A Global Free Trade Alliance should be Britain’s stunning post-Brexit future

A Global Free Trade Alliance should be Britain’s stunning post-Brexit future

 By Dr. John C. Hulsman

 “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

 –George Bernard Shaw

If the EU isn’t Britain’s future, then what is? Surely, part of the answer lies in the Drakean vision I have put forth in previous columns, forging far closer economic ties with the US, India, China, and the democratic Emerging Markets of the world.

But there is one piece more to the puzzle if Britain is to fully capitalise on its newfound post-Brexit freedom and create a foreign and commercial policy fit for purpose in our new multipolar era: The Global Free Trade Alliance (GFTA).

The GFTA was an idea I developed 15 years ago with my friend and colleague, Jerry O’Driscoll, now of the CATO Institute in Washington, D.C. The GFTA represents the kind of international institution conservatives across the spectrum ought to favor: a coalition of the willing determined to maximize trade liberalisation throughout its member states, augmenting already existing bilateral, regional, and multilateral free trade negotiations.

The GFTA would be founded on a genuine shared commitment to increasing trade between its member states and at a global level. Indeed, it will serve as a practical advertisement for the enduring global benefits of free trade as the advantages of such an association become apparent.

Unlike the EU, it would be a voluntary and inclusive grouping, whose membership criteria would be solely based on its members’ policy commitment to a truly liberal global trading order. States would remain sovereign, and a country’s economic policies (and the choices they represent) would determine whether or not it would qualify for membership. This would be decided by a state meeting certain numerical targets (such as those used in the methodology employed in The Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal’s Index of Economic Freedom) regarding its openness to trade, capital flows and investment, and its dedication to property rights and a low level of regulation.

Members will thus select themselves based on their commitment to a liberal trading order. Back in 2004, the UK, the US, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, Denmark, Luxembourg, Estonia, Australia, Finland and Iceland would all have made the grade and been accepted into the club. Since then, Chile, Uruguay, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Botswana, Israel, and a swathe of free trade-inclined European nations would have become eligible. And it is to be hoped that membership would quickly grow, as a further 19 countries are within sight of the numerical target for accession (including Bahrain, Canada, El Salvador, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Thailand, and the UAE.)

Given my firm belief in the economic superiority of the Anglo–American economic model, such an organization will have a disproportionate number of English-speaking members, certainly in the short and medium term. However, the numerical target methodology allows for self-selection, giving the whole project an inclusivity it would otherwise lack, while advancing our common desire to strengthen the ties that bind the English-speaking world together. The GFTA’s internal initiatives would include: freer movement of capital within the new grouping; establishing common accounting standards; setting uniform numerically-driven very low rates of subsidy, as well as diminishing overt and hidden tariffs.

It would not be a treaty, but a legislative initiative offering free trade between nations with a demonstrably similar economic interests. Parliament would offer GFTA members access to the UK market, with no tariffs, quotas, or other trade barriers, on the single condition that they offer the same access to Britain and other members of the group.

The GFTA would associate Britain with the other dynamic economies around the world, especially in the Anglosphere. It would have no standing secretariat, and institutional cooperation would be limited to formal meetings of the member countries’ trade ministers, staffs and technical experts. Further decisions on trading initiatives–such as codifying uniform standards on subsidies and capital flows–would be made on a consensual basis to further minimize barriers within the alliance.

Importantly, in this era of reflexive protectionism, the GFTA could change the way people and countries think about free trade. Further global trade liberalization will no longer require wrangling over “concessions.” Instead, free trade will be seen for what it is: a policy that gives countries a massive economic advantage. As the benefits of the alliance become apparent, the GFTA would serve as a practical advertisement for global free trade, inducing other countries to liberalise their markets so as to qualify for the rules-based GFTA membership.

The GFTA can be the initiative that definitively changes Britain’s place in the world, as it becomes the founding member of what amounts to the economic Champion’s League. With the GFTA, it is well past time for British statesmen to see things that never were, and to ask; “Why not?”

Published in City AM London, August 22, 2016



Who owns America? Why Donald Trump will lose–but not by much

How owns America? Why Donald Trump will lose—but not by much

 By Dr. John C. Hulsman and Lara Palay

 To put it mildly, by any terrestrial standards Donald Trump has not had a good week. Be it seeming to threaten Hillary Clinton with assassination or stubbornly refusing to back down on his Oliver Stone-like claim that President Obama is the founder of ISIS, Trump has stretched the already fraying bonds of American credulity to breaking point. While some of this can be put down to slips of the tongue and hyperbole, Trump is failing to get the benefit of the doubt precisely because he has already so coarsened American political discourse.

 Trump’s unnerving outrageousness (as all Americans know, whoever wins this ugly election will have access to the US nuclear codes) has finally started to hurt him in the polls. Clinton’s small but steady three to four point lead now looks like a far more commanding seven to eight point margin. The latest RealClearPolitics election data shows Secretary Clinton ahead comfortably in states worth 256 electoral votes; 270 are needed to win the presidency. Things are so bad for the Republicans that they are behind in Georgia, a deep south state that is part of their bedrock support for a generation.

 And yet despite his shambolic campaigning, while Trump has fallen behind, he has not yet been routed. The question isn’t why Trump has bled support; instead it is who could still possibly be supporting him and why? For he can say demonstrably fantastical things–even contradict himself in the same speech–and yet his core supporters’ enthusiasm is undiminished.

Trump’s all-but-explicit promise, beloved by demagogues throughout time, is to “take back” the country from usurpers and restore it to its rightful “owners”.

Yet ownership, as a concept, is deceptively slippery. Philosophically it’s a problem–if something isn’t a part of my body (the most primal “ownership” we can conceive of), then what makes an object mine?

Some measures–legal documents, explicit gifts–seem to be fairly clear. However, long term use and sacrifice also confer an emotionally compelling argument for ownership. Illegal immigrants–lacking the government-given stamp of approved ownership in the form of citizenship–still start to attain some ownership when they work in a country long enough or establish roots (marriage and children, for example). Ownership of a purely social construct like “a nation” is even murkier.

As many people have pointed out it is far too easy (and entirely wrong) to dismiss all Trump supporters as stupid. They clearly articulate a deep desire to own something (and it has been asserted ad nauseam how “disenfranchised” Trump supporters are, which can largely be explained by the fact that they feel they are, “owning less than before”). The Scottish philosopher David Hume thought that social consensus confers ownership. So the problem Trump voters have is that there is no longer a consensus that they have monopoly ownership over being American.

Trump’s latest outrageous insult to Muslim Americans—his tasteless argument with the Khan family, whose son died serving in the US military in Iraq—highlights exactly the real struggle of this election: who owns America? The Khan family touched a nerve with Trump because the father’s moving speech about his son at the Democratic National Convention implicitly said: we are as American as you, not least because our sacrifice has bought our right to call America ours.

This sticks in the craw of many Trump supporters and seemingly the man himself, who have conjured up the very un-American (in historical terms as the country is entirely made up of immigrants) argument that the amount of time lived in America gives a citizen the right to ownership of the country. This is a very old European idea that has done nothing throughout history but stifle new, creative energies on the continent.

Ironically, America has been the prime beneficiary of such an elitist notion. When once asked by a German colleague what I didn’t like about ‘Old Europe’, I merely replied that the difference between him and me was both sets of our relatives had complained about the injustices of the old world, but only mine had gotten on the boat. It is best to have a country of doers, and not victims.

Give Donald Trump’s supporters great credit, for—far from being knuckle-dragging Neanderthals—they are among the first to tap into a great issue of our time: who owns a country? Trump’s likely defeat should not allow the rest of us to turn away from this seminal question, whose answer will do much to determine the long term fate of western democracy.

Written with Lara Palay, Published in City AM London, August 15, 2016



Defeating ISIS is beside the point; Iraq doesn’t exist anymore

Defeating ISIS is beside the point; Iraq does not exist anymore

By Dr. John C. Hulsman

“War is a mere continuation of politics by other means.”

–Carl von Clausewitz, On War

Foreign policy analysts have a terrible in-built tendency to ignore historical failures. Philosophically, they skew toward Hegel rather than Burke, believing that every intractable problem always contains the seeds of regeneration and reform. No situation can ever be written off as a beyond redemption.

Yet history is full of such cases. The Roman Empire never secured its borders with the barbarians, the Spanish Empire never managed rampant inflation and the United States has never manged to fully shed its missionary impulse in international relations, wrongheaded though it often is, as in Vietnam and Iraq. Adopting the more historical approach favoured by Burke allows for the analytical insight that history is as littered with failures as it is adorned with successes.

Judging by a wealth of facts on the ground, it is time for Burkeans to burst the Hegelian bubble about the viability of Iraq and face stubborn facts. Iraq as a state has ceased to exist except in theory and shows no real signs of being revived. Despite real battlefield successes against ISIS, the collapse of both Iraq and Syria as coherent political entities capable of controlling their respective boundaries, leaves a gaping hole of instability in the centre of the region.

Until the politics–rather than the military aspects of the problem–are dealt with in an entirely new way, the region is likely to remain mired in instability for the foreseeable future. Sometimes the historical answer is no, and it is up to both analysts and decision-makers alike to realise this bleak but valuable political lesson.

The Abadi Regime Botches Reform Again

Two basic problems bedevil the Iraqi state, both of which have proven intractable. First, the well-meaning but weak government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has proven itself utterly incapable of advancing its much-needed reform agenda. Despite having the declared support of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani–the most popular figure in the country–and the swelling impetus of the Sadrist movement behind his tentative steps toward reform, the Abadi government has stumbled at every turn.

On July 15, thousands of supporters of firebrand Muqtada al-Sadr returned to the streets of Baghdad, protesting the chronic delays in reforming the Iraqi government, purging it of its endemic corruption. For a year, Abadi has called for an end to ethno-religious quotas for government positions, instead wishing to appoint officials based on merit.

Further, Abadi has declared his preference for forming a government of technocrats, experts who can begin to dig the country out of its fiscal hole, caused in equal measures by endemic corruption, the collapse of global oil prices, and the need to prosecute the costly war against Islamic State. It has gotten so bad that the government cannot guarantee the continued flow of electricity, even as summer temperatures in the south of the country have exceeded a scorching 50 degrees centigrade.

Yet despite these internal and external forces making the logic of reform overwhelming in policy terms, precious little has happened. The interests of the patchwork quilt of Iraqi political factions are simply too entrenched to give away the government patronage that is the enduring source of their power. Further, at the end of June, an Iraqi federal court disallowed even the government’s tepid recent efforts at renewal, nullifying Abadi’s attempt to streamline the cabinet and remove the parliamentary speaker.

This domestic political failure is reflected at the strategic level. For all practical purposes, the Kurdish portion of the country has been autonomous now for a generation, with Baghdad’s political remit stopping short in the north of the country. In addition, the Sunni centre and west of the country either remains under the control of ISIS or is just emerging from the war zone that has been central Iraq for the past several years.

Given the Abadi government’s obvious inability to govern the more peaceful portions of the country long under its control, it is highly unlikely that Sunni Iraq will be integrated back into the Iraqi state in a successful manner. If this proves to be the case, the defeat of ISIS will be entirely beside the point, a mere respite while the world waits in dread for the next incarnation of radicalism to arise from the fertile ashes of continuing Sunni disenfranchisement.

Conclusion: A Different Way Forward

Given all these realities, inconvenient facts that must not be swept under the analytical rug, it is probably too late for Iraq to survive as a state in anything other than name. The only way this might change—long-shot though it is—would be for a two-fold successful reform drive to eradicate the corruption that is the cancer of Iraqi domestic politics, coupled with a concerted effort to confederalise the country, devolving as much power as possible to the restive Kurdish, Sunni and Shia sub-national groupings that are the organic, politically legitimate building blocks of power there.

Barring these dramatic developments, it is time to see Iraq for what it is: A failed state.

Published in Al Arabiya online, August 10, 2016