The Trump administration and Intestate Managerial Coordination among the major powers
By Konstantinos Travlos
Abstract "The Trump Presidency may see further degeneration of the weakened managerial coordination among major powers."
My main subject of research is the causes and consequences of state participation in managerial coordination regimes. In my dissertation and my most recent published work, I explored interstate managerial coordination among the major powers. Using the scale of interstate managerial coordination (IMaC) I tracked the quality of IMaC among major powers over the 1715-2010 period. Managerial coordination is an important factor in international politics partly because it gives us snapshot of relations between the states participating in it, and partly because low coordination likely fosters militarized conflict in international politics, while high coordination likely dampens it.
These relationships are probabilistic, not deterministic (in another name, the presence or absence of managerial coordination is not always going to lead to the presence or absence of military conflict), thus it would be wrong to assume that low coordination will lead to major power conflict. However, my studies have found that the fostering and inhibiting influence does have empirical traction (reality does on average behave as expected to behave).
One of the main conditions that is associated with lower managerial coordination is what Peter Wallensteen calls “particularism”. “Particularism” is when major powers pursue their interests in total indifference to the interests of other states, or of the robustness of the regimes of the international system. On the other hand, when the major powers are “universalist” they tend to pursue their interests in ways that maximize the possible support by other states and with due consideration to the regimes that make up the international system.
The last 20 years have not been good for managerial coordination among the major powers see figure 1). After period of intense coordination in the early 1990s, a number of “particularist” actions by major powers have eroded it. This include US actions by the Clinton, Bush II, and Obama administrations, the Franco-UK intervention in Libya during the Arab Spring, but also the foreign policy of Vladimir Putin (the Georgian War, interventions in Ukraine and Syria), and recently China under Xi Jinping in the Pacific. In each of these cases, the administrations of the various major powers pursued their interests with little regard of the views and interests of the other major powers, or an attempt to negotiate tolerance or support by them. These in turn undermined the regimes of the international system, as the dissatisfied major powers using tit for tat tactics reacted by perusing “particularism” infused foreign policies of their own. It is unfortunate but at least for the next two years, the Trump administration is likely to contribute to this collapse of ongoing managerial coordination.
The new american foreign policy?
There are a couple of reasons to expect this.
1) Key advisors and cabinet members in the Trump administration, for example Steve Bannon, are exponents of “particularism” in foreign policy. “America First” seems to be interpreted by both allies and opponents as a call for an American foreign policy that makes no attempts to mediate the egoistical interests of the state (and the elites in government that control it) though international regimes or a process of maximizing support from the other major powers. In another name, the decision makers may very well wish for a total collapse of managerial coordination and the international order as it was formed in the post-Cold War era. This is nothing new, as key decision makers in the Bush II administration also shared such a radical temperament. However, they were checked by the more conservative elements of the Republican Party. Whether this will be the case with the Trump administration, is an open question.
2) The admiration by Donald Trump for Russian President Vladimir Putin as a politician is a worrisome indicator. While there can be a big discussion on whether Putin was reacting to “particularist” actions by Clinton and Bush II, or whether he was an exponent of “particularism” form the start, Vladimir Putin is the head of a foreign policy administration that promotes “particularism” as a guiding principle for Russian policy. It is exactly this element that Trump admires and perhaps wishes to emulate.
3) The foreign policy inexperience of Donald Trump and his foreign policy administration make it less likely for them to understand the crucial balance between egoistical state interests and international order. The father of modern realism, as a guide to foreign policy, Hand Morgenthau, always called for the need to balance the pursuit of self-interest with prudence. The creators of the strongest periods of managerial coordination among major powers, Talleyrand, Castlereagh, Metternich, Bismarck, were not altruistic politicians but understood that particular interests mediated via universal regimes were more likely to be supported by other states and attained without the need of war. It is always the advocates of war, and incompetents in foreign policy, like Austro-Hungarian Chief of General Staff Franz Conrad von Hotzendorf, that disparage managerial coordination. I do fear that the inexperience of the Trump foreign policy team will make it impossible for them to balance interests with prudence, leading to foreign policy frustrations that will further strengthen hard-liners in the administration, which will take the US on the Steps to War, or further degrade managerial coordination.
A mitigating factor to the above scenario is that I have the suspicion that Trump, in his quest to always be a winner, will conform to the views that he sees are receiving the most support by US Congress elections. In another name, should internationalists (Democrats or Republicans) have a strong showing in the midterm elections, I think Trump will re-shuffle his cabinet to avoid foreign policy defeats by Congress. But these are two major ifs! If Trump cares more about the appearance of winning, than the principles he espouses, and if internationalists do well in the midterm elections.
In the end though, it will take more than a US change of heart to revive managerial coordination. Russia, China and the European powers, plus rising powers in the world, would all have to also shift a bit from “particularism’ to “universalism”. The good news is that he same tit for tat dynamics that led to the spiral of decreased coordination in reaction to “particularism” infused foreign policy actions by the US, could lead to an increase in coordination in reaction to a more “universalist” foreign policy by the US. But this too is probabilistic, and would require competent foreign policy decision makers, able to balance what they view as the national interests, with prudence, and a consideration of the interests of the other powers. In the absence of this, we will have the empirical manifestation of the pessimistic realism of Thucydides, were hubris leads to nemesis, than the optimistic one of Morgenthau.