Nuclear war or the status quo: How Chinese-American confrontation over North Korea might play out

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The Telegraph, 19 April 2017

The situation on the Korean Peninsula has now escalated to a level of crisis last seen during the Korean War. As I have written here, President Trump has decided to approach North Korea as a Chinese problem, demanding the Chinese provide the solution.

In this judgement, he is partly correct in that Beijing has long been the sponsor, ally, and diplomatic friend to the world’s last Stalinist regime. Unlike the United States which stopped a South Korean nuclear programme in 1975, Beijing has shirked its duty regarding its odd ally.

Then, in the Six Party Talks – during the noughties – China behaved like an impartial chairman, assuming that Pyongyang’s growing nuclear strike capability was America’s problem. Finally, under the Obama administration, when Washington was frustrated and exhausted by the North’s bait-and-switch diplomacy and provocations, Beijing fell back on well-worn phrases to “resume talks” and “avoid conflict”.

Subsequently, it has either watered down sanctions in the United Nations, or watered them down at the border, where a large black market economy keeps the isolated regime awash in products, including military hardware.

Trump’s threat of a unilateral strike then is for Beijing as much as it is for Pyongyang. His goal? To make China realise that not stopping North’ Korea’s nuclear programme will have negative consequences for Beijing too.

Interestingly, his gambit also reveals that the only non-military options left on the table are in China’s hands now. As the largest provider of aid and trade with the North, it holds the stongest cards. So, what will the Chinese do? There are really three scenarios:

The best-case scenario

In this scenario, Trump’s policy of linking the North Korea issue to the US-China trade relationship works and China begins taking US (and South Korean and Japanese) preferences seriously. Working together in the UN Security Council, Beijing and Washington write a new range of comprehensive sanctions that cover a wider range of government entities.

Nearly all government or military entities are carefully screened against their contribution to North Korea’s war machine. Russian President Vladimir Putin decides not to play the opportunist and holds back as the two put the squeeze on the regime.

Meanwhile, senior Chinese envoys to Pyongyang deliver a message: get rid of the nuclear programme and we will remain allies and we will put you under our nuclear umbrella; maintain them and gain our enmity. While this option has an attractive allure, it rests on the vagaries of the US-China relationship, which are – after all – in an advanced stage of Thucydidean tension.

The mid-way course

In the mid-way scenario, Beijing decides that its hand is actually quite strong, that Trump lacks the domestic support for a hot war against Pyongyang as well as the elite support for a trade war against China.

It shrugs off his offer to go softer on trade issues, seeing the shift away from economic nationalism inside the White House, as tilting largely in its favour.

Not one to lose an opportunity, Moscow offers economic aid and moral courage to Pyongyang, seeing the entire episode as a way to gain leverage in its Syria position vis a vis the West.

Finally, US allies South Korea and Japan attempt to steer the diplomatic solution back to the Six Party Talks – or at least something similar – where they have a say in the outcome.

Seoul’s new president Moon Jae-in wastes no time in offering a separate peace dialogue to “his brother” Kim Jong-un, who gratefully seizes this chance to divide the Seoul from Washington’s warm embrace.

The end result? A restart of a multilateral dialogue, which essentially brings us back to 2007, when all five states failed to persuade the North to verify its disarmament.

Except this time, North Korea has no intention of disarming and is blackmailing the region for energy supplies. Most dangerously, this scenario of status quo risks a domino effect of other states in the region arming themselves with independent nuclear programmes against the rogue North Koreans.

The worst-case scenario

While one hopes that the Armageddon scenario is only a hypothetical, it must be remembered that in a theatre littered with large concentrations of highly-armed forces, miscalculations can occur at the unit level.

Perhaps heeding the US willingness to strike pre-emptively, North Korea might strike first, launching medium-range ballistic missiles and American bases and targets in Japan and South Korea, while also firing salvos of conventional shells at Seoul from its 13,000 artillery pieces arrayed along the border.

US fifth generation fighters and bombers might respond by striking entrenched artillery positions and chasing down elusive and camouflaged mobile missile systems, while also destroying any North Korean armour attempting to mass near the border.

While such an air war might go in the favour of US and South Korean air forces, two major questions remain: Would China become involved as it did in 1951? Would Chinese jets begin shooting down American pilots over Korean skies? And how quickly would the beleaguered North resort to using its small but potent nuclear arsenal?

Given the easy striking distance of Seoul, Incheon, Tokyo, and Osaka, these two questions could potentially affect millions of lives.

When President Obama met President-elect Trump at the White House, he warned him that North Korea would be a priority for the administration. It’s no wonder that President Obama chose “strategic patience” over action these past eight years. There are few good options on the table.

The only possible win for Trump rests with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Depending on how you view it, that gives one of these two men a strong hand. Let’s hope that whoever that is, he seeks a resolution that is in all of our interests.


 North Korea in for some Trump-style shock and awe

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The Interpreter, 14th April, 2017,

President Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he announced news of a US military strike on Syria to a stunned Xi Jinping on the final evening of the US-China Summit at Mar-e-Lago last weekend. Trump significantly raised the stakes for China on North Korea, and along with the news that the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group (CSG) had been rerouted from a planned trip to Australia to the Korean Peninsula, it told Beijing that the Administration means business.

It is already apparent that Trump’s North Korea approach is different from any of his predecessors. For one thing, he has eschewed the delicate issue of Chinese support for the rogue regime and essentially asserted that a Chinese problem demands a Chinese solution. Echoing Hwang Jang Yop, one of the most senior defectors from North Korea, Jim Schoff, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace states, ‘Trump needs a lot of help from China to make it (a deal) even potentially viable’.

By ordering the Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula in the wake of the Syria strikes, Trump puts his strongest card on the table: the possibility of unilateral military action, a nightmare scenario for China. With wide-ranging capacity to deliver deadly strikes with cruise missiles and air-to-ground munitions, the Carl Vinson and her strike group give Trump leverage that no other American president has applied to the Korean Peninsula. And while a conflict on the Peninsula is a horror scenario, it’s not clear that doing nothing is better. Sitting tight will eventually put the American heartland within range of North Korean nuclear missiles, raising the prospect that Pyongyang will see US nuclear deterrence as checked. This could in turn lead to North Korean adventurism against the South.

Moving the USS Carl Vinson is designed to intensify pressure on China to break out of the current impasse. The fundamental question is how Beijing will react to Trump’s gambit. Will China use its considerable means to stop the North Korea nuclear program – as once the US did with its allies in South Korea and Taiwan – or will it continue to insist that North Korea is somebody else’s problem?

Repeating a well-worn formula, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called for caution, with spokesman Hua Chunying asking all parties to ‘exercise restraint and avoid activities that may escalate tensions’. Such phrases, trotted out after every North Korean provocation or missile test, have been shorn of meaning and indicate China is still playing on the idea that North Korea is someone else’s problem. China has long held that it is unable to put sufficient pressure on Pyongyang because it is fearful that a strong international response towards North Korea’s nuclear program could trigger the regime’s collapse. But while a collapse of North Korea would be a disaster for the Chinese, it is unclear that full sanctions and a unified approach wouldn’t push North Korean leaders to back down long before a collapse occurred.

By holding up the worst-case scenario as the only scenario, China avoids having to deal more stringently with its ally. Yet when the US pressured Seoul to give up its nuclear program in 1975, South Korea did not immediately collapse like a house of cards. So the idea that Kim Jong-un would persist with nuclear weapons in the face of a unified sanctions regime by every major power in Asia is uncertain, to say the least. And Beijing could sweeten the deal by offering Pyongyang an alternative, like the nuclear umbrella that the US offers its allies.

Perhaps Trump’s instinctive approach toward policy will pay dividends. On Monday, a top Chinese envoy on North Korea, Wu Dawei, met with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Hong-kyun, agreeing that both countries would take stronger action if North Korea tested more nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles. Given China’s tendency for vacuous statements, this is a step in the right direction. President Xi urged Trump to pursue a ‘peaceful resolution to the tensions’ during a phone call the two leaders made on Wednesday. Such rhetoric can only be due to China taking Trump’s moves on North Korea seriously, at least in part. Trump after all tweeted less than a fortnight ago that he was prepared to act unilaterally against North Korea if it does not come to heel. Whatever China’s doubts, the missile strike against Assad displayed in dramatic fashion that Trump is willing to intervene suddenly in situations that others believe to be frozen and immune to intervention.

Trump may have little time to act. The coming election in South Korea is widely predicted to bring to power a government soft on North Korea. Moon Jae-in, the likely election winner, has said no military action can be conducted without South Korean consent and that ‘South Korea should be the owner of North Korean issues’. This is meant to signal that Moon does not want either the US or China to take control of the North Korean problem, an understandable position given Seoul’s fate if military conflict does take place. Trump’s policy pushes the ball into Beijing’s court, not Seoul’s, and this will rankle with the left-of-centre Moon.

North Korea has reacted with predicable outrage both to America’s Syria strike and the deployment of the carrier group. It has called the attack on Assad ‘absolutely unpardonable’ and claims it is ready for war with the US if provoked. A spokesman from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ‘sudden’ dispatch of the carrier task group to the peninsula is evidence that Washington’s ‘reckless moves of invading the DPRK have reached a serious phase of its scenario’. There is no doubt that the presence of the carrier group will make North Korea feel extremely vulnerable in coming days. The danger is, of course, that it acts pre-emptively, as befitting a military and negotiating culture that has been honed under immense pressure.

All eyes are on Beijing, and the coming weeks will be critical to the course of the Korean confrontation. This month, North Korea marks several major anniversaries, the most important of which, the ‘Day of the Sun’ on 15 April, is the birthday of the state’s founder Kim Il-Sung. Significant anniversaries are usually celebrated with demonstrations of military might and weapons tests. As the carrier group moves closer to North Korea, one wonders how this day will be commemorated in the last Stalinist state.


The North’s nuclear brinkmanship is all too rational

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The Telegraph, 16 April, 2017

There are two questions which at some point occur to every Western observer of the North Korean government. The first is: are they serious? The second is: are they utterly mad?

Donald Trump’s threat this weekend of a pre-emptive strike if North Korea carries out any new nuclear tests has raised tensions on the peninsula to a level unseen since the Korean War. Many have sought to blame him for it. But in truth, the so-called Democratic People’s Republic has made such a confrontation inevitable with its persistently outrageous behaviour.

For this rogue state it is not enough to threaten the world with nuclear war. Nor is it enough to bombard us with hyperbolic language, such as the promise last year to turn South Korea into a “sea of fire”. No, North Korea also seems to lack the moral compass of even the most hardened criminal states. It has, to list only a few transgressions, mass-produced and smuggled illegal narcotics through its diplomatic carrier bags; counterfeited international currencies on an industrial scale; abducted non-Korean citizens to help train its spies; been implicated in the black market arms trade; and carried out high-profile assassinations in other countries.

For most Europeans the concept of the concentration camp seems a dark relic of history, but according to a UN report there are 80,000 to 120,000 inmates still languishing in North Korean camps as you read these words.

It is tempting to attribute North Korea’s behaviour to crazed ideology. It is the last hold-out of 1930s Stalinism, and some say it out-Stalins Stalin himself. But despite all the trappings of a Soviet state – the “people’s army”, the party bureaucracy, the secret police – it is also a neo-Confucian feudal kingdom, with a leadership in its third generation. It uses a Kantian concept of “willpower” as a mobiliser of the people, pushing its citizens to any sacrifice or hardship and ensuring their compliance with a cradle-to-grave secret police state.

Yet there is method to the madness. The regime’s rhetoric and posturing derives from its origins as a small partisan group, trained by the KGB to fight larger, better equipped foes such as the Japanese army, which brutally occupied Korea from 1910 until 1945.

Donald Trump’s threat therefore fits perfectly in the regime’s narrative. And that narrative leads it to respond to said threats with the most aggressive rhetoric possible. It routinely escalates things to a level no other state would dare. It previously threatened nuclear war in 2013 when the UN Security Council approved new sanctions.

The rest of the world has become used to this behaviour and has adjusted its expectations accordingly. So the answer to the question “are they serious?” is no, not entirely. While we should not dismiss the danger, this is ultimately brinkmanship in the inimitable DPRK style.

Such is the regime’s paranoia, however, that no amount of American diplomacy has persuaded it to let go of its fears. Bill Clinton’s effort in 1994 was said to have been undermined by a secret parallel DPRK uranium enrichment programme. The 2003 Six Party Talks failed because the North Koreans would not allow independent observers to verify the deconstruction of their weapons.

Barack Obama attempted a moratorium on long-range missile tests, but the North Korean diplomats stormed out of the room after learning that their “innocent” satellite launches would also be prohibited. Each time a new US administration has approached the issue, the same regime has been looking back.

Then there is China. Beijing has subtly undermined every Western attempt at diplomacy or sanctions so far, either watering down sanctions at the UN or watering them down at the border where trucks and ships regularly cross as part of a black market which helps sustain the North Korean economy. China has intervened to prevent sanctioning of the companies involved, and recent demonstrations of stopping coal shipments were merely cosmetic. The most egregious example was in 2012, when Chinese-built mobile missile launchers took part in a military parade in downtown Pyongyang in full view of international journalists.

Contrast this behaviour to that of the USA during the Cold War, when it stopped South Korea and Taiwan from obtaining nuclear weapons. For the Americans, China’s reluctance to rein in the DPRK has put regional security in jeopardy. So Mr Trump’s game is clearly to approach this mess as China’s problem, and make it put pressure on its treaty ally – perhaps to halt its nuclear programme.

But would North Korea accept such a deal, even if China were to offer it? Probably not. Seeing the fate of Libya as instructive, North Korean officials point out the dangers in believing in Western assurances. After all, their human rights abuses outshine those of the Gaddafi regime by some measure. Nor is it clear that Kim Jong-un can persuade the military to disarm. While the Kim family is at the top of the pile in North Korea, they buy the military’s support through the Songun ideology, which means “military first” when it comes to allocation of resources. Without it, the Kims cannot govern.

This is the ultimate block to any agreement. Hwang Jang-yop, the most senior North Korea official to defect, once alleged that the military’s primary raison d’être was to unify Korea, by force if necessary. Its generals are true believers in this cause. From that perspective, nukes change everything. With them in play the USA might not risk using its own nuclear weapons if the North invaded the South. So nuclear weapons are essential to maintaining even the ghost of a credible invasion threat – and if Kim Jong-un backed down on that, how long would he last in power?

This is a question we may soon see answered. But it helps explain why the North Korean leadership are at least not completely mad. When it comes to the power of the atom, they are tragically, dangerously sane.


Can Donald Trump and Xi Jinping keep their relationship off the track to war?

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The Telegraph, 6 April, 2017

Today sees the first day of a historic US-China summit in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, which will see two strongmen, Xi Jinping and Donald Trump sitting down together and thrashing out bilateral economic and security issues. Seen by many Washington insiders as premature, the summit with China seems to have come before President Trump has fully fleshed out his cabinet, and, some would say, before he has fleshed out his Asia policy. Whatever the case, the White House has indicated that North Korea, trade, and the South China Sea will be high on the agenda for the US side. For the man who talked of China over and over again on the campaign trail, a meeting with the Chinese president has been a long time in coming.

For his part, China’s President Xi Jinping has played China’s cards close to his chest. The China Daily, a state-owned newspaper, claimed the meeting was merely for the two leaders to “compare notes” and “help stabilize political relations” between the two. The ultimate aim being to avoiding what many academics call the “Thucydides Trap” in which an established power’s fear of a rising power leads to escalation and eventually war. Despite Trump’s fiery campaign rhetoric about China “raping” the US, manipulating its currency, and stealing American jobs, Beijing has muted its response to these charges, preferring to see him as a businessman, with whom they can make a deal.

Certainly, he presents a challenge. According to Fred Fleitz, a former Bush appointee, “China is coming here to try to figure Trump out.” In an age of twenty-four hour news, tweeting, and rapidly-changing policy positions, it is rare for political figures to defy interpretation.

So will the Chinese give him a deal? Some have argued that they will give him some sort of concession over North Korea. Not that Beijing genuinely believes US threats to consider “all options on the table”, i.e. military means, but they recognize serious signalling when they see it. They’ll also know that even rhetoric could on its own push the paranoid regime in Pyongyang into some new rash action. They may also recognize that Washington’s 20-year strategic patience has given way as the North’s missile range has crept towards the continental United States. Giving Trump a new tighter sanctions regime works because in the end nothing is given away. Such sanctions can always be watered down or circumnavigated later; trade is notoriously difficult to verify on the North-China border.

More importantly, the appearance of giving way on North Korea disarms Trump’s biggest gambit, which will be on trade and the economy, his key interest. The United States gave China most-favoured trading nation status decades ago, has invested trillions into China’s once-agrarian economy, and helped it into the World Trade Organization. According to Trump, the loss of American jobs, manufacturing, and intellectual property to China have been down to poor negotiation by past administrations. Peter Trubowitz, Director of the US Centre at the London School of Economics, believes that “Trump will want to have it both ways, signalling a deep concern with Chinese trading practices, but you won’t see him slapping a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese goods”. Pressure, he says, will come from Congress, which will seek to create a border adjustment tax – something that will deeply affect Chinese imports.

As for claims that Trump has no discernible policy on Asia, as I have written here, Peter Navarro, the head of Trump’s National Trade Council has sketched out a Reaganesque “peace through strength” approach toward China in his 2015 book Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World. In he states that trade, and domestic reform of America’s infrastructure and tax policy will be the key means for the US to bolster its comprehensive power. This will help build the 350-ship navy that will deter Chinese adventurism. This indicates that the Trump administration sees the South China Sea as a critical strategic waterway, and will continue to contest Chinese attempts to control it.

The fact that Randall Schriver, protégé of Richard Armitage (a senior official during the Bush administration with long-standing ties to the region), is being vetted for the top Asia job in the State Department will relieve US allies in the region. With decades of experience of alliance policy in the region, Schriver also brings close ties to Taiwan with the job. While Schriver has yet to be accepted, one reading of his appointment is that he provides a steady hand with allies, while bolstering the status quo in the Taiwan Strait through deterrence.

Time will only tell whether the two states can avoid the Thucydides Trap.


America has a THAAD Missile Problem in Korea– It Must Move Quickly and Carefully to Resolve It

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With Jake Ramsamugh, Researcher, Henry Jackson Society

IAPS Dialogue, 6 April, 2017

As President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping sit down together in Florida, it is clear that the White House’s priority is the Korean peninsula. North Korea’s nuclear missile program is putting the American mainland increasingly in range, changing the strategic calculus in Washington.

The Pentagon stresses that its THAAD missile defence system is intended to protect South Korea and Japan from a North Korean nuclear missile strike, but China worries that it will compromise its position in the Pacific region. The deployment was arranged during the final months of the Obama administration with the now deposed South Korean President, Park Geun-hye. Unsettlingly for the new US administration, the next presumptive President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, favours a much more cooperative approach toward North Korea and may order the removal of the missile system. China’s anger and Moon’s coolness to THAAD contrast starkly with President Trump’s brash attitude towards diplomacy and his determination to “solve North Korea”.

Whether or not THAAD is maintained in South Korea, things are headed toward crisis-level on the Peninsula.

THAAD, a US operated anti-ballistic missile system, is expected to be fully operational in South Korea by the summer. In many ways, it is difficult to understand why the Chinese resent the system so much. With an effective range of over 200 kilometres, it is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles at speeds of over Mach 8 and is a defensive, rather than offensive system. The missiles do not even carry warheads, relying solely on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy incoming missiles. Despite this, China’s Ambassador to South Korea, Qiu Guohong, has gone so far as to say that the deployment of the system could destroy the Beijing-Seoul relationship “in an instant”. It appears that the main sticking point for the Chinese is the powerful X-band radar that is part of the missile systems compliment. It has a far-reaching detection range, capable of penetrating Chinese territory. Here in lies China’s fears, as theoretically speaking, using the long range radar the US could spy on Chinese air force activities.

The recently ousted President Park took a firm policy line against North Korea, advocating a stronger South Korean military contribution to the US-Korean alliance, and vowed not to be threatened by North Korean provocations. However, her fall from power, after a corruption scandal now put the agreement at risk. Fresh presidential elections are due in May and the front-runner, Moon Jae-in, has a very different policy stance towards the North. A former aide to former President Roh Moo-hyun, Moon’s policies are often referred to as “Sunshine Policy 2.0”. If he wins the election on May 9th – as polls currently predict – he will likely soften his country’s policy towards North Korea and consider removing THAAD from South Korea.

In a major policy speech last month Moon stated, “We have no choice but to recognize Kim Jong Un as a counterpart” signalling his intent to pursue a more cooperative partnership with rogue state to the north. This poses a serious break with US policy which has become even more determined to tackle the “big, big problem” that Trump sees with North Korea. Worse still – from Trump’s point of view – Moon may also see getting rid of THAAD as a way of buying Chinese favour and of calming the growing crisis in Sino-Korean relations.

So what are Trump’s options? The President, a former businessman, is well known for his “never back down” negotiation attitude. Nevertheless, he may want to tread lightly if he wants to balance coming down hard on North Korea, maintaining South Korea as a close partner and calming Chinese concerns over THAAD’s deployment. In response to North Korean escalation of its nuclear programme China has banned coal imports from the country but, as North Korea imports most of its energy and food supplies from China, analysts say that it’s not enough. A possible route for Trump is to craft a deal that would involve China drastically increasing its economic sanctions against the rouge state in return for a drawdown of THAAD. This option could have the potential to please everyone. It will ensure that a South Korea under Moon would not drift away from the US towards China, as it would meet his desire to have the missiles removed from the country. China would be also be comforted by the removal of THAAD. North Korea may be squeezed so tightly that it may have to draw back on its nuclear ambitions and Donal Trump get to play the deal-maker.

If Trump still wants to play hard ball with North Korea he is going to need to face down these two major problems sooner rather than later, he could try the diplomatic route, but his foreign relations so far have been defined by trade and military capabilities. He may not even consider the removal of THAAD as in his mind it would be a symbol of America on the retreat rather than compromising. If he does not resolve this crisis quickly, with China’s anger and Moon’s preference for cooperation over confrontation, Trump could find a North Korea still as dangerous and unstable as before but with few partners in the region to work with to bring about a solution to the North Korean problem


America, Japan and the UK: A New Three-Way Alliance?

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With Chris Bew, Researcher, Henry Jackson Society

The National Interest, 4 April, 2017

In January 2016, standing on the flight deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier based in Japan, the UK defence secretary, Michael Fallon, spoke of Washington’s commitment to a “three-way alliance” between the United Kingdom, Japan and the United States. He stated that the three countries would develop their commitment to interoperability by working closely together in the future. This is significant because it comes at a time when there are serious questions about stability in the region, and when the East and South China Seas may become crucial issues in relations between Beijing, Washington and Tokyo.

Putting this rhetoric into practice, on October 20, 2016, the chief of the Japanese Maritime Force and the chiefs of the British and U.S. navies sat across the table from each other at the Pentagon to sign a trilateral cooperation agreement. This agreement commits all three navies to closer cooperation, with increased exercises and joint patrols in the future. Signed at the service-level, this agreement sets forth a roadmap for what it calls “mutually desired strategic effects.”

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–>Why Team Up?
In the context of an increasingly uncertain world, we are seeing more and more states aligning with each other in non-traditional security relationships at the global level. These alignments are non-traditional in the sense that they are not formal alliances, but rather informal and ever-expanding arrangements. Covering a host of different areas, they are in many ways a reaction to the complex level of threats facing liberal democracies these days. Considering Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union, forming alliances with other powerful nations around the world is fundamental. With the United Kingdom, United States and Japan each being liberal democracies and having vested interests in the maintenance of the international rules-based system, they make natural bedfellows.

 

UK-Japan Relations
Focusing closer on the relationship between the UK and Japan, the current bastion of UK-Japan security cooperation is the 2+2 meetings. These have been held annually since 2015. At these meetings, the foreign and defence secretaries from both sides come together, usually for two days of meetings, to discuss a range of common areas of interest. The 2+2 arrangement allows both states to talk about areas of common concern, which allows them to signal both each other, and third-party states about their intentions and interests.

During the January 2016 2+2, both countries affirmed their support for the rule of law in the East and South China Seas. They also expressed a full commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty, adding their concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear program. To those listening, the 2+2 is perhaps a hint of the security preferences of both the UK and Japan. Other purposes of the 2+2 meetings include helping to socialise each other towards common security interests and enabling both countries to create a framework for bilateral security cooperation.

In the last January 2017 2+2, both countries signed the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) to facilitate closer bilateral defence logistics. This agreement will enable the two militaries to cooperate abroad on combined exercises and peacekeeping operations, alongside humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. Ultimately, this will increase the efficiency of both country’s forces. So, for instance, British tankers will be able to refuel Japanese aircraft, or Japanese ships might be able to refuel British vessels, and so on. An ACSA is really the first step in the holy grail of interoperability for conventional militaries. This agreement improves future cooperative expediency because it removes the need for further individual case-by-case agreements.

UK-Japan Future Cooperation
The tightening of UK-Japan relations comes at a time when rising powers in Asia-Pacific are causing critical uncertainty in the region and beyond. This has led to policymakers strengthening alliances around the world. The United Kingdom and Japan are a strong example of such an alliance that has been redoubled in recent years.

Another significant area of future cooperation between London and Tokyo includes a joint research project on Chemical and Biological Protection suits and other weapons systems. In an age of shrinking defence budgets and rising threats, it makes sense to partner with other liberal democracies, sharing useful technology and pooling precious research and development funding. This follows the success of the first round of talks of a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile. This sharing of technology is significant because it builds a framework for ever-closer collaboration between both countries for the foreseeable future in a world where nations are choosing their alliances extremely carefully. In a time of growing insecurity, such partnerships are to be welcomed.


Review: The Trump Phenomenon and the Future of US Foreign Policy / Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World

The RUSI Journal, 3 April, 2017

The first month of President Donald J Trump’s administration has been as tumultuous as any in US domestic politics. Headlines have concentrated on the immigration ban, on British Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit, Trump’s subsequent affirmation of his country’s support for NATO, and various controversial aspects of Trump’s diplomacy with Mexico, Australia and Russia. As many have noted, the real question on his foreign policy has been to separate Trump the election campaigner and Trump the president. The fact he continues to view himself as outside the ‘Washington establishment’ means that he relishes unorthodox policies and unorthodox ways of communicating them. His brusque telephone calls with some world leaders, his continued reliance on Twitter and the seemingly amateur nature of his communications team have served to muddle the line of what is likely to be one of the US’s most epoch-changing presidents.

These two books – Daniel Quinn Mills and Steven Rosefielde’s The Trump Phenomenon and the Future of US Foreign Policy and Peter Navarro’s Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World – provide crucial insights on this question. While Navarro’s work was published two years ago, this is more than made up for by the fact that he is a close associate of the president and has been selected to head the newly formed National Trade Council. Taken together, the two books provide a useful framework for understanding the new administration’s domestic drivers and its foreign policy approach in Asia.

Mills and Rosefielde are both prominent public intellectuals. Mills, a professor at the Harvard Business School, has strong connections with Asia, and has written on the different leadership styles in Asia and in the West. Rosefielde, a Harvard graduate and economics professor at the University of North Carolina, is a Sovietologist-cum-Russia expert. His 2009 book Red Holocaust is a comprehensive study of the death toll as a result of communism during the twentieth century. Similar to Stephane Courtois’s The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Harvard University Press, 1999), the study is a serious effort to come to terms with an ideology that repeated the brutality of fascism, but nevertheless continues to have adherents within leftist parties inside the West.

In a sense, both authors are what might be described as ‘small c’ conservatives, a political outlook that has been challenged by figures such as Trump. Indeed, Mills and Rosefielde argue that the terms ‘left’ and ‘right’ have obscured the real debate in the US domestic system and they set themselves the Herculean task of re-establishing what the ideological posts are to be in a post-Trump US. They tell us to forget the classical positions drawn around the Republican and Democratic parties over the past half-century. These have now shifted dramatically. Trump represents a revolt against the old guard – those politicians who assumed positions of power in both parties after 1945, and who followed what Mills and Rosefielde call ‘international cosmopolitanism’.

Trump’s revolt is not so much a cry for isolationism – as many have claimed – but a demand for a new ‘democratic nationalism’. The term indicates a US foreign policy more narrowly justified, where US national interests – rather than appeals to lofty ideals – determine US policy: ‘a city on the hill’ simply becomes a ‘city’. Intriguingly, democratic nationalism attempts to fight off accusations of autocracy, while echoing ‘sovereign democracy’, a term once in vogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin and other United Russia party politicians. It is interesting that both creeds came after Washington and Moscow failed to transform the world in their likeness.

This is not to say that this development is a marked change from US political culture. Indeed, the authors view international cosmopolitanism as the important post-1945 departure from the American creed. By becoming the champion of Western security, particularly after the end of the Cold War, the US forfeited its own security. By prioritising open trade and engagement with the world, the US has gradually bankrupted itself, apart from a small select class of Wall Street financiers. By prioritising Chinese growth and stability, previous US leaders impoverished their own working and middle classes – once the bulwark of US democracy. However, they insist – and this is where readers must read between the lines – that they are not advocating the old canard of American isolationism. They are arguing for a US that existed in the 1890s – one that operated internationally, but along a more narrowly defined set of national interests.

In many ways, Trump’s inauguration speech was shocking as it refuted long-held assumptions about the US’s role in the world, its willingness to ‘bear any burden’, and bolster European and Asian security. If said by another foreign leader the statements may have been unremarkable. Yet there has been an implicit contract between Washington and its Western and Asian allies since the period following the Second World War – US leadership was accepted in exchange for deference to US foreign and security policies.

What does Trump’s open rejection of the global role that the US has assumed mean for its allies? If the new president is not an internationalist, does that mean he is an isolationist? Mills and Rosefielde insist this is not the case. ‘To modern nationalists, minding one’s own business does not preclude international involvement and self-defence. It only means that we should stop trying to impose our values on the world while actually trying to serve insider special interests’. Some of the cabinet picks support this interpretation. Rex Tillerson, the new secretary of state, is a long-term planner, a trait fostered by his background in the energy sector, and is unworried about day-to-day fluctuations. General James Mattis, the new secretary of defense, is a soldier’s general, and known to see Russia and China as a continuing security threat.

This perception of China-as-threat seems to be the organising principle to much of Navarro’s Crouching Tiger. It is a must read book for anyone trying to understand the suddenly hard line the Trump administration has adopted toward Beijing. The account is similar to that of long-term China-watcher (and adviser to the Trump administration) Michael Pillsbury, whose own book, The Hundred Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (Henry Holt, 2014) was influential among a small group of Asia analysts in Washington. As with The Hundred Year Marathon, Navarro’s work is an in-depth analysis of the Sino-American relationship, with particular reference to the security side of the relationship.

Navarro explores the familiar tropes of what drives China. He mentions the Thucydides trap – that rising powers are bound to challenge status quo hegemons – that has gained prominence among American international relations scholars, such as Harvard’s Graham Allison. He also discusses the offensive realist notion that all powers are bound to seek maximum power in order to gain national security – the security dilemma – which shapes the structure of Sino-American relations. This structural factor is – he believes – far stronger than that of the promise of ‘peace-through-trade’, which has driven Sino-American relations for the past three decades. He also raises China’s historical humiliation at the hands of foreigners, the ‘century of humiliation’, as well as Beijing’s dependency on the Malacca Strait to give a context to China’s military build-up.

For many decades, the US–China relationship has been typified by two, often-contradictory characteristics. On the one hand, both sides emphasised the cooperative elements of the relationship, but on the other, there was much distrust between the two. Far from changing China, US trade seemed only to entrench and strengthen Beijing’s autocratic government, gifting it one of the most modern militaries in the world. Books on China in the early 2000s tended to look at transparency issues and note that China’s naval build-up should be monitored. However, at the time few – if any – scholars or analysts viewed the Chinese military as capable of challenging the might of US naval power in the Pacific. Navarro’s book comes as American naval thinkers realise that they are now on a par with their Chinese colleagues, with Chinese military capabilities presenting serious challenges to US naval vessels operating in the Western Pacific. His work examines capabilities in order to make truly significant policy recommendations.

Navarro reveals that despite many myths surrounding the subject, US and Chinese military spending are far closer than many thinkers realise. Furthermore, as the world’s largest manufacturer, the ability of China to out-produce the US in the building of ships, aircraft and munitions is entirely possible, and the fact that Chinese doctrine and planning is purely regional gives it a focus that the US’s globally stretched forces find difficult to match. Ironically, the Chinese back their grand strategy by using the US naval doctrine put forward by Alfred Thayer Mahan, an American turn-of-the-century naval strategist, who argued for naval pre-eminence. The subsequent decision by the father of the Chinese navy, Admiral Liu Huaqing, to attempt to break out of China’s ‘near seas’, or the first island chain, is what drives Chinese actions in the South China Sea and East China Sea.

The remainder of Navarro’s book is a critique of subsequent attempts by the US to deal with both the drivers of Chinese action and China’s maritime grand strategy. The US has been successful in neither, he concludes. Those who worry about his approach towards any possible war with China may find solace in the fact that he says those who entertain the idea of a ‘short, decisive war’ are fantasists. Indeed, his primary policy objective seems to be to deter conflict by convincing China’s naval strategists that a short winnable war with the US is impossible.

Navarro’s policy prescriptions will be calming for worried regional allies. The US cannot, he asserts, hide behind the Pacific Ocean, or cede sea-lane control to China’s navy. Korea and Japan are the front lines to US security, not Alaska or California. He argues not only against neo-isolationism, but for a beefed-up military presence in the Asia-Pacific, a sort of ‘peace through strength’ as practised against the Soviets in the 1980s. This is not so much to confront China, but to show Beijing – as with the Soviet menace in Cold-War Europe – that it cannot challenge US interests or allies without costs. The build-up is pure Reagan logic: the larger the stick, the greater the deterrence effect may be. Furthermore, Navarro’s vision is beyond fleet numbers. His policy prescription is to build the US’s comprehensive national power, a term borrowed from Chinese policymakers, by putting its domestic house in order. He mentions the rebuilding of America’s decaying infrastructure, the reform of its tax structures, and a major overhaul of the education system.

In many ways, Navarro is a revolutionary thinker. Many books on the region or on China’s rise have fallen on vague recommendations to ‘monitor’ the situation, or to seek a diplomatic solution, as if finding one were easy. Navarro’s work therefore differs markedly from that of scholars in the region – such as the Australian analyst Hugh White who has suggested the creation of a congress of great powers, a form of US–China power-sharing, which has been rejected by both Beijing and Washington.

While Navarro’s policy recommendations are revolutionary in scope and could conceivably work – see Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s shrewd offer to help to rebuild US infrastructure – the real question is whether President Trump can handle the domestic fallout of some of his policies. Domestic turmoil weakens his ability to implement such far-reaching structural reforms. Furthermore, will Navarro be able to push his policies unimpeded with a White House where Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner seek to exercise policy influence? President Reagan was the ‘great communicator’, and was a welcome flag-bearer in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Trump is seen even by his own supporters as ‘telling it like it is’. No doubt his Asia policies will face much opposition within a population already concerned with his social, immigration and legal policy programmes. In addition, unlike the USSR during the 1980s, China’s economy is far more integrated with the US, and Beijing has many more domestic allies within the US system to attempt to counter Navarro’s grand strategy.

The coming four years are bound to be beset with political turmoil and security challenges for the US, Europe and Asia. An age of rising powers, the resurgence of religious wars and a crisis in liberal internationalism have all come together, resulting in domestic and international policy confusion. President Trump’s election is an answer to some of the inequalities and injustices that have been created by trade at the domestic level. Reading both books, however, highlights that he is not an answer to liberal internationalism. His outlook is that of an economic nationalist, advocating a narrow version of the US’s role in the world. However, it is by no means an attempt to forgo this role altogether. It is a plea for US allies and friends – long-time beneficiaries of US leadership – to start giving back. They can do this by supporting the US economy, by spending more in NATO and by accepting the imperfections of this president. Despite the rhetoric of his opponents, Trump’s policies are not – as yet – fascist and to see them as such would be to ignore the real perils that beset the Liberal West. 

 

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