Happy New Year! January 2023 has been replete with interesting stories in the world of international affairs. We’ve seen an absurd overreaction to the new Israeli government, political rioting from left and right in Peru and Brazil, and utter chaos in Mexico driven by cartel violence. In this Foreign Telegram, we discuss all three – recapping recent events, discussing the history behind the headlines, analyzing their impact, and explaining why they matter. Strap in for a whirlwind tour around the world of foreign policy in January 2023!
Adversaries of American foreign policy deliberately muddy the distinction between cause and effect to promulgate their isolationist ideology, bolstering and excusing our authoritarian foes in the process.
The Greek thinker Aristotle, one of the leading lights of the ancient world, was a ‘renaissance man’ thousands of years before the term was coined. His polymathic abilities ranged from biology to ethics to political science to philosophy. In his musings on theology, Aristotle coined one of the most famous arguments for the existence of God, using the fact that all effects have a cause to posit an original cause which itself had no precursors. This ‘unmoved mover’ was the deity (or deities) which created the universe in which we live; it is the cause of all other causes, and all effects could eventually be traced back to its divine spark. The ‘unmoved mover’ argument has been used by theologians in their treatises, philosophy professors in their classrooms, and college students in their late-night, alcohol-fueled discussions. (Not to speak from experience, or anything.)
Aristotle’s argument has resounded through the ages and influences a wide variety of fields and intellectual debates, even when it is not acknowledged as doing such. The idea of an underlying cause which animates the world and all events in it is a powerful one, and can be found just as commonly in malign conspiracy theories as in benign organized religion. In the realm of foreign policy, the proponents of the ‘unmoved mover’ argument are far closer to the former than the latter.
Germany’s unserious and naïve foreign policy not only fails to appreciate the challenges of the 21st century, it risks the security of all Europe in the process.
Germany is the linchpin of modern Europe, dominating the Continent economically and politically. Since its unification in 1871 – and its reunification in 1990 – Berlin has been the region’s center of power. Territorially, it sits smack in the middle of Europe, straddling the Baltic and North Seas and incorporating several of the region’s major rivers, from the Rhine and the Oder to the Elbe and the Danube. It has major influence in the European Union, NATO, and the G7; oftentimes, this influence is enough to maneuver policy in a profoundly pro-German direction, as was seen after the 2009 financial crisis. Not counting nations on the European periphery (Russia and Turkey), Germany has the largest population in the region. It has the largest economy by far, exceeding its nearest competitor, France, by over a trillion dollars. Its major corporations export their goods across the globe, earning profits from every inhabited continent. In short, Germany is the most important nation on the European continent. Where it goes, Europe tends to follow – either by democratic choice or by bureaucratic fiat.
And that’s precisely why the Teutonic nation’s fundamentally flawed and foolish foreign policy is such a clear and present danger to the security and future prosperity of the West.
The Biden administration has a fatally flawed understanding of our position vis a vis our geopolitical adversaries; their consequent reluctance to capitalize on weakness betrays American interests.
Geopolitics has always moved quickly in the modern era, accelerated by rapid communications and technological progress. Swift nautical vessels carried letters across vast distances in the Early Modern period; railways connected the world even faster, fundamentally altering the human perception of time itself; wired telegraphy made it so that messages could be transmitted as quickly as electrical currents could flow, while wireless telegraphy – the radio – created mass culture as we know it; television and satellite coverage made those messages into a natural audiovisual medium, bringing global events into sharp focus. Now, in the 21st century, information can flow from one corner of the world to the other instantaneously and powerful human and computer networks can work together to analyze, contextualize, and present this data nearly as quickly. This technology allows decision-makers near-total perception of the information environment. The task of statesmanship is to understand this information, determine what is salient and what is not, and – ultimately – to make choices on that basis.
Regrettably, the Biden administration is failing on that crucial task. Instead of making timely strategic and tactical decisions to forward our national interests and grand strategy, they have seemingly adopted a policy of reluctance. In an era of rising Great Power competition and conflict, we are signaling impotence with respect to our two primary geopolitical antagonists – Russia and China – just as they are each dealing with significant weaknesses of their own. This is exactly the time we should be showing strength and capitalizing on the challenges of our rivals, but instead we are proving indecisive and hesitant. That is a recipe for disaster.
November 2022 has been a busy month in terms of international affairs. We’ve seen continuing protests against the theocratic regime in Iran, major counteroffensives by Ukraine against Russia, and the COP27 global climate conference in Egypt. In this Foreign Telegram, we discuss all three – recapping recent events, analyzing their impact, and explaining why you should care about each. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this tour around the world of foreign policy!