1 A Leadership Crisis? in:

Clement Guitton

Unlikely Allies, page 1 - 28

How Group Leadership Shapes International Afffairs in the 21st Century

1. Edition 2018, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4278-6, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7189-2, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828871892-1

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
A Leadership Crisis? The world is facing a leadership crisis, if we are to believe many news commentators. As soon as entering office, Donald Trump, the US President, withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that would have involved 12 countries and that took at least seven years to negotiate. He quickly followed up by withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, a climate change agreement held by many to be a historical feat that had brought 196 countries together to agree on a topic, about which, six years earlier in Copenhagen, no consensus could be found. The US, previously seen as the ‘leader of the world’, was now exhorting leaders to ‘always put your countries’ [interest] first’ – as Trump worded it in a September 2017 address to the United Nations.1 Even if the impact of Trump's words has tremendously decreased since his inauguration, when a realisation kicked in that his bark is far worse than his bite, perception still matters in politics. And the perception was clearly not one of a bright, shiny, attractive, smooth leader in action. Other alternatives to a US leadership would appear at first sight to be disappointing. Angela Merkel, Germany’s long-standing chancellor, ruling from the centre at home without following an obvious distinct ideology, has repeatedly rejected the media’s willingness to call her ‘leader of the free world’. She has similarly largely rejected plans to go after big ideas. Amidst this change of discourse, Xi Jinping, China’s president, tried to position himself as championing free trade, not least in a speech at the well-mediatised World Economic Forum in Davos, the year of Trump’s inauguration. A few months later, during the onceevery-five-years national congress of the Communist Party, Xi reiterated that ‘it is time for us to take centre stage in the world and to make a greater contribution to humankind’. In other words, China would like 1 1 The British economist Barbara Ward probably coined the phrase ‘leader of the world’ for the first time in an essay in The New York Times in November 1948. 1 to bring more influence to bear in geopolitics and to export its model, which has so far been a domain almost exclusively dominated by the US. That China will seek to protect their newly made $1 trillion investments abroad (through a graphically, albeit clumsily, scheme called the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’) is understandable. But when the head of a still very authoritarian and policed state, with a planned economy, restricted currency flow, and high barriers of entry for foreign firms wishing to enter its domestic market, manages to pull off a bluff in presenting its country as liberal, it is a sign that something really radical might be going on. So, if the US leadership is declining, it is a legitimate question to ask: who is replacing it? Two answers quite opposite to one another have made their way into the realm of the probable: either other countries will rise and take up the role of the leaders – take your pick from China, India, Russia, the EU, or a combination thereof – or alternatively, no one else will. Gordon Brown, the former UK Prime Minister, told The Guardian in an interview in September 2018 about dangers of a new financial crisis that ‘there is going to have to be a severe awakening to the escalation of risks, but we are in a leaderless world’. There will be no one leading the world, in other words. For both of these options – another single leading state rising, or a leaderless world –, many op-eds, news articles, and think tank publications have come out all detailing their own supporting arguments.2 Yet, this manuscript would like to offer a third alternative. That the US is leaving its seat as a leader does not mean that no other form of leadership can emerge. What about countries coming together in groups, and leading as a group, collectively? By focusing on cooperation rather than power struggles, such a theory has a definite undertone that will appeal to those more inclined towards liberalism than to realism, a school of thought slightly blunter, which ascribes a very big weight to military and economic might in order to explain how states shape their influ- 2 Listing them all would be pointless. The two very last one that came to my attention in July 2018 were an article from the respected Chatham House entitled ‘America’s Crisis of Leadership at Home and Abroad’ (Leslie Vinjamuri) and James Dobbin, a former US Ambassador to the European Union as well as former assistant secretary of state for Europe, declaring: ‘The real alternative to an American-led rules-based international order isn’t successful bilateralism. It’s a Chinese-led order’. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 2 ence. A focus on these factors is not necessarily wrong when seeking to explain the dominant position of a single-country-ruling-at-the-top – hegemony, in other words. It is merely answering the wrong question. In an op-ed in the Financial Times in October 2018, prominent figures including Jean-Claude Trichet, a former President of the European Central Bank, wrote that ‘we need a new, more co-operative international order’. The op-ed contended that ‘the central challenge is to create a new, co-operative international order for a world that has changed irreversibly: one that is more multipolar, more decentralised in decision-making, and yet more interconnected’. This book argues that current state of world affairs has actually already begun moving in that direction. Consider the following quotes, all by much respected and influential pundits in international relations, all of whom come from the US: (1) A world without U.S. primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global affairs. (2) It is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America. (3) If this is bad news for US foreign policy, it is worse news for many other countries, because America has acted for decades as the primary provider of global public goods. […] History has shown that it’s never a good idea to bet against the United States. (4) Because the current leading state is by far the world’s most formidable military power, the chances of leadership conflict are more remote than at any time over the last two centuries. The first quote is by Samuel P. Huntington, the second by Zbigniew Brzeziński, the third by Ian Bremmer and the fourth by William Wohlforth. They all exhibit a common two-pronged theme: that the US is ‘at the top’ and that everybody is better off by keeping it this way. For anyone not American – although possibly for a few Americans as well – the tone that comes across is strikingly arrogant, leading to some people dismissing the argument altogether. This perpetuates the myth that the US hegemony has been built with consent, and it has completely disregarded how the US has coerced (economically, politi- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 3 cally, or military) a few states, especially developing countries.3 Such a stance also plays down US indifference, or even its opposition to decolonisation, as much as its questionable military interventions (for instance, in Iran, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua). And as a few make the leap to argue that unipolarity with US hegemony makes the world peaceful, the idea further disregards the poor record of unipolarity in preventing conflict in the Third World. Other than arrogance, the authors should be given the benefit of the doubt that they suffer rather from a strong geographical bias. It is a natural attribution bias that one is more inclined to see wrongs in others than in ourselves; by extension, humans are less prone to accept counter-arguments either that US leadership is declining or that this may even be positive. And when discussing arguments of US leadership, it is rather astonishing to notice how much authors coalesce and piggyback on each other’s work. Consider the following review from The Economist in 2008 about a rather influential book, The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria, an oft-quoted journalist on world order: Of the roughly three dozen or so contemporary thinkers whose ideas the author praises in the text and uses to make sense of it all, most are not just in America, but based in the north-east corridor that links Boston, New York and Washington, DC. The few exceptions have nearly all spent extensive time in these cities. Besides the US bias, the discussion of who is ‘at the top’ can often feel to come from an all-boys, insecure elitist club, comparing sizes and exploits to decide who of them all should get the reward for being superior. On the other hand, those embracing liberal views are often dismissed as being fairly naïve when not weak. To be fair to the US, other countries do it too. The then Prime Minister of France, Alain Juppé, declared in 1995 that ‘France can and must assert its vocation as a world power’. The underlying assumption is that confrontation and competition in a fight over control resulting in a single winner brings more benefits than other more cooperative means. Psychological trauma left by a harsh upbringing may explain such a view, or an otherwise 3 See John Ikenberry on why the US pursued multilateralism, especially that the US extracts ‘loyalty and compliance from the weaker states by promising not to threaten them or exercise its power arbitrarily’. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 4 very macho approach. (Also to be fair, statements about masculinity are often to be found within the realm of security affairs, best exemplified by, but by no means exclusively confined to, a Tweet by Donald Trump about his nuclear button being bigger than the one of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.4) But there is an element that is constantly underplayed, in the hegemony as much as in the security literature: the one of inclusion, resulting in feelings of unfairness. Hegemony is unstable Until the 18th century, having one all-powerful ruler over the country, the king, was common. But it couldn’t last, as feelings of unfairness meant growing discontent. Similarly, within the walls of one’s own homes, the man was the leader of the family until well into the 1980s in many Western countries, and he could decide arbitrarily what was best for the household and its members.5 Again, this could not last: women demanded and obtained equal treatment. The overall point here is simple: non-inclusive set-ups are not built to last; they break down sooner or later. Of course, comparison between the US as hegemon in the world order and tyrants in 18th century Europe will draw criticism of being way too extreme. The US does not usually impose its will as a tyrant from the Middle Ages would have done. It is more subtle, in terms of agenda setting and negotiation leverage. It is very much noteworthy that tyranny has also become subtle nowadays. As the two authors Erica Frantz and Andrea Kendall-Taylor noted in a 2017 article of the Cold War era journal Survival, looking at the evolution of autocracy, ‘from 1940–59, almost half of all dictatorships emerged through a coup d’état’, but that today, the process of ‘authoritarianisa- 4 The exact Tweet, on Jan 2, 2018, was: ‘North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!’ 5 Although the term ‘the West’ reads awfully for many, it refers roughly to the US, Canada, Japan, Korea, the European Union, Switzerland, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore. Alternatives are not much better between ‘the Atlantic World’ and the ‘free world’. So, even if the Cold War has now been over for almost 30 years, I hope that my readers will forgive my use of the term. Hegemony is unstable 5 tion’ is rather through ‘the gradual erosion of democratic norms and practices’. Examples in Turkey, Hungary and Poland spring to mind. Taking the point about fairness one step further, one argument has also had a surprisingly long life within international relations, despite contravening much to common sense when applied elsewhere: the single leader argument. The analogy of one very powerful entity at the supreme echelon of a pyramidal structure fuelling a sense of unfairness and resentment should provide a challenge to common thinking. The term ‘hegemon’ carries much of this idea denoting single political dominance even if this has strayed further from its original meaning. Revived by the Englishman George Grote in a voluminous study of ancient Greece published in the mid-19th century, it denoted for the Greeks the leadership of a coalition of so-called city-states that voluntarily lent legitimacy to a designated leader for their protection against a clear enemy. The somewhat extended and stronger version of a state imposing its will on others with hegemony that is close to tyranny is hence more recent. Ironically, the original terminology of a ‘hegemon’ is much closer to the thesis of leadership that this manuscript posits and will be detailed shortly. The notion of an all-powerful single leader at the top of an institution is a commonly accepted idea in other domains than politics. The single leader argument is also found in business – the very area where the term ‘leadership’ flourished in the 1970s, possibly as it had an undeniably greater marketing appeal over its competitor term ‘hegemon’. In business, CEOs are also often revered. And also similarly to international relations, there are doubts about how well grounded this reverence for a CEO is. ‘The myth of the miracle-working CEO’, was the title of a Financial Times column in August 2017, explaining that ‘boards [shouldn’t] cling to the cult of the indispensable leader’. Basically, the impact of the CEO and his legacy can be somewhat limited. Circumstances (and luck) can account for a substantial factor when explaining whether a company thrived or died. While terrible decisions may have precipitated bankruptcy, even a ‘neutral’ CEO could have benefited from a positive developing environment, noted the Financial Times. Instead, diversity is a key element to reach goals, meaning having a board with different backgrounds, lines of specialisation, silos, and clearly-defined tasks. Michael Porter, usually called a ‘management gu- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 6 ru’, also goes strongly against this myth of the super manager with its famous five force framework: he explains that industry’s profit margins are constrained by five forces (threats of new entrants, threats of substitutes, power of suppliers, power of buyers, and rivalry amongst existing firms) and regardless of how good the manager is, they will not be able to realise profits much beyond the industry’s average because of these forces. Other than in international relations and business, domestic politics in liberal democracies offer a rebuttal of this myth of a single leader at the top with too much power. Sure, despots can ‘get things done’, especially as they don’t have to spend too much time arguing with others. But the overall negative effects largely over-shadow the positive ones. Repression ensues as people grow frustrated at not being able to express their opinions and see them implemented. Divisions grow between those close to the reigning despot and those further away, rippling into instability. In the long-term, prospects are never rosy. Many Western citizens nowadays would largely value, on the other hand, diversity of opinions and the plurality of parties, even if that means passing watered-down reforms and time-consuming debates. Making compromises to reach consensus and being inclusive is now more important for stability than other factors of celerity or effectiveness. It follows that despotism and authoritarianism are not usually terms that we associate positively with ruling types. And yet, in international relations, there is a certain reverence when discussing the allmighty leadership of a single state, the US. Without the US leadership, the thinking seems to be going, the world is doomed to be worse off. Alternatives that come to mind don’t appear as satisfying: with a world led by China or Russia, liberties would be curtailed; and no-one genuinely believes the EU could step up to that role of leader of a unipolar world. We have, however, not nearly exhausted all possibilities. If not the US, who? The concept of diversity now so ingrained in business practices or domestic politics is, however, not regarded with the same admiration in international relations. Discussions of multipolarity are noticeably If not the US, who? 7 tainted with scepticism: without the clear leadership of the US, we wouldn’t be able to be so productive, the story goes. In recent memories, after all, the US leadership has brought us the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) against Iran’s nuclear armament (which President Trump exited in 2018); the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which Trump also exited as soon as he took his first step in office); a variety of sanctions through the United Nations Security Council against North Korea; and threats of sanctions against Maduro’s regime, veering into full-scale dictatorship (that the US was by far the main buyer of Venezuela’s oil, constituting 95% of the government’s revenue, certainly also pushed up the expectation of the US acting). The US further put up together a coalition to fight (and as of writing, about to defeat) ISIS. It is undeniable hence that their role as a leader has substance and that they have enough firepower at the moment ‘to get things done’. And yet, that the US keeps the lead here and there is not the full picture; other states have also acted with a global leadership role, as the manuscript will present in the coming chapters. That not everyone, let alone every state, supports the action of the US is at the core of politics; it is divisive. But alternatives to one single state at the top of the world order ship do not have to make us worse off. A crew governing the ship can also do it very well; the notion of a single state leader is not set in stone. So far, many have rather seen the move away from a unipolar, hegemon-led world with regret and nostalgia. Ian Bremmer, an oftquoted pundit on international relations who heads the political risk consultancy firm Eurasia, published in 2009 a book with the quite explicit title Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World. Bremmer’s book makes it clear that the author sees the end of the US reign at the top as sad and undesired. But more importantly, Bremmer overlooks that states will come together if it is in their interest. The end of US leadership doesn’t mean that we’ll have no other forms of leadership (non-competitive apolarity, no state having the status of hyperpower, isn’t the only option, in other words). There will not be only one hegemon, but leading states; and they will not only belong to one group but to several, reflecting their sphere of interests, and in each of these groups, there may not be a designated leader, but the group as a whole can act as one. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 8 This is the alternative that this manuscript posits: that an alternative to this thinking of a hegemonic, unipolar world is to approach leadership in international relations as group leadership. Not all is rosy with such a system either. As vibrant democracy and businesses have shown, much energy must be spent negotiating, leveraging, and finding compromises. Different interests, different characteristics – strong and weak – in what countries can deliver, and different cultural perceptions of governance, mean that states will experience different sets of challenges, as when following a strong leader. But the consequence of accepting that equal shared leadership role at the top is possible leads to a much different conclusion than Bremmer’s one. The end of US leadership leaves place not to a less stable world with top contenders fighting to fill the top job’s vacuum (mostly Russia, China, the EU, and possibly India), but rather to one that is more stable. A debated question The idea that multipolarity leads to more stability is not new and can be rather contentious in international relations circles. A big debate has notably surrounded a theory called ‘balance of power’. According to the balance of power theory, no equilibrium is achieved with hegemony; hegemons cannot stay for a very long time at the top as other states challenge it and eventually weaken it, leading to multipolarity. For some, especially neo-realists, the US is evidence that the theory doesn’t hold: since 1990, it has led by far in military, technology, geopolitical, and economic power. They argue that the situation is nothing exceptional and that in the past 2,000 years of world history the periods where a hegemon has ruled have lasted for as long as when power has been balanced out with other ‘states’ or empires – a fifty-fifty split in other words. To their credit, the neo-realists’ balance-of-power theory has been put forward with European history in mind, and that any application outside this geographic area should contain a caveat. Today’s world is very different from the time when Spain was the dominant power in the 16th and 17th century, and to the time when Britain – and Napoleon after that – came to replace it. By today’s standards, these powers would be rather regional, confined to Europe only. The A debated question 9 level of interactions on such a global and regular scale, from any country to any country, makes it hard to draw meaningful comparisons. Critiques of the balance-of-power theory also like to point out that during the period of unipolarity, the theory predicts peace. So, in both cases, whether balance-of-power theory holds or whether it can be refuted with perpetuating unipolarity, they argue that the US military lead makes the likelihood of inter-state conflicts involving superpowers (aka market-relevant conflicts) remote anyway. Yet, even two vocal critiques of the theory, William Wohlforth (already quoted above) and Stephen Brooks concede that the US unipolarity is unlikely to remain for another ten to fifteen years, which is actually a very short time (they wrote in 1999 that it would last probably as long as the bipolarity during the Cold War). This concession – and their research through 2,000 years of world history – means that polarity is cyclical and hence not eternal. The US decline as a power is to differentiate from its decline in leadership – and even from a world order moving away from the ‘rulesbased (liberal) international order’, a much-loved wording these days. Power and leadership are not the same thing at all. Power is a highly contested concept in politics, but one useful framework is to look at it in terms of military, technology, geopolitics, and economics. Wohlforth, leading the clique concerning US-maintained hegemony, defined it as ‘decisive preponderance’ in each of these components of power, and it has become increasingly clear that this preponderance is no longer so decisive. For technology and economics, leadership and power (leverage) are more difficult to distinguish from one another; it is less so for military and geopolitics. The sheer size of the US military ensures that they will not be dethroned any time soon from their number one position: in 2017, the US military budget was higher than the combined budget of the eight countries ranked right behind it, meaning China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, the UK, Japan, and Germany. But military capabilities do not mean that the US would be ready to use it, either. President Trump calling the Nato alliance ‘obsolete’ and its reluctant acknowledgment of Nato’s still-to-play role has sown much doubt about the US readiness to help another member state should it face a military con- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 10 flict. Also, military power does not automatically translate into geopolitical power, as the 2003 Iraq war has shown. The US also has a top place as an innovator concerning the second aspect of power, technology. Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon top the ranks of companies by market capitalisation (with a global worth of just under $3 trillion at the end of 2017). They are all technology companies, while new disrupting technologies, from selfdriving electrical cars to blockchains, are still likely to come from the US. In this area of technology, the US is hence in a power position, and it is a leader; it has demonstrated in the past fifty years or more that it has the culture and required infrastructure to support innovation. And yet, the pace of technological change means that reverses of fortune can be very quick. Facebook didn’t exist 12 years ago; accessing the internet from one’s phone was not popular before 2007, the year Apple launched the iPhone. Maintaining the status of technological leader, although quite likely, also has its share of uncertainty, just because of sheer numbers: already since 2007, China has notably been training three times more engineers than the US. China has also openly planned to ‘dominate’ artificial intelligence by 2030. That a reversal of fortunes can happen quickly is, however, nothing new. As Robert O. Paxton put it in The New Yorker Review of Books: Germany dominated the world of science before 1933. Germans won fifteen Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine between 1918 and 1933, more than any other nation. Far from capitalizing on this major soft power asset, Hitler destroyed it by imposing ideological conformity and expelling Jewish scientists such as the talented nuclear physicist Lise Meitner. The soft power of science is fragile, as Americans may yet find out. The two remaining areas of power are clearly, however, ones showing decline in both raw terms and leadership terms. If we distinguish geopolitics from its military component, which has already been briefly treated above, to focus on ideology, the ones championed by the US have been more in retreat than evolving: with a surge of populist movements – including in the US – questioning the well-founded benefits of globalisation, the US is failing in leading the charge to convince that liberal economics does in fact benefit everyone. Its allpowerful central bank is also failing at explaining why the traditional A debated question 11 monetary cycle is not functioning anymore, as low unemployment and low inflation co-existed throughout 2017, and the impact of the tapering of quantitative easing (especially on sky-rocketed stock valuations) seems undetermined. Further, although it used to be championing free competition, a recent renewal in protectionist measures has put into question their commitment to this ideology. In the meanwhile, China’s ‘state capitalist’ model is emerging as more robust than previously thought. Within institutions, the US is not faring very well as a leader either. In October 2017, within the same week, it went head to head with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over its domestic proposed tax reform; it started a fight with the World Bank over its lending practice to China; it withdrew from UNESCO because of ‘anti-Israel’ bias (basically, because of UNESCO accepting Palestine as a member state in 2011), an organisation it has owed $500 million to in the past six years; and threatened to withdraw from a seven-member deal with Iran on its nuclear programme that the previous US administration helped to put together (and from which it did withdraw seven months later).6 A few weeks before that, Trump lambasted the United Nations as ‘a bloated bureaucracy’. And even earlier, in March, Trump’s administration published a report making a strong suggestion to break from the World Trade Organisation’s rules by re-establishing barriers and tariffs otherwise not permitted. As the State Department was facing a reduction of a third of its budget, the president of the think-tank Council on Foreign Relations, Richard Haas, titled Trump new-found foreign policy ‘The Withdrawal Doctrine’. And there really seems to be something to it. Some saw it coming already in 2002, as in the case of Charles Krauthammer, a Pulitzer-winning political commentator for Fox News, and a cancer-fighter (in June 2018, he announced that his doctors told 6 It also withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018 for the same reason as for UNESCO, because of the focus of the agency’s focus on Israeli abuses. That the Council also counts as members Venezuela and Congo did certainly not help with its legitimacy – but it is as much questionable whether the withdrawal of an otherwise potentially influential member would help change the situation. As The Economist of the week of its withdrawal summarised: ‘The lesson is clear: if America truly wanted to stand with Israel and improve the UN body, it would not now join Eritrea, Iran and North Korea in refusing to take part in it’. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 12 him he only has ‘a few weeks left to live’). Krauthammer thought that the US withdrawal from foreign affairs would come from the ‘old-fashioned isolationism of traditional conservatives, who believe that America’s national interests are never served by foreign entanglements and adventures of any kind’. But for a long time, Krauthammer was considered wrong. In 2013, the scholar Amitav Acharya pointed that out about Krauthammer’s forecast, as Acharya had in mind George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s legacy. Trump’s presidency is showing that Krauthammer wasn’t so wrong after all. Lastly, when it comes to economics, the most straightforward factor, US GDP as share of global GDP, has been falling from 40% in 1960, to 30% in 2000, to slightly more than 20% in 2014. It is still at the top, but China is following right behind. In the case of economics, it is less a decline of the US than a rise of everyone else, as different scholars have noted (such as Fareed Zakaria, quoted above, or the British historian at Yale University Paul Kennedy, in a much appraised book, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers). In terms of raw numbers, the US still keeps the big share of the pie. Consider this impressive listing from a 2007 paper from the French scholar Bruno Tertrais, asking the question: ‘Where is American headed?’ It is a leader in economic areas such as global production (29%), GDP (USD 11 trillion) and national income (USD 9.67 trillion), energy production, meat production, cultivated farm area (430 million hectares), software production (51.2%), exporting of services, the number of domestic companies listed among the world’s 500 top-ranking companies (49.7%), market capitalisation (42%), R&D expenditures (more than onethird), the number of registered patents (51.9%), shares in the capital of the IMF, foreign direct investment stock (USD 1.6 trillion), and shares of a national currency in central bank reserves (66% of all reserves), first place for the number of Nobel Prizes received, the number of foreign students, the number of Internet servers (80% of all servers), and the mostoften visited Internet websites (68%). It is hard to see how this economic power would not translate in driving the world economy forward. And yet, factors for decline are as numerous. Consider this other list from Acharya in his book The End of American World Order: ‘tax cuts, current account deficits, diffusion of technology around the world, gridlock governance, doubts over US ability to pay off its debts, Moody’s downgrading of the US, growing A debated question 13 healthcare costs, forecasts of a debt/GDP ratio by 2016 that is over 100 percent, and the consequent doubts over the status of the dollar as a reserve currency’. The lingering doubts are hence as impressive as well. Who’s right? The decline is more in relative terms than in sheer ones. It is also noteworthy that this culture of economic success is likely to continue, as it is very ingrained in US culture. Most people, whatever their nationality, aim at reaching an economic status, and then, when confronted by a promotion with the choice between earning more or rather working less, take the latter. US workers preponderantly chose the former, as the curves of productivity vs. economic well-being show. Hence, the US leadership has been declining in absolute terms in geopolitics, and in relative degrees due to the rise of others in military capability and economics. That should be sufficient to try to figure out what can come next, with a variety of actors involved in leadership. Coming in: group leadership Merely speaking of multipolarity, however, as a next phase to the unipolar world order is unsatisfying. Even though there are several shades of multipolarity, it often largely focuses on ‘big’ players (e.g., Brazil, India). It accounts for a very few countries sitting at the top table. Many of the alternatives for a challenger to the US leadership appear short on legs when taken country by country: Russia has a declining population and relies heavily on gas and mere military willingness to be aggressive; India has a growing population but ancient labour practices, endemic poverty, a divisive cast system, and an infrastructure not conducive to foreign investments (weak contract law enforcement, dodgy regulators); the EU hasn’t succeeded to accommodate within a single monetary and fiscal policy its strong export-oriented members with its weaker economic ones and has faced a backlash about its willingness for more integration from regions feeling disempowered by far-away-sitting faceless technocrats; Brazil has struggled to get its inflation figures in control, as much as corruption scandals and consequently political stability; and China has dangerously piled up debts, faces strong environmental degradation and pollution, an ageing population under an authoritarian regime with at times barbar- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 14 ic responses – not exactly a moral leader. By focussing on only ‘big’ players, the myriad of other smaller states still playing an important role in displacing the whole system are being dismissed. This lacks nuance, and this is where group leadership theory comes in to fill a gap. Group leadership theory does not seek to restrict the view of leadership to only a small number of limited states. It seeks to acknowledge the role that almost any state can play in any group and where no hierarchy exists. By coming together into groups, states can achieve much. Naturally, as the meaning of leadership is probably as much contested as the one of power and world order itself, this can add to the confusion. Two major points are usually retained, but will be contested in this monograph, to define leadership: firstly, for many, it needs to influence the behaviour of other states (the resulting consequences and execution are therefore considered); and secondly, it needs to get states to do something that they would not want to do otherwise. This latter highlights much of the core challenge about leadership – it would be way too easy otherwise, argue certain commentators, if it was just about leading a group volunteering and cheeringly following. This echoes remarks by the then US President Harry S. Truman in front of the National Guard in October 1950, four months after the beginning of the Korean war. In his remarks, he lamented that only one third of the young men and women of his country were fit for combat and sought to embolden the members of the National Guard. Within that martial context, he defined leadership in a much less romantic way than a management book would tend to: ‘You know what makes leadership? It is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do and like it’. While enveloping the definition of ‘leadership’ with ethics is important (Hitler or Stalin were certainly great at leading other people to act but this would not entitle them to be classified as great leaders), delving into it is also fraught with many difficulties (notably how to define the ‘greater good’), and is better left aside for the moment. So, why would yet another theory be useful? Why should anyone care about the world order? Why should businesses care? Theory is, after all, for many, merely good as an intellectual gymnastic. Each theory tries to reduce the complexities of the world, to extract its essence, and to boil down nuances in an almost perverse, if not offensive way. The sheer size of the world means that no single unified Coming in: group leadership 15 theory can probably encompass the creativity (and craziness) of humans across cultures, and of the organisations, state structure and others which they erect. By offering another nuance, this theory doesn’t differ on this point. This theory acknowledges therefore that it certainly cannot explain everything; but it puts the emphasis on an often neglected aspect of international relations: inclusion. The appeal of the theory is that it is inclusive and that it is not focused only on the state. It reflects the assumption that non-inclusive policies are bound to fail eventually. If this sounds wishy-washy – as inclusiveness is indeed a very trendy term bandied around at so many occasions that it has acquired a condescending air of idealism – examples abound from slavery, to women’s ineligibility to vote, to exclusions of homosexuals from military units, to casting out HIV positive individuals from society. And even if the aforementioned issues are primarily domestic in nature, the same has applied in contemporary international relations, where those affected by the policies being discussed have not been included in the process. One short example – if one is needed at all – would be the revisions of the archaic rules called the International Telecommunication Regulations in 2012 in Dubai, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications. States discussed the treaty, as they are the only members formally vetted to do so. Citizens, whose privacy could be affected by the discussion, and private companies ranging from cable operators to service providers (Google, Microsoft), could only pass on their input via the diplomatic representations of their country – ultimately acting as a guardian, deciding whether to include their points or not, depending on whether the points made aligned with what the diplomats would consider to be in the ‘state’s interest’. This can easily be generalised. Although many ‘national interests’ for states are driven by trade, where companies are the main actors, companies are not primarily regarded as an actor of international relations. Realists, especially, put the emphasis on the state; they regard it as the most important institution in international relations, by far. But this is not sustainable, or, as pundits like to call it, stable. With more inclusive processes within international relations, the world order can achieve further stability, and this is what we have started seeing. Hence, the theory leads us to consider new arguments. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 16 Probably even more importantly, and although the theory is descriptive rather than prescriptive, its conclusion should be comforting: it is conducive to a more efficient way for states to engage with one another as they take ownership of their actionable items, and it leads to less upheavals, to more ‘stability’ in other words (i.e., the durability of a moment, and that conflicts do not materialise although they do exist). For businesses, instability and uncertainty are not a good mix. Many examples have recently highlighted how political instability could trigger potential losses. Let us consider two such examples from the European Union. The world order experienced a relatively small earthquake in June 2016, as the UK voted by a thin margin to exit the European Union in June 2016. As a result, many businesses were plunged into uncertainty as to what regulations constraining their business would look like, how trade agreements determining tariffs and barriers would put them at a disadvantage, or even whether they would be able to keep a sufficient workforce to keep their operations running. Amidst uncertainty, businesses would still have to take investment decisions. Another small earthquake, but this time involving the monopoly on violence of the state, exemplified this relevance. On October 1, 2017, the Catalans held a referendum asking their population: ‘Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?’ The central Spanish government, following a ruling by their Constitutional Court that the referendum was breaching the constitution, sent police forces to seize ballot boxes and halt the referendum. Images of violent clashes with the police circulated widely later online, invariably with a pro-Catalan message, as Spain was responding violently to what many saw as the mere expression of democratic rights. In a few videos, old and wobbly seniors were seen thrown on the floor by the police; in others, crying middle-aged women with faces covered in blood were running away from packed rooms full of voters still not yet deterred by the use of police batons. The result of the referendum, while biased, was still very telling: more than two million (90% of the voters) answered the question with a ‘yes’. The week following the violent clashes, a sense of uncertainty prevailed: what would the Catalans – Government, Parliament, and pro-movement activists – try to do? Force Madrid’s hand to secede? Use the vote to leverage more conces- Coming in: group leadership 17 sions from Madrid so that Catalonia could have more independence in decisions and resemble the Basque country more? For businesses, this was unwanted uncertainty and instability. Before the week’s end, two banks, Banco de Sabadell and CaixaBank, had announced that they would move their legal headquarters away from Catalonia. ‘Money and fear don’t go together’, the Financial Times quoted a representative from CaixaBank. Were the region to break from Spain, Catalonia would also be forced to exit the Eurozone, which would put further pressure on other Eurozone members, and would threaten the business of these very banks. Brexit and the Catalan vote are both local in nature and they both highlight different reasons for considering changes in world order. Many companies, mostly financial institutions, affected by Brexit and located in London, are international in nature. Yet, the local conditions, and especially the political atmosphere, have come to bear increasing consequences on companies’ global business operations. Populist views and unwelcome messages for foreign companies have meant that these global companies have had to establish, invest and nurture a local presence reliant on local conditions. This is true for financial companies as much as it is for manufacturing, engineering companies, and a host of others. The case of Catalonia is interesting because it is so graphic and violent: even in the West, the monopoly of force has remained with the state. It was also a strong reminder that despite trying to pull countries together under a common arch, the European Union has not been able to tame identity politics and, notably, wishes of independence. More integration, a wish from the technocrat-ruled Brussels, has not been accompanied by individual states accepting more federalism at the regional level to compensate for the perceived loss of power. Feelings of not being included, and of unfairness, have ensued – feelings already evoked earlier that do not bode well for continuity. As mentioned, corporations care for the stability and predictability of their business environment. Highlighting trends for this business environment should hence be helpful for them (and for the economic well-being of citizens as well, under the assumptions that the benefits trickle down to them eventually too): that local matters for the global, that inclusion and perceptions of unfairness need special attention, 1 A Leadership Crisis? 18 and that political violence, even in the West, can still have a certain relevance. The past three decades have seen a sharp decline in inter-state conflicts, but importantly not in intra-state ones, as well as a relative absence in long-term market relevant conflict, especially when measured in economic terms and not only via financial markets’ ups and downs. The term is sure to make the hair of many people who are especially concerned with developing countries stand on end, and it has a definite first-world-problem type of bias with it: Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Syria were all human tragedies that were devastating for their local economy. Yet, the consequences for global financial markets were short-lived, and in economic terms, fairly unnoticeable. Upon announcement of the war with Iraq in 2003, US financial markets even surged on the expectation that the war would be ending quickly (the assumptions that wars are quickly waged is a recurring one in international conflict, where opponents’ capabilities are systematically under-assessed). Two months after the beginning of the war, US markets had bottomed out, and six months later, they were at +27% (notably, oil prices did not have consistent behaviour, volatile in weeks leading to this very war, but at other times plunging when they could have been expected to rise during periods of conflicts with more limited flow). By contrast, 9/11 is so far the only terrorist incident with large market (financial, and arguably, economic) repercussions. In line with this form of political violence, terrorist lone wolf attacks using knives or cars since 2014 have sowed fear to some extent that anyone could be indiscriminately targeted. But they have also highlighted the desperate nature of the terrorists’ attempts, which have not made most share price curves really bulge. Naturally, any uncertainty has also another side; they also represent a source of opportunities. Consider this conclusion from numbers put together by the data website ‘TheAtlas.com’, under the caption ‘Number of start-ups by region valued at or above $1 billion since 2010’: between 2010 and 2013, the very big bulk of new companies valued at $1 billion or above came from the US; by mid-2016, half came from China, and a quarter from Europe. Spotting large changes in dynamics – it almost goes without saying – can bring rewards. Coming in: group leadership 19 The dawn of group leadership has been signalled before. While the Second World War was still raging, 26 governments came together and signed officially, on January 1, 1942 the ‘Declaration of the United Nations’. The Declaration expressed many times how the countries would be working for a ‘common interest’, towards ‘common ends’, sharing ‘common responsibilities’, with a ‘common plan’ of action. The ‘group’ came to grow from there on, accepting more and more members, and achieving somewhat concrete results. Fifty five years later, a seminal book was mentioning a form of group leadership in terms that were still vague and rather conceptual, pointing out that its pinnacle still hadn’t come; The Grand Chessboard, by former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzeziński. The book, whose title is representative of realism, depicted states going head-to-head against one another, finished however with a prescient note on what can be regarded as the dawn of group leadership: These efforts [of improving the human condition] will have the added historical advantage of benefiting from the new web of global linkages that is growing exponentially outside the more traditional nation-state system. [...] In the course of the next several decades, a functioning structure of global cooperation, based on geopolitical realities, could thus emerge and gradually assume the mantle of the world’s current “regent,” which has for the time being assumed the burden of responsibility for world stability and peace. Geostrategic success in that cause would represent a fitting legacy of America’s role as the first, only, and last truly global superpower. Other hints can be found here and there. Some, such as the French scholar Bruno Tetrais, saw ‘volunteer coalitions’ in the 1991 Gulf War or even in the 1999 Kosovo intervention. Similarly, a memoire by a former disillusioned British diplomat, Carne Ross, published in 2007, also evokes group leadership with, again, a certain idealistic wishful undertone: The cliché of contemporary discussion of international affairs is a cliché for a reason: more and more of our problems are transnational in nature, and do not lend themselves to solution by individual states but only by collective action. Terrorism is one, but so are disease (SARS, bird flu), global warming and migration. To deal with these issues, the traditional calculus of identifying one country’s interests, then arbitrating these with other countries, makes little sense. The causes of these problems are complex, and their solutions require detailed, long-term and collective action. 1 A Leadership Crisis? 20 So, has the time for group leadership yet come? Further advances in concepts and examples of practice suggest that it has. Related concepts A few recent approaches have already embroidered a similar picture, with a focus on networked structures. Network theories seek to explain how connections are formed and have consequences. But they have failed to explain how, and if at all possible, a group of equals can lead; empirically, as the manuscript will show, there have been several examples of groups of states coming together and leading together. Network theories elaborate on the long tradition of liberal theories. Liberal theories have put the accent on two prerequisites for cooperation: common interest and low barriers (political, economic or otherwise) to start cooperating. These two pre-requisites still hold, but cooperation does not have to sit at the opposite end of the affinity-adversity spectrum between states. In this sense, network theory changes the way to approach relations. Anne-Marie Slaughter, President of the think tank New America, a well renowned scholar of international relations and a former member of the State Secretary under Hillary Clinton for two years, has put forward one such theory in her book The Chess-Board and the Web. Instead of approaching relations in terms of state-to-state relations, Slaughter has focused on connections between people, across several layers (judges, legislators, regulators, and bureaucrats, for instance), and where sociability prevails over the ill-defined self-interests of states. Hence, power is derived in terms of ‘connectedness’, which means ‘the number, type, and location of connections a node has’. A direct consequence of more connectedness – as argued by Ian Goldin and Mike Mariathassan in The Butterfly Effect – is a higher complexity and an increased number of systemic risks, as connectivity allows ripple effects to propagate through the network, should the risk materialise. The other side of the coin is that connectivity also allows the absorbance of shock, as the scholar Mauro F. Guillén, in his book The Architecture of Collapse, has convincingly shown. His point is that complexity in the network contributes to shock-diffusing dynamics, while Related concepts 21 complexity in the nodes with checks-and-balances, as regards the states and their regulatory frameworks, say, contribute to dealing effectively with shocks. A large advantage of seeing states’ relations through the prism of networks is – as much as with group theory – to move beyond confrontations. A direct consequence is hence that international cooperation will intensify and not diminish, as, for instance, the Global Trends, a publication from the US National Intelligence Council coming out every four years, posited in its latest issue of January 2017. Confrontation locks people in positions that their ego prevents them from breaking away from, and henceforth creates deadlocks. A network (or group) representation is fairly innovative when one thinks that the almostubiquitous form of representation of international relations is as a game of chess. Even a proponent of ‘soft power’ (as opposed to ‘hard’ military and economic power) like Joseph Nye sees the structure of the world order as a ‘complex three-dimensional chess game’, where one layer is military power, another one economic power, and the last one encompasses the interactions of non-state actors. In a chess-like approach, there is a winner and loser. Fighting for territory and staging wars, as in the well-known board game Risk, is a zero-sum game; the loss of one team is a win for the opponent. Fortunately, not all state-onstate relations are like this. In the case of trade, for instance, the country allowed to export into a country without barriers will bring much value to the importing country (with potentially cheaper goods, consumers have more choices, and this can motivate local competition to become more innovative to stay competitive). Famously, Trump has campaigned vociferously on the assumption that the trade deficit with Mexico, Germany or China (these countries exporting a lot more goods to the US than the US export to these countries) was a sign that trade agreements were ‘rigged’ in their favour. As counter-intuitive as this may be – and anyone pretending to have a high IQ should grasp it easily – the face-value of a trade deficit does not allow direct conclusions to be drawn without looking into the details of the economic value brought by the trade relations. A chess-board approach, favoured by realists, is in the end as naïve as how realists look upon proponents of stability in cooperation, inter- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 22 national institutions and norms. A better analogy than a chess-board game for international relations would therefore be either a game of bridge (where players come together to face different players), reflecting the alliance-based nature of the relations, or, reflecting that it’s not all about the sharing of limited resources, The Ungame, where players have to answer personal psychological questions such as ‘What are the four most important things in your life?’ in order to be able to move forward in the game. With network theory, instead of confrontations, solutions are brought in the form of ‘changing the connections between people’, not in forms of incentives and disincentives as the traditional allies vs. adversaries view bring it. By creating a network and peer groups, a sense of belonging emerges along with peer pressure – which explains why environments functioning this way are more efficient. Group theory also features this sense of belonging and adds another one: internalising the goals and owning responsibility to achieve them, driven by intrinsic motivation – the strongest form of motivation. The solutions are brought by constituting closed groups with clearly identified members and with no clearly designated hierarchical leaders; all countries contribute to the leadership. This is a key structural difference to network theory. Group theory sees states interacting through overlapping alliances, more as in a Venn diagram than as a Facebook page drawing virtual edges between you and your panoply of contacts. The core tenets of group leadership explain its efficiency – and that it is inherently inclusive explains that it should lead to ‘stability’. Just before jumping into it, it is worth mentioning that a series of research projects has led to the conclusion that group leadership is indeed more efficient, and this has been observed in a variety of contexts: since the mid-90s, studies have looked at its use in US college sports teams, Canadian winter road teams or at large US automotive manufacturing plants. The names given are heteroclite, ranging from ‘shared leadership’, to ‘self-managed,’ ‘emergent’, ‘dispersed’, ‘distributed’, ‘common’, ‘democratic’, ‘participation’ or ‘informal’ (and each have their own slight variation). And the challenge is visible from the start: it is a theory that has had a predominant regional bias – namely the Northern American continent – and that has not focused on the state level. Can the efficiency fleshed out in these studies trickle down to the state? Related concepts 23 Agencies within state affairs are generally regulated by people under psychological well-known effects, but not exclusively. Bureaucratic processes, institutional norms and group dynamics can all have an effect on hindering or inducing the theory to be applied at the state level, and for international relations too. On a human level, intrinsic motivation is much longer lasting and much more intensive than anything that is based on a ‘carrot and stick’ model. Many studies have shown how autonomy and independence contribute to much better results than if a task was done because an authoritarian figure demanded it. For most readers, this will make intuitive sense. Projects we undertake by ourselves mean that we automatically believe in their goals and in their legitimacy. The institutional and group level is more complex and better illustrated with an example of group theory in international relations. In 2009, in Copenhagen, several countries’ leaders had failed to reach any sort of agreement concerning climate change. The public and newspapers called it a disastrous situation. But six years later, in Paris, thirty-six thousand people attended another follow-up summit, and 196 states succeeded in agreeing to commit to reductions, leading to a possible limitation of temperature increases up to 1.5°C. Not much was binding in the treaty, but amazingly, within less than a year, the treaty could enter into force. It needed countries accounting for 55% of total emissions to ratify it. Between 2009 and 2015, a change in mentality had happened: the narrative changed from one of making sacrifices to one of seizing (business) opportunities in renewables. This had created a sizable shift in capital; as Maria Ivanova, a scholar at the University of Massachusetts, noted, ‘for the first time in history, in 2015 developing countries’ investments in renewable energy, excluding large hydropower projects, surpassed the same investment made by developed countries’. And consequently, countries – especially Canada, the US, and China – had changed their ‘obstructionist’ attitude to a more facilitating one. Countries didn’t want to be seen as unwilling. What is further remarkable and of highest interest for this manuscript is the range of actors that Ivanova described as providing leadership in reaching the agreement: India led a coalition of 121 countries on ‘the International Solar Alliance’, the Marshall Islands led a movement to remove the distinction between developing and developed countries, 1 A Leadership Crisis? 24 Peru initiated the ‘non-state actor zone for climate action’, China and the US had already announced bilateral agreements in 2014, while France, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Secretary General offered ‘unprecedented leadership’. Further exemplifying this united effort is the reaction to the US wish under Trump to withdraw from the agreement. Tellingly, ‘no one government can stop progress’, said Canada’s (liberal) environment minister, Catherine McKenna, when reflecting upon the US government announcement to wish to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. That so many entities managed to come and work together is not usual and goes against many deeply grounded theories of politics and bureaucracies. One such theories is the turf war theory of the late 19th century German scholar, Max Weber: separate organisational entities working on similar goals feel threatened by one another and are inclined to vociferously wage turf wars in order to show that they are needed, and even more needed than the other entities. Anyone who has spent some time within any organisation, whether that be a private company or a public sector agency, will have stories about low blow exchanges by different units that contributed to making the working environment miserable and prevented the achievement of common goals. The more the unit felt its existence threatened, the more aggressive it usually reacted against other units perceived as competitors for mandate, budget, and even leadership. Another theory against which group theory could seem a priori to contravene, is the need for a leader in any movement in order for it to succeed. Contra-examples are also plenty. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement started in September 2011 (or for that matter, the different ‘Occupy’ movements which then sparked from it) is one such example: for almost two months, activists lived on the streets to protest against social and economic equalities. The movement explicitly refused to designate a leader or prominent spokesperson with whom discussions could occur. After the police cleared up the street, the movement faded away and achieved close to nothing. In a separate case, the same year, in a country far away and with little parallel, Egyptian citizens were also successful in ousting Hosni Mubarak; and yet, the quest for an opposition leader couldn’t yield any result. Youth groups, originally the Related concepts 25 impetus group for protests, could not agree and de facto let the older generation deal with finding a veteran opposition leader. In turn, this couldn’t find much approval amongst the larger public. The resulting outcome is unlikely to match youth groups’ aspirations when they started the protests. This means that the group theory in international relations is far from being given and it is necessary to wade through management theory as much as political theory to find further meaningful conceptual backing. Lastly, a short note on denomination is also warranted before progressing to the rest of the book. Simple country names and certain generalisations are used, when there is in fact a wide range of actors with dissenting views within one country. When one refers to India, it is understandable that one can feel uneasy that not all 1.3 billion Indians think the same way. Even within a country, a government can have starkly different opinions than the chambers of parliament, even in the US. As President Trump repeatedly expressed respect for Vladimir Putin, for example, Congress was emphasising at the same time the different interests of the two countries. Citizens of any country might feel offended that certain complexities are not reflected when one speaks of the US, China or Russia as one monolith, a pinching irony when one thinks that the manuscript seeks to bring a nuance within the spectrum of world order theories. The classical argument to defend against the use of what can come across as gross cultural stereotypes is that one speaks of (more or less democratically) elected institutions representing the majority of the country. And if they fail the legitimacy litmus test, at least they hold the rein of power (in a traditional realist sense). But another very practical argument explains this simplification: studying macro effects is disjointed compared to looking at the micro. The world of life sciences offers a poignant comparison. Those studying biological cells and delving into genomes try as much to understand the question of where humans come from as those looking into astrophysics, black holes, and light waves. Bringing the two together is possible, but will inevitably result in simplification on each side. When looking at macro factors shaping international relations, similarly, only the most preponderant conclusions of the micro levels can be used. Hopefully, the reader will excuse the author for his arro- 1 A Leadership Crisis? 26 gance in overlooking certain actors and power struggles at the micro and macro levels. The manuscript is organised to move along the lines of global issues that also reflect lines of national interests: climate change, economic opportunities and security. The last two chapters will highlight the pitfalls of using the theory to predict the future, and will attempt to sketch what the consequences of the theory are. Related concepts 27

Chapter Preview

References

Abstract

The US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the ‘Iran deal’, UNESCO, as well as the UN Human Rights Councils: issues like these convey the impression that the world order has changed. Without US leadership, it may seem that we have entered into what Ian Bremmer, an oft-quoted political pundit, calls a G0 world, a world without any leadership. Clement Guitton argues against this world view, as it disregards evidence of global leadership around the world on matters ranging from climate change, to trade, to security. Going a step further, Guitton claims that there is even evidence of a new form of leadership in international affairs: group leadership.