Wednesday, February 02, 2005

How not to handle incentives — EU-China arms embargo

The consensus among EU officials is that the arms trading ban that EU has had in place since 1989 and Tiananmen square will get lifted "soon." Despite the fact that the ban was put in place because of China's atrocious human rights practices, and China has made no effort to show any "verifiable" evidence of improved human rights conditions. So what exactly is the EU doing?

Obviously, the initial idea was to use arms trading as a carrot to induce China to improve its treatment of human rights. But Europe, fallen on hard economic times and committed to a "strategic partnership" with China, doesn't really want to wait for China to improve its human rights efforts anymore. It should have become clear to China by now that it really doesn't have to show the EU much of any improvement in human rights, since it is by now clear that the EU wants out of the weapons ban as badly as China does. The EU, though it has not abandoned the arms embargo yet, has essentially abandoned the arms-embargo-as-incentive approach by showing its hand, making it clear how strong the European pro-arms trade lobby really is.

To me, this is an interesting example of real politic concerns trumping ideology in Europe. For an international organization that makes such a big fuss out of following liberal ideology, promoting human rights, acting as a power with a conscience, the removal of the arms embargo against China before groups like Amnesty International have really been placated is a dramatic example of a new consciousness in Europe. Not only do the German, French, and, apparently, British now want to strengthen their economies by upgrading the Chinese military, but they also want to pursue a powerful "strategic partnership" with China, putting the EU in a very different political position than it has been.

After all, the removal of the arms embargo puts the future of NATO in serious doubt. The Bush administration and Congress will likely act to end the sharing of weapons technology with Europe, since that would be tantamount to sharing it with China. And NATO, which has long benefited from the trans-atlantic exchange of technology, will be hobbled. You generally don't want to have military allies that you worry will be stealing your technology to sell to a potential enemy whenever you perform joing military tasks. Thus, it might be that the EU decision to trade arms with China might also speed Europe along the path to an independent military. That would be a truly new development for the EU.

Another interesting thing to note is that Britain has now come down with France and Germany to support an end to the arms embargo. For the UK, this would be a stunning break from the US, given how strong American lawmakers feel about the arms embargo. It would mark, for the first time in recent history, that the UK has broken with the US and sided with the EU on a military issue.

This post does build on all of those posts about currency realignment because we may be seeing the development of a new global order, one that is far more multi-polar than uni-polar. While I take many of Matt Yglesias's points to heart about the gap between the American military and the militaries of China and India, it's not hard to imagine scenarios in which that gap might shrink not because of the Chinese and Indians gaining global militaries, but because of the United States losing its own. If NATO disintegrates, if Turkey gets pulled into nastiness in Iraq over the Kirkuk issue (Turkey mentioned because of US troops there), if the North Korea-South Korea détante deepens and becomes peace, and if the Europeans actually decide to try going it alone, if the Japanese decide to resurrect their military, a lot of countries will be less willing to tolerate American troops on their soil. Given the debacle in Iraq, Bush's gung-ho inaugural address, and his terrible popularity (or lack of it) abroad, foreign (democratic) governments may begin to find American bases a political liability. As the geopolitical situation changes, the very real negatives may truly outweigh the positives.

In any case, enough is enough. I'm all done for today.

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