A couple months ago, the New Yorker posted a story and wonderful online video about a master pickpocket. This person was willing to demonstrate his art on camera. Even so, he moved so quickly that it can take multiple viewings to see just how he relived his target of his possessions. The key to it, of course, is misdirection. The pickpocket makes sure your attention is directed somewhere other than where the action is taking place.
This came to mind when reading Dan Drezner's rejoicing about recent polls showing improved U.S. public sentiment about trade. I welcome a new public receptiveness to trade as much as anyone, but Dan, in his euphoria, concludes:
"The spike in public enthusiasm from last year is politically significant. At a minimum, it suggests that President Obama won't face gale-force headwinds in trying to negotiate trade deals. Which means I could win my bet with Shadow Government's Phil Levy. Which is the only thing that matters."
Nor was Dan the only one to wax optimistic about trade prospects this past week. Mike Green thought things had gone rather well with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's summit meetings with President Obama in Washington.
"Even on the trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), where expectations were low, there was much more substance than met the eye.... The Japanese delegation had a quiet spring in their step after the summit and were keen to move on TPP in a matter of weeks..."
This, too, is promising. Peter Feaver had it exactly right when he noted that engagement with Japan could be an essential part of delivering on Obama administration promises of attention to Asia.
So, as far as public wisdom and the Asian pivot are concerned, these are both healthy developments. Yet, when it comes to prospects for trade policy accomplishments over the remainder of President Obama's term, anyone laying odds or taking wagers should pay close attention to where the action is. To that end, here are four questions to help maintain focus:
1. What will Japan's entry do for TPP prospects?
Japanese entry into the TPP, if it happens, will be a good thing. It will dramatically increase the economic significance of the TPP, and it will establish the agreement as the premier accord governing trade liberalization and economic rules in the Asia-Pacific region.
If Japan does not join, we have problems. The administration had previously suggested that Japan could enter in the next round, after this version of TPP concludes. That, however, would pose serious difficulties. Japan is no small economy able to sign on to an agreement with a few innocuous accession talks. If the TPP reaches a successful conclusion soon, after four or more years of negotiation, will there really be an eagerness to reopen the deal in the near future? But the size and complication of Japan's economic relations also mean that the task of concluding the TPP just got much harder. One former USTR recently opined at a conference that if Japan joins the talks the TPP will not be concluded in President Obama's term.
2. What do key interest groups think?
While it does not hurt to have the public embracing trade, U.S. agreements are not decided by referendum. I will leave it to all the political scientists buzzing around this site to provide details, but a more sophisticated approach would focus on the dynamics of the Congress. A more sophisticated approach would still think about the relations with key constituencies, such as organized labor. From the time President Obama first took office, it appeared clear that he had the votes in Congress to pass the pending FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea. Yet he did not put them forward until late in 2011, despite loud complaints from the business community. This at least suggests that there was something more than vote counting going on.
Along these lines, there was an alarming bit of news in the Hill recently. One promising feature of a trade deal with Europe was that it would seem immune from divisive questions about labor standards that had plagued FTAs with developing countries such as Colombia. The Hill, however, reported that "unions want to use negotiations on a U.S.-European Union (EU) trade deal as leverage to win stronger labor laws here in the United States."
If so, this does not bode well. Those are among the worst trade fears of Republicans on the Hill -- the prospect that labor legislation that could not pass a straight vote could instead be slipped in through the back door of a trade deal.
3. How are Congressional relations these days?
Per the constitution, trade is Congress' domain. Congress can try to delegate some of the negotiating power to the executive branch but ultimately must approve of any deal that is struck. If this is to work through periods of detailed negotiations, there must be good, open communication between the Hill and the White House. In particular, the committees that deal with trade -- House Ways and Means and Senate Finance -- must be on board. As it happens, these are the same committees that deal with the sort of taxation issues that have been a recent struggle. I'll leave it to the reader to grade the degree of comity between branches.
One less subjective measure, however, is whether Congress grants the executive trade negotiating authority (known as TPA -- trade promotion authority). The administration has also been saying for years that the idea of TPA is a reasonable one, but the time is not ripe. In the 2013 trade agenda, released today, the administration said it would work with Congress on obtaining such authority. That will be a contentious fight, since it will raise issues such as the permissible scope of labor provisions in an accord. The document does not set a date.
4. Who's your USTR?
It is also helpful, when negotiating complex trade agreements, to have a representative who will go forth and conduct the negotiations. The incumbent USTR, Ambassador Ron Kirk, reportedly just held his going-away party. Though there have been rumors, the administration has not yet named a new USTR, much less confirmed one. That could prove an obstacle to racing ahead with complex agreements.
So I see the trade policy landscape a little differently than Dan Drezner does. He may want to keep in mind that, if you don't keep your eye on where the action really is, someone may take your lunch money.
Incredibly, territorial disputes between China and its neighbors over uninhabited islands threaten to become a flashpoint threatening peace in East Asia. While tensions have since cooled a bit, the Economist recently warned that "China and Japan are sliding towards war." Last August, large, angry, and violent protests broke out in dozens of Chinese cities against a decision by the Japanese government to buy several of the disputed islands (called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China) from a Japanese private citizen. Again this month, China sortied aircraft and ships near the islands, and Japan scrambled fighters in response.
Moreover, this is not China's only maritime territorial dispute. In the South China Sea, China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam pursue conflicting claims among the uninhabited shoals, islets, and atolls comprising Scarborough Shoal and the Paracel and Spratly Islands (including Mishief Reef). This is not a bloodless issue. In 1988, more than 70 Vietnamese sailors died in a naval clash with China near Johnson South Reef. Since then, China and the ASEAN states issued a 2002 joint declaration pledging not to use force to resolve their disputes and to avoid actions that would escalate them. However, no progress has been made toward settling the underlying disagreements, and the declaration was violated almost immediately.
Because of the United States's bilateral defense treaties with Japan and the Philippines, we could be drawn into a conflict we do not seek. Moreover, we have an enormous stake in continued economic growth and prosperity in East Asia, which depends on peace.
What is behind the strong passions surrounding groups of uninhibited rocks whose total land mass is less than five square miles? Fishing rights are at stake -- and a cod war is not unprecedented -- but it would hardly seem worth the risk between states whose annual trade stands at three quarters of a trillion dollars.
Oil and gas wealth is a stronger motivation. No one yet knows the extent of the resources buried beneath the East and South China Seas (in part because their ownership remains in dispute), but if Europe's North Sea serves as a fair precedent, they could be worth trillions of dollars.
Finally, nationalism compounds the problem. Unlike Europe, in East Asia, the wounds of World War II remain unhealed. Diplomatic rows or even riots are periodically caused by disputes over history text books or visits by politicians to shrines for dead military leaders. Hence, the explosive anger last autumn causing protestors to attack Japanese cars and sushi restaurants, although they were owned by fellow Chinese citizens.
How to head off a potentially catastrophic confrontation? Five ideas will help.
First, all states must recognize that no single state can impose a solution, and every state exercises effective veto over exploitation of energy resources. A deep water oil rig can cost up to $600 million, yet can be sunk by a $20 million patrol boat. No commercial oil company, investor, or insurer would risk such a costly and vulnerable piece of equipment in a contested region where hostilities might erupt. Thus, East Asian nations effectively have a choice between continuing to wrangle over natural resources with no production, or reaching an agreement to divide the resources and jointly benefit from them.
Second, all states in the region would do well to bear in mind that despite occasional nationalistic rhetoric, this is an economic question. These barren islands are not like the West Bank or the Balkans, where centuries of human history and intermingled populations complicate the division of land. No country's national heritage is at stake in this question -- only economic benefits that cannot be exploited in the absence of an agreement. Therefore, all governments would do well to tone down their rhetoric about national rights and core interests in discussing the disputed maritime territories. Inflaming nationalist tendencies among citizens will make solving the problem more difficult, not less so.
Third, the disputants should accept that these matters cannot be settled solely by legal arguments or in court. Claims and counterclaims, along with contradictory old maps and sea charts, abound. Asserting that one interpretation of proper title to a territory is "indisputable" is pointless when other nations claim an equally "indisputable" title. Disagreements among nation states -- except in narrowly defined areas in which they offer prior agreement to accept external dispute resolution, e.g. the World Trade Organization -- are political matters and must be resolved by diplomacy and agreement, though perhaps aided by legal tools.
Fourth, in contemplating ways to resolve this matter, the states involved should look to earlier precedents. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands used a combination of a ruling by the International Court of Justice and subsequent negotiations to resolve conflicting claims to North Sea continental shelf resources. The parties entered the negotiations realizing that no single state could claim the lion's share of the benefits, and that resolving the matter to allow oil exploration to move ahead was in all parties' interests.
Harvard Professor Richard N. Cooper, observes that the neutral zone shared by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia may also serve as a precedent for resolving the East Asia maritime territorial disputes. Without resolving their disputed border, the two countries agreed to share the wealth from oil produced in the zone, which was created in 1922. Today, over 650,000 barrels per day are pumped from the region to both countries' great benefit.
Fifth, the countries of East Asia should begin to heal the wounds of World War II. For example, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and the United States could agree on principles to guide their interaction, including, among other things, peaceful resolution of territorial disputes and joint development and management of regional resources (such as fisheries), and follow up with separate annual meetings of foreign, economic, and defense ministers to implement them.
Military conflict over the maritime territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas would be a senseless waste. China may see a tactical advantage in waiting to address these issues as its economic and military power grows, but allowing the disputes to fester risks the outbreak of war and squanders the opportunity to develop potentially rich natural resources. It also prevents nations in the region from working effectively together to solve other pressing problems. The bright prospects for peace and prosperity in East Asia should not be allowed to founder on Mischief Reef.
First the good:
1) The Obama administration has stopped calling its efforts to focus on Asia the "pivot" which implies turning your back on other crucial parts of the world.
2) The Obama administration is building upon diplomatic and strategic efforts of its predecessors and has dropped the White House adolescent trash-talking of "we are back" in Asia.
3) These efforts include serious attempts to build the free trade area of the Pacific first envisioned by the George H.W. Bush administration; upgrading relations with Taiwan and Japan begun by the Clinton administration; and the breakthrough in relations with India, the creation of "mini-laterals" such as the U.S.-Japan-Australia, and the movement of more forces into the Pacific that was the work of the George W. Bush administration.
4) For its part the Obama administration has started a relationship with Burma, tightened relations in South East Asia, and increased the tempo of U.S. military presence in the region.
Now the bad:
1) There is a danger of overpromising. The new defense guidelines were released in January 2012 at same time as talk of a "pivot" began. Concurrently, details of a new operational concept called Air Sea Battle were released, that despite protestations to the contrary, is more or less about how to defeat China in a conflict. This coincidence of events has regional allies believing that the U.S. has carefully developed some new "secret sauce" to keep the peace in Asia. The reality so far is two Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, some good speeches in Vietnam, and some marines in Australia.
2) The administration is making critical strategic choices that will affect its posture in Asia. One choice is to slash the defense budget. It already did so in 2009 to the tune of about $400 billion. This year the Budget Control Act will kick in lopping off hundreds of billions more. The president has every right to choose the salvaging of and creation of more social welfare programs over the defense that is needed in Asia, but it is dangerous to misalign your stated strategic goals and your resources -- this is the famous "Lippman Gap."
3) The defense cuts badly affect the forces we need in Asia. The stealthy F-35 program has taken a big hit. The navy has said it needs anywhere from 500 to 313 ships in its fleet. It will end up with around 285 total ships by the end of the next five year defense program. The much touted next generation long-range bomber is underfunded -- by 2017 it is unlikely that we will have more than an industrial competition to build it, which means years before it comes on line. The list goes on: missile defense takes a hit, as does most certainly the workhorse of any Asian contingency -- attack submarines.
4) India. There is simply no way to check China's power if Afghanistan descends into chaos and India has to respond. In the rough and tumble of international politics it is very difficult to get regions to conform with U.S. government flow charts. India can only fully integrate into East Asia if there is some semblance of security along its land borders.
5) It is also unrealistic to think we can spend less time on the Middle East in order to spend more time in Asia for two reasons. First, the Chinese are competing with us in that critical region to mostly bad effect. Second, our allies depend on the stability we provide in the Middle East for oil.
Now the ugly:
1) Things with China will get ugly. Our talk of rebalancing is a response to Chinese power and provocations. The competition is intensifying. We repeat the mantra that our efforts in Asia are not about China as if saying it makes it true. In reality, politics, like physics, has an action-reaction cycle. While we are doing the right thing, China certainly views our actions as hostile. We should expect China to up its game militarily.
2) Related to the above, we need presidential leadership to explain to a war-weary public the need to maintain the power advantage in our competition with China. The public will ask understandable questions like why die for Taipei, or Manila or even Seoul and Tokyo? (Remember the questions "why die for Danzig or Berlin?") The debate will arise and could get ugly. It would be better to start this public education campaign now. We seek no conflict or quarrel, rather the commitments we are making are to maintain our position in a critical part of the world.
The best course is not to cut down commitments at this dangerous time, but rather to bring resources in line with those commitments. Any other course will not lead to a "peaceful retrenchment." Rather, if the U.S. stopped playing the role of benign hegemon in Asia chaos would ensue. No one would lead efforts to further build upon a economically vital region, stem proliferation, or keep great power peace. Deterrence is expensive, chaos more so. The president should explain to the public what he means to do in Asia and why.
Peter Bergen has a new piece up on CNN's website that argues the United States can declare victory over al Qaeda and wind down the war against the group. Reading through his article, I found several places where I profoundly disagreed with his analysis and therefore with his overall conclusion that al Qaeda has been defeated.
First, Bergen begins with a false analogy by arguing that the current war is nothing like World War II, and that therefore there can be no culminating peace as was signed between the Allies and Nazi Germany. This argument implies that a definitive victory over al Qaeda, one on the model and scale of the victory over the Nazis, is impossible. The current war is indeed nothing like WWII -- it's an irregular conflict being fought against an insurgent group, while WWII (for the most part), was a regular conflict fought against recognizable nation-states. It might therefore be impossible to sign a peace treaty on the decks of a battleship when this war ends, but it is entirely possible to win irregular wars and to win them as definitively and recognizably as WWII was won, as the examples of multiple conflicts throughout the twentieth century show. For instance, from 1898-1954, the U.S. absolutely defeated three separate insurgencies in the Philippines, including a nationalist insurgency, an insurgency by local Muslims, and a communist insurgency. The British took on and repeatedly defeated insurgencies (the Boers, the Malay communists, and the Kenyan Mau-Mau, for instance), and it is actually difficult to find, beyond the Sandinistas and Castro's group, an insurgency that has succeeded in Latin America.
Second, Bergen argues that the war against al Qaeda is not an "essential challenge" to the U.S. and thus can be safely relegated to some level of effort short of war. It is true that the death of 3,000 Americans in the first attack on the U.S. homeland since WWII was not an existential threat to the U.S., nor have the pinpricks that al Qaeda has managed since 9-11 posed a serious challenge to the continued existence of the United States. On the other hand, this assessment fails to take into consideration the global growth of al Qaeda, its absorption of every other major jihadist group on the planet, and its ability to take and control territory throughout the Muslim-majority world. While I have heard some deride this spread as only threatening the 'garden-spots' of the world, we need to remind ourselves that it was from just this sort of uncontrolled territory that 9-11 was carried out, and once the 'garden-spots' are taken, our vital lines of communications and territories that we (apparently) care more about will be threatened. In addition, I would note that it has only been through our wartime footing that we have managed to keep al Qaeda in even this loose net. If we downgrade our effort, al Qaeda will be able to grow even faster and push its control even further.
Third and fourth, the article goes on to conclude that it is possible to "declare victory" and move on because 1) al Qaeda's offensive capabilities are "puny" and 2) U.S. defenses are strong. The first of these assessments is based on an assumption about al Qaeda that is unwarranted; that is, that al Qaeda's main objective and goal is to attack the United States. The recent release of documents from Abbottabad make it clear that attacking the United States was (and is) but the first step in a staged strategic plan, a plan that begins by attriting the United States, and weakening it so much that the United States will be forced out of all Muslim-majority countries. The next stage of al Qaeda's strategic plan is to take over and control territory, declaring "emirates" that will be able to spread safely because the United States will be too weak to intervene. This means that the affiliates are not just dangerous when they attack the United States (which Bergen implies in his article), but are a threat to our security when they overthrow local governments and set up local emirates that have greater, global ambitions. I would also note that while polling data is important for understanding how well we are doing in our fight against al Qaeda -- and here the indications are positive -- it is a fact that insurgencies need only a tiny percentage of active support in order to be self-sustaining (usually defined as 5 percent of the populace). Al Qaeda would like the consent of the governed, but they are perfectly happy to violently enforce obedience to their rule when necessary. And by the way: No al Qaeda affiliate or partner (including the Taliban, al Qaeda in Iraq, or the Shabaab) has been deposed from power by an uprising of the local population alone. They have needed outside intervention in order to expel the insurgents, even when the people have hated al Qaeda's often brutal rule.
On Bergen's second point, I agree that U.S. defenses are strong, but disagree profoundly with the current mission of Special Operation Forces as the right method to defeat al Qaeda. This counter-terrorism mission is based on killing al Qaeda members, i.e. attrition, a strategy that assumes that al Qaeda is still a terrorist group as it was in the 1990s. This is simply not true. Even then, the group's leadership aspired to bigger things, and al Qaeda has now succeeded in becoming an insurgent group, one that takes and holds territory, recruits far more soldiers than we can kill, sets up shadow governance and attempts to overthrow governments around the Muslim-majority world. While attrition can succeed as a strategy against terrorist groups (see i.e. the Spanish and French fight against ETA), it is absolutely counterproductive against an insurgency, which simply uses the killings to recruit more members and to fuel its propaganda.
Fifth, some part of Bergen's declaration of victory is based on wishful thinking. He argues, for instance, that killing or capturing AQAP's bomb-maker will 'likely' cause the threat from AQAP to recede. This assumes that 1) the bomb-maker never trained replacements and 2) that AQAP is incapable of thinking up other ways to attack us. It also ignores the real threat from AQAP if it manages to overthrow the government in Sana'a and push on into Saudi Arabia.
Finally, the last sentence of his article is a straw man. The objective of the Allied war on the Nazis was the same as every other regular war: To break the enemy's will to resist. It was simply not necessary to kill every Nazi in order to achieve this objective. The objective of irregular wars is rather different, however: to secure the population by clearing out the insurgents; then holding the territory through persistent presence; and finally creating the political conditions necessary to prevent any further appeal by the remaining insurgents. In this view, winning against al Qaeda does not depend on body counts, but rather would look very much like victories against other insurgents: the spreading of security for populations in Somalia, Yemen, the Sahel, and elsewhere; the prevention of a return of al-Qaeda to these cleared areas; and the empowerment of legitimate governments that can control and police their own territories. By these standards, we have not yet defeated al Qaeda; in fact, beyond Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia, we have hardly engaged the enemy at all.
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Secretary of Defense Panetta's speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies' Shangri-La Dialogue has received considerable attention in the press. I was a delegate to the dialogue and was in the hall when Panetta spoke. Having had an opportunity to discuss the speech with officials from across the globe at the conference, and also to reflect upon it during a flight home that crossed half the globe, I'd like to share some thoughts.
Panetta gave a good speech and even better answers to questions from the audience. He provided a clear statement of the United States' enduring role as a Pacific power. As a native of Monterey, California, he spoke evocatively of how America has influenced, and been influenced by the Pacific. He also put more meat on the bones of the Obama administration's pivot/re-balance to Asia, noting that by 2020 the United States would deploy 60 percent of its navy in the Pacific, including six aircraft carriers and a majority of cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. He also pledged to increase the number and size of exercises it conducts with allies and friends in the region.
Panetta's strong words were mirrored in the size of the U.S. delegation, the largest ever sent to the Shangri-La dialogue. The Chinese, by contrast, kept a much lower profile. For reasons still unclear, Panetta's Chinese counterpart, Minister of National Defense Liang Guanglie, decided to stay away this year after having attended last year's event.
Perhaps ironically, then, much of the discussion on the margins of the summit was about American staying power in the region. One word in particular hung over the conference like Singapore's oppressive humidity: "sequestration." Even without sequestration, however, there are real questions as to whether the Obama administration's defense program is sufficient to back its words with action.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of sea power. The Pacific is a maritime theater, and warships remain a major yardstick for measuring military strength. The size and composition of the U.S. navy is key both to assuring allies and deterring adversaries in peacetime as well as to fighting and winning the nation's wars. The Pacific is a theater where numbers matters. A ship, no matter how powerful, can only be in one place at a time.
In his speech, Panetta noted that the Obama administration has decided to retire a number of warships ahead of schedule, so that today's navy, which is already the smallest it has been since before the United States entered World War I, will get even smaller. He argued, however, that the United States would eventually replace retired ships with more modern, and more capable, combatants. That is only partially true: The upgraded Arleigh Burke-class destroyers will have more modern radar and combat systems than the Ticonderoga-class cruisers that are set to be retired. However, the Littoral Combat Ships that make up the bulk of the surface ships that the Navy is procuring are considerably less capable than the warships that are being retired.
There is, in fact, a growing gap between our commitments in Asia and our capability to protect them. It is a gap that both friends and competitors see emerging. As several colleagues and I argue in a newly released American Enterprise Institute report, the United States will need to go beyond current defense plans if it is to continue to play its historic role in the Pacific. We cannot just devote a larger slice of a smaller pie to the region. Rather, we will need new resources to modernize and expand the navy. We also need to explore new initiatives to enhance the credibility of the U.S. commitment to the region. These include working with our allies and friends to develop a coalition intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance network in the Western Pacific; expanding cooperation with our allies in undersea warfare; expanding the range of bases open to the United States; and enhancing nuclear deterrence. Unless we back our words with action, the United States will have difficulty bridging the capabilities-commitment gap.
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President Obama flew west, met with Asia-Pacific leaders, and trumpeted his intention to strike a high-standards trade deal with other committed trading partners in the region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
That paragraph could describe either this last weekend or Nov. 2009, when the president first revived the TPP (it was initially launched in Sept. 2008 under the Bush administration and set aside by the new Obama team). Perhaps that's why the story about the weekend's APEC leaders' gathering in Hawaii was buried in the inner pages of the Washington Post and failed to make the front page of the New York Times. The papers may have learned, with this president, to duly note the statements of grand intentions, but to save the gaudy headlines for actual accomplishments.
There has been some movement over the last two years, of course. The nine nations currently involved in the TPP negotiations have been meeting and hammering out a "framework" for the agreement. The Obama administration, over that time, moved from a tentative "intent to engage in discussions" to a full-fledged embrace of the TPP. New countries are now clamoring to join in the negotiations.
But enormous obstacles remain:
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International Relations theorist Charles Glaser has joined a growing chorus calling for the abandonment of Taiwan. His take on why we should abandon the island is tucked into his "nuanced version of realism" argued on the pages of Foreign Affairs. As do most "abandon Taiwan" arguments, he begins with a "realist" argument for why war between the United States and China is unlikely. Why? Because besides Taiwan, Sino-U.S. interests are compatible.
Parting company with other "pessimistic" realists who believe that "power transitions" -- the historic condition of a rising power challenging the existing hegemon -- more often than not lead to war, Glaser believes that this time it is different. The security dilemma (in pursuing our security we take steps which decrease their security which leads them to take steps which decrease our security, a process that can end in conflict) in the Sino-U.S. case. The task for Beijing and Washington (but mostly Washington) is to trust that each country just wants security, not domination.
For example, the United States should not fear China's nuclear build-up because of Beijing's limited ability to strike the U.S. homeland. According to this logic, the United States should forego temptations to increase its own nuclear arsenal in response to China's own increases. All China is doing is increasing its security with a second strike capability. In turn, China should not fear U.S. conventional capabilities because most are resident across the Pacific.
But ultimately, the argument goes, it is up to the United States and not China, to make adjustments to its security posture and not exaggerate threats that China poses. The United States is safe because China will never have the means to destroy its deterrent.
Glaser concedes that this theory overlooks the fact that U.S. security alliances could seem threatening to China. Here we get to the nub of his argument. The United States must ask itself how important its security alliances are. Unlike "Neo-isolationists," Glaser, an advocate of "selective engagement," believes that the alliances with South Korea and Japan are important. And the United States could defend those alliances without creating a debilitating arms race if it provides just enough conventional deterrence, plus the threat of nuclear retaliation should those countries come under attack.
To Glaser, Taiwan is different. China's belief that Taiwan is part of it is non-negotiable, and Beijing and Washington have very different views of what constitutes the status quo across the Strait. The Taiwan dispute has no diplomatic solution and the risks of nuclear war are getting too high, particularly with China's advancing second strike capability. His answer is for the United States to make the necessary "adjustments" and abandon Taiwan.
He acknowledges potential critics who may say appeasement usually whets the appetite of the appeased. But, says Glaser, not all adversaries are Hitler, and China has limited territorial goals. Even if China has more expansive territorial claims, the United States can remediate any military imbalance through a greater conventional presence.
In the end, the real danger is a self-fulfilling prophesy, a failure by the United States to realize that its basic goals are compatible with China's. Glaser fears that this is already happening -- the United States is taking a much more competitive military stance because its ability to operate along China's periphery is in danger. According to Glaser, this dilemma has two solutions. The first is for Washington to realize that U.S. interests are changing -- Taiwan is not really vital. And second, the United States should forego the kind of nuclear superiority that could counter China's second strike capability. Problem solved.
This is a fairly conventional international theory argument about the relative stability of Sino-American relations. Glaser is essentially taking a side in an old debate. His innovation is the abandonment of Taiwan, a necessary step to decrease the security dilemma and reveal China's truly limited aims.
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The past two
months have witnessed a series of revelations regarding China's growing
military power. In December 2010, Admiral Robert Willard, Commander of U.S. Pacific
Command, declared that the aircraft carrier-killing DF-21D anti-ship ballistic
missile had achieved initial operating capability. Last month, photographs and
video of the J-20 fifth-generation stealth aircraft, a plane considerably more
advanced than observers expected of China, appeared on the internet.
On Monday, Ross Babbage, the founder of Australia's respected think tank, the Kokoda Foundation, issued a monograph, Australia's Strategic Edge in 2030 that examined the changing military balance in the Western Pacific and its implications for Australia. It is a report that demands the attention of policy makers in Washington.
Babbage argued that China's aggressive military modernization is rapidly undermining the pillars that have supported American presence in the Western Pacific for more than half a century. As he puts it, "China is for the first time close to achieving a military capability to deny United States and allied forces access to much of the Western Pacific rim." He catalogues China's anti-access efforts, which include cruise and ballistic missiles that can attack ships and fixed targets; a massive investment in cyber-warfare capabilities, with reports of tens of thousands of Chinese cyber intrusions daily; new classes of both nuclear and conventionally powered submarines; a substantial increase in the Chinese nuclear stockpile; a huge investment in space warfare; and a massive increase in fighter bomber and other airborne strike capabilities.
Babbage argued that Australia will need to take drastic action in order to protect its interests in a region increasingly dominated by China. These include acquiring a fleet of 12 nuclear-powered attack submarines (the report hinted at leasing or purchasing Virginia-class SSNs from the United States), developing conventionally armed ballistic and cruise missiles, increasing Australia's investment in cyber warfare, and hosting American forces on Australian soil.
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After campaigning on the untenable promise that he would meet with leaders like Kim Jong Il without preconditions, President Obama has actually approached North Korea with a firmness that sometimes eluded the Bush administration in its last year. The Obama administration has strengthened trilateral security coordination with Japan and South Korea; implemented tough U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North after its nuclear tests; and rebuffed Chinese pressure for emergency six-party talks in the wake of Pyongyang's unprovoked attacks on South Korea. Given the North's escalating provocations and nuclear cheating and Beijing's dangerous complacency, this is the only strategy that has a prospect of deterring further belligerency and reversing the incentives the North sees in proliferation on the peninsula and beyond.
This past week, however, senior Japanese and South Korean officials are reporting that the administration has begun signaling to them that the United States is ready to "shift back to dialogue" with the North. The Blue House in Seoul now feels under pressure to accelerate its own resumption of North-South dialogue so that U.S.-DPRK talks can get under way (since the administration has rightly stated that it would not get ahead of its ally South Korea's own diplomacy toward Pyongyang). In Tokyo there is an eerie sense of déjà vu at yet another potential swing in the pendulum of U.S. North Korea policy. Both Tokyo and Seoul want some dialogue with the North, and the administration deserves credit for how closely it has coordinated strategy with both capitals. But since the Hu Jintao visit to Washington, the dynamic seems to have shifted from U.S.-Japan-ROK trilateral pressure on China to rein in the North to a new pattern of U.S.-China pressure on Seoul to pick up the pace of engagement (that, at least, is how one senior ROK official put it to me). Given our inconsistent history on North Korea to date, one can understand why our allies would be a bit nervous about where all this might go.
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Australian voters will cast their ballots Saturday to choose potentially their third Prime Minister in nine weeks. Still in a post-putsch daze following Prime Minister Gillard's "et tu, Julia?" ouster of Kevin Rudd in June, the electorate will now decide between either rewarding Gillard and the Labour Party's palace coup with a full term, or starting afresh by choosing the colorful Tony Abbott and a Liberal Party government.
Most polls show an essentially deadlocked race, with the added wild card of the third party Greens potentially securing enough votes to force a hung parliament or coalition government. Absent a clear sign from voter surveys, some prognosticators have looked for other sources of insight, such as Harry the Psychic crocodile who picked a Gillard victory. The fact that the purportedly clairvoyant reptile's method of "picking" involves eating a poultry carcass attached to a photo of the candidate's face is decidedly not confidence-inducing. Put it this way -- it is rarely a good thing for a political campaign to be represented by a dead chicken. Especially a dead chicken devoured by a crocodile.
One of the paradoxes of the tight campaign is that conditions in Australia overall are quite good, a fact which would normally hand the ruling government a comfortable victory. Australia has weathered the global economic crisis well, technically avoiding recession by suffering only a single quarter of GDP contraction, with unemployment holding at 5.3%. While some credit goes to the banking sector's avoidance of toxic debt and an adept government stimulus package, Australia's resilient foundations are rooted in the remarkable economic boom and fiscal stability achieved under former Prime Minister John Howard, which contributed to Australia's No. 1 ranking in the 2008 Legatum Prosperity Index.
On economic issues, the electorate's increasingly fond memories of the Howard government likely account for some of the Liberal Party's resurgent appeal. And voter concerns over a return to budget deficits under Labour are real, as are lingering resentments over Rudd's disastrous campaign to push a 40 percent "super-profits tax" targeted at the Australian mining industry, which had been a major driver of the past decade of growth.
Foreign policy issues have played almost no role in the campaign. Nevertheless, nations in the region, and especially the United States, have a substantial stake in the outcome. Australia is one of America's strongest and longest-standing allies, the only nation to have fought alongside the United States in every war of the past century. U.S.-Australia relations under the Obama administration have been cordial though not particularly robust -- and certainly not helped by President Obama's two cancelled visits. In an interview this week with the Diplomat, former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer made the telling comment that "the Obama administration has placed less emphasis on alliances and allies. This means that Australia by its very nature has a lower profile in Washington than we had during the Bush administration, particularly during the Howard years."
However, in recent months the Obama administration has substantially improved its strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific. From the joint naval exercises with South Korea, to stabilizing relations with Japan, to upgrading ties with Vietnam, to serving notice that the United States does not accept China's hegemonic assertions in the South China Sea, the administration seems to have found a new compass in the region. While new partnerships with nations such as India and Indonesia will feature in a successful Asia strategy, America's existing alliances in the region will still serve as the foundation.
Here is where the U.S.-Australia relationship is indispensable. Both nations share interests and values, and often a common perspective on pressing regional and global issues -- whether the war against jihadist terrorism, China's growing assertiveness (even using Fiji -- yes, Fiji -- as a proxy), democracy and human rights promotion, maritime security, free trade, or energy security. America has no stronger ally in the region. Whatever the outcome of tomorrow's elections, they represent an opportunity for the Obama administration to reinvigorate ties with this enduring alliance partner.
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By Phil Levy
In Tokyo, President Obama spoke out in favor of trade. It was not exactly the much-heralded Trade Speech, in which he would lay out a detailed agenda and soothe U.S. public fears that he himself had helped to arouse. Instead, this talk was addressed to an Asian audience, but it offered some tantalizing new details and a near embrace of some free trade agreements. The President said:
Continued integration of the economies of this region will benefit workers, consumers, and businesses in all of our nations. Together, with our South Korean friends, we will work through the issues necessary to move forward on a trade agreement with them. The United States will also be engaging with the Trans Pacific partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.
Rather than drawing inspiration from the president's oratory, as U.S. and European audiences often had, Asian leaders greeted the president's trade stance with skepticism. As the Financial Times reported:
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister and a regional elder statesman, said the US risked economic exclusion from Asia unless it reversed its protectionist stance. ...
Najib Razak, Malaysia's prime minister, ... told the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore that progress on trade liberalisation was "imperative" for global recovery. "The thing I liked about President Bush's foreign policy is that he was very pro-free trade. I hope the same message will be repeated."
- some evidence that the Bush administration did not entirely neglect Asia for eight years.
One might have expected Obama's vague statements in favor of the Doha trade talks, moving forward with South Korea, and engaging with the mysterious Trans Pacific Partnership to have at least created a warm glow about U.S. sentiments. After all, similarly vague statements about avoiding protectionism and supporting the WTO garnered kudos at G-20 summits in London and Pittsburgh earlier this year.
Whether the APEC leaders were more discriminating than other audiences, cared more about trade, were more astute in their reading of American trade politics, or had just learned from past experience, they seemed unsatisfied. Perhaps with recent disputes fresh in their minds, they seemed to ask, "where's the beef?" And they were right to worry.
The global trading system has not been lacking in kindly thoughts and well wishes. It's been lacking in strong leadership and specific proposals. Fingers have been pointing at the Obama administration. The Doha global trade talks that were declared essential in the G-20 sessions have been foundering. Last month, the European Union and Brazil criticized the United States for failing to put forward specific demands. This month, WTO Director General Pascal Lamy commented that "the U.S. is proving to be slow in reaching a clear and articulated negotiating position." If it were translated from the excessively cordial language of international diplomacy, that remark would likely be unprintable in a family publication.
Ostensibly, the Korean FTA is unacceptable to President Obama and Congressional Democrats because the Koreans have had the audacity to intervene in their auto market. Korea, as a major trading nation, has not been as pliable as other U.S. FTA partners and has made clear in the past that they are not interested in renegotiating the agreement with the United States. Instead, Korea has just concluded a similar agreement with the European Union that will put American exporters at a disadvantage in the Korean market.
The novelty in the president's announcement concerned the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and was sufficiently obscure to leave many people scratching their heads. In fact, the United States had already joined TPP talks with Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore late in 2008 under President Bush's direction. Obama's announcement in Tokyo seemed to indicate a lifting of his administration's suspension decision from earlier this year: small wonder that it received a tepid response. Even had the President wholeheartedly embraced a TPP deal, that would not have meant much on its own, since the United States already has FTAs with Chile and Singapore. Brunei's entire annual GDP is roughly $20 billion, which is less than the U.S. government has poured into Citigroup.
The reason to care about the TPP was its potential to serve as a platform for serious integration throughout Asia. For a region that places a high value on trade, the Asia-Pacific has had a great deal of difficulty finding the right path toward liberalization. APEC has made trade pledges in the past, but the group has a very diverse membership and likely cannot serve as the vehicle for a high-standards regional FTA. More promising was the idea that if Australia and Japan were coaxed into joining a sophisticated TPP, the resulting FTA might then have opened its doors to any other Pacific nation willing to accept its terms. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has given no indication that it's willing to lead such an ambitious undertaking
A prerequisite for a serious U.S. trade policy would be new trade negotiating authority for the president, which the Obama administration has not even requested from the Congress. For any of these trade initiatives to advance would require persistent and detailed effort of a sort we have yet to see. Obama may be a Pacific president, but he has not been a very specific president. Asian leaders last week were asking for more than platitudes.
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Australia has released a pretty far-reaching and extraordinary defense white paper that is getting a lot of attention, and raising a lot of questions about the future of great power politics in the Pacific. Here is Andrew Schearer writing today in the Wall Street Journal Asia:
Asia has long looked to the United States to underwrite two critical public goods: free trade and security. Now there is anxiety in the region about its continuing willingness and ability to so, and governments are looking for ways to adapt. For the latest example, look no further than Australia's defense policy paper, released on Saturday.
1) Doubling Australia's submarine fleet with next-generation submarines,
2) Replacing Australia's surface combatants with new-generation warships,
3) Expanding Australia's amphibious lift capacity,
4) Purchasing 1,100 protected combat vehicles of various types for the Army,
5) Replacing the Army's helicopter fleet with latest-generation aircraft,
6) Improving the training and equipping of Australia's special operations forces,
7) Acquiring 100 F-35 fifth-generation strike-fighter aircraft,
8) Upgrading and expanding airlift, air early warning, and air refueling capabilities,
9) Acquiring long-range strategic strike land-attack cruise missile inventories,
10) Upgrading ISR capabilities across the force,
11) Acquiring cyber and electronic warfare capabilities,
12) Acquiring independent space mission assurance capabilities,
13) Exploring the development of missile defense capabilities to defend troops in field and Australia's population and key infrastructure.
Not too shabby. And this from the government of Mandarin-speaking, left-wing Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, no imperialist war-monger he.
Schearer, in his Journal piece, is troubled by this, and I think he anticipates the reaction of some U.S. conservatives:
[I]t's clear that if the Obama administration does not show it is serious about maintaining the U.S. military presence in Asia, Australia may end up with no choice but to get serious about strengthening its military defenses, even beyond what is in the policy paper. "Smart power" has its place, but U.S. allies in Asia would feel more secure if America backed reassuring rhetoric with real military muscle.
But why is it a bad thing for our allies to strengthen their defenses? Absent some major surprise, the relative decline of U.S. power seems like a pretty sturdy long-term trend, and we shouldn't do anything to catalyze it further than recent events may have already -- say, by assuming that future conflicts will necessarly look like our present ones or that the old axiom of power abhorring vacuums won't apply to new great powers. That said, I see the Australian white paper as a reason to be optimistic that America's relative decline can be managed in a smart way that leaves us in a good strategic position. Westhawk puts his finger on one reason why:
If the Australian defense ministry can reach these conclusions, why shouldn't the Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Singaporean, Indian, and Russian defense ministries also formulate these same planning assumptions?.... The greatest loser from such a chain reaction would be China.
I'd go even further. The United States should want the Indians, and the Japanese, and the South Koreans, and the Indonesians to reach the same conclusions. We should actively encourage them to reach the same conclusions. And that goes for our NATO allies as well. (The Russians, not so much.) We should work to get more and more of America's like-minded allies investing in the capabilities to shoulder a greater share of our collective defense. And to that end, the perception that the "unipolar moment" is passing can actually play in our favor, as will the fact that China's "peaceful rise" remains an open question at best.
This is not an argument for America to retrench -- to send the signal to our partners that they are free-riders who need to be weened off a dependence on U.S. power. To the contrary, it's a reason to do even more with our Pacific allies and to expand our joint capabilities. The rise of potentially aggressive great powers creates a natural incentive for their wary neighbors to provide more for their own defense, and I think we actually further that trend by showing a greater resolve to do so ourselves.
Less clear is whether what is true for Australia (and perhaps other Asian powers) will also be true for, say, Europe. But that's a whole other problem.
By Aaron Friedberg
Henry Kissinger once described his time in government this way:
Sometimes it feels as if you were in one of those movies, sitting on the track in front of an express train. The train is bearing down on you. You know what to do if you did not have ten other things that needed doing first. You are praying that the train somehow will miss and you will not get hit.
When he takes office next Tuesday, Barack Obama is going to find trains bearing down on him from all sides: conflict in Gaza, unfinished wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorist threats, a brewing confrontation between India and Pakistan, Iran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons, and an unresolved global economic crisis of unprecedented proportions.
With so many urgent problems to contend with, the new administration will have precious little time to devote to a more distant, but fast-approaching challenge that may yet turn out to be the biggest of them all: the ongoing shift in world wealth and power towards Asia and, in particular, the rise of China. Here’s a report, released this week, that’s designed to help. In it, my co-author Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute and I (drawing on the conversations of an outstanding working group) describe the key features of “An American Strategy for Asia.”
As regards China, we argue that, even as it continues its long-standing policy of economic and diplomatic engagement, the United States is going to have to step up its efforts to maintain a favorable balance of power in East Asia. Towards this end we advocate the further strengthening of our existing bilateral alliance and quasi-alliance relationships, the creation of new multi-lateral mechanisms for promoting strategic cooperation among Asia’s democracies, and some significant improvements in U.S. capabilities to offset China’s ongoing military buildup. We conclude that: “The United States and its regional friends and allies have among them more than ample resources to ensure their security. But if they fail to deploy them in an effective and purposeful way, they will find themselves on the wrong end of a rapidly shifting balance of power.”
While it struggles to meet other, more immediate challenges, the Obama administration must find the time, energy and, hardest of all, the resources, to deal with this one as well.
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.