About Richard Boucher

Richard Boucher is an international affairs professional with global experience who is now focusing on teaching and public speaking. His areas of expertise include China, India, trends in the world economy, public affairs and diplomacy. Since 2014, he's taught diplomacy at Brown, George Mason, and University of Michigan.

America’s First Firsters

Advocates for the new Administration say they don’t take “America First” to mean the isolationist credo of 1940 that argued against US involvement in World War II (before Japan attacked Pearl harbor).   They say it means putting American interests first in our dealings with foreign countries.

Leaving aside the fact that I and other US diplomats spent our lives advancing American interests around the world for the past decades, that we pushed agreements that expand US values and US benefits, what does the new Administration think it means?

So, I looked back at the first of these firsters:   Teddy Roosevelt.  He was a forceful advocate for America’s involvement in world affairs; indeed, under Roosevelt we became a contender.  He sailed a fleet of 16 battleships around the world, blocked the Europeans from collecting debt in South America, imposed US rules of conduct and order on the hemisphere, built a canal in Panama where the French failed, and called Russia and Japan to New Hampshire to make peace.  In sum, Roosevelt forcefully put the United States at the center of world affairs.  He did it to advance US interests and US power. In the first years of the twentieth century, the US became a world power on the basis of our values.  We began to make the rules.

What lessons can we learn?  Well, that we need to use all instruments of power –diplomatic, economic, military–in concert to advance our values and interests together.   Teddy wasn’t just show, not just shiny ships and bluster.  He marshaled power to achieve goals of justice (as he saw it) and to make America a new kind of world power: one built on principle.

Could we approach the world now as Teddy did then?   With China bulging out, India coming into its own, Europe and Japan finding their feet and Russia lashing out, we need a strategy that fits the times.   Perhaps not exactly Teddy, but  values need to form the core of our power,  our tools need to work in concert and  we need to make –and follow- just principles and rules.   As we approach a confusing global landscape, shouldn’t we ask ourselves:  What would Teddy do today?

See the article at:   https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column/expert-view/donald-trump-can-learn-teddy-roosevelts-america-first

Screw you guys, I’m going home

Wrote an article for TheCipherBrief (see https://goo.gl/XlucTE) on Trump and the Europeans.  They tried to “educate” him yet he persisted in his views.  Whatever the discord, we’re stuck with each other on issue after issue:    “Together, we face digitization, automation, terrorism, Middle East turmoil, Russian belligerence, and Chinese resurgence.  From ISIS to cod to laptop bans to data privacy, neither the U.S. nor Europe can make policy alone….“Go it alone” won’t work for either Americans or Europeans and the sooner we accept our fate and mollify our pretensions to independence, the better off we’ll be. ”

Detached analysis aside, Trump’s visit reminds me of two memes from South Park.  When the new President was shown the Pentagon last season, he marveled at the toys:   nukes, satellites, drones.  When he opened the door marked “Diplomatic negotiations” he blurted out:  “Oh jeez, this doesn’t look like fun.”    That kind of sums of Donald’s trip to Europe.   Whereupon, he departs muttering Eric Cartman’s refrain  and pulls out of the Paris Accords on his return.

Trump Talks the Talk but Hobbles The Walk

President Trump’s first foray into the world of foreign affairs hinged on one issue: can he convey a sense of trustworthy personal and U.S. leadership? Rhetorically, he did fine but at home he proposed a budget that guts his ability to follow through. In Riyadh and at NATO, he proclaimed American leadership. In Washington, his budget declared unilateral diplomatic disarmament.  

 

Read the full piece in The Cipher Brief:    here

Watching Cybernorms Get Made

Wrote another short piece for TheCipherBrief on Obama’s expulsion of Russian intelligence officers.  Obama’s response did three things: contained the crisis in intelligence channels, gave the Russians a familiar path to limit the damage, and made a point about cyber norms.

Indeed, this is the third time he’s taken action or inaction to create norms for behavior in Cyberspace.

  1. First, by indicting Chinese hackers from Unit 61398 and then pressing Xi Jingping to accept that governments don’t hack for commercial advantage.
  2. Second, by expressing outrage but not retaliating when China broke into the poorly protected trove of data at the Office of Personnel Management, he established that espionage is OK.
  3. Third, by expelling military intelligence officers (behind the hackers called “FancyBear”) and civilian intelligence officers (behind the hackers known as “CozyBear”), he’s tried to establish another norm:  governments don’t hack for political advantage.

With elections next year in Germany and France, we’ll see if Obama’s third norm can stick.

 

For cut and pasters, the full article is at:   https://www.thecipherbrief.com/article/exclusive/north-america/watching-cybernorms-get-made-1092

Staying ahead of China

Wrote a short column for TheCipherBrief on staying ahead of China. Examined implications of China starting with basic elements of what China is and is becoming.  We need to remember that China is:

1) Chinese
2) Communist
3) Dependent on value chains
4) At the end of their model
5) Big on almost every issue
6) most Asian countries’ top trading partner.

Bottom line: understand Chinese behavior, they looking for a place in the system. If we keep moving ahead on technology, trade, economy, China has to fit in. If we lag behind, China will pass us.

For cutting and pasting, the post is at:  https://www.thecipherbrief.com/column/agenda-setter/back-basics-staying-ahead-china-1090

Q and A with Caijing Magazine

Just before the G20 summit in Hangzhou, Caijing Magazine asked me some questions about the upcoming meeting.    The answers in Chinese are here.

For those who read Chinese slowly, like me, I’ve provided the English version here:

The gist:   G20 can be useful if they prod each other in the right direction, but don’t expect them to run the world.

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China’s Economy — still no solid signs of reform

FinalAnswersforRenDa–ChongyangInstitute    This spring, at the request of the Chongyang Institute of Finance at Renmin University, I wrote a few paragraphs on the Chinese economy in advance of the National People’s Congress.    As I head out to Shanghai and Beijing late this month, including an event with the Chongyang Institute, I thought I’d post my answers to their questions.  They were written for a Chinese audience and are a bit repetitive so here’s the summary (slightly updated):

—  China’s leaders have identified the reforms necessary for continued long-term growth:   rebalance to put more money in the hands of consumers and let markets play a greater role.

—  At present, growth of household disposable income is more important than GDP growth; indeed, with growing incomes Chinese families can live better even as the economy slows down.

— China’s decision to use market mechanisms more is also spot on; liberating energies of an educated population, of the new service industries, and of China’s growing army of creators is much more important than protecting existing behemoths and state enterprises.

—  Unfortunately, the numbers don’t show the reform yet.  The GDP continues to growth faster than household disposable income, through the first quarter of this year.   

—  China is borrowing more and investing more but growing less.  That’s not a good sign: there’s more going in, less coming out of the economy.

—  Also not a good sign is that economic stimulus, steel production, and financial markets are being managed by government intervention rather than subjecting them to more market discipline.

So, we watch, wait and anticipate the readjustment of the Chinese economy.    It hasn’t happened yet. The longer it is postponed, the more difficult and bumpy the transition will be.