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An Internet Superpower: China Has 632 Million Internet Users

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The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) released its 2014 statistical report on Internet development in China, and here are some of the highlights:

-Numbers have risen across the board. By the end of June 2014, China has had 632 million Internet users, up 14.42 million from 2013. Internet penetration rate was 46.9 percent. China has had 527 million mobile Internet users, an increase of 26.99 million since last year. Students are the single largest population of users, accounting for 25 percent. The weekly average time spent online reached 25.9 hours (by contrast, the U.S. average was 20.4 hours a week in 2013).

-Mobile is the future in China. For the first time, the number of users accessing the web on a mobile device is greater than on a personal computer. Mobile Eats the World, a presentation by Benedict Evans of Andreesen Horowitz,  shows this as a global phenomenon. Reflecting this trend, payment applications were the fastest growing segment of the market in China.

-The rise of online financial instruments. The number of users of Internet financing or wealth management products grew to over 60 million in less than one year. These are funds like Yuebao that are only offered online, usually with no minimum deposit and transactions fees, providing access to small investors. Yuebao is part of the Alibaba empire. Users of Alipay, an online payment system, can invest into Yuebao, which provides better return than the 3 percent found at state-owned banks and is mobile-friendly. By the middle of 2014, Yuebao had $90 billion in assets.

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-Digital divide. There were 178 million rural Internet users, 28.2 percent of the total in China. Or put another way, approximately 450 million people in rural areas are not using the Internet. There is also a growing divide between available broadband speeds in urban and rural areas. Among those who do have fixed broadband access in China, only 18 percent in poorer central and western provinces enjoy speeds of 8 megabits per second or more,compared to 36 percent in the wealthier eastern provinces.

-The decline of Weibo and other social networking sites. The number of microblog users in China was 275 million, decreasing by 5.43 million compared with that at the end of 2013. Utilization rates stayed the same, as users switched to social applications and instant messaging tools like WeChat. This supports reporting that the crackdown on social media has bolstered the shift from more public to more private forms of communications.

The report, which also has some interesting details on online commerce, gaming, and videos, should be read in parallel with this great post by David Bandurski on the ideas of Lu Wei, China’s Internet czar. Much of the discussion focuses on the balance among control, development, and security the Chinese Communist Party tries to achieve domestically, but Bandurski also notes that China is becoming more assertive about its right to define international norms of behavior in cyberspace. A new platform for this will be the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, but the most likely source of  influence be size. Or as Bandurski explains, “China, in other words, wants the influence over global Internet-related decision making that its sheer size warrants.” The CNNIC report gives a sense of that size, and how the size, and perhaps influence, will increase over time.

This piece first appeared on CFR’s blog Net Politics here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

Topicsinternet RegionsChina

Xi-Obama Summit: Son of Sunnylands?

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U.S. president Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping will meet this week, in a state visit by the American president to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the eve of the APEC Summit. Counting side discussions at multilateral conferences, this will be the fourth meeting between the two presidents—a remarkable, and even laudable, track record of top leaders interacting with each other.

Opening lines of communications, having an opportunity to exchange views…these, in the main, are not bad things. The past various meetings have allowed both sides to reiterate points of concern. For the United States, this has meant emphasizing the importance of limiting nuclear proliferation (especially on the Korean peninsula and Iran), military-to-military relations and climate change. For the PRC, it has meant pushing for a “new model of great-power relations” in which the two sides express respect for each other’s “core interests.”

What is problematic is when neither side has much of an agenda. President Obama will be in Beijing for the annual meeting of APEC (Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation) leaders. Absent this standing commitment of all U.S. presidents, it’s not clear that President Obama has much reason to be in Beijing. As long as he’s there, however, the president is arguably obliged to have a bilateral meeting with Xi. (That it is a “state visit” is probably at the insistence of the Chinese).

Unfortunately, summits for the sake of summits are hardly a productive use of senior leaders’ (and their staffs’) time. Worse is if one side does have an agenda, and the other side either does not, or has a different one. On those occasions, the prospects for misunderstanding or unmet expectations are far greater.

The June 2013 Sunnylands summit was touted as a “shirt-sleeve summit”—a summit without talking points or a formal agenda. American officials hoped that Presidents Obama and Xi would “really get to know each other, while exchanging ideas about how best to manage a complex, sometimes combustible relationship.” Yet, rather than bring the two leaders together, the Chinese chose to stay at the Hyatt in town, rather than at the Annenberg estate (the site of the summit)—pointedly questioning the electronic security of the venue. As Edward Snowden had already made his way to Hong Kong, the Chinese decision made clear that they had no intention of engaging in “informal” discussions about things like cybersecurity. This contradicted the entire point of the summit, and was likely not an oversight on China’s part. Indeed, it may well have been part of Beijing’s messaging.

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This week’s summit is likely to be a study in contrasts.

For President Obama, now in the final two years of his final term, the question is what, if anything, can he deliver or promote. That question became even more difficult when the midterm elections gave Republicans control of the Senate.

While the Obama administration has highlighted its strategic “pivot to Asia,” few in Washington think the commitment—with the possible exception of engagement with Southeast Asia—is substantially greater than that of the previous administration. Secretary of State John Kerry has spent far more time in the Middle East trying to broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem than in East Asia. Neither Susan Rice, nor Samantha Power, longtime Obama confidantes, are seen as Asia hands, nor as especially focused on the region. With this as background, President Obama will again (like many Presidents before him) be pressed to declare and demonstrate American staying power.

President Xi, meanwhile, is coming out of the Fourth Plenum of the 18th Party Congress, which supported his continuing anti-corruption push by nominally promoting a greater emphasis on the role of the law in Chinese governance. Xi’s ongoing anti-corruption efforts have almost certainly aroused criticism (if not worse) within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but they have also heightened his populist appeal, and are difficult to criticize. (After all, who is for corruption?)

As important, this summit occurs against the backdrop of an overall Chinese strategic offensive across the region. The past year has seen the Chinese: declare an East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone; deploy a deep-sea oil drilling rig in disputed waters off Vietnam’s coast; deploy nuclear and conventional submarines to the Indian Ocean; increase their presence around the disputed Senkaku islands and send troops into disputed territory held by India. At the same time, China has pushed for the creation of an Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (which it would dominate) and is promoting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership plan.

Despite the widely touted “pivot,” the United States, by contrast, appears to be far less sure-footed. Sequestration has meant limits on U.S. deployments and training. The American invitation to China to join in the multinational RIMPAC exercises resulted in not only an official Chinese participating force, but an uninvited Chinese intelligence ship as well. American intelligence flights have been openly challenged, including dangerous approaches to both American ships and aircraft. Meanwhile, President Obama has not employed his “bully pulpit” to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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In this light, one might well hope that the result will be a “Son of Sunnylands,” a meeting about little other than the two sides continuing to get to know each other. But there is a far more dangerous possibility: that this will be a replay of the 1961 Vienna summit between John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. President Kennedy concluded that he had been “savaged” by Khrushchev, who apparently concluded that Kennedy was weak and vulnerable.

President Obama is not a newly elected president. But Xi almost certainly has a better understanding of American politics than Khrushchev did.

Dean Cheng is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

TopicsDiplomacyForeign Policy RegionsChinaUnited States

America and Its Allies in the South China Sea: Dangerously Overmatched, Outgunned, and Outranged by China

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Three books published this year contemplate Asia's most vexing problem. Taken together, they provide a thorough understanding of the contest in the South China Sea. Still, they leave the reader with one large puzzle.

Asia's Cauldron recounts, in Robert Kaplan's readable travelogue style, the fascinating political and economic trajectories of the nations surrounding the South China Sea. A strategic geographer, Kaplan explains why the South China Sea — which from China's perspective is its “Caribbean” but which a divided ASEAN attempts to keep “Mediterranean” — is so crucial. US$5.3 trillion of trade transits the area annually. Economics underpins Kaplan's insight: the divergent developmental performance of adjacent states has tilted the power balance, and this asymmetry has exacerbated the latent tension of the region.

“Latent” because the rich history of the South China Sea fates dispute. Both Kaplan, and Bill Hayton in The South China Sea describe the Malay and Indochinese civilizations that plied these waters before and after Christ's birth. Deng Xiaoping asserted in 1975 that the islands of the South China Sea “have belonged to China since ancient times,” but he mentioned only islands, and definitions of “belong,” “China” and “ancient” are disputable. The successive Chinese dynasties had vacillating interest in maritime trade. Soon after Zheng He's final epic voyage the Europeans turned up. By the 1600s, Grotius and Selden were arguing the legal basis for open versus closed seas, a debate that has reopened again over the islands, reefs and waters of the South China Sea.

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Ironically, it was the withdrawal of the European (and Japanese and American) colonists in the 20th century that catalyzed today's disputes.

Most consequential was China's submission of the U-shaped Nine Dash Line in 1947 (subsequently reaffirmed in 2009), an abstract, unprecedented claim of “historical waters.” An unseemly scramble for islands, rocks and reefs followed. China now dominates all the Paracels, wrested violently from Vietnam. As Hayton says, “China was a latecomer to the Spratlys party but each time it has occupied a feature, Beijing's negotiating position has become stronger. What practical benefits has it gained though? Only the negative effect of preventing others from making gains.” Hayton himself is doubtful of the oil and gas reserves inside China's claim. Even fish are at risk of being depleted by over-zealous trawler fleets. The South China Sea tussle is really about power, and the ability of China to deny those waters to others. Both Kaplan and Hayton observe that China's nationalism offers little scope for Beijing to retract its claims, in fact its “salami slicing” is upping the stakes. Could a military conflict ensue?

That is the central topic of Robert Haddock's Fire on the Water. His analysis is clear: the US and its allies are increasingly vulnerable, overmatched, outgunned, and outranged by China, which enjoys great material power and the advantage of proximity.

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His conclusion is that the US must adapt its weapons, doctrine and alliances accordingly. He weighs in on the ongoing American debate about “operational concepts” in the western Pacific. A Chinese conflict with Japan is one scenario; the South China Sea certainly is another. Hayton and Kaplan's readers must question the strategic resolve of the Philippines amid its conflicted, incoherent relations with both America and China. In contrast to steely Vietnam and savvier Malaysia, the Philippines' neglect for its own South China Sea interests is downright provocative. Significantly, it remains the only large country in the region not investing in submarines.

Here is the puzzle: why is Asia buying submarines? Smaller countries view subs as the asymmetric leveler, like Samuel Colt's six-shooter, which “made all men equal.” Even when deployed defensively, subs are offensive weapons in nature, unsuited for, say, fisheries patrol, anti-piracy and disaster relief. No, their purpose is to sink ships (especially merchants), intimidate and thereby achieve sea denial. I'm not a naval expert but a businessperson can guess what every prudent shipping line would do before a South China Sea conflict: clear out. It might not be “fire on the water” as Haddock fears, but the eerie opposite: John Keegan's “empty ocean.”

This would be disastrous for East Asia, which is almost entirely dependent on maritime trade. If one day China does really enforce outright sovereignty over the Nine Dash Line (even permitting innocent passage to continue), this will be taken as a direct challenge to the US and the established rules of the open sea. Japan would feel most threatened. Shipping would be diverted away from the Malacca chokepoint to the straits opposite northern Australia (where, as it happens, US Marines recently established a presence). Hayton draws a barely consoling conclusion: China doesn't want a shooting war in the South China Sea, but it gains everything just short of one. Even that could come at a fearful cost. China's “price of admiralty” might be the loss of trillions of dollars in global trade.

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

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSouth China Sea RegionsChina

The Master Plan: Could This Be China's Overseas Basing Strategy?

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“Will China's growing global economic interests lead it to expand its overseas military presence and capabilities?” This is a question that has been asked by policymakers, academics and strategists since China's economic growth became dependent on its ability to access energy through maritime sea-lanes and overseas markets.

The common argument is that, as China continues to invest in developing markets and resource exporters such as South Sudan, and becomes more reliant on foreign oil and energy, primarily from producers in the Middle East, it will gradually seek to protect those interests with military forces. This would follow the pattern of other great powers throughout history, which have tended to extend a security presence to where their economic interests lie. The often heard “String of Pearls” theory which emerged out of a Booz Allen Hamilton report in 2004 follows this logic when it predicts that China, seeking to secure the flow of energy through the Indian Ocean, will use its “commercial and security relationships to establish a string of military facilities in South Asia.”

But some are asking if China is different.

A recent report from the Institute for National Strategic Studies, "Not an Idea We Have to Shun": Chinese Overseas Basing Requirements in the 21st Centuryargues that, based on an understanding of China's “long-standing” foreign policy principles and goals, there is little evidence that it will pursue a “String of Pearls” strategy.

Far more likely is that Beijing will implement a “Dual Use Logistic Facility” strategy, in which overseas bases will provide “medical facilities, refrigerated storage space for fresh vegetables and fruit, rest and recreation sites, a communications station, and ship repair facilities.” This would entail a far leaner and less overt military and security presence than the “String of Pearls” theory or most other predictions about the future of PLA Navy overseas basing. The report states that:

Given China’s self-image as a champion of the developing world and a positive alternative to other global powers, it is highly unlikely to pursue models that involve large overseas military bases or extensive networks of facilities on the sovereign territory of other states. Beyond the rationale that China is unlikely to violate foreign policy principles that it has established as a foundation for its foreign and defense policy behavior, there is an even stronger reason that China will not establish these kinds of overseas bases. They would threaten China’s image as a peaceful rising power and could imperil China’s future economic growth, if the international community interprets such bases as evidence of malign Chinese long-term intentions.

It also seems that the PLA Navy is learning from the US Navy, which is well versed in overseas logistics, resupply and basing. Take this anecdote about how the PLAN has resupplied its anti-piracy task force operating in the Gulf of Aden these last six years:

PLAN ships visited Aden 10 times, making it one of the most frequently visited ports. However, only one type of PLAN ship has visited Aden: comprehensive supply ships. The supply ships replenish their food, water and diesel fuel and then provide replenishment-at-sea services to other ships in the PLAN Gulf of Aden Task Force. This operational pattern closely mirrors U.S. Navy operational patterns in the Persian Gulf, suggesting that the PLAN studied and applied U.S. naval concepts of operation. That the port of Aden also happens to have been the port in which the USS Cole was attacked by al Qaeda in 2000 is probably not lost on PLA Navy planners. Thus, the operational pattern of sending a single replenishment ship to Aden and having it replenish other ships not only mimics the U.S. pattern of behavior but is also a prudent force protection measure.

On the often-heard “String of Pearls” theory, the report makes a strong case that it is simply not taking place: 

First, there is no evidence that the Chinese are currently conducting military activities at any of the String of Pearls sites. To date, PLAN Gulf of Aden task forces have not used or visited a single String of Pearls site. Second, transactions between the PLAN and host countries providing support for PLAN Gulf of Aden operations have been commercial in nature. These ports have only provided “hotel services,” replenished supplies, and served as liberty sites for visiting PLAN ships. Finally, the number of PLA forces and units involved in out of area activities has been very limited. None of this evidence supports assertions that the Chinese intend to deploy enough forces in the Indian Ocean to dominate the region or engage in major combat operations with any of its neighbors.

While this report is certainly good news for those that fear an Indian Ocean confrontation between an “encircled” India and China, tensions are still high and were most recently symbolized by the furor created from a pit-stop by a PLA Navy nuclear submarine in Colombo.

We must also remember, other great powers were once “different” too.

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

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The New GOP Congress: Can the Hill Finally Pass the 2015 Defense Budget?

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The results of the 2014 midterm elections are in: Republicans had a fantastic night. The GOP has further solidified its control of the House of Representatives with roughly 245 seats (the biggest Republican majority since the Truman administration) and regained control of the Senate with at least seven new seats—the first time since 2006. In the long run, this shift is likely to test the significant differences in foreign policy outlook that have opened between leading Republicans (and potential 2016 presidential candidates). In the medium term, Senator John McCain (R-AZ)’s long-sought chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee will likely lead to more direct confrontations between Congress and the White House regarding current defense policy, war powers, and ISIS strategy. Most immediately, however, the conclusion of the midterm elections raises another pressing question: can Congress pass the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the end of this year? And if so, what might the final bill look like?

Among the many defense budgetary debates now taking place within the halls of Congress, here are five issues that deserve special attention:

1. The danger of sequestration is looming larger—and it’s set to come crashing down in FY16.

It has become clear that even if Congress does succeed in passing an FY15 defense budget, the hard challenges of 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) will still have been put off another year. Although a 2013 budget deal increased the FY15 defense budget authorization to $521 billion from $496 billion—a number that the House and Senate defense authorizations currently meet—this cushion will be gone in FY16, with the ceiling reduced to roughly $500 billion. Pentagon planners are budgeting as if this limit will be raised, and they have already delayed at least $20 billion in desperately needed maintenance. 2015 is destined to be a very rocky year in the ongoing defense budget debate.

2. The Overseas Contingency Fund (OCO) and transformation toward budgetary “emergency valve.”

The House has authorized $79.4 billion in OCO spending; the Senate has authorized $59 billion. With the rising cost of the fight against ISIS, the continuing operational presence in Afghanistan, and a variety of brewing crises abroad, the final bill will likely trend toward the higher figure. As Katherine Blakeley of the Center for American Progress convincingly argues, however, a high OCO will exacerbate the Pentagon’s use of this money as an “emergency fund” only loosely tied to the actual cost of operations. OCO is meant to be used for expendables not modernization (as the Air Force was reminded when it attempted to fund the F-35 with it!). Using the OCO for non-operational things is a difficult line to draw, given wear and tear on equipment and the enduring nature of military operations over the last two decades. Regardless of the intent, OCO is unpredictable and year to year, so it is no way to fund new equipment and modernization.

3. The A-10 Warthog: probably safe for another year.

The Air Force’s plan to retire the A-10 Warthog has been under fierce scrutiny since the day it was announced, despite estimated savings of $4.2 billion. Although Congressional approval of the divestment was always in doubt, the air campaign against ISIS is now demanding exactly the sort of close air support that the A-10 provides. This shift, coupled with Republican control of the Senate Armed Services committee—where Senators McCain and Kelly Ayote (R-NH) have been some of the most prominent defenders of the A-10—may essentially push the issue off the table.

4. Pressing “skip” on tough choices regarding military compensation and base realignment and closure (BRAC).

Although Congress is set to approve some small steps toward compensation reform like a slow in the rise of the basic allowance for housing (BAH), more comprehensive measures proposed by the Department of Defense have been shot down. Both the House and Senate have approved a 1.8 percent rise in pay, as opposed to the 1 percent urged by defense planners. Most TRICARE adjustments, ranging from adding enrollment fees to a modest increase in premiums, have been discarded. A tentatively proposed 2015 BRAC round proved an immediate nonstarter, and there is virtually zero chance of more happening on a BRAC until after the 2016 presidential election. Despite significant defense personnel reductions, the last BRAC round took place in 2005.

5. A new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)?

Interestingly, there may be growing Congressional momentum to issue a new—and more narrowly defined—AUMF to provide legal justification for operations against ISIS. Although Congress largely avoided the ISIS debate with consideration to potential political backlash (and the White House was comfortable operating under the 2001 AUMF originally directed toward Al Qaeda in Afghanistan), with the elections over, this may well become a big point of debate in the final weeks of the 113th Congress.

Under a short-term Continuing Resolution approved September 17, Congress has only until December 11 to determine the FY15 defense budget—the Senate version alone of which has received 239 amendments. The next month will prove vitally important. Our armed forces deserve some level of financial certainty as they look to the difficult year ahead. It is Congress’ job to make that happen.

Emerson Brooking contributed to this post.

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

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsDefense RegionsUnited States

The Midterm Results: "The political momentum in Washington clearly is with a resurgent Republican Party."

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Power is supposed to be diffuse in American politics.  Especially at the federal level, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution were keen to avoid the monopolization of authority by any one party (or “faction”).  By designing a system that would tend towards power being apportioned between political actors rather than concentrated in one set of hands, the architects of the American government sought to entrench republicanism and limited government.

Yet the relentless diffusion of power is not without its problems.  Without a single locus of authority in the federal government, questions of accountability can arise.  In the words of Woodrow Wilson, who as a scholar found much to dislike with the operation of American government, “How is the schoolmaster, the nation, to know which boy needs the whipping?”  In other words, which parties or politicians should incur the public’s wrath when the federal government is failing?  Are national elections referenda on president’s party (or the majority party in Congress) or are they better seen as constellations of local contests, each with their own sets of issues, candidates, and meaning?

Last night, the Democrats lost control of the Senate in dramatic fashion, the American people handing majorities in both chambers of Congress to the Republican Party.  Both parties will attempt to frame the results to suit their own political ends.  Having portrayed the elections as a referendum on President Obama, the new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell already has called the result a denunciation of “a government that people can no longer trust.”  The Democrats have been whipped; the Republicans have been favored.

During the election campaign, however, observers agreed that there was no unifying theme to bind together the disparate electoral contests taking place from coast to coast.  This was a Seinfeld election, they said; an election “about nothing.”  From this perspective, the Republican Party would be overstating the case to claim a mandate to govern.  While the Democrats probably will not push the point too far, it is nevertheless likely that the White House will minimize the wider significance of the GOP’s triumphs.  President Obama’s own mandate to govern is still current, they will insist.

Whatever the correct way to interpret the results—whether the nation was consciously admonishing the president’s party or simply venting frustration at politicians in general—the political momentum in Washington clearly is with a resurgent Republican Party.  The GOP has chalked up its largest majority in the House of Representatives since World War II; it has taken Senate seats from the Democrats in states such as Colorado, which twice voted for President Obama; and Republicans now occupy the governor’s mansion in supposedly blue states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Obama’s own Illinois.  These are considerable gains.

But can these gains be sustained going forward?  Newt Gingrich perhaps put it best last night while providing commentary on CNN when he credited the elections with demonstrating that “campaigns matter, candidates matter, and—by the way—your vote matters.”  This was far from a vapid observation: yesterday’s elections proved that the modern Republican Party can win across the nation—including in some very unexpected locales—if it is equipped with the right messages and blessed with the right candidates and (Newt omitted to mention) the right timing.  These are important—and highly restrictive—qualifications, to be sure, but at least last night’s results should put paid to the commonplace notion that the Republican Party is in terminal decline, an embattled party with a shrinking membership, increasingly unable to garner votes from outside of its heartlands.

This is not to say that the Republicans will learn from the experience and elect to refine and update their message in future elections: anti-Obama campaigning can only unite an electoral coalition for so long and the GOP has struggled in recent years to rally behind a positive program for government.  Nor does it say anything about the quality of candidates that will emerge: a toxic Tea Partier would condemn the party to oblivion in 2016; the challenge for the party is to carve out a space for moderate politicians to adopt a leading role on the national stage.

Meanwhile, Democratic strategists should be worried.  What happened to their much vaunted “ground game” in states like Colorado and Illinois?  Why can’t the party poll well without President Obama on the ballot?  Is this simply a case of the familiar six-year itch or do these torrid election results point to some fundamental inadequacies with the Democratic coalition?  Are the Democrats about to be cast into the wilderness?  The party’s would-be nominees for 2016 have two years to put together their responses.

Until then, Americans will expect their leaders to work with the messy, overlapping electoral mandates that have been handed to them.  Important matters of domestic policy and foreign affairs hinge upon the White House and the Congress, Democrats and Republicans, being able to pool authority and govern in an effective manner.  The Framers intended that it would be this way; the American people have duly played their part.  All eyes are now on Washington.  Few, however, are holding their breath.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsUnited States

Think ISIS Militants Are Scary? Wait Until Their Kids Grow Up.

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The Islamic State takes pride in training children to become jihadists, suicide bombers and beheaders. While morally despicable, this is not a discussion about the ethics of training children to be soldiers. As a country already invested in a fight against the Islamic State, however, there are some very real concerns about these children that should be addressed when using airstrikes—and potentially ground troops in the future—to “degrade and ultimately destroy [ISIS].”

Obviously, the United States should be concerned about the safety of these children—many of whom have been orphaned in either Iraq or Syria, due to both internal conflicts and, ironically, the merciless acts of the “Caliphate” to which they pledge allegiance. But as the eerie five-part series on Vice News about the Islamic State documents, these children may grow up to be the new faces of ISIS.

In the second segment of the series, several children are interviewed either by the Vice reporter or an Islamic State fighter. A father who emigrated with his son from Belgium to the Islamic State in Raqqa asks his son why he wants to kill all the infidels (namely, in Europe). His son replies, “Because they kill Muslims.” Now, place yourself in the mind of this child. Your father drills into you that all non-Muslims are infidels who want to kill Muslims. He does not explain to you that the “infidels” are only aiming to kill bad Muslims like himself. He leaves that information out. So you grow up thinking that America is sending airstrikes to Raqqa, your new home, to kill all Muslims, when really America’s goal is to kill the Islamic State. Now, even if America could somehow convince this child and his peers that it only wants to eliminate the Islamic State—which, it does, and has publicly announced it will do—they have been taught to love the Islamic State and everything it represents.

In essence, these children, if continued to be brought up learning the ways of ISIS, will ultimately pose a much greater threat to Baghdad, Damascus and the Western world than their fathers and mentors did. Many adults in the Islamic State learned to speak the language of violent jihadism as just that—adults. Take the moldable, impressionable young mind of a child and teach him the language of violent jihadism at age seven, and he will speak it more fluently than his predecessors.

How, then, can these children be pulled out of the brainwashed state of mind in which IS militants have placed them? How can we reverse the teachings of ISIS? The simple answer: we probably can’t. However, there may be a way to discredit the teachings.

The Islamic State preaches that it carries out Allah’s will by purging the world of (mostly Western) infidels who wish only to kill Muslims and by spreading the Caliphate. It preaches that Sharia can be implemented only with weapons (which conveniently supports ISIS’ love of violence). Well, unfortunately, by implementing airstrikes, we are confirming—in the minds of those children—that what their leaders tell them about Western “infidels” is true.

So why doesn’t the Western world just cease with its counterinsurgency strikes on the Islamic State? Aside from the fact that it would force the Arab states and other regional actors whose security is more threatened by ISIS than ours is to lead the fight against the Islamic State, if we don’t kill any Muslims, then the preachings of ISIS to these children will be rendered falsehoods. Some psychologists assert that when parents or parental figures lie to children, they lose faith in those figures and are less likely to trust them, causing confusion and doubt within themselves and about those around them. If these children became disenchanted with their mentors, because they believe they are being lied to, there would likely be less of a chance that they would grow up to be ruthless, bloodthirsty jihadis blindly following, and ultimately leading, the Islamic State.

The children of ISIS are told that infidels are killing Muslims, and sure enough, they see America killing Islamic State militants. However, if the foundation of what they have been taught is flipped upside down, and they do not see Americans killing Islamic State militants, they may start to question the validity of the Islamic State’s leaders and their claims. Since many in the West have already asserted that airstrikes against ISIS are not working, and since the only other effective addition to the anti-ISIS campaign—sending ground troops—is an unpopular option, there does not seem to be much of an argument for continuing to attempt to eliminate the Islamic State—especially if by doing so, we are only showing those young, budding jihadis that their leaders are right and that their jihad is justified.

Rebecca M. Miller is an Assistant Editor at The National Interest. She tweets at @RebecMil.

TopicsISISCounterinsurgencySecurity RegionsIraqSyriaUnited States

10 Cold War Memoirs Worth Reading

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Yesterday, I posted a list of great histories of the Cold War. Those books provide an excellent analysis of the U.S.-Soviet superpower rivalry. Their great strength is their detachment—they are academic efforts to make sense of the decisions governments made. But you can also gain deep insight into the Cold War by reading the memoirs of the people who made those decisions. Below are my ten favorite Cold War memoirs—firsthand accounts of the events that shaped the second half of the twentieth century.

Here are seven memoirs by American policymakers:

-Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department(1969). Acheson’s ten years at the State Department are hard to top. As assistant secretary of state for economic affairs (1941-1944), undersecretary of state (1945-1947), and finally as secretary of state (1949-1953), he served during some of the most critical years in American history. Here are just three of the major events he helped shape: the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, and the North Atlantic Treaty. If you want to understand how the Truman administration saw the emerging Cold War, Present at the Creation is a must read.

-James A. Baker III, The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War & Peace, 1989-1992 (1995). The Cold War began. It also ended. And one of the reasons it ended peacefully—and many observers at the time worried that it wouldn’t—was Baker’s adroit diplomacy. He certainly brought well-tested negotiating and crisis-management skills to the task. After a successful law career, he served first as White House chief of staff and then as treasury secretary under Ronald Reagan. Baker’s memoir covers the final days of the Cold War and tells of how he and his colleagues struggled to make sense of the fact that the world they had known their entire adult lives no longer existed.

-George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (1998). I have left presidential memoirs off this list because they typically devote more space to domestic policy than to foreign policy. The elder Bush’s memoir is the exception. Written with Brent Scowcroft, his national security advisor, it makes clear that the peaceful demise of the Soviet Union was not inevitable. Leaders on both sides of the Iron Curtain worried about the new world they were entering, and on more than one occasion their initial instincts look terrible in retrospect. American voters may not have rewarded the elder Bush for his foreign policy successes, but historians are likely to be far kinder.

-Robert Gates, From the Shadows: The Ultimate Insider’s Story of Five Presidents and How They Won the Cold War (1996). Gates joined the CIA as an analyst in 1966 after being recruited while getting his master’s degree at Indiana University. He stayed with the CIA for much of the next quarter century, eventually becoming its director in 1991. That career trajectory enabled him to give a first-hand account of how five presidents, from Richard Nixon through George H.W. Bush, managed the Cold War. Gates explores how different personalities worked together to make important policy decisions. (Gates returned to the memoir genre in 2014 with Duty, his reflections on his time as secretary of defense from 2006 to 2011.)

-George Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950 (1967) and Memoirs 1950-1963 (1972). If one person deserves credit for formulating the strategy that the United States pursued during the Cold War, it’s Kennan. First in the Long Telegram and then in the “X article,” he made the case for containment of the Soviet Union. Kennan left the Foreign Service in 1950, disillusioned that the Truman administration had given containment a more militaristic bent than he had intended. Other than a brief stint as U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1952, he spent most of the next fifty-five years at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton writing elegantly though critically about U.S. foreign policy. His first memoir covers his early years as a Foreign Service officer and the beginning of the Cold War. His second memoir recounts his time as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and conveys his reflections on U.S. Cold War policy in the 1950s and early 1960s.

-Henry Kissinger, White House Years, Years of Upheaval, and Years of Renewal (1979). As national security advisor for Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford and then as secretary of state under Ford, Kissinger dominated the U.S. foreign-policy process in a way that no one outside of a president has done before or since. He was a central figure in shaping U.S. policy in Vietnam, détente with the Soviet Union, and the opening to China to name just a few of the monumental policy initiatives he helped fashion and implement. In his three-volume memoir, Kissinger reflects on the decisions that the Nixon and Ford administrations made as well as on his relationships with both presidents.

-George P. Shultz, Turmoil and Triumph: My Years as Secretary of State (1993). Few people can match Shultz’s career. He taught economics at MIT and the University of Chicago for nearly two decades, served as secretary of labor (1969–70), director of the Office of Management and Budget (1970–72), secretary of the treasury (1972–1974), and then headed up the Bechtel Corporation. He capped off his government career as Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state from 1982 to 1989. From his seventh floor office at the State Department, he engaged in legendary bureaucratic infighting with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and helped shaped U.S. foreign policy in the final years of the Cold War. In his memoir, Shultz takes readers behind the scenes of the Reagan administration and offers his assessment of Reagan the man.

Of course, the Soviets had their own views of the Cold War. Here are three memoirs by senior Soviet officials worth reading:

-Anatoly Dobrynin, In Confidence: Moscow’s Ambassador to Six Cold War Presidents (1995). Dobrynin served as the Soviet Union’s ambassador to the United States from 1962 until 1986. He witnessed a lot of ups and down during his quarter of a century in Washington: Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko lying to President John Kennedy in the Oval Office about Soviet missiles in Cuba, the rise of détente, and the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to name just a few. His memoir provides a different perspective on how American politicians and policymakers handled the Cold War.

-Mikhail Gorbachev, Memoirs (1996). In the West, Gorbachev is a hero for recognizing the inevitable and allowing the Soviet Union to collapse. For many of his fellow Russians he is a villain for the same reason. In his memoir, Gorbachev explores why and how he revolutionized his country, transformed relations with the West, and helped end the Cold War. His account hasn’t done much to change how Russians feel about him, but it does make clear that at critical points in history, individuals matter.

-Nikita Khrushchev, Memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev, Volume III: Statesman(2007). Khrushchev was one of the Cold War’s most blustery personalities. He vowed to “bury the West,” challenged then–Vice President Richard Nixon in a kitchen debate, and banged his shoe on a desktop at the United Nations. Those theatrics, plus his reckless instigation of the Cuban missile crisis and his mishandling of relations with China, help explain why his Politburo colleagues dumped him as Soviet premier in 1964. While under house arrest following his ouster, he dictated his memoirs—and he had a lot to say. Khrushchev’s memoirs were originally published as Khrushchev Remembers in the 1970s. (Strobe Talbott, who later became deputy secretary of state and president of the Brookings Institution, was the translator.) But Khrushchev’s son had a new and more complete version published.

My suggestions hardly exhaust the supply of good Cold War memoirs. So please list your favorites in the comments below.

This piece first appeared in the CFR blog The Water's Edge. 

TopicsCold War RegionsUnited States

China's Slick Master Plan: A Bullet-Train Dynasty

The Buzz

It is often observed in China that, the worse the economy, the more active the nation's railway building becomes.

A flurry of new high-speed rail (HSR) announcements, domestic and international, might suggest that policymakers are worried. Indicators like electricity, freight, steel and wholesale price deflation all invite state-directed fiscal stimulus. Building railways is a popular and prestigious tool to buoy the industrial sector. Since 2008, especially, HSR projects have become Beijing's stimulant of choice. They have also become a geopolitical tool.

Are they sensible, grandiose, or merely an expedient way to keep growth going?

All of the above. China does “need” more railways, by any international comparison of GDP, land area and population. Its urbanization program demands mass rapid mobility. But urban planners question the merits of HSR. Bullet trains benefit very large metros but commutes can create empty bedroom communities in outlying cities. Last month, Japan proudly celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Shinkansen rail line, though many lament the “funnel effect” that has emptied Japan's countryside into a few urban corridors.

The financial returns are uncertain. Only a handful of HSR routes are profitable. China Railway Corporation is laden with debt and its European counterparts look little different. In Japan, only the Tokodai line makes good money. Taiwan's HSR is, again, close to bankruptcy. Britain and California wring their hands about HSR's viability (China is interested in both proposals). But social returns can differ from financial returns, and Beijing is counting on HSR's economic boost to urbanization. So China steams ahead with an awesome program to link its cities by 2020. In the end, China's HSRs may cover 40,000 km, more than half the world total.

China's international ambitions in rail are even more remarkable. Its rail firms are active from Mexico to Serbia to Zimbabwe. The real jewel, however, is the immense spider web of HSR lines it plans from China to the edges of Eurasia and beyond: Moscow, Istanbul, Singapore, and Alaska.

The recent deal signed with Russia is an eye-popper. A future Beijing-Moscow line, 7000km in length, might eventually cost a cool quarter-trillion dollars, mainly Chinese funded. Analysts foresee 700 trains (1000 passengers each) running simultaneously. There are currently only 26 direct flights each way weekly, suggesting a dramatic tightening in the linkages between these superpowers. The 45-hour traveling time is daunting; a flight takes eight. Over such distances, the physics of lightweight aluminum tubes traveling at altitude easily trump the steel-on-concrete juggernauts on land. Hence the Moscow express, like the dubious Nicaragua canal, seems more like a political statement directed at the West.

These projects do extend influence and advertise technological prowess. Five decades after Japan amazed the world, China wants to become synonymous with HSR, “like watches are to Switzerland.” Even its soft-power apparatus presents itself as “spiritual HSR.” The New Silk Road network will reduce China's oceanic exposure while binding its neighbors. And they are willing partners. This is a “win-win”, although China probably wins biggest.

The asymmetry between its influence vis-a-vis its far weaker counterparts is what stokes anxiety about governance in its new multilateral development banks. As one Chinese scholar puts it, “good old-fashioned aid, with China doing everything by itself, meaning Chinese money, Chinese companies, Chinese construction materials and even Chinese workers, frankly is an invitation to malpractice and corruption.” Whether it is through new multilateral institutions (the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank specifically targets Silk Road HSRs) or bilaterally, Beijing will build railways regardless. China is overflowing with resources. It doesn't yet have Boeings or Toyotas to sell, but it has HSRs and will build them anywhere on its own dime. In a strange contrast to its anti-monopoly campaign against foreign firms, Beijing may merge its two state-owned locomotive makers into a hyper-competitive export champion.

HSR customers are governments, and Beijing likes that. The risk for its partners is that Chinese trains may vault—literally and developmentally— over them and leave them de-industrialized, a scenario already evident in Southeast Asia. In the last two years, China's own development banks extended almost US$700 billion of export financing, more than America has in its 80-year history. And if Beijing pushes these loans as a vehicle for Yuan internalization, it may create additional risks for borrowers.

Those who see the Waldorf Astoria purchase as “economic power shifting East” are missing the bigger point. China has long been accumulating claims; it is merely getting more sophisticated at diversifying them. Domestically, China invests roughly US$4.5 trillion annually (24% of the world total), but it saves an even more stupendous US$5 trillion (26%); the surplus capital logically must be exported.* Rather than accepting US Treasury’s in return, Beijing now wants real foreign assets which it can build and control.

*Global savings must balance with global investment. The 2% spread reflects China's net creditor position.

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

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsChina

A Republican-Controlled Congress Will Give Obama Foreign Policy Headaches

The Buzz

Much comment over the past several weeks has focused upon what a Republican victory on Election Day would mean for President Obama’s domestic policies, including the immigration reform package that the White House has been trying to push through unsuccessfully (not that the package fared well with Democrats in the majority either).  Will the congressional Republicans block what the administration is trying to accomplish?  Will a Republican-controlled Congress send over bills that are designed to force the president to use his veto?  And how will Democrats behave in the minority, after being the ones who called the shots in the Senate for the past eight years?”

Yet there is an equally important set of questions that need to be examined just as closely.  How will a Republican victory on November 4 affect the Obama administration’s foreign policy initiatives—some of the very same initiatives that, if successful, could stop the bleeding from the administration’s terrible poll numbers and form some sort of positive legacy for Obama and his team?

Whether the subject concerns the nuclear negotiations with Iran or the current military campaign against the Islamic State, it is very likely that a Republican Party newly dominated in the House and Senate will use committee chairmanships and majority status to set terms and change the confines of the debate.  Here are a few policy areas that could potentially complicate the administration’s efforts:

1. The Iranian nuke talks:

If there is one foreign policy position that unites a sometimes fractious Republican Party, it’s the common belief that the Iranians are mischievous troublemakers in the region and are not to be trusted.  Nowhere is this more present than the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with the Iranians, which are less than four weeks away from either ending in historical success or disappointing failure.

To say that Republican lawmakers are skeptical of the Obama administration’s negotiating strategy with Iran is a vast understatement.  The majority of Republicans in both houses of Congress are wholly opposed to any uranium enrichment capability and production capacity for the Iranians, underscored by the barrage of criticism that the White House received after the conclusion of the interim Joint Plan of Action agreement in November 2013.  That agreement permitted Tehran to keep its existing centrifuges running and allowed the Iranians to produce a limited amount of enriched uranium.  

The deal was constructed as a holding pattern, a mechanism for the United States and its P5+1 partners to freeze the Iranian nuclear program at the current level in order to provide the political space needed for longer and more comprehensive negotiations in the future.  Republicans, like Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker, were not amused by the administration’s efforts: “it looks like we’ve tacitly agreed that they [Iran] will be enriching for commercial purposes down the road,” Corker said on Fox News Sunday a day after the JPOA was inked.  “I think it’s now time for Congress to weigh in because I think people are very concerned that the interim deal becomes the norm.”

We should all expect this type of language to not only continue but to escalate and develop into concrete legislative proposals in a Republican majority Congress.  Senators Corker, John McCain, and Marco Rubio have already filed legislation that would compel President Obama to submit any nuclear deal with the Iranians to Congress for a full up-or-down vote.  Up until today, the White House has been able to count on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to kill any Iran-related bill that would cause the administration headaches.  A Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (if he wins a tough re-election fight) will play no such role.

2. ISIL in Iraq/Syria:

There was impressive support from Republicans when President Obama ordered U.S. airstrikes against ISIL positions in Iraq and in Syria in early August.  Senator Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, expressed hope that U.S. airstrikes would result in a significant degrading of ISIL’s military capability.  Minority Leader McConnell applauded Obama’s decision to keep the Congress informed during the campaign, and even Minority Whip John Cornyn stated in a press release that he supported the president’s decisions (he would later call on Obama to submit an authorization for the use of military force to the Congress).

With the air campaign over two months old, however, bipartisanship has given way to concern that the administration’s “no boots on the ground” strategy for degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL is both too limited and too self-restricting.  Republicans are increasing their calls for a U.S. ground component, including the deployment of U.S. Special Operations troops, to improve the Iraqi army’s chances at driving out ISIL militants and ensuring that territory cleared is held by Iraqi soldiers over the long term.  The most outspoken proponent of a more aggressive U.S. ground presence, John McCain, will be the next Chairman of the Armed Services Committee if the Republicans are able to take the Senate.  It will be a lot harder for the White House to ignore these demands from the chairman of a powerful national security committee than from a senator in the minority.

3. Congressional Oversight:

Outside of the ‘power of the purse,’ one of the most important powers that any U.S. Congress has is the duty to monitor the executive closely and determine that the president and his top advisers are implementing policy appropriately.  Holding hearings and calling on senior administration officials to testify is the most effective and public way to do this.  While congressional hearings are often combative and tense due to the issues involved and the constant tension between the executive and legislative branches, the inauguration of a Republican-controlled Congress in January 2015 will guarantee that these exchanges will be more heated than when the president’s own party controlled the agenda.

Senator Bob Corker, John McCain, and Richard Burr are the exact opposite of what the Obama administration would refer to as Capitol Hill allies.  Unfortunately, these three people are also expected to rise to the chairmanships of their respective committees (Foreign Relations, Armed Services, Intelligence) in a Republican Senate.  With these three men in charge of such powerful committees, officials from the State Department, Pentagon, and Intelligence Community will be repeatedly grilled in a public forum (Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lucks out, given the nature of his work) and forced to defend policies that are either unpopular or ineffective.

Hearings rarely result in changes of White House policy, unless a scandal is so embarrassing that the administration has to introduce reforms to save itself from being lambasted (see the Veterans Affairs’ healthcare system, the IRS, and Ebola).  But sharp questions in full public view of the television cameras is a power in and of itself, oftentimes resulting in critical coverage on cable news.

4. Guantanamo:

Any hope that President Obama had in closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility—a central promise of his first presidential campaign in 2008—will be extinguished if Republicans retake the Senate.  The restrictions that Congress has put into place, which bars the administration from using any money appropriated to the Pentagon for transferring Gitmo detainees to the United States for imprisonment or trial, ties the president’s hands on the issue and has kept the infamous prison open.  Although congressional Democrats are also wary of closing the Gitmo facility and allowing dangerous detainees to come to the United States for incarceration, it’s Republicans who have been the most passionate about obstructing the administration’s efforts at closure.  

If a Senate led by a reliable administration ally like Democrat Harry Reid has not been able to amend the law by lifting the restrictions, then it’s a fool’s errand to expect a Mitch McConnell-led Senate to be any more innovative.  Despite President Obama’s desire to shutter the doors of Gitmo for good and meet a campaign promise that he clearly wished would have occurred during his first term, a Republican Congress will make the president’s job even more difficult, if not impossible—assuring that Gitmo will continue to operate even after Obama leaves office.    

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsUnited States