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Council of Geostrategy, Britain’s World, 19 August, 2021

The dramatic images of the Fall of Kabul have driven rounds of recrimination and finger-pointing in the West. However, as the G7 countries prepare to meet virtually next week for an emergency discussion on Afghanistan, it would do well for them to consider the position of another of the region’s great powers – the People’s Republic of China (PRC). While the PRC’s state-owned media have already leapt on the event as ‘humiliating’ for the United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US), and attempted to draw lessons for Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party from the ‘abandonment’, it is also beginning to frame the event as something which will require a ‘deal’ with the US, a potential bargaining chip to reshape its current adversarial relationship with Washington without having to address US concerns or complaints. 

The G7 need not take this Chinese ‘discursive statecraft’ at face-value. It is indeed natural for the PRC to dress up its efforts to stabilise neighbouring Afghanistan as a favour to the West, but American, British, and other allied leaders should understand the PRC’s equities in the country clearly. While the Chinese leadership itself has not yet decided whether to manage this crisis with or against the West, its own interests in the war-torn country are well-documented. G7 leaders should instead use the following baseline assumptions as they think through any attempts at a Chinese-Western settlement.

The PRC has a strong interest in a stable border region: Preventing further unrest in the quasi-colonial territory of Xinjiang is a core interest for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as its gross violations of human rights there reveal. Given the fact that Afghanistan and Xinjiang share a border and the fact that the Taliban has maintained links with various international Islamic groups in the past, this is a serious concern. Over the past few years, Chinese intelligence networks inside Afghanistan and Chinese-Taliban diplomacy in Tianjin have spearheaded the effort to detach the Taliban from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement – a group with which it naturally aligns. In his meeting with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Wang Yi, the PRC Foreign Minister, called for the Taliban to ‘completely sever all ties’ with the group. 

The PRC has a strong interest in Afghanistan as a source of minerals: Afghanistan is the world’s largest unexploited reserves of copper, coal, cobalt, mercury, gold, and lithium, valued at US$1 trillion. Its rare-earth metals may be worth even more. In addition to owning the mining rights to the world’s second largest copper mine in Afghanistan – said to be worth US$1.2 billion in annual output – the PRC is already the Taliban’s largest customer for minerals, a trade that now represents the group’s largest revenue source (US$464 million), outstripping narcotics (US$416 million). This also represents a large chunk of total Taliban revenues, which are said to be around US$1.6 billion, a point made more salient by the freezing of Afghan government reserves held in US banks. Chinese state media has already made a point of stating that it can meet the anticipated fiscal shortfall (a predicted 20% fall from the previous pledge of US$15.2 billion between 2016 and 2020) in Afghanistan’s coffers through official direct investment as part of the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). 

The PRC has a long-term interest in incorporating Afghanistan into the BRI: Despite a recent focus on domestic infrastructure, the Belt and Road Initiative remains Xi Jinping’s signature foreign policy project. As long as he remains General Secretary of the CCP, that will continue to be the case. The BRI is a quasi-imperial project that seeks to offshore access to industrial capacity and labour, while also tying regional states closer to the PRC’s economy. Dual Circulation theory, the CCP’s current economic strategy, sees the PRC intending to create trade asymmetries between it and other trading powers, so that its domestic economy drives growth, while others remain dependent on Chinese trade and investment. No doubt, the use of infrastructure financingand a debated-but-still-relevant concept, ‘debt-trap diplomacy’, would also give Beijing direct influence over the Taliban’s leadership. 

The PRC has a strong interest in sidelining India in any settlement: Beijing may seek to sideline India from having a major role in Afghanistan, and there are two strong reasons why the G7 countries should again invite India’s leader Narendra Modi to any virtual meeting and any subsequent diplomacy with China. First, India has been developing strong links to Afghanistan over the past 20 years and sees it as a priority issue. Second, while Afghanistan is bound to become somewhat reliant on China for future economic and trade development, India and the Gulf states could and should provide enough economic diversity to soften China’s heft. 

Thus, when the G7 leaders meet next week, they should frame any cooperation with the PRC in terms of the mutual interest all parties have in a stable Afghanistan that does not harbour or export Jihadists. After they have established that, they will have to discuss how to balance cooperation with the PRC in Afghanistan within the greater strategic context of geopolitical competition. No doubt, the CCP leadership will be doing the same. The G7 will have to balance and prioritise their interests within the relationships with the PRC, with the Taliban, and with any resurrected non-Pashtu Northern Alliance group – should one arise. It is a fluid time calling for diplomacy and strategic decisiveness. 


America’s New Great-Power Problem

With James Rogers, The National Interest, 23 January, 2021

We often seek lessons from history. Thucydides famously wrote that he wished for his History of the Peloponnesian War to be “useful for by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future.” Winston Churchill wrote that he sought to make his history, The Second World War, a “contribution to history that will be of service to the future.”  

And yet, no sooner is a comparison made than a critic responds that the historical analogy is malformed, citing major differences between those periods and our own. After all, not all diplomacy with an aggressor leads to a “Munich” moment, not every step, a step “across the Rubicon,” nor every rising power destined for a “Thucydides Trap.”

The imposition of broad sweeping comparisons from the past should, of course, be avoided, but this does not mean that lessons cannot be extracted from history when dealing with certain types of scenarios. So while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it can certainly echo. Structural variables work to influence complex political behaviors in ways that are repeated. The fact that practitioners themselves are immersed in history, accentuates this. So how can today’s policymakerattempting to design policies that deal with China’s risedraw from the past, without making category mistakes or sweeping generalizations? 

When seeking historical instruction, a starting point might be to isolate common structural conditions or variables for comparison. These might include the form of political leadership, regime-type, the form of international polarity, methods of competition, and the impact of specific technologies on escalatory logics (e.g. how do nuclear weapons limit choices?). 

If we apply this typology to the three most recent historical episodes of “rising-power challenges,” then we believe that we can extract lessons in relation to the emerging competition with China. These periods include the European rivalry before World War I, the global competition before World War II, and the era of geopolitical struggle now known as the Cold War. From there, it is clear that there are many commonalities between those periods and the one we are moving into. What do these three eras of competition offer American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers in terms of insight when dealing with the rise of China

  1. China has a leader around which power has become increasingly centralized to the extent that a cult-of-personality style of leadership has emerged. These behaviors might have been predicted in the first years of Xi Jinping’s regime by looking at his earliest speeches to the CCP cadre. As with other totalitarian leaders, such as Stalin and Hitler, Xi believes in the power of the party-state ideology to drive policy as well as consolidate domestic control. As we saw from those unhappy regimes, as power is centralized, intolerance towards pluralism grows, to the extent that minoritiesespecially those considered hostile by the regimecome under mounting surveillance and discrimination. Here there are echoes between the plight of the Uighurs and various ethnicities in Nazi Germany and the USSR. 
  2. Likewise, under Xi’s authoritarian leadership, more and more of China’s society has fallen under the power of an increasingly expansive party-state structure (similar to the totalitarian party-states of the 1930s), which utilizes an international ideology (socialism), combined with nationalism (with Chinese characteristics), to export the Chinese model abroad to reorder the international system. This approach is not unlike those of past regimes. Like the Kaiser, Xi believes China has the right to shine like the sun. Unlike Hitler, he shies away from open warfare as a means of policy. But, like the party bosses of the USSR, he believes in economic and political warfare to expand China’s power.In terms of regime type, we can see forces at work in China that were also found in Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany. This is because there are few mechanisms for legitimizing the leadership of the party, such as elections or referendums in one-party systems. Therefore, jingoistic nationalism begins to fill that spaceor is deliberately positioned to fill itand if allowed to become too virulent, can lead to domestic pressures for more aggressive, even expansionist, foreign policies.
  3. As an authoritarian state, contemporary China, much like the Nazi and Soviet regimes before it, has proven adroit at integrating the dimensions of state power to the extent that it appears more successful than the fatigued and exhausted liberal democracies. As we know from the struggles with those regimes, the United States, the UK and their allies in the Indo-Pacific region will need to develop greater internal cohesion and overcome many of the “critical” or “core” assumptions that have sapped them of their strength if they are to compete successfully against China. 
  4. In terms of polarity, the previous struggles were more focused. While Japan was a major regional power in the run-up to World War II, the key powers have been concentrated in the Euro-Atlantic region for the past three centuries. In the emerging period of competition, the major powers are spread out. China, India and Japan are in Asia, the United States is in the Americas, and Britain, Germany and Russia are in Europe. American, British and Indo-Pacific policymakers will need to look at an increasingly global theatre, one where the Euro-Atlantic region and the Indo-Pacific region are intrinsically linked. 
  5. Polarity matters, and whether this period is a transition to a bipolar U.S.-China era or a truly multipolar era will impact how states construct their national strategies. If China and the United States are the only superpowersor whether India and the Europeans are able to develop superpower metrics and the political will to use themthen that sill deeply impact alignment behavior, and correspondingly the leadership approach of the United States. 
  6. Methods of competition also have historical echoes. While China is, like the USSR, a communist regime, it has a much higher GDP relative to the leading democracy, the US, than the Soviet Union ever did. It is also, similarly to Wilhelmian Germany, deeply ingrained into global supply chains and the world economy. Therefore, rather than looking for examples of dealing with economic statecraft or coercion from the Cold War, policymakers might consider Wilhelmian Germany in 1914 which utilizeddumping, finance, and trade for strategic ends across Europe. Thus, we should look to the policy options of France, Italy, and the UK for dealing with economic conflict with China.
  7. The West relied heavily on regional alliances to deal with the Wilhelmian and Soviet threats. And now, similar to what occurred in the 1930s, there is an aversion to developing regional alliances or collective defense measures against today’s revisionist: China. This is despite the fact that NATO kept the peace in Europe for nearly seventy years. In addition, there is an allergic reaction to giving Taiwan an open defense guarantee; however, the 1930s showed that the same style of strategic ambiguity by France and Great Britain toward Austria and Czechoslovakia encouraged Nazi ambitions. Indeed, as we think about how Nazi Germany went from attempting to unify German-speaking peoples to absorbing non-Germans, we should think about whether or not a failure to react to more “legitimate” claims can give encouragement to entirely illegitimate ones. While modern-day China is not as aggressive as Nazi Germany, allied weakness and lack of cohesion at critical momentsas when Berlin took the Ruhr region, undermined the governments of Austria and Czechoslovakia before using diplomacy to expand its powermade miscalculation more, not less, likely. When thinking about Hong Kong and Taiwan, this is a relevant lesson. 
  8. In terms of technology, the possession of nuclear weapons remains a huge variable in today’s great-power competition. As we consider the current competition with China, it is clear that the major powers are, as during the Cold War, in possession of nuclear arms, most with fully-established global second-strike capabilities. This means that, unless technology becomes available that can circumvent the danger posed by ballistic or high-speed cruise missiles, escalation can only be “horizontal” and “diagonal,” rather than “vertical.” If we consider how the U.S./UK and USSR were similarly discouraged from escalating to open war with each other, we can see that the emerging era of competition will be pushed into below-the-threshold conflict with conflict taking place in the information sector, the digital sector, technology, space, and across other nonmilitary sectors. 
  9. Despite early Soviet advances during the “space race,”the United States, UK and their western allies were often in the ascendancy in terms of technology during the Cold War. The contemporary era of competition, however, is more likely to resemble the struggles with Wilhelmian and Nazi Germany during the early twentieth century, when the chief revisionist was technologically equal to, or even superior to, the established powers. This is because China has moved forward rapidly with the development of telecommunications systems and other industries of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. 

Here are the two takeaway points: First, historical examples are useful but there has been a growing trend in the public arena to criticize such analogies because they fail to precisely match our present day. This approach makes perfect an enemy of the good. We might not be in a “cold war” that equates exactly with the historic events of 1949 to 1989, but by looking for similar variables we can look back to that period for those relevant policies that worked while avoiding those that did not. Second, in this commentary, we have put forward ten lessons from history that we believe are instructional for the contemporary era. No doubt, many will disagree with them or have slight variations. That is wonderful, and such points should be put forward to debate whether we have drawn the right conclusions or not. We have primarily used them to show our variables might inform our analogies, providing perspectives to help policymakers.


The World Health Organisation has come under China’s growing – and malign – influence

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The Telegraph, 15 April, 2020

President Trump has announced that the United States will stop funding the World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized UN agency, saying its “Sino-centric” behavior has been a catalyst for the global spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the blissfully ignorant, this is merely the latest evidence of his “America First” approach toward foreign policy. However, for those who have been watching the UN system, Trump is absolutely correct. There is something rotten in the state of Denmark and we are going to have to confront it sooner or later.

For many of us, the Covid-19 crisis has been about how to deal with the impact of the disease and social isolation upon our immediate lives, but the crisis has also revealed the unsettling fact that one country, China, has quietly begun to amass influence over the wider UN system, and that in the case of immediate and pressing global emergencies, China’s priorities and protocols come first – over the lives of a great many citizens of this world.

Criticism of the WHO has particularly targeted its Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who is said to owe his appointment to China, for following Chinese preferences over internationally agreed guidelines – such as the International Health Regulations (IHR) – even going so far as to delay announcing it as a pandemic to avoid hurting China’s international standing. As Beijing’s was detaining its own doctors – early heroes against the disease – and suppressing geonomic research on the disease, Tedros was praising China for its “transparency” and “leadership”.

Perhaps more damningly, Taiwanese diplomats have claimed the WHO ignored early warnings in December about Covid-19 trasmission from its own experts – in order to please Beijing – indicating that we might have been saved this pandemic if the WHO had merely listened.

This corruption of the WHO’s function is symptomatic of a wider trend, which has seen Beijing take over one-third of the UN’s 15 specialized agencies, appointing its officials to important posts where they immediately beginning implementing “Sino-centric” policies, using a combination of arm-twisting and lobbying.

And while all countries seek to influence the global system through the UN, China’s influence has been particularly hostile toward the “liberal” character imbued into the system by countries like the US and UK in 1950s.

Consider the recent news that China that has been appointed to the Human Rights Council. This is the same nation that the BBC revealed had built concentration camps for millions of its Muslim Uyghurs in 2018, and it now holds the power to appoint human rights investigators to look at arbitrary detention, freedom of speech transgressions, and enforced disappearances – presumably because they are all areas where Beijing has excelled.

Consider too how Chinese officials – from Huawei – are said to be attempting to push through internet protocol “reforms” at the UN agency – the International Telecommunications Union – that could favour authoritarian approaches toward data. The Director General of ITU is another Chinese official.

Consider how it has sought to promote the Belt and Road Initiative – a Chinese form of “debt diplomacy” with geostrategic implications – in the UN’s Development Policy and Analysis Division. The Director of DPAD? Another Chinese official.

Then there has been China’s behavior under the rules of the World Trade Organization. The US helped China gain entry into that organization in December 2001, in return expected Beijing to gradually bring its state-run economy in line with free market principles. Instead, it has spent decades allowing Chinese companies to take their foreign competitors valuable intellectual property through joint ventures and prejudicial legal outcomes. Its Made in China:2025 policy sought to enshrine Chinese dominance in key strategic sectors in the global economy as a matter of state policy. There was little surprise that the US blocked its attempt to have one of its officials lead the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

As Western nations struggle through the Covid-19 crisis, China has unfortunately blocked efforts by Estonia and others to discuss the virus at the UN Security Council, though it would make sense for the council to discuss the origins of the virus – if only to prevent future outbreaks.

Once Covid-19 subsides, the West will have to decide on what to do about China’s growing – and unfortunately malign – influence on the UN system: cut-and-run or fight for the integrity of the system. The latter won’t be easy: unlike the Soviet Union during the Cold War, China has deep pockets with which to win support. Sea ports, 5G networks, and hydropower dams give it sway in the UN General Assembly

However, the UN remains an essential liberal architecture, and it could be saved, if we were willing to expend the resources and political energy. I hope we are willing.


The UK risks plunging the Five Eyes alliance into crisis

The Telegraph, 4 March, 2020

The Five Eyes alliance has long been a bulwark of the free world. On one level, it is simply an intelligence-sharing partnership between the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Yet it is able to function as perhaps the most comprehensive espionage alliance in history because of implicit trust between its members, based on an understanding that they share the same interests and ambitions.

Now it is approaching a crisis. And although the UK’s decision to involve Huawei in its 5G infrastructure is the leading cause, this dispute is a symptom of far more fundamental differences over the alliance’s approach to China.

These disagreements have begun to spill over into the open. Last month Mick Mulvaney, the acting chief of staff to President Trump, warned British officials of a “direct and dramatic impact” on intelligence sharing with the US following the UK getting into bed with Huawei.

Meanwhile, Australian MPs on their parliament’s intelligence committee were said to have leaked details of a tense meeting with Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary. New Zealand and Canada have been watching from the wings in dismay – but the time is coming when they, too, will have to pick a side.

In all of this, UK discussion of the issue has focused on risk mitigation – whether the threat posed by China can be contained in the specific matter of 5G. But British efforts to reassure their allies are not working. Australia and the US aren’t impressed by London’s attempts to use technical arguments to fudge what they see as a geopolitical debate for commercial reasons. At heart, they are critical of London’s prioritisation of business as usual with China over their collective security.

They see China as a growing regional and global destabiliser – a revisionist power that must be checked. To them, the UK’s Huawei decision illustrates a wider British willingness to sacrifice security for the sake of its own narrow interests.

Of course the UK is free to ignore such worries, but there could be consequences. Britain has stated that it wishes to sign trade deals with both the US and Australia, and the response has been largely positive. Yet it is not clear that those involved can skirt around the issue for much longer.

This is for three reasons. The first is Donald Trump. Although he views renegotiating the US trade posture as a cornerstone of his presidency, he has not taken the Huawei decision well.

Second, the UK has still not fully understood the scale of the diplomatic damage. Continuing to treat this as a solely Huawei-related problem rather than a broader China issue has annoyed American and Australian foreign policy experts, particularly in their security communities. From their perspective, Britain is ignoring an assumption, built into Five Eyes, that all five are to defend themselves and each other from authoritarian states.

Third, there are troubling signs that China is developing a strategy which draws on the UK’s resources to achieve its ambitions. Consider its investment in the UK fintech and hi-tech sectors and the calls for a “Golden Era” relationship.

It is only becoming more obvious to Washington and Canberra that, while they have adjusted to Beijing’s aggressive stance, the UK – and to a lesser extent, New Zealand and Canada – have not. Such divergence is unsustainable if Five Eyes is to function smoothly – and this on top of the UK’s belief that it should focus more on Russia than on China.

Britain now faces a difficult choice. It can continue its current approach towards China and attempt to reap the economic gains. Alternatively, it might craft a more careful approach, similar to those of the US, Australia and Japan.

Neither option is without cost. The latter means giving up some of those commercial benefits, insisting on scaling back the non-standalone 5G infrastructure which Huawei has already deployed, and realigning foreign policy more broadly. Going ahead with the former, however, risks much graver consequences. The Five Eyes partners are not about to stop working together – but such a deep and special partnership will not last unless all its members trust that they are working for the same ends.


The world is in denial about the new Cold War with China

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The Telegraph, 20 May, 2019

About a year ago, I got into a heated dinner discussion about whether or not the West was entering a new “Cold War” with China. My sparring partners, a senior Asian diplomat and a professor of international relations, felt strongly about the topic. I realised afterwards that they didn’t want a new cold war. Frankly, neither did I, but that wasn’t the point.

History, sadly, does not really care how we feel about issues and a clear assessment of where we are will help us plan for a tough future.

Quite a few international relations scholars have argued about whether a new cold war is upon us. Many on the “nay” side have pointed to how different the current age is from that which characterised US-USSR relations between 1947 and 1991.

To these points, I think a few points are worth bearing in mind:

First, we have entered a period where all great power competitions are bound to be “cold”. As my colleague, James Rogers has written, nuclear weapons make hot wars impossible to win.

As a result, competing great powers are bound to fight hybrid wars, intelligence wars and on occasion, proxy war (like Vietnam). Therefore, holding up the current cold war to the previous one’s standards is intellectually obtuse. Yes, we’re in a cold war, but no, it’s not exactly the same as the previous one.

Second, I think we should recognise the increasingly important role of ideology, as the US and China each seek to define the relationship between state and society. Under Xi, Beijing has reasserted Chinese Communist Party (CCP) dominance in every facet of Chinese life, including the “free market” part of the Chinese economy, ordering companies in China to host party committees.

In 2006, there were only 178,000 party committees inside Chinese companies. Today, there are more than 1.3 million. In addition, Xi has repressed human rights groups, created a new techno-driven social surveillance system, banned the discussion of democracy and human rights in Chinese universities, and muzzled the Chinese media through ever-tighter control.

Third, the Americans and China are both determined to export their vision of political order.  According to Anne Marie Brady, a New Zealand scholar who has written extensively on Chinese interference activities overseas, the recently-empowered United Front Work Department in China seeks to control and co-opt foreigners and foreign media, to support and promote Chinese foreign policy goals and Chinese perspectives.

The New York Times has also reported that China is exporting intelligent monitoring systems to 18 countries – including Zimbabwe, Kenya, Pakistan, Boliva, Ecuador, the UAE, and Uzbekistan – with a further 36 receiving training in “public opinion guidance”.

To extend an olive branch to my dinner companions from a year ago, no one expected the new cold war to heat up so quickly. Going forward, the UK (and other allies in Europe and Asia) will have to decide: which side of the tech curtain and economic curtain do we wish to be on. Of course, they will seek to do business with both, but as the US begins to lay down the policy foundations of a new separation, and as China’s own repressive system begins to harden, we will need to make difficult choices.

The recent debate over Huawei here in the UK is in many ways, a symbol of that looming choice. Do we press on with a narrow technical risk-assessment system that says Huawei’s potential spying on the behalf of China can be mitigated, or do we look at the wider trend of China’s increasing use of tech companies as agents of its foreign policy and intelligence-collection goals?

Britain must debate the possibility that we are in a new cold war, for only then can we begin to address the myriad of challenges that China (and Russia) present to us at home and begin crafting appropriate policy responses. What is the correct response of Chinese subversion and influence campaigns inside the UK? What is the correct response to its funding of our political parties? What is the correct response to the expansion of its propaganda organs – such as the new CGTN hub in Chiswick? Should we limit the foreign ownership by Russians and Chinese of British newspapers?

Doubtless these must all be discussed and debated in the West.

In 1991, we stood as victors in the Cold War, having defeated our opponents with an arsenal of human rights, and political rights, democracy and capitalism. While this “cold war” is not the same that we waged against the Soviet Union, I believe that this same arsenal of norms and values will be critical in the years ahead


Forget talk of an EU army, the West needs NATO more than ever

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With Andrew Foxall, The Telegraph, 24 January, 2019

Much has been made of Angela Merkel’s announcement yesterday that her and Emmanuel Macron’s signing of an update to the 1963 Elysee Treaty could “contribute to the creation of a European army”. But where the future of Europe’s security is concerned, a much more significant event happened in Washington, D.C. on the same day: the House of Representatives passed legislation that seeks to bar President Donald Trump from unilaterally withdrawing the United States from NATO.

While it is true that the bonds of the Transatlantic Alliance are loosening in the current political climate, it is also true that neither the US or Europe can do without the world’s largest and oldest defence organization — and the less said about a European army, the better.

The original Elysee Treaty set the seal on the post-war reconciliation between France and Germany. With the updated Treaty, France and Germany agreed to establish common positions and issue joint statements on major EU issues in order to bolster “Europe’s capacity to act autonomously”. More than this, however, they committed to a “common military culture”. Practically, this means not only developing Europe’s military capabilities, but also exploring the possibility of joint military deployments and the establishing of a Franco-German defence and security council.

The idea of a European army is not new. There is even a nascent experiment in the form of the Eurocorps, which exists as a 5,000-man brigade in Strasbourg, France.

However, any European Army will have to overcome the same hurdles as previous efforts – such as the Eurocorps. British military strategists referred to it as the “Frankenstein Corps” in the early 1990s, disdaining its cobbled-together nature. Their aversion to it then – and indeed now – will be that any Franco-German attempt will simply be a NATO-lite. The bureaucracy will taste the same, but it will lack the actual military carbs.

European militaries lack the high-end capabilities and weapons systems to deter authoritarian regimes like Russia or China. Replacing the US systems that are currently shared through NATO would force European states to dramatically increase their defence spending. It would also require France to share its nuclear capability – through the extension of a nuclear umbrella rather than through technology-exchange – something that Paris has been thus far, unwilling to do.

While Trump’s behavior has been boorish, he is an elected official with a limited time in office. The Europeans could merely wait him out.

After all, the US establishment showed its support for European defence this week. In Washington, D.C., the Democrat-led Congress sent the Senate the NATO Support Act, in a bipartisan 357-22 vote. The Act would prohibit the use of federal funds to withdraw from the US from NATO, effectively barring Donald Trump – and subsequent Presidents – from doing so unilaterally. It also affirms support for NATO and its mutual defense clause, for the “robust” funding of the European Deterrence Initiative, and for the goal that each member nation spend at least 2 percent of its gross domestic product on defence by 2024.

It comes at a time that Transatlantic ties have been badly frayed by intercine debates over defence spending, trade, the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, by Brexit, and by President Trump’s personal style. In the run-up to last summer’s tumultuous NATO Summit in Brussels, concerns abound in European capitals that Trump wanted to withdraw the US from the Alliance – concerns seemingly confirmed by senior officials from within his administration. That did not happen, however, and last week Trump emphasised that the US “will be with NATO 100 percent”.

In a summary report of a NATO event hosted at our think tank last year, it was clear that the West needs the allliance now more than ever. Despite Britain’s detachment from the EU, despite Trump’s rhetoric, defence-spending free-riding by Germany and others, our council of experts re-iterated the importance of emerging threats like Russia’s threatening stance against the Baltics and Ukraine, migration from the south, and China’s encroachment on the South China Sea. The addition of technology changes in AI, cyber, and quantum mean that Western superiority in defence armaments can no longer be taken for granted. If we are to defend our free societies, we will have do double down on NATO.

Moves by France and Germany to enhance their military capacities and capabilities are to be welcomed – but not if they simply add duplication and unnecessary layers of bureaucracy. If Germany achieves two per cent of defence spending on support rather than on equipment, capabilities and systems, then Merkel’s move will have set European security back.

NATO, it is important to remember, is not merely a military organisation; the NATO Treaty says that the Alliance’s members “are determined to safeguard the freedom, common heritage and civilization of its peoples, founded on the principles of democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law.” But it must do this by organizing a military response to external threats. And in the long run, this is what guarantees Europe’s security.


Armed build-up means extraterrestrial warfare no longer in the realm of fantasy

The Telegraph, 4 January, 2019

The news that China has landed an explorer robot on the dark side of the Moon has echoed across the global media, a sign of the country’s growing prominence on the international stage. Let’s face it, space is still a sexy topic. And there is something rather fascinating about China – a non-Western global power – making the achievement. It feels like a turning of the page.

Western powers have dominated modern economics, sciences and political ideologies for so long that they implicitly set standards for what marks a civilised power. Space exploration remains a benchmark.

The Chinese government has sought to draw attention to the robot Moon landing, celebrating it as a step forward not just for China but for all mankind. However, while the rise of its space programme is indeed a positive development, it comes at an odd time in China’s own history, a moment when the country seems beset by historic contradictions and tensions. It is an age when the economic relationship between the US and China – once the engine of global growth – has become dominated by a trade war and military competition.

While China has long insisted that its rise would be a peaceful one, the Moon landing and the technology that undergirds it have been driven by what some scholars have called techno-nationalism. Accordingly, under the terms of President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream”, national rejuvenation will be the result of technological prowess – something that has driven its cyber-hacking and mercantilist policies.

We cannot ignore the fact that China has the most rapidly growing military presence in space. A US defence department report noted last year that, since it tested anti-satellite weapons in 2007, China’s ability to take out American satellites has burgeoned, with unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite jammers and a “vast ground infrastructure”. Many of these systems are developed as “counter-space” technologies, in which China might deny other powers the ability to use space in a crisis or conflict.

The Trump administration announcing last summer that it would create a “space force” reveals the seriousness with which Washington views such developments. Outer space is a new frontier for warfare.

Given President Xi’s insistence that Taiwan “must and will be” reunited with the mainland, and the US commitment to defend it, a space conflict may no longer be merely in the realm of imagination. So, while we should all celebrate human progress in space, I can’t help but wonder if we’re simply taking our problems up there.


Spying Chinese microchips give the West an electric shock

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The Times, Red Box, 9 October, 2018

Last week’s Bloomberg story that the Chinese military has been interfering in computer supply chains was like a bolt of lightning — and we are bound to hear the thunder rumble for some time yet. Around the world national security services will be scrambling to see if their own systems have been similarly compromised.

The fact that the infected parts made their way to CIA drones — presumably a highly-controlled procurement environment — means that the vulnerabilities were extremely well-hidden. Since they also allegedly went to online shopping firm, Amazon, China’s tiny chips are a giant Trojan horse wheeled directly into the international community’s trading gates and let loose. It is yet another example of how Beijing and Moscow are approaching the new Cold War against the west.

The question for governments like Britain that depend on Chinese-manufactured goods – is have they also been penetrated? Certainly, the prime minister’s concerns over letting China gain access to our nuclear sector in 2016 now seem justified. But what of our dependence on Chinese supply chains? All of our iPhones are made in China, and while the company’s press release sought to reassure us that none of their systems were compromised, it’s too soon to know for sure. All we know is that this is the beginning of a long investigation of Chinese-manufactured electronics. After all, If they could pull one over on the CIA . . .The story is not exactly new for the UK. In 2013, a report from the parliamentary intelligence and security committee warned that Chinese electronic giant Huawei’s provision of digital hardware to BT presented clear risks to British security. The report noted that while a compromise had been found while checking Huawei components at a centre in Oxfordshire, the amount of code involved would make it impossible to verify every bit of software. Now it seems the company might be in the running to help build Britain’s 5G network, despite having been blocked from providing digital infrastructure in the US, Australia, and India.

For those who don’t know, 5G entails a faster, tighter bundling of data that will massively improve the capabilities of the mobile internet, and in turn the use of artificial intelligence in transport, health, education, not to mention the development of “smart” cities. One reason that Huawei has been so instrumental in developing the technology is their championing of a Turkish code developer.Since 2008, when Dr Erdal Arikan invented polar codes, a number of countries have raced to develop the infrastructure indigenously. Not all are confident about the state’s role in rolling out this new technology: In the US, for example, the Trump administration rejected proposals for a “national effort” to develop 5G.

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In many ways, this has been an “I told you so, moment” for many security and tech experts. Chinese-owned technology has long been viewed with scepticism amid concerns over its close links with the state. George Osborne’s “golden era” of Chinese investment into the British economy — and the inclusion of its companies in sensitive parts of the UK infrastructure — is truly at an end. As Bloomberg reports, the US counterintelligence operation has found the Chinese government directly culpable, with individuals and two factories in China identified.

The impact is likely to be serious. It will destroy already-crumbling domestic support inside the US for halting the trade war — and will strike a fatal blow for Chinese electronics firms trying to enter the US market. Most of all, it will be a serious stain on the reputation of Chinese manufacturing firms and a major justification for the Trump administration’s insistence that manufacturing in critical industries needs to be brought home.

The next step in this saga is for the US intelligence community to share its findings with its closest intelligence allies. This primarily means Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK; but also NATO allies in Europe and treaty allies in the Indo-Pacific like Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines. Washington should also share the technical data with non-ally security partners like India, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The most difficult part will be setting up mechanisms to screen electronic parts coming into the UK – after all, what isn’t made in China these days? What is now up for discussion — no matter how improbable — is the exclusion of certain Chinese firms from the UK and a search for other partners to develop the next generation of digital infrastructure. To do otherwise and to bury one’s head in the sand would jeopardise our national security, our personal data, and, ultimately, our intelligence partnerships.


UK-Japan Cooperation in Preserving the Liberal Order

Asia Pacific Bulletin, 11 January, 2018

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While much has been written on the apparent diminishment of the liberal global order, and on the rise of Chinese and Russian revisionism in Ukraine and the South China Sea, comparatively little has been written about how liberal democracies around the world have responded to these mini-attacks on the international system. One of the most prominent and interesting trends has been in the security realm, where new “virtual” and “quasi-alliances”, trilaterals, and quadrilaterals have sprung up between states with previously-weak security ties. While few of these relationship can be defined as actual alliances – they lack mutual defense commitments after all – they have many “alliance-like” features, including cooperation in sensitive intelligence and defense sectors. Australian scholar, William Tow, calls them a “unique theoretical challenge” for international relations theorists since they do not accord with our traditional understanding of what constitutes an alliance.

The foreign and defense ministerial (2+2) meeting between Japan and the United Kingdom is one such grouping, and shares a number of common features with its counterparts in the Indo-Pacific region. The first of these is the evolving nature of security cooperation, with London and Tokyo developing ever-closer levels of strategic dialogue and interoperability. A second feature is that both countries are in formal alliances with the United States, and theses dyads lead to trilateralism with Washington across a range of sectors. However, one key difference between the UK-Japan, UK-Japan-US, US-Japan-Australia trilateral, and US-Japan-India-Australia Quadrilateral, are that the latter two are both centered in and around the Indo-Pacific region. It is therefore, worth examining the strategic rationales for the UK-Japan bilateral as well as the UK-Japan-US trilateral, while also discussing challenges to future cooperation.

So, what exactly are the strategic rationales and challenges for closer UK-Japan and UK-Japan-US security cooperation? As has already been mentioned, the driver for much of this is the insecurity created by Russian and Chinese challenges to the traditional rules-based order. Beijing’s military takeover of the South China Sea – a major global trade route connecting Europe and Asia accounting for 12% of total British trade and 19% of total Japanese trade – has promoted strategic discussions between Britain and Japan. The Joint Statement of the 3rd UK-Japan 2+2 explicitly raises concerns over the South China Sea as well as a commitment to a “rules-based order in the maritime domain based on the principles of international law, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes through diplomatic and legal means.” Such messaging is an important component of showing the resolve of states, and could potentially check or at least slow future Chinese expansion.

Another strategic rationale for both nations is to relieve some of the pressure on their defense industries. Given defense budgets must deal with ever-increasing defense inflation and rising research and development costs, cooperative ventures are touted as cost-saving. They can also exploit pooled technologies. A UK-Japan study on a new Joint New Air-to-Air Missile (JNAAM) Phase 2, promises to put a Japanese engine in British Meteor missiles, creating what some experts predict will be the best missile in allied inventories. There is also ongoing research in chemical and biological protection technology, and there could also be further cooperation in amphibious capability, giving UK forces – slated for cuts – an urgently needed lifeline. Then there is cyber security cooperation that becomes more urgent as each year passes, as advances in technologies like artificial intelligence create new emerging threats to national infrastructure and national economies.

Finally, there is the ability for closer UK-Japanese cooperation to pave the way to trilateralism with the US, creating a healthy synergy between three liberal democracies vested in the current global order. There is a sort of geostrategic logic to this, with all three sharing intelligence about their respective hemispheres. There are also other drivers. The United States and the UK are part of the Five Eyes intelligence group, and can help shape Japan’s ongoing quest to develop a strong intelligence community institutionalizing cooperation and socializing Japan’s intelligence agencies in Five Eye’s standards of intelligence-sharing, operations, and classification. The three also rely on the maritime global commons for trade. The signing of a trilateral naval agreement in November 2016 indicates increasing attempts to control such spaces, and a willingness for the three to resist such efforts.

Despite the apparent strength of these various drivers toward cooperation, sceptics of the budding UK-Japan bilateral point to the disparate set of security goals and the geographical challenges. London and Tokyo differ, for example, in how they regard Russia and China. Post-Brexit Britain, for example, still views China as an important trade partner, and Russia as its most pressing security issue. Tokyo, in nearly perfect contrast, views Russia as a diplomatic opportunity, and China as its most pressing security challenge. Other naysayers point to the scarcity of resources that each can commit to the other’s region. The visit of four British Eurofighters to take part in the Guardian North 16 exercise in Japan seemed underwhelming, while Japan – for its part – has tended to view the relationship as a means of bring Britain to Asia rather than helping to contribute more to Britain’s own regional security. For those policymakers at the forefront of such debates, justifying the time and resource expenditure seems to push bureaucracies toward short-term, “low-hanging fruit” objectives, but states must start somewhere, and these relationships allow for incremental evolution.

Perhaps the largest challenge to future UK-Japan-US trilateralism is a lack of sustained interest in Washington. Part of this is geostrategic – American policymakers are yet to grasp the benefits of such a partnership  – and part of it is bureaucratic. It may sound simplistic, but the co-location of regional desks in the Pentagon and State Department made Indo-Pacific trilaterals (under PACOM leadership) much less troublesome than a trilateral that stretches across two different regions and unified combatant commands. The original trilateral – the US-ROK-Japan variant – was relatively easy to do since DOD desk officers who worked on Japan and Korea shared an office. Similarly, Washington think tanks tend to frame research by sector or geographic region. So few of the influential think tanks that currently research trilateralism (like CSIS, Brookings, and AEI) have researchers with a background in both UK and Japanese security policy. It is a larger leap than Japan–India security policy.

Despite these challenges, it is clear that US-Japan-UK and UK-Japan security cooperation will continue to be a growth business. This is primarily because the international system is going through a deeply unstable period, and insecure states naturally seek out allies and partners to help alleviate their insecurity. As long as Russia and China continue to use salami-slicing tactics and the threat of military force to break down the liberal rules-based order, democratic allies of the United States like Britain and Japan will continue to develop these loose security ties. The real question is whether such relationships are sufficient. Will they actually deter would-be aggressors when all is said and done? It is a truism of modern history that alliances caused the First World War. In actual fact, we know that Great Britain remained uncommitted to its Triple Entente partners, France and Russia, in 1914 and to France, again, in 1939. In both cases, London was compelled to go to war despite its wishes. It all depends on the level of commitment and the level of messaging that status quo powers are willing to commit. The more committed the UK and Japan are, the stronger the message.


 

What type of great power does China want to be?

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The Telegraph, 19 October, 2017

Xi Jinping’s keynote speech – impressive for its three-hour running time – at Beijing’s Party Congress firmly established three things. First, Xi has accumulated the type of personal power last seen under Chairman Mao Zedong; second, that the Communist Party of China will be the main conduit of his power; and third, that China is ready for global leadership.

“The Chinese nation … has stood up, grown rich, and become strong – and now it embraces the brilliant prospects of rejuvenation … it will be an era that sees China moving close to centre stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

For some, the speech and the drift of China back toward one-party authoritarian rule, marks the end of a failed experiment by Western liberalism to co-opt China as a “responsible stakeholder”. But will China, in fact, be a responsible stakeholder? The results are not promising.

Between the 1990s and the present day, American, European, and Japanese companies invested hundreds of billions into the Chinese economy, turning a backward agrarian nation into one of the world’s trade and manufacturing powerhouses.

In 1994, despite the long shadow of the Tiananmen Square Massacre only five years before, President Bill Clinton granted China most-favoured nation (MFN) trade status. Six years later teams of US diplomats and lawyers worked around the clock to help sponsor China’s membership to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a key event, after which Chinese growth exploded. In addition, China was given a seat at the table of nearly every international organization and institution.

Plausibly, China is one of the great successes of the Western liberal order: collectively we helped a large country reduce its poverty to the tune of 680 million people.

Despite this, the party’s need to justify its lack of political reform domestically, has seen it adopt some would call a virulent Chinese nationalism at home. Instead of looking to the past 25 years of positive economic engagement, Chinese state education has stoked resentment over the “hundred years of humiliation” from outside forces.

These themes, very present in Xi’s speech, have begun to close the once-open Chinese society and demonize Western intellectual influences.

“China has absolutely no need to import the failing party political systems of other countries”, said state-run media in the run-up to the Congress.

So great is this hostility, that an infamous memo was circulated in 2013 – the infamous Document No. 9 – heavily restricting discussion of Western liberal concepts among Party cadres.

Thus, we are presented with the paradox of a Chinese global power, at once the product of the Western liberal order and yet hostile and resentful of that same system. We have already seen this in how it has conducted its foreign policy vision on its periphery.

Given its internal emphasis on “an unfair rules-based order”, built “when China was weak”, we have a new power that views international law with ambiguity. Its arbitrary rejection of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong this July, and a Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in the summer of 2016 are alarming signs of this.

We also see this narrative in China’s willingness to use force in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, and on the Indian border.

A Chinese superpower also impacts how global information is exchanged: Chinese elites see history and information as relative – things to be moulded or suppressed according to party needs. This impacts how information is controlled in countries around China, dependent on Chinese trade.

From the arrest of Hong Kong booksellers, to the funding of Chinese programmes in Western universities, or the funding of Western media, China has systematically begun to attempt to direct the flow of information deemed important to it.

Only months ago, Chinese officials pressured Cambridge University Press into removing more than 300 articles, counter to party narratives. Perhaps what the most important question we must address is what type of imperium or order China wishes to build.

Professor William Callahan, an expert on Chinese international relations at the London School of Economics, described in his 2013 book, China Dreams, 20 different visions of order that Chinese theorists currently discuss.

Imperial-era concepts like Tianxia, once-used by Chinese emperors to justify and legitimize the Emperor’s power domestically, are now back in vogue. As a new Emperor takes his place in Beijing this week, as Chinese companies extend their reach across central Asia, and as Chinese forces assert control over the South China Sea – one wonders if we are indeed entering a new era of Chinese dominance and what that will mean for the American and European builders of the Western liberal order.

Will we stand apart – a “free world” to China’s new bloc – or will we be pulled inexorably into the orbit of a new Middle Kingdom?

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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