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Fukuyama’s Side of History

As a key player in the rise of neoconservatism within the US government, and author of the contentious treatise The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama has an intimate understanding of the Washington scene that formulates so much of US foreign policy.

By Anastasia Kapetas for

As a key player in the rise of neoconservatism within the US government, and author of the contentious treatise The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama has an intimate understanding of the Washington scene that formulates so much of US foreign policy. He spoke to The Diplomat’s editor Anastasia Kapetas in Sydney about failed states in the Pacific, Obama’s military problem and India’s nuclear ambitions.

You have done some considerable work on failed states, some in Australia’s immediate neighbourhood. How do you see Melanesia and South Pacific?

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think that first of all Timor-Leste and Solomons are genuine failed states.

The problem in all those places is that you’re dealing with societies that didn’t have states prior to European colonialism and they’ve got a very strong social structure below the state level that really inhibits the formation of things like modern political parties. It’s very hard to do economic development because so much of the land is tied in up in customary land ownership.

I do think though, that when the enhanced cooperation program was started back in 2003, it was in the wake of September 11 and the Bali bombings and the general fear that failed states could be the platform for terrorism. In retrospect that danger is really not nearly as great as it may have been perceived

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Now we can look at the problem more calmly and say what’s really necessary to create governments that can actually deliver services and goods to their people with a minimum amount of stability.

Should Australia be the one who takes leadership in that area in the South Pacific, given that there are a lot of players in that area now – New Zealand, China and Taiwan?

China and Taiwan are not going to be helpful at all. Their rivalry has been this great font of money for governments in that region that just end up being used for fairly corrupt purposes.

The Chinese can be brought along eventually but in the short run, as in Africa and other parts of the developing world, their primary interests are commercial and they’re not on board with regard to environmental or other kinds of standards. And so I think the impact of their involvement is largely negative.

It’s quite important that Australia maintain a strong presence there because of all the other international players, with the exception of New Zealand, none has the strength and the combination of the resources and standards for dealing with that region.

Just as there is anti-Americanism around the world, there has been a kind of anti-Australianism in the South Pacific. How can Australia address that?

It’s very hard when you have this kind of highly dependant relationship where one country is so much richer or more powerful than another one. So I think that just comes with the territory.

One comment that I’ve heard from a number of Melanesians is that they actually preferred dealing with New Zealanders. That probably has to do with the Kiwis’ experience in dealing with the Maori populations. I do think that leads to a different kind of perception in the way the two countries handle things. But I don’t want to overstate that because it’s just inevitable that there’s going to be resentment regardless of how Australia behaves.

What about the US’s relationship with Japan? Do you think that’s in good shape or do you think it’s deteriorated slightly over the last few years?

Under the Bush administration it was extremely good. In fact good to the point that it was a little bit troubling because when you have someone like Abe as Prime Minister wanting to revise Article 9 [prohibiting Japan from building up its military forces]… We probably should have distanced ourself a little bit from that.

The Japanese are worried right now that if a Democrat is elected there’s going to be a shift back to a more China centric policy but regardless of whether [the next US president is] a Democrat or Republican the alliance is still going to be a bedrock of American East Asian policy.

What do you think of the debates in the Japanese military about nuclearisation and greater force projection?

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The nuclearisation thing never made any sense to me at all because Japan was perfectly happy to live under an American nuclear umbrella during the entire Cold War when the Chinese and the Soviets had thousands of nuclear weapons that were capable of hitting Japan.

And why all of a sudden because of a nuclear threat from Korea they should decide that the American umbrella is not credible any longer and that they need their own, is something that I don’t quite get.

Do you think that comes out of a sense of frustration with the U.S relationship?

I don’t think so. I think that it’s a reflection of a certain kind of nationalism. Because the nationalist right in Japan is not particularly pro-American they want Japan to strike out on its own and that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen.

The whole reason you’ve had peace in Asia since 1945 is that the United States has taken certain aspects of sovereignty from Japan and kept them in a way that’s reassured the rest of East Asia. Japan could move to that kind of posture and ultimately ought to but it has to be based on a much more open confrontation with all the historical issues and domestic Japanese politics in a way that more deeply reassures China and Korea.

In terms of again that broader nuclear question – what do you think of the whole India question at the moment? It’s been controversial.

Well again this is one of those things that probably should have been thought about more systematically, the good reasons why the United States and India have drawn closer together over the last decade. As a result of Islamic terrorism and the end of the Cold War and various realignments in the subcontinent, but I think that the United States making an exception for India in terms of proliferation should have taken place in the context of an entirely different proliferation regime. It really undermines your creditability with other countries if you’re going to make exceptions for a countries that are good friends of yours.

One alternative to the ’68 regime was to say well we’re not going to say no proliferation to any country that wasn’t part of the original seven countries. But there is a legal route to proliferation which has to be under certain type of export, processing and other kinds of constraints and make that a general condition for what we consider to be acceptable proliferation. In that case you would have had to negotiate that Indian deal with much tougher terms which maybe would have meant you couldn’t do it. But I think that the Bush administration wanted the short term gain of having an ally and cementing it’s relationship with India. So it’s now put itself in a position where it’s weakened the global regime but without having something there to replace it.

Robert Kagan contends that the conflict between autocracy and democracy is the real driver of foreign policy. Would you agree with that?

I think he’s a little bit too nostalgic for the Cold War. He wants to see the current world in these bipolar terms as if there’s these two ideological poles of democracy and autocracy.

I think that you’re in a much more multi-polar world, where some regimes are more democratic and more autocratic, but the democratic ones don’t cohere necessarily and the autocratic ones don’t cohere, they do it because they’ve got common interests. I think it’s not ultimately that helpful a way of seeing the world, but it is true that there are these two big authoritarian modernisation projects going on and we’ll just have to see how stable and successful they are.

I spoke with a former senior Bush administration official last year who said that the last thing America needs now is big ideals in foreign policy. Do you agree with that?

No. I think that democracy promotion has always been an important component of American foreign policy. It’s just we’ve given it an exaggerated role as a strategic instrument and that link needs to be broken. But this idea that we’re not going to care about human rights abuses, or the way other humans treat their citizens, that’s not in line with American values.

It’s not good for the world as whole if the United States simply went back to a Kissingerian realism. We just need a better balance where this is not projected on the world as the US trying to make everybody.

Do you think one of the first tasks of the next American president is to revitalise America’s presence in big multilateral institutions?

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It probably would send a good signal. Beyond that I think there’s a more fundamental structural question about whether the existing institutions we have are the right ones. The Bretton-Woods institutions largely don’t have a role anymore.

I think that in East Asia the more kinds of multilateral institutions you can incorporate China into in the long run the better. I don’t mean more like the East Asian summit but things that could deal with real security and economic issues that potentially might be more productive.

It’s conceivable that if you had a region wide agreement like a free trade area in the Americas or the EU and if it had more teeth with regard to corporate governance, that might be considered more useful.

At the moment it would be up to the United States to push something like that. We’ve just been out of this multilateral game for a while.

Is Washington still very worried that it’s being kept out of the regional political architecture?

It all depends on what the organisation is and what it’s trying to do. I don’t see ASEAN+3 at the moment as a particularly big threat because the Japanese don’t want to play ball.

I think that there are some positive forms of multilateralism including the United States that would be quite positive. All those agreements and a lot of economic cooperation I think was driven by ultimately by frustration with American economic policy after the Asian crisis in 97-98. It seems to me we’re kind of sweeping the results of what the Asian countries perceive to be self interested American economic policy in the region.

In theory it would be good if everybody went back to universal multilateral agreements, they all stuck to the WTO and didn’t do these special trade deals and so on.

If a WTO style trade multilateral regime is floundering, what other alternatives are there? Do we just keep pushing for bilaterals as the only pragmatic way?

It’s not clear that bilateral trade agreements in the end create more trade than they divert and they’re all done primarily for political reasons in any event. I don’t think that’s a particularly promising way to go.

It’s conceivable that if you had a region wide agreement like a free trade area in the Americas or the EU and if it had more teeth with regard to corporate governance, that might be considered more useful.

At the moment it would be up to the United States to push something like that. We’ve just been out of this multilateral game for a while.

What is the sense about China and Washington?

Every candidate campaigns on an anti China platform and then they end up with pretty much the same policy once they become president. The Democrats tend to be a little bit more pro-China, the Republicans a little bit more pro-Japan, but I think in the end they end up fairly pragmatic.

So there are practical and structural realities of the relationship?

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The economic relationship is so strong, we’re in a mutual suicide pact with the Chinese with them holding American [dollar] reserves and our being [China’s largest] export market.

The one issue that overlays this is the protectionist one. On the trade front there’s a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment and it’s much stronger in the Democratic party than among the Republicans. For some reason they take it out on small countries like Columbia and Korea rather than China itself. But I do think that that’s something to watch and worry about.

Can any new US president really make a fresh start given the foreign policy albatrosses they’ll be inheriting?

I think people are probably overly optimistic about how big a break we can make. In the Middle East and a lot of areas, it’s not just albatrosses, we have commitments. It’s not clear that you want to break out of a lot of those existing arrangements.
Francis Fukuyama is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and Director of the International Development Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University in the US.