Grading Global Governance: Implications for East Asia and Beyond

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The Council of Councils (CoC), a network of think tanks that mirrors the membership of the G20, released this week a thought-provoking report card assessing the state of global governance. The report evaluates the performance of global institutions in addressing ten international challenges, ranks the seriousness of these global challenges, and assesses prospects for breakthrough in international efforts to deal with these issues. The report card accurately captures the issue overload and prioritization challenges on the global agenda, provides a compelling snapshot of the scope of challenges to global governance and reveals the major gaps that will likely continue to challenge the international community.

As one considers the rising importance of Asia and the emerging issues the region faces in the context of global challenges, the results are particularly revealing of both potential opportunities and the significant differences embedded in the “Asian paradox” of high economic growth alongside latent and emerging conflicts that could bedevil the region going forward. The Council of Councils gave its highest (albeit low) marks to international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, primarily in response to P5+1 diplomatic efforts to keep Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons. However, as Sook-Jong Lee of the East Asia Institute rightly observes, “the North Korean case still challenges the effectiveness of nonproliferation governance.” In other words, in East Asia the failure to prevent North Korea from expanding its nuclear development efforts outside the confines of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty deserves an F.

The inability to resume diplomacy through Six Party Talks as a result of North Korean intransigence points to a closely related vacuum in East Asian regional governance: the absence of regional institutions that are deemed capable of effectively responding to violent conflict between states, which was the top global challenge identified by the CoC. As much as Russian military involvement in the Ukraine represents a setback for European efforts to prevent recurrence of inter-state conflict, the looming maritime tensions in the East and South China Seas underscores the growing prospect that such conflicts may return to Asia and the weakness of available regional institutional mechanisms to respond. Moreover, the emergence of such conflicts will inevitably place at risk the fruits of the region’s rapid economic growth.

The upside of Asian views of global challenges covered by the CoC lies with the top prospect for breakthrough identified in the survey: the idea that expanding trade can create a virtuous circle that can help to address the most serious global challenges. This view was most clearly articulated by Chen Dongxiao of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, who wrote that in order to address global challenges, “more international efforts should be focused on promoting international economic governance, facilitating global trade, and advancing the development agenda.” An economically-driven vision that catalyzes expanding capacity to meet global governance challenges is certainly desirable. If it is to take hold, it arguably would emanate from East Asia.

But for now it seems more likely that the global challenges of preventing international terrorism, preventing interstate conflict, and even the challenge of responding to internal conflicts within states may eventually come to East Asia in ways that accentuate, rather than resolve, the Asian paradox. To this extent, the CoC survey results provide useful forewarning, but provide few grounds for optimism that either regional or global governance will be prepared to meet looming challenges.

This piece first appeared courtesy of CFR. 

Image: Creative Commons 3.0. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Russia and China: A Great Power Partnership America Should Fear?

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The China-Russia relationship is the world's most important, and the best between any two great powers, Xi Jinping told Vladimir Putin a couple of years ago. Last week, at the Kremlin's V-Day celebration, their ties were reaffirmed in grand style.

Some observers dismiss the partnership as an 'axis of convenience' or a charade of camaraderie. Others point to the widening power disparity between the two, and doubt that Russia will accept subordination to China. Some even think that the two countries are bound for conflict as China thrusts into central Asia, or the two will clash over oil and gas supplies. Chinese nationalists haven't forgotten their lost territories, ceded to imperial Russia under the 'Unequal Treaties.'

So the significance of the rapprochement last week is open for debate. One important dimension of the debate must be the towering role of official media in shaping historical consciousness and in constructing the public worldview. Both great powers run formidable propaganda machines that manufacture well-reasoned but emotional, nationalistic truth.

Gilbert Rozman has explored how Russian and Chinese national 'narratives' interweave in certain ways. Where they overlap, the points of commonality are magnified by each state's media apparatus. For example, while the two nations' experiences of communism differ markedly, Putin and Xi tap deep popular roots of socialist solidarity that allude to the patriotic sacrifice of the Party-worker-soldier-hero fighting imperialism, fascism and hegemony. Both countries share a tradition of messianic leaders who remind their subjects (or 'comrades') of the transcendent wisdom and safety of paternal rule.

Points of historic disputation between the two are delicately ignored. Joint grievances are amplified. It is not hard to discern the targets of rage in their shared historiography. Both Moscow and Beijing strongly resented NATO's intervention in the Balkans, they both opposed America's Iraq misadventure, and both suspect Western 'black hands' in the color revolutions. Japan too is an ancient enemy. Together they strive for a multi-polar world order. The Chinese public enjoys the spectacle of Putin 'standing up to' the West in Ukraine. His popularity is as stratospheric in China as it is in Russia.

Officially, the Russian and Chinese citizenry feel quite warmly towards each other. One-quarter of Chinese already see Russia as their best friend.

The two countries offer each other much in terms of collective and collaborative security. And they are economically complementary. As a Chinese analyst bluntly said at a recent conference, “Russia is resource-rich, we are resource-poor; we are industrializing and Russia is de-industrializing.” Dimitri Trenin sees Putin's rupture with Europe as final, with Russia now committing to a 'greater Asia.'

But this region will become China's 'sphere of influence.' A visitor to Vladivostok today would barely recognize it as Russian territory. Elite relations may be 'warm at the top', but social attitudes are 'cold at the bottom' along the dreary borderland. Despite the undoubted force of their entwined national mythologies, there is not much commercial trust or civic interaction other than the mute, one-way shuffle of Chinese goods across the customs posts. Russians and Chinese elites don't dream of each other; their money and their families have flown to the West.

A Tartar professor's private comment is stark: “Russia has only three things in common with China: a long border, a history of communism, and a shared enemy.” America is the mirror into which both societies look for comparative identity. Russia's self-image is as a nuclear peer, defiant, moral and proud. China's reflection is of a noble empire reclaiming world leadership from a chaotic Washington.

But the official Sino-Russian paradigm allows no cross-examination. For all his quixotic Arctic bomber sorties, Putin surely realizes that although the US may undermine his personal rule, it cannot realistically threaten the integrity of his mighty nation. When he looks at China, the reverse is true. Putin is fighting fires on the Western front, dealing with the urgent, while the important looms distantly on his east. Given the Chinese and Russian power trajectories, any formal future alliance would, as Bismarck put it, have a rider and a horse.

But enough prognostication. The truth is, there is great uncertainty in this relationship, and the reason is simple. Russia is ruled by one man, and China increasingly so. The paradox of stability is that succession episodes in such concentrated political power structures can be very fraught.

“Should we expect another Ukraine if Nazarbayev leaves the post of president?,” Putin ominously asked the Kazakhs last year. He could ask the same of his own demise. Things can change radically when a supreme leader steps down. Under new leaders, narratives can be suddenly altered at will, wordviews shattered. How many, after all, foresaw the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, or Nixon's China opening, or the fall of the Berlin Wall? The superpower balance is uneasily fluid, and new powers and southern threats to the China-Russia link may emerge in time.

Xi may be right that the relationship is the world's most fateful, but that is because it is so unpredictable.

This piece was first published in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: The Kremlin. 

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

Is America's Deadly B-1 Bomber Headed to Australia to Deter China?

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Australia woke up to media news this morning that U.S. B-1 strategic bombers would be “coming to Australia to deter Beijing’s South China Sea ambitions.” This referred to a statement made by U.S. Defense Department Assistant Secretary for Asian and Pacific Security, David Shear, during a testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday. As part of his answer as to what the government was doing in response to China’s assertive behavior in the South China Sea, Shear also stated that the US “will be placing additional Air Force assets in Australia as well,” including B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft. However, a statement by a spokesperson for Defense Minister Kevin Andrews said that the “U.S. Government has contacted us to advise that the official misspoke.’ Thus, the U.S. Embassy in Canberra is likely to correct Shear’s statement.

There is indeed no reason to doubt that Shear simply confused the B-1 bomber with the B-52 bombers which have already rotated (as opposed to being ‘based’ there) through Australian air bases in the North, as part of the US ‘strategic rebalance’ and the U.S.-Australia force posture initiatives agreed upon in 2011 to make U.S. forward military presence in Asia more flexible and sustainable. His full answer to the question merely lists U.S. force posture activities in the broader region that the U.S. has already announced or implemented. This includes for instance the rotational deployment of up to four Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) by 2018 through Singapore. It also would have been counterproductive for the U.S. government to make a unilateral announcement without first having cleared the deployment with the Australian side. Finally, it’s difficult to see what the rotational deployment of a strategic bomber would do to deter China’s current maritime activities in the South China Sea, particular its land reclamation projects in disputed areas.

For all these reasons, the big news is ‘much ado about nothing,’ triggered by Shear’s confusion between the two types of strategic bombers in the U.S. arsenal. The real news is that the issue over China’s behavior in the South China Sea is heating up. US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is reportedly considering sending US warships and aircraft to operate within 12 miles or less of the new islands China is building in the South China Sea. Early this week, the PLA frigate Yancheng also closely trailed the USS Forth Worth (LCS) operating in the Spratly Islands. China’s uncompromising behavior to change the territorial status quo in the South China Sea increasingly puts pressure on its neighbors and other regional countries, including Australia, to formulate a response that practically demonstrates shared interests in unfettered access to the high seas.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

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India to Launch First Homegrown Aircraft Carrier

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India is set to launch its first indigenous aircraft carrier later this month, according to local media reports.

On Thursday The Hindu reported that India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, will be launched from Cochin Shipyard on May 28.

“All major equipment has gone into the vessel, which has now acquired the shape of an aircraft carrier, with a finished hull. Barring a bit of ongoing work on the superstructure, structural work is all over and the internal compartments have all been welded in,” an official at shipyard was quoted as saying.

The INS Vikrant will displace 40,000 tons and feature a short-take off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) system, rather than the catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch system used by current U.S. aircraft carriers. The ski-slope launch system will limit the INS Vikrant’s ability to launch heavy aircraft from its deck. However, the carrier will reportedly hold some 36 combat jets, which can launch at intervals between 2-3 minutes. The ship is expected to carry the Russian-made Mikoyan MiG 29 K fighter.

(Recommended: 5 Indian Weapons of War Pakistan Should Fear)

India had previously launched the still uncompleted carrier back in 2013, after phase I of its construction was finished. The upcoming launch marks the completion of its structure. The carrier is set to undergo testing starting in 2017, and—if everything goes to plan—will be inducted into India’s navy sometime in 2018.

India currently operates two aircraft carriers, both of which are foreign built.

The first is the the INS Viraat, an ageing, 55-year-old former British carrier, which is set to be decommissioned next year. Besides the INS Viraat, India’s Navy also operates the the INS Vikramaditya, a refurbished carrier it purchased from Russia for $2.35 billion. The 44,400-ton INS Vikramaditya was commissioned in Russia in 2013, and formally inducted into the Indian Navy back in June of last year.

Also this week, a senior Indian defense council has approved a budget for the country to build its second indigenous aircraft carrier.

(Recommended: 5 Most-Powerful Navies on the Planet)

According to local media reports, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), which is chaired by India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, approved a slew of deals this week, including allocating 30 crore (roughly $5 million) to build India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier. The reports said the funds will go to “commencement of preparatory work for construction of Indian Aircraft Carrier 2.”

Earlier this year, India had said it will fast track production of the 65,000-ton carrier, dubbed the INS Vishal, under its indigenous aircraft carrier-II (IAC-II) project. The project is being accelerated partly to deal with China’s rapidly growing carrier fleet, as well as because of the INS Viraat’s looming decommissioning.

(Recommended: 5 Indian Weapons of War China Should Fear)

The INS Vishal may be nuclear powered and boast the more advanced catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems. The United States has recently expressed an interest in sharing carrier technology with India.

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

Image: Indian Navy

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Explained: Why China's Cyberwar Strategy is Extremely Dangerous

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There's an “Uber for X,” goes the little ditty, celebrating the ubiquitous infiltration of the online 'sharing economy.' It seems Uber's business model can be turned to virtually all our needs, and a global ecosystem of app buttons has popped up on our smartphones.

As in so many things, however, this ecosystem ends abruptly just north of Hong Kong's Lok Mau Chau border crossing. From there, an entirely different online realm offers a parallel menu of online businesses and brands that adapt – and often improve upon – sharing apps, with Chinese characteristics of course.

And now, proving real life can be sharper than parody, comes the story of Uber's own run-in with Guangzhou legal inspectors, who closed the service down and then promptly started their own officially-approved network. “The new taxi booking system, called Ru Yue, will be led by the local transport authority of Guangzhou – the very same government agency that sent its officials to raid the Guangzhou office of Uber.” There is, quite literally, a China for Uber.

Beijing wants to have its own independent internet ecosystem for reasons of national security and, well, because it can. Its economy is large enough, its population is dynamic and innovative, and its financial system is sufficiently insulated to create a vibrant, self-contained internet. Today China's best companies are reaching across its borders for growth, but for now the most distinctive feature of the Chinese web is its separateness.

One American defense analyst, John Costello, has suggested explictly that Chinese domestic commerce could largely survive in an “autarkic” condition. That worries such people, who believe this isolation might tempt China to act aggressively in cyberspace, with little to fear in a worst-case scenario.
What would such a scenario look like?

It has long been supposed that Chinese authorities have a kill-switch to seal off their internet, indeed they have done exactly this inside restive provinces to suppress information flows. Knowing that cyber-war is “offense dominant,” China could theoretically launch a huge, crippling cyber-attack while pulling up its electronic drawbridge. Objectively speaking, most advanced nation states could do this, at least to some extent. Chinese hawks may well worry about the U.S. pulling the same stunt.
That mutual vulnerability is what's so scary.

More worrying still, Costello notes China's obsession with America's space-based communications network. Space is the real electromagnetic drawbridge. Satellites allow surveillance, sensing and targeting – and ultimately support the remaining internet (physical communications links can be severed easily). Because the U.S. is still dominant in space and so dependent on it, some Chinese analysts boldly talk about bringing American combat capabilities “back to the stone age,” at least for long enough to achieve China's strategic objectives. They think America is a “no satellites, no fight” military.

This is questionable. So is the assumption that the U.S. would passively watch its satellites be preemptively obliterated by another nation, and so is the notion that a first-strike attacker would long enjoy useful orbits clear of debris. If there's a Stone Age, we're all in it together.

Last week's report to Congress on Chinese military capabilities betrays the Pentagon's alarm as Beijing systematically builds anti-space systems. What looks to the Chinese like precautionary capabilities appear threatening in Washington. The security dilemma in space, Costello reminds us, ultimately threatens the ongoing viability of the entire internet ecosystem. If one superpower tears out the eyes of the other and retreats to its highly-degraded terrestrial-only intranet, one has to wonder if its drawbridge could ever be safely lowered again. It would effectively be the end of globalization.

There is a brighter side, fortunately. Most Chinese elites, and hopefully also its young people, understand that such a world – without trade and travel – would be a small one. Those who can remember the 1970s, while perhaps nostalgic for their shattered utopia, hardly yearn for those claustrophobic times. Financial isolation stings too, which is why Russia reacts so harshly to the possibility of being disconnected from the global payments system. The positive forces for greater global integration are strongly beneficial, and even more so for China. So as its officials busily build up the Great Firewall, raid the offices of multinationals, and launch missiles into high orbit, we should hope they consider how well the interconnected Uber world works for us all.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia