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Communications and Marketing

New book on transparency and U.S. foreign policy sheds light on relations with Russia, China

Transparency and American Primacy in World Politicsis by Associate Professor of Politics James J. Marquardt.

The word ‘transparency’ is a politically loaded term. Democrats and Republicans in Congress invoke the word because, like many of us, they believe that open and accountable government is a core public value.  Yet their support for transparency also has partisan motives.  Whereas Democrats are inclined to call for transparency for the purpose of compelling businesses to be more open and accountable to the public and to foster greater dialogue between government and civil society, Republicans often use transparency when they want to lean on unions to be more open about how they spend their members’ dues or to limit the power of “big government.”  So when it comes to America’s political life, transparency and the exercise of power go hand-in-hand.   In his new book Transparency and American Primacy in World Politics, Marquardt extends this line of argument to American foreign policy and relations with rival powers over the past century.  He argues that the U.S. has used transparency as a policy tool under Woodrow Wilson, after the First World War, when the U.S. sought to put in place an American-led open international system.  In U.S. relations with Cold War Russia, far from one that simply encouraged the USSR to be forthcoming and honest about its foreign affairs, Marquardt argues the U.S. used the policy to try and gain strategic and political advantage over its adversary.     “[Transparency politics] was part and parcel of power politics during the Eisenhower years and after,” explains Marquardt. “It was used to uncover the military capabilities of the other side and as a tool to advance the U.S.’s strategic goal of global preeminence.”   It is against this backdrop of transparency as a policy tool that Marquardt discusses the current U.S. position toward China. He argues that greater transparency by China may yield better relations in East Asia.  Yet, given the United States’ history with the USSR, he says China is wise to regard the U.S.’s transparency initiatives with some suspicion.  The Obama administration is sensitive to China’s claim that the U.S. wants China to be more forthcoming about its military modernization so that the U.S. can keep a closer eye on it, so the administration is seeking to foster openness in ways that compels both China and the U.S. to do more to allay mutual suspicions. Time will tell if this change will make for a more peaceful relationship with China, but Marquardt has his doubts.