Be very afraid

Dear Friends,

I have now returned from my 9 months in Hong Kong, where my plans to start a new program in public policy — what would have been HK’s first School of Public Policy — came apart in the face of mainland Chinese actions to suppress political engagement in Hong Kong’s universities.  As we have since seen, China has eroded the rule of law and government autonomy in Hong Kong.  But this is just part of a global trend, what I would call the growth of the global “strong man’s club” of leaders who put their personal programs above the law, trading on a strong nationalist and xenophobic ideology to win popular support for extreme actions against minorities and opponents.

The club now includes Xi Jinping in China, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary — and in the latest development, Donald Trump in the U.S.

There is good reason to be concerned about what this means for democracy; I stand by my warning published three weeks ago in Canada:

Whatever one thinks of specific policies voiced by the Trump camp, the real danger is to the very institutions that undergird our democracy — rule of law (including innocent until proven guilty), a free and accurate media, checks and balances within government, and an independent and non-ideological Supreme Court.  We should all work to preserve these elements after election of a president who has never known checks and balances, never had to work within a system that he did not control and dominate, and never — even in winning the highest office in the land — had to make the compromises typically required for effective policy-making.

I do hope that President Trump will govern in a different spirit than candidate Trump campaigned.  He may well do so.  But while hoping for the best, it would be sensible to prepare for a difficult time for democracy both at home and abroad.



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Trump and fatherhood

My colleague Jeremy Mayer recently wrote a compelling article for the American Interest:

Big Daddy Trump

Jeremy points out that the defense of Trump’s candidacy by praising his children is a highly stilted and inappropriate way to evaluate a presidential candidate.  I completely agree — we are not choosing the father of our nation (George Washington had that wrapped up long ago), but someone to negotiate with world leaders, deal with Congress, appoint Supreme Court justices, and develop a compelling vision for an inclusive, fair, and trusted America.  A father who has used wealth and privilege to help his children to exceptional success is not an obvious choice for that role.

I urge you to look at Jeremy’s article.  But I also have some of my own thoughts on why Trump’s family has been a focus of media attention in this campaign.

America is an astoundingly superficial country.  That is, after all, what the Kardashians are all about –a pandering to superficiality.  This is part and parcel of the information overload world as we find it.  Whether on social media or the silver screen, we look for celebrity, whether our own or others.  And those who succeed in the celebrity game, and that includes Trump, get a great deal of presumption for wisdom and talent.

When choosing a president, most people do not have the time or interest to dig deeply into the complexities of policy issues.  They would prefer to leave that to professionals — and rightfully so.  It’s hard for me to explain the consequences of globalization or the global decline of democracy so that I think I understand it, and I spend hours every day thinking about this.  So most people need to find another way to make their choice.  And quite understandably, they look for signals that are easier to grasp to guide them, signals that can be gleaned from simpler questions.

One way to evaluate a politician is asking whether they can be “trusted.”  Another is to say “what are their values?”   In Europe people face the same problem but they have (historically) been more willing to judge on “what has this person accomplished” and “what do other successful and important people say about them.”  Trump would never have left the first primary if these were the key questions in this country.  But they are not —  in America it is “trust” and  “values” that seem most important.

I think these are absolutely legitimate questions — the problem is that it is all too easy to fake or misdirect to answers.  Hilary’s emails are not a true gauge of whether she can be trusted with confidential information or tough decisions in action — but they are an easy media hit for attacking on that issue. And I fully agree that children are not just the image, much less the certain outcome, of their parents; I don’t know how anyone who has had children can think otherwise.  But saying someone is a “good father” seems to imply the right values — thoughtful, generous, selfless, hard-working, fair, etc.  So that too is an easy media hit, especially if you happen to have a jackpot telegenic offspring.

This means that Ivanka Trump is a great asset, and as telegenic as she is, it is understandable that the media dotes on her, and justifies claims that Trump is the right kind of person to lead the nation.

Yet I think the more that Trump’s character is on display in the campaign, the more HE will be seen to be untrustworthy, ungenerous, and superficial in the way he deals with his political opponents and the task of running a presidential campaign.  As we already saw from the plagiarism incident with Melania, family can cut both ways, and the “amateur hour” nature of Trump’s campaign will likely produce further stumbles.

A lot will depend on the upcoming TV debates.  Will Trump appear presidential, calm and skilled in dealing with his opponent?  Or will he appear superficial, excitable, and disdainful?  If the latter, even Ivanka’s halo will not prevent him from crashing.  And if he does crash, given the divisions and disarray within the Republican party, he may lead the GOP to a historic defeat.

At the same time, Clinton has trust issues as well, and the electorate may not be motivated to vote for her either.  This may be one of the first “none of the above” Presidential contests in American history.    The bottom line is that this election, like most of those in America, will not turn on policy issues, but on trust and values. Because of that, it is anybody’s election to lose.

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How Global Patterns of Inequality are changing — and raising geopolitical risks

My new essay on this topic has been posted on FOREIGNAFFAIRS.COM at

Here is a summary of the conclusions:


Emerging nations are suspended between being rich enough to have a stake in global leadership, and still often being treated as if they do not. The result is an increasingly aggressive stance by countries from China to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The people of the developing world are on the move, yet their movements are resented and seen as dangerous, so that instead of being helped they are fenced out. The people of the rich world are themselves increasing resentful and frightful, and voting for extremists and populists who thrive on such sentiments.

Sadly, it would be unrealistic to present simple or easy solutions to these threats. The rich will not easily give up their wealth, nor the will the people of Europe and America, the Middle East and Asia, suddenly find fellowship and understanding. It may take a generation of conflict before leaders and elites recognize that growing inequality is doing more harm than good, and undertake a global cooperative effort to unwind the economic imbalances and nationalist resentments that have now built up for an entire generation.
But nations can start at home. Adopting legislation to provide more opportunities and essential services, as well as affordable basic health, housing and retirement security to diminish the scope and sting of inequality within their own societies, will start to reduce the festering anger within. Such measures are essential to restore the cooperation within nations that will enable them to respond rationally to new challenges.

The combination of diminishing inequality among nations and increased inequality within them has produced anger and aggression, and raised threats around the world. Diminishing inequality among nations will not be reversed. Accepting that fact calls for a wholesale revision of global governance institutions (including better institutions to cope with the inevitably swelling flows of migrants and refugees). The rise in inequality within nations, however, is something that can and should be addressed. Responding more thoughtfully to rising inequality and its consequences, both internally and globally, is essential. Otherwise, the world’s internal politics and international relations will become ever more extremist and more dangerous.

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I’m Back!

Dear Friends,

Some of you may have noticed the long silence on this blog site.  I have spent the last three months transitioning to a new position, as the founding Director of a new Institute for Public Policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

This is my “Pivot to Asia,” where I think many of the critical policy issues of the coming decades will have to be faced.  These including aging, climate change, emerging market growth, internet policy, and promoting innovation and new technologies (robotics, AI, IoT, renewable energy, biotech, etc.).   As  you may know, while Silicon Valley gets the credit for innovations on the web, on many exciting developments, from financial technology to robotics and holographic projections, Asian countries are in the lead.  This is also a ring-side seat to sea what changing economic fortunes come to China, and a safe-viewing distance to watch the circus known as US Presidential politics.

For me this is a great opportunity — HKUST is one of the world’s fastest rising and highest ranked universities, and is in a growth phase that will include public policy, particularly science and tech-related policies.  If you will be visiting Hong Kong, or are looking to join us in building a new public policy research and graduate center in Asia, please let me know.

Of course, the last three months have also seen a string of world-changing events, including the shift of Turkey and Russia into ever greater authoritarian rule, the migrant crisis in Europe, the clear slowdown in Chinese growth, and the remarkable rise of Donald Trump to the top of GOP politics.  So there will be plenty to comment on as I resume.

First is a reflection on why there seems to be a global rise of strong leaders, driven by widespread anger and anxiety.  Glad to be back — I hope you again enjoy these occasional posts.






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When Vision Fails

It is remarkable that, in response to ISIS’s attacks in Paris, all kinds of remedies and actions are now being vehemently proposed:  adding Western ground troops to the forces attacking ISIS, setting new restrictions on the movement of refugees from Islamic countries to the West; changing the rules for movement within Europe and even the rights of long-resident Muslims in western nations.

These proposals are remarkable not because they are extreme or poorly thought out (which they often are).  Rather, they are remarkable because they burst into a vacuum of ideas for responding to ISIS or to a major terrorist action in a western capital.

Why have Western nations not had either a long-standing, widely understood and supported strategy for dealing with ISIS, which even a grisly terrorist act would not change, nor a plan for action in response to such an attack if that was believed necessary?

After all, it is certainly not the case that ISIS nor terror attacks in European capitals are new.  ISIS has now been in the headlines for its brutal actions for years, and past terror attacks in Moscow, London, Madrid and even in Paris just a few months before should have prompted strategic plans for responding to another such attack.

Yet the response of Western leaders seems to have been an uncanny degree of denial.  President Obama, just a day before the attacks, said that America’s strategy for dealing with ISIS was working and that ISIS had been “contained.”  This was after a $500 million program to train Syrian fighters had to be abandoned for lack of success.

While it is true that some local tactical advances had been made in the fight against ISIS, in retaking the Baiji oilfields and the town of Sinjar, ISIS is also making tactical gains in other parts of Syria, around Homs and Edlib.   Perhaps the biggest problem is that even if anti-ISIS forces retake land, there is no clear sense of who will govern it.  In Tikrit in Iraq, a major town recovered from ISIS earlier this year, Iraqi army units and Shia militias still contest each other for control of the city, which remains a ghost town.

In Syria, when Kurdish forces recover land in northern Syria, who will run it?  Turkey is dead-set against creating a Kurdish-run safe zone in northern Syria that could develop into an autonomous region or Kurdish state.  Lands in Syria recovered from ISIS cannot be simply turned over to control of the Assad-led regime in Damascus; the Sunni population of most of Syria will not tolerate that.  Yet there exists no Syrian “government in exile” with popular support to take over either.  So how can a strategy to fight against ISIS be “working” if we still have no idea who will run any region that is recovered?   Moreover, these tactical victories that nibble at the fringes of ISIS territory do not begin to broach the strategic issues that are vital to truly defeating them, namely how will they be driven from their urban strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul where millions of people live under ISIS’ rule?

If western nations lack an overall strategy for dealing with ISIS, they also lack a plan for responding to direct attacks on their citizens.  Even after ISIS in the Sinai had brought down a Russian airliner causing hundreds of deaths, western leaders seemed to think that ISIS was only a local threat, aiming to expand in Iraq and Syria, and would not strike against nations outside that area.  This despite evidence of ISIS sleeper cells elsewhere, and attacks by ISIS affiliated groups in Egypt. Libya, and the Sahel.  So what reprisals did Western leaders have planned in the event that ISIS followed up the Charlie Hebdo attacks with another, larger attack on European soil?  None, apparently, as the response has been a search for something between a knee-jerk response for the sake of “doing something” and doing nothing at all for lack of an alternative that would clearly be effective and not self-defeating.

Sadly, this lack of vision, and the lack of preparation it produces, is not just arising in the struggle against ISIS.  For many years, scholars like myself have been arguing that fragile and failed states are the greatest potential threat to the international system, creating millions of refugees, thousands of aggrieved radicals, and multiple opportunities for terror groups to shelter and expand.  We also noted that dealing with fragile and failed states required expertise, patience, and steady efforts, not dropping soldiers and tons of money in and then planning to pull them out.  Yet instead of building capacity and developing plans to assist fragile and failing states, we were told that dealing with fragile and failed states is too costly and complex and that our errors in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that we could not respond to that challenge. Moreover, we were told that fragile and failed states weren’t really a threat to the international system or to US interests, that we had greatly exaggerated their risks, and that failed states were likely to be a minor and decreasing problem.

The result — when Ukraine failed, the West was caught flat-footed, while only Russia was prepared to act quickly. They did so by seizing Crimea and sending arms and troops to shore up separatists in Eastern Ukraine, thereby plunging Europe into its deepest crisis since the Cold War.

When Libya failed in the aftermath of the fall of Muammar Ghaddafi, as always seemed likely, the world had no standby plan to separate militias or restore order.  When Yemen failed — a process that had been slowly unfolding for years and ignored in favor of just drone-bombing Al-Qaida militants — the result was a civil war that has drawn in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations to the point where they have little attention to spare for ISIS.  When Iraq and Syria fell apart in the aftermath of the US withdrawal from the former and the Arab Spring uprisings in the latter, and we watched radicals spread and entrench themselves in both nations, we had no thought of a quick response.  Rather, we watched both nations descend from fragility to outright loss of territory to a radical group, and waited until that group spilled blood in Europe and sent millions of refugees westward before starting to take seriously the need for an international response.

At this point, the West may think that a strong response to the terror attacks in Paris is required.  In fact, it is too late.  States that have failed cannot easily be put back together from outside.  The time for effective intervention is in the early days of fragility, before forces of disorder have seized advanced weapons and territory. At this point, blows aimed at ISIS without a strategy to drive them from their core strongholds will only increase their enmity and determination to strike back, and will not deprive of the means to do so.

So what course to take now, after so much denial and time wasted?   First, it is vital to strengthen states that are engaged in struggles to create zones of order, but remain fragile.  That means Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Ukraine, and Georgia.  It is essential that they not become failed states and spread disorder further.  These countries should be the priority for strategic measures to support these regimes with aid, expertise, trade support, and defensive weaponry.

Second, the forces that are actively fighting ISIS in Syria — Kurds and Syrian militias — should be given access to arms and air support to fight to contain ISIS and keep it busy with local defense.

Beyond that, Western forces should back away from active engagement with ISIS in Syria and Iraq.  Better to concentrate on dealing with the refugee streams that are being created.  By giving those refugees a future and safe haven, even more ISIS supporters will be encouraged to try to escape from the lands controlled by ISIS. That will do more than any bombing raids to weaken ISIS and deprive it of resources.

In the meantime, let ISIS’s fury burn itself out against local Muslim populations. Eventually, when ISIS has weakened, and Turkey and several Arab nations are ready to commit major forces to driving ISIS out of its strongholds, western nations can provide support.  But it makes no sense for the US and Europe to take the lead in a fight against ISIS when neither Turkey, nor Iraq, nor Saudi Arabia is willing to do so.

Still, NATO should develop stand-by plans for retributive strikes against ISIS and its leaders if they stage attacks against NATO countries.  If we are already bombing all targets that we can identify, then simply dropping more bombs in response to an attack on the West will not have any effect and certainly not deter NATO from planning further attacks against the West.  Yet if Western nations turn the main fighting over to local forces, and save massive bombing attacks for reprisals, ISIS and its supporters will learn that attacks against the West will cost it more lives in its population centers.   The incessant ongoing air attacks that inevitably kill civilians and now help ISIS recruit followers are  not effective; but attacks that are clearly reprisals for ISIS killing of innocent civilians can be framed quite differently and more effectively for the anti-ISIS cause.

The risk now is that instead of helping crucial fragile states grow stronger, aiding refugees, and limiting our actions to supporting local forces and reprisals, we will act in anger and do precisely the opposite — ignore other fragile states, turn against refugees, and waste money and effort in counter-productive military actions by western nations against ISIS.  These are precisely the actions that will strengthen ISIS, not defeat it.  Yet once again our lack of strategic vision and understanding, and our inclinations to act in haste and anger as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan, threaten to make the defeat of Western interests more likely.





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Fighting Islamic Terror in a Multipolar and Asymmetric World

Events in November – the downing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai and the mass killings in Paris – should make it abundantly clear that we are no longer living in a world where conflicts between major states are the primary threats to the security of ordinary citizens.  The world of the 21st century has arrived.  Today international relations are not only multipolar, engaging older powers such as the United States, France, and Britain; emerging powers such as the BRICS countries; and regional powers such as Turkey, Iran and the Persian Gulf states.  They are also asymmetric, as non-state actors such as the Islamic State, Hezbollah, and Kurdish militias challenge these nations with their own military campaigns.

These asymmetric campaigns have produced recurrent murders and massacres throughout the world in the last 15 years, such as the 9/11 attacks on the U.S., the 2004 train bombing in Spain, the 2008 mass shootings in Mumbai, India, and this year’s killings of hundreds by terrorist acts in Xinjiang, China and the Sinai and Paris attacks. It should be evident that for NATO, Russia, China and many other states the most fear and death is being spread by a common enemy, namely Islamic extremists.

Logic would dictate that the nations facing this threats, from NATO to the BRICS, would work together to end this chronic and growing danger to their security, and coordinate their efforts against a common enemy.  While there are many Islamist groups using terror tactics, so that it might seem difficult to identify that common enemy, today there is a clear leader of global Islamist violence, and that is Daesh, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State (IS).   IS has made clear that its enemies include Russia and its Syrian ally, the US and its Iraqi and Kurdish allies, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and now France as well.   So why do all of these nations not bring their collective might to bear against Daesh and end its threat to their security?

The answer is that collective efforts have been paralyzed by an older mind-set, carried over from the cold war.  The BRICS nations – a collective formed for the very purpose of creating an alternative framework to the club of western nations – creates the impression that Russia, India, and China, as well as India and South Africa, have some common interests that are apart from the interests of the nations of Europe and North America.  At the same time, NATO – a military formation designed to provide for the security of Western Europe from an attack from Eastern Europe – continues to focus on expanding its membership within Europe rather than building a truly global alliance against the global threats now faced by its members.

Driven by this older mind-set, in the last few years when crises of mutual interest have arisen, such as the collapse of governments in Ukraine and Syria, instead of western and eastern nations dealing with these events by peaceful joint efforts and negotiations, confrontations have arisen based on the perception that western Europe and Russia, or the United States and China, are mutual threats to each other. In Ukraine, Russia moved to “liberate” Crimea and support military action by militias in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. Western nations then responded with sanctions and both sides have escalated a propaganda war designed to depict the other as an evil adversary.

In Syria, instead of an international effort to impose a settlement on the various warring factions that have torn that country apart, and to drive ISI out of its positions, Russia and Iran have acted to support “their” ally Bashar al-Assad, as if supporting a murderous dictator who uses barrel bombs and chemical weapons against his own cities will strengthen their international position.  Yet Assad and his allies have made little effort to attack Daesh, instead focusing their attention on the various other opposition groups in Syria who pose a more immediate threat to Assad’s rule.  Indeed, Assad is positioning himself to benefit from a sustained Daesh presence in eastern Syria, which he can use to justify any barbarity used to preserve his regime.

Meanwhile, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States have all insisted that Assad’s departure must be part of any settlement plan, but made only token efforts to achieve that goal.  The result is that no coordinated actions against Daesh are taking place at all.  Instead Turkey turns a blind eye to much of Daesh’s activities, preferring to let Daesh fight against the Kurdish militias that Turkey judges to be a greater threat to its sovereignty.  Saudi Arabia has become pre-occupied with the Yemeni civil war, while the US aims to withdraw its forces from Iraq and to avoid being drawn into a ground campaign in Syria.  While each of these may make tactical sense in terms of short-term national interests, they have worked to undermine any sensible and effective strategy against the greater long-term threat of the Islamic State.

The recent attacks against Russia in the Sinai and against Paris now seem to call for eastern and western nations to set aside preoccupations with their own relative strength and prestige, with winning land or scoring propaganda points at each other’s expense.  How foolish countries will look in a few years if they continue to act as if controlling a few more bits of territory – whether in Crimea or the South China Sea or the coast of Syria – is more important for their security than ending the global threat of Islamic terror.

Somehow these cold-war mindsets have re-emerged and supplanted what had seemed to be a growing consensus just a few years ago.  In that consensus – which perhaps reached its high point in 2011 with U.N. support for actions to prevent Muamar Ghaddafi of Libya from inflicting a genocide on the residents of Benghazi – major countries would settle any disputes over territory or trade by negotiations that complied with international treaties and would be adjudicated by international law; and threats to the security of ordinary people, whether arising from civil or international conflicts, would draw a firm response from the United Nations with military interventions designed to separate combatants and impose a peace until diplomats could render a longer-term solution.

This consensus started to fall apart when NATO forces not only protected Benghazi, but supported the uprising that toppled Ghaddafi from power.  This was interpreted by Russia and China as the West again acting to impose its view (as in Iraq) that dictators could be justifiably deposed by outside intervention (never mind that in its Soviet days Russia had done the same in Cuba and Afghanistan).  Then when the Yanukovich regime in Ukraine ran into trouble, and was deserted by its own police and armed forces, this too was seen as a Western effort to take over key territory that had to be opposed.  Before long, most countries adopted an “every nation for themselves” approach, marked by pursuit of narrow selfish interests and deep distrust of others.

Thus Turkey, which is likely the next state that IS would like to dismember, has been extremely reluctant to join allied campaigns against IS.  Instead, it has preferred to focus on its long-standing conflict with domestic and neighboring Kurdish forces even when those forces have proved the most effective of any troops campaigning against the Islamic State.  Iran as well has refused to move toward a reconciliation with the United States.  Even as it was agreeing to an international compact to halt its progress toward nuclear weapons, it issued stern statements warning against any let down of its guard against the “Great Satan” – that is, the United States.  For its part, the United States would like to support an international coalition against IS.  However, unable to find any partners willing to set aside their conflicting goals to agree on a counter-IS strategy, the U.S. simply issues empty threats and statements, and bombs a few targets from the air, while its inconsistencies and inability to change things on the ground only further increases the distrust felt for it by other actors.

At this point, Russia and France – as the two countries that have most recently suffered from ISIS’s attacks – should together call an international diplomatic conference to develop a grand strategy against IS.  This conference must include leaders from all countries of the Middle East including Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran, all countries of NATO, and China (which if it aspires to a leading role in global affairs cannot stand aside).  India, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, the Philippines and other countries that have fought against Islamic terrorists in the Middle East or abroad should be invited as well.  A global strategy that draws on all of these nations should develop a plan for creating a transitional and successor regime in Syria, a national unity government in Iraq, and a military campaign to drive ISIS out of Syria and Iraq and destroy its ability to control territory and stable revenues.  These plans should be submitted to the United Nations for security council approval, and action under the mantle of UN leadership.

It is sometimes said that if an alien attack suddenly threated the world, the nations of the planet would set aside their differences and fight against the common enemy.  Sadly, the evidence of the last few years suggests otherwise.  It seems many nations would be all too glad to cooperate with the aliens if the latter promised to first vanquish their political rivals on earth.

Earth’s nations today face several truly global threats – IS being the most immediate, but climate change also being a common global crisis, and international migration swiftly becoming another.  A truly global effort to vanquish IS and reduce the threat of Islamic terror campaigns is essential today.  Such an effort could also lay the groundwork for a united response to other global security issues, and thus for a much brighter future for all nations.





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Europe’s Migration Puzzle

(This entry first appeared on the PS21 blog site; a great site for insights on 21st century politics)

Europe has a problem with immigrants.   That is hardly news – it has been true for decades.  But the problem has now become more acute and unmanageable because throughout those decades Europe refused to admit it had a problem.  Rather than recognize that Europe’s future would involve ever more immigration, and make comprehensive plans to integrate and advance their immigrants, benign neglect or efforts at multiculturalism prevailed alongside a generous asylum policy.  Europe’s immigrants were thus in, but not fully part of, their new societies.   Such policies were bound to create trouble; for when immigrants are seen as a threat to be kept at a distance, and hence are excluded and marginalized, they become a threat.  It would have been wiser, when immigrants were still arriving in modest numbers, to more vigorously set up good quality schools and apprenticeships, and plan for their integration into neighborhoods and workplaces.

For it was just a matter of time before a truly major humanitarian crisis in the Middle East or North Africa, which have teeming and youthful populations, put hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in motion.  Now that crisis conditions, due to brutal civil wars and religious extremism, have embraced both North Africa and the Middle East a predictable flood of asylum seekers has sought to take advantage of Europe’s generosity and the proximity of her shores.

The numbers, though larger than Europe has been accustomed to, are not overwhelming.  The European Union population of 500 million should be able to absorb 5 or even 10 million refugees, increasing its foreign born population by 1 or 2%.  After all, the foreign-born population of the United States is 11% of the total; in Canada it is 19% and in Australia it is 22%.  By contrast, in all European Union countries excepting only the Baltics (with many Russian-born residents) and Croatia, the non-EU born population is 10% or less.   In France, Spain, the U.K., Belgium, the Netherlands and Greece it is just over 8%; in Italy and Germany closer to 7%.  In Hungary and Romania it is less than 1%.

These low numbers indicate that Europe is still new to large-scale immigration.  Indeed, in the 1970s the number of non-Europeans in most European countries was minimal – like that in Hungary today.  But since then the growth of immigrants, especially Muslims, has been rapid.  In the 1970s, France and Germany had only a few hundred thousand resident Muslims; today they both have several million.  That ten-fold growth has been alarming, leading to panic that if such growth continued Islam would take over.  But that is wholly an illusion from growth starting from a very small base.  If you have a country of 60 million, such as France, and the Muslim population grows from 300,000 to 3,000,000 that ten-fold increase represents an increase of 2.7 million; but it still leaves the Muslim population at just 5% of the total population.  Another two million immigrants seems large, but it would not even double the existing Muslim total, and would still leave the total Muslim population at under 10%.  That is a significant minority, of course, but certainly not enough to swamp the remaining 90% of the population.   In Europe, the percentage of Christians is falling fast but that is not mainly due to the increase of the Muslim population — rather it is being driven by the large increase in the number of those unaffiliated with any Church who have left Christianity; but that is another story.

Can France, Germany, or other European nations manage to move forward with a foreign-born population of 10%, and their children?  Of course, if that 10% have access to language training, good schools, and support in finding jobs.  No, however, if that 10% is pushed to the margins, struggles to be accepted, faces job discrimination and inferior schools.

Some would claim that immigrants can never be integrated if their values or religion are too different from that of their host countries.  History and experience, however, say otherwise.  The large Arab populations of Detroit and Melbourne, the vast Korean population of Los Angeles, and the huge Japanese population in São Paulo are just a few examples of populations that have overcome vast gulfs of language or religion.  It is only when discrimination and exclusion focus on a particular group – even of the same language and religion as the majority, as with Blacks in the United States or Irish in Northern Ireland – that integration fails.  Integration is a matter of successful policies and political leadership, not inherent differences.

Moreover, most Europeans do not realize that the immigrants seeking asylum from Syria and Libya are not the most wretched members of their societies.  Rather, they are professionals and students: engineers, architects and doctors and skilled workers.  They are those people with the savings to pay smugglers, and whose lives and futures have been most severely stripped away by the conflicts in those nations.  These immigrants are a potential resource for the receiving societies, as they have been for Australia, Canada, the U.S. and other countries of immigration.

It is sometimes argued that Europe should welcome immigrants because European-born populations are aging, and immigrants of working age will help offset that trend.  But this is both wrong and misleading about the contribution of immigrants.  First, it is wrong because an increase in the foreign born population of 1% or 2% of the total population will not have an appreciable impact on the age structure of the receiving societies.   And it is misleading to think that the contribution of immigrants depends on their replacing older people.  Australia, Canada, and the U.S. have benefitted from the economic contributions of immigrants for decades, even when they had much younger populations than Europe has today.  This underlines a basic fact about immigrants: if they are given support and access to economic success, they will contribute to economic growth in their new home; if they lack that support they will make a smaller contribution.  This fact holds regardless of the average age of the host society.  It is policies that matter for immigrants’ success, not demography by itself.

While some individual countries have been far more generous and supportive of immigrants than others – Sweden for one, and Germany has improved enormously in the last two decades – the core problem is that Europe does not have a single authority to screen, process, settle, and support refugees.  Instead, it has more than two dozen national authorities, some inside the EU and some outside.  The result is that some countries have become countries of transit while others are targets for asylum.  Borders where immigrants can cross, or will be accepted, constantly shift, leaving refugees swarming over various arrival points in chaotic fashion.   Instead of a safe and orderly process to move refugees from danger to safety, and to spread the burden of settlement and integration fairly among nations according to their capacity and means, the complexity of multiple national policies exposes both asylum seekers and European nations to greater dangers and anxiety.  At best some countries will be exceptionally generous leaving their populations to ask why, while at worst some countries will try to shift the entire responsibility to others and substitute razor wire for thoughtful immigration policies, with usually poor results.

The U.S. and Canada and Australia can manage immigration better (although they certainly are not without problems) because they have one immigration authority and one immigration policy, not dozens.  To avoid the current chaos, Europe will have to similarly find a way to develop a common asylum and immigration policy, and a method to facilitate processing and settlement of asylum seekers and immigrants that reduces the profits of smugglers and the risks to refugees.  Certainly, different procedures and rights will have to accrue to economic migrants from Morocco and Lebanon than war refugees from Libya and Syria.  Yet the wars in the latter countries are not ending anytime soon, and condemning the victims of those wars to languish in terror and loss when they could be rebuilding their lives is neither moral nor wise.  A comprehensive asylum policy should be developed and implemented as soon as possible; anything less will be a permanent shame to Europe and a repudiation of its values.

Moreover, it is utterly irresponsible to promise asylum to refugees who reach Europe, but then provide no legitimate means for refugees to get there.  The result is to make people dependent on smugglers, who reap hundreds of millions of dollars that refugees would gladly pay for legitimate processing and travel to Europe, while putting the lives of those refugees – whom the asylum policy is intended to help reach safety – in the greatest danger.

The experience gained now in screening, settling, and integrating migrants will pay off in the future.  Someday the wars in Libya and Syria will end.  Yet the population of Africa is set to grow from just over one billion today to almost three billion people by 2060; the populations of the Middle East and Central and South Asia, from Iraq to Afghanistan, will similarly grow by hundreds of millions during this period.  Given the poor quality of government in these regions, and likely future wars and climate disasters, Europe will continue to see millions seeking to enter its relative security and prosperity every decade in the years to come.

In the last few decades, politicians pandering to people’s fear of immigrants have in every way made the problems of immigration worse.  By criticizing immigration, they have marginalized immigrants and discouraged efforts to invest adequately in integrating immigrant populations and improving their education and job prospects.  The failure to create institutions to manage immigration as a positive resource has left migrants within Europe and especially their children discouraged and often hostile and estranged; at the same time the lack of preparation has left Europe to wallow in chaos when a massive tide of immigrants arrives.  The experience of the last decade should have proved that immigration pressures cannot be wished away simply by criticizing them.

If European leaders can work together to manage an orderly process that treats immigrants as a potential resource, just as Australia, Canada, and other countries have done, Europe can adjust to being a region of immigration and benefit from it.  But if Europe continues to resist, and believe it can somehow avoid being a region of immigration, its failure to deal with reality will lead only to more chaos on its borders and discord and violence within them.

There is a right way to think about the migration puzzle.  It is to realize that Europe does not have an immigration problem; it has an integration problem.  Most European nations already have significant immigrant populations.  Even if Europe were to somehow halt all immigration tomorrow, it would still have to deal with the millions of foreign-born already there, and their children and grandchildren.  Those millions need to become productive and harmonious members of European society, or they will be a liability and source of conflict.

If Europe can solve its integration problem then the number of immigrants will not be a problem.  That number, currently five to eight percent in most countries, is modest and can still grow without causing problems if immigrants have clear paths to becoming integral and prosperous members of their new societies.  Immigration pressures will not go away, no matter what Europe desires.  The real choice is whether to respond to those pressures well or badly.  Making the right choice, to focus on supporting orderly integration and treating immigrants as a resource rather than a threat, is the only way that Europe can secure its borders and its future.


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