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

The Buzz

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Barack Obama and secretary of state, John Kerry, have lamented the return to "19th century politics," with its outdated "spheres of influence" in Eastern Europe.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?

The Buzz

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

The Buzz

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?

The Buzz

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?

The Buzz

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