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Russia Ditches Plans for Super Advanced 5th Generation Fighter Jets

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The Russian military is scaling back initial requirements for the fifth generation T-50 (PAK FA) fighters to twelve planes, after initially planning for fifty-two. Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov said that this was due to economic considerations.

However, Borisov noted that the Defense Ministry reserves the right to determine the number of fifth generation fighters for purchase, so the initial plans may be corrected.

“It would be better for us to have a reserve of PAK-FA and the possibility to move ahead in the future to using the 4+ fighters’ [Su-30 and Su-35] capabilities to the maximum,” Borisov said. In other words, Russia would make the most of its existing Sukhoi Su-35 capabilities, which are highly rated by experts. The United States is currently the only country with an Air Force that includes a fully operational fifth generation jet fighter, the F-22.

Production of the T-50 series will go ahead in 2016 regardless of any reduction in orders. During a visit to the plant where the planes were being constructed, in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Russian Far East, Borisov said, “according to the next year plans, we should have the first delivery of the series fifth-generation fighters.”

The T-50 will be a stealth aircraft, invisible to radars. It has several advantages over the F-22: “the T-50 is significantly faster than the F-22, and has a huge advantage in terms of range—5,500 kilometers compared to the F-22’s 3,400. The T-50’s detection systems allow it to spot incoming threats at a distance of up to 400 kilometers, compared to the F-22’s 210 kilometers.” However, Russia’s fifth generation air fleet will be at a numerical disadvantage, as the U.S. Air Force inventory of F-22s is 187.

India is also interested in the T-50, a fact that may help boost purchases. However, India wants to localize production of its T-50s “much like another Russian-designed fighter, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, which has been in series production for more than a decade at the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) plant in Nasik.”

India is frustrated at delays in its negotiations with the French company Dassault over the contract for the Rafale fighter aircraft.

Image: Wikimedia/Alex Beltyukov


Japan's Navy Unveils 'Aircraft Carrier in Disguise'

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Japan’s largest warship since World War II has just entered service. Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) took delivery on Wednesday of the Izumo, a helicopter carrier “as big as the Imperial Navy aircraft carriers that battled the United States in the Pacific.”

The Izumo was indigenously constructed at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, at a cost of around $1.5 billion. It is named after the former Izumo province in western Honshu. In Japanese mythology, the entrance to yomi (hell) is located in Izumo.

Perhaps this is apt, as the ship’s capacities definitely have the ability to dispatch Japan’s foes. The Izumo displaces 19,500 tons and is 248 meters (814 feet) long. According to Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani, the ship will improve the Japanese Self-Defense Forces’ capacity to deal with submarines: “As well as having the capacity to search for submarines itself, it will be able to deal with submarines over a larger area as it’s equipped with a lot of helicopters.”

The ship can carry nine helicopters, in addition to 470 personnel. However, in theory, the ship can carry over twenty aircraft. According to reports, while the Izumo “does not have a catapult necessary to launch fixed-wing fighters, a planned vertical-take-off-and-landing (VTOL) variant of the F-35 could fly from the Izumo's flight deck.” This basically makes the Izumo—which gives Japan its largest naval flat surface since the Second World War—an “aircraft carrier in disguise.”

Designating it a helicopter destroyer allows Japan to circumvent its constitutional ban on waging offensive war, as aircraft carriers are considered offensive weapons due to their ability to project force. Japan is also adding “longer-range patrol aircraft and military cargo planes to its defense capability, and buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, amphibious assault vehicles and Boeing's Osprey troop carrier, which can operate from the Izumo.”

Natakani noted that the Izumo could project Japanese personnel and equipment in a variety of functions beyond Japan, including “peace keeping operations, international disaster relief, and aid.”  This is all part of a concerted Japanese effort under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of stepping up Japanese defense spending in the face of an assertive China. Tensions between the two countries are especially great due to a territorial dispute in the East China Sea. In May 2013, Japan said it detected submarines navigating under water close to territorial waters near Okinawa and Kagoshima prefectures.

Nakatani noted that “China has aircraft carriers,” before adding that Japan wasn’t thinking of operating the Izumo as an aircraft carrier. A second ship of the same size and specifications as the Izumo will likely be introduced in early 2018.

Image: Wikimedia/Dragoner JP 


Thailand's Teflon Economy Is Imploding

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For nearly fifteen years in the 2000s and early 2010s, Thailand’s economy, once one of the fastest-growing in the world, survived the effects of near-constant political turmoil, natural disasters, and worries about the country’s future in the wake of a looming royal succession. Even after the massive floods in the monsoon season of 2011 that destroyed much of the industrial estates north of Bangkok, home to auto parts, disk drive, and other key manufacturing plants, Thailand’s economy rebounded strongly. Even after street protests in Bangkok in May 2010 led to a brutal military crackdown in which much of the downtown wound up looking like a war zone, several major commercial buildings were torched, and at least 90 people were killed, Thailand’s economy rebounded. Tourists continued to come to the kingdom—more than 22 million in 2012, the year after the flooding—and in 2012 Thailand’s GDP grew by over six percent.

Many observers of the kingdom believed that, after the May 2014 coup, the Teflon economy would display its usual resilience. In fact, a large majority of the CEOs of the largest Thai businesses in Bangkok allegedly supported the military putsch, publicly or privately, according to multiple businesspeople and journalists who have spoken with top Thai CEOs. In part, they may have supported the coup because they believed that, at its heart, the Puea Thai Party and its leaders either were republicans or could not be trusted to be in power at a time of royal succession. (There is little evidence that Puea Thai leaders actually have republican sentiments.) But business leaders also may have supported the coup since they believed the generals could bring a modicum of stability, and since Thailand’s economy had performed strongly in the 1980s during a long period of de facto military/technocratic rule.

But the era in which Thailand’s economy could withstand any political turbulence, and would continue to attract tourists and foreign investors, appears to be over. Fifteen years of political chaos has distracted Thai policymakers from making important investments in infrastructure or the country’s education system, which has never been upgraded to prepare people for a middle-income economy. In particular, Thailand’s English classes and information technology classes lag badly behind those of Thailand’s regional competitors. A recent article in Singapore’s Today notes that “Thailand ranks 55th out of 60 countries on the English Proficiency Index, the world’s major ranking of English-language skills. That is the lowest among Southeast Asian countries.” This despite the fact that several other countries in Southeast Asia are far poorer than Thailand and have much less resources than Bangkok to help promote English education. As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations moves toward a single market in goods and services, English skills will be even more important for businesses that want to attract regional investment and for workers in a range of industries looking for opportunities throughout ASEAN.

The country’s seemingly endless turmoil also finally seems to have deterred investors, who for years continued to pour money into the kingdom because of its natural attractiveness and history of liberal investment policies. At the same time as Thailand stalls, other countries in the region, like the Philippines, Myanmar, Vietnam, and even Indonesia have promoted policies that have made them more attractive to foreign investment. The Japanese government continues to court Bangkok, even after the coup, as a means of stalling the Thai generals approach to China; Japan’s desire to blunt China’s influence is likely the major reason why Tokyo is proposing its own plan for funding a rail line in Thailand. (The Chinese government has proposed its own, competing rail project in the kingdom.) Yet unlike the Japanese government, private sector Japanese investors are not so bullish on Thailand. Japanese investors, the biggest group of foreign investors in the kingdom, have begun to shift new investments to Vietnam and other countries in the region. Other foreign investors have become increasingly cautious in approving new Thailand projects.

A recent Bloomberg analysis of the growth rates of major Southeast Asian economies showed that, since 2010, Thailand’s GDP growth rate has been about half that of neighboring Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. And in 2015, the World Bank projects that Thailand’s growth rate will again be the lowest in the region. Thailand’s central bank last week cut its own forecast for Thailand’s 2015 growth rate. Expect it to cut that forecast further as the year progresses.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This article originally appeared on CFR’s Asia Unbound blog, here.

Image: Flickr/Guanlong D.​

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia

Confirmed: Pakistan Is Building 'Battlefield Nukes' to Deter India

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As the world remains focused on preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, South Asia’s dangerous nuclear rivalry—between India and Pakistan—grows ever more deadly. General Khalid Kidwai, a top advisor to the Pakistani government, said this week that Pakistan needed short-range tactical nuclear weapons, also known as “battlefield nukes” to deter nuclear archrival India.

Kidwai said that “having tactical weapons would make war less likely,” at a conference on nuclear security organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. Kidwai administered Pakistan’s nuclear and missile weapons program for fifteen years.

Pakistan’s tactical weapon development includes the Nasr Missile, which has a range of around 37 miles (60 kilometers) and reflects concerns in Pakistan that “India’s larger military could still wage a conventional war against the country, thinking Pakistan would not risk retaliation with a bigger nuclear weapon.”

Pakistan especially fears and aims to neutralize India’s “Cold Start” doctrine, a type of blitzkrieg that aims to advance fast enough into Pakistan to seize key installations before a retaliatory nuclear strike.

Unlike India, which has a no first use nuclear doctrine, Pakistan has repeatedly said that it would retaliate against India with nuclear weapons if enough of its territory were lost. Tactical nuclear weapons would also neutralize Indian forces on the battlefield, even in Pakistan itself, and would seriously disrupt India’s tactical maneuverability.

India has criticized Pakistan’s stance on battlefield nukes. Rakesh Sood, former Indian special envoy for disarmament and nonproliferation, said it was "extremely destabilizing for any country to develop tactical nuclear weapons" and that India had no plans to do so. He also argued that Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is “cloaked in ambiguity,” undermining confidence between the two countries.

Despite Kidwai’s assertion that such weapons would make war unlikely, Peter Lavoy, a former U.S. defense official questioned if “whether such intermingling of conventional forces and nuclear weapons in a battlefield could increase the risk of nuclear war.”

Kidwai’s statement is in line with Pakistan’s recent aggressive expansion of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program is a major cause for concern for the rest of the world, amid fears that its weapons can fall into the wrong hands.

Kidwai, however, rejected this and insisted that adequate safeguards were in place. However, Pakistan’s aggressive expansion of its nuclear capacity could continue to make South Asia a much more dangerous place, escalating tensions with India. Earlier in March, Pakistan tested a Shaheen-III missile, which has a range of about 1,700 miles. This would enable Pakistan to hit any part of India with a nuclear warhead, while also placing Israel within range.

Shahid Latif, a retired commander in the Pakistani Air Force, said that “now, India doesn’t have its safe havens anymore.” According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Pakistan actually has more nuclear weapons—120—than India (110). This is despite its more meager resource and economic base, and in line with the famous statement made by former Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1972, that “even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bombs.”

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

U.S. Naval Base Is Under Threat...And It's Britain's Fault

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The naval base on Diego Garcia in the central Indian Ocean is one of the most strategically important U.S. military installations in the world. But the base’s future might just have been thrown into question by a seemingly unrelated international ruling that the British government, which is sovereign over Diego Garcia, acted illegally by unilaterally announcing the creation of an environmental protection zone in the territory back in 2010.

Diego Garcia is the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago, a British Overseas Territory that also happens to be claimed by neighboring Mauritius. In April 2010, London declared the creation of a “no-take” marine protected area (MPA) in the entire archipelago (except for a three-mile exemption around the base on Diego Garcia) ostensibly in order to better protect the “pristine” coral reefs of the Great Chagos Bank—the largest coral atoll structure in the world. The proposal was supported by high-profile environmentalist groups like Pew Environment and Greenpeace, and had been cleared with top U.S. officials in advance of the announcement.

The problem is that Mauritius never consented to the creation of the MPA. Pointing to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Port Louis insisted that London had a duty to take its legitimate interests in Chagos into consideration before making consequential decisions regarding the territory’s governance—not least of all because London has formally undertaken to cede the islands, including Diego Garcia, to Mauritius once they are no longer needed for military purposes. Britain dismissed Mauritius’s claims and pressed ahead with the MPA.

But in its ruling, the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague has endorsed the Mauritian point of view—that is, it was illegal for Britain to act unilaterally in Chagos by not properly consulting Mauritius. After all, if all parties agree that Mauritius will one day govern the territory, then it stands to reason that Port Louis has a very real interest in what happens in Chagos in the meantime. As such, steps should have been taken to ameliorate Mauritian concerns regarding the MPA. Britain had no right to act unilaterally.

This ruling—which, importantly, is binding on both parties—could have potentially wide-ranging implications for the future of the base on Diego Garcia. For if Britain acted illegally by creating a relatively benign marine protection zone in Chagos, would it not also be illegal to act unilaterally to take much more portentous decisions regarding the future of the U.S. military in the archipelago? Far from being a hypothetical scenario, this question is actually of critical importance, given that the present executive agreement governing U.S. usage of Diego Garcia is up for renewal in 2016 and so will have to be renewed imminently.

As a general rule, London has always governed the Chagos Islands in a way that grants the U.S. military the maximum possible leeway. Legal restrictions on what the United States can and cannot do on Diego Garcia are few and far between. Indeed, the plan to create an MPA in Chagos was sold to U.S. officials partly on the grounds that it would help to buttress this legal and political “black hole.”

Contrary to British officials’ faithful intentions towards their American counterparts, however, it turns out that London might have dropped the ball in quite spectacular fashion. Instead of safeguarding the future of the naval facility on Diego Garcia—an alleged black site, it should not be forgotten—the decision to push through the Chagos MPA against regional opposition appears to have achieved the exact opposite outcome. International and domestic pressure to rethink the political arrangement regarding Diego Garcia is bound to mount now that Britain has been found in breach of international law, especially given renewed interest in allowing the indigenous population of the islands to resettle their homeland after fifty years in exile. In short, the future of Diego Garcia is in greater doubt now than at any other time in its history. And the quandary is entirely of London’s own making.


Beware ISIS' Threat to Indonesia

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A small explosion in a Jakarta shopping center late last month has Indonesian authorities concerned that local radicals may be adopting tactics from ISIS. The explosion in ITC Depok, a tech shopping center in the Greater Jakarta area, came from a poorly made device consisting of batteries, paint tins and wires inside a cardboard box. The homemade bomb, left unattended in a men's bathroom, appeared not to have detonated properly, and no one was hurt. But what has alarmed police and anti-terror forces is that the device contained a substance known to be used by ISIS: chlorine gas.

Indonesia's National Police, like terrorism expert Sidney Jones, see the use of chlorine gas in the failed attack as a warning that ISIS influence could pose a threat to Indonesia's security, especially with the possible return of ISIS supporters from the Middle East. Police say 514 Indonesian ISIS supporters are known to have left for Syria and Iraq, though this number could be outdated, since it has remained the cited figure since the end of last year. Other reports show a growing number of Indonesians attempting to join ISIS.

Indonesian media this month has been focused on the disappearance of sixteen Indonesian nationals who joined a tour group to Turkey in January. Three families—including men, women, children and infants—separated from their tour group at the Istanbul airport, saying they wanted to stay with family members in Turkey for a few days before rejoining the tour. They kept in contact with the tour guide for two days before disappearing. Earlier this month, Turkish authorities detained sixteen people believed to be Indonesian nationals (several did not carry passports) as they attempted to cross the Syrian border. Strangely enough, Turkish and Indonesian authorities have confirmed that these were not the same sixteen who went missing in Istanbul. The group also consisted of families, including children.

Assuming that the arrested Indonesians were attempting to cross into Syria to join ISIS, the fact that they were traveling with their families lends weight to the theory advanced by Princeton University Professor of Near Eastern Studies Bernard Haykel in an interview with The Interpreter's Sam Roggeveen last week. Professor Haykel argued that those leaving their home countries to join ISIS see it as a permanent relocation, which is why they tend to bring their families along. In contrast to Al Qaeda supporters, it would appear that ISIS supporters have no intention of returning to their home country as trained terrorists.

Also unlike Al Qaeda, the struggle of ISIS has been described as a “war within Islam” between extremist Sunnis and moderate Muslims of various creeds. It's no wonder this ideology has found little support among Indonesia's majority-moderate Muslim population. Though the number of ISIS supporters is growing, it remains a fraction of the total population of 250 million, even smaller than the fraction of the Australian population joining the foreign ranks of ISIS. Public notices rejecting ISIS have been displayed in Jakarta neighborhoods since last year. The central government has officially denounced the group, as has ASEAN.

The question now being asked in Indonesian media is whether those found to have joined ISIS should have their Indonesian citizenship revoked. The Republic of Indonesia has a long history of rejecting groups that want to establish an Islamic state in its territory, a struggle that predates the country's independence. Supporters of ISIS are viewed in a similar way to separatists that threaten the unity of the state, a position that is not tolerated.

Nonetheless, the use of chlorine gas in Depok and the arrival of Indonesian citizens on the Syrian border show that the ISIS ideology remains a cause for concern in relation to Indonesia's security.

Catriona Croft-Cusworth holds degrees in Arts and Asian Studies (with a specialisation in Indonesian studies) from the Australian National University, and works as a media professional in Jakarta. This article originally appeared on the Lowy Interpreter, here.


U.S.-Israeli Ties are Worth Salvaging

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Few bilateral relations are as personally fraught on the leadership level as the current relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Foreign leaders have rarely gone so far in modern US political history to directly interfere in the domestic affairs of an American President, most notably visiting Washington without consulting the White House to actively lobby Congress to oppose the President’s foreign policy initiatives and in the 2012 presidential elections, to all but embrace Obama’s electoral opponent, Mitt Romney.

At the same time, few US Presidents have publicly shown complete displeasure for a foreign leader of a long-standing ally (ironically, Netanyahu has been the ire of a few US Presidents in earlier stages of his career as TNI’s managing editor Zachary Keck illustrated). Such sentiments were summed up well when a senior administration official described the Israeli Prime Minister as a “chickenshit.” Ron Dermer, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States, is persona non grata with the Obama administration. Netanyahu’s campaign to fire up the far right reached its nadir in the final hours when the Prime Minister, ostensibly trailing in the flawed Israeli public opinion polls, rejected the two-state solution, a core plank of the U.S.’s decades old peace initiatives in the region. His use of racist overtones in his campaign and his embracement of controversial settlement developments further stoked the ire of the U.S. administration.

Herzog’s lead was welcomed in the White House with a sigh of relief that for the final years of Obama’s presidency, the president may have a leader who he could personally work with and one who would be more amenable to the administration’s negotiations with Iran and their stalled Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Netanyahu’s surprise sweep of Israel’s elections, which all but guarantees him another term as Prime Minister, left many in the administration disappointed. This sour mood was publicly reflected when President Obama declined to call Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate him.

Administration officials suggesting that Obama may pursue a harder line against Prime Minister Netanyahu in his final years in office, including potentially supporting efforts in the UN calling for a two-state solution (in contradiction of the administration’s previous efforts to block international efforts to force a two-state solution, not in the context of negotiations with Israel and Palestine) and plans to delegate interactions with Netanyahu to his secretary of state or vice president, underscore the reality that Obama has become fed up with his Israeli counterpart and will likely not make any effort to improve this relationship. These differences will intensify if a P5 + 1 deal is reached that Netanyahu perceives as not compatible to Israel’s interests.

However, it would be a mistake to allow this relationship to be mired by personal differences and to loose sight of the larger strategic importance of the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Israel. Instead of finding new ways to antagonize the prime minister, Obama should seek to take the higher ground and keep the relationship from becoming mired by personal differences. Instead, it should be grounded on where the U.S. and Israel could more effectively cooperate on common strategic issues.

Importantly, such initiatives should back away from the temptation to use the UN to pressure Netanyahu to re-embrace the Two State Solution. As Netanyahu has accurately pointed out, Hamas isn’t committed to a peace process.  For negotiations between Washington, Jerusalem, and the PLO to find common ground, which takes in account the will of the Israeli electorate, would be a more effective strategy to preserve the Two State Solution and advance U.S. interests. While it’s unlikely that the peace process can be revived in any meaningful way in Obama’s last two years in office, a critical mistake would be to allow the Madrid and Oslo accords’ precedents unravel. Netanyahu’s own post-election statements about supporting a two state solution are a positive step, but have so far done little to ease the White House’s concerns about the prime minister’s commitment to this process.

Equally, while it’s unlikely the U.S. and Israel will see eye-to-eye on any Iran nuclear agreement that is signed, it would be a mistake to not invest diplomatically in efforts to try to reduce Israel’s concerns about any such deal. Their bilateral relationship will become even more consequential in the case that such a deal is not reached or falls apart. The U.S. and Israel also have common strategic interests in preserving the stability of the Jordanian monarchy, preventing the spread of Syria’s civil war out of its borders, and the security and stability of Egypt. Finally, both Israel and the United States have a common interest in countering-Iran’s efforts to advance its interests at the expense of their own interests and those of Egypt and the Gulf States.

The stakes in the region are too high for both leaders to allow a difficult personal working relationship to compromise a broader strategic relationship, which admittedly, is being by strained by deep differences on strategic issues. While U.S. and Israeli national interests may not always perfectly align, there are more common national interests than differences. Those differences shouldn’t be magnified to such an extent that they compromise this relationship and both states’ commitments to each other’s broader security and prosperity.

Andrew J. Bowen, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Middle East Studies at the Center for the National Interest.


Can Greece Escape Germany's Golden Straitjacket?

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Syriza’s electoral triumph in Greece earlier this year was dramatic evidence of ordinary Greeks’ exasperation with the politics of austerity. But since taking office, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has found it difficult to deliver on his campaign pledges to improve Greece’s lot. Popular at home, Tsipras has run into roadblocks abroad—particularly in Brussels and Berlin. His torrid time parlaying domestic success into an international agreement on Greece’s future reveals a lot about the limits of democratic decision making in an integrated Europe.

Feeling little responsibility for the imprudent decision making of their political leaders and financial sector, voters in Greece resolved in January not to pay the full price for their country’s mismanagement—or, at least, to take greater control over how the costs of the financial crisis should be borne. To ordinary Greeks, it is perverse that common people—who, after all, exercised little agency over their country’s erstwhile fiscal policies—should undergo a form of collective punishment for what is essentially an elite-driven economic crisis. Even a radical overhaul of the current economic and political order seems more reasonable to these voters than a system that penalizes the powerless for the mistakes of the powerful.

Such sentiment is not confined to Greece, of course. Instead, Syriza’s popularity is indicative of wider trends across Europe: a broad challenge—both intellectual and popular—to the elite consensus that currently underpins economic organization in Europe. For years now, the economic orthodoxy in European capitals has been that nation-states should entrust their futures to the invisible hand of globalization by (1) committing to free markets and open capital accounts as ways to drive economic growth and (2) abstaining from ambitious fiscal and independent monetary policies.

This brand of globalization was relatively popular among Europeans—celebrated, even—when the going was good. Only those on the political fringes saw fit to criticize the way that Europe’s states were committing to ever closer union. Since the onset of the so-called Great Recession, however, the naked impotence of Europe’s elected governments to alleviate the hardships of those on the losing end of economic liberalization has catalyzed criticism of globalization as a project and as an endgame—particularly in those places hit hardest like Greece, Spain and Ireland, but also in the wealthier corners of Europe. The human vulnerability endemic in the system has been laid bare, fueling the rise of anti-austerity and pro-democracy movements like Syriza.

Yet Syriza is not against all forms of economic cooperation—or even all forms of globalization. For as Princeton economist Dani Rodrik points out, globalization in its ultra laissez faire guise has never been the only brand of economic integration on offer. Instead, Rodrik describes globalization in the modern era as a choice (a “trilemma”) over which two of the following three goods should be prioritized: (1) deep economic integration (that is, unfettered markets and open capital accounts); (2) democratic politics; and (3) the nation-state as a viable political unit.

All three objectives are desirable in their own right, Rodrik explains. The problem is that only two of the three can co-exist at any given time; the trifecta is impossible to achieve in practice. In short, Rodrik points to three ideal-type responses to the structural trilemma: the “golden straitjacket” (when autonomous nation-states agree to cooperate in the name of deep economic integration, regardless of what democratic publics might desire); “global federalism” (the privileging of deep economic integration and democratic politics over the nation-state); and the “Bretton Woods compromise” (whereby democratic nation-states accept an international economic order characterized by only limited economic integration).

Syriza’s electoral success is a manifestation of popular antipathy towards the golden straitjacket brand of globalization. For Syriza and their fellow travelers, the short-term pain of austerity cannot be countenanced because it is fundamentally at odds with the popular will. Instead of passively accepting that the price of remaining inside a currency union and adhering to the fiscal pacts of the eurozone is to ignore what a broad cross-section of the Greek people wants, the correct response according to the left is to launch an active public-sector effort to revive a battered national economy.

Clearly, then, Syriza’s favored alternative to the hated golden straitjacket most resembles Rodrik’s description of Bretton Woods: a bargain that allows nation-states such as Greece to take “time out” from deep integration to cater to exigencies on the domestic front, but still preserves some basic level of state-to-state economic cooperation. And, indeed, Prime Minister Tsipras has enjoyed limited success at wresting control of Greek fiscal policy away from the supranational institutions of the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

Ultimately, however, Tsipras’ demands for national autonomy will run up against the structural constraints of the trilemma. At some point, exceptions for Greece become incompatible with the deep economic integration so cherished across Europe—especially if other hard-hit European economies begin to demand similar opt-outs for themselves. Angela Merkel and other defenders of the status quo recognize this, which is why they are resolved to keep Greece locked into the golden straightjacket as much as is diplomatically possible.

As Maria Margaronis has written in The Nation, “Syriza has a double mandate—to end austerity and restore lost rights while staying in the eurozone. These things may well turn out to be incompatible, but polls show that around three-quarters of Greeks still want them both.” This, in essence, is Alexis Tsipras’ own political conundrum: continue to fight for an international settlement that is practically impossible to achieve or admit to the national electorate that the country’s future is out of its hands for as long as it remains in Europe?

Image: Flickr/0neiros

TopicsPoliticsEconomics RegionsEurope

Unveiled: China's New Naval Base in the South China Sea

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Recent reports talk about China’s possible establishment of a “fourth” naval fleet with jurisdiction over the Indian Ocean region (IOR), joining the existing North Sea Fleet, East Sea Fleet, and South Sea Fleet.

This mysterious fourth fleet will supposedly be based on Hainan Island—even though the island falls under the jurisdiction of the South Sea Fleet and is some distance away from the IOR. For that reason, many see a prospective Chinese fleet covering the IOR to be either entirely speculative or, at best, a hollow force existing in name only.

One should certainly be wary of overstating China’s military capabilities or, indeed, ambitions. Taking a worst-case view of a Chinese naval fleet in the IOR could overshadow more modest but also more plausible concerns about other possible roles for a fourth fleet based out of Hainan Island.

The island faces the South China Sea (SCS), over which Beijing has proffered expansive historical claims, such as the famous nine-dash line which encompasses nearly all of this maritime zone. Maritime incidents between China and its neighbors, especially Vietnam and the Philippines, are increasingly frequent.

The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) is undoubtedly moving to buttress its presence on the island. On Yalong Bay near the island’s southeastern tip, China’s recently constructed Longpo naval base is a deep-water port complete with submarine piers, an underground submarine facility with tunnel access, and a demagnetizing facility to reduce the magnetic residuals on ship hulls.

This new nuclear submarine base is expected to be serve as a home for the PLAN’s new Jin-class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). It also features long piers designed for surface combatants, making it a multi-purpose base. The PLAN has an existing base at Yulin, situated just west of Longpo and designed to service PLAN’s conventional submarines. Facilities for surface ships and construction of new piers have also been reported there.

The Hainan complex underpins the PLAN’s rapidly growing South Sea Fleet. Once the least important of China’s three fleets, the South Sea Fleet has since become the primary recipient of China’s more advanced naval warships, including the Shang-class nuclear attack submarine, conventional submarines (Kilo-, Song- and Yuan-class), the above-mentioned Jin-class SSBN, and a dozen of China’s more advanced guided-missile destroyers and frigates and three new amphibious warfare ships, bringing its total to 29 major surface combatants.

Moreover, according to John Patch (PDF), China’s fast-attack Houbei-class missile catamarans are also primarily based with the East Sea and South Sea Fleets. Those small, cheap vessels might have limited range and defensive capabilities but they have an impressive anti-surface warfare capability, each being armed with eight long-range anti-ship cruise missiles.

The South Sea Fleet may be based out of Zhanjiang on the Chinese mainland. But, given the new submarine and surface warship facilities on the Hainan naval complex, it’s clear the island plays an increasingly important role in its fleet operations. On one hand, it can be seen as a potential SSBN bastion for the undersea leg of China’s nuclear deterrent—in which attack submarines, fast-attack ships, and a surface fleet heavy with both anti-ship and air-defence capabilities would be geared towards providing a protective cover for its Jin-class SSBNs against potential anti-submarine warfare (ASW) assets.

On the other hand, this naval build-up could be construed in more offensive terms; less about protecting SSBNs and more about magnifying the country’s sea control. While allowing for greater power projection in the IOR, they’re more likely geared for operations in strategically vital locations like the dispute-laden SCS. Attack submarines provide a particularly formidable capability against both submarines and surface ships, while guided-missile destroyers/frigates could provide protection for China’s fleet of missile catamarans and amphibious warships.

Such a possibility puts a worrisome light to recent revelations about land reclamation and construction on numerous reefs in the disputed Spratly Islands. Reports indicate a possible airstrip and anti-aircraft tower being constructed, which could strengthen China’s capacity to operate around these disputed islands. That would be especially true if some of those facilities are capable of providing logistical support for the short-range Houbei catamarans, thereby eliminating one of the key weaknesses of this “thoroughbred ship-killer.”

It’s difficult to determine which interpretation of China’s naval activities is correct, and it’s possible (and likely) that both approaches are being pursued simultaneously. China would, after all, need protective cover for its SSBNs for its bastion strategy to succeed, requiring a capacity for sea control equally usable against other maritime claimants in the South China Sea. Indeed, an SSBN bastion near Hainan Island logically places a premium on China’s capacity to control the surrounding “near sea.”

Rather than being distracted by an unsubstantiated red herring, like a putative fourth PLAN fleet over the Indian Ocean, attention needs to be rightly placed on these more immediate and concrete developments. To do otherwise wouldn’t only be detrimental from a security perspective, but strategically foolish as well.

David S. McDonough is research manager and senior editor at the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) Institute in Ottawa, Canada. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the CDA Institute. This article originally appeared on ASPI’s The Strategist, here.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Shannon Renfroe


Punishing Russia: The Dangers of the 'Mariupol Test'

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Frustrated by European reluctance to arm Ukraine, two prominent former U.S. officials—Hans Binnendijk, formerly senior director for defense policy at the U.S. National Security Council, and John Herbst, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006—recently called in a New York Times piece for the imposition of what they have labeled “the Mariupol Test.” They argue that if and when the rebels move on the southeastern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, the West must punish Moscow and its minions by giving Kiev the military wherewithal to expel Russian forces from its territory, doubling down on sanctions and, perhaps most seriously of all, “suspending Russia from the Brussels-based Swift financial-messaging system,” a measure that, they assert, “could cripple the already reeling Russian economy.”

Mariupol lies on the land approaches to the isthmus linking Crimea to the Ukrainian mainland. If the rebels did capture the city, Russia would win an unofficial land route to a piece of real estate that, a year after its annexation, it’s still having trouble supplying. According to Binnendijk and Herbst, however, Mariupol would be just the beginning of a longer campaign by the Kremlin to reassemble the tsarist-era Novorossiya “one slender slice at a time,” taking Russia’s informal border back to where it lay from the end of the eighteenth century to the 1917 revolution: all the way to Odessa and the Russian-sponsored enclave of Transnistria.

If we conclude that the Kremlin’s aim is indeed a massive, if informal, increase of Russian power across the upper western arc of the Black Sea that would return Russian influence to the doorstep of the Balkans—then it’s possible to indulge the former officials’ twitching fingers. But, since dropping Novorossiya into an interview last April, Russian president Vladimir Putin has studiously avoided the term. And he pointedly refused to recognize Novorossiya’s Crimea-style referenda and declaration of independence last year.

(Recommended: The Ukraine Crisis' Scary New Twist: The Drive for Mariupol)

Instead, what the Russians have repeatedly said they want in Ukraine is regional autonomy for the Donbas, protection of the linguistic and cultural rights of Russian speakers across Ukraine, federalization of the country’s presently highly centralized political structure, and official acceptance of Ukraine’s formal neutrality, including a permanent commitment by NATO not to invite Kiev into the alliance. As Fiona Hill has recently argued, Putin doesn’t want to restore the Russian empire or the Soviet Union: what he wants is the revival of Russia’s prestige as a great power, including other powers’ respect for the primacy of its political interests in and longstanding historical and cultural ties with Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

That doesn’t mean Mariupol isn’t a military objective for the separatists or the Kremlin. Nor can we be sure whether, having secured Mariupol, Russia won’t then turn its attention towards Odessa. But the Kremlin’s options are constrained by Russia’s parlous fiscal and financial situation. That, along with the mounting public discontent provoked by sharp inflation, ought to serve to keep Russia focused on the achievable in the Donbas and to discourage it from enlarging the zone of the conflict.

Any attempt on Mariupol, therefore, would probably have more to do with strengthening Moscow’s hand in pursuit of its more “limited” political aims than with spreading a neotsarist dominion across the Black Sea. (Certainly Turkey, Hungary and Slovakia all seem unfazed.) And that points to two things. The first is the relative weakness of Russia’s position; notwithstanding the Ukrainian army’s lackluster performance, Russia’s political aims in Ukraine far exceed its ability to coerce either Kiev or the West into accepting them. The second is each side’s mutually divergent views on what the Minsk Agreement means.

(Recommended: Why the West Should Be Ashamed about Ukraine)

In the West, many have interpreted the agreement as implying Russia’s capitulation. The Guardian recently quoted the new president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, former prime minister of Poland, as saying that:

The Minsk agreement makes sense only if fully implemented. Partial implementation would be very risky for Ukraine….First, we need full implementation including full control of Ukraine’s borders.

The problem is that Minsk ties control of the border to Kiev’s prior delivery of constitutional “special status” for Donetsk and Lugansk—something hardline Ukrainian nationalists in the Rada adamantly oppose. For Russia, Minsk is thus a step towards the creation of those conditions—genuine autonomy in the Donbas—which it considers preliminary to achieving the rest of its political goals in Ukraine.

The bad news, then, for those looking forward to a complete Russian backdown is that only old-fashioned diplomacy, however unpalatable, can bring an end to the war. The good news is that the conservatism of Russia’s political culture, that has seen it risk economic meltdown for the sake of defending what many in the West consider to be a nineteenth-century vision of its national interests, means that it is also open to the kinds of compromises that lay at the heart of old-style, Concert-of-Europe diplomacy. Not for nothing is the Kremlin celebrating the two-hundredth anniversary this year of the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

The human cost of an attack on Mariupol would be tragic. But Mariupol won’t change Russia’s fundamental aims; and getting sucked into a proxy war with Moscow over it won’t help the West negotiate a lasting political deal with the Kremlin that returns peace and stability to the whole of eastern Ukraine.

The only thing worse than trying to bludgeon Russia into defeat in eastern Ukraine and failing might be bludgeoning it into defeat and succeeding. If Putin did fall, nationalistic Russians would be unlikely to entrust their country to a liberal constructivist leader. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that he’s willing to try diplomacy with Assad. He should do the same, just as belatedly, with Putin.

Matthew Dal Santo is a Danish Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen. Image courtesy of Flickr user CSIS. This article originally appeared on ASPI’s The Strategist, here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vitaly V. Kuzmin