The future trade of US trade policy: TPP and TTIP

Written by André Ken Jakobsson, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

The secret ongoing free trade agreement negotiations between the US and the EU does not grab a lot of media attention but still has many people concerned about issues of national democracy, workers’ rights, consumer protection and income inequality. During the Saturday of the 18th of April thousands of Germans took to the streets to protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that is said to boost economic output on both sides of the Atlantic by more than $100 billion dollars per year. And just this week a leaked TTIP negotiation proposal from the European Commission allegedly called for having EU member states’ national legislative initiatives go through a screening process to determine their possible impacts on business interests and thus possibly sidelining national legislation. 

In order to fully understand the fundamentals of US trade policy and its future including TTIP, the Council for Foreign Relations’ backgrounder on these issues is a must read. It specifically targets the two huge trade deals to be completed: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) aimed at Asia and the TTIP aimed at Europe.

While the TTIP agreement with the European Union is of great economic importance in Europe, the TPP with Asian countries including Japan but excluding China will have real strategic significance for the future.  The US and China finds themselves in a great power dispute over the architecture of Asia and that is where the TPP will have strong impact: “From the perspective of the United States, the question is whether East Asian integration will be based on U.S. initiatives, or led by China. The Chinese government has supported a separate FTA for the region, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which would bring together sixteen countries, not including the United States. Some in the region have expressed similar concerns: Former Singaporean leader Lee Kuan Yew argued in 2013 that “without an FTA, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and the ASEAN countries will be integrated into China's economy—an outcome to be avoided.”

On top of this, the TPP is becoming a major symbol of the US pivot to Asia and will be looked upon as a measuring stick for US commitment to the region. Much is riding on these deals. Read the full backgrounder here.

Is the NSA beneficial to U.S. counterterrorism efforts?

Yesterday, Tuesday November 18, Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking a Democrat sponsored bill to limit the powers of the N.S.A. to collects records of Americans’ phone calls. The N.S.A. programme was introduced as an important element in the war on terrorism after 9/11, but the legal basis for the phone records program is set to expire in June next year.

In the very timely article in Foreign Policy ’The Big Counterterrorism Counterfactual: Is the NSA actually making us worse at fighting terrorism?’, Stephen Walt questions the efficacy of U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Particularly he questions whether heavy reliance on surveillance technology and the easiness with which a drone strike can be delivered has actually made counterterrorism too easy, and whether they are effective tools when push comes to shove. The counterfactual he examines is: what would we do if we did not have these relatively easy measures of counterterrorism?

First, we would have to rely on old-fashioned counterterrorism of infiltration etc. Second, we would spend much more time discrediting and delegitimizing terrorist groups instead of relying on decapitating them by taking leaders out with drones. Drone strikes play into extremist groups hands, reinforcing the ‘jihadis' claim that the West has an insatiable desire to dominate the Arab and Islamic world and no respect for Muslim life’. With no drones we would be forced to work with regional regimes to marginalize terrorist groups within their own societies. Third, and importantly, if we did not have these ‘easy’ counterterrorism measures, we would have to think much more carefully about placing boots on the ground in some places, to counter the terrorist threat. This may be a good thing: such a careful evaluation on potential boots on the ground would be prudent because it forces the U.S. to evaluate much more carefully which: ‘threats were really serious and which countries really mattered. It might even lead to the conclusion that any sort of military intervention is counterproductive’. In short, with no easy fix, the U.S. may have to adopt a more prudent counterterrorism policy.

Thus far, the ‘surveil and strike’ approach has dominated counterterrorism efforts, precisely because it is fairly easy and plays to our technological superiority: It allows leaders ‘to "do something," even when what is being done won't necessarily help’. The approach has not forced us to reflect on whether it works or not, and whether it reaches the root causes of the terrorist threat. Had these technologies not existed, the U.S. would be forced to evaluate more prudently where to insert its military strength, and to prioritize its interests. In turn, the U.S. might also remember to think of how its own policies over the past fifteen years may have played an important role in causing the emergence and growth of the current threats – such as Islamic State. In short, it may help the U.S. assess ‘if every single one of those policies makes sense and is truly consistent with U.S. interests and values’.

Walt’s article was published in Foreign Policy and is available through the Harvard Belfer Center

Is the German strategic role to force a US pivot to Europe?

 Leon Hadar is arguing that perhaps Germany has finally found its long sought after strategic role in Europe by comparing the German involvement in the Yugoslav crisis in the 90's where they pushed forward in the effort to recognize Croatian and Slovenian independence and the German-led European Union association agreement with Ukraine. Hadar sees Germany making important geopolitical choices which they lack the military muscle and will to actually back up which in turn forces the American back to European crisis management. 

Hadar concludes: " After all, drawing the United States back into Europe on the side of a Germany that wants to use the EU as a tool to advance its interests in Eastern Europe vis-à-vis Russia and to “re-contain” Moscow makes a lot of sense if you are a German policymaker intent on laying a geostrategic trap to Washington, torpedoing any chance for Russo-American détente, forcing the Americans to abandon their “pivot” to Asia, and in the process, making Germany to look like the ‘reasonable” player that could help bring Washington and Moscow together. Is it possible that Germany has finally discovered its diplomatic role?" Read the full piece here

Perhaps fitting into Hadar's logic, John R. Deni, research professor at the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, calls for an American Pivot to Europe calling for "a halt to further reductions in the permanent forward presence of American forces in Europe, especially ground forces." Read Deni's case for a pivot to Europe here