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China and America: Raising the Bar on Climate Change

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It’s official: the United States and China have reached a mutual agreement on global warming. President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping together pledged to take significant steps to reduce their respective countries’ contribution to climate change.  The U.S. agreed to deepen emissions reductions from 17% to 26-28% over 2005 levels by 2025, while China pledged to peak its carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.  Although the agreement was expected, the announcement represents a landmark achievement that promises to transcend the divide between developed and developing countries that has long hamstrung global climate negotiations.  Moreover, the announcement contains a number of creative initiatives that can help deepen U.S.-China cooperation to address climate change.  But neither side can be complacent. To realize the promise of this week’s accord, Washington must strengthen engagement with other major economies, and ensure that measures are in place to make Beijing’s commitments credible.

What makes this week’s agreement so important is that it represents the first time that a major developed country and a large developing country have mutually committed to limiting or reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the principal cause of climate change.  It also effectively buries the hatchet between the United States and China over the climate issue – in 1997, Washington withdrew from negotiations over the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s only binding international agreement to limit carbon emissions, citing China’s refusal to limit its own emissions.  Subsequently, American inaction gave China and other large developing countries a convenient excuse to avoid making commitments on climate change.  With Obama and Xi’s agreement, this Sino-American deadlock has been broken.  But now comes the hard part – Washington must translate this bilateral achievement into a new multilateral agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, currently scheduled to expire in 2020.

In order to build on this momentum, both the United States and China must engage other large economies in order to ensure a new agreement covers all major sources of climate change.  Among these, India is a crucial player.  Its emissions are increasing rapidly, and are expected to surpass those of the European Union by 2019.  Despite this, India has long resisted even discussion of limiting its emissions, claiming, and not without reason, that poverty reduction and expanding access to energy must come first.  But China’s agreement to limit its own emissions denies New Delhi its most convenient source of political cover, and puts its own climate policy in the spotlight.  The United States and China should leverage their recent announcement to press India to act aggressively on climate change, and help to conclude a new global climate treaty over the next year.

At the same time that Washington should leverage its agreement with Beijing, it must also ensure that China builds the capacity to make its commitments credible.  Keeping track of emissions, referred to as measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) is challenging for all large economies, but China has a patchy track record in this area.  Several years ago, a massive, long-running scam was uncovered in which Chinese factories deliberately increased emissions of greenhouse gases, and then charged foreign firms to reduce them under an emissions-offset program.  Other countries will be hesitant to new emissions commitments unless they can be assured such incidents won’t be repeated by others.  Accordingly, the United States must continue to work with China to increase its capacity to accurately track and certify its greenhouse gas emissions.             

Indeed, although news headlines focused on emissions targets, the fine print of the U.S. – China joint announcement offers the greatest promise for this kind of strengthened cooperation on climate change. Other areas covered by the agreement include new partnerships linking water scarcity and sustainable energy, a demonstration project for carbon capture and storage (CCS), and a sustainable cities initiative. Integrating energy and water issues promises to expand U.S. – China climate cooperation from an almost exclusive focus on emissions mitigation to one that also helps both countries adapt to climate change. Greater cooperation on CCS, meanwhile, will help develop a technology that is needed to help wean the world off fossil fuels by storing carbon dioxide deep underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.  The sustainable cities initiative, finally, builds on dynamic sub-national action on climate change in both the United States and China, with the leaders of places as diverse as New York and Jiangsu Province pledging to work together to reduce emissions.  Washington must devote serious resources to ensure that these initiatives fulfill their promise.             

This week’s agreement is the most hopeful sign in years for global efforts to address climate change.  But standing before the cameras was the easy part.  Having set the bar a bit higher, Washington and Beijing must now lead the rest of the world over it.    

Scott Moore is a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow, and studies Chinese environmental policy.  

Image: The White House. 

TopicsClimate Change RegionsUnited States

Russia's Naval "Demonstration of Power" in the South Pacific: A Cause for Concern?

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One word that keeps cropping up in the recent hysteria about the movement of some Russian ships in the South Pacific is "power." But it is hard to see how that word applies.

Few terms generate more heat and less light in international relations than 'power', but the basic premise is that it involves Actor A behaving in such a way as to get Actor B to do something.

But if that is power, then there is nothing to see here. There is no evidence Russia is seeking to change Australia's behaviour over MH17 or at the G20, nor is there any likelihood that this sea cruise will have any effect on Australia's positions and attitudes.

A more subtle take is that this is not about using power so much as a "demonstration of power." But again, that claim is hard to justify. We already knew Russia spends more than double what Australia does on its defence budget and that it has a moderately large navy. So Russia does not need to demonstrate the existence of these assets. Nor is this a demonstration of willingness or capacity to use those assets. Russia will not use force against Australia because of some harsh words about MH17 or over any other issue on the table today.

This is not like the US sailing an aircraft carrier down the Taiwan Strait in 1996. In that case, the US was going through the motions of what it could do in a war-type situation, on an issue over which it is committed to use force. Some Russian ships hanging around PNG meets none of those criteria.

The takeaway point here is the over-emphasis our society still places on material assets and "hard power." It's visible and easy to count, hence the proliferation of news stories. Everyone knows military power is vital in actual wartime scenarios. But outside of those times, I think we pay it too much attention in understanding how the world works.

As US President Barack Obama stated, Moscow is neither a super or great power, but a regional one. Nothing about this story challenges that claim. Russia has a stagnant economy which has been hit hard by the stock market and international sanctions. No matter how many ships Russia has, the illegitimacy of its actions in Crimea have led the world to punish Moscow in ways that are hurting.

As I've argued in other places, hard power is hard to use and often achieves far less in the international arena than autocratic leaders like to imagine. Twenty-five years ago the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR's military was powerless to stop it. Let's not indulge those who still can't get over this by rewarding the word "power" for what is a mere sea cruise.

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

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

The Current AUMF Debate Is Weird

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At some point soon, either in the lame-duck session or early next year, Congress is likely to vote on an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State. Recently, there have been a number of proposals, both from legislators and outside experts, about what such an AUMF might look like. The main questions that are up for debate are: Will the law have any geographical or temporal restrictions? How much detail will it go into about what exactly the mission is and what means the executive branch can or cannot use to achieve it? What reporting requirements will it impose on the White House? And will the authorization only deal with the Islamic State, or will Congress revise and update the 2001 AUMF (the basis for the larger “war on terror”) at the same time?

These are all important questions. However, in this post I want to zoom out and make one very general point about just how weird this whole process is. Namely, this entire debate is about a hypothetical AUMF that the White House does not think it needs for a war that started over three months ago.

The United States began conducting limited air strikes against the Islamic State in early August. On September 10, President Obama gave a speech in which he laid out a broader strategy that Washington would pursue in order “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the group. Since then, the White House has maintained that the campaign against the Islamic State is legally supported by both the 2001 AUMF and the 2002 AUMF that authorized the Iraq War. The Obama administration has said on multiple occasions that it would “welcome” congressional support for the ongoing operations, but it has been equally adamant that it doesn’t view such a vote as necessary.

This was made explicit in a press briefing with White House press secretary Josh Earnest last week. Earnest said that Obama believes “that it is beneficial to the broader effort if we send a very clear signal to the international community, both to our allies and to our enemies, that the executive branch and the legislative branch are on the same page when it comes to the strategy.” But, when asked by a reporter if Obama would “press forward with this mission” even in the absence of congressional action, Earnest replied, “That's correct, because Congress has already given him this authority in 2001.” And so the war against the Islamic State will continue whether or not Congress votes for it.

This doesn’t mean that pursuing a new AUMF is a waste of time. The details of what the authorization will actually say matter a great deal. And it would doubtless be an improvement to place the ongoing mission in Iraq and Syria on sound legal footing, rather than basing it on a questionable interpretation of a thirteen-year-old law. But, at the same time, we should all understand just how limited the frame of this debate is. When it comes to what the Pentagon is calling Operation Inherent Resolve, the only real choice members of Congress have is between a war they’ve voted for and a war they haven’t.

TopicsCongressLawDefense RegionsIraqSyria

Calm in the East China Sea?: What to Make of Shinzo Abe and Xi Jinping's Recent Meeting

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Despite the hype, widespread media reports calling Beijing’s and Tokyo’s simultaneous November 7 declarations on “improving Japan-China relations” a “joint statement” are inaccurate. Calling them a “breakthrough” is, at best, premature. Together with the brief and chilly summit meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo in Beijing this past Monday, the developments of the past week constitute only a tentative first step toward a possible, and explicitly “gradual,” return to normalcy in relations between the world’s second- and third-largest economies. Indeed, Xi’s reportedly cold reception of Abe during the APEC 2014 meeting in Beijing makes clear that political relations, even if no longer frozen, remain on ice.

Much work must be done to achieve a desperately needed, but politically difficult, sustainable thaw. With Sino-Japanese relations arguably having reached a postwar nadir the past two years, in large part because of disputes over history and what each side sees as the other’s provocative behavior vis-à-vis contested islands in the East China Sea, the continued peace and growing prosperity of East Asia depends on proactive leadership and statesmen determined to guarantee it.

As far as the prospects for this, despite much with which to be pleased, the past week’s developments, coupled with the lessons of recent history, are sobering. For starters, a point-by-point comparative analysis of the statements released by China (Chinese /English) and Japan (Japanese/English) in Chinese, Japanese and English leaves significant grounds for skepticism about the prospects for a fundamental, long-term, sustainable break through the unfortunate impasse that has plagued Sino-Japanese relations. Despite clever diplomatic wordplay and politically expedient spin—especially in Beijing—no four-point agreement, much less an alleged “principled consensus,” has been reached. Rather, each government effectively released its own separate statement. Analyses based exclusively on one side’s statement are incomplete, if not misleading.

Read the Lines, and Between Them

While the spirit of Beijing’s and Tokyo’s simultaneous declarations may convey consensus, their letter does not. Despite some important (and positive) overlap in substance, last Friday’s statements remain more significant for what went unsaid. Subtle, but major, differences in wording make clear that the most contentious issues in Sino-Japanese relations persist.

For starters, and contrary to earlier, ambiguously sourced reports suggesting that Tokyo would acknowledge the existence of a sovereignty dispute over the Senkaku (Diaoyu in Chinese) Islands in the East China Sea in exchange for a bilateral summit, Abe did not “cave” in to pressure from Xi. Contrary to reports on last Friday’s agreement from major global news publications, including theNew York Times and the Associated Press, the two sides did not simply “agree to disagree,” nor did Tokyo “acknowledge differing views over the status of the islands” in a “concession likely to please Beijing.” Since Abe also made no explicit vow to refrain from again visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine as prime minister, Tokyo appears to have not met either of Beijing’s repeatedly stated preconditions for a resumption of normalized, high-level political dialogue. Accordingly, claims of a major concession from Tokyo or, conversely, a major diplomatic coup for Beijing, are significantly off the mark. For its part, Beijing made no commitment to reduce, much less cease, what Tokyo sees as provocative and dangerous maneuvers of Chinese vessels and planes into waters and airspace around the contested islands. While the shared commitment expressed in the statements to improve crisis management is laudable, despite some reports to the contrary, this pledge remains rhetorical. The two sides have been talking about related measures for over a decade, with only limited fruit borne. One can only hope this time is different, as the ability of the two sides to effectively manage a crisis remains a major concern.

That no announcement of more substantive achievements was saved for Monday’s summit meeting is a sobering reminder that despite positive developments over the past week, the fundamental problems making the East China Sea one of the world’s most worrisome flashpoints remain unresolved.

A Ray of Hope?

To be sure, that a summit—however brief—occurred for the first time since both leaders took office roughly two years ago, and despite Abe’s unwillingness to meet Xi’s two major conditions, is certainly a positive sign. Dormant lines of high-level political communication are gradually reopening. Indeed, Tokyo and Beijing should be applauded for achieving a creative, diplomatic and (arguably) mutually face-saving first step out of a two-year-old impasse that has seen political relations reach a postwar nadir and international concerns about the risks of a Sino-Japanese military conflict climb to an unprecedented high. But last Friday’s “agreement” is no panacea—more a temporary expedient. Without sustained political will to keep the ball of progress rolling, its medium- and long-term benefits are in doubt.

Going forward, far more important than the specific text of any statement is how bilateral frictions will be managed in practice. Most pressing: Will high-level, regular bilateral political dialogue and summitry resume immediately or will such crucial exchanges continue to be held hostage by interpretations of history and domestic political conditions? Will Chinese ships and planes cease frequent encroachments into waters and airspace surrounding islands that—regardless of one’s view on the sovereignty question—have been under Tokyo’s effective control for decades? Have we seen the last news story from either side about a dangerous mid-air intercept or China’s “lighting up” of Japanese naval platforms with fire-control radar?

Perhaps most importantly, can the two sides find the political will necessary to immediately establish sustainable and effective mechanisms to ensure that any future incidents in the air or at sea do not escalate into a military conflict? Beijing’s agreement to reactivate talks—repeatedly requested by Tokyo—is an encouraging sign. But when it comes to crisis management in the East China Sea, talk is cheap. The proof will be in whether leaders introduce the political and institutional reforms necessary to actually implement effective crisis management. Particularly in Beijing’s case, as the Chinese saying goes, “saying is easy, doing is not so simple.”

Plus ça change…?

The ice between Beijing and Tokyo has “melted” before, only to refreeze colder and harder. Indeed, recent developments recall the period of Abe’s previous stint as Japan’s prime minister—a one-year period during which he did not visit Yasukuni Shrine, but did make controversial comments about other historical issues, and during which China’s assertion of its claim to islands in the East China Sea, while troubling to Tokyo, was not seen as nearly as provocative as its behavior today.

In 2007, then Chinese premier Wen Jiabao visited Japan—and Abe—and addressed the Japanese Diet in a speech broadcast live in both countries. In a development widely seen as marking the dawn of a new era, Wen acknowledged Japan’s past apologies for its wartime behavior and expressed gratitude for Japan’s “support and assistance” in China’s reform and modernization. Then, as now, the Abe-Wen meeting was referred to as “ice-melting.” Then, as now, Abe referred to his meeting with a top Chinese leader as "a big step forward" toward fostering a "strategic relationship of mutual benefit.” Indeed, there was a great deal of optimism, to the extent that Japan’s chief cabinet secretary boldly declared “We’re not aware of any remaining ice.”

Yet the effect of these positive developments on the major irritants and dangers in bilateral relations proved abortive. A landmark agreement the following year to jointly explore oil and gas resources in the East China Sea is moribund. Repeated efforts to enhance maritime confidence and crisis management have borne limited fruit.

Tying Their Hands More Tightly?

Although seemingly a net positive for bilateral relations today, by enabling an at least symbolically significant summit this week, over a longer time horizon, the disparate content of the different statements released by Tokyo and Beijing last Friday is worrisome. Indeed, less than twenty-four hours after the ink had dried on the November 7 statements, Chinese scholars at state-affiliated think tanks and official media claimed that Japan had formally acknowledged the existence of a sovereignty dispute over the islands. Yet even the text of Beijing’s own official statement makes no such a claim. Tokyo’s version does not even refer directly to the islands themselves, much less acknowledge a “dispute” of any kind—least of all over sovereignty—a stance since reiterated by Japanese Cabinet officials. This all leaves ground for serious concern that what appears to be very clever diplomacy today may ultimately prove a mere expedient and temporary pause to underlying tensions. Worse, Beijing may be inflating domestic expectations about concessions from Tokyo that, when revealed to be phantoms, could backfire, effectively sharpening this thorn in the side of the frustratingly volatile relationship between Tokyo and Beijing.

End This Unsustainable Status Quo

If nothing else, the dangerously and increasingly crowded waters and airspace in the East China Sea demand a true bilateral modus vivendi that no longer allows political relations and dialogue to be held hostage to the (de facto) dispute itself and the vicissitudes of domestic political conditions. Severe circumstances demand true statesmenship and political leaders willing to exercise proactive leadership and to burn the domestic political capital necessary to create the enabling conditions to melt the ice. Most urgently, Beijing and Tokyo must fulfill their shared November 7 pledge and immediately adopt concrete measures to significantly reduce the risk of a low-level incident between vessels or planes escalating into a military clash. Neither country, much less the region or world, can afford the alternative. Too many important bilateral, regional and global issues demand the attention of Beijing and Tokyo, who should be working in constructive partnership to help solve them.

One can only hope that winter in Northeast Asia this year will prove unexpectedly warm.

Adam P. Liff is Assistant Professor of East Asian International Relations at Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton-Harvard China and the World Program, and Associate-in-Research at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies and Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies.

TopicsForeign PolicyDiplomacy RegionsChinaJapan

Explained: Why a U.S.-China "Cold War" in Cyberspace Is Not Happening

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Describing cyber activities by the US and China as a new Cold War in cyberspace is hyperbolic and inaccurate. The relationship between the US and China and the international environment for this relationship are very different from the Cold War, when relations and contacts with the Soviet Union were extremely limited and there was no economic interdependence or interconnection. There have been none of the threats, ideological challenges or proxy conflicts that characterized the Cold War.

The US has sought to avoid a military focus in its cybersecurity efforts. It has cast China’s cyber espionage as a commercial matter (Treasury Secretary Lew has told China’s President that cyberattacks are ‘a very serious threat to our economic interests’). For example, the US indictments of People’s Liberation Army officers for cyber espionage focused intentionally on trade and economic crimes to avoid any implication that this was a military contest.

China has never used “force” (defined as acts of violence) against the US in cyberspace; it will use cyberattack against US military forces in any clash, but espionage isn’t war—if it were grounds for war, the US would find itself at war with many countries. Both China and the US have implicitly avoided truly damaging attacks or military confrontation in cyberspace, each restricting its activities to espionage. Espionage isn’t a crime under international law, and it’s not in the US interest to make it so. Dealing with China’s cyber espionage requires a sustained effort to construct norms and persuade China to observe them, to create consequences for Chinese actions, and to improve cyber defences in the interim.

This is a much more complex relationship than the Cold War. Managing the trajectory of US–China relations to avoid conflict will be difficult, and Chinese misconceptions about international affairs and American intentions only complicate the task. Similar misconceptions about economic warfare on the US side don’t help to manage the relationship. China’s best seen as the most assertive and the most potent of a number of new powers that challenge the existing international order and the American role in it. The long-term goal for the US and other Western nations is to bring China into the international “system” of rules that govern state behavior, and that means persuading it to get its “cheating” in trade and in cyberspace under control. Some economic tools, such as sanctions, would be useful in applying pressure to China, but military force has very little utility.

Gigantic, secret conspiracies are a staple of pulp fiction. In practice, they’re impossible to sustain on any grand scale. Belief in a Chinese grand strategy of economic warfare against the US assumes that beneath China’s almost chaotic and hypercompetitive growth there’s some hidden agenda, and that China could develop a secret plan to achieve it and keep the plan secret across four different leaders for more than 25 years.

The frequent references to a Chinese grand strategy reflect an ingenious effort to explain Chinese actions. They also reflect the deep unease China’s growth has created, given the discrepancy between its promises of a peaceful rise and its acts of assertive self-interest. When the Chinese accuse the US of having a grand strategy, it amuses most Americans. The US doesn’t have one, but it does have consistent interests and a common approach to problems shaped by its ideology and politics. The same is true for China.

We can impose an artificial order on a complex international problem by ascribing Chinese actions to economic warfare, but the reality, unfortunately, is much more difficult. In struggling to define conflict in an era in which the use of force is more expensive, more dangerous, and therefore less often resorted to by states, the war metaphor can be appealing, but it’s not a helpful guide for policy. We could argue that China is simultaneously attempting to build its economy and weaken opponents, but that would involve damaging its major markets and sources of finance.

If our choice in explaining Chinese behavior is between commercial motives and deliberate geopolitical strategy, the former better explains actions and events.

James A. Lewis is an ASPI-ICPC International Fellow. He is senior fellow and director of the Technology and Public Policy Program at CSIS, where he writes on technology, security, and the international economy.

This is an excerpt from ASPI’s latest Special Report, China’s cyberpower: international and domestic priorities, released today and originally published in ASPI’s Strategist here.

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Did China and America Just Save the Planet? Breaking Down the Big Climate Announcement

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Barack Obama and Xi Jinping surprised even the closest climate watchers last night when they jointly announced new emissions-cutting goals for the United States and China. This is a serious diplomatic breakthrough after years of unsuccessful efforts to do something big and joint that goes beyond clean energy cooperation and gets to one of the most sensitive parts of climate policy. What it ultimately means for emissions, of course, will be determined over many years.

What exactly is the significance of the news? It will take time (and fleshing out of details) to fully assess the two countries’ proposals. But there are already three big takeaways that can be discerned.

China is now approaching international climate diplomacy differently from – and more constructively than – before:

The Chinese announcement promises to peak emissions “around” 2030 and to try to beat that deadline. It also articulates a goal of boosting non-fossil energy to twenty percent of Chinese fuel. People will pore over these numbers (and I’ll say something about them below). But perhaps the most striking thing about them is simply that they’re genuinely new. In 2009, when China announced a goal of cutting emissions intensity by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, many analysts (myself included) noted that they contained no ambition to move beyond “business as usual” estimates for future Chinese emissions. Not this time around: for China to peak its emissions by 2030, it would need to depart significantly from the path that most analysts currently expect. That alone is a big deal.

The way that the Chinese goals were developed and announced, though, is as important as their substance.

China has typically gone out of its way to assert its independence in anything climate-related. That approach would usually have led it to announce major goals like these in a clearly unilateral context – even if they were developed in tandem with the United States. Rolling them out together with the United States says that China is increasingly comfortable being seen to act as part of an international effort.

Indeed that may be part of the point here. Xi appears at least somewhat sensitive to historical patterns of conflict between established and rising powers. Amidst broad tensions between the United States and China, climate change is increasingly an area of relatively constructive dialogue, which makes it worth highlighting. A joint announcement does exactly that.

One also has to wonder what domestic dynamics are at work here. One plausible theory for why Xi made the announcement in an international context is that the transformations he seeks in order to achieve Chinese climate goals are also ones he wants to pursue for other economic, environmental, or strategic reasons anyhow (for example, reducing local air pollution). Making a firm and international commitment to this can strengthen his hand against those at home who oppose such moves.

The U.S. target looks like it’s going to be really tough to meet without new laws:

The United States promised to cut emissions 26 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and to try to get to a 28 percent cut. (Notice a pattern – baseline and stretch goals – between the United States and China?) If the United States hits its current target – 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 – on the head, it will need to cut emissions by 2.3-2.8 percent annually between 2020 and 2025, a much faster pace than what’s being targeted through 2020. That is a mighty demanding goal. It will be particularly challenging to meet using existing legal authority – which the administration says can be done.

My understanding is that the numbers were arrived at through careful bottom-up analysis of the U.S. economy and of legal authorities over an extended period of time. But technically possible and politically likely are two different standards. One useful point of comparison is the Waxman-Markey legislation. That bill would have required a 30 percent emissions cut by 2025, but a large slice (perhaps more than half) of the reduction was expected to be met through international offsets. The new targets thus far exceed Waxman-Markey in domestic ambition.

That doesn’t prove, of course, that the new targets will be tough to meet; the world has changed a lot in the last five years. So let’s drill down on some details.

One thing that’s straightforward to infer from the announcement is that any effort to meet the new goals will need to lean disproportionately on measures to reduce emissions of non-CO2 gases and increase the U.S. carbon sink (the latter of which is mostly beyond the influence of policy). This is clear once one observes that a 26 percent cut in CO2 emissions in energy alone would require slashing power plant coal use by somewhere around 75 percent by 2025 (barring some sort of radical and unexpected change in the transportation sector). I would normally sound a major warning note on reliance on cutting non-CO2 gases, since it’s wrong to trade cuts in carbon dioxide for cuts in shorter-lived forcers. In this case, though, it’s probably wrong to look at this as a set of tradeoffs; instead the administration appears to be putting forward the most it thinks it can do on all fronts.

It’s also worth observing is that achieving these goals will almost certainly require changes to the implementation of the EPA power plant regulations. This would be particularly true if the automobile fuel economy rules are relaxed when they’re reviewed in a few years. The EPA power plant rules as they’re currently proposed are already spurring plenty of pushback; pressing them further will be a tall political and technical task. In particular, it’s near-impossible to imagine achieving these goals simply with actions taken during the Obama administration. President Obama’s administration may have developed and negotiated these numbers, but his successor will determine whether they’re achieved.

One last note on the U.S. numbers: The fact that they’re a stretch doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Stretch goals can motivate policymaking. And few people thought, back in 2009, that the United States could cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 using existing authorities, something that’s now seen to be perfectly feasible. Big numbers can, however, create big backlash, which is something to watch out for.

The potential scale of the Chinese plan, though, dwarfs all of this – as do the associated uncertainties:

The difference between a 26 and a 28 percent cut in U.S. emissions is on the order of 120 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. That’s smaller than the EIA’s projected annual growth in Chinese energy emissions for each year between 2025 and 2030. Very loosely speaking, a mere one-year shift in the Chinese peaking year could matter at least as much to global emissions as the difference between the various U.S. targets that have now been announced.

And then there’s the matter not of when Chinese emissions peak but where they peak. Do they peak 25 percent above current levels? 15 percent? 10 percent? That makes an enormous difference for global emissions. I suspect that one can make some inferences from the target for zero-emissions energy that the Chinese announced; perhaps more on that in another post. At least one big hint at where Chinese leaders hope to land should come next year if they announce a carbon intensity target (something they seemed to indicate was in the works at the UN in September). One way of getting some insight might be from a recent MIT-Tsinghua study that models a scenario with Chinese peaking in 2030. It uses a $38/ton carbon tax to get there and peaks at 17 percent above current levels. It would not be a surprise if that analysis was one of many that informed Chinese decision-making.

I wouldn’t expect much more negotiation over either U.S. or Chinese targets, even though European leaders may want to have a discussion. Over the next year, rather than focus on any haggling over emissions numbers, it will be worth watching three things. What will the remaining details of the Chinese plan look like? How will the U.S. goals be received politically – and could they spook a Congress currently considering how much to try to interfere with pending EPA regulations? And, perhaps most important, could this display of pragmatic U.S.-China diplomatic cooperation be a sign of more to come in international climate change diplomacy – which will need to go well beyond target-setting – over the coming year?

This piece first appeared courtesy of CFR’s blog Energy, Security and Climate.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsClimate Change RegionsUnited States

If Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead: Could This Be the End of ISIS?

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Numerous news outlets have reported that the U.S.-led coalition operating in Iraq and Syria may have injured or killed the overall leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an air strike near Mosul. If this is true, it is welcome news, but it will not signal the end of the movement. Instead, this is a significant part of the overall military strategy to apply broad pressure to ISIS and halt its momentum. Over the long run, stopping ISIS will require alleviating the underlying conditions that drive violence and gave rise to the movement in the first place. While the outside world can help create the necessary conditions, only repudiation by the local population will kill ISIS.

The best research on the subject shows that attacking individual enemy leaders is very difficult to do and often requires an intense intelligence-gathering effort combined with good luck. Moreover, while successful attacks can weaken a terrorist organization—sometimes dramatically—this approach is not a panacea; a broader strategy is still necessary.

With history as our guide, we should expect the following regarding ISIS and al-Baghdadi:

1.  The loss of leaders will weaken ISIS:

Leadership is essential for successful military organizations and solid leadership has been a major factor in the impressive rise of ISIS. There have been reports that several leaders were injured or killed in the attack, including subordinate leaders that take broad guidance and put it into action. The loss of mid-level leaders can be even more devastating to an organization than the loss of the top leader, as the ability to translate between strategic guidance and tactical action is both difficult and necessary for success. If it has lost these leaders, ISIS will be hurting for a while.

2.  But don’t expect ISIS to crumble:

Attacking an enemy leader rarely brings down the organization. It is more likely that a group like ISIS will find replacement leaders and reinvent itself. Indeed, this is what happened with Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) after the United States killed its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in 2006. While this hurt AQI in the short run, the organization eventually reinvented itself under al-Baghdadi and became ISIS.

3. Now is the time to apply maximum pressure:

Leadership attacks work best as part of a strategy that applies broad pressure to an organization. For anti-ISIS operations, this includes attacking ISIS forces, supply lines, recruitment, sources of income, bases, training camps, headquarters, infrastructure, and command and control networks. Organizations will often begin to crack under the strain of  intense and constant pressure, exposing weaknesses that agile militaries can exploit. Sustained pressure may weaken ISIS sufficiently to buy time for local and regional leaders to address the underlying conditions that initially gave rise to the group.

4. The defeat of ISIS requires the population to reject it as a movement:

The only way that ISIS dies is for its constituency to reject it as a legitimate organization. This will require mitigating the factors that ISIS exploited to gain power in the first place. While there are things that the United States can do to help create the conditions for this to happen, including encouragement of a more conciliatory approach to governing in Baghdad, the ultimate solution has to come from the people themselves as they reject the bankrupt approach of ISIS in favor of a more promising future.

This appears courtesy of CFR’s blog Defense in Depth.

Image: US Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsISIS

Are Some Members of the Obama Admin. Starting to Question the White House Strategy on Syria?

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Are some members of the Obama administration starting to question the White House strategy on Syria?  If the leakage coming out of the press over the last several weeks is accurate, the answer is a resounding yes.

In an article about President Obama’s Syria dilemma in The Los Angeles Times, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is reported to believe that the plan to combat both the Islamic State and the Assad regime is suffering from a severe lack of clarity and focus.  “Pentagon concerns have grown so sharp,” the Times reported on October 30, “that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel sent a two-page memo to the White House last week warning that the overall plan could collapse because U.S. intentions toward Syrian President Bashar Assad are unclear.”

CNN posted a similar story on the same day, with a little more detail as to what Hagel’s memo to National Security Adviser Susan Rice consisted of.  “The focus of the memo,” according to an administration official, “was "we need to have a sharper view of what to do about the Assad regime."  The official refused to provide additional details, but did not disagree with the notion that Hagel feels the U.S. is risking its gains in the war against ISIS if adjustments are not made.”

For an administration that suffered a huge electoral setback during the midterms, the existence of a critical memo by the Pentagon’s top civilian official—and the reporting of that memo in the news media—is the last thing that the White House wanted.  Fortunately for the president and his national security team, the contents of that memo have not been disclosed, and are unlikely to be absent a massive breach of administration protocol.  Yet just because Hagel’s memo hasn’t been released doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate about what the Defense Secretary was trying to drill home to the White House.

Here’s my guess at what it says:

Susan, to put the matter is the clearest terms possible, our policy on Syria needs a serious rethink and an in-depth inter-agency review if we have any chance at accomplishing the twin goals that we have set out: degrading and destroying the Islamic State and transitioning Syria into a democratic state that respects the rights of its people.  This review should include, but not be limited to, what our efforts have accomplished thus far; what more can be done to persuade U.S. allies in the region that an increase in their contributions to the anti-ISIL campaign is in their interest; how we can broaden and sustain the alliance that has been assembled over the past three months; and whether the United States needs to do more to ensure that the Assad regime is weakened to a point where political negotiations inside Syria become possible.

Although the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is clearly our main line of effort, both militarily and diplomatically, I remain deeply concerned that the administration—the National Security Council, the Pentagon and State Department included—has relegated the ouster of Bashar al-Assad and his regime to a distant second in the list of overall priorities for Syria.  However brutal and inhumane ISIL is, it is the Assad regime that has killed far more civilians over the past three and a half years.  Current government figures estimate that approximately 200,000 Syrians have been killed since the war erupted in 2011, and that number is most likely a conservative estimate.  Our Arab partners are ahead of the curve on the Assad problem and have vocally expressed their reservations to me in private that the United States does not appear committed to transitioning Syria to a post-Assad future.  The administration’s actions since the anti-ISIL campaign started on August 7 have done nothing to alleviate those assumptions.

Despite our best intentions, we are effectively helping Bashar al-Assad, his army, and his militia forces in the broader civil war.  By bombing ISIL targets from the air, we are weakening the biggest military threat that the Assad regime faces on the battlefield.  This does not mean that we should slow down the pace of U.S. and coalition operations against ISIL targets in Syria, but rather that we should redouble our efforts in order to accomplish an objective that the president himself articulated over three years ago: the removal of Assad from power.

Bashar al-Assad is clearly taking advantage of our efforts to eradicate ISIL from Syria.  Since late September, the Syrian Air Force has moved assets from the eastern section of the country towards the populous western corridor between Damascus and the Latakia coastline, encircling Aleppo and deploying regime aircraft to bomb and strafe positions held by the Free Syrian Army.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has documented over 400 barrel bomb airstrikes in a two-week period, many of which were aimed in areas with a significant moderate rebel and civilian presence.  Over the short-term, Assad is in fact improving his military position on the ground.

As long as this situation persists, our Arab allies (particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Qatar) will continue to doubt our resolve in getting rid of the Assad regime, and this will no doubt complicate our efforts to maintain the regional coalition that we have built to tackle ISIL.  Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be more likely to contribute and cooperate if they see Washington taking a firm stance on Syria’s long-term future.

I request an urgent meeting of the National Security Council principles to discuss all of these concerns at the earliest possible date, with the following questions in mind:

1- Are we still committed to forcing Bashar al-Assad to step down?

2-  Is the train-and-equip program scheduled to begin in Saudi Arabia and Turkey large enough to make a difference in the battle against ISIL.

3- Should those being trained by our forces have an expanded mandate to fight Assad regime forces as well as ISIL militants, and if so, how much additional funding will be required and how many Syrian moderate forces will need to be trained and deployed to meet this change in mission?

4-  How can we better coordinate and communicate with remnants of the Free Syrian Army who are already engaged in combat on the ground?  If we aren’t sufficiently sharing intelligence with them, why continue to provide small arms and non-lethal equipment to these ad-hoc forces?

TopicsSecurity RegionsSyria

Tale of the Tape: Comparing Chinese and American Strategies in Asia

The Buzz

What does President Obama hope to achieve during his trip to Beijing for the APEC summit? How does he assess his ability to accomplish his China agenda?

There is no shortage of issues to discuss with Xi Jinping.   The two countries ostensibly share concerns about an unstable nuclear North Korea, Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons, and the failing old order in the Middle East. But little progress has been made.  While Xi talks about a “new-type of great power relationship,” he seems to mean the U.S. should come to China as a supplicant, as National Security Advisor Rice did recently, asking for China’s help on the Middle East—now of equal importance to Beijing and Washington.  

The presidential visit comes at a perilous time for Sino-American relations. Washington has not adequately answered China’s continued aggression toward Japan and Southeast Asian nations. Moreover, the People’s Liberation Army is continuing to harass the U.S. military operating in Asian seas.

U.S. Asia policy is not progressing because both Washington and Beijing are now overestimating China’s rise and underestimating the sustainability of American power.  This is a dangerous trend in perceptions with some grounding in reality. From Washington’s perspective, the Sino-American relationship will be unproductive if both sides think the balance of power now favors China.

Better policy outcomes require a reassessment of the balance of power that goes beyond straight counts of military forces and capabilities.  Trends in the military balance must be viewed in the context of each country’s preferred approach to the region as well as an accounting of the internal political obstacles hindering each side’s strategy.   The key questions are: What is each country trying to accomplish? What is each country’s strategy?  How well is each side implementing its strategy and what are the obstacles in the way of the outcomes for each country?

Competing Strategic Visions: America’s Strategy

Since the end of WWII, the U.S. has pursued a strategy of primacy.  Successive U.S. presidents have found that a “preponderance of power” best served its Asian interests, which have included:

1.  Defending the U.S. homeland far forward. In the post-Pacific war period, the U.S. created what used to be called the “defense perimeter,” now referred to as the First Island Chain.  The forward U.S. defense posture begins along the island chains and territories from Korea through Japan and the Ryukus, and the Luzon Strait down through the Philippines;

2.  Preserving a favorable balance of power in Eurasia, so that no power can dominate the continent;

3.  Ensuring free military and commercial access to maritime and continental Asia;

4. Maintaining and continuing to refine the liberal international order consistent with the “U.S. way of life,” as the framers of the U.S. Cold War strategy put it;

5. Supporting a network of allies who assist in reinforcing that order.

America’s grand strategy of primacy has been a success. It has tamed security competitions between historic Asian rivals and created the conditions for economic growth and peaceful transitions to democracy throughout Asia.  Countries that had the capacity to develop nuclear weapons were persuaded not to do so.  Asia’s rising wealth and power is not a coincidence.  Rather it is the result of wise decisions by Asian elites, the hard work of Asians to better their lives, and U.S. primacy.  It is no wonder that successive presidents have stuck with primacy.  

The Military Structure of Primacy

U.S. primacy in Asia has required a forward basing posture for combat aircraft, large numbers of SSN and SSBN submarines, and carrier strike-groups to project power in Asia.   These assets provide a continual deterrent against conflict. U.S. “boomer” submarines, armed with ICBMs, lurk underwater ready to act should the U.S. face an existential threat. Carrier strike groups serve as highly visible symbols of U.S power to deter would-be aggressors.  Depending upon the global security situation, the Navy can have up to five carriers strike groups base in Japan and along the U.S. Pacific coast.

These air-sea forces allow the U.S. to control the commons when necessary. [1] The ability to take command of the air, sea, and space has allowed the U.S. military to summon overwhelming force anywhere and anytime it needs.  For the U.S. to continue to be the prime player in Asia, it must retain the ability to command Asia’s commons.  This requires that alliances are maintained, new partnerships are cemented and the “infrastructure” of command— the tankers, airlift, and large surface ships necessary for the quick deployment of U.S. forces—is modernized and ready.

China’s Strategy

As China’s wealth and power increase, its influence and ambitions in the Asia-Pacific expand.  The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) march towards achieving regional hegemony is driven by the CCP’s paramount goal of maintaining its grip on power.  That does not mean an inward turn, as many misinterpret.  While Beijing faces  “internal” challenges such an increasingly dynamic and wealthy populace, and a restive empire that includes Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, keeping a grip on power requires far more:  

1. Ensuring that the world remains “safe” for autocracies.  At the very least it must stop any attempts by the U.S. to press for Chinese liberalization, and prevent the formation of democratic groupings in Asia;

2. Pursuing national rejuvenation.  The CCP argues that it is the vanguard of the Chinese project to regain prime status atop the political hierarchy in Asia, and reverse the “century of national humiliation” that it endured.  The CCP pours salt on this national wound in order to bolster its case to the Chinese public for a continued monopoly on power;

3. Continuing China’s economic growth, which now means defending China’s growing international economic interests. The PRC’s coastal areas house a large percentage of the country’s manufacturing and financial sectors.   Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the removal of a major threat to China’s land border, the PLA has been freed up to extend China’s southeastern maritime perimeter. The PRC wants greater maritime strategic depth, as well as an outlet into the Pacific and Indian oceans in order to protect its far-flung economic interests.

Military Strategy of the Aspiring Hegemon: Coercion and Counter-intervention

The CCP military strategy for regional hegemony has been the deployment of coercive combat power and counter-intervention (also known as A2/AD) capabilities in maritime East Asia.

U.S. military campaigns during the 1990s and early 2000s played a profound role in shaping the PLA’s regional security strategy.  In the two Gulf wars, the U.S. military displayed its unmatched precision strike regime.  The U.S. could deploy massive force to the region on its own timeline, because the U.S. military commanded the commons and American forces gained access to the states bordering Iraq through effective diplomacy.

During the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the CCP was horrified by its inability to contest the U.S.’s offshore military presence.  President Clinton dispatched two aircraft carrier groups off of Taiwan’s coasts in what must have been a haunting reminder of Western powers’ 19th century gunboat diplomacy against China.

Later in 1999 Chinese military officials warily observed the U.S. launch a 78-day air campaign against Slobodan Milosevic from carriers and land-bases.  

The CCP realized that, even as it carried out a long-term naval modernization plan, it also needed to develop counter-intervention capabilities to prevent the U.S. from repeating its actions in the Gulf and the Balkans off of China’s seaboard.

The PLA has created contested zones in its “near seas,” allowing it to deny the U.S. access to the parts of the commons closest to China.  The PLA can now threaten the U.S’s logistical supply lines and the use of bases in Japan.  It can also contest space and cyberspace.  China’s military build-up includes a precision guided-missile force, undersea warfare, integrated air defense, counter-space and cyber capabilities, and bombers and aircraft that could deliver additional firepower against U.S. and allied assets.

Learning from the past two decades of U.S. wars, this military strategy is meant to exact a serious cost on U.S. military forces attempting to project power in the first island chain or the mainland.   For example, in the event of conflict, carrier strike groups, the iconic symbol of U.S. power projection, could face swarms of Chinese hypersonic cruise missiles, anti-ship ballistic missiles (or what are called in the press “carrier-killers”), and packs of diesel electric submarines.  The PLA air force’s increasingly modern aircraft provides China with additional range in striking U.S. bases and carrier groups. This strategy has undermined the foundations of U.S. primacy.

China’s same “counter-intervention” forces are also employed for a regional coercion strategy.  The CCP’s main target for possible military action remains Taiwan.  Its own precision strike regime – cruise and ballistic missiles launched from land, air and sea knit together with an increasingly sophisticated C4ISR system – could inflict the kind of pain on the island that NATO forces exacted on Serbian forces in Kosovo. The China that bemoans the gunboat diplomacy once practiced by the Western powers is now employing the same strategy against its neighbors.

Assessing the Balance: Command of the Commons Vs. Aspiring Hegemony

The military strategy supporting China’s bid for regional hegemony is now well developed.  The PLA can contest U.S. command of the commons and deliver a decisive first strike against U.S. forward bases and surface ships with missile salvos and air sorties. Following a first strike, China may be able to consolidate a defense perimeter in the first island chain, daring the U.S. to fight its way back in.  Within that perimeter, China can use coercive force against its neighbors to achieve desired military objectives, such as the unification of Taiwan or the seizure of disputed maritime territory.    

In a global context, the U.S. military clearly possesses greater capabilities. But total military power outside the context of specific political goals misses the point. Since the U.S has global interests, its military strategy in Asia relies upon command of the commons to mobilize forces into theater across long air and oceanic expanses. China has raised the costs of this strategy.  

Primacy Challenged: The U.S. Response

China’s challenge to American primacy in Asia prompted the U.S. to move additional forces into the Pacific and strengthen its alliances in the early parts of last decade. In 2011, the U.S. announced the continuation of this long-standing process to bolster its military posture in the Pacific.  With much fanfare, the Obama Administration placed its own imprimatur on this process as the “pivot” or also called the rebalance.

Building upon the upgraded Japan alliance that Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush began, a trilateral security relationship among Japan, Australia, and the U.S., a closer security partnership with Taiwan, and force reposting in South Korea, the administration announced several additional military cooperation initiatives.  The U.S. plans to deploy 2,500 Marines in Australia and encourage Australia to participate in an Asia missile ballistic shield it is developing with Japan.

The U.S. will station four U.S. littoral combat ships (LCS) in Singapore on a rotational basis. Additionally, the U.S. and the Philippines may expand the U.S. military presence in the country.  The building blocks are now in place for a tighter network of alliances and partnerships in the region, which is key to continued U.S. primacy.

Air-Sea Battle: The Operational Concept for Primacy?

The U.S. military is beginning to respond to China’s coercive and counter-intervention strategy. The February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) made overcoming area-denial an essential part of U.S. strategy. In August 2011, CNO Admiral Jonathan Greenhert and Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton formed the Air-Sea Battle office at the DOD in order to develop the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) concept, which requires close cooperation between the Air force and Navy to “overcome the challenges posed by emerging threats to access like ballistic and cruise missiles, advanced submarines and fighters, electronic warfare and mines.”

The basic idea behind the ASB concept is to foster greater air-sea cooperation, allowing the U.S. military to operate in China’s contested zones, and regain the ability to command the commons.  The surface fleet will be equipped with countermeasures against cruise and ballistic missiles. U.S. stealth fighter-bombers will be able to thin out precision-guided strikes by targeting command and control nodes and air bases. ASB requires the development of more long-range bombing capabilities, harden forward bases to withstand missile salvos, and continue investment in advanced SSNs.

ASB is a means to bolster a grand strategy of primacy.  If implemented, U.S. forces will be able to operate in contested zones, and still bring overwhelming power to bear on Chinese forces.  A peacetime presence is just as important, as it acts as a formidable deterrent.  The more U.S. equipment, airman, soldiers, sailors and marines that are deployed forward in Asia, the riskier it becomes for China to attack allies and friends.

Absent from the current debate about how to retain U.S. primacy, is the future of U.S. nuclear forces.  The uncomfortable fact is that deterrence, reassurance and war fighting all require a nuclear strategy accompanying conventional forces. China must be reminded that U.S. has provided nuclear guarantees to its allies, that attacks on carriers would kill thousands of Americans and that what China calls the second island chain—a potential Chinese outer defense perimeter—includes U.S. territory.

The U.S. must remember that its preferred military strategy includes attacks on mainland-based forces and that China also is a nuclear power with mobile missile launchers and SSBN submarines capable of providing a secure second-strike.  It follows that a U.S. strategy of primacy requires nuclear primacy – an upgrading of U.S nuclear forces in very close coordination with allies on nuclear issues.   It also follows that alongside such moves the Sino-American military relationship must move beyond the niceties of “building confidence” and discuss issues of escalation control and crisis stability.

Obstacles to the US Strategy: Funding Primacy

The “rebalance” to Asia is a resource intensive endeavor. Yet the U.S. military is faced with deep budget cuts.  That leaves a dangerous gap between U.S. military’s resources and stated objectives.

Sequestration-level budgets threaten to hollow out the U.S. Navy, which traditionally provides a lion’s share of the power projection needed to sustain U.S. primacy. According to the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 QDR, the navy is on “a budgetary path to 260 ships or less” under current defense spending levels. By comparison, various internal naval reviews have stated that an effective fleet should field between 323 and 346 vessels.

Admiral Greenert is attempting to reorganize his service in line with the administration’s “pivot,” but sequestration has handcuffed his efforts.  The Navy had planned to increase its Pacific Fleet from 50 ships to about 65 ships by 2019. However, the Navy has admitted that this plan is untenable under sequestration-level budgets.  The service is left with a grim choice. It can under-resource U.S. forces in Asia, or cannibalize its other fleets to boost the number of ships deployed to the Pacific.  With Putin’s Russia on the move, ISIS threatening to take over Iraq, and China’s aggression in maritime East Asia, neither option is tenable.

Obstacles to a Strategy of Regional Hegemony

The CCP faces three main roadblocks to its own strategic vision. First, China must confront the inherent instability of its political-economic system. China’s investment-based, export-led growth strategy is coming to an end.  But, the CCP is failing to implement comprehensive reforms that would help move it toward a consumption-driven economy. Second, China has grown increasingly dependent on overseas economic interests, and it wants to secure its maritime supply lines.  If the U.S. successfully responds to China’s regional coercive strategy and China’s economy continues to slow, the CCP will face very tough choices about what kind of military it can afford. Third, the CCP must deal with a host of internal challenges to its legitimacy, including from its restive empire.

The Future of Chinese Growth and China’ Maritime Interests

China’s current seven or eight percent annual growth is unsustainable  The Chinese economy has depended on large-scale investment and exports.  Today, global demand is stagnant, China is highly indebted and investment is drying up.  China’s needs a new model of consumption led growth but has not implemented the liberal reforms required to restructure its economy. Without badly needed reform, China risks slipping into the middle-income trap.

The IMF recently reported that China has passed the U.S. as the world’s largest economy on the basis of purchasing parity.  But for purposes of assessing the balance of power these numbers are useless.  GDP is a picture of yearly production, including wasteful production.

A better measure of economic size is comparative wealth.  Credit Suisse just released an updated comparison of private wealth: American private wealth stands at $83 trillion dollars compared to China’s $21 trillion.  Even when public debt is factored in, the U.S. remains around $40 trillion wealthier than China.  It is that wealth that can be translated into national power.

If China faces slowing growth rates while lagging behind the U.S. in national wealth, then China will face real dilemmas it protecting its far-flung economic interests. In 2004, President Hu Jintao introduced the concept of “New Historic Missions” for the PLA. Since Hu’s policy announcement, the critical new mission is the defense of China’s sea lines of communication (SLOC). China is now a maritime trading nation, and its imports and exports—including increasing energy imports—must pass through critical chokepoints that it does not control, including the Straits of Malacca. China is growing its fleet of nuclear submarines and flowing them into the Indian Ocean. But to really project maritime power at longer distances China would have to make substantial investments in larger surface ships, global C4ISR, and logistical hubs and fueling stations along the Indian Ocean.  This could prove both too expensive, too risky, as China exposes itself to threats from terrorism, piracy and hostile nations, and too difficult to accomplish diplomatically, particularly if India resists. The CCP has a real problem with one pillar of its strategy—continued economic growth and defense of economic interests.

China’s Internal Unrest

The CCP continues to devote enormous resources to maintain internal stability. China’s heavy-handed tactics in Xinjiang have provoked further violence against China. Recent attacks include a market bombing and several knife attacks. Now China is at risk of further violence from jihadists returning from the ISIS campaign.

Regarding Tibet, China remains highly sensitive to other nation’s interactions with the exiled Dalai Lama, and Tibetans are resisting China’s imperial policies. Taiwan’s de facto independence continues to present a contradiction for Beijing’s “One China” principle.  Beijing reneged on its agreement to allow free 2017 elections in Hong Kong, sparking large-scale protests.  The CCP’s imperial control is more challenging. At the same time, middle class cynicism about corruption is growing and wealth is leaving China.  

Conclusions: What does the balance of power look like?

China has made great strides in its coercive regional strategy and its counter-intervention strategy. It is forcing a response by the United States to regain its primacy.  But the U.S. has not demonstrated the political wherewithal to resource its response.

However, China’s gains and the U.S. slow-footed response is not the whole story.  The CCP’s grand strategy also includes continued economic growth that is increasingly reliant upon maritime trade. Becoming a true maritime power is very expensive, and China faces hostile powers along its periphery. Finally, China’s main weakness is its tenuous political legitimacy. It is ruling over an increasingly restive empire with aspirational citizens demanding more liberty and justice. The CCP has to spend enormous resources on imperial control and domestic security.

The U.S. has structural advantages over China such as greater wealth and a system of partners and allies. But can the president lead a bipartisan coalition at home ready to translate the nation’s advantages into a well-resourced strategy that retains U.S. primacy?  The CCP would have a tough time competing with a U.S. that once again takes primacy in Asia seriously. Indeed, if Washington locks in a favorable balance of power it may even start to see some cooperation from Beijing.

[1] The article borrows from Barry Posen’s “Command of the Commons: The Military Foundation of U.S. Primacy” (International Security, Summer 2003) and Dan Blumenthal’s “The U.S. Response to China’s Military Modernization,” published in Strategic Asia 2012-2013.

Dan Blumenthal is Director of Asian Studies and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Eddie Linczer is an Asian Studies Research Assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Today is the U.S. Marine Corps’ 239th Birthday: 4 Big Challenges Ahead

The Buzz

Today the United States Marine Corps celebrates its 239th birthday.  Marines and their families will remember the illustrious history of the Corps and renew their commitment to serve the nation, “In every clime and place.”  Marines will also reflect on the status of their beloved Corps.   The Marines’ mission in Helmand Province has just ended and General Joseph F. Dunford has taken his post as the thirty-sixth Commandant of the Marine Corps.

With the completion of the mission in Afghanistan and a new Commandant, many Marines and observers are asking, “What next?”  The months ahead promise to be busy as the Marine Corps addresses challenges on many fronts.  The most significant of these challenges are:

-Resource Uncertainty: Although the Bipartisan Budget Agreement provided some relief, the potential for a return to “full” sequestration is looming on the horizon.  In a time of fiscal austerity, the Marine Corps must carefully balance readiness, manpower and modernization.

-Reduced Structure vs. Operational Requirements: The Marine Corps is in the middle of a drawdown from a wartime strength of 202,000 to 182,000.  Events around the world (sustained instability in the Middle East, continued threats from violent Muslim extremists, strained relations with a resurgent Russia, a rising and increasingly confrontational China, Ebola in Africa) remind us there is no peace dividend as commitments in Afghanistan shrink.  The Marine Corps will continue to deploy traditional Marine Expeditionary Units and rotational units to the Western Pacific as a part of the unit deployment program (UDP) while concurrently deploying new Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) for crisis response to support USAFRICOM and USCENTCOM.  These commitments must be met with a force that is 20,000 personnel leaner than the 202k than the one developed to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

-Lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Marines learned many critical lessons during fourteen years of sustained combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  In an uncertain world, the challenge to institutionalize lessons learned about counterinsurgency and stability operations looms large—all without neglecting the skills needed to conduct conventional warfare and amphibious operations against traditional state actors.  The American people rightly expect the Marine Corps to be prepared to fight and win across the entire spectrum of conflict.  The Marine Corps does not have the luxury of focusing exclusively on either “small wars” or on the skills needed for a more traditional combined arms campaign; the nation’s “911 force” has to be ready for everything.

-Relationship with the U.S. Navy: The Marines continued to deploy Marine Expeditionary Units with the Navy during the fourteen years of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, but at times the focus on combat operations resulted in less emphasis on the traditional relationship between the two services (Navy and Marine Corps).  As a maritime nation, a reinvigorated relationship between the Navy and Marine Corps is important.  The availability of amphibious shipping (adversely impacted by sequestration) remains a serious concern for Marines working to maintain institutional expertise in amphibious operations.  The use of other types of shipping has been suggested to mitigate scarce amphibious warships but these alternative platforms do not remove the requirement for a healthy amphibious ship building program and money to maintain them in a high state of readiness.

In working to meet these challenges, the Marine Corps has gone back to its roots and will ensure  it is most ready when the nation is least ready.  Maintaining the Marine Corps in a high state of readiness to respond to crises is priority number one.  Modernization of equipment, infrastructure maintenance and quality of life efforts will be reduced to sustain readiness today.   This means the long-term health of the Corps could be placed at risk for the sake of near-term readiness if the disaster of sequestration is not fixed.

In a time of fiscal uncertainty at home and unrest around the world, the Marine Corps will need to return to its roots in other ways.  In addition to focusing on near term readiness for crisis response, innovation and leadership will be required to meet the challenges facing the Corps—the same sort of innovation displayed by the Marine Corps following World War I when it developed the doctrine and expertise needed to execute the amphibious campaign in the Pacific during World War II.

The Marine Corps has been in challenging positions before, resulting in some of its greatest achievements.  As the Marines toast the Corps on their 239th birthday, they know that much work lies ahead in their 240th year.  Most importantly, the Corps knows that success in the future will ultimately depend on the quality of its greatest asset—the character, strength and skill of the individual Marine.

Colonel Stephen Liszewski, U.S. Marine Corps, is a Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. Before coming to CFR, he served as Commanding Officer, 11th Marine Regiment.  His combat deployments have included Iraq in 2007  and Afghanistan in 2012. The conclusions and opinions expressed are his own and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. government.

This piece first appeared courtesy of CFR’s blog Defense in Depth.

Image: U.S. Marines Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States