Shadow Government

Is the Asia pivot coming apart on trade?

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

Shadow Government

The shifting U.S.-China nuclear balance

I read Jeffrey Lewis' FP blog post with interest because he highlights the nuclear balance between the United States and China, a topic that deserves greater attention than it has gotten.

Recent years have seen growing attention to China's fielding of so-called anti-access/area denial systems, including an increasing number of accurate conventional ballistic missiles to strike airbases and other facilities in the Western Pacific and anti-ship ballistic missiles to target mobile power projection forces like carrier strike groups. To date, however, the nuclear dimension of Chinese military modernization has received less attention. Still, in recent months, China's military has reportedly tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-41, which is reportedly equipped with multiple, independently-targeted re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs, as well as its new JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). China's nuclear buildup remains unconstrained by strategic arms limitation agreements, such as the Russo-American New START Treaty, as well as arms control affecting ballistic and cruise missiles, such as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

In Lewis' view, the path to stability is predicated on the United States and China accepting mutual nuclear vulnerability. Indeed, his discussion of the Sino-American nuclear balance takes mutual vulnerability as its starting point. He goes on to argue that "Our refusal to recognize that vulnerability is simply a fact of life essentially blocks a productive dialogue with Chinese leaders."

There is, however, plenty of room to question whether Chinese political or military leaders share our perspective. Indeed, official publications of the People's Liberation Army such as the Science of Second Artillery Campaigns show that the Chinese military views nuclear weapons much differently than American strategic thinkers. Other books, such as Coercive Deterrence Warfare, portray launching missiles in close proximity to enemy forces as a form of deterrence.  In other words, official literature espouses some very different -- and potentially very dangerous -- notions.

Writing in the latest issue of The Journal of Strategic Studies (which, in the interest of full disclosure, I edit) Tom Christensen of Princeton University argues that Chinese leaders believe that they are only now acquiring a secure second-strike capability. As a result, he raises the possibility that China will become bolder as the quantity and quality of its nuclear force increases. China's nuclear modernization program may thus have greater consequences for China's behavior than is commonly believed.

On the other side, as Dana Priest recently described in the Washington Post, the United States has an aging nuclear arsenal. The newest weapon in the U.S. nuclear force was designed and deployed in 1991. U.S. nuclear weapons, all of which are at least 20 years old, were designed for an expected operational life of 10-15 years. You can count the number of U.S. weapons laboratory employees who have actually designed a nuclear weapon on one hand -- and the number will only get smaller over time.

The Obama administration is committed to the elimination of nuclear weapons and has reportedly been conducting internal studies envisioning massive cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. A number of policy makers with whom I've spoken in recent weeks tell me that if Obama is re-elected, he will seek to slash unilaterally the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. Such a move could grant China nuclear parity with the United States, or at least put it in reach. Such a move would give China greater nuclear leverage not through an expensive buildup on their side, but through disarmament on ours.

Although there is much in Jeffrey Lewis' piece with which I disagree, I do believe that the United States and China should enter into more serious discussions about nuclear weapons. Indeed, I believe that the United States should refuse to enter into future nuclear arms limitation talks without the participation of the Chinese. A failure to do so could jeopardize the nuclear balance that has underpinned American and allied security since the end of World War II.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images