Plutocrats Are Only Part Of A Larger Problem

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By William R. Hawkins

BEIJING, CHINA – MARCH 18: Apple CEO Tim Cook (R) attends China Development Forum 2017 – Economic Summit at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on March 18, 2017 in Beijing, China. The forum sponsored by Development Research Center of the State Council centers on “China and the World: Economic Transformation through Structural Reforms”. Photo by Visual China Group via Getty Images.

I ran across a review of the Plutocratic Insurgency Reader in an unusual place. Not in the usual left media outlets, like Jacobin, Dissent or The New Republic as its title would seem to fit, but in Parameters, the quarterly journal of the U.S. Army War College (AWC). This is because the book is not edited by the usual “progessive” activists, but by Robert J. Bunker, adjunct research professor at the AWC Strategic Studies Institute and his wife, Pamela Ligouri Bunker, a specialist in counter-terrorism. And the book is published under the auspices of the Small Wars Journal (SWJ), not known for leaning left.

The book collects 31 short essays by 15 authors, six of whom have ties to either the AWC or the SWJ, thus giving a high expectation that national security would be its primary concern. Its self-avowed purpose is to present the core of a scholarly movement that originated in 2012 from correspondence between Robert Bunker and Nils Gilman of the Bergguen Institute concerning how the wealthy “opt out of participation in the collective institutions that make up society.” The Bergguen Institute was founded in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and Gilman’s interest is apparently reshaping the relationship between globalized capitalism and national sovereignty. As one reads through the essays, there is a tension that undermines the national security side of the discussion in favor of a domestic policy focus on income inequality and a radical desire to transform property rights that leaves the welfare state in the dust. Gilman is not an editor, but I would argue, his is the stronger voice.

The Parameters book reviewer, José de Arimatéia da Cruz, is another AWC adjunct professor attracted by the insurgency part of the title. He argues, “The end of the Cold War and the ‘end of history’ have led to a more interconnected and globalized world in the twenty-first century. At the same time, the democratization of technology has created a new environment in which previously suppressed actors can exercise greater power via the internet in a dark, deviant globalization. When corrupt politicians join forces with plutocratic insurgents, nation-states pay the price because corruption threatens national and global security.”

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Making Political Risk More Politically Relevant

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

Alicia N. Ellis, PhD, Arizona State University

Ukraine’s Independence Square in Fall 2013, taken only months before it erupted into violent protests culminating in the overthrow of the sitting government. A busy commercial and tourist hub that day, there was no sign of the war zone it would soon resemble. Photo: Alicia Ellis.

Executive Summary

This report assesses the state of the academic literature on political risk and evaluates its contribution to understanding and mitigating risk for both business and political professionals. This assessment concludes that policy-relevant research has been in some cases limited and, in most cases, ineffectively communicated. Several major problems contribute to the persistent disconnect between policy, industry, and academia. Political scientists do not approach their research questions in a communicable way, nor do they often take the necessary step of connecting their research to an end use. Risk rating organizations have become overly reliant on cross-national aggregate models. Mixed methods research has been applied inappropriately and thus, ineffectively. Systematic biases have been introduced to models at a structural level, and conceptual difficulties plague some of the most basic questions for risk analysts.

Despite these problems, opportunities do exist for bridging the gap between research and practice, and producing policy-relevant research. This article proposes some recommendations for moving forward. Research questions must be structured in new ways to reflect the needs of end consumers that include non-academic professionals. Several research agendas in need of a practical-minded researcher are put forth, including the rise of China and what it means for global trade patterns, the ‘buy local’ movement spreading across the United States, and the problem of democratic consolidation. For each problem identified, the article makes suggestions for how we might reframe the questions in a way that produces more useful research on political risk. Continue reading

Arctic Enterprise: The China Dream Goes North

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 9, September 2019

By Jonathan Hall

Arctic Ocean, ship on Barents Sea. Getty.

Until recent years, harsh weather and unmanageable navigation routes have precluded all but the most determined crews from venturing through the Arctic. As climate change continues to take effect, however, warming temperatures are opening up the region to new opportunities. In 2017, for example, merchant ships were able to pass through a shipping lane, known as the Northern Sea Route (NSR), for the first time without icebreaker escort.

The NSR has since been discussed as a logistical windfall that will revolutionize the world of international shipping. The often-cited reasoning is the potential 5,000 mi (8,000 km), or 10-15 days saved in transit, as compared to more traditionally used routes such as the Strait of Malacca, or the Suez Canal. While the NSR is only open three months per year, climatologists predict it will be traversable for 9 months out of the year by 2030, and completely ice free within the next two decades. As these changes are coming into effect, no state seems to understand the geopolitical advantage a strong presence in the Arctic will bring more so than the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Continue reading

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Celebrating Independence In Al Anbar, Iraq

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Heath Hansen

Al Anbar Province, Iraq, in Summer 2007. Photo: Heath Hansen.

Even though it was only 0500, the heat was already approaching the high 90’s and I could feel my sticky uniform only too well, sandwiched between skin and body armor. The Humvee engines were idling and the smell of JP-8 fuel stung my nostrils. “Hansen, 2nd platoon’s electronic warfare vehicle is down. We’ll need you in the lead element for the mission. You’re truck commander.”

“Roger, sir,” I replied to my platoon leader, “My truck’s ready, I’ll let the crew know.” More than four years had passed since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and we were still trying to secure independence for this country. It was the summer of 2007, in Anbar Province, and my company was headed out for another assignment in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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Trade Wars, Sanctions and Business Appeasement

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019 

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping, center, addresses a U.S.-China business roundtable, comprised of U.S. and Chinese CEOs on September 23, 2015, in Seattle, Washington. The Paulson Institute, in partnership with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, co-hosted the event. Elaine Thompson-Pool/Getty Images.

In his book Appeasing Bankers, Jonathan Kirshner, the Stephen and Barbara Friedman Professor of International Political Economy at Cornell, argues that “Bankers dread war. More precisely, financial communities within states favor cautious national security strategies and are acutely averse to war and to policies that risk war.” He finds this to be a “universal” trait (at least within capitalist societies) evident throughout modern history. This should be kept in mind when watching the large swings in the stock market in response to reports about the progress, or lack of, in U.S.-China trade talks, Iranian threats and turmoil at the Mexican border. While Kirshner focuses on “stability” with an emphasis on inflation and debt accumulation, he notes the “breathtaking financial globalization” that took place in the post-Cold War period. This has made markets even more sensitive to the dynamics of a contentious international system. Fortunately, the stock market rapidly recovers from panics generated by headlines thanks to the fundamental strength of the U.S. economy.

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