The Buzz

For Sale: China’s Mach 3 Anti-Ship Missile

The Buzz

China’s latest anti-ship supersonic cruise missile may be coming to a theater near you soon.

As has seemingly become an almost annual tradition, China used Airshow China in Zhuhai last month to unveil a new anti-ship missile. The Chaoxun-1 (CX-1) is a supersonic anti-ship cruise missile built by a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), a major Chinese space and defense company. According to CASC, the CX-1 is a two-stage ASCM with a range of up to 280 km while carrying a 260-kilogram warhead. The missile also has a circular error probability of 20 meters, and high-altitude speeds of Mach 2.8-Mach 3.

Initially, CASC will produce two CX-1 variants: the ship-launched CX-1A and the ground-based road mobile CX-1B. Although the ASCM was designed primarily to target ships, it also reportedly has a second, land-attack function as well.

The CX-1’s presence at the international airshow strongly suggests that Beijing intends to export it. In addition, because its range is less than 300 kilometers and its payload is less than 500 kilograms, China would be able to export it without violating the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

However, even if China intends to export the CX-1, it still must find buyers for the missile. Pakistan has long been the primary recipient of Chinese arms, with Islamabad purchasing some 55 percent of all Chinese arms exports between 2008 and 2012. This has included anti-ship missiles. For example, Pakistan is the only foreign country that operates the C-602/YJ-62, a subsonic anti-ship missile that China unveiled at Airshow China in 2006.

Beyond that, the potential customer list for the CX-1 gets murky. Iran could potentially be interested, as it has relied on China for anti-ship missiles in the past. Most notably, the Iranian Navy used Chinese Silkworms to target Persian Gulf oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq in the 1980s.

At the same time, Iran’s indigenous defense industry has made large strides since the 1980s, which may limit Tehran’s demand for the CX-1. Interestingly, Iran’s past reliance on Chinese missiles may limit its demand for the CX-1. That’s because the Fateh-110 tactical ballistic missile that Iran first tested in 2002 is based on the Chinese DF-11A., and the Fateh-110 in turn served as the basis for Iran’s new Khalij Fars anti-ship ballistic missile, which —according to the Pentagon—Iranian units have already begun fielding. The Khalij Fars is believed to have a range of 300 km and carries a 650 kg warhead. Thus, given the Khalij Fars and other existing anti-ship capabilities, its unlikely that Iran will be a major purchaser of the CX-1.

Beyond Iran and Pakistan, there aren’t many countries that readily come to mind as potential customers. Myanamar has purchased Chinese anti-ship missiles in the past, however, it has sought to reduce its reliance on Beijing in recent years. Some reports have also suggested that China could look to South America or Africa to sell the CX-1, but these did not mention any countries in particular.

In any case, most countries can already purchase similar ASCMs from countries like Russia and India, and Moscow in particular has long-standing politico-defense relations with many of these. In the end, the CX-1’s success internationally will likely come down largely to price. Unless China can offer the missile at a price below comparable ASCMs, it is unlikely to find much success in attempting to export the CX-1.

Zachary Keck is the new managing editor of the National Interest.

Image: Chinese Defense Forums

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

10 Big Historical Anniversaries Coming in 2015

The Buzz

Anniversaries are how we mark the passage time of time, celebrate our triumphs, and honor our losses. Two thousand and fourteen witnessed several significant historical anniversaries: the centennial of the start of World War I, the bicentennial of the British sack of Washington, DC, and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, to name a few. Two thousand and fifteen will also see anniversaries of many significant events in world history. Here are ten of note:

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s Release from Prison, February 11, 1990:

Nelson Mandela’s journey to becoming the first black president of South Africa was a long one. Trained as a lawyer, he became a prominent anti-apartheid activist in the 1950s as a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and a founder of the ANC Youth League. When Pretoria banned the ANC in 1960, Mandela turned to armed resistance. In 1962, he was arrested and convicted of plotting to overthrow the government. He was sent to Robben Island prison, where he was forced to work at hard labor in a limestone quarry and allowed to receive one visitor and one letter every six months. Despite his imprisonment, Mandela’s fame as a symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle grew. After twenty-seven years behind bars, eighteen of which he spent at Robben Island, Mandela was finally released on February 11, 1990 by the new government of Frederik Willem de Klerk. Mandela then worked with De Klerk to dismantle the apartheid system. The two men were awarded the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize for their work. In 1994, South Africans elected Mandela president. He died in 2013, leaving behind a legacy that few others can match.

Fiftieth Anniversary of the Arrival of the First U.S. Combat Troops in South Vietnam, March 8, 1965.

In 1960, the United States had roughly 750 military advisors in South Vietnam; by 1964, the number had grown to 16,000. The increased effort did little, however, to stem to the Viet Cong insurgency. In August 1964, Congress authorized the use of force against North Vietnam in the wake of a purported attack on U.S. destroyers in the Gulf of Tonkin. After deadly Viet Cong attacks on U.S. military facilities in South Vietnam in early February 1965, President Lyndon Johnson ordered the dispatch of the first U.S. combat troops to South Vietnam. On March 8, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade arrived in South Vietnam to protect the U.S. airbase at Da Nang, which was instrumental in Operation Rolling Thunder, the large-scale bombing campaign against North Vietnam that the U.S. had launched just days earlier and which would last until November 1968. The decision to send the marines to Da Nang broke the taboo on combat troops. By the end of 1965, the United States had 184,300 troops in South Vietnam. The rapid U.S. military escalation came with a bitter historical irony. Five months before the marines hit the beaches of Da Nang, President Johnson had insisted: “We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

Fortieth Anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975:

America’s involvement in Vietnam began with great optimism about what U.S. military power could achieve. It ended with the country deeply divided and doubting its place in the world. President Richard Nixon had attempted to bring “peace with honor” through a January 1973 peace deal with North Vietnam that (among other things) traded the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces for the release of American prisoners of war. The agreement did not, however, end the fighting between the North and South. In early 1975, North Vietnam launched a major military offensive. South Vietnamese forces quickly retreated. Many South Vietnamese civilians fled their homes as well, trying to find safety in what became known as the “convoy of tears.” By the end of April, the North Vietnamese had closed in on Saigon, South Vietnam’s capital. On April 29, the United States launched Operation Frequent Wind, a helicopter evacuation of the Americans remaining in the city. By the next day, all American military and diplomatic personnel had left Vietnam, taking many “at risk” South Vietnamese with them—and leaving many more behind. More than 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War. You can find all of their names inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Centennial of the Sinking of the Lusitania, May 7, 1915:

The 1,959 passengers on board the RMS Lusitania were looking forward to the end of their week-long voyage from New York City as the luxurious British ocean liner rounded southern Ireland on its way to Liverpool early on the afternoon on May 7, 1915. But the ship never reached port. A dozen miles off Old Head of Kinsale, a German U-boat lay waiting. The submarine fired one of its two remaining torpedoes. It scored a direct hit. The Lusitania sank in just eighteen minutes; nearly 1,200 passengers, including 128 Americans, died. (Why the Lusitania sank so quickly is disputed.) The sinking created an international uproar. President Woodrow Wilson saw the attack as a barbarous violation of the freedom of the seas. But he was unwilling to abandon his policy of neutrality toward the war in Europe, and he knew that Congress would not vote for war in any event. So he contented himself by filing three protest notes with the German government. (Even that step was too much for Wilson’s pacifist secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan; he resigned in protest after the first note.) Berlin insisted that the Lusitania’s sinking was justified because Germany had published notices in the American press warning passengers that they traveled on allied ships “at their own risk” and because the Lusitania was carrying weapons. (The Lusitania’s precise cargo has been a matter of controversy; by one account it was carrying more than 170 tons of ammunition.) Berlin eventually agreed to suspend its attacks without warning on passenger ships. Although the sinking of the Lusitania did not prompt the United States to enter World War I—that would not happen for another two years and only after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare—the incident convinced many Americans that Germany was the villain in the Great War.

Octocentennial of the Magna Carta, June 15, 1215:

Americans are proud of their constitution. And rightly so. But the U.S. Constitution owes a large debt to a document written more than five centuries earlier, England’s Magna Carta. The story of “the Great Charter” begins in feudal England with a tax hike. King John needed money to raise an army that could win back territory he had lost in France. His tax plan angered a group of forty barons already unhappy with his seizure of their lands and infringement on their feudal and judicial rights. They presented the king with their demands. He turned them down flat. The barons rebelled. They renounced their allegiance to the crown and seized the Tower of London. Faced with a budding insurrection that might topple his rule, King John opted to negotiate. The result was the Magna Carta, which he signed at Runnymede on June 15, 1215. In exchange for John’s concessions, the barons pledged their allegiance to him once more. Most of the specific provisions of the Magna Carta address feudal concerns of no interest today. But the Magna Carta’s contribution to the development of the concept of the rule of law remains unquestioned—it was the first document to limit the power of a monarch and make him subject to the law. The legacy of the Magna Carta lives today in the writ of habeas corpus, in the fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (The story of the Magna Carta didn’t end at Runnymede. In August 1215, Pope Innocent III issued a papal bull declaring the Magna Carta null and void. King John died the next year of dysentery while fighting against France. His son, King Henry III, issued a substantially revised version of the Magna Carta in 1225.)

Bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, June 18, 1815:

Napoleon Bonaparte was perhaps the greatest military and political genius of all time. Yet his defeat in battle on June 18, 1815 gave the world the metaphor for ultimate failure: Waterloo. That Napoleon even met the combined forces of Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and Prussia on the plains just south of Brussels was remarkable. A little more than a year earlier he had been deposed as emperor of France and sent into exile at Elba. But in February 1815, he slipped by his guards, evaded a British naval patrol, and landed in France. Within a month he returned to Paris in triumph, forcing the new French king to flee the country and ushering in the Hundred Days. When the Congress of Vienna declared him an outlaw and raised the so-called Seventh Coalition to drive him from power, Napoleon concluded that his only chance to defeat the much larger forces arrayed against him was to go on the attack. He met his adversaries at Waterloo. The result was a crushing defeat at the hands of armies led by Britain’s Duke of Wellington and Prussia’s General Gebhard von Blücher. After his surrender, Napoleon was exiled once again, this time to St. Helena, a remote island in the South Atlantic more than 1,200 miles off the coast of southern Africa. He died there in 1821. He was fifty-one.

Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Battle of Britain, July 10, 1940:

Britain’s prospects looked dim as the summer of 1940 began. The Phoney War had given way to the German blitzkrieg in May. France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Norway all fell with alarming speed. The British army had barely escaped annihilation after its “miracle” evacuation from Dunkirk. On June 18, the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill told his countrymen, “The Battle of France is over: the Battle of Britain is about to begin.” Churchill was right; three weeks later the German Luftwaffe began bombing England. Adolf Hitler hoped that the Battle of Britain would give Germany air superiority, thereby allowing German troops to invade. Britain’s Royal Air Force (RAF) fought back with valor. Both sides suffered great losses: the RAF lost 1,012 aircraft and 537 airmen, and the Luftwaffe lost 1,918 aircraft and 2,662 airmen. By August 1940, it was clear that the Germans could not achieve air superiority. That did not mean, however, that London and other British cities were safe from aerial assault. The bombing campaign known as “the Blitz” began that month and continued through May 1941, killing thousands of British citizens. The war dragged on for four more years and many more casualties. But Britain had survived its moment of ultimate peril.

Twentieth Anniversary of the Srebrenica Massacre, July 11, 1995:

The Soviet Union collapsed peacefully when the Cold War ended; Yugoslavia did not. In 1993, the fighting within the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia Herzegovina led the United Nations to declare a “safe zone” for Bosnian Muslims around the town of Srebrenica. UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali asked for 37,000 peacekeepers to patrol the safe haven, but member states provided only 7,600 troops. Those forces soon dwindled, and by July 1995 only a few hundred Dutch peacekeepers remained. They stepped aside as the Bosnian Serb forces attacked Srebrenica on July 6. The Bosnian Serb Army, led by General Ratko Mladić, sought to punish Bosnian Muslims for attacks on Serb communities and to exact revenge (so they said) for the Ottoman empire’s ruthless suppression of a Serb uprising in 1804. Bosnian Serbs entered Srebrenica on July 11 and killed almost eight thousand Bosnian Muslims (mostly men and boys) in a span of ten days. NATO responded with air strikes in August, but they were too late. Twenty years later, bodies of victims are still being found, and the effort to get justice for the victims and the survivors continues. Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić and General Mladić are on trial at The Hague for war crimes. Families of the victims have won cases in Dutch courts on the grounds that Dutch peacekeepers failed in their obligation to protect Bosnian Muslims. Despite these efforts, ethnic tensions in Bosnia still run high.

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait, August 2, 1990:

On a map, Kuwait looks like a small and inconsequential patch of land. But to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 1990, it held great appeal. The Kuwaitis had two things he wanted: oil and access to the Persian Gulf. Iraq was struggling economically in 1990 as it dealt with the consequences of its eight-year-long war with Iran. Hussein had accused Kuwait of stealing from the massive oil field that straddled the Iraq-Kuwait border, driving oil prices down by pumping too much oil, and reneging on promises to forgive the massive debts Iraq had run up fighting Iran. Most experts dismissed Hussein’s threats as posturing. They were wrong. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded its smaller neighbor. Kuwait quickly surrendered to the Iraqi army, which at the time was the fourth-largest in the world. The UN Security Council ordered Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, and backed up its demands by imposing sanctions. Hussein rebuffed the demands, believing that the sanctions would fail and that no one could evict Iraqi troops from Kuwait by force. He was as wrong as the experts who doubted his threats to invade Kuwait. On January 17, 1991, the United States and its coalition partners, acting pursuant to a UN Security Council resolution passed six weeks earlier, launched Operation Desert Storm. Iraq’s defeat was rapid and decisive. By the end of February, Iraqi troops had fled Kuwait and President George H.W. Bush had declared a ceasefire. Although Bush administration figured that Hussein would soon be pushed from power, he held on for another dozen years, paving the way for a second U.S. war against Iraq in 2003.

Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of German Reunification, October 3, 1990:

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin wall fell. But an equally important moment for Germany came eleven months later when the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) were reunited for the first time since 1945. It was not obvious that Germany’s neighbors would allow the country to reunite. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bitterly opposed German reunification. So too did French President Francois Mitterrand. Nonetheless, U.S. President George H.W. Bush helped champion negotiations among East and West Germany, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States. The result was the “Two-Plus-Four Treaty,” which was signed on September 12, 1990. It allowed for Germany’s reunification on October 3. Elections were held two months later. Germans now call October 3 the Day of German Unity. It will no doubt be a cause for extra celebration in 2015.

This piece comes courtesy of the CFR blog The Water’s Edge.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsHistory

The Great Oil Price Crash: RIP OPEC?

The Buzz

The plunge in oil prices late last week, following an OPEC announcement that its members won’t cut their oil production now, has analysts scrambling to outdo each other with hyperbole. It is a “new era” for oil as OPEC has “thrown in the towel”. We are now in a “new world of oil” as the “sun sets on OPEC dominance”.

The oil price decline since June is no doubt big and consequential. And U.S. shale is indeed a major new force on the energy scene. But there is nothing particularly unusual about how OPEC acted last week. It would be wrong to conclude that last week’s news decisively signals an end to the last decade or so of OPEC behavior.

One need go no further back than the last big oil price plunge to see a similarly modest initial response from OPEC countries to a plunge in oil prices. After oil prices peaked at $145 per barrel in July 2008, they fell rapidly. On September 10, with the oil price at $96, OPEC declared a production cut, only for Saudi Arabia to announce within hours that it would ignore the agreement, rendering it meaningless. Indeed according to International Energy Agency (IEA) data, Kuwait, Angola, Iran, and Libya all expanded production in October of that year, while Saudi Arabia pared back output by mere fifty thousand barrels a day. Prices continued to fall. It took until an emergency meeting on October 25, with prices at $60, for OPEC to announce a real cut – and even that was not commensurate with the shortfall in global demand, leading prices to drop further. It was only in late December, as oil fell through the $40 mark, that OPEC countries finally cut production enough to put a floor on oil prices.

Did OPEC countries usher in a new era of complete inaction when, with oil trading at $75 in early October 2008, they failed to cut production and stop the fall? Or when, at $50, they let prices continue to decline? Of course not: later events showed otherwise.

It’s similarly premature to declare that sort of new era now: OPEC countries would be sticking to past behavior if they failed to cut production now but stepped in in a few weeks or months if prices fell considerably further.

Part of the problem here is that media and analyst commentary has juxtaposed the refusal of OPEC countries to slash production now with an imagined world in which OPEC regularly tweaks output to stabilize the market while avoiding large price swings entirely. Seen through that lens, last week’s inaction looks like a radical departure. But, as Bob McNally and Iargued in 2011 (and revisited a few weeks ago), OPEC has been out of the fine-tuning game since at least the mid-2000s, and even Saudi Arabia has been a lot less active at it than before. Our view wasn’t particularly unusual. (See, for example, “The OPEC Oil Cartel Is Irrelevant”, July 2008.) What happened last week is a useful reminder that OPEC no longer stabilizes markets the way it may once have. But it is not yet a revelation of a new era.

One other note: A lot of the commentary around last week’s events has equated an absence of OPEC coherence with a shift in the center of gravity in world oil markets to the United States. But it’s been a long time since OPEC coherence was the root of OPEC influence. To the extent that “OPEC” is influential, it’s fundamentally because its biggest member, Saudi Arabia, is. Saudi Arabia doesn’t need to be part of a well-functioning cartel in order to influence world oil markets. (It did when a large number of OPEC members held spare production capacity; they no longer do.)

Perhaps last week’s events and their interpretation may turn out to be a case of two wrongs making a right: people previously overestimated OPEC’s influence; now they’ve overestimated the degree to which there’s been a sea change in OPEC behavior. The net result may be a more reasonable view of how OPEC and the oil world work. For those who prefer to anchor analysis consistently to what we actually know, though, the only way to know how much the oil world has changed will be to wait.

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

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsEnergy RegionsUnited States

China's Challenge to the Global Order: Taking the "Careful" Approach?

The Buzz

Media coverage will probably be quick to recognize that Xi Jinping's latest speech on Chinese foreign policy is a big deal. But the headline writers are missing the story if they focus on his pledge to uphold China's claims in maritime disputes.

As someone who has done more than his share of professional worrying about the strategic implications of China's rise, I've surprised myself by reading this speech quite differently. Yes, it is challenge to the world order we know, but not a confrontational or a jarring one. It's subtle, and other countries should be relieved, as well as cautious.

The good news is that Xi's speech is much more about diplomacy than raw power. It follows a season of statesmanship in hosting APEC and President Obama, advancing Chinese interests in a non-confrontational manner at the East Asia Summit and the G20, and successful visits to reassure Australia and New Zealand about China's intentions.

One way to read this speech is that it knits together China's ambitious diplomatic initiatives to change the Asian and global order, from a new infrastructure bank to new security conferences. Therefore it affirms China's intent to challenge that order, albeit carefully.

It underscores China's determination to defend and advance its maritime claims and interests, develop a “maritime silk road” of economic, diplomatic and security links across China's version of the Indo-Pacific, and develop the capabilities to protect its growing overseas presence.

But the speech is also important for its notes of prudence and restraint, with an emphasis on better communicating China's “soft power” message. It places weight on building regional institutions and a global network of partners. It contains reminders about the non-use of force and even respect for international law.

Given such continuing Chinese activities as island-building in disputed parts of the South China Sea, these words will naturally be greeted with some skepticism.

But they could be taken as signals that Xi wants to channel China's deep currents of nationalism away from excessive risk-taking and adventurism. After two years of risky encounters in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, Xi has lately emphasized a need for crisis-management and “confidence-building” measures with foreign navies. He has signed an agreement with Obama on this issue, and endorsed new efforts at military risk-reduction with Japan.

Whether they liked it or not, the PLA brass found themselves repeatedly endorsing the concept of CBMs at their Xiangshan Forum, the Chinese military's answer to the Shangri-La Dialogue, which I attended in Beijing not long ago.

Until this year, a confusing credo of Chinese maritime military diplomacy seemed to be that there was no point developing incidents-at-sea rules and crisis-management mechanisms with other countries until strategic trust – that is, the removal of disputes – had been somehow brought into existence. I always found this a fiction to permit Chinese tactical risk-taking for strategic advantage. It is a logic now consigned to the memory hole. My 2011 assessment Crisis and Confidence thankfully needs a major update.

At least since his in-principle support of military CBMs at the Sunnylands summit last year, it seems Xi Jinping has wanted to put some sensible political constraints on military risk-taking. Now he is making some progress, although it is still far from clear that the PLA is willing to develop comprehensive protocols, let alone implement them. Still, one positive dimension of Xi's speech is that it would be consistent with continuing efforts to exert control over the PLA to ensure its short-term actions do not jeopardize peaceful relations and China's long-term interests.

Until just recently, China's charm diplomacy in Asia had been foundering. In the past 12 months, China managed to alienate Japan, the US, Australia and others with its Air Defense Identification Zone, to unsettle Vietnam and other parts of Southeast Asia with its unprovoked oil-rig deployment in the South China Sea, and to spoil a chance to woo India's new leader by mixing provocative PLA forays with sensible economic diplomacy. The net effect of these premature powerplays  – combined with the strategic anxiety, coalition-building and deterrence response they have prompted — has been to inflict needless self-harm on China's interests.

In the past few months, Chinese diplomacy has worked variously to sidestep, repair or move beyond that damage. Xi's speech can be read in part as the capstone of this new campaign.

China experts often point out how little outsiders really know of the hows or whys of Chinese foreign policy. But foreign governments and the analysts that advise them have no choice but to make judgments to guide their own policy responses. So my working assumption is this: Xi's speech is informed, above all, by a tension between two things. One is an awareness (however overstated) of the long-term trends conducive to China's relative influence and prosperity. The other is an appreciation of the short-term risks, miscalculations and missteps that could yet prevent the China Dream from coming true.

Xi's speech will not bring great comfort to friends of the US-led global order, and should compel them to play a smarter game. But being at least as much about diplomacy as about power, it is better than the alternatives.

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

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Hagel's Fate Was Sealed Long Ago

The Buzz

To the surprise of many, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel resigned his post Monday, apparently under heavy pressure. According to some accounts, this development has been brewing for weeks. In reality, it was presaged nearly two years ago in the former Army sergeant and Nebraska Senator's farcical confirmation hearings before his one-time colleagues.

Writing at the time in this space, I defended Hagel's "fumbling and apologetic" answers as a byproduct of the political theater in which Senators were trying to score points with the voters back home and the nominee had to absorb their punches, many of them score settling for his turning against the Iraq War, as the price for ultimate confirmation. I observed that "Hagel is that rare public official who's always said what's on his mind and voted his conscience on the issues without much caring what anyone thought about it" but that, in the hearings, "For perhaps the first time since Basic Training, he wasn't free to speak his mind."

As it turned out, that didn't change once he took the helm at the Pentagon. Instead of having to placate those Republican Senators who saw their erstwhile colleagues as a turncoat for having switched sides on an unpopular war and then agreed to work for a Democratic president, he'd have to defend contradictory administration policies in the Middle East--where among other things we were on both sides of a civil war in Syria, simultaneously bombing ISIS, aiding their allies in the Free Syria Army, and opposing the Assad regime they are both against--while pretending we were pivoting to Asia and shifting to a peacetime force posture. Hagel was visibly unenthusiastic with his role, often appearing disengaged while, if reports are to be believed, often actually left out of the policy discussions.

Before leaving for my present position last August, I spent six years at the Atlantic Council, where Hagel served ably as chairman until taking over the Defense Department. His predecessor, General Jim Jones, had been picked to join Obama's "team of rivals" as National Security Advisor. Both men were highly accomplished public servants, widely respected by Republicans and Democrats alike for their competence, intellect, and integrity. Indeed, Jones may very well have been selected as National Security Advisor or another prominent role had John McCain prevailed in 2008. (Interestingly, Hagel was followed by Jon Huntsman, the erstwhile Republican governor or Utah and presidential candidate who'd alienated his base by serving as Obama's ambassador to China.)

In both instances, the qualities that got them chosen made them poor fits. In an administration that sees foreign policy as an extension of domestic policy, simply asking "What's in the US national security interest?" isn't enough. In case after case, the administration chose half measures that would appease the Democratic base while minimizing criticism from Republicans on the "weakness" front.  So, they announced a military surge in Afghanistan that was far less than requested by the commanding general while simultaneously announcing a premature deadline for withdrawal. They authorized military action against the Gaddafi regime in Libya, the Assad regime in Syria, and against ISIS in Iraq and Syria but without any obvious consideration of the strategic consequences.

It didn't help that Jones and Hagel were outside the inner circle of foreign policy advisors that Obama had brought with him from the campaign and the Senate. Their willingness to work across the aisle may have won them plaudits from the broader foreign policy community but it meant that they would never be trusted team players. They were constantly being sniped at by anonymous staffers in the press and were ready scapegoats for failed or unpopular policies. Meanwhile, the president has shown steadfast loyalty and infinite patience with Susan Rice and others.

Among the reported reasons for the president wanting yet another change at the top of the Pentagon—Hagel’s successor will be the fourth in Obama’s less than six years in office—is that Hagel has frustrated the longstanding administration goal of closing Guantánamo by pointing out the problems of repatriating detainees to Afghanistan and that he’s clashed with Rice on the Syria issue, pointing out that the administration’s Assad policy is at odds with itself. Being obviously right, apparently, is not a defense.

Ashton Carter is among the top names being floated, again, for the post. But whoever gets the nod is going to face the same obstacles as Hagel if national security policy continues to be seen as the extension of an unending electoral campaign. An astrategic strategy won’t be any less so by changing the faces at the table.

James Joyner is a security studies professor at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow with the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council. These views are his own.

Image: US Department of Defense. 

TopicsDefense RegionsUnited States

What Could Undermine China’s Anticorruption Efforts? Suicide

The Buzz

On November 13, the deputy commissar of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, Vice Admiral Ma Faxing, committed suicide by leaping from a building at a naval complex in Beijing. In the same month, at least two other important officials took their lives. They were among the more than forty officials who have killed themselves since January 2014, more than double the total in all of 2011.

These numbers are small compared to the number of officials that killed themselves during the Cultural Revolution (estimated to be 100,000-200,000) or the total suicide deaths each year in China (estimated to be 287,000). Still, the rapid increase of officials who commit suicide is occurring when the overall suicidal rate in China has seen a significant drop since the 1990s. A New York Times report found that the suicide rate among this segment of the population—6.9 per 100,000 officials—is 30 percent higher than the overall suicide rate in urban China.

What accounts for the spate of suicides by Chinese officials? Given the lack of transparency in China’s officialdom, it is difficult to pin down any specific cause. Most of the suicide deaths were officially attributed to depression or high pressure. This is in sharp contrast to the views of the general public and China scholars, who tend to connect the deaths to corruption scandals.

Depression or high pressure might be factors behind the deaths of many Chinese officials, but they cannot fully explain the increase in suicides by Chinese officials in recent years—as early as 2005, a survey of 200 middle-aged government officials found that nearly 50 percent of them were “mentally unhealthy.” Indeed, of the thirteen officials who killed themselves in 2014 and for whom official explanations of the cause of death were available, only five were said to have suffered from depression or high pressure, and at least six of them were associated with corruption-related investigations. An examination of the suicide cases clearly pinpoints the impact of the anticorruption campaign launched by the new leadership (which took over in November 2012). During the period 2011-12, a total of forty officials reportedly killed themselves. But since 2013, at least eighty-eight officials have done the same.

The officially publicized suicide cases also suggest the growing extent and intensity of the antigraft investigations under the leadership of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Between 2003 and 2013, for example, there were no reports of high-ranking military officials who committed suicide. But in 2014, in the span of three months two senior naval officers (a vice admiral and a rear admiral) jumped to their deaths. In addition, between August 2003 and April 2014, around three officials at and above the bureau and prefectural level killed themselves annually. Since April 2014, however, there has been a rise in both the frequency and the rank of official committing suicide. Within two and half months, more than ten officials at and above the bureau and prefectural level killed themselves.

As the new leadership gears up its antigraft campaign, officials are facing greater pressure, especially those who are already under investigation. Still, why do these officials throw away their lives so easily? One explanation is that the campaign put undue pressure on officials who feel they have no choice but to kill themselves to escape their distress. In most cases open to the public, officials appear to kill themselves without experiencing apparent coercion and duress. Another possible explanation is that the growing pressure associated with the campaign exacerbates the depression of some officials, leading them to commit suicide. But again, a majority of officials in publicized cases did not suffer from depression before they killed themselves.

A more convincing explanation treats suicide as a means to escape seemingly inevitable punishment. On the one hand, the antigraft campaign, with its unprecedented intensity and breadth, sends a strong signal to venal officials that this time they can no longer expect to be let off the hook. In a political hierarchy where cadres can only be promoted but not be demoted, being caught and sentenced to jail (or even death) for corruption would mean not only public humiliation but also the forfeiture of all titles and illicit gains. On the other hand, under the existing law once the guilty party dies, prosecution is terminated and the party no longer bears legal responsibilities. This presents an institutional opportunity for the corrupt officials. If they commit suicide, not only would they retain their rank and reputation, but their illegal gains would not be confiscated. Furthermore, by taking his or her own live, the individual official sacrifices for the greater good of other members on the same corruption chain, and the latter usually would take care of the victim’s family members. This “altruistic suicide” (as proposed by sociologist Emile Durkheim) therefore has the potential to undermine China’s anticorruption efforts.

This piece was first published by CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here.

Image: Creative Commons License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

A Hard Truth: Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threshold State

The Buzz

Despite intensive efforts, the negotiations between the P5 +1 and Iran on the future of its nuclear program, led by the United States, once again failed to produce a final agreement, postponing the moment of reckoning for at least seven months. The details of the negotiations are as yet unknown, and this is a classic case where the devil is in the details. The extension will, however, continue to essentially freeze the Iranian capability, though not contribute to its partial dismantlement, as the United States sought, and will provide Iran with limited, ongoing sanctions relief.

For reasons of both American strategy and domestic politics, there are limits to the concessions Obama could have made, even if he wanted to, and he does not. For reasons of both Iranian strategy and domestic politics, Tehran apparently refused to make significant concessions on key issues, even at the risk of heightened sanctions. Iran’s intransigence may partly reflect what it perceives to be a lack of Western resolve to stay the course and risk confrontation, but this is water under the bridge and the issue now is the agreement under negotiation, not the one we hoped for.

Based on what we know of the negotiations, the hard truth is that Iran will have succeeded in becoming a de facto nuclear threshold state, i.e. one that will remain just months from an operational capability; the threat of a nuclear Iran will be with us for years to come, and, in effect, we will be talking about ongoing conflict management, not resolution. Moreover, even if a final agreement is reached, Iran will not have abandoned its long-term nuclear aspirations; they will have just concluded that their realization is too costly at this time—the situation will have been frozen and a potential confrontation postponed to the future.

Conversely, international pressure will have forced Iran to remain a threshold state, at least for the meantime, and for a highly conflict-averse U.S. administration, kicking the ball down the field—hopefully even to the next administration—has the advantage of avoiding an imminent moment of truth and crisis with Iran. Iran, too, has a clear interest in avoiding an explicit acknowledgment of failure, which will have domestic consequences for the Rouhani presidency and beyond, and lead to heightened sanctions. Moreover, the dynamics of the negotiating process have been in Iran’s favor, leading to greater Western concessions, and are likely to remain so in the future; and in the current situation in the region, the United States seeks greater cooperation with Iran, not confrontation.

Facing a potentially existential threat, Israel has a greater interest in a positive diplomatic outcome than any other player, but is justifiably reluctant to accept a final agreement that will allow Iran to remain a threshold state. Obama, however, has made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of taking, or sanctioning, military action, and the return to sanctions—his declared intention in the event that negotiations fail—is a highly unsavory outcome. Been there, done that—it did not make Iran cave. In these circumstances, an ongoing extension of the interim agreement and playing for time may be the best Israel can realistically hope for.

For some, the absence of both an American and Israeli military option will be welcome, but it was the threat of Israeli action that finally motivated the Europeans and other allies to join the United States in imposing comprehensive sanctions on Iran, and it was the sanctions that forced Iran to come to the table. Should a final agreement fail to emerge, the threat of military action should be renewed.

Given Iranian intransigence, a final agreement by next July is hard to imagine. In the absence of demonstrable progress, both sides will be hard-pressed to justify a further extension, but both have a strong incentive to avoid a showdown and a further extension remains a likely outcome, nonetheless. Should an agreement be reached, it will be the kind that no one wants, but will postpone the moment of truth to the future. With no truly good options, this may be the least of the bad options we face. The question is whether Iran is playing tough brinkmanship and intends to reach an agreement, or is totally rejectionist. Either way, it has succeeded in establishing itself as a nuclear threshold state. It is essential that it be kept as far away from that line as possible and never be allowed to cross it.

Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, is the author of Zion’s Dilemmas: How Israel Makes National Security Policy, 2012.

Image: Iran president website

TopicsDiplomacyNonproliferationNuclear Weapons RegionsIranUnited States

One Way to Cut Tensions in Asia: Building a Regional Natural-Gas Pipeline

The Buzz

Building a regional natural gas network is the biggest step Asia can take over the next 5-10 years to reduce destructive climate change.

In the journey from coal to clean energy, natural gas will play a key transition role in energy markets.

Once this transition is complete (say, sometime between 2030-2050), gas will give way to better energy sources -- like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and even closed-cycle nuclear.

As new, better, lower emission energy resources come online and make gas obsolete, gas pipeline networks can shift to carrying other fuels -- like hydrogen or bio-energy. This flexibility offers enormous long-term economic value.

Events already are moving in this direction. China recently announced two deals with Russia to build natural gas pipelines to bring Siberian natural gas to China’s eastern and western regions. A third pipeline, passing through China to South Korea, also is possible.

These pipelines will increase China’s domestic gas supply. As markets change, and China’s gas supply needs fall, China can trade some of that Russian gas with its neighbors. Buyers could include Japan, South Korea and/or the Association of Southeast Asian Nation states. Cross-border trading can alleviate gluts and shortages. This benefits everyone.

As Asia (and the world) reduce carbon emissions over the next 10-30 years, natural gas almost certainly well be the ‘benchmark’ fuel price against which other energy sources (like nuclear, solar, biomass, hydro and wind) are initially compared. These discounts or premiums will provide crucial price signals for investment.

At the recent APEC meeting in China, the US and China announced a bilateral deal on carbon emission reductions. The United States agreed to cut its emissions between 26-28% from 2005 levels by 2025. China agreed its carbon emissions would would be capped by 2030, with non-fossil fuels accounting for 20% of domestic energy supply at that time. The deal lays the groundwork for a global climate agreement in December 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

For a global climate agreement to succeed, energy markets must evolve. With an interconnected regional gas network, and the world’s largest regional energy market, Asia’s natural gas price will become the world’s benchmark price. This will benefit everyone.

At present, the ‘Henry Hub’ price set in the United States is often used as a global benchmark.  That’s because the US has (at present) the world’s largest open, interconnected and integrated national gas pipeline network. One result is that many natural gas contracts in Asia are being pegged to the Henry Hub price, even though the Henry Hub price doesn’t necessarily reflect supply-demand fundamentals in Asia.

Given its own integrated, cross-border natural gas pipeline network, ‘Asia’ (ie China, Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN states, East Timor and Australia) could have its own benchmark trading price -- most likely set in Hong Kong or Shanghai.

Both Hong Kong and Shanghai are gas pipeline hubs. Both also have Liquid Natural Gas import terminals either operating or planned. This makes them ideal for arbitraging price differentials between pipeline gas and Liquid Natural Gas. This will improve Asian investment signals, particularly if prices are denominated in China’s currency expands its role in international trade.

In Australia, ill-considered construction of Liquid Natural Gas export infrastructure (some of it to China) has led to cost overruns, negative environmental consequences and bad long-term economics. These investment mistakes have been caused by poorly-interpreted price signals (for natural gas, carbon emissions and tanker transport, to name three), the infrastructure complexity and inflexibility of LNG and the rapidly falling cost of energy alternatives ranging from solar PV to pipeline gas delivered from Siberia.

Most energy economists estimate initial carbon prices of $20-30 per tonne are needed to start shifting global infrastructure and energy resource development investment toward low-emission energy sources like solar, wind and nuclear and away from coal. In 2011, the energy-related carbon emissions of China, Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN states and Australia amounted to 12.7 billion metric tonnes. Priced at $25 dollars per tonne, that’s $317 billion per year that could be recycled into new infrastructure investment. This money could flow through such organizations as the Green Climate Fund, the Asian Development Bank or China’s proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

A large amount of this infrastructure investment would probably flow from Chinese state champion infrastructure companies like China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Petrochina and State Grid Corp. of China. These companies have built up world-class expertise in delivering large infrastructure projects in China’s over the past two decades.

Therefore, the expertise exists to build a cross-border gas pipeline system in Asia to alongside which other energy infrastructure -- like High-Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) power lines -- can be added later. This will add to the network flexibility of the system by enabling fuel switching between natural gas and electricity.

A regional natural gas pipeline infrastructure also can offer a solution to worsening territorial tensions in the South China Sea and East China Sea. These could be shelved for decades if China and her neighbors were to agree to a series of offshore Joint Development Areas (JDAs) in the South China Sea and East China Sea. These could be connected to market by gas pipelines, which could find a second life delivering deep sea methane hydrates to market once the gas runs out. If supplemented by power lines, offshore wind farms and ocean thermal energy could be developed. And all of it would create enough infrastructure to consider large scale offshore aquaculture to meet the growing protein demands of ever more affluent Asian consumers.

Taking this kind of long-term view of postponing final determination on sovereignty issues opens a window for the for China and the US to cooperate militarily in providing maritime security for both JDAs and the infrastructure serving them. That, in turn, could lead to deeper US-China military cooperation in other areas, such as fisheries protection, humanitarian disaster relief and protection of commercial shipping lanes.

The benefits above add a positive geopolitical benefit to the undeniable economic and climate change advantages of the proposals.

In hosting meetings of the Asia Pacific Economic Community (APEC) this year, China has stressed cross-border connectivity to deepen regional economic integration and create an Asian Maritime Silk Road to fulfill a longer-term goal of an ‘Asia-Pacific Dream’ of rising regional living standards.  

Deepening energy market connectivity through investment in a long-term, economically-catalytic, cross-border gas pipeline network provides a powerful spur to fulfilling all these goals at once.

Stewart Taggart is principal of Grenatec, a research organization studying the viability of a Pan-Asian Energy Infrastructure of high-capacity power lines, natural gas pipelines and fiber optic cables stretching from Australia to China, Japan and South Korea.

TopicsEnergy RegionsAsia-Pacific

A U.S.-China War: A Battle between Networks

The Buzz

A U.S.-China war would be a battle between networks, according to one prominent security analyst.

Speaking to a packed room of mostly undergraduate students at George Mason University earlier this week, Elbridge Colby, the Robert M. Gates Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), gave a sweeping overview of the budding security competition underway in the Western Pacific between the United States and China.

In an hour long talk sponsored by the Alexander Hamilton Society’s GMU chapter, Colby began by outlining U.S. interests in the region and the challenges an increasingly aggressive China poses to them. In particular, he emphasized the necessity of preventing China from being able to successfully coerce maritime Asian states in a manner that allows Beijing to dominant the Western Pacific.

The U.S. will have to do the heavy lifting to prevent such an outcome, Colby argued. Although it is tempting to argue that regional states can balance China, the reality is that “no one else can manage it,” in light of available economic resources. On the other hand, the U.S. will likely be able to balance China even over the long-term, especially given Beijing’s slowing economy.

Strategically, Colby argued the U.S. must remain supreme in maritime Asia and retain the ability to project power in the region. This can be best achieved by building a robust defense posture immediately, instead of allowing U.S. capabilities to atrophy in the short-term and trying to play catch up later.

Operationally, Colby made the case for some form of Air-Sea Battle (ASB) that ensures the U.S. maintains escalation dominance over the People’s Republic of China (PRC). America’s ultimate goal would be to deter China from taking actions that would precipitate a war. No one, Colby stressed repeatedly during the talk, wants a Sino-American war, but “the best way to avoid a war… is to be strong.”

Should a war prove unavoidable, however, Colby argued that the U.S. would need to impose sufficient costs on China to force it to back down (something he contended a blockade was unlikely to do).  At the same time, citing statements by Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, Colby said a U.S.-China war would ultimately boil down to a battle between networks. The key objective for both sides would be to “degrade the other guy’s networks,” by hitting their network’s brain and nodes.

This would mean targeting assets like radars and satellites of course, but also attacking capabilities like missile launchers and airfields. And since the PLA’s capabilities are located on Chinese territory, “we need to be prepared to attack targets on Chinese sovereign soil.” By maintaining escalation dominance, however, Colby expressed optimism that China would restrain its retaliation-- at least below the nuclear threshold.

Although none of the content of Colby’s speech would be groundbreaking to seasoned national security professionals, there was an important if implicit lesson for this group as well. Perfectly tailoring his presentation to a well-informed but non-specialist audience, Colby used mostly jargon-free prose to methodologically outline America’s interests in Asia, the threats a rising China poses to those interests and the steps the U.S. needs to take militarily to defeat those threats. At every step out of the way, he patiently explained his logic, was frank in his assessments, and acknowledged and refuted foreseeable skepticisms and counterarguments.

In doing so, Colby showed how a long-term, robust Asia policy might be sold to the American people. The value of this should not be understated. Experts capable of discussing the intricate details of ASB and the pivot with other experts are a dime a dozen. Much rarer are those who can articulate and sell these policies to the general public. Having long excelled at the former, Colby proved to be equally capable of the latter this week at GMU.

Zachary Keck will start next Monday as The National Interest’s new Managing Editor. 

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Deeper Meaning behind Chuck Hagel's Departure

The Buzz

The departure of Chuck Hagel will likely herald some important changes in foreign policy, particularly with regards to the torrid security situation in the Middle East.  Yet the reshuffle also points to an enduring consistency of the Obama presidency: the relentless subordination of defense policy to perceived domestic-political imperatives.  Whoever succeeds Hagel, then, he or she will place an uphill struggle when it comes to revivifying national defense policy.

Hagel was placed in charge of the Pentagon primarily as an overseer of swingeing cuts to the defense budget.  As a Vietnam War veteran and a former Republican senator, Hagel was thought to tout the credentials necessary to push through the draconian economies imposed upon the U.S. military by sequestration.  America’s military establishment was to be slimmed down; the nation’s defenses were to be recalibrated for the post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan era; and a gradual focus on East Asia was supposed to be introduced to eclipse a decade’s worth of preoccupation with the Greater Middle East.  Simply put, Hagel was never prized for his reputation as a strategic visionary but rather as a political appointee who might be able to shepherd the DoD through a turbulent period of downsizing and reorientation.

Hagel’s original mission, of course, was soon completely upended by events on the international stage.  The Syrian civil war, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, and the rise of the Islamic State have thrust defense policy to the fore—much to the chagrin of a president who would much rather be able to devote his talents and energies towards domestic policy.  Under Hagel, the DoD has (by necessity) been involved more in short-term crisis management than long-term restructuring.  This is not the job that Hagel was tapped to perform.

Now, President Obama appears to be searching for a new foreign policy tack.  Slammed by his critics for making the wrong calls in both Syria and Iraq, the president has ordered his advisers to rethink how the United States should discharge itself in the Middle East.  After being reactive for the past several years, a proactive strategy is said to be in the works.  Hagel’s departure from the Pentagon is nothing more than a correlate of this belated strategic adjustment: different talents will be required to administer Obama’s new approach, whatever it turns out to be.

As such—and as Julia Ioffe has noted—replacing Hagel at the Pentagon simply will not achieve the same sense of a fresh start that, say, George W. Bush’s firing of Donald Rumsfeld achieved in 2006.  Rumsfeld had been allowed five years to design and implement a creative (if flawed and controversial) strategy for the U.S. military.  His sacking clearly signaled the Bush administration’s intention to chart a new course during the depths of the Iraq War’s unpopularity.  By contrast, President Obama’s appointees have been offered relatively little scope to make their own mark on defense policy; they have been issued with instructions rather than entrusted with authority.

All of this means that Chuck Hagel’s successor should not be expected to bring with them sweeping changes to defense policy.  For President Obama, domestic politics always has trumped foreign and defense policy.  Robert Gates and Leon Panetta each complained of a president more concerned with managing the domestic-political fallout of defense policy than with devising an effective posture for U.S. military forces abroad.  Whoever is confirmed to succeed Hagel will face the same president with the same political priorities: a leader elected to end wars rather than begin them; somebody who believes that domestic rejuvenation should take precedence over costly (and risky) foreign adventures; a president deeply concerned about asking the American people to spill yet more blood and treasure, preferring instead to offer the least line of resistance to foreign threats; and who, ultimately, is convinced that defense policy ought to be tamed and made subordinate to domestic-political ends.

TopicsDefense RegionsUnited States

Pages