The New Democrats Era might be at a Shifting Point

The political effect of the global financial crisis reverberated across different countries according to national peculiarities. In the UK Corbyn climbed to the leadership of Labour, in Italy 5 Star Movement became the first party, in France Marie Le Pen won an extraordinary 34% at the presidential election and in Spain all of a sudden Podemos has established itself among the main parliamentary forces. In the US this trend was paralleled by Trump’s victory within the Republican Party and Sanders’ positive electoral experience. Since then, the Democratic Party has been the place of some auto critical discussion. In fairness Hillary Clinton won the presidential contest, still it felt like a substantial defeat which has not triggered an official internal debate even though concerns on the future political posture of the party have become a haunting issue.
The beginning of this story however goes as far as the early ’90s. Bill Clinton’s New Democrats revolution (http://www.jstor.org/stable/2152360?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents) aimed at challenging the Republican electoral dominion since the end of Johnson’s mandate by shifting the ideological axis of the party towards the centre and joining the “third way” (http://eu.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0745626750,subjectCd-PO50.html). Since the Democratic Party adopted Clinton’s model it has been a successful era, with four Democratic presidential mandates in 24 years. In the ‘90s the left-wing approach to free-market and globalism proved to be very profitable in terms of political consent. However after the crisis and after Obama’s mandates “it is increasingly apparent that Democrats cannot win in much of the country without a more coherent and overriding economic message” (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/democrats-economy.html?smid=tw-share). Despite the party has moved leftward on civil rights with Obama, some “Democrats share a growing recognition that Mr. Obama’s way may not be the best course in a country where many voters have experienced little income growth and where high-paying jobs can be scarce” (ibid.). If on the one hand it could be argued that Trump did not win against Hillary Clinton –  given that she won with an advantage of 3 million votes – on the other hand special elections confirmed the negative phase for the Democratic Party. The latter just lost four out of the five 2017 special elections for senate held so far – the other elections were in Kansas 4th, Montana’s At-Large, California 34th and South Carolina 5th.
The most painful of these defeats came in Georgia, where the candidate Jon Ossoff managed to lose after achieving the record for participating in the most expensive campaign of its kind in American history. In many admitted, like when Trump won, DP should stop looking for votes over the moderate centre where, particularly in Georgia, Republicans are strong. They say that “we need a bolder economic platform, our party needs to be for good jobs and better wages, [and] we have to have some bold economic ideas that are going to convince people that we get it,” (http://www.politico.com/story/2017/06/21/democrats-special-election-ossoffhandel-239827). In this instance it is interesting to bring back a 1993 article written in The American Prospect where the author provided this harsh but realistic description of what Bill Clinton’s project represented at the time: “when faced with such central public problems as falling real incomes, impoverished cities, uncompetitive industries, and stubbornly high unemployment, their vision falters. Like their own caricature of the Left, the New Democrats are trapped in a “politics of evasion,” obsessed with abstract debates over social values, while the nation stumbles into decline”. (http://prospect.org/article/myth-new-democrats). Trump’s victory, together with the rise of nationalism across Europe, tells that the Democratic Party is now paying the price for its early ‘90s ideological shift. In particular the Democratic Party is failing to speak to the most socially insecure strata of society. As reported in a recent study “stagnating income and limited job prospects have disproportionately affected lower-income and lower-skilled Americans, leading inequality to rise” (http://www.hbs.edu/competitiveness/Documents/problems-unsolved-and-a-nation-divided.pdf, p. 3). It is true that Obama recovered the 8 million jobs lost with the crisis, however it is clear that the kind of jobs he brought back are not of the same quality in terms of contract as they used to be. Meanwhile, the fast progress of technology – such as self-driving trucks and cashier-less shops – threatens to throw millions of workers out of their jobs – as it happened with agriculture in 20th century (Jeremy Rifkin, 1995, The End ff Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and The Dawn of the Post-Market Era, p. 109; ch. 8). As explained in a recent report: “Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories” (http://conexus.cberdata.org/files/MfgReality.pdf, p. 6).
Because Trump has avoided this issue so far, there is a political space for the Democratic Party to fill. But fighting back technology means developing a critical analysis of capitalism. Therefore the question is “does the DP really want to tackle technological growth and unemployment”?

Zeno Leoni
PhD candidate
Department of European and International Studies
King’s College London
@multipolarorder

North Korea: is China gambling at the expense of US’ and its allies’ security?

Perhaps theorists should not be concerned about China as a current destabilising power but they have to be rattled over North Korean deadlocked nuclear issue. The country commenced its nuclear program since the Soviet era of 1960s. Over many years Kim dynasty could reach the point of being a country with nukes. The government of North Korea has stated multiple times about being reluctant to give up its nuclear programs and freeze them. This comes after tough and long negations over nukes.
At present, the relationship between US and North Korea is experiencing more than some bumps. North Korea has warned over its intentions of pre-emptive strike to the US and its allies if they will threat the existence of its regime, and it has conducted several missile tests some in the exclusive economic zone of Japan (US ally). Consequently, the two countries were many times at loggerheads, especially since Trump became president.
The aggressive behaviour of North Korea has raised security issues of the US and its allies at the top of their security agenda. In other words, the US and its Asian allies’ security is at stake. Since his presidential campaign Donald J. Trump has announced his solution about the North Korean issue. That is to use US economic leverage to put pressure on China to deal with North Korea (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/north-korea-nuclear-missile-us-mainland-strike-hit-defence-intelligence-chief-lieutenant-general-a7755691.html). If not the US will solve the issue in its own way. China has reportedly asked the US and North Korea to restrain from any potential conflict. Moreover, China rejected North Korean coal ships in order to discipline Pyongyang. Also, at the official level China showed its anxiety about North Korean nuclear programs and missile tests (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/north-korea-testing-nuclear-weapons-170504072226461.html). This all sounds good. However, one controversial question has always touched my thinking about the current trajectory of North Korean nuclear issue. Does China want to see a North Korea as it is under Kim Jong-un? I personally think that it is “yes” and “no”. It is “yes” because China won’t like to see a united Korea with American values such as democracy, free media outlets, and capitalist economy. The American values can pose a real threat to China’s non-democratic system. This keeps the Chinese alerted.

Additionally, as mainstream theories of IR – realism and liberalism – argue the international system is anarchic and the states try to survive and get more power. This can be the case with China. Having the current North Korea exerting threat to the US and its Asian allies can serve as a political tool for China to weaken and keep under a constant threat the US and its allies. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but remember it is an anarchic system and countries strive for survival at the expense of others. Though, it is a paradox because North Korea is a shared security threat for the US and its Asian friends. This effectively means that the shared nuclear threat may act as an incentive for having even stronger alliance. Of course, it won’t be welcomed by China. Transcending the paradox requires patience and time.

Finally, the answer is “no” to the question stated previously because North Korea can be a potential threat to China as well. The US will prefer to develop the conflict in East Asia rather than wait until North Korea gets the capability of hitting its mainland with nukes. Subsequently, North Korea is a regional and may be a global threat. At least, it is considered as a rogue state. A potential conflict or war in that region will cause refugee crisis pretty much like the Syrian refugee crisis. Those millions of refugees will go to where? Make a guess. Undoubtedly, to China as they share border and the South Korean border is closed. It is not easy to tackle the issue of refugees because they put pressure on a state’s capacity and resources.

Moreover, the war especially, the nuclear war is not beneficial for China as it may have a direct negative impact on its economic development and growth. It may perish Chinese long term economic programs. Reigniting a new war in the region can also be a source of direct conflict between the US and China, meaning that the world will lose rather a particular country. The next article will be devoted to the topic of the US and the Middle East.

Taron Pipoyan
1st year undergraduate in ‘World Politics’
Department of Political Economy
taron.pipoyan@kcl.ac.uk

Obama’s strategy to contain China. A success or a failure?

The proponents of the “China threat” theory including John Mearsheimer himself have argued that China was a revisionist power which would challenge the Western world order. Unfortunately, Chinese officials have saddened the theory’s supporters because China is on the track of “peaceful rise.” China has been very much involved in Bretton Woods institutions and is trying to consolidate its position of what Robert Zoellick once called “responsible stakeholder” (Scott and Wilkinson, 2013). It strives for getting more powers inside those institutions rather challenging them – particularly since Trump’s withdrawal from TPP and Paris agreement. This factor and the striking economic growth and development alongside with military modernisation should be and is a concern for the US.
It is known that any relationship between two countries are shaped by actions originated from both sides. Thus, Obama’s actions have shaped different relations with China compared with his successor Donald J. Trump. Barack Obama stated “the relationship between the United States and China is the most important bilateral relationship of the 21st century” (https://www.brookings.edu/opinions/assessing-u-s-china-relations-under-the-obama-administration/). Obama’s initial approach to China has evinced that the US won’t try to contain Chinese advancement and the US won’t seek to be the “top dog.” Nevertheless, under the Obama administration there was a policy plan to curb China. It was dubbed as “rebalance to Asia-Pacific.” The policy shifted US focus from Europe to Asia, but to a limited extent. The plan contained trade isolationism of China. Namely, Trans-Pacific Partnership trade-agreement which did not involve China. Also, the Obama administration tried to take advantage of China’s problems with its neighbours. Despite these policy plans China could develop and become increasingly stronger. Its manufacturing industry has surpassed the US manufacturing industry which is a key industry for having a strong and rich economy.
Thus, a question flows out whether Obama failed to contain China or not? Well, my answer is yes. However, it will be foolish to ignore Obama’s success in bringing up a constructive China which has been ready for cooperation. Obama’s policy has failed because China has been successful enough to overcome trade-isolation and managed to strengthen its grasp over the BRICS, and initiated “One belt, One road” program. These programs enable China to enlarge and consolidate its economic growth and in the long term to be crowned as the world’s greatest economic power. This, of course, won’t be welcomed by the US. The factual reality tells us that notwithstanding Obama’s plans China could grow and keep up the fast pace of its economic growth.
With regard to trade China has been victorious. However China’s problems with its neighbours have been “exploited” effectively by the Obama administration, though there have been backfires as well. The South China sea dispute gave the US a chance to have a consistent plan of increasing the number of its allies in Asia. Japan, Vietnam, South Korea, and other countries have grouped around the US even closer in terms of both military and economic cooperation. This trajectory of the US role in Asia is Obama’s legacy. From this perspective, the US could use effectively its “smart power.”
However, one could argue that the containment of China has had an indirect impact on current aggressive behaviour of North Korea. Supplying of arms and strengthening Asian allies has been a concern for North Korea and China. It was an incentive for China to modernise its army rapidly and North Korea started to show off its capabilities in the exclusive economic zone of Japan.  The evidence weakens Obama’s success in containing China. Obama has been a great president; however, it is key to understand that China is a natural great power and to limit its advancement may be implausible. For what concerns North Korea it may not be a backfire originated from Obama’s support of his Asian allies, but simply it may be a direct result of Trump’s aggressive rhetoric.
The article has discussed a little part of Obama’s strategy of curbing China. The result is believed to be more of a failure rather than a success. In another post I will explore further the issue of North Korea and great power politics.

Taron Pipoyan (taron.pipoyan@kcl.ac.uk)