of vaccines to inoculate their population has already become an established feature of the post-COVID international system and such trends are only likely to increase in the near future. It normally takes up to a decade to transition from the development and testing of a vaccine in a laboratory to its large-scale global distribution. Despite current challenges, the speed of COVID-19 vaccination campaigns is unprecedented. To put an end to the current pandemic – which in one year has led to the loss of 2.6 million lives and triggered the worst economic recession since the Second World War – the goal is to ensure the widest immunisation of the world population in a timeframe of 12 to 18 months. In this context, COVID vaccines emerge as instruments of soft power, as they symbolise, on the one hand, scientific and technological supremacy and, on the other, means to support existing and emerging foreign policy partnerships and alliances with relevant geopolitical implications. From their experimentation in laboratories, to their purchase and distribution, the vaccine has emerged as a significant tool for competition between powers, often associated with the promotion of competing developmental and governance models across third countries.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Health, Vaccine, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Global Focus