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Ukraine: New Online Resources from the Center for the National Interest

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Washington, DC – The Center for the National Interest is pleased to announce the launch of Ukraine Watch, a clearinghouse for information, resources, analysis, commentary and reporting concerning the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.  Ukraine Watch is available at

As the situation in Ukraine continues to develop, Ukraine Watch will inform researchers, journalists and the public and present competing views, including official perspectives.  It will also include Ukraine-related commentary from the Center’s award-winning foreign policy website, The National Interest.  “Though the crisis in Ukraine could define core elements of American foreign policy for years to come, there has been little debate in the United States—and even less information.  We hope that Ukraine Watch will contribute to a rich, informed and intellectually rigorous discussion of U.S. policy based on facts and on U.S. national interests,” said Center Executive Director Paul J. Saunders.

About the Center for the National Interest: The Center for the National Interest is a non-partisan public policy institution established by former President Richard Nixon.  Its current programs focus on U.S. relations with China, Japan, and Russia as well as energy security and climate change, non-proliferation and arms control, and resources and conflict.  The Center publishes the bimonthly foreign affairs magazine The National Interest, at  The Center’s supporters include a variety of foundations, corporations and individuals, including Carnegie Corporation of New York. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUkraine

Could the US Fight ISIS and China with the Same Weapons?

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As President Obama struggles to find the right policy prescriptions for dealing with the growing challenge of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), other parts of the world are ripe with challenges calling for Washington's attention. In the economically dynamic Asia-Pacific region, the People's Republic of China, through a variety of tactics, is challenging Washington's military dominance. If America found itself in a conflict with Beijing while attempting to use the same military platforms and strategies to fight a foe like ISIS, it could find it is militarily ill-equipped and unready for the challenge.

At present, Washington is well-suited to the task of taking on ISIS. U.S. airpower aboard aircraft carriers or short-range strike aircraft at present can surge quickly almost unchallenged and strike targets at will throughout Iraq and even in Syria if needed. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can rapidly move into areas of surveillance interest, gather intelligence, and even strike targets largely without fear of reprisal. Even the most vilified of options, placing large amounts of "boots on the ground," if needed to stop, say, an ISIS march on Baghdad or Erbil, would be operationally possible as ISIS forces would be unable to stop an American or allied build-up. Indeed, one of the greatest military assets the United States has taken for granted since the 1991 Gulf War — being able to surge large amounts of military assets into a theater of combat operations — would be something Washington could very much count on against ISIS if the moment ever came. America could largely use the same types of assets and strategy it has relied on since the end of the Cold War — building forces in mass near a conflict zone, short range airpower, carriers based offshore, long-range strike aircraft (B-52, B-1 and even B-2 bombers) and cruise missiles to strike possible ISIS targets at will.

To read the rest please visit The Hill

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Time for Congress and the President to Work Together on ISIL

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This past Sunday, September 7, President Barack Obama sat down for an exclusive interview with the new host of NBC’s Meet the Press, Chuck Todd.  If you happened to miss the interview, it’s worth a look: despite persistent questioning by Todd on the national security threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, President Obama laid out in succinct detail what he and his administration plan to do.  The “we don’t have a strategy yet” comment that the president made last week in a late summer press conference (remember the suit?) is clearly behind him, and regardless of what some commentators and newspaper editorials continue to say, the White House does in fact have a strategy: enlist the support of key Sunni Arab states in the effort, use targeted U.S. military force against ISIL’s bases and leadership, squeeze its financing by obstructing the donations the group receives from wealthy donors in the Gulf Arab states, and ensure that Washington’s European allies (principally Great Britain, France, and Germany) are actively contributing to the campaign. 

For a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill (I’m not naming names), this strategy is far more multilateral and time-consuming than they would like.  Building an international “core coalition” of states to tackle ISIL from multiple directions is not as sexy as employing the U.S. Air Force to, as Senator Ted Cruz said recently, “bomb them [ISL] back to the stone age.”  President Obama, however, doesn’t seem to be phased by the criticism that he’s been receiving; he is scheduled to give a speech to the American people this Wednesday, September 10, to double-down on his approach to the ISIL problem while explaining to the American people precisely what the objectives are and what it will take to successfully meet them.

Yet there was one line of questioning in the interview that could potentially cause the president some trouble over the next two weeks as he rolls out the anti-ISIL strategy to the public: Obama appears to believe that it’s not necessary to come to Congress for an up-or-down vote before the first U.S. fighter-bombers and drones start striking ISIL targets in Syria. 

Asked by Todd whether he will be asking for Congress to vote on his policy during the short time the chamber is in session this month, the president implied that he has all the authority he needs his under Article II constitutional powers act kinetically.  “I’m confident that I’ve got the authorization that I need to protect the American people,” Obama said, “and I’m always going to do what’s necessary to protect the American people.”  Although President Obama remarked that it’s important for Congress to “buy-in” to his plan, he wasn’t exactly clear what “buy-in” means.

This comment will naturally rub some lawmakers the wrong way.  Inherent in the checks-and-balances system of the U.S. political system is the give-and-take between the executive and legislative branches, and this dialogue is no more important than on the eve of a new war or before the acceleration of U.S. military action in some corner of the world.  One of the most consistent talking points that the Obama administration uses during press briefings or news conferences is the “consulting with Congress” line.  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest states is prone to saying that President Obama remains committed to consulting with members of Congress before big decisions are made.  The only problem, of course, is that ‘consulting’ could mean a lot of things; it’s difficult, for instance, to see how simply informing congressional leadership of what the White House plans to do is the same as lobbying for their support.

Congress has a tendency to kick tough problems down the road for later consideration, especially during a tough re-election year when everyone is trying to keep their jobs and stay in their seats.  Lawmakers are only scheduled to be in session for 12 days before they recess again for the October campaign season.  But at least on this question—the question of ISIL—some members are not using the short legislative calendar as an excuse to abdicate their responsibility on matters of war and peace.  There are currently four bills (filed by Representatives Wolf and Issa, and Senators Nelson and Inhofe) that would authorize the president to expand air operations against ISIL into Syria.  If Congress genuinely wants to become an integral part of the debate, they have legislation to work from.

Normally, the president sends a request to Congress to kick-start the entire process of crafting an AUMF (authorization to use military force).  If the White House doesn’t follow this precedent, it will be up to Congress to press the issue.  And if Congress does press the issue with a vote, the president should applaud its willingness to have a debate and act on an issue of such grave concern to U.S. national security. 

As Obama once said, “our democracy is stronger when the President and the people’s representatives stand together.”  That remark as said on August 31, 2013, when the president asked Congress to authorize the use of military force against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Nothing today changes that assessment.   

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Japan and China’s Dangerous Clash: Is There a Way Out?

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With the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in early November approaching rapidly, hopes are high for a meeting between Chinese president Xi Jinping and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The downturn in relations between Japan and China has been a lose-lose proposition for both countries. Japanese investment in China has dropped off dramatically at a time when Beijing can ill-afford another hit to its sputtering economy, and many Japanese companies have hitched their future to China and are suffering as a result of current political tensions. Moreover, the potential for military conflict to erupt around the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands remains significant. The summit, which will be held in Beijing, offers an important opportunity for President Xi and Prime Minister Abe to begin to bring their countries’ derailed relations back on track.

In advance of such a meeting, political advisors on both sides should seek inspiration from a few sources:

  1. just-released paper by Chinese scholar Wang Jisi, “The Simultaneous Slide in Chinese-American and Chinese-Japanese Relations Is Not Beneficial,” has several useful insights (translation provided by Neil Silver of China Journal). Chief among them is the fact that China and Japan have had smooth relations for thousands of years and only decades of discontent. Wang quotes Zhou Enlai describing Chinese-Japanese relations as “two thousand years of friendship, fifty years of misfortune.” More profound—and undoubtedly more contentious within China’s foreign policy circles—is Wang’s argument that the United States is not at the heart of the current Sino-Japanese conflict; that “China has a lot of work to do” in order to reverse the slide in Sino-American and Sino-Japanese relations; and that Beijing should not abandon its efforts at peaceful development for the mistaken idea that once China’s economic and military strength are great enough to subjugate Japan and the United States, China will be able to resolve its foreign policy problems effectively. Wang’s ideas are an important and honest challenge to the official narrative that the pivot is the source of all China’s problems in the region and that it is up to others to fix the situation. His piece, therefore, is at the top of my reading list.
  2. A short piece by Zhu Zhiqun, a Bucknell University professor, takes the next step and offers some practical advice on how to de-escalate tensions so that the two leaders can actually meet: Abe should make a public statement that he will not visit Yasukuni Shrine again, and China should scale back its air and maritime patrols of the disputed islands. China’s contentious declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone over the East China Sea can stand in name, but it will not be enforced. Zhu recognizes that it will take political courage for Xi and Abe to commit to such steps, but ultimately, the gains for both leaders and their countries would far outweigh any negative short-term political repercussions.
  3. Finally, I would recommend a terrific new detective novel, Tokyo Kill, by Barry Lancet. Tokyo Kill is above all an excellent mystery that stands on its own for great storytelling. However, Lancet, who has lived in Japan for more than twenty-five years, also offers some nuanced understandings of the China-Japan relationship that have relevance for today’s tension-filled situation. The basic understanding is that it is time for the truth to out on both sides. In a section of the book that was difficult to read at times, a Chinese doctor Wu relates in detail the horrors inflicted on him and everyone in the villages around him by the Japanese during the war. At the same time, however, he also acknowledges “We Chinese know how to eat bitterness. Our own rulers kill more of us than any foreign power ever did. We endure. We are patient.” An art dealer Takahashi serves as the wisdom-bearer for the Japanese side, “Japan has her secrets. Many are open secrets. We Japanese are aware of them, are ashamed of them, and don’t speak of them often, if ever. Our embarrassing moments remain, for the most part, confined to these shores. The language barrier and our shame constitute an effective blockade.” The protagonist Brodie has the final word: “Maybe it’s time to let those secrets out… so the skeletons, or ghosts, can finally be put to rest.”

President Xi and Prime Minister Abe would be smart to follow Zhu’s advice to get the ball rolling. Over time, however, they will need to take the more difficult step proposed by Wang and Lancet—to explore openly truths, past and present—to ensure a strong foundation for the relationship.

This article first appeared on and and is reprinted here with permission. You can read the original article here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Is Australia About to Buy Japanese Submarines?

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There has been a flurry of public commentary following yesterday’s News Limited claims that Australia is about to enter into a commitment to buy our next generation of submarines from Japan. The local submarine community has been concerned about that possibility for some time, and senior members of the Submarine Institute of Australia have been writing to Defense Minister David Johnston—and others—since January of this year warning against such a decision.

Understanding what’s happening is difficult because the speculation appears based on remarks apparently made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe about such a course of action. The concerns have been reinforced among some observers by Abbott’s interest in strengthening Australia–Japan–US defense ties—something in turn being driven by the rise of China. Yesterday Prime Minister Abbott did nothing to dampen the speculation, stating that future submarines were about capability, not about local jobs. As an aside, those sorts of comments also serve the PM’s aggressive political style, jabbing a finger into the eye of the current South Australian Labor Government.

However, the chances of the Federal Government making a unilateral decision to sole source a Japanese solution seem low—and if the Prime Minister were to insist on that particular course of action there could be a serious Cabinet and back bench revolt. Not only would such a decision constitute another broken promise—the word ‘another’ would presumably be contested by the PM on the basis that no promises have been broken to date—but it’d almost certainly lead to the loss of Federal seats in South Australia (Hindmarsh for sure, perhaps Boothby and Sturt), as well as generate enormous resentment within institutions no less than the Royal Australian Navy, the Department of Defense, trade unions and a stack of industry associations, amongst others.

There has been bipartisan agreement that the Kinnaird–Mortimer two-pass procurement system is a sound, if cumbersome and slow, approach to Defense contracting. A unilateral decision in favor of a Japanese submarine would completely trash that in favor of a whimsical choice based on a variety of external factors. Of the conventional submarine designers in the Western world that Australia would look to for technology, Japan is the least well known—by far. All that can be said is that the Soryu Class appears to be a large, capable submarine—and it’s the latest in a series of large, capable submarines of roughly the size our Navy hopes to acquire.

But after that generalization, things quickly become extremely complex. Would Australia commit to an off-the-shelf design for a foreign Navy that uses different weapons and sensors to those employed by either Australia or the U.S. Navy? How would such submarines be supported in Australia and at what cost? How would crew training be managed—not a trivial matter—especially as Japan has never before exported a submarine? Even providing manuals in English for the tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of individual pieces of equipment that make up a submarine would be a hellish job.

Still, the idea certainly has momentum and a large Japanese delegation recently visited ASC (apparently at the direction of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet) to be given a very thorough tour of the facility. Given the secrecy that surrounds submarine construction, this move was highly unusual and has raised eyebrows in defense circles. To date, there has been no known reciprocal visit to Japan.

There’s some poetic justice in all of this. The RAN and the Department of Defense have been dragging the chain for so long on SEA1000 that they’ve left themselves vulnerable to these sorts of random outside ideas. Part of the institutional paralysis is the result of the extraordinary continuation of the debate about whether or not Australia is capable of designing a new submarine. The answer is clearly ‘no’, but nevertheless the internal arguing and bickering seems to continue. Another bizarre distraction appears to be OH&S legislation and the potential impact this might have on a future design, which is being studied to death. Why the Department doesn’t simply request an OH&S waiver and just get on with it is beyond me.

If the thought-bubble idea from the Prime Minister of buying Japanese submarines finally jolts the Department and Navy into firming up their plans and actually doing something that will be no bad thing.

Kym Bergmann is the editor of Asia Pacific Defense Reporter and Defense Review Asia. This article first appeared in The Strategist here

Image: Wikicommons/Creative Commons 3.0 License

TopicsSecurity RegionsAustralia

"Ukraine’s Battle for the East is Over."

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Whether or not the latest ceasefire between Ukraine and the separatists holds, it is hard to see the evolution of this conflict as anything other than a victory for Vladimir Putin.  In recent months it seemed as though Ukraine’s successes on the ground and a Western policy of punitive sanctions was coming together.  After initial setbacks, Ukraine’s army eventually found its footing against the separatists.  One could be forgiven for believing that Russia might lose this contest on its borders, in a country where it retains so much influence, and core interest.  Unfortunately for Ukraine, the more important question was never whether it could beat a few thousand insurgents, but if Russia had the will to follow through in this conflict of its own inception with military force.  We now know the answer to that question is positive, and Ukraine has no hope of winning on the ground. 

In retrospect, Vladimir Putin probably knew the answer to this question for some time now.  It is difficult to envision that Russia would have allowed the new Ukrainian government to achieve a military victory on the ground against its proxies, especially after placing so much political capital on the line with its domestic audience.  As a consequence, Ukraine has spent several months prosecuting a campaign in the East, which has devastated the region and turned large portions of the population against the government in Kiev.  This effort may have been politically necessary in Kiev, but Russia’s direct intervention now makes it futile. 

If the ceasefire holds, it will create a line of control on a map between Ukrainian and separatist forces, and that line will undoubtedly lead to some kind of pro-Russian political entity in Eastern Ukraine.  The former Soviet Union is replete with examples of frozen conflicts and unsettled separatism, and this outcome is precisely what Petro Poroshenko wished to avoid.  Ukrainians may learn to live with the loss of Crimea, but they are not inclined to accept losing the East as the price of their newfound Western orientation.  A lasting ceasefire is not the first step towards reintegrating the East, but rather the beginning of its political separation from Kiev.

If the latest ceasefire fails, then Russia will win on any higher rung of the military escalation ladder.  Moscow may have been reluctant to conduct an overt invasion, but once committed, it will not hesitate to increase the presence of its forces on Ukraine’s soil.  If a few thousand Russian troops can send the Ukrainian army into full retreat, it is not difficult to imagine what twenty or forty thousand might do.  Russia may not be able to occupy all of Ukraine, despite Vladimir Putin’s boasts that he could reach Kiev within “two weeks,” but it can draw the line between Ukrainian forces and the separatists anywhere it wants. Western leaders are loath to call this an invasion, for fear of making sanctions appear a paltry response, and concern that such a step will remove any hesitancy on the part of Russia to throw its full weight behind this “incursion.”  A large Russian force in Crimea could open a southern front and cut the country into two with relative ease. 

Such fears are unfounded, since Russia seems set on using its forces as a scalpel to achieve political ends on the ground.  The separatists, backed by Russian troops, could have easily maneuvered around Mariupol and encircled it, isolating its defenders and forcing an eventual surrender.  Instead they have spent days shelling the defenses in order to motivate Ukraine into signing the current ceasefire agreement.  Russia is not hungry for more territory.  It has found Ukraine’s pressure points.  If this ceasefire is broken, then it will be the Ukrainian army that loses ground, and Russia can press Kiev to sign another agreement by besieging any city of choice.  One way or another, it is likely that the separatists will remove Ukrainian presence from key facilities in the region as they seek to establish a defensible territory to control.  Western leaders are erring to think that anything they say, or don’t say, matters in Russian decision making.  Moscow is set on an economy of force approach, largely driven by domestic considerations.  Vladimir Putin fears the reproach of the mothers of Russian soldiers far more than any pronouncements emanating from the West.

Time is now on Russia’s side.  The decision by Ukraine’s president to call for parliamentary elections in October was opportune when he was winning the campaign, but a terrible one now that he has to represent Ukraine in a political settlement, after a military defeat.  The radicalized Ukrainian polity has created an atmosphere where nobody is inclined to make a compromise with the separatists.  This means Petro Poroshenko is in no position to discuss the future political status of Lughansk and Donetsk, unless he wishes to present Ukrainians with failure and defeat in advance of an election. 

If anything, in the coming weeks the entire political center of gravity in Ukraine will shift against decentralization of authority, or special autonomy, for the breakaway regions.  Other leading figures in Ukrainian politics, including Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, will only work to undermine any prospect for a settlement.  Not a day had passed when Yatsenyuk had given his own interpretation of the ceasefire agreement, claiming that in his mind there were only three points or relevance: the ceasefire, withdrawal of Russian troops, and Ukraine securing its border with Russia.  It is not clear that either Petro Poroshenko, or Vladimir Putin, see it that way.  However, Poroshenko’s will undoubtedly be forced to get ahead of his opponents and denounce the plan for autonomy that he knows Ukraine will ultimately be forced to agree to.

In the coming months pressure will mount on Ukraine.  Its political leadership cannot compromise with the separatists before the election, and afterward Russia’s terms for political settlement are tough sell in Ukraine.  By the time Ukraine’s leaders are ready to make the politically tough choices that could restore stability in the East, and achieve an understanding with Russia, they will be in a far worse bargaining position than when the Anti-Terrorist Operation began in June.  The country could suffer another wave of instability as volunteer battalions return from the front with recriminations, tales of abandonment, and having fought for naught.  Meanwhile Ukraine is in dire need of Russian gas supplies for residential heating in the winter.  Its economy is still in crisis; promises of Western largess to save the country from bankruptcy were conditioned on reforms yet to be implemented.  A large swath of trade and economic cooperation with Russia, which accounted for half of Ukraine’s exports, has been either suspended by Kiev, or embargoed by Moscow.   

Meanwhile the West is reconciled to a strategy of punitive sanctions against Russia without any visible results, for either Ukraine’s or its own interests.  NATO is busily shoring up support for its noisy Eastern members, which Russia has no interest in invading, but the alliance has demonstrated no inclination to intervene on Ukraine’s behalf, which Russia has already invaded.  As winter approaches, this conflict is likely to freeze, and in that time a different political reality will establish itself in regions behind the separatist line of control.  It seems Ukraine’s battle for the East is over.  The West may have successfully pulled Ukraine into its orbit, but Russia has secured its say in what that will mean. 

Michael Kofman is a Public Policy Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Wilson Center.  The views expressed here are his own, and do not reflect the position of the Wilson Center or the Kennan Institute.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUkraine

China, America and the "Appeasement" Question

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In February 2014, Philippine President Benigno Aquino warned that failure to challenge the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) territorial seizures in the South China Sea would be repeating the 1930’s era appeasement of Hitler’s Germany. The Chinese were predictably outraged while the rest of the world mostly ignored President Aquino.

“Appeasement” is still a dirty word. But in the 1930’s, until the Nazi’s invaded Poland in September, 1939, European and American elites considered appeasement to be a sophisticated, nuanced approach to dealing with increasingly powerful authoritarian regimes.

To these elites, appeasement was more than simply disarming and letting unpleasant people have their way. Appeasement actually had a coherent logic.

The elites believed that aggressive, authoritarian regimes act the way they do out of fear, insecurity, and at least partly legitimate grievances – such as German resentment of the harsh Treaty of Versailles. Understand and address these issue, remove their fears, and the regimes will become less aggressive and transform into responsible members of the international community and operate under international norms.

Or so the elites argued.

Challenging these regimes could dangerously isolate them and even needlessly provoke them into “miscalculations.”

The elites thought “engagement” and “transparency” were beneficial in their own right, as only good things could come from familiarity with one another. In the 1930’s, the major Western powers all attended each other’s war games. The US Marine Corps even took the German World War I fighter ace, Ernst Udet on a ride in a USMC dive bomber. This “engagement” and “transparency” did not make the Nazis nicer, but perhaps gave them some ideas about dive bombing and “Blitzkreig.” Even the Soviets and Germans had close ties with joint training, military technology development, and raw material shipments to Germany.

There was also extensive political and diplomatic interaction. Close economic ties were believed to be a further hedge against conflict breaking out, and companies such as Ford, IBM, and many others did profitable business in Germany.

The elites believed anything was better than war. Preserving peace, even if sacrificing principles – and certain small nations – was considered wise and statesmanlike. People who criticized appeasement policy in the 1930’s, most notably Winston Churchill, were ridiculed as dolts and war mongers.

We know how this turned out.

Curiously, appeasement (by another name) reappeared even before the end of the war in calls to address Stalin’s ‘fears’ and allow him to dominate Eastern Europe. And throughout the Cold War, in Western academic and government circles it was argued that Soviet behavior was simply a reaction to fears of Western containment. The appeasers protested the peacetime draft as threatening the Russians. They also pushed for unilateral nuclear disarmament, and opposed the Pershing missile deployment and the neutron bomb well into the 1980’s.

Even President Jimmy Carter, once he overcame his “inordinate fear of communism,” tried something akin to appeasement as national policy. It was not until the Soviets invaded Afghanistan that Carter learned his lesson.

It perhaps will take another case of an authoritarian regime rearranging its neighborhood to understand the cost of modern appeasement.

US policy towards China over the last 30 years, and particularly in recent times, seems familiar. The United States does its best to understand the PRC’s concerns and its resentments going back to the Opium Wars and the ‘century of humiliation’, to accommodate these resentments, and to ensure China does not feel threatened. Defense and State Department officials enthusiastically seek greater transparency and openness – especially in the military realm – as such openness is perceived as inherently good.

In return, the PRC is expected to change, to show more respect for human rights and international law and to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international community.

We now have several decades of empirical evidence to assess this concessionary approach. It has not resulted in improved, less aggressive PRC behavior in the South China Sea or the East China Sea, or even in outer space. Indeed, it seems to have encouraged Chinese assertiveness as manifest in threatening language and behavior towards its neighbors.

Nor has the PRC regime shown more respect for human rights, rule of law, consensual government or freedom of expression for its citizens. Serial intellectual property theft continues unabated, as does support for unsavory dictators.

Nonetheless, we invite the PRC to military exercises and repeat the “engagement” mantra – expecting that one day things will magically improve. Some argue that letting the PRC see US military power will dissuade it from challenging us. Perhaps, but we are just as likely to be seen as naïve or weak. From the Chinese perspective, there is no reason to change since they have done very well without transforming and the PRC has never been stronger. Indeed, the PRC frequently claims that human rights, democracy, and the like are outmoded Western values having nothing to do with China.

This is also demoralizing our allies, who at some point may wonder if they should cut their own deals with the PRC.

Some revisionist historians argue that Neville Chamberlain’s 1930’s era appeasement was in fact a wise stratagem to buy time to rearm. This overlooks that even as late as 1939 when Hitler seized all of Czechoslovakia, the Western democracies still had the military advantage. One can appease oneself into a corner. And the beneficiary of the appeasement usually strengthens to the point it is too hard to restrain without great sacrifice.

One worries that the Chinese seizure of Philippine territory at Scarborough Shoal in 2012 – and the US Government’s unwillingness to even verbally challenge the PRC - might turn out to be this generation’s “Rhineland”. Had the West resisted Hitler in 1936 when he made this first major demand, there would have been no World War II, no Holocaust, and no Cold War.

Our choice about how to deal with the PRC is not simply between either appeasement or treating China as an enemy. Our policy must accommodate options ranging from engagement to forceful confrontation.

Who would not be delighted with a China that stopped threatening its neighbors and followed the civilized world’s rules? While ensuring we and our allies have a resolute defense – both in terms of military capability and the willingness to employ it – it is important to maintain ties and dialogue with the PRC and to provide encouragement and support when it shows clear signs of transforming to a freer, less repressive society.

We should constantly stress that China is welcome as a key player in the international order – but only under certain conditions. The US and other democratic nations have not done enough to require China to adhere to established standards of behavior in exchange for the benefits of joining the global system that has allowed the PRC to prosper.

Human nature and history are a useful guide to where appeasement (by whatever name) leads. And they also show that a strong defense and resolutely standing up for one’s principles is more likely to preserve peace.

Grant Newsham is a Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies. The views in this article are his own.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Economic Engine of America Is...The South

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There is something strange happening in the South—it is beginning to look like the economic engine of America. The South region (defined by the Census Bureau to go as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, north to Kentucky, and east to the District of Columbia and Maryland, down to Florida and everything in between) has come to dominate nearly every economic measure. The South is where the homes are being sold, and the jobs are being created. Somehow, while few were watching, the South has become the center of US growth.

As of the end of 2013, the South makes up around 35 percent of the US economy, or $5.4 trillion using the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ State GDP tables. Not even the West with Silicon Valley contributed as much to GDP as the South. The South generated 39 percent of economic growth in 2013, not quite as strong as 2012, when 42 percent of all US growth was generated there. The South is the largest generator of both GDP and GDP growth.

In 2013, the South represented 50 percent of all housing starts—more than 50 percent of all single family homes and 45 percent of multi-family are started in the South. In 2013, 54 percent of annual new home sales occurred in the South, continuing a long rise from the middle of the 20th century (the South accounted for 36 percent of new home sales in 1963). Existing home sales are much the same story. The South has regained 70 percent of its 30 year trend in new home sales since the recession. Other regions remain well below this figure.

Though no region created enough employment to keep up with its labor force growth, the South also generates a relatively high number of jobs. The labor force pool for the South grew 10 percent over the past decade (2004 through 2013) and its employment growth, the engine of economic activity, was 9 percent.

Labor force dynamism is difficult to summarize in a singular statistic, but one useful metric is the quit rate. While the West and Northeast lag, the Midwest and the South are pushing the quit rate higher. In fact, long-term rate for the US is a 2 percent quit rate. The South is the only region above this line. The same can be said of hiring—with a 4 percent hires rate, the South is the most dynamic on the hiring side as well.

With around 120 million people, the South is the most populous region. While the populations of the Northeast and Midwest regions began to stagnate mid-century, the South and West never stopped growing their headcounts. The South grew its population 49 percent over the past two decades; representing 47 percent of US population growth—more than any other region (the West grew at a faster clip, but contributed less to population growth).

The fact that the South is where people want to live may have something to do with how far a dollar goes. In 2010, the Census Bureau released its cost of living index, and 8 of the cheapest 10 urban areas were in the South (4 were in Texas). All 10 of the most expensive cities were in the Northeast and the West with New York and California producing 4 each. As real wages have been squeezed for the past couple decades, people are searching for a place where their earnings and savings can go further.

The average new house is larger and cheaper in the South than in any other region—both average and median home prices are below the other regions. Only the Midwest is close. A slowdown in Southern housing would ripple through the country, causing overall housing starts to be negative—the South is 50 percent of the market. The health of the US economy may be more closely tied to the South than many observers care to acknowledge—especially those with a “bi-coastal” view of economic activity. In many ways, the US has become reliant on the South to drive the growth for the country—especially post financial bubble as small fluctuations in demand for housing employment creation could have ripple effects across the entirety of the US economy.

Texas is the principal driver of the Southern economy, and oil is the primary driver of Texas. Texas alone was responsible for about 50 percent of the economic growth in the South in 2013 and 2012 (45 and 55 percent respectively). And the Texas economy is contributing about 20 percent of the growth for the US. With the shale revolution showing few signs of slowing, there may be nothing to worry about in the near-term. But the South and the US are vulnerable to any slowdown in the Texas economy.

The South is cheap and capitalist—at least, relative to its counterparts in the Northeast and in the West. And sure, the South’s economic performance is being lifted by an outsized contribution from the Texas oil boom. But the South is winning jobs and population and has quietly become the economic driver for the country. The South is rising.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsUnited States

Ukraine's Dilemma: Who’d Want to be a Buffer State?

The Buzz

The recommendation that Ukraine be turned into a “buffer state” has been made several times over the past several weeks, and indeed months.  Russia has legitimate fears about the eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union, the argument goes, and so in order to allay these fears—and reduce the overall level of geopolitical tension between Russia and the west—it makes sense to convert Ukraine into a permanently neutral state, one that does not belong under Russian control or western influence.

While this argument might appeal to some because it purports to eliminate the proximate cause of disagreement between Russia and the West, the idea promises to be much more difficult to implement in practice.  The problem, of course, is that Ukraine—its leaders, its people—might not want to be consigned to life as a buffer state.

Indeed, who would?  By definition, a buffer state is a political entity that exists to physically divide rival powers or blocs who do not trust themselves to live side by side with one another.  Buffer states are attractive from the perspective of rival camps because they offer strategic depth—that is, the territory of a buffer state allows each side to keep the other’s forces at arm’s length, thus giving both adversaries confidence that they would enjoy the time necessary to rally a military response to any act of aggression.  Being surrounded by buffer states is a good thing in a dangerous world.

Life in a buffer state, however, is far less rosy than life adjacent to one.  Insecurity is endemic to buffer states.  In the past, Great Powers have militarily violated the neutrality and territorial integrity of supposed buffer states when it has suited them—consider the fate of Belgium in World War I, Poland in the interwar period or Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, for example—and intrigues into the domestic politics of buffer states has been a common occurrence.  To be useful, buffer states must be unthreatening to those that create them, something that can only be ensured through constant monitoring and the threat of interference.  Iranians today harbor great resentment towards Britain and the United States for historical actions taken to keep Iran prostrate.

There are exceptions, of course.  Finland, Sweden and Austria were (it turned out, although it was not so clear at the time) relatively secure during the Cold War despite not formally aligning with either the western or eastern blocs.  Switzerland has been neutral for centuries.  Nevertheless, it is at least possible the people of Ukraine might take one look at the job description for buffer states and decide that life as a demilitarized zone is not for them.  Much better, Ukrainians might reasonably conclude, to join a powerful alliance or acquire the means of national defense that will allow their country to defend itself against a potential aggressor.  Even more likely, Ukrainians of different stripes might continue to see their country’s future in different ways, refusing to accept guarantees that neutralism is a pathway to peace and security.  A popular demand to become a buffer state is unlikely to emerge.  What then?

The implication of arguments made by Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and others seems to be that Ukraine will have to have neutrality foisted upon it by external actors.  That, in turn, will require some serious intervention into the domestic politics of Ukraine—meddling that is likely to have unintended and unwanted consequences, as the British and U.S. experience with Iran amply demonstrates.  Even if Russia and NATO do have the clout to force a settlement upon the leaders of Ukraine’s various groups, ensuring the stability of such a settlement will require constant—and perhaps costly—maintenance.

Fidelity to balance of power logic may well mean that Ukraine should accept its fate as a neutral buffer between east and west as a noble sacrifice in the name of European security.  Yet in a world in which the principle of self-determination still matters, and given the intense distrust and insecurity felt by people on the ground in Ukraine, creating the conditions for a stable balance of power between Russia and NATO will not be straightforward.  Do not be surprised if the people of Ukraine insist upon a say in their own future.

Image: Wikicommons/Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUkraine

Why More Immigration Is Bad for America

The Buzz

Why do we have immigration when unemployment is high? Nobody in Washington will give the honest answer. Employers want cheap labor. They benefit tremendously from legal and illegal immigration in the current slow-growth economy. We have a million legal immigrants per year, and the vast majority of them enter the labor market competing with Americans for scarce job opportunities. The result is wage depression, though there are other factors that restrict wage growth, and persistently high unemployment above the 5 percent level that most economists believe is unhealthy.

Rather than have a million legal immigrants plus more than three hundred thousand more job seekers coming over on temporary work visas year in and year out without a pause, we should ask the simple question, do we need any immigrants? The only constituency that claims there is such a need is employers. And they have essentially written U.S. immigration law for a very long time.

The primary type of immigration is for “family reunification.” That means a U.S. citizen can sponsor their immediate relatives for permanent residency and then citizenship. This sounds like a perfectly reasonable basis on which to base an immigration policy. But it makes no economic sense and has disastrous consequences. Spouses, children and parents of citizens may be unskilled, uneducated, and thus likely to become “public charges,” the bane of immigration. Economists agree that the U.S. has ample unskilled labor. (The Department of Labor, which is supposed to protect the interests of U.S. workers, has said this for more than twenty years.) But the exception is companies that rely on this labor, particularly food processors, cleaning companies and agriculture. They always want more because more means less pay. These companies could care less about public benefits, unemployment rates and rest of the pathologies that an excess of immigrants can bring. And they turn very nasty when criticized. Anyone who brings up the unemployment is a racist. Or they roll their eyes and tell you American won’t do nasty jobs. Tell that to the nation’s sewer workers who are mostly unionized, well-paid and American.

There is currently no numerical cap in the number of spouses and children that immigrants can bring over. There needs to be, and that cap must reflect economic reality, the skill level of the immigrants, the unemployment rate in the labor market where they will live, and the likelihood they will become a public charge. If it’s likely, then the sponsors should be required to sign surety bonds to reimburse the government for any welfare benefits the immigrants incur. It might seem callous to policy makers to restrict family reunification, but the current system is callous to Americans at the bottom of the labor market. The only beneficiaries are employers.

Noncitizens should not be permitted to sponsor anyone. The idea that green card holders, people in this country on a probationary basis, should be allowed to bring over their children and parents is nonsensical as an initial proposition (if they want to be with their relatives, then why are they here?), but in a tight labor market, without any justification except to employers. We currently allow this.

Our experience with Mexican immigration highlights the domination of immigration policy by employers of cheap labor. In 1907, the country was reeling from three decades of mass immigration, and Congress appointed a blue-ribbon commission to make recommendations for reform of the nearly open-border policy (only Chinese were excluded). The Dillingham Commission recommended quotas limiting immigration by country of origin—but not from Mexico. It found that they were “indolent” and “nonassimilable” but also “a source of labor to substitute for the Asiatics in the most undesirable seasonal occupations.” The demand for cheap labor carried the day.

Mexicans have been used to lower wages ever since. The government encouraged this for twenty years with the Bracero program. It only ended when Mexico complained that too many of its citizens were leaving the country, thereby raising the price of labor on that side of the border. That legitimate complaint, not the poor treatment of the Mexican braceros, ended the program in the 1960s. But there have been other guest-worker programs since then, and all are justified by the simple fact that growers don’t want to pay Americans market wages to work in the fields. Are fields worse than sewers?

Last week I spoke to an aide to a Republican Congressman who was a member of the “Gang of Eight” that tried to negotiate an immigration bill, which could pass the Republican House. This never materialized, and this particular Congressman dropped out of the group. I asked him why we need immigration when we have high unemployment. He told me it would be un-American not to allow citizens to bring their foreign spouses and children to this country. I asked if there should be any numerical limits on this type of immigration when unemployment is high. He said no. I asked if there should be any numerical limits on immigration at all, including by employers. He said labor market conditions should be considered, but the Congressman does not believe in limits. I asked how immigration helps anyone except employers. He gave me this example. Suppose someone wants to open an Indian restaurant in a rural area and needs a chef. (The example is farfetched. How much demand is there for Indian cuisine in rural areas.) The owner should be allowed to sponsor an Indian chef as an immigrant. And if he does, it creates employment, for others, waiters and busboys. I asked why the owner could not find an Indian chef in the U.S. He responded that there might be some looking for work in cities, but would they relocate to this rural community? I wondered why someone from India would relocate to that community. And then he gave me a candid response, perhaps unplanned. He said the restaurant owner might not be able to pay for an American citizen chef to take the job in the small town. So it comes down to cheap labor.

There might be a few jobs that cannot be filled by three hundred million Americans, but one has to strain to think of such a job. A labor economist I spoke to gave the example of a university in North Dakota needing a professor to teach Farsi. That sounds just like the Indian chef example, and is just as silly. Are there any Farsi-language professors in the United States? If so, how about making one of them an attractive employment package to relocate to North Dakota? Or will they be unable to find a local Persian restaurant to serve them? Then, do we need to bring over a Persian chef, and more Persians so the professor won’t be lonely? Perhaps the North Dakota University just won’t be able to entice any qualified Farsi professor to move there. That suggests there may actually be very little demand for studying Farsi in North Dakota. And there are perfectly good reasons for that, given the ethnic mix of the state. The case for an immigrant worker makes no sense.

We are the only major country in the world to confer citizenship on everyone born here even if the parents are here illegally (“birthright citizenship”). At least that is the current interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, enacted after the Civil War to prevent the southern states from denying citizenship to freed slaves. Why this should apply to the children of illegal aliens is bizarre, and, in a sense, suicidal. A nation that encourages foreigners to enter its territory illegally can hardly be considered a sovereign nation.

In 1898 the Supreme Court decided that a Chinese son of legal aliens was an American citizen by birth. Does this decision apply to people in the country illegally? The Supreme Court has never faced the question. Surely, if there is to be immigration reform, we want to close this loophole. It draws thousands of illegal immigrants to the country, and has spawned the “birth tourism” industry. But the “reform” bill passed by the Senate last year did not address it at all. The congressional aide said his boss would not support any change. I asked why not. He said tinkering with the Fourteenth Amendment was a bad idea.

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which for the first time made it illegal to hire an illegal immigrant. But the law was to be carried out by employers. They, the beneficiaries of cheap immigrant labor, were supposed to inspect the documents tendered by job applicants and refuse to hire those whose documents looked fake. But the law also contained an “antidiscrimination” provision that made it illegal to refuse to hire on the basis of foreign appearance or accent. Many illegal immigrants look or sound foreign, just as we do when we’re abroad. That plus the natural inclination of employers to want to hire illegals gutted the law, which was not a surprise. A different provision of the same law established a new guest-worker program for agriculture.

All of this brings us back to where I started. Why do we have immigration? The single principle underlying every category in the very complex web of statutes and regulations comprising modern immigration law is that it’s good for employers. It might be nice to unite families. But that benefits only the immigrants themselves. It’s not a national policy. Cheap labor is, and every employer understands it well. They all support more immigration.

Howard W. Foster is a lawyer specializing in civil RICO cases involving the employment of illegal immigrants.

TopicsImmigrationDomestic Politics RegionsUnited StatesMexico