Le’ Notes #49: Foreign policy analysis – it all starts at home

So far, we’ve covered how foreign policy is formulated and executed by individuals or a small group of individuals. We’ve discussed how these individuals often do not make so-called rational decisions; instead, they are often influenced by their own outlooks of the world and their institutional interests.

But for most of the world, foreign policy is not always just dictated by individuals. This is not to say that these prominent individuals do not have any power. There are often many other parties that may restrain the extent of an individual’s (or a small group of individuals’) power. You might know these as domestic political institutions, and they play an important role in keeping democracies afloat.

In this post, we’ll explore the role these institutions play in shaping foreign policy. Note that here, I use the term “institutions” quite loosely to refer to the many domestic structures that exist in democracies, such as political parties. This doesn’t cover public opinion, interest groups or the media; that’ll be addressed in a later post.

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Le’ Notes #48: On the use of coast guards in Asia-Pacific

The coast guard—specifically the US Coast Guard—is usually the butt of jokes in the military. Their job is like the Navy, but with smaller boats, guns, and less action (even though there were some moments where the USCG did shine). 

Jokes aside, coast guards are an important asset in maritime security. They handle maritime security at home, dealing with the “small” stuff so the navy can handle the bigger threats out there in the high seas. The Coast Guard’s role is largely tied to law enforcement: policing territorial waters and keeping them safe from illegal fishing, pirates, human traffickers, and drug smugglers. Recently, coast guards have started to take on more expanded roles, particularly in East and Southeast Asia. The Chinese Coast Guard has been making headlines lately due to their increased presence (and aggressiveness) in the South China Sea which adds on to the regional tensions. This has been followed by the expansion of other coast guards, such as Japan, Philippines, and Vietnam.

As interest in and use of coast guards will likely increase in the near future, I’ll be reviewing the literature to understand how coast guards have been used as a tool of statecraft over the years. I’ll focus more on the Asia-Pacific, since that’s where coast guards are getting more attention.

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Le’ Notes #47: Foreign policy analysis – group units

As I covered in Note #44, the individual leader is not the only person making foreign policy decisions. Even if the buck stops there, the buck may have been passed from one person to another, and in the process, the final ‘buck’ is a result of a synthesis of often conflicting opinions and interests. In this note then, we’ll explore how groups, especially those close to the leader, have a hand in shaping foreign policy decisions. 

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Le’ Notes #46: “Small navy” strategies – a short summary

In Note #6, I briefly discussed Mahan and Corbett’s views on naval power. What I neglected to cover was, what I call, “small navy” strategies. These are essentially naval strategies used by a weaker power against a stronger power. I’ll be covering the Jeune Ecole and the fleet-in-being strategy. Most of what is written here is a summary of Ian Speller’s Understanding Naval Warfare, Chapter 3.

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Le’ Notes #45: A.T. Mahan on naval preponderance

Short note on Mahan’s thoughts on naval preponderance.

Mahan surprisingly wrote a bit on naval diplomacy though he didn’t actually call it such; it was something that academics would later describe. Most of his thoughts on naval diplomacy are not found in his famous work, The Influence of Sea Power upon History. Instead, it is found in a collection of his stand-alone articles in various periodicals which have been compiled under the title The Interest of America in Sea Power.

Though Mahan tends to be associated with the idea of the “big fleet battle” and the six conditions for sea power, he also thought about  how navies could be used to project political power (well, in this case, American power). However, his prescription for “naval preponderance” tends to be overshadowed by his geopolitical thinking. To extract a sliver of Mahan’s thoughts on “showing the flag”—an idea often credited to him (see here and here)—requires careful scouring of his article titled “The Isthmus and Sea Power”.

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Geoffrey Till – The strategic importance of islands

This SemText summarises Geoffrey Till’s talk at CSIS Jakarta regarding the strategic uses and importance of islands in Southeast Asian maritime security.

Since 2013, China had embarked on a mission to create artificial islands in the South China Sea. In their view, these islands are markers of sovereignty; they mark Chinese influence over the maritime expanse of the South China Sea. Based on satellite data compiled by CSIS AMTI, many of these islands are already equipped with military installations. 

So, one question that could be asked: What’s up with islands? That is what Professor Geoffrey Till addresses in his lecture. I took the liberty of adding some points to his explanation, as he typically delivers his lectures in a very general manner. 

Simply put, there are two main parts of the lecture. First, he talked about the geographic importance of islands and how they contribute to maritime power. Second, he focuses on the emergence of new technologies and how this encourages a shift from “open ocean” operations to the littoral. This is supplemented with a review of trends in naval development in the Indo-Pacific, though it wasn’t too in-depth.

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Le’ Notes #44: Foreign policy analysis – the individual level

This is the second post in the Foreign Policy Analysis miniseries which discusses the role of cognition and belief sets in influencing foreign policy decisions.

Remember President Truman and his “The buck stops here” sign? The function of the sign was to remind him that he was the one who would make the final call on a policy decision. Not his Vice President. Though Barkley could chip in his two cents, by virtue of structural authority, Barkley did not have any power to execute a policy decision.

Margaret Hermann and Joe Hagan (1998) [paywall] wrote:

We grade Bill Clinton’s performance abroad; argue about why Benjamin Netanyahu is or is not stalling the Middle East peace process; debate Mohammed Khatami’s intentions regarding Iranian relations with the United States; and ponder what will happen in South Africa or Russia when Nelson Mandela or Boris Yeltsin leaves office.

What Hermann and Hagan observed was the importance of a state leader as an important decision unit in foreign policy analysis. They are the ones who perceive the international system and domestic political landscape, interpret signals and conditions, and then act upon they believe to be the best course of action. So the question now is, how do we analyse these individuals and understand their way of thinking?

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Le’ Notes #43: Foreign policy analysis – an introduction

This post marks the start of my Foreign Policy Analysis mini-series.

Index of posts in this mini-series:
1. Le’Notes #44: The individual level – cognition and belief sets
2. Le’Notes #47: The group level – small group dynamics
3. Le’Notes #49: The domestic level – institutions

In 2014, President Joko Widodo announced his vision of a “global maritime fulcrum”. Indonesia would be a center of activity in Asia, maximizing its geographical position between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. This vision would form the basis of Joko Widodo’s foreign policy.

By now you may be wondering, what is foreign policy? It is a phrase thrown out there by politicians and IR scholars all the time: “U.S. foreign policy in Asia”, “Japan’s foreign policy in Northeast Asia”, “China’s foreign policy”… what does it mean?

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Le’ Notes #42: What’s the buzz behind the Indo-Pacific?

This post covers the debate about the “Indo-Pacific” geopolitical construct. How do states understand it? What is its significance?

In the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (S.2736; or often abbreviated as ARIA) passed by Congress in 2018, the term “Indo-Pacific” appears 80 times. The bill affirms U.S. commitment to secure its national interests, promote American prosperity, advance U.S. influence, support regional architecture, and support international law and norms in the Indo-Pacific. It also makes mention of numerous U.S. security arrangements in the region, most notably the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad, for short), a controversial four-country—U.S., Japan, India, and Australia—security “club” intended to counter Chinese influence in the region. All in all, it looks like the U.S. has a new geopolitical focus: the Indo-Pacific.

But wait a minute, what is the Indo-Pacific? Who’s in it? Why are we just talking about it now? And how is it different from the “Asia-Pacific”? Answering those questions is the point of this post. Now, since I cannot cover everything in around 1,000-2,000 words, I’ll only go through the essentials. For further reading, just click the hyperlinks.

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