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12 People to Follow on Twitter for the Iran Talks

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It’s fish-or-cut-bait time in the Iran nuclear talks, with the deadline for an agreement now less than two weeks away. Events are moving quickly. How can you prepare for the flurry of coverage as the deadline draws closer? And who should you listen to, knowing that every pundit with a pulse will soon be playing Iran expert? Here are some of the key voices to watch on Twitter—journalists, wonks, wags, and others—who actually know what they're talking about.

Laura Rozen

A veteran of Iran talks coverage who’s written for many outlets (presently, Al Monitor), Rozen’s feed is a clearinghouse for the most recent information on the talks.

Arash Karami

Another Al Monitor journalist, Karami keeps a close watch on the Persian-language press and has a great eye for the oddities that sometimes turn up in it.

Ariane Tabatabai

An associate at Harvard’s prestigious Belfer Center, Tabatabai has an excellent grasp of both the technical side of the talks and their day-to-day development. Her October analysis of just how many centrifuges Iran and the West will accept is a good example of how useful this combined perspective can be.

The Institute for Science and International Security

Headed by physicist David Albright, ISIS is a tiny outfit with a big voice in Washington. Its assessments of International Atomic Energy Agency reports cut through the bureaucratese, highlighting what’s new and charting Iran’s progress. Their consistent calls for stricter monitoring make it hard to say whether Tehran should be more worried about Albright’s ISIS, or Al Baghdadi’s.

Sam Cutler

Any deal will see major adjustments to the Western sanctions on Iran. And there are few who know the sanctions in more detail than Cutler, who works at a law firm that specializes in sanctions litigation.

Mark Dubowitz

What ISIS is to the technical side of the talks, Dubowitz is to the sanctions side, appearing regularly on Capitol Hill and in the press. Dubowitz has been a tough critic of the Obama administration’s conduct of the talks, arguing that the sanctions relief granted under the initial framework agreement sharply reduced Western leverage, allowing Iran to stabilize its economy and take its time in talks.

Reza Marashi

Marashi serves as the research director of the National Iranian American Council, one of the main organizations opposing the current sanctions regime. He’s already practicing a “celebration dance” for the possible deal.

Mohammad Ali Shabani

The London-based former editor of the Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs and an alum of the Center for Strategic Research (headed until last year by a Dr. Hassan Rouhani), Shabani is one of the most active Iranian voices in the English-language Twitter conversation on Iran.

Abas Aslani

Aslani directs international coverage at the hardline Tasnim News Agency and has served in a similar role at the more (in)famous Fars News Agency. Expect him to be at the final rounds of talks, and expect him to get good access to the Iranian negotiating team.

Iran Nuclear Energy

The social media account of a website defending the Iranian nuclear program. A steady stream of quotes from Iranian officials and details of the logistics of the talks.

Matt Lee

The tenacious Associated Press diplomatic reporter is often the first one to get a quote from the State Department when news is breaking. He’ll also fill you in on the latest Buffalo Sabres developments.

Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi

A scholar of Iran’s Reformist movement whose feed is a good mix of pressing developments and deeper analysis.

So there you have it: a dozen accounts that’ll keep you up to speed on the Iran talks. (If twelve isn’t enough, you can follow me, too.) November 24, the deadline under the current framework, can’t come soon enough!

TopicsNuclear Proliferation RegionsIran

U.S.-Taiwanese Relations After the Midterms: A Unique Opportunity

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On the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, I argued in The National Interest and at an event at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) that our relationship with Taiwan has suffered from benign neglect for far too long. Sustaining a productive partnership with Taiwan is critical to the success of U.S. strategic goals in the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, the Obama administration still needs to do more to reinvigorate the bilateral relationship. It should work directly with Taiwan to actively promote peace and stability in Asia; strengthen the bilateral economic and trade relationship; preserve democracy, human rights, and media freedom; reopen blocked channels of communication; and facilitate meaningful participation in international organizations.

Will Republican majorities in the House and Senate benefit Taiwan in concrete ways? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, Congress is able to successfully speak out on sensitive bilateral issues that are more difficult for the administration to address directly and forcefully in public. In recent years, Congress has also held a number of public hearings focusing on various aspects of the U.S.-Taiwan relationship. The previous generation of Congressional Taiwan hands pushed for the island to respect human rights and democratic norms during the White Terror. Yet, China’s increasingly aggressive behavior is demonstrating to a new generation of Congressmen and women that the United States must support Taiwan’s continued democratic consolidation and international diplomatic breathing space as well as promote enhanced bilateral economic and security relations. These are nevertheless all largely bipartisan efforts.

Perhaps the strongest potential benefit of a Republican Congress is enhanced support for the Asian rebalance and regional trade agreements. If the GOP leadership can facilitate the renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), then it might ultimately hasten Taiwan’s ability to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership or signal the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in the future. According to the Congressional Research Service, while “TPA is not necessary to begin or even conclude trade negotiations… it is widely understood to be a key element of defining congressional authority, and of passing trade agreement implementing legislation. Therefore, its renewal can be construed as signaling serious congressional support for moving ahead with trade negotiations.” Although both the United States and Taiwan would need to commit to serious negotiations before either of these potential trade agreements could come to fruition, having a trade-friendly Congress is a positive first step.

On the other hand, although Congress has the capacity to pass laws that address specific bilateral problems—for example, mandating that the Senate must confirm the position of the American Institute in Taiwan director, our de facto ambassador in Taipei—it is the arguably the White House National Security Council and U.S. Department of State that have the greatest role in shaping, implementing, and managing Taiwan policy. It is thus unlikely that shifts in the political makeup of Congress will have a substantial effect on the overall contours of our bilateral relationship.

Although many members of Congress would undoubtedly like to pay greater attention to the Asia-Pacific region, developing a strategy to combat and destroy ISIL will remain a high priority for both the executive and legislative branches of government. Opportunities for pragmatic engagement with Asia—including Taiwan—will nevertheless emerge. Scholars, policy experts, and the American public at large must remain ready to grasp these opportunities as we work with our partners around the globe to secure long-term peace and stability.

When the 114th Congress convenes in January 2015, it would behoove them to think critically about the ways in which U.S. policymakers can leverage Taiwan’s strengths to enhance the proper functioning and effectiveness of the Asian rebalance. Washington cannot rely on traditional military allies alone. Our leaders must engage in robust, transparent, and honest dialogue with counterparts in Taipei to discuss how the island can help counter military threats from Beijing. Congressional leaders should also focus on bolstering our bilateral trade relationship while helping Taiwan lay the groundwork to enter into TPP negotiations. Diversification represents the key to Taiwan’s future growth, and is necessary to hedge against systematic risk from China.

The relationship between Taipei and Washington rests on a firm and durable foundation. Yet, a new generation of lawmakers has a unique opportunity to re-envision and reinvigorate the U.S.-Taiwan strategic and economic relationship during a pivotal and transformative period in our two nations’ development. The time is now to reaffirm our shared values and mutual stake in promoting a peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.

Julia Famularo is an International Security Studies Fellow at Yale University.

Editor’s Note: Excerpts of this article first appeared in Ketagalan Media Debrief here.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsTaiwan

The Secret Sauce: If China Wants to Lead Asia, Here Is How

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Recently the growing rivalry between the United States and China seems to be spilling over into the economic and institutional arenas. The US is leading the push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new regional free-trade agreement which excludes China. And Beijing appears to be implementing a new strategy for transforming its own economic strength into regional leadership.

Whereas China previously used bilateral channels to build relationships and acquire influence, it’s now leading multilateral initiatives, headlined by the US$50 billion Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and US$40 billion Silk Road Fund—the latter planning to build a network of trade-and-transport infrastructure linking China to Central and South Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Those initiatives have the potential to eclipse the World Bank and Asian Development Bank as the dominant multilateral lending institutions in Asia, shaking the foundations of the regional order set up by the United States following World War II.

Beijing is also pushing back on the multilateral trade front, securing an agreement from APEC leaders for a two-year study of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific. The FTAAP could become a direct competitor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the central economic component of the Obama Administration’s rebalance to Asia.

There’s a clear strategic logic to China’s multilateral approach. The existing system is a product of US leadership and undeniably favours American interests, but it’s also open, rule-based, and structured around institutions. As John Ikenberry has argued, countries accepted American leadership in part because they were given a say in how the regional order was built and maintained.

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China has recognized that it can’t join (or replace) the United States as a regional leader without offering a degree of continuity with current arrangements. States around the region have flourished under the stability, certainty and reciprocity of the existing order, and are unwilling to give up its cooperative and collaborative aspects, even if they’d receive billions in development assistance in return.

Leadership can’t simply be bought with economic largesse. Economic incentives are certainly a good way to begin a political realignment, but they’re rarely enough to conclude one. An essential ingredient is lacking—security. The American order ultimately endured because it made the majority of governments and peoples in the region feel secure (admittedly with some notable exceptions). Washington’s great achievement was to lead without seeming to threaten countries’ core interests in sovereignty, security and autonomy. The alliance network was a critical ingredient in that accomplishment, not just because it offered security against external threats, but because alliances helped America manage its bilateral relationships, providing reassurance and making American power more “predictable and user-friendly.”

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Countries will oppose the leadership of a great power under whom, for whatever reason, they feel insecure. And despite its lucrative economic offerings, China is making many in the region nervous. Escalation of China’s maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas, Xi Jinping’s declaration that “security in Asia should be maintained by Asians themselves,” and outbursts by senior officials at regional fora, all raise doubts over whether China’s displacing of the United States would necessarily be in the region’s best interests.

Reassurance is the key to leadership. If it wants to lead, China needs to convince its neighbors that it doesn’t pose a threat to their fundamental security interests. The mantle of leadership will burden the rising power with a series of costly choices. Will China exercise power forcefully and arbitrarily, or with restraint and rule-based commitments? Will China act to maximize its short-term interests, or make beneficent sacrifices in the name of long-term stability? Is China a security threat, or can it be a security provider?

No one said leading was easy.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

China and America: Raising the Bar on Climate Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: The White House. 

TopicsClimate Change RegionsUnited States

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

The Current AUMF Debate Is Weird

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

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

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

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

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

TopicsCongressLawDefense RegionsIraqSyria

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

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

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

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

Read the Lines, and Between Them

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

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

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

A Ray of Hope?

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

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

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

Plus ça change…?

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

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

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

Tying Their Hands More Tightly?

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

End This Unsustainable Status Quo

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

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

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

TopicsForeign PolicyDiplomacy RegionsChinaJapan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

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

The Buzz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsClimate Change RegionsUnited States

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

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

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

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

1.  The loss of leaders will weaken ISIS:

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

2.  But don’t expect ISIS to crumble:

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

3. Now is the time to apply maximum pressure:

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

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

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

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

Image: US Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsISIS

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