The Buzz

Shinzo Abe’s Foreign and Security Policy Agenda

The Buzz

The underlying current of the December election victory by Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a quiet power shift toward liberal-center forces from the nationalist-right. This is first seen, as was pointed out by Brad Glosserman, in the relative rise of Komeito, which gained four seats to total 35, and the LDP’s loss of three seats, which leaves it with 290 within the ruling coalition.

This is more conspicuously seen, however, in the shattering defeat of the Party for Future Generations (Jisedai), which lost 17 seats, retaining only two representatives. This party assembled candidates from the most eloquent nationalist-right. Ishihara Shintaro, named as the last candidate in the party’s electoral list, could not gain a seat and immediately declared that he would resign from politics. Tamogami Toshio, former chief of the Air Self-Defense Force and known to have a nationalist view of history and defense, openly called for a break in the power of Komeito to achieve a conservative defense agenda. His defeat was symbolic and represented the nationalists’ failure, particularly in the area of defense.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gained 11 seats and now has 73 in total. The Japan Restoration Party (Ishin no Kai) lost one seat, holding on to 41, but the clout of Hashimoto Toru, the powerful nationalist mayor of Osaka, is considerably weakened. He announced his resignation from national politics to concentrate on Osaka’s regional politics. Eda Kenji, former secretary to Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro and possessor of a more balanced view on state matters, now heads this party. The remaining political party is the Communist Party, which gained 13 seats to reach 21. Thus, one can argue that other than the single conservative party, the LDP (290), all other major parties are liberal-center, including the Democrats (73), Restoration (41), Komeito (35), and the Communists (21), with other parties reduced to just two seats each.

Those results can have consequences for Abe’s policy, particularly on issues of security, politics, and history. Two hypotheses are possible. Optimists will argue that this political landscape together with Abe’s readiness to listen to realist-moderate aides from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) such as Yachi Shotaro will enable the prime minister to take a more balanced approach that will align him with global public opinion, including that of the United States and Europe. Pessimists will counter that the combination of a powerful majority position in the House of Representatives combined with caution because of the shifting political tide to the liberal-center will, paradoxically, make the nationalist-right more vocal and vigorous, and Abe will have no choice but to listen to and implement their views. Let us now look at specific agendas.

First, there is Abe’s security and defense agenda. After the election, and even at its last stage, Abe made it clear that “revision of the Constitution” is going to be one of his major political objectives. Does this make sense?

As far as Article 9 is concerned, the major task now is to concentrate on the parliamentary debate to codify the July 1 Cabinet decision to authorize the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, and after that, there does not seem to be real need for constitutional revision to ensure Japan’s proactive defense and security policy. MOFA may seek a more active role in Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and actions to be taken under UN Security Council Resolutions, such as enactment of a “permanent law” to meet such situations as the 2001 Afghan Resolution or the 2003 Iraq Resolution, but these would not require constitutional amendment.

Realistically, as long as Komeito remains part of the ruling coalition, further revision of Article 9 of the Constitution does not seem feasible. If Constitutional revision is going to go forward, issues such as ecological rights, public policy, or land property rights may have greater relevance.

Second, there are “historical memory issues,” such as visits to Yasukuni Shrine or the comfort women. During the election campaign, in contrast to mentions here and there of security and defense, the total silence on history by all parties, media, and academics was conspicuous. There are now two possibilities.

The optimistic view is that Abe becomes more of a realist and a good listener to aides such as Yachi. He would not go to Yasukuni and without saying so would find a way to let Presidents Obama and Xi know that. On the comfort women issue, he would allow his best diplomats to negotiate in confidentiality one more initiative to heal the wounds of these women and let ROK President Park Guen-hye join this exercise to remove this issue from the thorny political agenda between Japan and Korea. The year 2015 would be highlighted by Abe’s statement on the 70th commemoration of the end of World War II, but the key message on history should be his commitment to the Murayama statement and his determination of “never forget” as a perpetrator country. If these things can be achieved in 2015, Abe could take more resolute actions along this line to make him “Abe of Asia” and “Abe of the world” rather than just “Abe of Japan.”

The pessimistic view is that the 2015 Abe statement would be exclusively “future oriented” to declare to the world that Japan has done everything to reconcile with the past and that it is focused on the future to become a democratic and peaceful country. The key message would be “let us forget the past and work together for the future.” No further action can be expected by his Cabinet on comfort women. On Yasukini, Abe would be pressed by nationalists who argue that pressure from the Xi-Park alliance is humiliating Japan, and he would have to visit the shrine again to show his pride and resilience. If the later path is chosen, Abe, despite his strengthened domestic political position, would be heading toward global isolation.

One last issue needs to be addressed: Okinawa. Non-LDP candidates opposed to Futenma’s transfer to Henoko won all four of the single-member districts on the ballot, highlighting the general tendency to reject the Henoko option. Since Onaga Takeshi, who also rejects the Henoko option, won the December Okinawa governor’s election, it seems that the 2006 Two Plus Two agreement that selected the Henoko option faces serious problems. Formidable intellectuals have taken up the Okinawan cause. One of them is Sato Masaru, a former MOFA official working on Russia and a popular and prolific writer, who is deeply committed to the cause of Okinawa and seriously supports Okinawa identity. Unless the government pays significant attention to Okinawa identity – a long neglected issue – this may well become the most difficult security, defense, and foreign policy issue for Japan in the third Abe Cabinet.

Abe has another critical agenda: Abenomics, the third arrow of deregulation and economic development, revitalization of regions, etc. Success or failure in these areas may prove to be much more decisive for his longevity, but that is the subject for another time.

This piece first appeared in CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

10 World Figures Who Died in 2014

The Buzz

Last week, I wrote about ten Americans who died in 2014 who helped shape U.S. foreign policy during their lifetimes. Below are ten world figures who died in 2014. Each made a mark on history. Some were heroes; some were villains. And for some, whether they were hero or villain lies in the eye of the beholder.

Jean-Claude Duvalier (b. 1951) was the ruthless Haitian president ousted in a 1986 coup. Duvalier became “president for life” in 1971 at the age of nineteen when his father, President Francois Duvalier—or “Papa Doc”—suddenly died. “Baby Doc’s” rule was less brutal than his father’s, but that’s not saying much. He used his father’s militia, the Tonton Macoutes, to intimidate or eliminate his opponents. As many as 30,000 Haitians died as the country’s three main prisons became known as the “triangle of death.” While Haiti was (and is) the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Baby Doc lived lavishly; he stole as much as $800 million from the Haitian treasury. A severe economic crisis triggered the 1986 uprising that sent him into exile. He returned to Haiti 2011, having squandered his wealth during his twenty-five years in France. He claimed he wanted to help rebuild Haiti after it suffered a devastating earthquake; he did nothing of consequence to that end. Despite efforts by human rights groups, Duvalier wasnever brought to justice for his crimes. He lived well until his death this October.

Nadine Gordimer (b. 1923) was the Nobel Prize–winning South African writer whose novels and short stories educated the world about the reality of apartheid. Gordimer, the daughter of Jewish immigrants to South Africa, began writing young; she published her first short story when she was just fifteen. Her writing turned her into a forceful critic of apartheid. She joined the African National Congress and befriended Nelson Mandela. The South African government banned several of her works because of their anti-apartheid themes. Her 1979 book Burger’s Daughter, a story about “the problems, the humanity, the ruthlessness and the cost of political involvement,” was smuggled to Mandela while he was imprisoned at Robben Island. He subsequently wrote Gordimer “a letter of deep, understanding acceptance about the book.” Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. She continued to write about apartheid even after it was abolished in 1994. (If you’re looking to read some of Gordimer’s work, the Guardian has her five must-read books.)

Wojciech Jaruzelski (b. 1923) was the Polish leader who led the crackdown on the Solidarity movement in 1981 and eight years later became Poland’s last communist leader. Jaruzelski was born in Poland but fled to Lithuania with his family when Hitler invaded in 1939. In 1941, the Soviets sent him to Siberia. The next year he joined a Polish section of the Soviet army so he could fight against Germany. He remained in what became the Polish army after the war and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming the country’s youngest general at the age of thirty-three. A member of the Communist Party, he entered the Polish parliament in 1961 and became defense minister in 1968. When Solidarity’s prominence became unacceptable to Moscow, Jaruzelski declared martial law on December 13, 1981 and sent tanks into Warsaw to quell protests. He later claimed he took this step to prevent Moscow from intervening on its own, as it had done before in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Jaruzelski gradually relaxed martial law, and in 1989 he voluntarily stepped down from power. That move paved the way for the election of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa as Poland’s first post-Communist president. Poles are divided over Jaruzelski’s legacy. Some believe he was a hero for preventing a Soviet crackdown and leading the country out of communism; others think he put loyalty to the Soviet Union above his own country. The debate over his legacy will likely continue for a long time.

Sheik Umar Khan (b. 1975) was a doctor from Sierra Leone who died at the age of thirty-nine after contracting Ebola while treating victims of the region’s Ebola outbreak. Khan studied at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences in Sierra Leone. He later worked for the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, served as the head of Kenema Government Hospital’s Lassa fever program, consulted for the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, and taught as a university lecturer. Because Lassa fever is similar to Ebola, Khan was called on to help stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He understood the risks. He treated more than one hundred patients between April and July. When he became infected, only about seven hundred people had died of Ebola. Now, that number exceeds 7,500. That figure includes about 270 health care workers, all of whom had the courage and selflessness to help confront the deadly virus. Khan’s death prompted a debate over whether he should have been treated with an experimental drug that might have saved his life. The drug was later used on other health-care workers who became infected with Ebola and may have saved their lives.

Eroni Kumana (b. 1918) was a fisherman and canoe maker on the island of Rannoga in the Solomon Islands who saved John. F. Kennedy’s life. In 1943, Kumana was in his canoe fulfilling his Coastwatcher duties for the Australian government when he and his fellow islander Buiku Gasa came across a U.S. Navy crew struggling to survive on a deserted island after a Japanese destroyer sank their patrol boat, the PT-109. Kumana and Gasa built a fire and gave the men food and water. They then went a step further. They took a message that the PT boat’s captain, John Kennedy, had written on a coconut shell and paddled thirty-five miles to an Australian naval base. (Kennedy used the coconut shell as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office). Kennedy and his men were then rescued. Kumana and Gasa helped the Americans at great peril to themselves; the Japanese occupied Rannoga at the time and likely would have executed them had they been caught. And neither man knew that they were saving the life of a future president of the United States. Kumana never saw Kennedy again; he was invited to Kennedy’s presidential inauguration but was unable to attend. Kumana lived in the Solomon Islands his entire life. An American living there described him as “the most animated, energetic little guy…even at 93 years old.”

Hiroo Onoda (b. 1922) was a second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II who continued fighting long after the war ended for everyone else. As the war was in its final stages, Onoda and three of his fellow soldiers hid in the jungle on the island of Lubang in the Philippines. The last order they had received had directed them not surrender, so they didn’t. Not willing to believe that Japan would ever surrender, Onoda followed his orders for twenty-nine years—even after one of his comrades had surrendered and the other two had been killed. Finally, in 1974, Onoda’s brother and his former commanding officer persuaded him to surrender. Still wearing his tattered uniform, he went to Manila to present his sword to Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines, who then pardoned him for the crimes he had committed in the jungle. Onoda was greeted upon his return to Japan as a hero. He wrote a book about his experience. However, he felt out-of-place in his homeland. He moved to Brazil, where he met his wife. He eventually moved back to Japan and opened Onoda Nature School, a camp to teach survival skills to Japanese youth.

Ian Paisley (b. 1926) was the longtime leader of Protestants in Northern Ireland who favored union with Britain. Born and raised in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Paisley studied to become a Presbyterian minister but became dissatisfied with the church and founded the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church. He passionately opposed uniting Ulster with the rest of Ireland. In 1965, he threw snowballs at the Irish prime minister to protest what he feared was movement toward unification. When the Troubles, a thirty-year conflict over whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom, erupted in 1968, Paisley established himself as a leader of pro-union forces in Ulster. He consistently denounced any potential concessions to the Republic of Ireland or to Catholics in Northern Ireland, and he frequently did so using bitter, divisive, and inflammatory language. He was elected to the British House of Commons in 1970, and he founded the Democratic Unionist Party the next year. In 1988 as a member of European Parliament, he called the pope the antichrist. Paisley vehemently opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which helped end the Troubles. Yet when he was elected first minister of Northern Ireland in 2007, he surprised the world by reaching a power-sharing agreement with his arch-enemy, Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Féin Party. Most Protestant unionists viewed Paisley as a great leader; most everyone else saw him as a dangerous demagogue whose hatreds fueled the divisions and violence that drove the Troubles.

Michael Sata (b. 1937) was the president of Zambia. He came from humble beginnings, studied to be a priest, and tried many different jobs as a young man, including police officer, taxidermist, pilot, and even a porter in London’s Victoria station. He participated in Zambia’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. After independence, he rose through the ranks of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), which was headed by Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda. Sata eventually became disillusioned with Kaunda’s dictatorial ways, and in 1991 he joined the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). He eventually fell out with the MMD, and in 2001 he founded a new opposition party, the Patriotic Front. It took Sata three tries to win the Zambian presidency. He accomplished that feat in 2011, knocking the MMD out of power for the first time in two decades. Sata won the presidency in part because of his stinging criticism of Chinese involvement in Zambia’s copper mining industry. (Sata was known as “King Cobra” for his “abrasive manner and a sharp tongue.”) Once in office, his anti-Chinese attitude at times scared investors. Nonetheless, the Zambian economy grew under his leadership. Sata was succeeded in office by his vice president, Guy Scott, who became the first white president in the region since South African President F.W. de Klerk left office in 1994. Scott’s position is temporary. Zambia has elections scheduled for January 20.

Ariel Sharon (b. 1928) was a controversial Israeli general who as prime minister surprised both his critics and supporters by ordering the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon was born to Russian Jewish immigrants and raised on a farm near Tel Aviv. Hedistinguished himself in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. He subsequently formed an elite commando team, Unit 101, which he led on an infamous 1953 reprisal raid on Qibya, Jordan that killed sixty-nine Jordanian civilians. The UN Security Councilcondemned the attack, which the Israeli government denied its forces had carried out. Sharon played a role in all of Israel’s subsequent major conflicts until his stroke, including the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 Six-Day War. As defense minister in 1982, he orchestrated the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which failed to produce the quick victory he predicted and which was halted under intense pressure from the Reagan administration. A massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut by Israel’s Christian Lebanese militia allies in the wake of the war prompted international outrage; an official Israeli inquiry blamed Sharon for not anticipating the massacre and called for his resignation. He was reassigned to another Cabinet post, but remained an influential figure in Israeli politics. He was elected prime minister in 2001, in part on his promise to halt the second Palestinian intifada, an uprising that his own visit to Temple Mount had sparked. Despite having previously been a staunch supporter of Israel’s settlement policy, in 2005 he ordered all Israeli settlers and troops withdrawn from Gaza. Opposition within the Likud Party to his willingness to accept a Palestinian state prompted Sharon to form his own party, Kadima. In January 2006, however, before he could stand for election, he suffered a massive stroke. He spent the next eight years in what doctors called a minimally conscious state. Historians will long argue what might have been in Israeli-Palestinian relations had Sharon not become incapacitated.

Eduard Shevardnadze (b. 1928) was the Soviet foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev who later became president of the newly independent country of Georgia. Shevardnadze was born in Georgia. He joined the Soviet Communist youth organization,Komsomol, rising through the ranks and making friends with a young Gorbachev. Shevardnadze made a name for himself exposing corruption in the Georgian Communist Party. Then-Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev rewarded him for his efforts by making him first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia. In 1985, Gorbachev tapped Shevardnadze to be foreign minister even though he had no foreign policy experience. Shevardnadze’s tenure as foreign minister saw the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, arms control agreements signed with the United States, and the reunification of Germany. He also persuaded Gorbachev to oppose Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, paving the way for Operation Desert Storm. Shevardnadze developed good relations with U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker, who later said of him: “Shevardnadze was tough; he was tenacious; above all, he was brave.” After resigning from the Soviet government, Shevardnadze returned to his native Georgia to help smooth things over after a coup. He was elected president of Georgia in 1995 and again in 2000. He survived two assassination attempts, which may have dimmed his enthusiasm for political reform. Unrest in Georgia in 2003 over a faltering economy and growing corruption produced the Rose Revolution, which pushed Shevardnadze from office. He spent the last decade of his life in retirement.

Other significant world figures who died this year include: Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli parliamentarian who was critical of mistreating Palestinians; Rostislav Belyakov, the chief designer of the Russian MiG fighter jets; Asher Ben-Natan, the Israeli diplomat who helped to establish post-WWII relations between Israel and Germany, and who led the search for Adolf Eichmann; Sir Arthur Bonsall, a British codebreaker who helped to crack German codes during the Battle of Britain; Chung Eun-yong, a South Korean policeman who pushed for half a century to get the U.S. Army to acknowledge the massacre of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri; Gabriel García Márquez, the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature and a left-win social critic who was a diehard supporter of Fidel Castro;Melba Hernandez, a Cuban revolutionary who was a loyal compatriot to Fidel Castro;Ignatius Zakka Iwas, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church; Jaime Lusinchi, former president of Venezuela; Huber Matos Benitez, a leading figure of the Cuban Revolution who was imprisoned for twenty years after he turned against Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party; Ian Player, a South African conservationist instrumental in saving the white rhinoceros; Adolfo Suarez, the first Spanish prime minister after the death of Francisco Franco; U Win Tin, a leading critic of military rule in Myanmar; and Metropolitan Volodymyr, head of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church.

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

TopicsForeign Policy

Iran Tests ‘Kamikaze’ Suicide Drone

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Iran tested its new “suicide” drone for the first time late last week, according to a senior Iranian military officer.

Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, the Commander of Iran’s Ground Forces, told reporters on Friday that Iran first deployed its “kamikaze drones” during ongoing military drills near the Strait of Hormuz.

“The kamikaze drone was for the first time used in Mohammad Rasoulallah (Mohammad, the Messenger of God) maneuvers,” Pourdastan said, referring to the military drills, state-owned Iranian media outlets reported. “The drone can be used for hitting the aerial and ground targets and can carry out an attack when it identifies a suspicious target.”

Pourdastan first announced that the Iranian army had developed a “new type of suicide drone” back in September 2013, which he referred to as the Ra'ad 85 (Thunder 85).

At the time, Pourdastan claimed “This drone is like a mobile bomb, and is capable of destroying fixed and mobile targets,” including enemy helicopters. He also said that the drone was being produced in different sizes in order to target and destroy different kinds of targets. Elsewhere, Iranian press outlets reported that the Ra’ad 85 had a range of about 100 km.

However, the drone was widely mocked by foreign experts in October 2013 after Iranian TV stations first aired video displaying the the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The drone in the video was reportedly patched with duct tape in various areas, prompting many to dismiss it as an “an amateurish project.”

Nonetheless, Iran has sought to incorporate UAVs into its armed forces, and placed an especially high premium on developing an indigenous UAV industry over the past decade. Although Iran’s “indigenous” UAVs often appear to be modeled off of foreign drones, Tehran has an increasingly wide-range and sophisticated domestic drone industry. As The National Interest noted earlier this month, Iranian officials appear eager to begin exporting some of these UAVs.

The use of the Ra’ad 85 as a “mobile bomb” is consistent with Iranian military doctrine, which relies in part on using asymmetric capabilities to deter adversaries with vastly superior conventional military power. Indeed, in many ways it appears Iran intends to use the Ra’ad 85 in particular, and its fleet of UAVs more generally, in a fashion similar to its swarming speedboats. Iranian naval officials have regularly suggested these speedboats might be used as mobile bombs in kamikaze attacks against U.S. naval assets in the event of a war.

In any case, the first test of the Ra’ad 85 has been a long time coming. Shortly after Pourdastan first revealed the drone’s existence in September 2013, Iranian army officials claimed that the drone would be used in Army drills scheduled to take place between October and November of last year. Then, in May of this year, Pourdastan announced that the kamikaze drone would be tested sometime in 2014.

The Ra-ad 85 was tested as part of the week-long joint military exercises that are scheduled to conclude on December 31. Iran’s Army, Navy and Air Force are all reportedly participating in the war games, which allegedly cover an “area of 2.2 million square kilometers (850,000 square miles) stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz to the southern parts of the Gulf of Aden,” according to local press reports. On Monday Iran’s naval chief told an Iranian Arab-language news outlet that “the drill has a message of friendship and peace for all neighboring countries in the region and even extra-regional countries.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Iranian Internet

Topicsmilitary RegionsMiddle East

Question: Should Taiwan Change its China Policy?

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Taiwan's political landscape is being transformed. On Nov. 29, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) suffered a massive defeat in local elections, in which it prevailed in only six of 22 cities and counties nationwide. The KMT debacle triggered a personnel reshuffle in the party and the government. President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan resigned as chairman of the KMT and former Premier Jiang Yi-huah led his Cabinet to resign en masse. Some Taiwan watchers insist that the election results are of great impact for cross-Strait relations, anticipating a rocky cross-Strait relationship because the KMT has lost its mandate to push cross-Strait exchanges. The KMT's crushing defeat may reflect strong dissatisfaction toward the central government, but it isn't clear if the election results reject President Ma's policy of engaging China and back the DPP's pro-independence policy.

These were local elections, which implies at least that the key issues were local, not President Ma's cross-Strait policy. In a post-election survey released by Taiwan Thinktank, 43 percent of respondents reported that their voting decisions were based on "candidate's personalities," a factor topping all other options in the survey. The second factor was "people's discontent toward the central government," accounting for 25.1 percent of respondents. "Party identity" - which would account for China policy - was third in the survey, with less than 10 percent of respondents regarding it as decisive for their voting behavior.) So while even though the election outcome can be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the government, it is not correct to blame dissatisfaction toward the government on its China policy rather than domestic issues. The salience of food-safety scandals and concerns about Taiwan's economic competitiveness are also important factors.

There has been concern about President Ma's cross-Strait policy. Increasing anxiety related to Taiwan's "over-reliance" on China was revealed by mass protests in March 2014 against a planned cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). Those frustrations, however, do not equate with a complete rejection of Ma's push for closer economic ties with China. Three months after the March protests, a survey by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR) indicated that as many as 43.3 percent of respondents supported the KMT push for cross-Strait trade liberalization. Even after KMT's defeat in the recent election, a poll conducted by the Beijing-based Global Times and the Taipei-based China Times showed that more than 63 percent of respondents in Taiwan believe that the island should pursue trade pacts with China. In fact, the March demonstration protested passage of the TiSA by the KMT without a clause-by-clause review, a protest against the government's failure to communicate with the public on the content of the trade agreement. Thus, the stalled free trade agreement with China is more a rejection of the Ma administration's approach to the TiSA than a denial of the intent to sign a trade agreement with China per se.  

In contrast to the KMT loss, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won 13 of the 22 seats up for election. While it is tempting to see the election as heralding the DPP's return to national power in 2016, this neglects two critical facts.

First, while the results are favorable for the DPP, they do not mean popular support for DPP is enough to win the election. Rather, the appalling performance of the KMT accentuates the DPP's success. A public opinion poll released by TISR in December 2014 revealed that in November, supporters of the DPP-led "Pan-Green" coalition roughly equaled that of the KMT-led "Pan-Blue" coalition, with 27 percent of respondents favoring the "Pan-Green" camp and 25.9 percent backing the "Pan-Blue" camp. There is a significant and growing population of independents: 44.7 percent of respondents consider themselves politically neutral. The increasing number of independent voters suggests the 2016 presidential election results will be much more variable.

Local elections mainly focus on local issues, while a presidential election includes a wider array of policies, ranging from purely domestic issues to relations with other countries. As cross-Strait relations have improved over the past few years in tandem with a regional trend to pursue closer economic relations with Beijing, all presidential candidates in 2016 will have to articulate their "China policy." As contact with Beijing seems inevitable and peace across the Taiwan Strait is the top priority for the Taiwanese public, the KMT and DPP must convince the public that they can handle relations with China well.

To date, the DPP's China policy remains unclear. The DPP seems to recognize the inevitability of engaging China, as Tsai Ing-wen, party chairwoman, explained in September when she said that the DPP will engage China in a "consistent, responsible and predicable" way. But its fundamental policy in cross-Strait relations - a stance that rejects the 1992 consensus of "one China, two interpretations" - is unlikely to change and the party refuses to remove the pro-independence clause in its platform. This position seems to match the growing Taiwanese identity, but reconciling that identity and that policy with China's unwavering "one China" framework is the DPP's most critical task.

Emily S. Chen is a graduate student in the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University with a focus on international relations. This piece first appeared in CSIS: PACNET newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsChina RegionsTaiwan

China's Biggest Challenge: Being Number One

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In 2014, China arrived as the economic Number One and Japan arrived as a ‘normal’ security player in Asia.

China confronts the many meanings and huge character test of being the biggest. Japan has just given Shinzo Abe a fresh mandate to remake Japan’s strategic role. That means four more years to grapple with Abe’s vision of what Japan must do to be true to itself, domestically and regionally (recall Tomasi’s great line: “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.”) More than most nations, Japan is always about itself. But like the rest of Asia, Japan can’t resist being driven by China. It used to be U.S. pressure that got Japan to shift, now it’s Chinese competition.

Asia’s headline moments in 2014 included Modi’s election in India and Jokowi’s win in Indonesia. For the trends shaping Asia’s history, though, look no further than what the year meant for China and Japan.

First, China arriving as the economic Number One. After all the loud and long yabbering about what it’d mean when China passes the US as the biggest economy, the moment just zipped by. Leaving 2014 for 2015, China is the world’s biggest economy, with the U.S. stepping back to number two. Trend moments get no bigger. True, the measure is purchasing power parity. And the moment of the tectonic shift hides deep in the calculations of the International Comparison Program of the World Bank.

The instant that China got to Number One might be about now, as you’re reading this. If you don’t want to dive into the Excel spread sheet, follow the Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz on this benchmark moment for the Chinese Century. Enjoy Stiglitz’s report of how Chinese experts threatened to walk out of the World Bank technical discussions on the new numbers that showed China was on track to hit the top before the end of 2014.

Even China worries about the earthquake potential of the tectonic moment. Stiglitz writes that news of the glorious arrival was blacked out by the Great Cyberwall of China. Beijing’s fear is what this will do to a superpower ego across the Pacific: “China understands full well America’s psychological preoccupation with being Number One—and was deeply worried about what our reaction would be when we no longer were.”

Xi Jinping is thinking about what being Number One means, with his call for China to establish “big country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.” Read those comments alongside the address Xi gave to the Australian Parliament with this version of the meaning of China as the biggest:

Others naturally wonder how the big guy will move and act, and they may be concerned that the big guy may push them around, stand in their way or even take up their place.

The big guy in 2014 delivered Australia a surprisingly broad free trade agreement, crowning a ten year negotiation. And the dance continues to get South Korea and Australia to sign up to China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Trade Minister, Andrew Robb (eight visits to China this year) is confident that the Abbott Government can get enough from Beijing to step beyond its “strategic” concerns to join China’s Bank:

If the governance provisions that we’ve put to them [China] which only replicate really what are in place for other similar bodies such as the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank, I am 100 percent certain that the Prime Minister will sign up.

Such a sign up would put Australia and South Korea inside China’s new institution, leaving Japan and the U.S. outside. Ah, the many problems of tectonic moments. Canberra is finding out what it means to be a “strategic partner” of China—the term agreed when the Gillard government got the deal for an annual leaders’ summit.

In the same way, Canberra is having to think what it means to be an ‘ally’ of Japan. The ally label bestowed by Tony Abbott embraces Abe’s vision of a normal Japan changing the peace constitution to do its strategic duty in Asia.

As Rod Lyon remarks, Abe and Abbot have brushed aside hesitant advisers to proclaim a “special relationship,” aiming for a level of strategic cooperation that no other Asian leader is likely to reach for. Abe’s new electoral mandate means the Abe-Abbott axis can go to higher places yet, transforming defense links.

Next year Australia will have to offer big thoughts on what all this means, in its fourth Defence White Paper in 15 years. The equipment decisions are agonizing and excruciating; the cost and commitment boggling in dollars and duration. But it’s the swift, swirling trends that drive Australia to have four goes at writing Defense’s New Testament.

The four White Papers from 2000 to 2015 represent a clear break from the three Papers that sufficed for the preceding 24 years (1976, 1987 and 1994). The key author of the 2000 Paper, Hugh White, wrote that it

clearly acknowledged that China’s rise constituted a major change in Australia’s circumstances, and that Australia needed to take a wider view of its national interests and expand its military capabilities. The possibility of war with China now influenced major force planning decisions for the first time since the Vietnam War.

Major change, indeed. And in 2014, China as Number One and Japan as Normal shoved the change even harder.

Graeme Dobell is the ASPI journalist fellow. This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsChina

5 Things Everyone Should Know About World Politics

The Buzz

I found a great list of “122 things everyone should know about investing and the economy.” Some of the points are so perfectly applicable to the study and practice of international relations that they can be listed here under the above heading. When you see the word “investing,” just change it to “diplomacy”:

6. As Erik Falkenstein says: "In expert tennis, 80% of the points are won, while in amateur tennis, 80% are lost. The same is true for wrestling, chess, and investing: Beginners should focus on avoiding mistakes, experts on making great moves."

43. "History doesn't crawl; it leaps," writes Nassim Taleb. Events that change the world -- presidential assassinations, terrorist attacks, medical breakthroughs, bankruptcies -- can happen overnight.

57. The more someone is on TV, the less likely his or her predictions are to come true. (University of California, Berkeley psychologist Phil Tetlock has data on this).

100. What Marty Whitman says about information: "Rarely do more than three or four variables really count. Everything else is noise."

122. Take two investors. One is an MIT rocket scientist who aced his SATs and can recite pi out to 50 decimal places. He trades several times a week, tapping his intellect in an attempt to outsmart the market by jumping in and out when he's determined it's right. The other is a country bumpkin who didn't attend college. He saves and invests every month in a low-cost index fund come hell or high water. He doesn't care about beating the market. He just wants it to be his faithful companion. Who's going to do better in the long run? I'd bet on the latter all day long. "Investing is not a game where the guy with the 160 IQ beats the guy with a 130 IQ," Warren Buffett says. Successful investors know their limitations, keep cool, and act with discipline. You can't measure that.

(BTW, for me no.122 describes the difference between the Bush and Obama approaches to foreign policy nicely. Although I know Obama is whip-smart and George W Bush was allegedly a dummy, in this analogy I think Bush is the MIT rocket scientist and Obama the bumpkin.)

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter, the in house publication of the Lowy Institute.

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 


No, North Korea Did NOT Threaten to Blow Up the White House

The Buzz

Western media outlets have been having a field day with North Korea’s response to “The Interview” movie in which Seth Rogen and James Franco’s characters’ assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Unfortunately, in doing so, the press has frequently sacrificed accuracy for “clickbait” headlines.

The first example of this came in June when the trailer for the movie was released. Soon after it went up on YouTube, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning the movie. In covering this statement, countless Western media outlets claimed that North Korea had threatened war with the U.S. over the movie’s content. As I noted at the time, the statement in fact did no such thing.

The latest example of the Western media botching its coverage of North Korea came this weekend when Pyongyang responded to America’s accusations that it was behind the cyber attacks against Sony Pictures Entertainment. On Sunday, North Korea’s National Defence Commission released a statement on the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) responding to the accusations made by President Obama as well as the his promise to retaliate against Pyongyang for the hacks.

Countless ostensibly reputable news sources claimed that  North Korea threatened to “blow up” the White House and Pentagon over the accusations. Others used the slightly more ambiguous term “strike” the White House, providing themselves with more cover.

So what did the National Defense Commission really say?

The vast majority of the statement rehashes points North Korea has already made, including: 1) denouncing “The Interview,” 2) praising the Guardians of Justice-- the cyber unit behind the hack-- for attacking Sony, 3) denying that Pyongyang was in anyway involved in the hack itself and 4) criticizing the Obama administration and president for portraying North Korea as the culprit.

It then notes that “Obama personally declared in public” that the U.S. would take a "symmetric counteraction" against the North for the hack, which the National Defense Commission deems “disgraceful behavior.”

The commission pledges that the “the army and people of the DPRK will never be browbeaten” by this “symmetric counteraction,” and instead will take the “toughest counteraction” itself in response to any American retaliation. Furthermore, the National Defense Commission warns that Pyongyang’s “toughest counteraction” will not necessarily be limited to a “single movie production company” but rather “our target is all the citadels of the U.S. imperialists.”

At this point, the statement finally uses the phrase “blow up” when it says that “The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to stand in confrontation with the U.S. in all war spaces including cyber warfare space to blow up those citadels [emphasis added]. The following paragraph mentions the White House and Pentagon in stating: “Our toughest counteraction will be boldly taken against the White House, the Pentagon and the whole U.S. mainland, the cesspool of terrorism.”

The key points the commission is making is that North Korea will not be coerced (browbeaten) by Obama’s threats of retaliation because North Korea is prepared to confront the U.S. in any war space the latter chooses. However, as is typical of Pyongyang, the commission is portraying North Korea as the victim (or potential victim, in this case) of an act of aggression by the United States. What the sentence is saying, then, is that North Korea stands ready to counter acts of aggression from the U.S. in any “war space” that Washington chooses. True, it does promise to have a tougher counteraction than whatever Washington does to it. However, since the Obama administration is threatening to place North Korea back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism, Pyongyang is certainly not threatening to respond by blowing up the White House or Pentagon (besides, it doesn’t have those capabilities).

It’s hard to say what type of counteraction one might expect from the North should the Obama administration place it back on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. However, it’s safe to rule out blowing up the White House or Pentagon.

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Public Domain

Topicsmilitary RegionsAsia-Pacific

America's Palestine Refugee Policy Is Insane

The Buzz

One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By any measurement, Western policy towards United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the internationally funded agency for Palestinian “refugees,” meets that definition. One example is the newly released 2015 State Department Framework for Cooperation Between UNRWA and the U.S.

This exercise in repetition occurred in the wake of a war that again exposed UNRWA’s unsavory and illegal activities, from being “shocked” that its schools were used to store Hamas’ rockets and rote condemnations of Israel, to its employees cheering the murder of Israelis. The framework nevertheless represents the American commitment to prolong the existence of UNRWA, established almost exactly 65 years ago.

The bulk of the document deals with UNRWA management. For example, there are the “15 objectives of the Medium Term Strategy” and the “Development of Strategic Response Plans for each of UNRWA’s five fields of operation through a consultative process.” The document also speaks of the “Continued implementation of ongoing management reforms, particularly in the areas of results-based management, resource mobilization, human resources, transition to and management of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) data management system, and internal communications.”

These reflect the professionalization of UNRWA from a temporary relief organization into a multifaceted international organization dealing with Palestinian “basic education, health, relief and social services, microcredit, camp improvement and infrastructure and other assistance,” and “human development of Palestinian refugees by improving living conditions, economic potential, livelihoods, access, and human rights.” In other words, all the things that a Palestinian state should be doing for its citizens at home and outside its borders.

They also take for granted that UNRWA will not only continue to exist through at least 2021 (the end of the next five year planning cycle,) but will also grow in both scope and size, then and beyond. There is no talk about limiting UNRWA’s operations, or turning responsibilities over to the Palestinian Authority or to countries that host Palestinian “refugees.” In fact, the only talk about an end to UNRWA is the boilerplate statement that “The goal of U.S. support to UNRWA is to ensure that Palestinian refugees live in dignity with an enhanced human development potential until a comprehensive and just solution is secured.” Left unsaid is the fact that only the United Nations General Assembly can dissolve UNRWA, and that body’s definition of a “comprehensive and just solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict is unlikely to be realized anytime soon, if ever.

The Framework does make a sideways nod to the reality that the 2014 Gaza War generated some bad publicity for UNRWA, during the course of which American legislators demanded investigations into how Hamas weapons found their way into UNRWA schools. For the State Department the matter is pressing particularly given that Section 301(c) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (amended) states that “No contributions by the United States shall be made to (UNRWA) except on the condition that (UNRWA) take all possible measures to assure than no part of the United States contribution shall be used to furnish assistance to any refugee who is receiving military training as a member of the so-called Palestine Liberation Army or any other guerilla-type organization or who has engaged in any act of terrorism.”

Thus the new Framework states:

“The United States and UNRWA share concerns about the threat of terrorism, including within the context of the United Nation’s firm commitment to counter terrorism and the conditions on U.S. contributions to UNRWA under section 301(c). To this end, UNRWA is committed to taking all possible measures to ensure that funding provided by the United States to support UNRWA is not used to provide assistance to, or otherwise support, terrorists or terrorist organizations.

The United States and UNRWA intend to continue to work together throughout 2015 to enhance collaboration and communication on issues related to conformance with conditions on U.S. contributions to UNRWA as detailed in section 301(c). The United States supports UNRWA’s policy to take all possible measures to ensure that staff members understand and fulfill their obligations, under Agency Rules and Regulations, to refrain from prohibited outside activities.”

This constitutes an UNRWA commitment to update its human resources manuals, nothing more. There is no mention of UNRWA’s refusal to use U.S. or Israeli terror watch lists to ensure any commitment to combat terrorism.

The unreality is compounded by the still more ludicrous statement that the U.S. “notes with appreciation efforts taken by UNRWA during the course of 2014 to strengthen the Agency’s neutrality compliance, including but not limited to the development of social media guidelines for official UNRWA communications…”

Whether the UNRWA spokesman crying on camera while being interviewed constitutes “neutrality compliance” is unclear, as is the celebration of the recent Jerusalem murders of rabbis on the Facebook pages of UNRWA teachers. Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect UNRWA employees, the vast majority of whom are Palestinian, to express neutrality. But if that is the case, then the Framework’s endorsement of “UNRWA’s human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance education program” may also be questioned, or at least its implementation.

But a deeper look at the document and the background of the American commitment to UNRWA suggests another vast disconnect. The framework states “All U.S. foreign assistance programs are required to demonstrate performance and accountability, and clearly link programming and funding directly to U.S. policy goals.” How prolonging the Palestinian “refugee” issue through the permanent institutionalizing of UNRWA serves U.S. policy goals is mystifying.

Beyond that, UNRWA officials at the top continue to defend the Palestinian “right of return,” in speeches as well as on official web pages, not to mention its pervasive promotion in UNRWA schools. How does promoting the Palestinian ideology that they are entitled to return to places once occupied by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents which are now in Israel, and in the process transform Israel into a Jewish minority state, serve U.S. policy, much less the cause of peace?

The new U.S.-UNRWA Framework is foreign policy by inertia. In 2013 that inertia cost $294,023,401, the amount of the U.S. contribution to UNRWA (in addition to $356,700,000 in aid to the Palestinian Authority). U.S. support to UNRWA kept Palestinians in stasis, promoted Palestinian rejectionism, and did not advance the cause of peace, or U.S. policy.

Asaf Romirowsky is an adjunct fellow at the Middle East Forum. Alexander Joffe is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow of the Middle East Forum. They are co-authors of the book Religion, Politics, and the Origins of Palestine Refugee Relief.

Image:Wikimedia/DFID/ CC by 2.0​

TopicsPolitics RegionsMiddle East

The Most Dangerous Nuclear Threat No One Is Talking About

The Buzz

While Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs are all the rage these days, the most dangerous nuclear threat facing the world continues to go largely unnoticed.

Namely, China and India are both on the cusp of deploying multiple independently targetable reentry (MIRV) vehicles on their ballistic missiles, a development that is likely to have profound, far-reaching consequences for the region and beyond.

MIRVed missiles carry payloads of several nuclear warheads each capable of being directed at a different set of targets. They are considered extremely destabilizing to the strategic balance primarily because they place a premium on striking first and create a “use em or lose em” nuclear mentality.

Along with being less vulnerable to anti-ballistic missile systems, this is true for two primary reasons. First, and most obviously, a single MIRVed missile can be used to eliminate numerous enemy nuclear sites simultaneously. Thus, theoretically at least, only a small portion of an adversary’s missile force would be necessary to completely eliminate one’s strategic deterrent. Secondly, MIRVed missiles enable countries to use cross-targeting techniques of employing two or more missiles against a single target, which increases the kill probability.

In other words, MIRVs are extremely destabilizing because they make adversary’s nuclear arsenals vulnerable to being wiped out in a surprise first strike. To compensate for this fact, states must come up with innovative ways to secure their deterrent from an enemy first strike. This usually entails increasing the size of one’s arsenal, and further dispersing to make it more difficult for an enemy to conduct a successful first strike. For example, when the U.S. first deployed MIRVed missiles in 1968, the Soviet Union had less than 10,000 nuclear warheads. A decade later, however, it had over 25,000 (of course, the Soviet Union deploying its own MIRVed missiles incentivized expanding the size of its arsenal since more warheads were needed per missile).

With regards to China and India, then, the introduction of MIRVed missiles could have profound consequences of both of their nuclear postures. One of the most remarkable aspects of every nuclear state not named Russia or the United States is they have relied on an extremely small nuclear arsenal to meet their deterrent needs. This is especially true of India and China who have generally maintained minimum deterrence and no-first use doctrines. With the introduction of countervailing MIRVed missiles, however, there will be strong incentives on both sides to vastly increase the size of their arsenals if any to guard against the threat of a first strike by the other side.

Of course, the consequences of China and India acquiring MIRVed missiles would not be limited to those states alone. Most obviously, India’s acquisition of MIRVed missiles would immediately threaten the survivability of Pakistan’s nuclear forces. In the short-term, this will probably result in Islamabad further dispersing its nuclear arsenal, which in general will leave it more vulnerable to Islamist terrorist groups in the country. Over the long-term, Pakistan will feel pressure to expand the size of its arsenal as well as acquire MIRVed capabilities of its own.

The same pressures will be felt in Moscow. Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has relied on its vast nuclear arsenal to compensate for its relative conventional weakness. In the eyes of Russian leaders, this will only grow more necessary as China continues to modernize its conventional military forces. Currently, Russia holds vastly more nuclear warheads than China, which is a source of relief for Moscow. As China MIRVs its missiles, however, as well as likely builds up the size of its arsenal, Moscow will see its nuclear superiority over Beijing rapidly erode. It can be counted on to respond by abrogating its arms control treaties with the United States, and expanding its own arsenal as well. In such a situation, a U.S. president would come under enormous domestic pressure to meet Russia’s buildup warhead for warhead.

Thus, while the prospect of North Korea and Iran acquiring operationalized nuclear arsenals may be concerning, China and India’s MIRVed missiles present far greater threats to the world.

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia

TopicsSecurityNuclear Weapons RegionsAsia-Pacific

Turkey's Strategic Choices

The Buzz

Over the last few weeks, a number of prominent world leaders have called on Turkey.

Late in November, for example, Vice President Joe Biden was in Turkey to discuss cooperating against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. His visit was followed by that of Russian President Vladimir Putin. This month it was Frederica Mogherini’s turn, the European Union’s new foreign policy chief. Her visit coincided with ones by Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskite, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who also holds the presidency of the European Council.

Clearly, Turkey is in high demand, but which way will Turkey actually go: East or West. East represents a world with an emphasis on sovereign democracy, state capitalism, authoritarianism, populism and the rise of religiously driven nationalism, in contrast to a West traditionally associated with liberal democracy and markets predicated on the rule of law, transparency, and accountability. Here Putin’s Russia offers a good approximation of the East compared to the transatlantic community which represents the West. It will be important to sustain the pace of these visits from members of the transatlantic community and match them with deeds to revitalize Turkey’s relations with the West, especially economic ties.

It is no surprise that Turkey is in high demand. It sits in the midst of a neighborhood in a chronic state of upheaval. Across the Black Sea, Putin’s Russia has annexed Crimea and continues to destabilize eastern Ukraine. Furthermore, Russia continues to perpetuate frozen conflicts of the post-Soviet space from Transnistria in Moldova to Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan.

However, no challenge has been greater for Turkey than the instability in Iraq and Syria. Turkey is hosting a refugee population fast approaching two million and is far from seeing the moderate opposition gain the upper hand and replace Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Instead, the emergence of IS has further exacerbated the situation and led to Turkey being portrayed in Western media as both a key player in efforts to “degrade and ultimately defeat” IS as well as a spoiler of these efforts. The latter portrayal is often based in part on Turkey’s reluctance to support the Kurdish resistance to IS’s onslaught on the Kurdish town of Kobani located on the Syrian-Turkish border.  Some have gone so far as to accuse Turkey of directly assisting IS.

The need to improve relations with Turkey and better coordinate the fight against IS brought Biden to Turkey. The visit came on the heels of deep policy differences between the U.S. and Turkey over how to deal with IS. The U.S. emphasized the immediate threat from IS and the need for Turkey to be more forthcoming in its support to defeat IS militarily. For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted on the need to create no-fly zones along the Turkish border to increase pressure on al-Assad and bring about regime change.

These differences brought bilateral relations to a new low when Biden claimed publicly that Erdogan had privately recognized Turkey’s failed policies in Syria. This remark precipitated denials and calls for an apology from the Turkish side. Nevertheless, the threat from IS and the growing instability in the Middle East elicited a more pragmatic approach from both sides, as was captured by Biden when he stated, “We need Turkey. And I think Turkey believes that they need us, as well.” Time will tell whether his remarks will translate into action on the ground and if these two allies will be able to transcend their differences and achieve greater strategic cooperation.

Russian President Putin’s visit to Turkey occurred within a week of Biden’s departure, against the backdrop of Turkey minimizing its criticisms of Putin on Crimea and Ukraine.  Such a response is very puzzling, particularly because “territorial integrity” has long been a sacrosanct principle of Turkish political culture. Turkish citizens have long been warned about conspiracies threatening Turkey’s territorial integrity and unity. Turkey’s silence is all the more puzzling considering that there is a large minority of Tatars in Crimea with close ethnic, historical and religious ties to Turkey. Much more conspicuously, in Syria, Russia and Turkey hold diametrically opposed policies: Putin has been unrelenting in his support for al-Assad, while Erdogan has been a virulent opponent and considers any attempts to compromise with him as amounting to treachery.

Turkey’s silence on Crimea is likely due in no small part to its massive dependence on Russian energy, especially natural gas. Prospects of Russian gas, coupled with Russia’s capacity to interrupt gas and petroleum flows through the South Caucasus, clearly weighs heavily on Turkey’s stance on Russia. Furthermore, Turkey runs a massive trade deficit with Russia and can only balance it partly with income from Russian tourism in Turkey and with Turkish companies doing business in Russia. Thus, maintaining good relations with Russia has become an economic sine quo non for Turkey.

There is much to be said about Putin’s leadership style and anti-Western rhetoric, which endears him to Erdogan and, to some extent, the Turkish public. One fascinating manifestation of this came at a previous meeting between the two leaders in St. Petersburg in November 2013. During a press conference, in response to a comment by Putin that “Turkey [had] great experience in EU talks,” Erdogan said, “You are right. Fifty years of experience is not easy. Allow us into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and save us from this trouble.”

Clearly, Putin has been clever in exploiting Turkey’s grievances. For example, following recent EU economic sanctions on Russia, Putin offered Erdogan the possibility of greater exports to Russia, allowing him to mitigate the impact of sanctions on consumer goods while simultaneously whetting the appetite of Turkish businesses that have lost markets in the Middle East. This has been accompanied by a promise to replace the cancelled South Stream natural gas pipeline project with an alternative one to carry gas to Europe via Turkey. As can be seen, then, Putin is trying to entice Turkey away from the West and increase its dependence on Russia.

It is against this backdrop that Mogherini’s visit becomes strategically important. Turkey’s problematic relations with the EU have been captured by a standstill in accession negotiations. Technically, for Turkish accession to be completed, 33 chapters representing the EU acquis, the corpus of EU laws and policies, have to be negotiated and closed. Croatia, which began accession negotiations together with Turkey in 2005, completed them in late 2011 and became a fully-fledged member of the EU in July of this year. In Turkey’s case, eight chapters were suspended in December 2006 by the EU while another nine chapters are being blocked by France, Cyprus, Germany and Austria. It was only last summer that the 14th chapter was finally opened for negotiations after stalling back in 2010.

However, the chaos surrounding Turkey is pushing both sides closer together. This fall, both sides expressed their will to revive relations.  Ahead of her visit to Turkey, for instance, Mogherini emphasized the strategic importance of EU-Turkish relations while Johannes Kahn, the Commissioner for the EU’s Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, stressed the EU’s determination to get accession negotiations with Turkey back on track. Similarly, an October 2014 EU document stated that, “active and credible accession negotiations provide the most suitable framework for exploiting the full potential of EU-Turkey relations.” A similar sentiment came from Ankara when Erdogan announced that 2014 would be the year in which the EU and Turkey committed to revive the accession process. Subsequently, Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, Ambassador Volkan Bozkır, announced “Turkey’s New EU Strategy” in Brussels in September 2014, and detailed the measures to be taken to improve ties.

Economic factors and public opinion in Turkey are also favorably disposed for an improvement in relations with the European Union. Until 2013, Turkey’s economy maintained robust growth. Since then, however, it has encountered myriad challenges, including a general slowdown in emerging economies around the world and regional instabilty. Democratic regression and a weakening of the rule of law are also frequently cited as has having an adverse impact on the Turkish economy.

Closer relations with Russia are unlikely to remedy these problems. Turkey’s exports to the EU are almost tenfold of those to Russia and nearly 70 percent of Turkey’s foreign direct investment (FDI) comes from the EU. Mogherini’s visit comes at a time when public opinion in Turkey has begun to turn in EU’s favor. According to the 2014 Transatlantic Trends published by the German Marshall Fund, after consecutive years of decline since 2006, those among the Turkish public who looked at membership favorably increased by 8 percentage points to 53 percent from 2013 to 2014. The Turkish public senses that economic, political and strategic considerations make it quite clear that Turkey needs to re-anchor itself to the transatlantic community.

The EU and the U.S. need to reinforce this trend. Mogherini’s words should be matched with action. Thus, it is paramount that the EU opens a number of new chapters for negotiations. Turkey has expressed interest in the opening of at least three chapters calling for domestic political and economic reforms. While Turkish membership is not likely to happen anytime soon, maintaining a credible process is crucial. In the meantime, it is important to take up the World Bank’s recommendation to upgrade the customs union between the EU and Turkey. The customs union helped make Turkey the 6th largest trading partner of the EU and the 16th largest economy in the world. There is also the need for greater recognition from the EU that it benefits from economic relations with Turkey, especially at a time when the EU economy is still struggling to come out of recession and sanctions on Russia are adversely impacting exports.

The strategic value of Turkey’s EU ties continues to be of great importance, particularly in light of the heightened contest between the West and Russia and deep instability throughout the Middle East. In 1995, the U.S. played a key role in supporting the negotiation and signing of Turkey’s customs union with the EU as well as Turkey’s EU membership vocation as a means to deepening Turkey’s transatlantic relations.

The U.S. should reinvigorate these efforts. Additionally, the U.S. should explore the idea of enlarging the TTIP to include Turkey or sign a bilateral free trade agreement with Turkey. This would help re-anchor Turkey to the transatlantic community, enlarge the business community with a stake in liberal market values, make Turkey a net contributor to the transatlantic economy, help with employment creation, and increase strategic cooperation. In turn, stronger and deeper relations with the West would help revive Turkey’s democracy and economy, as well as its soft power in its neighborhood. This would not necessarily mean Turkey’s relations with the East would weaken. Relations with Russia could be maintained and even expanded but without making Turkey vulnerable to Russian influence. Similarly, in the Middle East Turkey could return to the days when it was hailed as a model for the region, economically as well as politically.

Kemal Kirişci is the TUSIAD Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings, in Washington, DC.

Image: European Commission

TopicsDiplomacy RegionsEuropeMiddle East