What the U.S. Congress Fails to Realize When it Comes to TPP

The Buzz

President Barack Obama finally has authority from the U.S. Congress for advancing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a signature foreign policy of his final term in office. The TPP aims to establish a free trade zone around the Pacific Rim covering 40% of the global economy, while excluding China.

The future of the agreement had been left in doubt after the President's own party initially voted against granting him trade promotion authority, with some members now vowing to defeat the TPP itself. For Australia, the episode is thus not a story of success, but of the ongoing obstacles Congress poses to coherent American leadership in the Asia-Pacific.

U.S. officials focusing on the region repeatedly proclaim a 'rules-based order' as the necessary bulwark against China's rising power. For Obama, “strong and sustained American leadership is essential to a rules-based international order.” Australia has followed suit, with Defense Minister Kevin Andrews declaring that: “Notwithstanding China's growth, the United States will remain the single most important country in enforcing a rules-based order.”

In his 2015 State of the Union address Obama directly linked passage of the TPP with halting China's desire “to write the rules for the world's fastest-growing region.” His recognition that “we should write those rules” is nevertheless being frustrated by Congress, which has proven itself either unconvinced of the importance of the task, or unable to recognize that U.S.-centred rules are founded on a half-century of American primacy in the Asia-Pacific that is now being challenged by China.

The precarious future of the TPP follows the creation of the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), in the face of U.S. opposition. The AIIB was established in part as a response to Congressional refusal to grant China more representative rights in global financial institutions. Likewise, the U.S. Senate continues to obstruct the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even as America now seeks to enforce freedom of navigation rules in the South China Sea.

China's construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea is perhaps the most prominent example of the way power is being contested at the level of international legal rules. Under UNCLOS, artificial islands do not attract the same rights as a natural land feature, which would include the right to control sea and airspace out to 12 nautical miles. China has nevertheless attempted to enforce these rights against American 'freedom of navigation' operations in which US aircraft deliberately challenge purported Chinese airspace.

The American claim to be acting in defense of impartial maritime rules is weakened as long as the U.S. itself refuses to ratify UNCLOS. For Obama it is clear that “ongoing failure to ratify this Treaty undermines our national interest in a rules-based international order.” Defenders of U.S. policy claim that the U.S. already accepts rules pertinent to the South China Sea as established customary international law, while the treaty improperly creates additional obligations in relation to resource exploitation. Yet the legitimacy of taking action under a rules-based order derives from the clear acceptance of legal constraints, rather than the selective application of rules that constrain others.

Responsibility lies with Congress, with every president from George HW Bush onward supporting ratification as consistent with American global interests. Likewise, the most recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs' survey of American leaders confirmed not only universal support among Democrats but solid majority support among Republican leaders. As such, the incoherence in U.S. regional leadership can be traced back to failings specific to the U.S. Senate.

China's artificial islands have been described as 'unsinkable aircraft carriers' that allow the projection of military power far from China's mainland. It is therefore telling that U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has argued that “passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.” Carter's phrasing was a reminder that the TPP remains necessary in geo-strategic terms if the US is to “promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.”

The U.S. Congress remains an unreliable partner in this strategy, beholden to competing ideological and institutional concerns. Some reservations about the TPP may well have a legitimate domestic basis, while resistance to UNCLOS probably owes more to populist fears about guarding U.S. sovereignty. In either case the alternative is increasingly conspicuous reliance on brute force to sustain the status quo. Conversely the Chinese are steadily increasing their capacity to promote interests through rules.

A future U.S. Congress may ratify UNCLOS, but possibly not until the motivation of containing China is so transparent as to destroy the benefits of doing so. Likewise, faltering on the TPP has increased incentives for China to establish its own financial order – Australia formally joined the AIIB this week.

The objective of establishing a rules-based regional order is a worthy one capable of delivering greater security and prosperity to all. But American allies can take nothing for granted while Congress acts as if setting regional rules is divorced from the underlying contest for regional power.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: White House Flickr. 

TopicsTrade RegionsAsia

Congress Wants the Pentagon to Empower Taiwan

The Buzz

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016 (H.R. 1735) was passed in the House and the Senate on June 18, and now awaits approval of Senate-made changes. The most recent version of the bill includes several provisions and clauses that express support for greater U.S.-Taiwan military cooperation in the interest of maintaining security, expanding prosperity, and supporting common values.

Taiwan is one of several countries in the Asia-Pacific that will receive assistance in maintaining peace and security under the bill’s South China Sea Initiative. The initiative will cost the Department of Defense $50 million in operational and maintenance expenses in 2016, an amount that will increase to $75 million in 2017 before settling at $100 million from 2018 through 2020. 

The bill also supports Taiwan’s participation in joint military training activities to maintain “resolute defense and credible deterrence” in the face of China’s military modernization and aggressive posturing. U.S.-Taiwan defense relations have taken a backseat to U.S.-China relations during the current administration, with infrequent talks and oft-neglected arms-sales requests. This provision and the related proposal for the creation of a U.S.-Taiwan military exchange program would reaffirm the U.S. commitment to enabling Taiwan’s self-defense under the Taiwan Relations Act.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States has expressed the government’s appreciation of Congressional efforts to “strengthen bilateral relations and security cooperation with Taiwan.”

In a statement sent to TNI, TECRO said:

“Bilateral relations between Taiwan and the United States always involve multi-faceted engagement at various levels. Our two sides have been maintaining smooth communications … The bill, when implemented, will be helpful in further enhancing the effectiveness of ROC military training and strengthening its self-defense capability, thus conducive to safeguarding regional peace and stability.”

An earlier House version of the bill, which was removed by the Senate, included an amendment calling for Taiwan to be invited to the U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercises in the event that China is again invited to participate.

China’s participation in the 2014 RIMPAC exercise as an observer was marked with controversy and distrust. Some speculate that the proposal to invite Taiwan to the next RIMPAC was more of a strategic move to stop the Pentagon from inviting China, as some members of the House have said they oppose Beijing’s participation. China continues to maintain its resolute opposition to Taiwan developing independent military relations with foreign nations.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said that a final version of the NDAA may be available as early as July.

Claire Chu is pursuing a BA at American University’s School of Int’l Service, with a focus on Asia-Pacific security. She is an intern for the U.S.-China Program at the Center for the National Interest.

Image: Wikimedia/Chang-Song Wang

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

To Save NATO, Don't Enlarge It

The Buzz

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter embarked on a weeklong European tour on June 21 to reaffirm America’s commitment to the NATO alliance. The critical transatlantic security relationship currently faces strains from within and without, ranging from increased Russian military activity in Eastern Europe to intra-alliance disputes over burden sharing and debates over arming non-member Ukraine. Secretary Carter’s visit confirmed Washington’s support for its European treaty allies, including increasing support to the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) and pre-positioning equipment in Eastern Europe. It also highlighted the need to revitalize NATO and adapt the organization to the present transatlantic security alliance.

In order to further cement this relationship, the United States must make a clear statement about the future of the alliance, and resist the temptation to overextend its legal obligations to the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Ukraine crisis revived significant criticism over NATO expansion in the 1990s and 2000s. Critics allege that NATO’s growth violated a promise made by President George H.W. Bush to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev not to expand NATO after the Cold War. This is a rumor that refuses to die. President Bush made no such commitment, but the myth has consistently reappeared since the 1990s, despite Gorbachev himself denouncing it. Russian officials are now giving this fabrication new life because it converges with their narrative of Western aggression in the ongoing Ukraine conflict.

Granting new NATO members like Poland and the Baltics states anything short of the same mutual defense commitment older allies enjoy would undermine European stability and damage the transatlantic relationship. This being said, reasonable people may debate the wisdom of NATO enlargement as a matter of history, and these discussions can inform future alliance policy.

NATO has limits, and officials must recognize these constraints. In particular, the United States and its allies should take a measured approach to post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus that aspire to NATO membership. As the organization’s de facto leader, Washington must articulate that, in the present security environment, countries like Ukraine and Georgia should continue to participate in affiliate programs like the Partnership for Peace. However, the United States should be equally clear that while it supports international norms on territorial integrity and national sovereignty, full alliance membership for these countries is not currently conducive to regional stability. This message is critical to NATO’s long-term viability.

Such a statement will confirm what is already tacitly accepted in Western capitals. At the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, France and Germany promised to veto membership for Georgia and Ukraine. German Chancellor Angela Merkel argued that Tbilisi could not be an appropriate candidate for alliance membership so long as its territorial disputes in Abkhazia and South Ossetia persisted. In other words, Georgia would be a liability for the alliance. If Tbilisi were admitted and attacked, a non-response by the organization would undermine the North Atlantic Treaty in the same way failing to protect any other member would, even though Georgia is far less defensible than existing allies. Because NATO operates by consensus and requires unanimity for action, these concerns shaped organization-wide policy despite then-President George W. Bush’s support for NATO enlargement. In any case, the August 2008 Russo-Georgia War vindicated the position Paris and Berlin advanced at the Bucharest summit.

Georgia’s internal (and external) conflicts effectively eliminated that country’s potential for NATO entry. The ongoing insurgency in Eastern Ukraine similarly disqualifies Kiev, whose candidacy was already blocked in 2008. Accordingly, Washington should stress that limiting alliance participation for post-Soviet states (excluding the Baltics) to structures like the Partnership for Peace is consistent with existing (albeit unstated) NATO policy. The United States can deflect Kremlin paranoia over Western encroachment in its so-called “near abroad,” which Russia uses to justify military action in the former U.S.S.R. At the same time, the United States and its partners need not simply acknowledge Russian invasions and occupation of non-NATO member territory.

It is worth noting that even under this strategy, individual NATO member states can still engage non-NATO post-Soviet republics on a bilateral level. Turkey does this with both Georgia and Azerbaijan in pursuit of defense coordination. In theory, nothing prevents the United States or its allies from using force to protect a non-NATO state. Of course, it remains highly unlikely that Washington would undertake such action in places like Ukraine and the South Caucasus, even in the context of present tensions with Russia. The United States must be straightforward and honest with aspiring NATO participants about their prospects for full alliance membership. These countries can then better negotiate their relationships with Russia and the West based on a more accurate assessment of their futures.

NATO enlargement is not the only path to overstretch. Currently, officials in Washington and some European states are debating providing weapons for the Ukrainian government in its battle with Russia and Kremlin-backed insurgents.  The United States should respect the concerns of its treaty allies when exploring other external policies in addition to alliance expansion. The Ukraine conflict is significant to the liberal international order crafted by the United States in the wake of World War II. However, the dispute bears more immediate and practical importance to European countries, some of which object to supplying Ukraine with weapons, owing to their geographic proximity to the conflict zone and extensive economic ties with Russia.

Why do all of these reforms matter? Why should the United States and its allies endeavor to rescue an organization like NATO?

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the collapse of its network of satellite states in Eastern Europe removed the most obvious reason for NATO’s existence. However, one factor ensures that the alliance will continue to serve a purpose, regardless of whether or not threats emerge from external actors like Russia or foreign terrorism: Europe’s own violent history.

For nearly seven decades, NATO has held much European continent in a state of suspended animation, as far as security issues are concerned. Lord Ismay, the alliance’s inaugural secretary general famously quipped that NATO existed, “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

As this suggests, NATO emerged as much because of lasting memories as from future external threats. By embedding almost all of Europe in a unified security architecture, powers that warred for centuries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom have no incentive to fight one another. Turkey, the perennial Muslim bogeyman at the gates of Christian Europe, is now tied to the continent’s security as a NATO member. This relationship (save a month-long spat with Greece over non-member Cyprus in 1974) continues to defy historic animosities, surviving political instability in Turkey and turmoil on the country’s frontiers.

Failure on the part of the United States and its allies failed to defend a fellow NATO member from outside attack would discredit the alliance as a collective defense apparatus. Not only would this invite outside actors to future (apparently consequence-free) incursions, countries might also leave NATO. In the organization’s absence, former member states would be subjected to new security pressures and might form new coalitions. Within a generation or two, Europe could be home to an array of hostile alliances, as exist in other regions like the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East, and in Europe itself at other points in history. As a bloc, the European Union (whose membership largely overlaps with NATO) is the world’s largest economy and China’s largest export market. This means that any major conflict in Europe would reverberate far beyond the continent and impact Western and non-Western states alike.

Viewing NATO solely as a Cold War era-relic used by a Russophobic Europe to extort U.S. support, as many critics do, implies a very narrow reading of history. After all, the only member state to ever invoke the North Atlantic Treaty’s collective security clause was not European and the move was not directed against Moscow: the country was the United States, and the impetus was the September 11 terrorist attacks.

NATO will not outlive its purpose: relations with Russia, nearby Middle Eastern countries, and relevant non-state actors may evolve, but peace and security are timeless values. However, the staying power of NATO’s founding principles is no guarantee that the alliance will endure. The United States must live up to its treaty obligations and ensure the integrity of the NATO alliance before it looks beyond the organization’s boundaries. Only in this way can NATO survive to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Evan Gottesman is an editorial intern at The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanGottesman.

Image: Wikimedia/Cornellrockey

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

Imagining World War III: Lethal Drone Swarms, F-35s and Total Chaos

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If a major war broke out on Earth below, what would happen aboard the International Space Station?

This and a dozen other wild “what ifs” are answered in the opening pages of P.W. Singer and August Cole’s Ghost Fleet. The novel follows a spiraling cast of characters as they are engulfed by a near-future conflict in the Asia-Pacific—the one that real-life U.S. defense planners spend so much time thinking about.

A hyper-aggressive, technocratic China (“The Directorate”) and a revanchist Russia join forces to attack U.S. assets in the Pacific, decimating the U.S. economy and marking an abrupt end to America’s “Pacific Century.” As the United States struggles to regroup, it must use every tool at its disposal. This includes the U.S. Navy’s “Ghost Fleet,” an armada of outmoded warships that will quickly become the core of the U.S. counteroffensive. At its head is the stealthy USS Zumwalt—and a powerful, untested new weapons system.

Written in the style of Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising and Max Brooks’ World War Z, Ghost Fleet is a whirlwind tour of more than a dozen intersecting storylines, set on all sides of the conflict. Alongside sweeping battles by land, sea, and air, a new kind of war unfolds in cyberspace as the best and brightest of Silicon Valley rally to the nation’s defense. Chinese generals and politicians vie for advantage in dark-lit boardrooms; U.S. Marines fight a bitter insurgency in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone; a wily Russian colonel hunts an insatiable serial killer.

There’s even an American billionaire, cut from the same cloth as Sir Richard Branson, who assembles and proudly captains the first-ever crew of space pirates.

Space pirates!

What sets Ghost Fleet apart—and what will be of particular interest to the community reading this review—is the research that has gone into it. Every vehicle, weapon, and gadget is grounded in current or near-future technology. This covers predictable military hardware: the colossal Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, the powerful F-35 Lighting II, and nearly a dozen variations of flying, swimming, slinking, and scuttling drones. It also includes special multitools, anti-ship missiles, electrical systems, and even small-unit tactics. Yes, even the zero-g training of those aforementioned space pirates can be traced to a real-life counterpart.

Beyond fast and fun reading, Ghost Fleet’s biggest draw is its unified, multi-domain vision of future warfare. In this fight, information is the most important weapon of all. Military might is a direct function of pinpoint GPS targeting and secure communications. If a nation’s satellites are blinded, its systems compromised by cyber-attacks, it doesn’t matter how advanced its military hardware is. Aircraft become a liability. Carriers become coffins.

In Ghost Fleet, some assets are better than others. Swarms of cheap, expendable drones often turn the tide of battle. By comparison, the more “exquisite” platforms find themselves in deep trouble. In a scenario that reflects the real-life headaches of many acquisitions professionals, Singer and Cole explore what happens when the F-35’s complex supply chain intersects with the motivations of a Chinese government-owned microchip producer. The result is exactly what you’d expect: a lot of unlucky pilots and a trillion-dollar paperweight.

With so much focus on the fighting, Ghost Fleet has little room left to explore its politics. There is vague talk of a disaster in the Middle East; the quiet dissolution of NATO; a U.S. president who sternly rules out nuclear escalation in a limited war. Readers are spared the months of frustrated cabinet meetings, angry congressional hearings, and endless hang-wringing within the defense bureaucracy. For a fast-paced, tech-centric, summer popcorn-thriller, this is for the best.

Ultimately, Ghost Fleet is Tom Clancy for a new generation, written by authors who know what they’re talking about. It doesn’t glorify the war it describes, but it does wonders in its illustration. The result is a vibrant vision of conflict in the information age—and hopefully the closest we’ll get to the real thing.

Ghost Fleet releases on June 30.

Emerson Brooking is a research associate for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. In 2013, he was an intern at the Brookings Institution’s Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, at which time P.W. Singer served as the center’s director.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Imagining a Future U.S.-China War

The Buzz

This is a bit of a departure from my usual writing, but I would like to recommend and discuss a book written by a friend and former colleague of mine, Peter Singer, entitled: Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (co-authored with August Cole). I do so with admiration for the book—and also a firm conviction that many will find it important on the substance but also highly entertaining and a great summer read.

The book is to some extent in the Tom Clancy genre, but it looks a little further into the future, positing a war pitting the United States against a "Directorate" created by China and Russia in the 2020s. Beyond that basic fact, I will hereby commit to avoid discussing the plot any further, because it is fun and engaging and suspenseful.

It is also scary. It's scary because the whole thing is not implausible. One can debate just how likely, but not implausible. In fact, one of the best things about this book is that, while quite clever and extremely well informed, it does not try to be too clever. The plot line is not like something from left field, and the use of the future as well as futuristic technologies is not like fantastical science fiction.

This last point is quite important. Singer, an award-winning bestselling author of several books, including most recently Wired for War (about drones and robotics) and Cybersecurity and Cyberwarfare, has become one of the most technologically sophisticated American defense writers of his day. And in recent months, he has taken to writing a blog about trends in the technological capacities of the PRC as well. All of this sets him up very well to write a book that depends on key trends in technology that are already underway or incipient. By looking about a decade into the future, Singer is just giving himself time to imagine weapons systems and technologies that are now in R&D or laboratory stages to be fully developed, procured, and deployed.

There are perhaps one or two technological leaps Singer postulates that seem less credible. But they are few and far enough between to count as poetic license, not mistakes, in his analysis. And moreover, who knows just what the future may hold? Surprises do occur.

Most of what is in the book, though, is well within reach today. Miniaturized robotics, weaponized drones, high-performance unmanned aerial vehicles, cyberattacks on key military systems, exoskeletons, personalized computer gadgetry that can be worn as eyeglasses or implanted in one's skin, stimulants to enhance personal performance in crunch moments, neurosensors that effectively help read a person's mind—these are among the areas of technology where Singer knows the literature and lets his own creative thinking take things out another 10 years to imagine how they could all work together in a future conflict. One only hopes U.S. military planners are letting their hair down half as much when being creative about plausible scenarios!

There are other nice twists, too. Americans playing the role of insurgents within a certain phase of the future conflict is perhaps my favorite. One little comment on a specific character, just so you know that the book is engaging as a work of fiction and is more than just dry futuristic defense analysis—watch out for Carrie Shin! The black widow is quite something, and Singer's depictions of her role in the future war left me turning pages quickly for mention of her next key act!

And perhaps most importantly of all—without saying anything more about the war scenario, let me comment that not only was it credible enough to make the book a good read, it was and is credible enough that we should not assume economic interdependence with China (or mutual nuclear vulnerability, either) will guarantee that we avoid war. Nor is the only plausible catalyst to conflict one of the standard issues in the relationship, like Taiwan or Tibet or the Senkakus. Singer is most convincing, and most useful, in helping dramatize the dangers of such a conflict. He is careful to depict the book as a work of fiction, not prediction. But to be sure that remains the case, policymakers will have to take seriously the kind of scenario he develops in this fine book, and take steps to make such a conflict less likely than it may be in coming years.

Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and coauthor with Jim Steinberg of Strategic Reassurance and Resolve: US-China Relations in the 21st Century.

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