The Obama Administration has embraced the Bush doctrine, or at least the preemption part of the Bush doctrine. According to news reports about the Justice Department's memo on drone strikes, the Obama Administration bases its policy on an expansive interpretation of the laws of war, which allow countries to act to head off imminent attack. In particular, according to the reporter who broke the story, the Obama Administration bases its legal reasoning by interpreting "imminence" in a flexible way:
"The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future," the memo states.
Instead, it says, an "informed, high-level" official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been "recently" involved in "activities" posing a threat of a violent attack and that "there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities." The memo does not define "recently" or "activities."
This should sound familiar to anyone who has debated American foreign policy for the past decade, for precisely that sort of logic undergirded the Bush Administration's preemption doctrine. Here is the relevant section from Bush's 2006 National Security Strategy (itself quoting from the earlier and controversial articulation in the 2002 National Security Strategy):
If necessary, however, under long-standing principles of self defense, we do not rule out the use of force before attacks occur, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack. When the consequences of an attack with WMD are potentially so devastating, we cannot afford to stand idly by as grave dangers materialize. This is the principle and logic of preemption. The place of preemption in our national security strategy remains the same. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions.
Of course, the Bush Administration was excoriated for framing the issue that way, and there arose a lively cottage industry devoted to attacking this aspect of the Bush doctrine. While Obama has tended to get away with things his predecessors could not, I suspect that even he will face some tough questioning now that the overlap with the controversial Bush doctrine is so unmistakable.
The issue is a difficult one, for the applicability of the self-defense principle depends crucially on context. Everyone agrees that if someone is attacking you with a knife, you do not have to wait for the blade to puncture your skin before you can strike at the assailant. And everyone agrees that it is not self-defense to attack someone just because you think there is a dim and distant possibility that one day that person might decide that he wants to attack you even though there is no evidence of such intent today. In the real world of national security policymaking, however, there are abundant hard cases in between those easy calls and those hard cases are what policymakers -- as distinct from pundits -- can't avoid.
The memo reveals the Obama Administration wrestling with these problems and coming to conclusions strikingly similar to those of the Bush Administration. I wonder if Team Obama will be more successful than the Bush Administration was in arguing the merits and logic of the preemption doctrine.
The National Intelligence Council's (NIC) just-released Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report identifies key meta-trends that will shape the future international system, including the explosion of the global middle class, the diffusion of power away from the West, and the rising likelihood of inter-state conflict. In no other region will these trends play a more decisive role than in Asia, where the NIC predicts China to emerge as the world's largest economy, India to become the biggest driver of middle-class growth on Earth, and conflict scenarios between a number of rising and established powers likely to put regional peace at risk. In no other region will the future of U.S. leadership in the international system be more decisively tested than in an Asia featuring rising giants like India and Indonesia, a fully emerged peer competitor in China, and the dramatic tilt in the international economy's center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.
What kind of role Asia will play in the world, and how it will relate to the United States and other Western powers, in turn will be determined by what form of regional order is operative in 2030. My last post described four broad pathways Asia could take over the next two decades. This one sketches out a more granular set of scenarios for Asia's future, identifying seven distinct possibilities that could emerge by 2030. That there are these many pathways demonstrates how unsettled regional power dynamics are -- and how much uncertainty remains around China's trajectory, U.S. staying power, Japan's strategic re-emergence, and the nature of Asian regionalism.
Headline scenarios for Asia in 2030 include:
More specifically, three forms of multipolarity in Asia seem possible: (1) a cooperative-competitive multipolar order in which the United States is the strongest power; (2) a fundamentally competitive multipolar order in which China is the strongest power; or (3) a liberal Concert of Asia in which multiple strong states organize themselves around cooperation rather than competition.
Alternatively, three forms of bipolarity seem possible: (1) an Asia split into two competitive blocs led by the United States and China; (2) a region featuring a withdrawn United States pitting a grouping led by China against a contending one led by Asia's other great and regional powers; and (3) a Sino-American condominium in which a cooperative bipolarity orders the region.
Finally, one form of unipolarity is possible (and only one): a form of Chinese primacy that reduces other states to lesser status and effectively excludes the United States from playing a leading regional role.
From the vantage point of 2012, the most likely Asian strategic futures for 2030 appear to be, in descending order: (1) multipolarity with a U.S. lead, (2) U.S.-China Cold War, (3) multipolarity with a Chinese lead, (4) Asia-China Cold War, (5) concert of Asia, (6) Sino-American condominium, and (7) new Middle Kingdom.
The key variable will be what role the United States chooses to play in Asia with respect to continued military presence and diplomatic/economic leadership (which themselves will derive in part from the ability of the United States to revitalize its domestic power resources); defense of its allies and deepening of strategic partnership with India; and the nature of its relationship with China. Other decisive variables will be the scope and pace of internal political change within China; the speed of India's economic and military rise; and the future of Japan and the U.S.-Japan alliance.
Guang Niu/Getty Images
Today the U.S. National Intelligence Council releases its Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report, authored by the NIC's resident thought leader and global futurist par excellence, Mat Burrows. Several of us in the Shadow Government stable contributed to the report in various ways over the past few years of its development .
Because Asia is the cockpit for so many macro drivers of the international system over the coming decades, it's worth considering the outsized role Asia's evolution will play in shaping the future world described in GT2030 -- and how that evolution in turn will impact key variables like the resilience of American power and the future of democracy.
At the macro level, four broad pathways for Asian order are possible through 2030. Which order prevails will have determinative effects on the kind of international system our children inherit.
A Lockean order
In the first scenario, continued American maritime preeminence and the U.S. alliance system sustain a security order in which China's "Prussianization," North Korea's nuclear mischief, and other potential security dilemmas in Asia are mitigated by the preponderance of power enjoyed by the United States and its allies, thereby deterring aggressive revisionism on the part of Beijing or Pyongyang and continuing to supply the public goods that underlie wider Asian prosperity. In such an order, Asian institutions could continue to sink roots, but on the basis of a trans-regional outlook in which the United States remains what then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates called a "resident power," with economic integration oriented around a Pacific rather than an exclusively Asian axis.
Great powers like Japan and India, secondary powers like South Korea and Australia, and the states of Southeast Asia could continue to engage economically and diplomatically with China, confident that their security ties with the United States constituted a hedge against falling under Beijing's sway. In turn, China's development would be shaped by the combination of engagement with the United States and its friends in Asia and Europe, and by the deterrent effect of America's forward military presence and alliance commitments. These raise the costs of Chinese adventurism, allowing Beijing to focus its resources on internal development and peaceful external engagement -- rather than on wielding its growing power to revise Asia's order through coercion.
A Hobbesian order
In the second scenario, a U.S. retreat into isolationism or accelerated material decline (induced by protectionism or failure to reverse America's alarming levels of national debt) would lead to the weakening of Washington's alliance commitments in East Asia and its willingness to remain the region's security guarantor. Such a regional order would be "ripe for rivalry," as forecast by realist scholars like Aaron Friedberg after the Cold War, when an American withdrawal from the region and raw balancing behavior in the midst of dynamic power shifts seemed likely to make Asia's future resemble Europe's war-prone past.
Such a balance-of-power order would feature self-help behavior by Asian states of the kind that has been mitigated to date by American defense commitments. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam might develop and deploy nuclear weapons as the only means of securing their autonomy against the Chinese military giant in their midst. Chinese leaders, no longer constrained by America's Seventh Fleet and robust alliance network, might find themselves free to pursue their declared revisionist aims in the South and East China Seas. Lesser Asian states whose territorial claims conflict with China's would find they had less ability to leverage a retreating America's support in their favor.
A Kantian order
In the third scenario, Asia would evolve in Europe's direction -- not the pre-1945 Europe of great-power balancing and war, but today's European Union, in which demilitarized societies between which war is inconceivable enjoy the fruits of democratic peace through institutional cooperation. Such a pathway for regional order presumes that Asian regionalism develops in a pluralistic way that preserves the autonomy of lesser Asian states, rather than deriving from a nonconsensual extension of China's sphere of influence. It also presumes a dovetailing of Asian regime types in a democratic direction. After all, it was only the resumption of democratic control over previously militaristic European regimes following their defeat in war that made possible the institutional deepening that has defined the post-World War II European project.
Another necessary, and often unstated, condition for the development of Europe's Kantian order of perpetual peace has been the American security umbrella. It has created a security cocoon within which European governments can dedicate national resources to domestic welfare rather than military defense and maneuvering against potential adversaries. Ironically, then, the development of a pluralistic and peace-loving East Asian community along the lines of the European Union may require the continued role of the United States as the region's security guarantor. Such a role would naturally be more amenable to Washington's leading regional competitor, China, should that country pursue the political liberalization that would make an Asian democratic peace both possible and self-reinforcing.
A Sinocentric order
In the fourth scenario, an East Asian community of economic interdependence and pan-regional cooperation would develop not along lines of democratic pluralism but as an extension of an increasingly dominant China. Rather than the horizontal sovereignty between states that developed in post-Westphalian Europe through the institution of the balance of power, such a regional order would feature hierarchical relations of suzerainty and submission of the kind that characterized pre-modern East Asia when China's Middle Kingdom was strong and cohesive, and lesser neighboring states paid ritualized forms of tribute to it. A Sinocentric East Asia could emerge out of this historical past; it could also emerge through what neorealist international relations scholars like John Mearsheimer define as the imperative of great powers to enjoy regional hegemony. The Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary epitomized this process in the 19th and early 20th centuries with respect to the United States and Latin America.
A Chinese sphere of influence encompassing East Asia and Southeast Asia presumes that states like Japan and South Korea would bandwagon with, rather than balance against, Chinese power. This could follow from either a lack of external alliance options or out of a reemergent pan-Asian identity; in a scenario in which they were economically and geopolitically "Finlandized," these countries might have no choice. An Asian system in which China sat at the summit of a hierarchical regional order presumes that Asian institution-building develops along closed lines of Asian exclusivity, rather than through the open trans-Pacific regionalism that has been the dominant impulse behind Asian community-building since the early 1990s.
In my next post, I'll describe some more specific scenarios for Asian order in 2030, from an Asian Cold War to a New Middle Kingdom.
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP/Getty Images
Next July marks the 60th anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War. That conflict began in 1950, when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel to invade South Korea and entered Seoul, the capital, three days later. With more than one million losing their lives in the war, including 41,000 Americans killed or missing in action, it's important that the record reflect the truth about the North's attack.
Yet the North Korean government's propaganda machine imposes an alternate version of reality. As Melanie Kirkpatrick confirms in her new book, Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia's Underground Railroad, North Korean schoolbooks teach that the war began in 1950 "with an invasion of the North by American and South Korean forces." We know this through the first-hand accounts of individuals like Kim Seong-min, a former propaganda officer in the North Korean People's Army who jumped off a moving train and defected to South Korea in 1999.
As Kirkpatrick writes, "[Kim's] decision to leave North Korea was heavily influenced by what he had learned from illegally listening to Voice of America and the Korean Broadcasting System. He came to realize that much of what his government was telling him was a lie." The experience of hearing other defectors tell their stories in these broadcasts "gave Kim Seong-min the courage to dream about going to South Korea. It also taught him about the power of information to change minds."
Today, Kim Seong-min heads Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul-based station that is "dedicated to the democratization of North Korea." Just this week, he gained international attention for launching border-crossing balloons containing money and messages against the regime in Pyongyang. Such launches are a low-tech but effective nonviolent tactic in the struggle to get information and support to the North Korean people, as this Wall Street Journal blog explains.
Refugee Joseph Kim fled as a teenager on February 16, 2005, the birthday of the late dictator Kim Jong Il, in order to escape the extreme privations of life under a corrupt authoritarian regime. "He wanted to tell someone...but there was no one he trusted with such a secret. Everyone in his family had died or disappeared, and the information was too dangerous to share with a friend, no matter how close," Kirkpatrick writes.
And so, with pangs of hunger wrenching his belly, Joseph Kim walked along a road adjacent to the Tumen River and finally "veered off the path, scrambled down the bank...and started running." When he made it to the other side without capture and entered China, he wandered into a small village, where an old woman told him to look for a church. Joseph Kim didn't know what a church was, but he finally found one.
Thus begins the journey of a growing number of North Koreans, who connect with the "Chinese Christian network" that typically leads them to a third country before they arrive in South Korea, the United States, or elsewhere. In Joseph's case, the network helped him reach an American consulate in China, where he sought political asylum. Kirkpatrick shares data from South Korea's Ministry of Unification on the number of North Koreans arriving there each year: 71 in 1998, 148 in 1999, 1,140 in 2002, and nearly 3,000 annually by the end of the decade. "The numbers showcase the growing success of the underground railroad," she says.
While there are brokers who help for money, the Christian "conductors" on this 21st century underground railroad are deeply moved by the suffering of North Koreans. "If you see someone who is drowning in the river, wouldn't you reach out and help that person? That was what was in my heart," says Pastor John Yoon, who is featured in the book and who began helping individuals escape in the 1990s, when millions of North Koreans died of starvation.
It's tempting to hope that North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Un, as a Western-educated member of Generation Y, might make a difference. But as Victor Cha wrote for Foreign Policy earlier this year: "Let me be blunt: The North Korean regime will not change because Little Kim studied in Switzerland, likes Mickey Mouse, and has a hot wife."
The only evidence of change policymakers should deem credible is whether the Kim regime is respecting the basic human rights of North Koreans. But as long as they continue to flee through China and make their way to freedom along the new underground railroad, we can tell that the new Kim regime is like the Kim regimes that went before it. The North Korean people need our help.
James K. Glassman is founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas and served as UnderSecretary of State for Public Diplomacy in Bush Administration. Amanda Schnetzer is the Bush Institute's Director of Human Freedom. The Bush Institute's Freedom Collection features two North Koreans who have escaped to freedom, along with the stories of other freedom advocates around the world.
There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday in Washington, Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi stood in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda to accept the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow. The award had been waiting for Suu Kyi since 2008, when House and Senate leaders initiated legislation "in recognition of her courageous and unwavering commitment to peace, nonviolence, human rights, and democracy in Burma" and President George W. Bush signed it into law.
Still under house arrest in 2008, Suu Kyi chose not to accept the award in absentia. Instead, thinking optimistically, she decided to look forward to the day when she could receive it in person. And indeed she finally did.
A notable roster of well wishers -- including House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator John McCain, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush and others -- went to the podium to pay tribute to Suu Kyi's courage and commitment to a free and democratic Burma. It was a welcome and increasingly rare display in Washington of bipartisan foreign policy consensus, something that has waned significantly since the end of the Cold War.
For the program's invocation, the Reverend Patrick Conroy, S.J., Chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, thanked God for Suu Kyi, calling her a "heroic witness to the dignity of all people." Amen.
Senator McCain, verging on tears, recalled first meeting Suu Kyi 15 years ago and being amazed that this "picture of gentleness and serenity" could be the same "implacable lady" who had so befuddled the men of Burma's military-backed regime.
Mrs. Bush hailed Suu Kyi as "the mother of her country" and recognized her moral clarity and strength. "One of the most repressive governments on earth attempted to isolate and silence one woman," she said. "It must have seemed an easy task. Instead, the regime encountered an immovable object -- and its legitimacy broke against her character."
Secretary Clinton turned to Suu Kyi with a big smile and marveled: "We knew at some point that change would have to come...It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of parliament." Applause ensued.
Suu Kyi graciously accepted the honor and then implored: "Please use your liberty to promote ours." She also issued a call to support not just the people of Burma but people "everywhere else in the world where freedom is still a dream."
In that moment, it was almost impossible not to think about the late Vaclav Havel, the former dissident turned head of state who helped lead Czechoslovakia from tyranny into freedom. Not satisfied with the fruits of his labors at home, President Havel made it his mission to support those who were still seeking freedom from oppression, including Aung San Suu Kyi. And now we see this remarkable woman using her nascent freedoms to pay it forward, just as Havel did, and raising up the plight of freedom seekers beyond her country's borders.
Against this momentous backdrop, it is important to acknowledge the progress Burma has made in such a short time. It is equally important to recognize the enormous task that lies ahead.
In The Case for Democracy, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky is unambiguous about the meaning of freedom. For him, the test is simple:
Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it's a fear society.
In Burma, a corrupt and brutal military regime failed the "town square test" with impunity for nearly 50 years. Today, it's too soon to say the people of Burma are free, but we're cautiously optimistic about the future.
Since Suu Ky's release from house arrest in 2010 and the emergence of a civilian-led government in 2011, Burma has experienced important openings. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released. Media censorship has been curbed. 2,000 individuals have been removed from the government's notorious political blacklist. Labor unions have been legalized. And Aung San Suu Kyi and her fellow National League for Democracy members have stood for parliamentary elections, openly campaigning across the country and sweeping 43 of the 44 seats they contested earlier this year.
Nevertheless, hundreds of political prisoners still sit in Burma's jails. The media now submit copies of their work to government censors after publication, rather than before. Ethnic conflict continues to claim lives. The executive has yet to submit to democratic elections. And constitutional reform is sorely needed.
While confident that her country can overcome these and other obstacles to a free society, Aung San Suu Kyi recognizes that "until the army comes out clearly and consistently in support of the democratic process, we cannot say that it's irreversible." Let us hope that day comes sooner than anyone expects, just as Suu Kyi's historic visit to America came this week.
James K. Glassman is former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas. Amanda Schnetzer is the Bush Institute's Director of Human Freedom.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
With parliamentary and presidential elections in the rear-view mirror, attention turns to the road ahead. Timor-Leste faces too many challenges to list here but following are a few of the most salient confronting the new parliament and prime minister.
Land reform: The country's economic obstacles are practically innumerable, but nothing is as fundamental to long-term development as reforming land ownership laws. Simply put, without reform, a free-market, voluntary exchange economy cannot take hold, an entrepreneurial class will not emerge, private sector wealth creation stands no chance, and Timorese won't see greater availability of affordable goods, products and services.
The current antiquated system is a throw-back to colonial times. By keeping real estate in a proverbial no-man's land, it's removed from the people who can put it to productive use for the benefit of themselves and society. Failure of the previous government to restore private property rights is one of the biggest disappointments in 10 years of independence. The new parliament and prime minister have the opportunity to correct a mistake that, left unchecked, will keep Timorese dependent on government (domestic or foreign) aid, impoverished or both.
Delivery on party platforms: Just after polls opened in Maubisse, an elderly couple talked about their frustration over broken campaign promises. I heard more of the same throughout the day. At 74 percent in the parliamentary election and 78 percent in the presidential, turnout is high. But it will quickly wane if Timorese don't see a correlation between platforms of the winners and changes, even if only incremental, on the ground.
Timor-Leste's challenges are obviously large and across-the-board. For the political parties and elected officials, it raises two questions. Can they resist the temptation to over promise on goals they can't reasonably achieve? And can they make short-term gains to give voters confidence that the electoral process produces accountability in the elected?
Democratic consolidation: Older voters who lived through colonization, invasion and occupation were forthright in talking about their right and duty to vote. Young people also turned out in large numbers amid signs that democratic traditions are taking root in younger generations. But disillusionment can emerge quickly. Corruption allegations surrounding the energy fund or growth of a glaring income gap like that seen in some Latin countries, among other issues, hold great potential to reverse confidence in representative government and the process that produces it. Consolidating democratic gains is crucial the next few years.
Managing the UN exit: Barring unforeseen circumstances, the UN mission is winding down. The UN exit, expected by the end of 2012, means the loss of jobs and aid dollars. Looming just as large is transfer of responsibility for security and stability to the new government.
Brian C. Keeter was a volunteer Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and is providing a series of posts about the July 7th parliamentary elections. He worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Bush administration and is now director of public affairs at Auburn University.
Brian C. Keeter
Voter turnout in the U.S. for midterm congressional elections hovers around 40 percent, often a little less. In contrast, an estimated 74 percent of Timorese turned out for the July 7th parliamentary elections.
Although a four-point drop from the first round presidential contest in March, it represents a clear signal of Timorese commitment to their young democracy. The elections were peaceful and credible.
One characteristic of a mature democracy is public engagement based on issues, not the personality of its leader. In other words, is the country focused on a forward-looking prescription for the future, or the charisma of its public face?
In Timor-Leste, resistance leaders are national heroes, and rightly so, some of them now leading political parties and coalitions. And it's their leadership, more than party platform, that often attracts many supporters in presidential and parliamentary elections.
But some voters are tuning into what political parties promised in the past and what they've since delivered. Voters we talked with in and around Maubisse and Hatu-Bulico were frustrated with unmet promises, whether it was building roads, improving education or expanding access to clean water.
In the months leading up to July 7th, many of the 21 parties and coalitions appealed to voters on the issues. Generally, they were forward-looking, easy-to-understand and focused on immediate needs in a poor country.
Campaigns relied on retail politicking -- personal contact through village meetings, rallies, and the like -- to engage voters. Although growing, voter outreach through the media is challenging and not particularly efficacious since many Timorese, especially outside Dili, lack media access, and a professional journalist class generally doesn't exist. The campaign did see the use of some social and digital media tools, including Facebook and texting, to communicate party platforms.
Final results won't be determined for a few days. To no one's surprise, CNRT has won the most seats, but a governing majority in the 65-seat parliament isn't guaranteed.
Brian C. Keeter is a volunteer Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and is providing a series of posts about the July 7th parliamentary elections. He worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Bush administration and is now director of public affairs at Auburn University.
Brian C. Keeter
This is the second in a series of posts on Timor-Leste’s July 7 parliamentary elections.
It's great to see a vibrant democracy at work.
In Timor-Leste, political parties are wrapping up active, passionate campaigns as the July 7th parliamentary elections fast approach.
Young political activists are particularly enthusiastic. FRETILIN's final campaign rally in the capitol of Dili was highly visible, raucous and in some ways resembled the atmosphere of World Cup soccer -- painted faces, party flags worn like capes, slogans shouted in unison, loads of happy supporters driving city streets in flat-bed trucks, vans and motorcycles waving banners and singing.
FRETILIN, or the Revolutionary Front for Timor-Leste Independence, is the largest and considered the most organized of the 18 parties and three coalitions facing voters. Xanana Gusmao leads the other major party, the National Congress for the Reconstruction of Timor-Leste, or CNRT. Like many current political leaders and candidates, Gusmao is one of the heroes of Timor-Leste's long struggle for independence.
FRETILIN and CNRT together are expected to garner the most support in proportional, party list voting for the 65-seat unicameral Parliament. But since neither party is likely to gain enough votes for a governing majority, the smaller but still influential Democratic Party may serve as "king maker," deciding with whom to join to form a coalition government.
Timor-Leste's road to freedom has been anything but easy. When Portuguese colonization ended in 1975, the country suffered brutal Indonesian occupation. As many as 250,000 Timorese, roughly 25 percent of the population, lost their lives.
In August of 1999, under UN supervision, an overwhelming majority of Timorese, 78 percent, spoke loud and clear in favor of self-governance and the right to determine their own future.
Indonesian assurances to provide security in the independence referendum were unmet. Militias loyal to Indonesia destroyed Timorese infrastructure, razed homes, and conducted random acts of violence and abuse. It's estimated that 100 percent of the country's electrical grid was rendered useless and 85 percent of buildings burned. In 2012, within a block of my hotel, I see the remaining evidence of this scorched earth policy.
An Australian-led peacekeeping force entered the country later in 1999 to end the violence and, ultimately, secure Timor-Leste independence. The upcoming parliamentary vote is the country's third round of elections since 2002 when it became the first new nation of the 21st Century.
The International Republican Institute (IRI) is observing the voting process in each of Timor-Leste's 13 districts. IRI was the first non-governmental organization to work in Timor-Leste with political parties, beginning in 2000.
IRI delegation leader Frank Wisner noted that Timor-Leste is "a country absolutely determined to create its own democratic traditions."
A new parliament will face a wave of challenges -- high unemployment, inadequate roads, and a lack of economic diversity, among many others. By all accounts, Timorese are committed to tackling these problems and fulfilling their country's hopes and dreams at the ballot box.
Brian C. Keeter is a volunteer Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and will provide a series of posts about the July 7 parliamentary elections. He worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the Bush administration and is now director of public affairs at Auburn University.
Brian C. Keeter
This post is the first in a series on Timor-Leste's July 7th parliamentary elections.
One country in transition is best described as political chaos. The other has its share of economic and political growing pains but is steadily evolving as a young democracy.
One country is a poor example to its regional neighbors and the world while the other in some ways should be emulated.
One country is not much further along than when it first started, and the other, despite long odds, is on the verge of conducting its third round of elections.
Not long ago, few people would have guessed Egypt as the first country and Timor-Leste as the second.
After the fall of the Mubarak regime, Egypt enjoyed an economic infrastructure and functioning civic and government institutions that could help pave the way for its democratic transition. But despite its relative advantages, Egypt sadly remains hostage to its military rulers. Even the recent announcement of a presidential contest winner, while a small step in the right direction, is no cause for celebration after the position was gutted of real authority. Political and economic liberals are either unable or unwilling to unite, develop viable political parties or present credible alternatives to the Egyptian public.
Timor-Leste, sometimes called East Timor, is off the proverbial radar screen for many, even in foreign policy circles.
Compared to Egypt, it had no economic or political structure on which to capitalize after gaining independence. An impoverished country, it had virtually no self-governance experience for about 300 years, first as a Portuguese colony, then under brutal Indonesian occupation.
To be sure, Timor-Leste's democratic transition is far from perfect, even marred by civil conflict and violence. The country lacks economic diversity, unemployment is high and public corruption hinders efficient allocation of resources and undermines public confidence in representative government.
Still, it has conducted credible elections, seen an orderly transfer of political power, and now enjoys, for the most part, a stable peace. Its political parties are in the final stages of preparing for July 7th parliamentary elections with campaign appeals revolving around differing prescriptions for the country, particularly how to utilize the country's multi-billion dollar energy fund, not merely the cult of personality.
No struggle for independence and freedom is easy. From the new American colonies to the former Soviet states to the Middle East, more often than not, it's messy and chaotic. Timor-Leste will be no different but offers valuable insight for others in transition and for mature democracies that hope to support them.
Brian C. Keeter is a Timor-Leste election observer for the International Republican Institute and will provide a series of posts about the July 7th parliamentary elections. He served at the Department of Transportation in the Bush administration, and is director of public affairs at Auburn University.
VALENTINO DE SOUSA/AFP/GettyImages
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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The Obama administration's two major weekend summits, the G-8 gathering at Camp David and the ongoing NATO meeting in Chicago, happen to be occurring as the U.S. presidential campaign gets underway. That coincidence of timing presumably helps explain an otherwise baffling statement by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon posted over at the Cable previewing the meetings:
Look for the Obama team to drive home the argument this weekend that the G-8 and the NATO summit are a testament to Obama's ability to repair alliances frayed during the George W. Bush administration.
"It had been an exhausting period leading up to 2009, and the president set about reinvigorating -- indeed, one of the first sets of instructions that we got during the transition, at the beginning of the administration, was to set about really building out and refurbishing, revitalizing our alliances," Donilon said.
"No other nation in the world has the set of global alliances that the United States does... And alliances, I will tell you from experience, are a wholly different qualitative set of relationships than coalitions of the willing."
The best explanation I can muster for this is that Donilon is channeling David Axelrod and indulging in some spin for the campaign "silly season." One hopes that the Obama administration doesn't actually believe that its record on alliances is so exemplary, because to do so means that the notorious White House-bubble must be even thicker than usual. Yet I suppose that as long as the media gives a free pass on these kinds of claims, they will be made. Even the Humble Cable-Guy, normally vigilant to call out any manner of fluff, spin, or distortion, seems to have missed this one.
Campaign spin notwithstanding, the reality is different.
First, taking Donilon's own timeline, the Obama administration inherited a set of alliances in solid shape. When Obama took office the Bush administration had largely repaired bilateral relationships that had been admittedly frayed during its first term. Gone were the "old Europe/new Europe" lines, the feuds with Chirac and Schroeder, etc. By 2008, America had very solid relationships with allies such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, as well as emerging partners such as India. Expanding these partnerships and inviting rising powers to the high table of international politics, Bush had even convened the first-ever G-20 summit in Washington to deal with the eruption of the global financial crisis.
Second, the Obama administration's record on relations with U.S. allies is wanting, to say the least. American allies and friends on almost every continent have been neglected or undercut by the Obama administration. These include specific countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Israel, Poland, Czech Republic, Georgia, Ukraine, and Colombia. While the specific issues may have varied -- whether neglected and re-litigated free trade agreements, abandoned missile defense commitments, cancellations of state visits, shirking of defense needs, rebuffs on energy cooperation, dithering on multilateral interventions, hectoring on fiscal policy, or just thoroughgoing neglect -- all of these nations, among them America's most important allies and partners, have suffered poor treatment at the hands of the Obama administration. Anecdotally, one can hardly visit a European capital without hearing private complaints from European diplomats over the neglect they feel from the Obama administration.
Third, Donilon's sanctimonious dig contrasting "alliances" with "coalitions of the willing" was unflattering as well -- to the Obama administration. After all, this White House has, for justifiable reasons, made frequent use of coalitions of the willing on its most significant foreign policy initiatives, such as the Libya War (which included non-NATO members such as Sweden, Qatar, Jordan, and UAE), the P-5 Plus One coalition on Iran, the "Friends of Syria" Group, and the Afghanistan War (forty non-NATO participants).
The Obama administration's efforts to keep blaming Bush have an almost perfunctory quality. If anything, they reveal this White House's own anemic record to base re-election on [insert obligatory "three envelopes" joke here]. I have some sympathy for the administration in that working with allies in practice is much harder than campaign rhetoric would indicate. But here the gap between the rhetoric and the reality is significant.
Obama campaigned claiming he would improve America's global image, but his treatment of allies has undermined our nation's credibility. In a way, Obama's international reputation seems to mirror his domestic reputation. At both home and abroad, personal affection for him far exceeds approval for his policies. He has been successful at cultivating his personal image in the world, but in the process America's standing has been diminished. In terms I hope our Anglosphere allies will appreciate, this White House may talk like Ringo Starr, but too often it has acted like Mike Reno.
Today's agreement in Beijing for Chen Guangcheng to leave the U.S. embassy yet remain in China heralds a success for the Obama administration's diplomacy, and for the cause of human rights in China. While there were no ideal solutions, this seems to be the best possible one, and was probably agreed to only with great reluctance by the Chinese government. Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and one of the Obama administration's most capable senior officials, served as the lead negotiator and merits particular credit. The pressures on the case were heightened by the imminent arrival in Beijing of Secretaries Clinton and Geithner for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue (SED), one of the most important events on the U.S.-China calendar and a cornerstone of the complex bilateral relationship.
Yet in this case Campbell and his fellow negotiators (including State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh and U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke) appear to have leveraged the SED to their advantage based on the strategic insight that China needs the SED more than the U.S. does. This may be sound counter-intuitive, given the many issues on which the U.S. has important "asks" of China, including pressure on the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, currency reform, and maritime rights in the western Pacific. But China has been buffeted and embarrassed in recent months by the revelations of the Bo Xilai case, the tensions surrounding its upcoming leadership transition, and the growing alienation of many of its neighboring countries. Beijing needs a smooth and successful SED to help restore its image, and hence realized that it needed to compromise to achieve a quick resolution to the Chen case. Shadow Government's uber-boss, FP editor-in-chief Susan Glasser, is accompanying Secretary Clinton's delegation to Beijing and filed a thoughtful account that lays out the difficult balancing act and frailties in the deal.
Earlier this week it seemed likely that Beijing would only agree to Chen's release if he left China for asylum in the U.S. Yet this would not have been the best outcome, given that Chen would be separated from his family and no longer able to continue his activism. This recent story tells of the anonymity and ennui that afflicts many Chinese dissidents once settled in the U.S., a sad trajectory that might have been Chen's as well. Yet such is not always the case, as other Chinese dissidents have found the U.S. a congenial home from which to continue their advocacy. Such is the case with Bob Fu, now based in Midland, Texas, and whose connection to Chen included assistance with Chen's initial escape and eloquent advocacy on his behalf with the U.S. media. Bob's compelling story can be viewed here at the Bush Center's Freedom Collection.
The Chen case also occurs against the backdrop of a fascinating and largely ennobling history of dissidents in repressive countries seeking refuge in U.S. embassies. Early in the Cold War, the Catholic anticommunist leader Cardinal Josef Mindszenty of Hungary fled to the embassy in Budapest and lived there for 15 (yes, 15) years. The seven Siberian Pentecostals lived in the U.S. embassy in Moscow for 5 years until the Soviet Union agreed to their release after consistent pressure from President Reagan. In the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Chinese dissidents Fang Lizhi and his wife Li Shuxian lived in the embassy in Beijing for 13 months. In each of these cases, the presence of the dissidents on U.S. diplomatic soil proved to be an irritant in the bilateral relationship -- in the short-term. But from a long-term perspective, it becomes clear that the protection offered by U.S. embassies proved a potent demonstration of America's commitment to liberty. It is a telling reminder that, for all of America's imperfections and internal challenges, our nation is still seen by freedom activists across the globe as the world's premier symbol of liberty and power. It is this combination of values and strength that explains why dissidents in authoritarian countries consistently seek out the American embassy for succor and support.
Yet these same dissidents often carry outsized and unrealistic expectations of just how much the United States can do on their behalf. As powerful as the U.S. is, there are profound limits on America's ability to reshape conditions within other countries, and particularly to guarantee the safety and freedom of dissidents. Here is where the Chen agreement seems to have accomplished about as much as it can. The Chinese government promises to allow Chen to seek medical treatment, enroll in law school, and be reunited with his family. But as an informal agreement between two sovereign states, there is no enforcement mechanism beyond the investment of U.S. prestige and credibility, and China's desire to maintain a good relationship. Still, all things considered, Chen's lot is much improved from just two weeks ago, when he languished under de facto house arrest (no doubt with Beijing's approval). He now enjoys even more global prominence, the explicit support of the United States, an opportunity to gain formal legal training, and most crucially, the chance to continue his work on behalf of his fellow citizens. Moreover, the issues to which he has dedicated his life -- freedom of expression, religious freedom, an end to forced abortions and sterilizations, respect for rule of law -- are now thrust back into the international spotlight and the agenda of the U.S.-China relationship.
The Chen situation is much more than an isolated human rights case. His life and work symbolizes the powerful contradictions besetting China: a strong state whose government seems to fear a blind self-taught country lawyer; an economic powerhouse whose overall growth still produces resentments, instabilities, and unmet expectations from many of its citizens; an emerging yet brittle superpower whose greatest strength may be found not in its growing military or economy, but in the courage of ordinary citizens like Chen Guangcheng.
North Korea's apparently imminent test-launch of another ballistic missile brings an unwelcome complication to the Obama administration's overflowing inboxes. It highlights yet again the perpetual dilemma posed by the Kim regime: Whether you ignore it or engage it, North Korea invariably misbehaves. For all of the debates over U.S. policy, ultimately the main driver of North Korean behavior is not how the U.S. acts but rather the perverse nature of the Pyongyang regime itself.
Even though the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs are in separate regions of the world, they share some linkages and reciprocal influences. In Pyongyang's case, the newest incarnation of the Kim dynasty does not like losing global attention to Tehran, and appears to be returning to its customary patterns of bluster and brinksmanship in part to recapture global headlines and increase its leverage in potential future negotiations with the U.S. Domestic politics no doubt play a role as well, as Kim Jong Un seeks to consolidate his hold on power and place himself in continuity with the legacies of his father and grandfather. From Tehran's perspective, one "lesson" from North Korea appears to be that possession of nuclear weapons helps ensure regime survival and increase bargaining leverage, despite international opprobrium.
Both nations' nuclear programs also complicate the Obama administration's planned "pivot" to Asia. I remain worried that the White House's Asia pivot contains a mistaken assumption that treats the Middle East and Asia as distinctly separate regions, subject to zero-sum allocations of American strategic resources. Yet as the administration weighs its limited menu of options for North Korea's latest provocation, there is an opportunity to consider potential strategic linkages between how the U.S. responds to North Korea and how it handles the Iran file. At least two possible paths come to mind. Both admittedly have significant downsides, but then what policy doesn't when it comes to North Korea and Iran? As tactically different as each approach is, both represent an effort to consider a strategic linkage between U.S. policy toward North Korea and Iran.
Deterrent Linkage. This would mean the U.S. taking an aggressive response to North Korea's missile test, by throwing a brush-back pitch against Pyongyang and also sending a deterrent message to Tehran about American resolve and willingness to use force. Specifically, this could entail an attack on the North Korean Unha-3 missile while on the launch pad, or intercepting it after the launch in its boost phase. Bill Perry and Ashton Carter called for such a strike before North Korea's 2006 test, and Philip Zelikow laid out the case for a similar measure in 2009. Numerous U.N. Security Council Resolutions (such as 1695, 1718, and 1874) have declared the illegality of North Korea's ballistic missile program, and such a strike could be justified on self-defense grounds by the U.S. and treaty allies such as Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.
A strike is of course a dramatic step that carries significant risks. The most significant is the potential for North Korean retaliation and escalation, but other risks include an embarrassing "miss" if the attack fails, heightened tensions with China, potential discord with South Korea if the Lee government disapproves, not to mention a further emboldening of Iran. On the other hand, if successful such an attack could serve as a strategic game-changer with implications in both Northeast Asia and the Middle East. Benefits could include restraining further North Korean provocations and bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table in better faith, diminishing China's virtually unqualified support for North Korea, and increasing Tehran's openness to a negotiated settlement by demonstrating that the U.S. mantra of "all options are on the table" is a credible threat.
Bargaining Linkage. If the Obama administration takes a less confrontational approach to North Korea's missile test (by, say, a ritual sternly-worded condemnation and perhaps yet another UNSC resolution), it could still be done in a way that creates linkage with the Iran issue. Given the limited options and risks of an aggressive North Korean response, this might be the more prudent path. If so, the White House should at least use its restraint with Pyongyang to increase its bargaining leverage with Beijing -- and thus potentially gain a strategic benefit in pressing Iran. This could mean quietly communicating to Beijing that the U.S. has considered but rejected the option of striking the North Korean missile, in part out of deference to China's preferences for a soft approach to its unruly ally. In return, the U.S. secures from China a commitment to publicly support increased sanctions pressure on Iran, in word and practice.
This approach also carries risks. China may be unwilling to credit American restraint on North Korea as a concession, and may likewise be unwilling to depart from its opposition to tightened sanctions on Iran. Pyongyang and Tehran might both perceive the lack of a strong response to the missile test as further evidence that nuclear adventurism ultimately has little cost (especially if Pyongyang follows up the missile launch with another nuclear test). But this path is also an opportunity for the U.S. to at least try to increase its bargaining leverage with Iran, by persuading China to see our restraint on North Korea as a trade-off rather than a giveaway.
Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images
As someone who has worked on human rights and democracy promotion in U.S. foreign policy, one of the questions I most often hear is "Why does the U.S. think it can 'impose' democracy on other countries?" My answer is always the same. We never impose democracy on other countries, we support the individuals and organizations in any country that share our commitment to universal human rights and a desire for freedom for themselves and their nations. Courageous freedom fighters risk their lives to stand against oppression whether or not we stand with them, but America is at its best when we do. The Freedom Collection website, newly launched by the George W. Bush Institute, provides an influential platform for dissidents and human rights advocates to speak publicly about their dreams of freedom and the risks they take to pursue them. It is a compelling reminder that democratic aspirations are not American things we impose but, in fact, reside in the hearts and minds of women and men in every nation.
The case of Burma highlights how steadfast American support for dissidents and their democracy movements can eventually lead to change that is good for them and good for America. As a tentative reform process unfolds under President Thein Sein, the elections scheduled for Sunday, April 1, in which Aung San Suu Kyi is contesting a seat, already are flawed but offer the latest reason for hope that democracy may still take root in this beleaguered S.E. Asian country. The road remains difficult and tenuous, but a cautious optimism has seized the country.
For decades, the U.S. has been providing unwavering support for the Burmese democracy movement -- rhetorically, financially and diplomatically. Every administration and members of the U.S. Congress on both sides of the aisle, have maintained a strong human rights policy on Burma. There has been a strong set of sanctions in place, but even more important has been the significant financial support we have given through the National Endowment for Democracy to the many small exile organizations along the Thai and Indian borders with Burma. With American support and protection, these activist organizations run by exiles have been tracking political prisoners inside the country, planning for a federalist system, documenting horrific human rights abuses of the military regime, convening diverse ethnic nationalities so that they may work together, and reporting or broadcasting news into the closed country.
For years, the influence of these groups was minimal, but it was for such a time as this that the preparations were made to take advantage of small openings and translate them into big change. Many, though not all, political prisoners have been freed and some exiles are returning. As dissidents and former exiles are allowed to participate in the political system, the preparations they have made will be essential for overcoming the serious challenges they will, no doubt, face.
The Freedom Collection highlights several of the most inspiring women's voices from diverse ethnic groups in Burma, all of whom have received support for their work from the U.S. government. Along with Aung San Suu Kyi, Khin Ohmar, Charm Thong, Cheery Zahau, and Dr. Cynthia Maung are from the Burman, Shan, Chin and Karen ethnic groups respectively and have modeled a peaceful and democratic future for the country through their advocacy and collaboration across geography and ethnicity. Burma watchers all agree that one of the biggest challenges remaining, even if democracy returns to the country, is resolving historical conflicts between the various ethnic groups. The military has perpetrated some its worst abuses against minority groups, including widespread use of rape as a weapon of war by the Burmese military. Women's groups across the spectrum all have been advocating an end to these terrible crimes.
I was privileged to work directly with Charm Thong and others of the Shan Women's Action Network (SWAN) to raise awareness of this issue after they published their important report called Licence to Rape in 2002. Women's groups of other ethnic nationalities have published similar reports and all ethnic minority women suffer under this pervasive threat. The encouraging story is that all of these women's groups also work collaboratively together through the umbrella Women's League of Burma that includes majority Burman women. Together they have shown that all the ethnic groups in Burma desire human rights and are able to work together to achieve them. I'm proud to call these women friends and proud that my country stood with them in their struggle. On the Freedom Collection site, Mrs. Laura Bush narrates an important video on the power of women to bring change in countries from Iran to Liberia to Burma. Though every road from tyranny to freedom is rough and winding, I believe in Burma it will be paved primarily by women.
Is al Qaeda dead? Statements by counter-terrorism and intelligence officials suggest that the Obama administration is moving toward this conclusion. In a speech at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies last June, John Brennan said that al Qaeda was "in its decline" and that it was possible to envision the demise of al Qaeda's core leadership in the near future. Leon Panetta was even more forthright in remarks to reporters a month later, arguing that the U.S. was within reach of "strategically defeating al Qaeda," that the group was "on the run," and that killing 10-20 key leaders would lead to its defeat. Two weeks ago DNI James Clapper reiterated the administration's view in his testimony before Congress that core al Qaeda was "diminishing in operational importance," that the movement could soon fragment, and that this would make the core largely of symbolic significance.
It is rather surprising, given this optimistic appraisal, that the second half of Clapper's testimony on terrorism -- as well as the next few lines of Brennan's speech -- detail the resilience and growing threat from al Qaeda affiliates -- the official designation for groups like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghrab (AQIM). Both statements warn that these groups are not just maintaining their activities, but are actually expanding in size and influence while now seeking to attack the U.S. How can the strategic defeat of al Qaeda be at hand if its affiliates are surging?
The apparent contradiction within these two statements suggests that there might be inconsistencies in how the U.S. assesses progress in the war against al Qaeda. Over the next few days I'll attempt to tease out these inconsistencies and provide some clarity on the four interrelated questions that the U.S. must answer if we want to understand where we are at in the war with al Qaeda: How do we define al Qaeda; what does al Qaeda want to achieve (i.e. what are its objectives); how well do we think al Qaeda is doing at achieving these objectives; and finally how well do we think we're doing at stopping al Qaeda.
Let's start with the most fundamental of these questions: What is al Qaeda? It might seem strange that more than ten years after 9-11 we are still struggling to answer this question, but understanding this enemy has never been an easy task. In their official remarks, both Brennan and Clapper provide the administration's answer: Al Qaeda is cleanly divided into a core that has as its key objective attacking the U.S., affiliates that have shown interest in attacking us but generally focus on local concerns, and "adherents" -- individuals who have been inspired by al Qaeda's ideology, but have no organizational connection to the core. Given this description, if asked to choose between describing al Qaeda as a movement that inspires and motivates or an organization that directs, commands, and controls a global war, I believe that the administration would answer "movement."
This seems like a plausible answer, and it has been used to guide successful U.S. counter-terrorism efforts, but it leaves out a necessary piece of the puzzle: it ignores how al Qaeda defines itself. In multiple statements, al Qaeda's leaders have consistently asserted that their group as an organization with a fully articulated bureaucracy and administrative committees, the vanguard or "High Command," of a global jihad against the Crusaders and Jews (and their allies). Another, more detailed, explication of their views is presented in a 2009 interview with Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the now dead "General Manager" for al Qaeda. Abu al-Yazid was asked how large al Qaeda was, and he used the opportunity to describe three tiers within the organization: the leadership and those who have sworn an oath of loyalty to the leaders (what we call the core); multiple groups and individuals that joined directly with the command to fight in Pakistan and Afghanistan; and what he calls "branches," that al Qaeda has opened in "many Muslim countries."
Abu al-Yazid also claimed that the leadership had direct command and control over all these parts of its organization, despite the difficulties posed by distance and wartime conditions, ordering, for example, the branches to carry out attacks against the U.S. This was not just boasting. At the time of the interview, it was the official position of the U.S. government that AQAP, AQIM, and other affiliates were focused on local concerns and would never attempt to attack the homeland. Six months after Abu al-Yazid made this assertion, an AQAP member tried to set off a bomb in his underwear on a U.S. flight into Detroit, and since then a series of plots have been disrupted involving various affiliates.
It's now possible to understand, at least partially, the apparent contradiction between the two parts of Brennan and Clapper's statements: the U.S. has attempted to disaggregate the "high command" from the troops that they claim to be commanding. Our current CT (counter-terrorism) strategy targets the high command (the Core), and thus the claim that "al Qaeda" is almost defeated, while leaving the forces in the field (the "affiliates") relatively untouched. A rough analogy to current U.S. strategy -- although without the nation-state structures to provide a sturdy backbone -- would be if in a future war, an enemy targeted the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, and the Combatant Commanders in an attempt to decapitate U.S. forces in the field, but was unable to take on U.S. troops directly.
Of course it is one thing for al Qaeda to claim command and control over all these forces, and quite another thing to actually exert it. Measuring this will require a further investigation of al Qaeda's objectives and the group's ability to achieve these objectives.
Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images
The pageantry surrounding the visit of Vice President Xi Jinping, China's next leader, reflects the best tradition of U.S.-China summitry since 1972. There is no symbolism in international politics like that presented by meetings between the leaders of the world's two most powerful nations, with their utterly different histories and traditions. Washington is preoccupied by the new Kremlinology: is Xi a reformer or a hard-liner? Who will become his deputy responsible for managing the Chinese economy? Are former rising star's Bo Xilai's allies being purged from the leadership group? More broadly, American officials are grappling with the overriding question of how to stabilize U.S.-China relations amidst political contests in both countries -- and growing strategic mistrust following China's heavy-handed military assertiveness in 2009-10 and President Obama's China-focused "pivot" to Asia in 2011.
In Washington's internal debates over China policy, several schools of thought are vying for primacy. One -- call it the "China-first" school -- believes the People's Republic is an ascendant superpower, whose newfound confidence is well-justified, and which America must do more to accommodate as the United States itself declines. In this view, America's existing position in Asia is unsustainable. Military surveillance in international waters near China is too provocative to continue indefinitely. America cannot reasonably continue to control the maritime approaches to China, in the Western Pacific and East and South China Seas, without a justified Chinese counter-reaction. Washington must recognize that new power realities in Asia require it to cede China much more strategic space, in ways that will reassure its leaders rather than reinforcing indefensible red lines. Better to negotiate a new arrangement with China on our respective "core interests" now than to find ourselves forced into a confrontation -- over Taiwan, access to sea lanes near China, or particular alliance relationships -- that we cannot win.
For this school, it really is unduly provocative for the United States to be strengthening its military relations with China's neighbors. If China were deploying troops and securing military access agreements in Canada and Mexico, wouldn't the United States object? Even the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to multilateralize a set of bilateral free-trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific appears, in this light, to be a form of economic containment of China, since the negotiations exclude it. The policy takeaway from this perspective is that Washington should back off its forward posture in Asia, drop the TPP in favor of trade and investment treaties with Beijing, do more to tangibly reassure China that we will not threaten its interests as a rising power, and otherwise reassure China that America sees the writing on the wall and will peaceably cede the primacy it has enjoyed. Such a policy, we are assured, would help encourage China to behave as a good international citizen.
A second school of thought - call it the "Asia-first" school -- reverses the China-first logic of the perspective above. It focuses on influencing Beijing's strategic choices by constructing a robust balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region that hedges against Chinese assertiveness -- and reassures America's many friends and allies that we will not subordinate their acute concerns about China's growing strength out of deference to China's grievances, real or imagined. It acknowledges the pluralism of Asia, America's historic role as a Pacific power, and the central truth that none of Asia's great and regional powers is willing to allow Beijing to speak for the region.
American proponents of this approach do not favor containing China. Indeed, they understand that stable U.S.-China relations are intrinsically in the U.S. interest -- as well as enabling stronger U.S. relations with America's Asian partners. But they believe that Chinese assertiveness is best managed through coalitions of states that share a determination to sustain the rules and norms that have made possible the Asian economic miracle. They also believe that American leadership is a surer foundation for continued stability in Asia than a managed American retreat.
This school of thought also understands that China, like the Soviet Union of George Kennan's day, suffers from "internal contradictions" -- an unsustainable growth model distorted by the heavy hand of the state, an increasingly restive citizenry fed up with corruption and the absence of rule of law, and a demographic time bomb. A prudential U.S. policy of shaping an Asian balance of power that China cannot control ultimately should create the time and space for China to undergo an internal evolution that mellows the dangers posed by its authoritarian power. This would allow its government to enjoy peaceful and cooperative relations with its people, its neighbors, and the West.
Such a policy approach calls for the intensification of President Obama's newly robust approach to sustaining American leadership in Asia -- through intimate relations with our allies, new and diversified troop deployments, expanded military prepositioning and access agreements, closer ties with non-traditional partners like Indonesia and Vietnam, and stronger leadership on free trade. It would be boosted by enactment of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's calls to increase the U.S. defense budget (rather than cutting it, as Obama would); increase naval shipbuilding (rather than overseeing the shrinkage of the U.S. fleet to its smallest since 1917, as Obama has); put allies rather than competitors first in formulating foreign policy; and get America's fiscal house back in order to give it the domestic capabilities to lead abroad (rather than proposing annual budgets that increase America's national debt, as Obama has just done).
This second school understands that the audience for U.S. policy towards China is not just China's leaders, but the Chinese public, as well as America's many friends and allies in Asia. U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon points out that there is strong and growing demand for U.S. leadership in Asia, even as China's economic and military power expand. Joseph Nye, Lee Kuan Yew, Robert Kagan, and other thought leaders correctly point out that China may well never surpass the United States in comprehensive national power, despite much-hyped predictions to the contrary. By extension, it would be strange indeed for America to peremptorily cede its leadership in Asia at a time when Asian states want more of it, and U.S. interests in the coming Pacific century so directly hinge on it.
The blind spot of the China-first school is its basic misunderstanding of the sources of regime anxiety in Beijing. Chinese leaders' most deeply rooted insecurities do not derive from U.S. policies in Asia; China has prospered mightily from them, in fact. Rather, the most acute fears of Chinese leaders derive from the danger China's own people pose to the political monopoly of the Chinese Communist Party. America's Sinologists should have a little more confidence that the United States can compete with China, not only in the contest for power but in the contest of ideas -- which ultimately will determine whether Beijing and Washington can build a fruitful condominium of cooperation in the 21st century, or whether strategic competition will define our shared future.
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1) Taiwanese politics are maturing and changing. Inside baseball terms, such as the "1992 consensus," do not have much meaning to the average Taiwanese voter. Even for Taiwanese who are "mainlanders" -- meaning that they or their parents were born on the mainland of China -- their children and grandchildren who are born in Taiwan have no memory of or emotional bond to China. Taiwan now has its own consensus: Taiwanese want to benefit from trade with China while maintaining their dignity as citizens of Taiwan. The system works and the Taiwanese people end up with the policies they want. These policies include a robust trading relationship with China and the world, stability and peace across the Strait, and acceptance of Taiwan's de facto independence. On the one hand, DPP candidate Tsai Ying-wen gained 45 percent of the vote by making a fundamental criticism that Ma Ying-Jeou was not being fastidious enough in protecting Taiwan's sovereignty in his negotiations with China. This argument has some appeal to many Taiwanese. On the other hand, Tsai was not able to convince voters that she would ratify the gains Ma made in cross-Strait trade and stability while also protecting Taiwan's sovereignty. Elections in Taiwan are increasingly about which candidate can successfully engage China while protecting Taiwan's status. Though voters had their doubts about Ma, he won that critical argument decisively.
2) Any thought of "abandoning" Taiwan should be relegated to ivory tower social science labs (if such things exist). It is not only immoral, it is wholly impractical. The vast majority of Taiwanese (the numbers vary, but are probably close to 90 percent) want to maintain the status quo -- Taiwan's de facto independent status without conflict. Debates in Taiwan are increasingly about whether Taiwan is independent under the name the Republic of China (the KMT's position) or under the Republic of Taiwan (the DPP's position). The rest is a debate over tactics, such as how far and how fast Taiwan's leaders should discuss anything but trade and economic issues with China. The vast majority of Taiwanese would simply leave the island if the U.S. withheld support, a boon to Northern California perhaps, but a stain on America's honor and a severe blow to the kind of Asia we want.
3) It is increasingly awkward for China to remain authoritarian. China's brethren in Taiwan have now undergone their fourth really competitive presidential election. It was spirited, free, and fair. Voters got to hear a debate on Taiwan's future. Now Chinese have even more access to Taiwan and simply do not buy their government's condescending arguments that Chinese people are not "ready" for democracy. Taiwan's democracy works, in a Confucian cultural setting. Taiwan's economy is thriving and it is the envy of many developing countries. Taiwan had to sacrifice neither economic growth nor stability for democracy. This year China is going through its own "selection" process for President. What is the argument against democracy in China now? That the people are less developed or inferior to Taiwanese?
4) Democracy in China would probably have the same effect over time on cross-Strait relations. The Chinese people would also opt for moderation and stability. The debate would most likely be over how to repair the humiliation the Chinese suffered at the hands of Western and Japanese colonialists -- still a very charged issue among Chinese citizens -- while letting the long-suffering Taiwanese people enjoy their own identity and basic rights. All sorts of solutions might emerge (e.g. a commonwealth system) that would let the Chinese people live in peace and prosperity as well.
5) Until that time, the U.S. must stand shoulder to shoulder with Taiwan. In many respects it is U.S. blood and treasure, spent over decades, that set the conditions for the Taiwan miracle. There is no sense letting the sacrifices of Americans who fought and died for freedom in Asia be in vain. Washington must hold out until politics in China changes, which would pave the way for a peaceful democratic solution.
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Taiwan's upcoming elections on January 14th look set to be a close-run thing. In the presidential contest, incumbent Ma Ying-Jeou's Kuomintang (KMT) is locked in a tight race with Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Less important than the policy specifics of who prevails is the spectacle of a lively, democratic election in a free Chinese society. Taiwanese may rightly fear China's overweening military power and growing economic leverage. But it is rulers in Beijing who will watch nervously as citizens across the Taiwan Strait who look like them, speak their language, and share their culture freely and peacefully choose their leaders.
Unlike a senior Obama administration official -- who last September used an interview with the Financial Times to inappropriately inject Washington into Taiwanese domestic politics by suggesting that the United States did not believe Tsai Ing-wen was ready to govern - most Shadow Government types presumably hold no position on who should win on January 14th. The election is an opportunity, however, to highlight a troubling argument in American foreign policy circles over whether Taiwan has become a strategic liability for the United States.
A gathering debate is underway in Washington over whether Taiwan is a spoiler, rather than a partner, in America's Asia strategy as President Obama continues the efforts of Presidents Bush and Clinton to "pivot" towards the region.
The core of this argument assumes that relations between the United States and mainland China will define the 21st century -- and that they should not be held hostage to the legacy of the civil war between Chinese Nationalists and Communists in the 1940s. Why should Washington risk its relationship with the rising superpower of 1.3 billion people over its ties to a small island nation of only 23 million, given the high military and economic stakes for the United States of a conflicted relationship with Beijing? In this view, China and America could enjoy a fruitful partnership if only the thorn in the side of the relationship posed by U.S. arms sales to Taiwan could be removed. Without arms sales, of course, Taiwan would have no choice but to rapidly accept the mainland's terms for unification, irrespective of the views of the Taiwanese people.
But arguments to let Taiwan go get strategy backwards. First, cutting off an old U.S. ally at a time of rising tensions with an assertive China might do less to appease Beijing than to encourage its hopes to bully the United States into a further retreat from its commitments in East Asia. Second, it would transform the calculus of old American allies, like South Korea and Australia, who might plausibly wonder whether the U.S. commitment to their security is as flexible as it was towards Taiwan.
In particular, Japan, the United States' most important ally in Asia, may have few viable strategic options to maintain an independent foreign policy without a free Taiwan. As China's military power casts a growing shadow over its neighbors, Japan's capacity to maintain strategic choice may hinge on Taiwan's ability to retain autonomy from the mainland in ways that preclude a hostile China from projecting military power from Taiwan into the sea lanes that are the Japanese economy's lifeline.
Third, abandoning Taiwan would upend the calculations of new U.S. partners like India and Vietnam, whose leaders have made a bet on U.S. staying power and the associated benefits of strengthening relations with America as a hedge against China. Fourth, such preemptive surrender would reinforce what remains more a psychological than a material reality of China emerging as a global superpower of America's standing -- which it is not and may never be. Finally, and most importantly, it would resurrect the ghosts of Munich and Yalta, where great powers decided the fate of lesser nations without reference to their interests - or the human consequences of offering them up to satisfy the appetites of predatory great powers.
Taiwan's people may one day vote to reunify with (a politically liberalizing) China. The choice should be left to the Chinese and Taiwanese people, acting through legitimately elected leaders. That's why Taiwan's election this week -- made possible by a regional security environment underwritten by the United States and its allies -- is strategically significant, irrespective of who prevails.
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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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As I posted earlier, I have been in Singapore for a series of lectures and meetings with strategic studies specialists inside and outside of government, courtesy of the wonderful people at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. This was not my first visit to Southeast Asia, but it was my first (and hopefully not last) visit to Singapore.
I usually gain more from these exchanges than I give out, and that was the case this time. For folks who like to talk strategy -- and who like to sample extraordinary cuisines while doing so -- there is no place better than Singapore. Singapore is a tiny country, essentially a city-state, that punches well above its weight in international affairs both because of its record of economic success and because it takes seriously the need to think and act strategically. And, Singaporeans love to dine.
American visitors like myself get asked lots of tough questions and, since my visit coincided with the gruesome spectacle of the debt crisis, my answers often left me (and perhaps my audiences) second-guessing American power and purpose.
Still I had some takeaways:
Geostrategic tragedies happen when leaders hesitate to act and cling to beliefs in the face of all evidence. Prior to World War II, the British were confident that Singapore was an impregnable fortress, a "Gilbratar of the East." If the Japanese were foolhardy enough to attack it, the big guns on Singapore's hills would destroy the naval armada before it could reach the shore. And so they might have, if the Japanese had attacked from the sea. Instead, the Japanese launched an attack on the northern part of the Malaya peninsula and fought a bloody advance through the jungle in order to attack Singapore from Johore to the north, not, as the British expected, from the sea to the south. This strategic disaster unfolded over two months, so there was plenty of time for the British to adjust their defensive plans. But they didn't. Of course, the British also missed an opportunity perhaps to block the Japanese attack from the outset, if only the Brits had executed their planned preemptive raids to seize more advantageous terrain. But they didn't. And slowly, inexorably, the Japanese advanced until they trapped a very sizable British force in a tiny perimeter with limited water supplies. I kept asking myself as I visited those sites: are U.S. strategists clinging to mistaken beliefs that will come back to haunt us? Have we, through hesitation and uncertainty, ceded the initiative to forces that are not as complacent as we are?
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I know the U.S. is still recovering from the financial crisis.…Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military. Isn't that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers? If the U.S. could reduce its military spending a little and spend more on improving the livelihood of the American people and doing more good things for the world -- wouldn't that be a better scenario?"
This was the Chinese People's Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Gen. Chen Bingde's suggestion to Americans during the visit of his counterpart Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mullen. Well, we are obliging the Chinese general -- at least in part. We are cutting defense. General Chen would be especially happy to know that in particular we are foregoing investment in the types of systems that help keep us "present" in Asia -- though Admiral Mullen assured Asian audiences that we will be there for the long haul. Whether we are cutting defense in order to improve the livelihood of the American people is a separate, hotly debated question. Color me skeptical.
But on the first part of General Chen's suggestion, here is how we are heeding his advice. We are not properly resourcing: a) the submarines the Navy says it needs, or, for that matter, the number of ships in its own shipbuilding plan; b) stealthy tactical aircraft (by the Air Force's own account, they will face an 800-fighter shortfall later this decade); and c) a long-range bomber, now called "the long-range strike family of systems," particularly by those who think this system is silver bullet for our Asia posture. We were supposed to be deploying new bombers by 2018. Not a chance. The program is estimated to cost $40-50 billion in total, and respected aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia predicts that we will not see a new bomber until well into the next decade. Yes, that's right, a new bomber somewhere in the 2020s.
So General Chen, no need to worry about our defense spending -- we will not have enough submarines or tactical aircraft, and there is no new bomber on the horizon. All are supposed to play a role in the much vaunted AirSea Battle strategy that is our answer to China's growing military power.
But Mullen insists, as did Secretary Gates and other top U.S. leaders, we will still be there for our friends and our allies. Given the numbers, the next time a leading U.S. official insists that we are going to be "present" in Asia, journalists have a duty to ask, "With what?"
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Those who believe that the United States is no longer capable of strategic planning should pay a visit to the Pacific Command (PACOM), headed by the impressive Admiral Willard. Besides the almost unimaginable number of tasks associated with running a command of 325,000 personal that covers half of the globe, Admiral Willard has also charged himself and his staff with long-range strategic planning for this most vital of regions. Unfortunately, Washington is of little help. Not only can the bureaucracy (under any administration) no longer respond to anything but a day's events, but political leaders on both sides of the aisle have been asking PACOM to do more and more with less and less for over a decade.
What's more, PACOM has little strategic guidance. As a country, we vaguely know that we want to deter Chinese aggression while encouraging "responsible behavior"; integrate India as a full strategic partner; empower Southeast Asian countries as independent, prosperous, and hopefully democratic partners; encourage Japan to play a "normal" role; and denuclearize North Korea while working for eventual unification of the peninsula under Seoul's governance. But military staffs need to plan -- and no one knows for what exactly we are planning. Will we or won't we come to Taiwan's defense? Will we get into a conflict over disputes in the South China Sea? Will we intervene in a Sino-Japanese conflict? What if China is the main aggressor in a Korea conflagration? All unclear.
The situation is most akin to the years of "Orange" planning at the Naval War College that unfolded over the three decades before the Pacific War. We knew we might one day have to fight Imperial Japan, but we had no idea over what. We possessed the Philippines but we certainly would not go to war over those islands alone. Taiwan today is the closest analogue. It may be the trigger over a fight for, as Aaron Friedberg has put it, "mastery" or "supremacy over half the world."
While Taiwan may seem today to be an idiosyncratic American concern about democratic friends, if attacked the island may look like the place where China has chosen to change the global balance of power. Unfortunately, the years of "Orange" planning ended up in a horrific Pacific War. American ambiguity over red lines played its part in triggering that conflict. Japan attacked China with no response. Tokyo did not know if an invasion of Southeast Asia would be met with similar passivity. Finally, Japan decided that one decisive blow against the U.S. fleet in Hawaii would keep Washington out of the sphere of influence it was building in Asia. It was wrong.
Ambiguity has its place -- it allows for flexibility. In the case of Sino-American relations, ambiguity allows the United States to respond both to an aggressive China and one that does not repeat the mistakes of Imperial Japan. But clarity serves its purposes too. Secretaries Clinton and Gates, for example, proclaimed "core interests," as the Chinese would say, in freedom of navigation through the South China Sea; PACOM is now trying to interpret and operationalize Washington's guidance.
But an uneven commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act, a law that has helped to keep the cross-Strait peace for decades, only invites more Chinese probing and testing in the place where Beijing is most likely to challenge American staying power.
PACOM is doing its part to, as the military likes to say, "shape" the region in concert with U.S. interests -- through its planning, its robust program of engagement with allies and partners, and its very active and enduring presence. Besides the lack of clarity from Washington -- a function of the absence of effective strategic planning mechanisms -- political leaders are overtaxing the command charged with defense of the world's most vital region. We are slowly and without due deliberation heading toward the famous "Lippmann Gap" -- our declared interests in Asia keep growing, we ask PACOM to do what it can to advance them, but we starve them of resources to do the job. We are coming to a point where either we retrench from our commitments in Asia (a policy with untold consequences) or we decide as a nation to properly fund them.
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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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Two news items emanating from Vietnam in the past few days show the considerable challenges this promising nation still faces. The stories at first glance would seem to have little in common. The first, from the Washington Post, relates an appalling incident in which Vietnamese security thugs attacked a U.S. diplomat attempting to visit the dissident and Catholic priest, Father Nguyen Van Ly, under house arrest. The second, from the New York Times, describes the economic turbulence besetting Vietnam as its state-run industries and unstable currency face the harsh reality checks of international finance and market forces. Undergirding both stories is a common theme: the liability of one-party rule by Vietnam's Communist Party and its decrepit authoritarianism.
Much of the prevailing debate about the Chinese model of authoritarian capitalism (and its Russian cousin) overshadows the fact that other nations, such as Vietnam, are trying to follow a similar path. It is a mixed record. Since Vietnam's Politburo inaugurated the "Doi Moi" economic liberalization reforms in 1986, the country has experienced substantial growth averaging around 7 percent per year. Behind these impressive numbers are the countless Vietnamese citizens whose lives and livelihoods have been considerably improved over the past two decades.
Yet as the late economist Herb Stein declared in his eponymous law: "if something cannot go on forever, it will stop." Such is the case with the hopes for enduring growth in a brittle system such as Vietnam's, where the Communist Party still plans much of the economic activity and vainly tries to insulate its state-owned enterprises from market discipline. The Times story includes a statistic that dramatizes the inefficiency of Vietnam's government-owned companies: they absorb 40 percent of the capital invested in the country but produce only 25 percent of its gross domestic product. Such capital misallocations are having deleterious consequences, such as inflation, credit rating downgrades, rising interest rates, and a stagnant stock market.
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The Obama administration had a relatively good year in Asia (relative, that is, to its disastrous first year), but it still must follow up and break bad habits, as my colleague and former State Department official Randy Schriver likes to say. They stood up to China's bullying in the South China Sea, declaring that freedom of navigation and the peaceful resolution of disputes are American "core interests." They finally signed the most significant free trade agreement since NAFTA, with South Korea. When President Obama went to India he removed barriers to high-technology exports and pressed for more business-to-business ties. In Indonesia, he signed a number of agreements that should help both trade and defense relations. The administration accepted an invitation to the East Asia Summit, which is very important to Southeast Asians and will make it easier to forge lasting bonds in the region.
Now for the critique. The administration seems ready to go wobbly on North Korea, and in the process China. It has shifted from supporting whatever tough measures President Lee Myung-bak wanted to take to nudging him back to the failed six-party talks and congratulating China for its diplomacy in getting North Korea to signal agreement to talk. This is the worst of the bad habits in Asia we must break. The North did not just test a missile this time; they twice killed South Koreans in cold blood last year. No president can allow his people to be killed without responding. We seem not to understand that. The first task for the U.S. and South Korea is to re-establish deterrence, which could well mean proportionate retaliation against the North.
Instead, we are falling back on the same old failed patterns. The North commits an act of aggression and eventually China urges their ally back to the table. Washington then falls over itself complimenting China for its diplomatic skill. This will not get the North to denuclearize or stop its aggression. And it is dangerous. North Korea can continue to commit acts of war with impunity while China simply looks the other way. It will only lead to more attacks on South Korea and is more likely to lead to conflict -- South Korea will eventually have to strike back. Instead, we should thank China very much for its efforts, cut Beijing out of any future talks we wish to have with North Korea, re-establish deterrence, and implement a number of coercive measures against the North to rebuild our negotiating leverage. Not only would direct talks backed up by coercion put us in a more powerful position with North Korea, if carefully orchestrated with our allies, but China might fear being excluded from future arrangements on the peninsula and pressure its friends in Pyongyang to abide by international rules.
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The biggest disappointment of President Barack Obama's Asia trip was his failure to strike an agreement on the Korea-United States Free Trade Agreement in Seoul. His biggest success was his embrace of a transformative partnership with India. The president can now claim ownership of a relationship that has been on the rocks since he took office, and he deserves considerable credit for arguing that India's rise and success as a future democratic superpower is a core interest of the United States.
The president's vision of a far-reaching partnership with India -- to manage global diplomatic and security challenges, tie the two countries together in a mutually beneficial economic embrace, and promote freedom and rule of law in Asia and beyond -- was bracing. Obama's warm reception by the Indian parliament, commentariat, and public bodes well for future ties between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies.
In New Delhi, Obama made a strong case for strengthening Indo-U.S. ties -- and to create an "indispensable" partnership that would help define the course of the 21st century:
Now, India is not the only emerging power in the world. But the relationship between our countries is unique. For we are two strong democracies whose constitutions begin with the same revolutionary words -- the same revolutionary words -- "We the people." We are two great republics dedicated to the liberty and justice and equality of all people. And we are two free market economies where people have the freedom to pursue ideas and innovation that can change the world. And that's why I believe that India and America are indispensable partners in meeting the challenges of our time… The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power, we fervently support it, and we have worked to help make it a reality… [P]romoting shared prosperity, preserving peace and security, strengthening democratic governance and human rights -- these are the responsibilities of leadership. And as global partners, this is the leadership that the United States and India can offer in the 21st century.
Obama's expressed ambitions for Indo-U.S. ties came just in time to check a growing chorus in Washington of pessimism toward the relationship. Most prominent among the skeptics is George Perkovich, the esteemed vice president for studies of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, whose foundational book on India's development of nuclear weapons was an inspiration for this author, and many others, to embrace the study of India. Dr. Perkovich was an India expert long before it was popular, so his arguments carry great weight. That is why his recent Carnegie report arguing that India cannot be the partner the United States wants it to be -- and that ambitions of the kind Obama expressed for the relationship are actually harmful to it -- deserves attention.
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Within a week of suffering the biggest midterm drubbing in generations, President Barack Obama will depart on a trip to India, Indonesia, Japan and Korea. How the president handles this trip will speak volumes about how he sees his agenda for the next two years and how much of an international president he really is.
The first test will be whether he takes the trip at all. Democratic Party strategists and other influential pundits have already begun questioning why he would go abroad and let Republicans seize the narrative at the most crucial point in his presidency. On CNN, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, David Gergen, warned the White House against making the same mistake Clinton made when he went abroad in the wake of Republican midterm victories in November 1994. Will they cancel? The president has already put off previously scheduled trips to India and Indonesia because of domestic political developments. On the other hand, the White House likes to claim this is the first "Pacific president," because Obama grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii (though other presidents like William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy had plenty of experience in the Pacific as well, of course), and that the United States is "back" in Asia (though commentators across the region are asking when the United States ever left). All of this spin -- the first "Pacific president" and the "we're back in Asia" mantra -- would go flying out the window if the president cancelled his trip. Clinton was right not to cancel his international travel in 1994 -- it would have made the presidency appear even weaker. That would have been disastrous politics and worse geostrategy. So odds are pretty good that the president will go on the trip (fingers crossed).
The next test will be how the president handles ten days of hounding from the press about electoral defeats while he is in Asia. And the press will hound -- no doubt about it. Maybe if North Korea fires artillery across the DMZ during the G-20 summit in Seoul or China attacks the Senkaku Islands while the president is in Japan, the press corps might be distracted from domestic U.S. politics to focus briefly on international events. Or maybe the president will dig deep into his oratorical tool box to help shift the media's focus to U.S. interests in Asia -- the continent projected to contribute 60 percent of global GDP in our lifetime. He will have real occasion to look presidential again if he avoids the trivia of fact sheets and joint statements and presents a vision for international U.S. leadership. The visit to Indonesia -- the world's largest Muslim nation and one that proves Islam and democracy coexist-- could be a moment for articulating a real message about the compatibility of democratic values and Muslim faith. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama would be the place to remind Americans that over 50 percent of our trade is with this dynamic region, and that the United States can and must compete. The stops in India, Japan and Korea would be the right settings for explaining why investing in our strategic partnerships and alliances will pay dividends in terms of tackling the challenges we face internationally. The president must not re-fight the midterm, appear defensive, or make the narrative about himself (the last of these being the default narrative of the White House on foreign trips thus far). He must ignore what John McCain would call the "ground noise" and talk about the United States and Asia. The press might just listen. The region certainly will.
The third test will be on trade. If there is one area where the White House should be able to work with a more Republican Congress, it is on trade. And if there is one policy area Asia is watching to see if Washington is committed, it's trade. The president has said that he wants the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) ready to present to Congress (again) by the end of the year, but the administration has done no heavy lifting to get to that point (all the action has been aimed at pressing the Koreans to make further compromises). Fair enough -- there were elections coming up, and it may have been unrealistic to expect a Democratic White House to take on its labor union base when turnout was so critical to their electoral strategy. This trip is the time to demonstrate not only the hope that KORUS will be introduced this year, but the intention to do so in partnership with Republicans willing to work for its passage. It would set a tone that Asia would welcome and that Americans desiring more bipartisanship in Washington would be thankful for.
The president's Asia trip should not be seen by the White House as an unfortunate distraction, but instead as a real test of presidential leadership -- one that will help the president and the country if he approaches it the right way.
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How can we make sense of a People's Republic of China that is supposed to be, in the words of Deng Xiaoping, "biding its time and hiding its capabilities," but in fact is picking fights with most of its neighbors, including the United States? The Chinese were supposed to be using their deep reservoirs of "soft power" and practicing a highly skilled diplomacy aimed at assuring all that China is rising peacefully. But over the past year, Beijing has been rather more clumsy than the caricature of Chinese cleverness might suggest. China has in effect declared the entire South China Sea -- a body of water that is of critical importance for its abundance of natural resources and for its position as the maritime connection between the Indian and Pacific Oceans -- to be its territorial water.
Needless to say, this has not gone over well with Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations. And, just when it appeared that China would return to a lighter touch in the face of strong U.S. resistance to its South China Sea claims, Beijing bullied and coerced Japan into circumventing its legal processes after a Chinese fishing trawler rammed Japanese ships in the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chains. In sum, China's exercise of power has been more hard than soft. Beijing seems to be neither "biding its time" nor rising peacefully.
A recent book helps explain how PRC leaders think about the world and what may lead China to engage in the behavior we and our allies find offensive. In The Mind of Empire China's History and Foreign Relations, Christopher Ford makes a persuasive case for hardwired cultural conditioning as an explanation for China's imperious behavior. China possesses, well, the mind of an empire. According to Ford, Chinese history has no precedent for stable coexistence among sovereign equals. Moreover, struggle over primacy within China and later with other states is a fairly continuous characteristic of Chinese history. Here is Ford:
The Chinese tradition has as its primary model of interstate relations a system in which the focus of national policy is in effect a struggle for primacy and legitimate stable order is possible when one power reigns supreme-by direct bureaucratic control of the Sinic geographic core and by at least tributary relationships with all other participants in the world system.
According to Ford, China has an enduring sense of global order. Beijing assumes that the "natural order" of the political world is hierarchical and the idea of truly separate and independent states is illegitimate.
But wait, some might argue, what about China's embrace -- if not sanctification -- of the Western construct of international relations: Non-interference in the affairs of other sovereign states? If China's natural place is atop a Sino-centric hierarchy, and other sovereign states are lesser entities that should pay deference to China, then why use the histrionic defense of Westphalian norms which codifies equal status among states?
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I worked in the Obama administration as director for Afghanistan and Pakistan through September 2009, covering much of the timeframe of Bob Woodward's new book Obama's Wars. I was one of several holdovers who helped provide continuity from the previous administration. This is the first in a series of posts responding to the book and to the administration's Afghanistan policy. I did not personally witness most of the discussions that Woodward describes, but I typically received detailed readouts from those who did. I also left just prior to the fall 2009 strategy review, and I do maintain relationships with some of the people mentioned herein. With those disclaimers, I think the book is quite accurate in tone and substance.
The most damning insight of the book is not the inter-office gossip -- e.g., who is a "waterbug" or who thinks Holbrooke is "arrogant." That stuff happens in every administration, every professional workplace, and, frankly, every gathering of human beings. More damning is the poor quality of discussion at the principals' level. The president himself said as much himself at one point, according to Woodward, expressing displeasure with the strategy review. The principals' discussion wandered back and forth, re-trod the same ground again and again without fresh insights, failed to resolve basic questions, and ultimately settled on a policy that reflected compromise, large assumptions, and the search for a least-common-denominator consensus.
I want to focus on just one example today. According to Woodward, Vice President Joe Biden and, separately, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg were concerned that Afghanistan was becoming "another Vietnam." Such concerns led them and others to argue against troop increases and in favor of limiting U.S. goals and commitments in the region.
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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.