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Japan and America: Forging a Global Alliance?

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Recently, the US and Japan released the Interim Report on the Revision of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation (PDF). The revision’s the first since 1997 and occurs in the context of Asia-Pacific power shifts. So countries in the region are watching closely just how much the USJapan alliance is changing, both practically and conceptually. That includes the Australian government, which has long been supportive of a more ‘active’ Japanese security and defence policy at both the regional and global level. It’s a line Japan’s current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also been pushing.

Indeed, the five-page interim report points to the prospect of a USJapan alliance moving beyond a narrow focus on the territorial defense of Japan against major aggression (from China or North Korea, for example). Instead, it’s based on a “strategic vision for a more expansive partnership” and the need to build the alliance as a “platform for international cooperation that would continue to make positive contributions to the region and beyond.” It stresses that among other things future bilateral defense cooperation would focus on:

- “seamless, robust, flexible, and effective bilateral responses;

- the global nature of the U.S.-Japan Alliance; and

- cooperation with other regional partners.”

Moreover, the report’s interesting for what it doesn’t say: in recognition of the expanding scope of geographical cooperation, the report doesn’t mention “situations in areas surrounding Japan,” a phrase that underpinned the 1997 guidelines.

While the 5-page document isn’t specific on details, the report provides some ideas on what these three aforementioned headings might entail. When it comes to “seamlessly” ensuring Japan’s peace and security, it observes that there could be “cases where swift and robust responses are required to secure the peace and security of Japan even when an armed attack against Japan is not involved [italics mine].” In other words, in theory at least, Japan could be asked to provide protection for US forces in hostile environments beyond its immediate neighborhood; for instance in the area of ship-based ballistic-missile defense.

Concerning increased “cooperation for regional and global peace and security,” the document notes that “areas of cooperation to be described may include, but are not limited to”: peacekeeping operations; international Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief; maritime security; capacity building; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; logistics support; and non-combatant evacuation operations. While the US continues to try to reassure Japan about its security commitments (for instance, the US Navy just announced plans to forward deploy three more ballistic-missile-defense-capable destroyers to Japan over the next three years), Washington also sees the revised guidelines as a chance to move the alliance beyond Tokyo’s preoccupation with the “China threat.”

How likely is the emergence of a more “global” USJapan alliance? The good news is that Japanese officials involved in drafting the interim report agreed to the report’s language, probably in anticipation of the Abe government’s expectations. Moreover, Japan has been stepping up its Asia-Pacific defense engagement. For example, it agreed to provide both the Philippines and Vietnam with modern Coast Guard vessels. As well, Japan and India are in talks about the possible sale of Japanese amphibious aircraft. Lastly, there’s still the prospect of a submarine deal with Australia.

But serious obstacles stand in the way of a truly global—or even regionally more active—USJapan alliance. For a start, Japan’s new ‘three conditions for the “use of force” as measures for self-defense’ still impose significant restrictions on the Self-Defense Forces in the exercise of Japan’s right of collective self-defense. If Japan decides to support the US in a regional or global contingency, it’ll probably remain strictly limited to tasks such as logistical support or minesweeping outside the area of actual combat. Moreover, despite much talk about Japan’s “remilitarization,” in reality there’s no such thing. As Brad Glosserman and David Kang have observed in these pages:

“Japan’s defense policies are evolving to keep pace with a changing regional environment, but the idea that Tokyo will be able to threaten its neighbors is just not credible. There is no will, nor the capability to do so.”

As I’ve argued (here and here), Japan’s defense policy remains fundamentally defensive in nature. As Alessio Patalano has shown (paywalled), Japan’s naval modernization reflects a “targeted enhancement” of capabilities required for the protection of its sea lanes, particularly in the area of anti-submarine warfare and basic expeditionary capabilities to safeguard its many islands. Moreover, security reform in Japan remains a cumbersome process (PDF)—and there are already signs that attempts to flesh out at the legislative level what exactly the JSDF could or couldn’t do in support of the US in a conflict mightn’t come to fruition any time soon. Lastly, the Japanese side’s apparently frustrated that the interim report emphasizes the alliance’s global role but makes no mention of China.

We’ll have to see what the final guidelines bring. But in any case, it’s prudent to expect evolutionary, not revolutionary, changes in the USJapan alliance—and in Japan’s defense policy in particular.

Benjamin Schreer is a senior analyst at ASPI. 

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Why the Battle for Kobane Matters (and Doesn't Matter)

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If you relied only on the media, you could be forgiven for thinking that the focus of the fight against ISIS has been on the Syrian city of Kobane.

This is thanks to the easy access for international media to the Turkish side of the border near Kobane and the resulting images, as well as the work of the Kurds and their associated lobby groups who want the world to focus on their issues. At one point the Australian Broadcasting Cooperation (ABC) even claimed that a hill near the town was “strategic.” Tactically important perhaps, but strategic? I don't think so.

As US Secretary of State John Kerry noted, the US does not consider Kobane a defining element of the coalition strategy. Rather, it quite rightly sees that Iraq is ISIS’ main effort and hence the bulk of Washington's force is directed there.

Kobane's value though, lies in what it represents more than what it is. One of the principles of war that applies to insurgent groups as much as it does to conventional armies is the maintenance of momentum. If you have momentum, then you force your opposition to make reactive decisions under pressure that often turn out to be sub-optimal. You can also create fear and panic in the opposition, as ISIS showed in its attack on Mosul and subsequent drive south, which resulted in the collapse of several Iraqi army divisions. ISIS has also relied on battlefield victories to replenish its ammunition stocks and gain military equipment and recruits.

The capture of Mosul, though, may well represent a high point in ISIS's campaign.

While the group is still pressing its advantage in al-Anbar province in Iraq, it has lost Mosul dam and has been investing in Kobane for over a month without success. If it is unable to capture Kobane, it will have lost significant personnel and resources against some Kurdish irregulars (with coalition air support) for little to no gain. One of ISIS's lines of operation will have stalled, and very publicly so.

ISIS is a media savvy organization and it realizes that being beaten back in Kobane would be a very public loss. And in the social media world ISIS inhabits, a public loss can also be a strategic one. Images of coalition airstrikes and Kurdish fighters tearing down ISIS flags don't do much for ISIS's reputation as a near-invincible jihadist war machine, an image on which it has relied for much of its success to date.

Kobane also offers the coalition opportunities greater than the limited value of the town itself. In the past week the coalition has increased its support for the Kurdish fighters, indicating a willingness to fight for the town's defense. This limited action offers some significant practical benefits for the coalition. It will be learning much about integrating airstrikes with indigenous forces and can use the Kobane battle as a live run for future actions against ISIS in Iraq. At the same time, the coalition is able to degrade ISIS forces in the region, which appear to be reinforcing failure in their assault on Kobane.

This piece was first posted on The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Image: U.S. Air Force/Flickr. 

TopicsISIS RegionsSyria

America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy

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Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the recent China Policy Institute Report - America’s Air-Sea Battle Concept: An Attempt to Weaken China’s A2/AD Strategy. You can read the full report here.

Significance:

Over the last several years, American military planners have begun the complex task of reorienting U.S. military capabilities towards presumed challenges of the future. While such planning may be slowed thanks to U.S. and allied operations against the “Islamic State”, strategists from both political parties recognize long-term trends in military technology along with the diffusion of advanced, precision strike weapons guarantee that fundamental changes in U.S. military planning, procurement, and overall grand strategy are needed to preserve existing military dominance.

What We Need To Know:

Beginning in roughly 2007 under the George W. Bush administration with a new U.S. Navy maritime strategy, a shift away from counterinsurgency operations began. Indeed, U.S. defensive planners since the early 2000’s have become increasingly concerned over the emergence of what China calls “counter-intervention operations” or what many in the West refer to as Anti-Access-Area Denial (A2/AD) military challenges. Such a strategy, broadly stated, attempts to slow, limit, deny or deter a superior technologically advanced foe from conducting threatening military operations. Using a combination of various military platforms such as ultra-quiet diesel submarines, over 80,000 sea mines, various types of cyber warfare, anti-satellite weapons and swarm attacks by ballistic and cruise missiles Chinese military planners are constructing what various scholars have referred to as an “assassin’s mace” of A2/AD capabilities. Chinese strategists in most scenarios assume United States military forces and their allies would be the intended target in scenarios ranging from military action over the East and South China Seas, operations concerning Taiwan, and increasingly over any and all areas in and around the first island chain.

Just as past experiences—events like the 1995-1996 Taiwan Crisis and the 2001 Hainan Island Crisis—have pushed China towards an A2/AD-based strategy, America’s own history will guide its response to future challenges with A2/AD being a major part of Washington’s post “war on terror” strategic outlook. American military planners have long considered A2/AD challenges an area of priority stretching back at least as far a  1992, when the first reference of the term “anti-access” was used in a largely forgotten RAND study. Since then, specifically since 2007 onward, U.S. strategic thinkers have considered a number of options that could negate the impact of A2/AD tactics and weapons platforms, with heavy focus squarely aimed at specific Chinese A2/AD military capabilities.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

A Perfect Solution to Nuclear Talks with Iran: A Deal Deemed Imperfect by All

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In today’s Middle East, dysfunction is a bigger enemy than hostile states. The United States needs as many partners as possible in this part of the world to tackle the current chaos. Relations between Iran, a dominant state in the region, and the West are today at a vital crossroads. Reaching a deal with Tehran will not only constrain its nuclear program, but potentially pave the way for engagement on regional security issues.

The rise of ISIS and the instability left behind by the Arab Spring has cemented dysfunction in the Middle East. While hostile states are undesirable, deterring or defeating them is still within the realm of possibilities for a country like the United States. But no one has a solution to utter chaos.

Strong regional partners are vital to managing the current disorder. States like Turkey and Saudi Arabia partially fulfill that role. But Iran is a dominant state in the region. It is large, resource rich and a potentially powerful partner in an unstable region. It is the largest country in the Middle East with the capacity to pursue a serious international agenda. A nonhostile relationship with a Tehran who could be convinced not to want nuclear weapons would be worth its weight in gold.

The future course of the West’s relationship with Iran hangs on reaching a nuclear deal. For better or worst, meaningful dialogue with Iran is predicated on resolving this issue—all other problems have taken a back seat over the past two decades. If the negotiators aren’t able to bridge their differences, then there will be little future dialogue with Iran.

Aside from constraining Iran’s nuclear activities, a deal would boost President Rouhani’s more moderate agenda domestically. While a strong, liberal and independent Iran will naturally pursue its own interests, it will be more sympathetic to Western goals if it develops ties with the EU and the United States. Iran could be coaxed into a role as part of the international community, not in opposition to it. Dialogue could become the norm, rather than the exception.

In Iraq, both sides are conscious of the role the other can take in effectively tackling ISIS. Washington and Tehran share the same goals: avoid Iraq’s partition and defeat ISIS. Iran is more committed to Iraq than any other regional player. Last time Iraq’s interests were fundamentally opposed to Iran’s there was a devastating, eight-year-long war. Not only does ISIS threaten Iran’s interests in Iraq, but it poses a direct threat to Iran’s borders—something Iran hasn’t seen in a long time.

ISIS can’t be defeated with just U.S.-led airstrikes. The coalition needs local and regional support. Of course, it’s politically impossible for either side to openly cooperate with one another. No one envisages joint combat roles, but instead separate and complementary tactical approaches and coordination between the coalition and Iran to effectively tackle ISIS. But very little can be done until the nuclear file has been dealt with.

If there is no deal, the hardliners in Tehran will be strengthened. The failure of the talks will be attributed to the West and their “excessive demands.” Tehran will turn away from the United States and the EU towards countries that are less selective in their foreign relations, such as China and Russia. Iran will continue its often-obstructive foreign policy, because it will have little interest in contributing to Western foreign-policy goals in the region.

It’s imperative that both sides explore all avenues for overlap in the nuclear talks. Tehran believes the P5+1’s demands are “excessive.” For Iran, the key issue is to avoid the reality or appearance of coercion. What would happen to President Obama if he appeared to give in to bullying by a foreign power? The same goes for Tehran—it can’t accept a deal that makes it look like it said “yes” with its tail between its legs.

But the P5+1 seems to have a more flexible negotiating position than the Iranians give it credit for. If the P5+1 can effectively communicate this to Iran, then a settlement is plausibly within reach.

By definition, a successful agreement will be one where neither side feels it has achieved a perfect deal. But if the P5+1 and Iran reach a comprehensive deal, it will constrain Iran’s nuclear program, boost Rouhani’s liberalism in Iran and pave the way for a new era where the West can more comfortably coordinate with Iran on regional crises. Everyone will be better off. 

TopicsDiplomacyNonproliferationNuclear Weapons RegionsIranUnited StatesEurope

The Biggest Threat to U.S. Jobs: The "Contestability" Nightmare

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The Federal Reserve’s mandate has never been well defined, and there are no concrete definitions to adhere to. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen has begun to deviate from the traditional characterization of full employment to something far more nebulous. Recognizing this shift is critical to understanding the Fed, and its new relationship with the two esoteric mandates of stable prices and full employment. 

At a conference in Boston, Yellen stated that she was concerned about rising inequality. Before listing off a blistering round of statistics that show the US has become more unequal over the past few decades, Yellen succinctly articulates why the Great Recession was responsible for widening the gap further: “But widening inequality resumed in the recovery, as the stock market rebounded, wage growth and the healing of the labor market have been slow, and the increase in home prices has not fully restored the housing wealth lost by the large majority of households for which it is their primary asset.”

One piece in particular of the above statement stands out—and has broad implications for the understanding the Fed mandate. A normal recovery would see wage growth and the labor market move together in a lagged fashion—the labor market heals and tightens, followed by wage increases as labor becomes increasingly scarce. But this has not happened during the current recovery, and it has not occurred economy wide in quite some time.

The new target for the Fed may be best described as not simply “full employment” but "full wages". At first glance, it seems unreasonable for the Chair of the Federal Reserve to be concerned with how the income of the country gets dispersed. However, in many ways, “full wages” are at the intersection of the fed mandates. In essence, Yellen is admitting that the past few decades were not kind to a significant swath of the US, and that this endangers future economic growth.

Many of the jobs US middle skilled workers once took for granted can now easily be outsourced or contested—even some previously thought untouchable. This “contestability” is increasing as more jobs become relocateable or replaceable with computing power due to advances in communications technology. Contestability is fundamental to Yellen’s concern. If a US job is contestable internationally, then US workers are competing with cheap labor around the world. This limits the bargaining power of the US worker, and keeps a lid on wage inflation in the US. The cheap-but-educated global labor force is becoming an increasing threat to the US worker.

Yellen sees this middle skilled squeeze phenomenon in the data, but also sees the lack of deflationary wage pressure on the top of the income ladder. The highest paying jobs tend to have little competition from outside—requiring creativity and high levels of education. The question to ask is why this has occurred, and whether the factors underlying it are dangerous to the US economy.

And in many ways—they are dangerous. If ignored long enough, the disintermediation of the middle class is at best disinflationary and may be deflationary. With stagnant wages across the economy, the middle cannot increase consumption—one can only borrow so much. If contestability continues to erode the wages of US middle skilled workers, wages could be pressured or even decrease toward more internationally competitive levels. This would be disastrous for consumption and inflation expectations, especially in a service oriented economy where many of the jobs could be at risk. 

If the U.S. continues to see this type of wage pressure, there may be enough jobs (for people who want them), but the ability to consume at previous levels will not be there. Deflation—generally—is bad for an economy, and wage deflation might be the worst kind. Deflation puts pressure on prices, making it more difficult to consume on the aggregate as the economy previously did. The standard of living declines. Further, the potential for wage pressures, in the current recovery, is low. The jobs created during the recovery disproportionately skew towards part-time relative to previous recoveries, and part-time jobs do not yield much bargaining power. There are few reassurances about the labor market.

This puts the Fed in a particularly odd place. Its mandate is supposed to be two separate pieces of a puzzle, but Yellen appears to have identified an intersection. The Fed runs the risk of missing both its “full employment” and “stable price” mandates without pursuing—either explicitly or implicitly—a “full wage” target.

Yellen’s statement has little to do with fairness or equality. It is directly connected to ensuring the US has created enough uncontestable jobs for the Fed to step away, and these jobs are the type that will lead to—or at least allow for—future wage pressures. Prime examples are the jobs created by the current shale oil boom and housing construction during the boom through 2006. Many of the jobs created for the oil patch require the presence of the worker—and cannot be done without a significant amount of education. These characteristics make them difficult to offshore or relocate. As quantitative easing begins to roll-off, the ability of the US shale revolution to stand on its own will be tested, and the jobs engine of Texas may suffer. This would be a tremendous hit to a sector where wage pressures exist, and the contestability is low. The Fed should be watching this closely.

Yellen's wage war is a battle the US does not know it must win. For the Fed, it ties together both pieces of its mandate, and gives them a reasonable basis for stimulus when observers feel it unnecessary. The Fed is muddling the mandate to fight a wage war, but the Fed will struggle to justify its continuous actions to counteract those forces. The middle skills squeeze is not a swiftly passing phenomenon. It may mean that extraordinary monetary policy and unconventional intervention are increasingly normal.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsUnited States

The Next Ebola? Beware of Marburg

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Ebola and Marburg are both hemorrhagic fevers and belong to the same family of viruses. The hosts for both are identified as animals, especially fruit bats—both diseases crossover from animals to humans. Incubation periods are around twenty-one days. The two diseases have similar symptoms and similarly high mortality rates. Both diseases spread through contact with bodily fluids, making family members and health care workers especially vulnerable. There is no pharmaceutical that cures either disease, and patients are treated in much the same way. The ill are isolated and medically supported until they recover or die. Efforts must be made to trace all those who came into contact with the ill.

Ebola at present is centered in west Africa, but it was first publicized in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Marburg is also found in the Congo, where between 1998 and 2000 it is reported that there were 154 cases and 128 deaths attributed to the disease. In Angola in 2005, there were 374 cases of Marburg, and 329 deaths. In 2007, 2008, 2012 and 2014, in Uganda there were cases of Marburg in the single digits with very high mortality rates, ranging from 50 to 100 percent. When Ebola first appeared in west Africa, it was an unfamiliar disease, one reason among many why the response to it was slow. In east Africa, however, there is greater familiarity with Marburg, and officials move quickly to respond to the threat of an outbreak.

Accordingly, officials in Rwanda and Uganda are closely monitoring their common border for a possible outbreak of Marburg after a confirmed case in Kampala, Uganda. As a safety precaution the Ugandan government has isolated ninety-nine people, none of whom have tested positive.

The World Health Organization is saying that Ebola is now “entrenched” in Conakry, Monrovia, and Freetown – it has become an “urban” disease. Marburg, however, appears to remain primarily in rural areas. West Africa’s high rate of urbanization has helped facilitate the rapid spread of Ebola, especially in urban slums. Urbanization in east Africa could have a similar impact.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s Blog Africa in Transition here.

TopicsEbolaMarburg RegionsAfrica

Property: How Beijing has Captured China's Middle-Class

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In The China Fantasy (2007), James Mann debunked the hopeful delusion of Western liberals: that a Chinese “middle class” would emerge to countervail centralized state power. Mann instead argued that China's development model had co-opted this tribe through inducement and suasion.

The Government Next Door by Luigi Tomba explains exquisitely how Beijing's policies have been instrumentalized at the local and neighbourhood level.

The Chinese state has built a compartmentalized and highly controlled system of local bodies which manage housing privileges, welfare and livelihoods. As Tomba says, “The liberalization of housing markets has resulted, somewhat counter-intuitively, in the use of residential space as a tool to facilitate a wide range of governmental interventions.”

An observant visitor to a Chinese city notices two things: high walls and security guards. Tomba saw that “Chinese planners, real estate tycoons, and citizens alike appear to share a passion for gated communities.” For the rich they provide relative autonomy and security, and promote powerful conservative ideals. The omnipresent guards reinforce cellular segregation, in what Tomba calls the “forting-up” of Chinese cities.

His fieldwork shows the chasm between large rich cities, especially Beijing, and the many poorer ones. The reason is simple: property. “Early access to privatization of housing has become a major discriminant” of wealth and status. The current and retired professionals of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) see themselves as the deserving vanguard because of their professional skills and loyalty. This model middle class has been rewarded financially as well as with perquisites in education, welfare and healthcare. The 1990s privatization of danwei housing, often at knockdown prices, was the greatest windfall. Home ownership in pricey Beijing is 80%, more than two-thirds gifted to SOE employees. Almost 70% of SOE employees own one (and often multiple) homes. Tomba argues that “The middle-class strategy of the Chinese government has employed a redistribution of public assets...in a way that has greatly favored sectors of urban society with strong ties to the state.”

To this trusted elite, the state's hand is benign, and light.

By contrast, in deprived regions like the northeast rustbelt, “visibility, rather than invisibility, remains crucial to the governing strategy.” Community officers, volunteers and patrols sloganeer about “saving the working class.” Public townships are a world apart from Beijing's enclaves, but they “share two characteristics: they are enclosed within walls and behind gates, and both require exclusive membership, in the form of registration or property rights or both.” He notices that “while the burden of governing in middle-class neighborhoods is becoming lighter,” in less affluent cities “social distress is attracting more resources, heavier governing practices, micro-governing.” A retired worker summarizes: “the poorer a place, the more numerous the cadres.”

Everyone acts for collective and self interest. As Tomba points out, “The grannies in Shenyang have mobilized to protect...what is left of their once generous industrial working class benefits. The Beijing homeowners watch over their right to see a contract honored and more autonomous lifestyle fulfilled, at least in their backyard.” The alleyway aunties tyrannising Shenyang parallel Beijing's imperious homeowner committees. A manager there trumpets “the 3-in-1 system: management company, developer and community, all under the supervision of the Party.” True, there are 450,000 civil representative bodies in China, but most are GONGOs, sinews of state power which strictly circumscribe real popular rights of dissent.

Officialspeak is harnessed by all: “community activists use the language of patriotism to justify their grievances against real estate developers; disgruntled ex-workers invoke the socialist spirit of central policies to frame their dissatisfaction with local leaders; the same discourses of 'harmony', 'quality' and 'security' are equally used by the state to justify intrusive policing...and by real estate developers to sell prestigious properties to status-hungry families.” Wrapping up in the flag
“shields limited social action from repression.” There are protests but they are highly localized, strictly controlled and often mediated positively by officials: “When limited conflicts erupt...their effect might well be to reinforce the overall legitimacy of the state rather than to undermine it.” The daily concerns of Chinese – real estate, pollution, healthcare – may be debated; the Party's authority may not.

Above all, Chinese urbanization is a civilizing project: “Morality, nation building, patriotism, human quality (suzhi), and modernization” transcend “the societal autonomy (normally) associated with the emergence of a civil society.” The concept of suzhi recurs repeatedly in social discourse. “The educated and affluent groups inhabiting the new compounds become exemplars of a self-responsible, well-behaved, high-suzhi citizenry,” and thus a strong nation. Importantly, though, “high suzhi citizens enjoy a significant (albeit spatially limited) autonomy to govern themselves and successfully avoid the direct control of public neighborhoods.”

Now we understand Mann's puzzle of the illiberal masterclass, “the most responsible citizens who, by virtue of their higher suzhi, will secure the reproduction and strengthening of Chinese civilization.” In Tomba's words, this “justifies the deficit of citizenship rights imposed on less accomplished social actors” such as migrant workers, who might otherwise resort to violence. “China's educated, increasingly wealthy, conflict-prone, but reliably nationalistic middle-class has become an agent for the development of a harmonious nation.” The homeowner class, and particularly the SOE families, “reproduce and amplify the dominant discourses of the state: order, suzhi, patriotism.” As Tomba concludes: “my middle class neighbors appeared more as staunch supporters of than as challengers to the Chinese regime, particularly with regard to social stability.”

This piece was first posted on The Interpreter, which is published by the Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsChina

Myanmar on a Nonproliferation Roll

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On September 30, Myanmar’s parliament approved the government’s proposal to accede to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The proposal to accede to this convention, which bans the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons and which Myanmar had signed the year of its inception, was submitted to parliament by Thant Kyaw, deputy minister for foreign affairs, who stated that “Over 170 countries have already ratified the BWC. All ASEAN countries have except us.” Later, he added that Myanmar’s accession would demonstrate its commitment to abide by nonproliferation rules.

BWC endorsement is Myanmar’s latest nonproliferation achievement. It follows a series of important nonproliferation actions that Myanmar has taken since the government’s decision in early 2011 to break away from the junta’s traditional authoritarianism and to implement sweeping reforms and open the country to the world. In June 2011, Myanmar announced that it had abandoned its nuclear research program to allay international concerns about its nuclear capabilities and intentions, which had been brewing since the early 2000s. Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country in November 2012, Myanmar then stated that it would sign an Additional Protocol (AP) and submit a modified Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), both of which would allow international inspectors to verify that its nuclear activities are strictly for peaceful purposes. Less than a year later, on September 17, 2013, Myanmar signed an AP and has since been working relentlessly toward its entry into force and the submission of a modified SQP.

In addition to burnishing its nonproliferation credentials in the nuclear realm, Myanmar stressed in December 2013 that it was making preparations to endorse the conventions banning biological and chemical weapons. Now that it has acceded to the BWC, next on the list is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it signed in 1993, the year it was concluded. In recent months, Myanmar has beenworking with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the CWC’s verification body) and other entities to prepare implementation of CWC requirements when it accedes to the convention, which Myanmar officials and experts now say is “imminent.” CWC accession is particularly important given past accusations by armed rebel groups that the Myanmar military had used chemical weapons in their war in the country’s borderlands and, as recently as this year, the allegations made by the Unity Journal that the military had built a chemical-weapon production facility in central Magway district. These allegations, which the government flatly denied, led to the arrest of several journalists and raised important concerns in the nonproliferation community that only CWC accession will be able to resolve: the CWC includes an intrusive verification regime that will allow international inspectors to ensure that no chemical weapons are produced – or have been used – in Myanmar.

In its efforts to become a nonproliferation role model, Myanmar will also need to demonstrate commitment in other areas. At present, for instance, it does not subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). Endorsement of the HCOC, which politically binds its members to curb the proliferation of ballistic-missile technology, exercise maximum restraint in developing, testing, and deploying such missiles, be transparent regarding missile inventory, and issue pre-launch notifications, would be a positive development. Thorough implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls for the adoption of appropriate and effective legal and regulatory measures against the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their means of delivery, would be another important move. This should begin with the drafting of a national action plan that maps out implementation priorities and plans, thereby enabling donor states to provide Myanmar with the assistance it needs. Adoption of stringent strategic trade controls and endorsement of the Proliferation Security Initiative (a multilateral effort that commits participating countries to interdict shipments of nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile technology and materials) would also considerably raise Myanmar’s nonproliferation profile. Finally, Myanmar needs to comprehensively implement United Nations sanctions resolutions imposed on North Korea and, if it wants an unblemished nonproliferation record, it will have to cease military trade with Pyongyang, which continues to this day. Avoiding all military trade with North Korea is critically important. The United Nations Security Council bans weapons sales from North Korea as part of its efforts to prevent funds from going to its nuclear and missiles programs, which the Council deems a threat to international peace and security.

Myanmar is committed to nonproliferation. During the First Myanmar-US/UK Nonproliferation Dialogue run by the Pacific Forum CSIS in partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (the ministry of foreign affairs’ think tank), and held in Yangon in February 2014, one Myanmar participant stressed that “All these [nonproliferation] conventions are on our radar; we’re working hard to adopt them.” Throughout the dialogue, Myanmar participants made clear that they want their country to be “in full compliance” with the nonproliferation regime. But they also pointed out that Myanmar has limited resources and multiple priorities as it opens to the world and transitions toward democracy. In other words, while it is willing to endorse nonproliferation rules and norms, it lacks the capacity to do so.

This means that efforts should be made to build nonproliferation capacity in Myanmar. Building technical expertise is particularly essential because as Myanmar endorses nonproliferation instruments, it will need a critical mass of highly specialized people to implement them. Endorsement of a nonproliferation instrument, after all, is only the beginning of a long and often complex implementation process. Myanmar, for instance, is still working toward the adoption and entry into force of the AP it signed in September 2013. Now that it has acceded to the BWC, Myanmar will need to put in much work to implement it in its national laws and regulations and, after it accedes to the CWC, turn its attention to implement this convention as well. These processes are time-consuming, resource-intensive, and demand a solid pool of experts, and Myanmar only has so many.

The Pacific Forum CSIS, with the support of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has initiated an ambitious nonproliferation capacity-building initiative, which includes a biannual training course taught in Yangon (the first round of which took place last month) and fellowship opportunities for Myanmar nationals. Several governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organization (notably the Verification Research, Training, and Information Centre, known as VERTIC) are also providing Myanmar with important forms of capacity. This is encouraging, but more efforts are needed to help Myanmar’s quest for nonproliferation excellence.

David Santoro is a senior fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS where this was first published.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsNonproliferation RegionsMyanmar

A Trilateral Whose Time Has Come: US-Japan-India Cooperation

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The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing the increasing convergence of economic and security interests of the United States, Japan and India, and their burgeoning trilateral cooperation. Washington has leveraged its strong ties with Tokyo of nearly 70 years to deepen economic ties and to remain a net provider of security across Asia. Since returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has explicitly articulated his vision for an enhanced role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, India's Look East Policy has seen it expand its economic and security engagement across Asia over the past decade, and the spring 2014 electoral triumph of Narendra Modi has injected a new level of dynamism and foreign policy activism from New Delhi.

In many ways, the three countries are natural partners. They are three of the world's largest countries by population (India is # 2, the US # 3, and Japan # 10), three of the largest democracies, and three of the largest economies (the US is # 1, Japan # three, and India # 10). They are linked by the Indo-Pacific strategic construct that makes explicit the geographical connections and overlaps that each of them shares. All three are part of a dynamic and growing region, with each government eager to find new partners, or old partners with new capabilities, to raise its profile and extend its reach. Each eyes the other two as economic and strategic partners, possessing assets and resources that it values.

India seeks US and Japanese investment and knowhow to accelerate its economic development. With each government working to create more business-friendly policies and regulations, there has been a substantial growth in cross-border investments, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions, technology transfers, and other corporate activities. India is actively modernizing its military, and the United States has rapidly become its top defense supplier. Delhi and Tokyo have expanded the scope of their joint naval exercises and have elevated their defense dialogue to focus more attention on maritime security and anti-terrorism measures.

For the United States and Japan, India is becoming increasingly central to their economic and security calculations. India can emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub for American and Japanese companies to sell to the large and rapidly growing Indian market, but also for exports to emerging markets across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. On the security front, an India with robust military capabilities can provide much-needed stability in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). South Asia is home to a large and growing population but also beset with protracted security challenges. India can also be a vital partner across the IOR in safeguarding and promoting US and Japanese interests, especially in ensuring freedom of navigation and other maritime security objectives. Conversely, Japan and India look at the United States as a potential energy supplier as the shale gas revolution turns the US into a major gas exporter.

The alignment of interests and ambitions is facilitated by the energy of the new governments in Tokyo and Delhi. Abe and Modi see each other as kindred spirits and both are eager to seize the moment. They are proving to be indefatigable diplomats and have reached out to each other to consolidate relations between their two countries. Meanwhile, in the Joint Statement released during Modi's visit to the US last month, the United States and India "committed to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises." The statement highlighted trilateral dialogue with Japan, with the three agreeing to elevate the existing Trilateral to a minister-level dialogue. All the while, the US and Japan are modernizing and updating their alliance as well.

There is a lot the three countries can do together. The starting point, and a focal point of each country's engagement, is helping India develop faster. Its economic potential remains under-realized, and while the major causes of that underperformance are be found within India, businesses in both Japan and the US see great opportunities. Prime Minister Modi is initially focused on creating a stronger industrial base to complement India's world-class service sector.  To meet this objective, Modi is putting much effort into upgrading India's infrastructure, with a focus on establishing multiple industrial corridors. Japan has committed substantial funds to upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor while the United States has outlined specific ways that it can contribute its expertise and resources to this massive Indian endeavor.  

Beyond the economic domain, the three governments can advance a diplomatic agenda that emphasizes the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to international norms and legal standards. The US and India primarily, but increasingly even Japan, have a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan and stability throughout Central Asia. The three governments can work concertedly to promote democracy, peace, and prosperity across South and Central Asia. India has made notable contributions to UN peacekeeping missions over the decades, but can increasingly deploy resources to become a net provider of security across Asia.

The three governments have demonstrated prowess in civilian applications of space technologies, and can cooperate to create rules that ensure that outer space remains peaceful and not used for offensive or disruptive purposes. The US and Japan are also seeking to initiate civilian nuclear power cooperation with India. While such cooperation has important commercial benefits, the most striking aspect of sharing such sensitive technology is the level of trust that their cooperative endeavors engender.

Cyberspace is another area suitable for closer cooperation. All three nations face regular cyber-attacks from state and nonstate actors, and the intensity of such attacks is likely to increase. Sharing information on the sources of these attacks, targets, and methods of deterrence can help all three nations safeguard their defense and commercial interests.

To be sure, there are obstacles to deeper cooperation between India, Japan, and the United States. Deeply entrenched domestic constituencies in each country can, and often do, block progress toward reform and the reciprocal measures that are a prerequisite to diplomatic engagement. Fueling those economic and political fires are powerful nationalist impulses in each country. On occasion, that nationalism surfaces as anti-Americanism in both India and Japan. The persistence of such beliefs makes trilateral engagement even more compelling, since the presence of a third party dispels the false image of a heavy-handed United States bending another nation to its will. Finally, one must not lose sight of the plain fact that for all the convergence, the US, Japan and India are three distinct countries, at different stages of economic development with variations in their strategic orientation on some issues, and so at times their interests are bound to diverge.

Analysts sometimes paint this trilateral arrangement as a "counterweight to China." All three countries have complex relationships with China that are a mix of cooperation and competition. All three see China as a vital partner: it ranks among the top trade partners of each country and all reach out to Beijing to build confidence and cooperation on security issues. This summer, China joined the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercise for the first time.

Yet each also has significant areas of contention with Beijing. Japan and India both face claims to their territory by China, and the US regularly squares off against China over a range of security concerns. In addition, all three nations are attempting to moderate their large trade deficits with China.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a formal alliance or even an alignment of the three that targets China or explicitly identifies China as a focus of concern is very low. India zealously protects its sovereignty and independence and will never be part of an initiative that could be portrayed as jeopardizing its foreign policy autonomy. Delhi and Beijing are founding members of the BRICS group and both seek a multipolar world that gives emerging countries a greater say over international governance. China and India are neighbors, and seeking a good relationship will be a mainstay of any Indian government's diplomacy. And while the US and Japan both have issues with China, they also insist that good relations are preferred - it is up to Beijing to pick which relationship prevails.

In other words, an anti-China coalition cannot drive US-Japan-India cooperation. But then, it should not have to. The three countries have many shared interests and reasons to cooperate. Pragmatic pursuit of shared interests, undergirded by realistic expectations of what their trilateral cooperation can accomplish, is the most effective approach to ensure that it realizes that potential.

Managing a trilateral relationship will be a complex and sometimes frustrating process.  There will rarely be total uniformity of interests on any issue amongst all three partners, and this holds true for the US-Japan-India trilateral.  But all three share a vision for security and prosperity for Asia and beyond.  There are tangible steps the three countries can take to make this vision a reality. Doing so would not only advance their enlightened national interests but also lead to positive outcomes for all nations in Asia.

Richard Rossow is the Wadhwani Chair in U.S. India Policy Studies at CSIS. Dr. Toru Ito is an associate professor at Japan's National Defense Academy specializing in South Asia. Dr. Anupam Srivastava is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia and former Managing Director of Invest India, the official investment facilitation agency. Brad Glosserman is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. This paper is drawn from a US Embassy sponsored tour of Japan that the four authors recently joined.  All views expressed are personal opinions. This article is drawn from a US Embassy sponsored tour of Japan that the four authors recently joined. It was originally published by CSIS: PACNET newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Are Americans Overreacting to the Ebola Virus?

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Compared with the havoc wreaked by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the virus thus far has only led to three confirmed cases in the United States. The fear and anxiety however has spread much faster. Earlier this month, seventy-five airplane-cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport walked off their jobs partly due to concerns about the risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, a woman who vomitted in the Pentagon parking lot triggered a health scare that forced the temporary shutdown of the building entrance and the setup of a quarantine and decontamination tent in front of the hospital where she was admitted—and later found not to have Ebola. Also last week, a Texas health worker who was suspected of being exposed to the first Ebola case in the United States was isolated on a cruise ship for nineteen days despite showing no symptoms of the disease. Ultimately, her blood test came back negative. In a bizarre move, parents pulled their kids out of a Mississippi school because of a concern that the principal who recently visited Zambia (which is 3,000 miles away from the affected West African countries) might spread the virus. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke against the “hysteria or fear” associated with the virus, and yet indicated his willingness to implement a travel ban from Africa and appoint an anti-Ebola czar.

The American response to the looming Ebola outbreak is reminiscent of the Chinese response to the 2003 SARS outbreak. In the Chinese case, amidst the governmental information clampdown and a fatal period of hesitation, there was widespread speculation and rumor-mongering. Residents in Guangdong province (the SARS ground zero) cleared pharmacy shelves of antibiotics and flu medication. In some cities, even vinegar, believed to be a disinfectant, was sold out. The panic spread quickly to other provinces. Farmers set off firecrackers in the belief that it would frighten off SARS. At the height of the epidemic in Beijing, a sea of people in white masks—most of them scared migrant workers and university students—flocked to train and bus stations and airports in an effort to flee the city. By late April, an estimated one million people (around 10 percent of the population), had fled the city for other parts of China. They would soon find themselves persona non grata even in their hometowns. In the countryside, worried villagers set up roadblocks to keep away people from Beijing. A series of riots against quarantine centers were also reported in May.

But Ebola is not SARS. For one thing, Ebola is not as contagious as SARS. The average number of people that a sick person will infect is one to two for Ebola, compared to two to five for SARS. While SARS can spread through infected droplets, Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick. Unlike SARS, which enables an asymptomatic person to transmit the virus, Ebola only becomes contagious when infected people are experiencing symptoms. These key differences increase the possibility of effectively implementing restrictive interventions such as social distancing, travel restrictions, quarantine, and case isolation for Ebola.

That being said, Ebola is more virulent than SARS. The average case fatality rate for Ebola is around 50 percent, much higher than SARS (9.6 percent). Ebola was first reported as early as 1976 but, as my colleague Laurie Garrett noted, there are still myths surrounding the virus, including its very nature, the risk it poses, and the effective means of preventing transmission. A new study released last week suggests that Ebola patients could still be contagious after three-week quarantine (the period recommended by the World Health Organization). The mishandling of the Ebola crisis by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (which has been consistently ranked the most trusted federal agency) further erodes public confidence in the U.S. disease surveillance and response capacity. Indeed, the widespread witnessing of healthcare workers who were unable to protect themselves from infection perpetuated a highly exaggerated sense of public risk. In the words of Jessica Stern, an expert on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at Harvard University, when dealing with an unfamiliar disease, “We respond to the likelihood of death in the event the disease is contracted, rather than the compound probability of contracting the disease and succumbing to its effects.”

Such “dreaded risks” generate fear and panic at a level that is disproportionate to the disease-caused morbidity and mortality. Indeed, major epidemics have historically produced significant worry, anxiety, fear, panic, and even mass hysteria in the affected countries. The fear and panic could place further constraints on government capacity to tackle the public health emergency. Worse, the associated social distancing measures, in conjunction with the government anti-Ebola interventions, could have substantial negative economic impacts in the United States. It is estimated that adverse demand shock caused by SARS cost China 0.5 percent of its GDP in 2003. Americans may be overreacting to the threat of Ebola, but that overreaction is understandable. When planning further Ebola control measures, the Obama administration has to seriously take this fear factor into account.

The following article first appeared in CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here.

TopicsEbola RegionsUnited States

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