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A Big Deal: Japan’s Pivot to India

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India’s newly elected prime minister, Narendra Modi, made his first geostrategic move in Asia’s complex new dynamics this week, and together with Prime Minister Abe, catapulted the Japan-India relationship into a “special strategic and global partnership.”  Two goals focused their attention: bolstering their national economies and contending with China’s growing influence.

While their ambitions for their partnership may be global, it was their regional message that had the most profound implications.  At their meeting, Abe spoke of the “untapped potential of Asia’s two largest democracies,” while Modi referred to the “uncertainty ahead in Asia,” an uncertainty that brought with it even “greater responsibility for Japan and India.”

India and Japan have much to gain by deepening their economic ties. Modi’s interest in new and expanded Japanese investment in India was clear.  At a luncheon hosted by the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), attended by 220 business leaders from both countries, Modi began his remarks (impressively, speaking in Japanese) by thanking Japan’s business leaders for their interest in his country, and promising that he would address their concerns over the labyrinth of regulatory barriers to Japanese direct investment.  Japanese interest in helping New Delhi improve its national infrastructure is high, including the potential for sales of Japan’s famed high-speed rail systems. The joint communiqué did not disappoint, either.  Abe promised five years of generous economic assistance to India’s economic transformation, with ODA and private capital totaling thirty-five trillion yen, or around $33.4 billion. Modi openly expressed particular interest in Japan’s clean energy technology.

On the security side of their agenda, the two leaders were clearly speaking from one script on their concerns over China’s growing maritime reach.  India and Japan both have territorial differences with China, and Chinese maritime influence in and around India, including Sri Lanka, is growing. Modi and Abe agreed to regular naval consultations between the Indian Navy and the Maritime Self Defense Force, as well as to consider how to expand their defense technology cooperation.  India has shown keen interest in Japanese seaplanes and other coastal defense systems.  For his part, Modi spoke also to one of Japan’s strategic concerns – access to rare earth materials, promising to help Tokyo diversify its supply. Going forward, the foreign and defense ministers of both nations will meet regularly to discuss how to expand their strategic cooperation.

Modi called his visit “a new start” for relations with Tokyo, and Abe was clearly happy to see India’s new prime minister explore the opportunities for deepening their ties. Modi had visited Japan twice before he was elected this spring, and both times met with Shinzo Abe. Abe has long taken a special interest in India, and was the chief guest of the Indian government at their Republic Day celebration last January. Modi’s election in May has brought even more energy to the relationship. As the television footage suggested, the two leaders seem to have a good chemistry, and enjoyed their time together. Modi even sent out messages of thanks to Abe via social media as he visited Kyoto and other spots in Japan.

Abe too must be satisfied to see one of his main diplomatic efforts take root. He has put considerable energy into developing new partners and opportunities for balancing China’s rise, and India has long been an option that Tokyo’s strategic thinkers have looked to develop. Since coming into office in late 2012, the prime minister has been energetically promoting Japan’s diplomacy, diversifying energy and economic ties, and personally tackling some of the thornier challenges, such as the territorial dispute with Russia and the fate of abducted citizens in North Korea. Events in Ukraine have complicated the former, and it is still far too early to tell what might come of the latter. The territorial dispute with Beijing has brought ties with China to a virtual standstill, and the estrangement with Seoul has been an unexpected setback.

Japan’s perspective on the geostrategic balance in Asia had already begun to change even before Abe returned to office in 2012, and the strategy of building new strategic partners in Asia hedges against increasing uncertainty in Asia’s future.

In his five-day visit this week, Narendra Modi has made Japan’s pivot to India even more enticing – and far more likely to succeed.

This post appears courtesy of and Forbes Asia.

Image: Office of the Prime Minister - Japan. 

TopicsJapan RegionsIndia

Is Germany's Green Energy Revolution Going Black?

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They have a saying in Lausitz, a region in eastern Germany near the border with Poland: "God made Lausitz, but the devil gave us coal."

The particular variety of coal here is called lignite, or brown coal. It lies close to the surface. To mine it, you must dig a vast open pit. Lausitz is scarred by these pits, some as large as Manhattan. They appear out of lush forests of spruce and pine, vast alien landscapes of dust and dirt and high wire fences, hundreds of feet deep and stretching into the distance. Adding to the environmental destruction lignite causes, burning it is a particularly dirty affair. A lignite-fired power plant emits three times as much carbon dioxide than one that runs on natural gas.

Grabko, a tiny village in Lausitz, has one street, one restaurant, and about three dozen houses that Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, would dearly like to bulldoze to get at some of that lignite. Vattenfall wants to expand its mining operations here, and in June the regional government in Brandenburg gave the company permission to start the planning process that will eventually wipe Grabko and two neighboring villages completely off the map.

Needless to say, the threatened villagers—roughly 1,000 people in all—don’t want to leave. Last weekend they had some help. Greenpeace mobilized 7,500 activists from as far away as London to form a human chain from one of the threatened towns across the River Niesse and into Poland, where PGE, the state-owned energy company, plans to raze a further fifteen villages.

"Burning coal is wrong in so many ways," Manuel Marinelli, a veteran Greenpeace activist, said a few hours after the protest. What makes activists like Marinelli especially livid is that there is enough lignite in the existing mines to keep the local power plants running until 2030. The new mining areas Vattenfall wants to open will be producing lignite until 2050 and perhaps longer. So by the time Germany wants as much as 80 percent of its electricity to come from renewable sources, Vattenfall’s lignite mines and lignite-fired power plants in Lausitz will still be going strong.

The thriving lignite industry in Lausitz runs counter to Germany’s image as a green paradise. Surprisingly, the dirty fuel is widely popular there. A petition circulated by a pro-coal lobby group garnered 60,000 signatures in favor of the expanding mines. “The lignite industry is still an important, indispensable economic factor in this state,” said Dietmar Woidke, the Brandenburg’s Minister President.

The conflict between the pro- and anti-lignite camps in Lausitz is one facet of a larger conflict going on in Germany. There is a growing chorus of voices saying that the Energiewende, or energy revolution, is failing.

In the beginning, the Energiewende, Chancellor Merkel’s biggest domestic policy priority, was an ambitious and wildly popular initiative. More of a set of guidelines than a policy, it aims to close all nuclear power plants by 2022, increase renewables’ share of the national electricity generation to 80 percent by 2050, and slash greenhouse gas emissions to well below 1990 levels. Germans cheered.

The Energiewende’s champions can claim some striking successes. Last year renewable energy’s share of the country’s electricity reached 25 percent, an all time high (in the US, it’s only 13 percent). Organic food, solar panels, water-saving shower heads, old-fashioned hand-cranked washing machines, and vibrators made without toxic chemicals are all in vogue. Recycling is a highly organized affair, akin to a national pastime, with color-coded containers for paper and plastic and valuable materials and compost. Windmills churn on the horizon no matter which part of Germany you’re in, and one recent study concluded that offshore wind farms encourage ocean wildlife rather than harm it. The Bavarian town of Wildpoldsried, population 2,600, went above and beyond the spirit of the Energiewende: the village produces so much electricity from wind and sunlight and biomass that it can sell the surplus back into the grid, earning €5m each year.

"No country of Germany's scale has pursued such a radical shift in its energy supply,” Merkel said in a recent speech. "I'm convinced that if any country can successfully implement the Energiewende, it's Germany."

But many of the initial hopes and successes of the Energiewende have started to turn sour. Forests are being clear cut to be burned in biomass generators (to the dismay of many environmentalists, trees count as a renewable energy). Fields of solar panels have taken over bird sanctuaries. Activists warn that the five-foot-thick cable that will transport high-voltage electricity from the coast to the industrial heartland causes harmful electromagnetic radiation. Efforts to conserve water in cities like Berlin in Hamburg resulted, in 2012, in a foul fecal stench hanging over the city streets. Not enough water was running through the sewer system to wash away the sludge. Panicking, city officials flushed most of the water they’d saved down the drain.

Electricity is now 60 percent more expensive than it was five years ago, according to the Wall Street Journal. Industry is complaining. In a recent poll, seventy-five percent of small and medium businesses, which don’t qualify for the cost-saving exemptions that benefit the big companies, said rising energy costs are a “major risk.” Even the big companies are worried. Some are threatening to decamp to countries where electricity is cheaper; BASF, which employs 50,000 people in Germany, already announced plans to downsize its domestic operations. SGL Carbon will invest an extra $100 million in its plant in Washington, where electricity costs are less than a third what they are in Germany.

Germany is occasionally held up by American pundits, journalists, and politicians as an environmental success story that the United States ought to copy. But the Energiewende is a complex affair, and certainly not an unqualified success. At best it’s a work in progress. Greenhouse gas emissions rose for the third year in a row in 2013 to the highest level in five years. Coal is enjoying a revival. In late July, the Environment Ministry admitted Germany was unlikely to reach its 2020 emissions target. And, meanwhile, centuries-old medieval villages are being destroyed to open up new areas to mine and burn one of the dirtiest fossil fuels known to man for decades to come.

Solar panels on the roofs of the homes in one of those villages produce enough power for 5,000 homes, Bloomberg reported earlier this year. The nearby lignite power plant produces enough for 2.4 million. As long as renewables remain costly and unreliable on a national scale, fracking continues to be the stuff of nightmares, and coal provides a cheaper option than natural gas, Germany’s energy revolution will be an elusive dream.

Peter Mellgard is an Arthur F. Burns fellow at Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons License. 

TopicsEnergy RegionsGermany

When Should Governments Intervene to Prevent Human Suffering in Other Countries?

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When should governments intervene to prevent human suffering in other countries and when should they exercise restraint?  Is there anything that should stand in the way of the will to save?  The Journal of Genocide Research recently published a special issue on the Nigeria-Biafra War that helps to address some of these questions.  One article by Brian McNeil, which charts the history of the American Committee to Keep Biafra Alive (ACKBA), is particularly instructive, even if the conclusions reached offer little hope for today’s beleaguered civilians in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

The ACKBA was a pressure group founded in the U.S. to advocate on behalf of the civilian population of Biafra—a province of Nigeria that, in the late 1960s, declared its independence from Lagos and became embroiled in a bitter civil war against the central government.  All wars lead to human suffering, but the Biafran people endured a particularly harrowing fate because the Nigerian government imposed a blockade upon the breakaway region, including the restriction of aid deliveries, in an attempt to starve the Biafrans into submission.  While estimates vary, the Biafran War resulted in the deaths of at least 1 million civilians.

In response to the slaughter, humanitarian groups formed the world over.  For its part, the ACKBA focused its efforts upon persuading the U.S. government to intervene in the conflict, believing that U.S. influence could be used to break the blockade and bring relief to the civilians of Biafra.  Nigerian sovereignty, the ACKBA argued, should not be an impediment to humanitarian relief.  In 1968, presidential hopeful Richard Nixon appeared to agree.  As McNeil notes, Nixon-the-candidate even used the label of “genocide” to describe Nigeria’s treatment of the Biafrans and backed a role for the United States in making sure that the region’s civilians were given proper access to aid—even if this meant violating the Nigerian government’s claimed sovereignty over Biafra.

In the event, however, President Nixon shied away from violating Nigerian sovereignty.  The well-worn norm of non-intervention trumped the humanitarian impulse to intervene.  As a result, the man-made famine in Biafra persisted, leaving the ACKBA scrambling to find a new political strategy.  What the ACKBA membership settled upon was a dramatic policy of urging recognition of Biafran sovereignty—that is, instead of violating Nigerian sovereignty in order to bring relief to the Biafran people, the U.S. should deny the existence of Nigerian sovereignty altogether by recognizing Biafra’s sovereign statehood.  In the short-term, Biafran statehood would open the door to much-needed aid deliveries; in the long-term, a Biafran state was the only guarantee against Biafrans being persecuted by Nigerian forces.

What this shift in approach highlights is that ACKBA, like so many humanitarian organizations today, viewed the notion of sovereignty—one of the veritable pillars of the international system—as malleable, something that should be overridden where an impediment to humanitarian objectives but embraced (in this case, for Biafra) if that would result in lives being saved.  International rules existed to serve human beings, not the other way around.  Governments should bend rules in the service of saving lives, whatever it might take.

In the event, Washington was not persuaded to recognize Biafran sovereignty.  The Biafran people waged their struggle in relative isolation until, in 1970, Nigeria won the civil war and the secessionist movement was finally suppressed.  The cost in human lives and suffering had been enormous.  While outside powers had been active in arming both sides of the civil war, the ACKBA and other concerned organizations had failed to galvanize the international community into providing meaningful humanitarian relief.  Why?

The impulse to save the people of Biafra was thwarted by some cold realities about international politics and foreign policy—all of which persist into the present day.  First, governments take state sovereignty extremely seriously (even if selectively so) and generally are reluctant to sanction the breakup of other states.  Sovereignty, in turn, stubbornly exists to buttress the control of governments over territories and populations; it is commonly the enemy of those who advocate humanitarian interventions and rarely the ally.  The abject failure of the so-called Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in the wake of the ongoing violence in Syria shows how far this remains true.

Second, Biafra shows what can happen (and what will not happen) when the leaders of powerful states are under pressure to retrench.  In his article, McNeil hints that Nixon was inclined against intervention in Biafra because he governed at a time when the U.S. public was suspicious of foreign entanglements (the Vietnam War still raging).  Some would argue Biafran lives were lost as a result.  The parallels with what is happening today in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere—and with Bill Clinton’s failure to respond to the genocide in Rwanda—are obvious.

Most of all, the Biafran episode highlights the crushing tragedy of humanitarianism as a global phenomenon.  The desire to protect human lives and human dignity is not lacking in the world but the organization of international politics is hardly set up to facilitate the timely and adequate provision of humanitarian relief.  Too many enduring power structures exist to frustrate the will to save.  In Syria, Iraqi and elsewhere, civilians in warzones continue to pay the price.

Image: U.S. Army Flickr. 

TopicsHumanitarian Intervention RegionsUnited States

The Shortsightedness of NATO's War with Serbia Over Kosovo Haunts Ukraine

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Today it seems the past is just history. US president Barack Obama and secretary of state, John Kerry, have lamented the return to "19th century politics," with its outdated "spheres of influence" in Eastern Europe.

Dismissing Russian hostility to Ukraine's drift towards the West, German chancellor Angela Merkel has claimed that Russian president Vladimir Putin is living "in another world."

"The Cold War," she has said, "should be over for everyone."

"Russia," says Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his assessment of Eastern European geopolitics, "is a big country trying to bully a small one."

With the conflict still boiling, NATO now appears ready to go further than ever before in its commitments to Kiev. On Wednesday The Guardian reported that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko will be "the sole non-NATO head of state to negotiate with alliance leaders" at their Cardiff summit next week.

They're expected to create four "trust funds" to modernize the Ukrainian armed forces, including its command and control structures. By degrees Ukraine is being drawn into the Western alliance.

Since nothing suggests that sanctions have changed Russia's calculus - note Wednesday's other report of up to 100 Russian tanks on the Ukrainian side of the border - looming more than ever now is a lasting estrangement. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's Secretary-General, is nonplussed:

“We have to face the reality that Russia does not consider NATO a partner. Russia is a nation that unfortunately for the first time since the Second World War has grabbed land by force ... It is safe to say that nobody had expected Russia to grab land by force.”

For the first time, NATO forces will be permanently stationed in Eastern Europe, probably the Baltics, on Russia's own borders.

At best, this strategy will intimidate Russia into a humiliating backdown. At worst, it could inaugurate a lasting rebalancing of the global order.

Now 91 years old, Henry Kissinger, Nixon's secretary of state, has just published his latest book, World Order. It reiterates, for a new age, the classically realist principle that a stable international order lies in equilibrium among the world's great powers.

The reviews will come—and some already have. But, especially relevant today is his warning, in a 1999 Newsweek article, about the shortsightedness of NATO's war with Serbia over Kosovo:

“The rejection of long-range strategy explains how it was possible to slide into the Kosovo conflict without adequate consideration of its implications ... The transformation of the NATO alliance from a defensive military grouping to an institution prepared to impose its values by force ... undercut repeated American and allied assurances that Russia had nothing to fear from NATO expansion.”

Those who believe Putin's Russia a corporatist, nationalistic state with scant regard for the rule of law will find Kissinger's prescience remarkable:

“The tribulations of Yugoslavia ... emphasized Russia's decline and have generated a hostility towards America and the West that may produce a nationalist and socialist Russia - akin to the European Fascism of the 1930s.”

Now, Putin is no Hitler. But he is a "Great Russian" nationalist. Since Russia annexed Crimea in March, Putin has repeatedly invoked the war, and Serbia's partition that culminated in the establishment of an independent Kosovo, as both a legal precedent for Russia's actions and as a demonstration of the alliance's aggressive intent.

Kissinger began his career as a historian of 19th century diplomacy. His first book, A World Restored: Castlereagh, Metternich and the Problems of the Peace, analyzed the rebuilding of the European order after the chaos of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815). It's Kissinger's "19th century logic" that puts paid to the idea that that Russian "bullying" in Ukraine is all a one-way street.

The same logic suggests that, instead of promoting a return to equilibrium, NATO's latest moves will merely confirm its nefarious purposes in Russian eyes. Combined with sanctions, they will "prove" that the only interests that count are the West's, spurring Moscow into making common cause with other capitals frustrated by what they perceive to be the West's blinkered vision.

It's a notably shortsighted way to handle foreign relations. Indeed, Kissinger's judgment on the Clinton administration's policies in Kosovo in 1999 could be made of Washington and Brussels today:

“(They) have little concern with notions of international equilibrium ... (and) are ever tempted to treat foreign policy as an extension of domestic politics. Their diplomacy is quite skillful in dealing with short-term issues but obtuse with respect to strategy.”

Where does all of this leave Australia, formally a NATO "global partner", with deep political, defense, and intelligence links with its two most important military contributors (the US and UK), but not itself a member?

The easiest answer is to shrug our shoulders and get on with the "Asian Century." Officially on ice, it's still the bedrock of Australian thinking. (Though, of course, Russia is an Asian country too.)

The problem is that as an increasingly frequent participation in extra-regional fora - not only is Australia a NATO "global partner," but an OSCE "partner for cooperation," member of the G20, and a non-permanent member of the Security Council for 2013-14 - is making an account of Australian aims beyond littoral Asia, and strategy for pursuing them, more important than ever.

Indeed, as a country usually able to produce sharp-eyed assessments of its interests (think of recent agreements with Washington and Tokyo as part of a strategy aimed at balancing China), Australia's role could be to work through with NATO partners closer to Russia - geographically, economically or politically - the high stakes involved for the West as a whole when it comes to getting policy with Russia right. As Kissinger said in 1999:

“Russia's image of itself as an historic player on the world stage must be taken seriously. This requires less lecturing and more dialogue; less sentimentality and more recognition that Russia's national interests are not always congruent with ours.”

Today, that might be too late: "History in its perversity," Columbia University's Robert Legvold has recently written, "often ... locks key actors inside the events they are struggling to master and obscures from them the larger implications of their actions."

All the same, Kissinger's career shows that it's precisely the study of the past that means that that doesn't have to happen. To help revive, so to speak, the "art of grand strategy," we need to be thinking more about history, not less.


Now that NATO appears to have photographic evidence that the Russian army is operating on Ukrainian territory, one last extract from Kissinger's essay seems pertinent:

“It was conventional wisdom in Washington that Serbia's historic attachment to Kosovo was exaggerated … But what if Serbia did not yield? How far were we willing to go?”

With Obama affirming that the US is "not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem," that question, and the gap in ambition between means and ends it points to, appears as open now as it always has in this crisis.

Matthew Dal Santo is a freelance writer and foreign affairs correspondent. He previously worked for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. This piece first appeared in ABC’s The Drum here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

China's Real Goal: A Monroe Doctrine in Asia?

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Recently when a Chinese fighter jet pilot harassed a P-8 U.S. reconnaissance plane in the skies over the South China Sea, he wasn’t just displaying China’s growing military might.  He was also taking dead aim at two of the most sacrosanct principles of the international global order – freedom of navigation and overflight.

According to the Pentagon, the Chinese pilot’s intimidation included a barrel roll over the P-8, a 90-degree pass across the P-8’s nose with weapons bared, and a fly along within 20 feet of the P-8’s wingtips.  That this is extremely dangerous is underscored by an eerily similar event in 2001.

In this “EP-3 Incident,” a U.S. Navy EP-3 reconnaissance plane flying about 70 miles from Hainan Island was struck by another “cowboying” Chinese fighter pilot and plunged more than 14,000 feet before its pilot, Lieutenant Shane Osborn, got the nose back up.   After an emergency landing on Hainan Island, the plane was stripped of sensitive data while the crew of 24 was held--and only released after the White House issued a humiliating apology.

As for why Hainan Island is the common denominator in these two incidents, the vast underground caverns of the Yulin Naval Base hide a growing fleet of Jin-class ballistic missile submarines now capable of delivering nuclear weapons to U.S. territory.  It’s not for nothing the U.S. military wants to keep close tabs on Hainan Island.

For its part, China wants no part of any such U.S. surveillance.  In fact, the EP-3 and P-8 incidents are just two in a string involving freedom of navigation and overflight.  Others include the harassment of the USNS Impeccable in 2009, the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone in 2013 over the skies of Japan’s Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, a near collision with the USS Cowpens guided missile cruiser, also in 2013, and now, as the Pentagon has revealed, numerous other recent incidents similar to the P-8.

That this is a story about much more than just two big military powers jockeying for position is evident in the parallel legal war China is fighting over how freedom navigation and overflight should be redefined. This larger story begins in 1986 with the passage of the United Nations Law of the Sea Treaty; it established an “Exclusive Economic Zone” extending a full 200 miles out from a nation’s coastline and further gave nations the fishing and natural resources rights within their EEZs.

Since passage of the treaty, China has taken the novel position that both freedom of navigation and overflight are also restricted within a nation’s EEZ.  It now insists that any nation’s military aircraft and vessels wishing to pass through its EEZ must seek its permission; and it is on this legal basis that it justifies its harassment of foreign military planes and ships in the region.

To be clear here, nothing in the actual treaty supports China’s position.  If, however, China’s new definitions of freedom of navigation and overflight were accepted within the tight confines of the East and South China Seas, this revisionist rule would be tantamount to a new Monroe Doctrine for China in Asia.  Indeed, it would effectively give China control over two of the most important and lucrative sea lines of communication in an area of the world where over 60% of future economic growth is forecast to occur.

Given the high economic and national security stakes involved, we can expect China to continue its challenge to freedom of navigation and overflight.   As to how America should respond, here are five first steps:

The White House must stop believing economic engagement will eventually turn China into a peace-loving democracy and start treating it like a serious threat.  The Pentagon should equip all U.S. military aircraft in the region with video cameras to document  aggressive behavior so China can’t keep plausibly denying it.  American companies should start bringing their production back home, if not for patriotism’s sake then because their factories in China will be at increasing risk as military friction between America and China rises.  The media must do a better job framing incidents like the P-8 in their larger context rather than relegating them to the back pages.  Finally, consumers must realize whenever they buy “Made in China” they are helping to finance a military buildup increasingly threatening to America’s economic and national security interests.

Peter Navarro is a public policy professor at UC-Irvine.  His documentary film and book “Will There Be War With China?” is scheduled for release in 2015.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

America's Nuclear Arsenal is Back

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Given the intensity of media focus on a series of crises this year—Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Ebola, and the South China Sea to name just a few—readers may be forgiven for having failed to notice that another important, though more incremental, development has also occurred. With each passing month it becomes clearer that a mood of nuclear realism is unfolding in US strategic policy. While President Obama is still remembered most clearly in the public mind for the anti-nuclear language in his Prague speech of 2009, a string of events in 2013–14 suggest that a shift of emphasis is occurring in relation to nuclear weapons.

First, the administration has committed to the long-overdue modernization of the US nuclear arsenal. True, the initial funding decisions are merely the opening salvoes of a program that will take decades to unpack, and key decisions about the shape and size of the arsenal remain unresolved. But the administration has signaled a commitment to renovate the strategic triad, and even to modernize its principal tactical weapon, the B-61 bomb.

Second, Washington has been busy putting its nuclear “house” in order. By January of this year, almost 20% of US Air Force officers in its nuclear weapons corps had been implicated in a proficiency-assessment cheating scandal. The Navy wasn’t immune either—earlier this month it expelled 34 sailors caught up in the nuclear cheating scandal. A senior naval officer was dismissed in October last year for inappropriate behavior in Moscow. Some might even see the sacking of James Doyle by Los Alamos National Laboratory as part of that pattern. Certainly a more restrictive approach to nuclear information management and a more disciplined approach to command and control of the arsenal seem to be the flavor of the day.

Third, evidence points to a determination to rebuild the intellectual capital necessary to sustain the nuclear mission for another generation. A senior State Department official, at the Annual Deterrence Symposium in mid-August, spoke of the need to recruit a new wave of “political scientists, lawyers, physicists, geologists, engineers, and more,” in order to “bring the next generation into the nuclear deterrence enterprise.”

Fourth, what we might call the “three musketeers” (Brent Scowcroft, Stephen Hadley and Franklin Miller) seem to have displaced—at least temporarily—the “four horsemen” (George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry and Sam Nunn), as the media commentators of the day. The four horsemen have published a range of important op-eds since 2007 about the need to move away from nuclear weapons (see, for example, herehere, and here). Their arguments have generally gone unanswered. The musketeers’ recent article in the Washington Post, underlining the importance of forward-deployed nuclear weapons in Europe, was obviously written with one eye on the approaching NATO summit in Wales. But it has wider implications: after all, if forward-deployed nuclear weapons are so important in Europe, why aren’t they just as important in other theatres?

Fifth, the administration seems to have wound back slightly the significance it attaches to the imperative of “nuclear security”—a protracted exercise to round up insecure warheads and quantities of fissile material in the world. Clearly that mission’s still important: Washington continues to fund it during straitened budgetary times. But one gets the sense that, for the coming few years, rounding up stray quantities of fissile material is not as strategically important as resuscitating the US nuclear weapons arsenal.

And sixth, the administration seems to have gone back to taking seriously the nuclear policies of the other nuclear-weapon states: witness the State Department’s recent finding that Russia is in violation of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

Now, some will argue that those are all just straws in the wind, and that if Obama wanted to shift his nuclear policy, he would just say so. But one year out from another NPT Review Conference, could he? Besides, has policy changed, or are we just seeing a shift of emphasis? In 2009 Obama said he thought a non-nuclear world would be safer and the US should work towards that goal. The goal, he said, might not be reached in his lifetime. And in the meantime, the US would need to ensure it could rely upon a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. So a theme of continued reliance always sat side by side with the grander goal of nuclear disarmament.

I think the straws tell a story: that nuclear weapons are making a comeback in US strategic policy—driven by a growing mood of strategic realism in Washington. The strategic environment of 2014 looks different to that of 2009. True, the comeback will probably be limited. But when future historians look back on 2013–14, they’re likely to paint it as a turning of the tide on nuclear weapons policy, occurring—ironically—under the administration of one Barack Obama.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist where this piece first appeared

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Japan and South Korea: Headed Towards Extinction?

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There is, at long last, a solution to the troubles that beset the Japan-ROK relationship: patience. In this case, patience doesn’t mean waiting a couple of months or a year until the leaderships in Tokyo and Seoul recognize the damage they are doing to their relationship; nor does it mean waiting a few years until new governments take office in each capital; neither does it mean waiting a few generations until the anger and animosity burn themselves out. No, patience in this case means waiting 600 years or so, when the population of South Korea vanishes and another half century when that of Japan does the same.

A recent simulation commissioned by the ROK National Assembly extrapolated current demographic trends – the average South Korean woman bears 1.25 children, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children – to show that the South Korean population will disappear by 2750. Japanese celebrations will be muted: the average fertility rate there is just 1.4 children per woman, meaning that the Japanese population will vanish around 3100. Japan will only outlast the ROK because its current population is almost twice that of the ROK.

These trends are not immutable. Both countries, which have been largely closed to outsiders, could become more accepting of foreigners.  Policy changes should expand choices that women have when it comes to child rearing. The Korean Peninsula could reunify, which would offer the ROK a fertility boost.

But shifting these two nations’ demographic trajectories requires a better understanding of why birth rates are falling and the explanations are complex: there isn’t a single answer. The same trend is evident in all developed societies. While Japan and South Korea (and China, in one of the little noticed developments that could have the most profound impact on that country’s future) are among the “grayest” countries in the world, the same phenomenon is evident across Northern Europe and in the south as well. It appears that a more developed society has less need for children and birth rates inevitably fall.

There is more at work here than some random side effect of industrialization, however. In some cases, women refuse to have children because they want a different role for themselves than that of their mothers and grandmothers. They want to work as well, and shortages of care facilities as well as societal expectations of women with children – they are supposed to stay home – provide powerful disincentives to have children. In some cases, the issue is not just child rearing but the entire set of assumptions about a women’s role in the home. In other cases, the cost of a child (over his or her lifetime) is too high for families that face growing uncertainty about economic prospects.

In Japan, it has been suggested that changing behavior among men is partially responsible, with researchers noting a growing number of males uninterested in marriage, and some even shunning sex. Other researchers attribute the lack of interest in women to the country’s stagnant economy: men are reluctant to marry for fear that they can’t support their future wives.

Both countries are unlikely to go the way of the dinosaurs. But demographic change will have a profound impact on both Japan and South Korea in ways that will affect many of the most important debates about the two countries’ foreign and security policies. Let me highlight three:

First, birth rates have a significant impact on government accounts and pension and insurance programs. As populations age and get smaller, a decreasing number of workers must support a growing number of retirees. Existing retirement schemes will not have the money to remain solvent. They can be adjusted but it will not be easy: governments will be tinkering with the most fundamental elements of the social contract. A larger retired population will burden welfare programs and be paying less to government coffers; all government budgets will be strained.

Second, and related to that, an increasingly elderly population will have very different policy preferences from those of a younger cohort. For example, they are more likely to favor health care over military spending and international security (especially when they are seen as binary choices: a government can either pay for more doctors or a high-tech missile defense system). Moreover, older voters turn out in much higher numbers than do younger ones – they express their preferences.

Finally, older populations are more risk averse and this tendency can color an entire society. It will restrain a government’s outlook toward the world, obliging it to eschew provocative actions, an important consideration in a region dotted by territorial disputes. The readiness to invest (and perhaps expend) a country’s most precious resource – its young people – in military adventures will diminish. More generally, an older society is going to be more conservative, staid, and status-quo oriented in all things. This will undercut economic and social dynamism.

Demography isn’t destiny, even if it does explain about two-thirds of everything. The projections of the eventual “extinctions” of South Korean and Japanese society are valuable reminders of the folly of straight-line extrapolations, a remarkably popular tendency in other areas of analysis in East Asia. That doesn’t mean that the demographic realities in Northeast Asia can be dismissed. Aging societies will have an immeasurable yet discernable impact on long-term national capacity and capability. Those governments, and their partners and allies, should be planning accordingly.

Brad Glosserman is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. This article first appeared in CSIS:PACNET Newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsDemography RegionsJapan

You Decide: A Blueprint to Counter China’s Growing Military Might?

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Robert Haddick, Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific (Naval Institute Press, 2014)

The Islamic State is on a tear, Russia has launched an invasion “incursion” into Eastern Ukraine, Syria is in crisisa war in Gaza just ended in a bloody stalemate with tensions still running high, Ebola is on the loose, Libya is falling apart, and Afghanistan is still a complete mess. To put it bluntly, the challenges the United States faces seem to be multiplying like cockroaches. And yet, Washington will soon face an even bigger challenge: a rapidly evolving Chinese military that is focused on defeating Washington if war ever comes.

The challenge presented by China is formidable and is a present-day problem, not something Washington won’t have to worry about for another couple of decades. Soon, formal commitments to defend old partners such as Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines will become worthless — all thanks to twenty years of advances in Chinese military technology focusing on “counter-intervention operations” or anti-access/area-denial weapons(A2/AD). In fact, if trends continue, I would argue that by 2020 — some would say maybe even today — the United States will not be able to credibly deploy high-impact military assets like aircraft carriers in and around China’s coast all the way out to the first island chain in a time of crisis. (Well, it could, however, the risks would be so greatthe possible losses so dire, that no commander-in-chief would want to take such a risk.)With over $5 trillion dollars of sea-borne trade transiting through just the South China Sea alone the cost of failing to deter Chinese actions and then not being able to quickly resolve and stabilize a crisis is just too high.

There could be no better time than the present for a new book that not only explores issues surrounding China’s A2/AD weapons and strategy and its overall military modernization, but also digs into the deeper dynamics of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship and what Washington must do going forward. On balance, in his first ever book, titled Fire on the Water: China, America and the Future of the Pacific, Robert Haddick produces a strong volume that lays out not only the historic challenge presented by the rise of China, its growing military and A2/AD strategy, but the history involved when it comes to Beijing rising armed forces.* Haddick even boldly offers his own strategy for managing the strategic dynamic of the U.S.-China relationship and what Washington should do with regards to its own force posture in Asia — something he pulls off reasonably wellconsidering troubling trends in America’s foreign policy decision making. (Sorry, no spoilers here, buy the book!)

To read the full text please visit War on the Rocks here

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The South China Sea Crisis: Impossible to Solve?

The Buzz

Seated across the table, China’s representative railed against the Americans for a litany of offences. The Vietnamese, Philippines, and Indonesian representatives looked on, their thoughts obscured by a mix of smirks and smiles. This wasn’t, however, a meeting at this month’s ASEAN Regional Forum in Myanmar. Rather, it was a South China Sea simulation at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

Divided into groups, attendees—a mix of Asia hands and novices—represented South China Sea claimants, along with the United States and not-quite-claimant Indonesia. Participants strove to hammer out a joint communiqué encompassing the parties’ varied interests while absorbing conflict resolution and negotiating skills. Complicating the matter, the talks were set against the scenario-injected backdrop of the Chinese construction of an artificial island in Vietnam’s claimed exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Although I flatter myself as educated in the basics of the region’s maritime disputes, the evening still proved educational. Readers might be interested in five distilled rules:

1. Chinese plays to Asian solidarity ring hollow

Assigned the role of a proud representative of Vietnam, I sought to halt construction of China’s artificial island and secure assurances against future infringement of our national sovereignty under the recognized principles of international law. That was a non-starter for the Chinese negotiating team. However, they did attempt to buy me off through vague promises of infrastructure investment before launching into a lecture on the U.S. In their view, Americans were destabilizing the region, were themselves unable to provide stability from half a world away, didn’t believe in international law, were interested only in a new breed of colonialism, and should acquiesce to a sphere of influence similar to their own dominance of the Caribbean.

I’ve witnessed this attempt at building an exclusive Asian rapport at other forums. Then, as in this instance, it was undermined by the accompanying mix of veiled threats and seeming indifference towards the neighbors’ real concerns. My rebuttals to China’s points—that its investments often led to little local hiring and spawned resentment, and that Vietnam cared less whether a nation signed UNCLOS than if it followed the principles therein (i.e. not parking an oil rig in someone else’s EEZ, for example)—received sympathetic concurrence from other claimant states.

2. Wild cards are unlikely to change the situation

In the run-up to the exercise I asked colleagues to suggest "wild cards" that could be played to shake-up the negotiations. Unfortunately many of those turned out to be outside my bounds as a country representative (and I’ve covered them in a CIMSEC post here).

In the event, it was revealed that the Indonesian moderator had been meeting and potentially dealing with China on the sidelines of the talks. Yet that did little to alter the negotiations. Similarly, I sought out "win-win" proposals, with a bid for joint economic development deals, as in the Gulf of Tonkinafter a freeze on new construction, claims, and resource exploitation—essentially the elusive ASEAN Code of Conduct and a reflection of Vietnam’s real position. At the same time, I noted that, if the United States was having difficulty maintaining its vessels in the region, the deep-water port of Cam Ranh Bay could be refurbished for a renewed American presence. Unfortunately, the joint-development proposal was rebuffed by China, as most were in the course of negotiations. Rule four explains why those wild cards and proposals failed to change the calculus.

3. Conflict transformation doesn’t always work

Indonesia tried to tap into "conflict transformation" to propose parts of the disputed waters be made ecological or resort preserves. I suggested bringing in Australia and New Zealand as disinterested third parties to oversee a fishing-rights management scheme preserving stocks until a final resolution on the dispute was made. Those ideas, and the desire for our communiqué to contain language affirming regional commitment to the peaceful settling of disputes under the principles of international law, were all scuttled in turn.

4. China has little to lose from torpedoing negotiations

The reason for those failures mostly stemmed from a single assessment. Because China didn’t appear to face any negative repercussions for continuing its policies of tailored coercion and salami tactics, it had the least incentive to alter the status quo. Therefore China had a strong position or, in negotiation theory, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, should the negotiations fail. That meant China could effectively wield a veto due to its ability to walk away without fear of losing much. Little surprise that 5 of 6 teams failed to produce a substantive communiqué.

5. ‘If at first you don’t succeed…

…change the definition of success. After attempting to find "small wins," such as paying lip service to regional peace, the Indonesian moderator grew frustrated with Chinese vetoes of the rest of the agenda and decided to create a "unanimous minus one" list of items all other negotiators agreed to.

… agree to keep meeting. Students of international relations will be heartened to learn that we did agree not only to meet again, but also to develop a new regional forum to focus solely on dispute resolution. After all, negotiators need to ensure they stay gainfully employed.

Simulations such as this won’t by themselves solve seemingly intractable issues. (For a look at lessons learned from the real-life negotiations between Indonesia and the Philippines over their maritime boundary, see this article from The Diplomat.) Nevertheless, simulations can serve a useful purpose by sparking novel approaches to well-worn squabbles.

Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the US Navy Reserve and the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC). This piece was first published by ASPI's The Strategist here. 

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Germany's Challenge: Ensuring Democracy in the Western Balkans

The Buzz

The high-level Western Balkans Conference, organized in Berlin today, August 28, will be wisely used by Germany to launch a renewed European Union focus towards the Balkans, a region that fluctuates between aspiring to become a part of the EU and fueling a system of “managed democracies”, the term now widely used to describe illiberal political systems that control their societies but provide the appearance of democracy.

Germany’s initiative to engage with the Balkans comes after a decade of retreating U.S. interest in the region and a time of a stated EU “break from enlargement” at least for the next five years, as announced recently by the new European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

However, the European Union cannot allow the existence of “black holes” within Europe, especially in a region where external influences have left the footprints of their civilizations. The Ukraine crisis has rightly raised Germany’s attention to needing to deal more actively with the Western Balkans, even when the EU cannot offer concrete steps toward integration.

Getting the Western Balkans on board is much more than a security issue. The rising influence of Turkey with its neo-Ottoman strategy finds ground in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo. Contrary to propaganda, this is not a bottom-up project based on culture and religious traditions, but a pragmatic engagement of similar-minded leaders based on economic interest and the attractiveness of a more authoritarian-minded regional power. Serbia, on the other hand, remains isolated, cooperating with Russia and other non-European actors in a tepid attempt to pressure and extract concessions from the EU on Kosovo, and to maintain its former leading role in the region.

The Balkans are also undergoing a period of democratic regress. The main problem of the region today is the state of its dysfunctional democracies. Bosnia-Herzegovina has been shaken by social movements against a nonfunctioning regime. Macedonia preserves the Ohrid Agreement as a facade while interethnic relations become more problematic. Albania is ruled by a clientelist government similar to the “Hungarian” model, which is ruining the balances of power and may influence the rise of social movements in the near future. In Montenegro, the same political elite has ruled the country for more than two decades. In several of the Western Balkan countries, such as Macedonia and Albania, the political opposition regularly boycotts parliament in the hope of raising attention to the loss of democratic principles and institutions.

A state of managed democracy is ubiquitous and seems to please the ruling elites. The liberal democracy that was the inspiration of the Eastern European peoples after the fall of the Berlin Wall is beginning to fade away toward illiberal democracy.

The entrance into the Western Balkans of a leading democracy and global actor such as Germany can help to transform the status quo and raise expectations. It provides new momentum of which both parties must take advantage: Germany to strengthen its leadership role and responsibility within Europe, and the Western Balkans to accelerate integration into the European Union. If this initiative does not generate positive political and economic impacts, there should be no doubt about the direction in which the Western Balkans will head.

Agim Nesho, President of the Albanian Council of Foreign Relations and former Albanian Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Government of Montenegro/CC by-sa 3.0

TopicsDemocracyForeign Policy RegionsGermanyBalkansEurope