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NATO and the ‘Pivot’ after Wales

 

David Cameron hosts the 2014 NATO Summit in Wales.International Relations and Security Network, 12 September, 2014

 

Now that the NATO Summit in Wales is over, analysts are working to understand its implications for the strategic landscape around Europe. One issue that lay behind many of the discussions was the impact of US global strategy on the force-posture of US military assets in and around Europe. Although Hillary Clinton famously quipped that the United States “can walk and chew gum at the same time”, European allies still wonder how the US ‘pivot to Asia’ will affect its ability to defend the European continent and manage instability in the Middle East.

Overall, the Summit was a success: 28 world leaders came together as a symbol of transatlantic solidarity and moved past much of the awkwardness that had characterized US-German and US-EU ties over the past year. Vladimir Putin’s revanchist policies had reminded them of the purpose of the alliance, as had the growing instability on Europe’s southern border. On the whole, there were no significant differences of principle among member-states, and the leaders of the United States, Germany, France, the UK, and others committed – on paper, at least – to keep Europe “ whole, free, and at peace.”

Some have called the crisis over Ukraine a ‘Munich moment’, referring to the Munich Conference of 1938, when Germany won control of Sudetenland, a Czechoslovakian territory. However, the comparison is a favorable one for this generation. Rather than accepting the dismemberment of Ukraine, NATO member-states pledged support to Kiev in the form of a planned military exercise in Western Ukraine to show the alliance’s commitment. Furthermore, NATO members agreed to invest in reinvigorating the Alliance’s capabilities in three ways: 1) through the development of a new 4,000-strong deployment force, 2) through increased defense spending, and 3) through strategy readjustments to cyber warfare and ‘ambiguous warfare’.

Losing focus?

At a joint NATO-Cardiff University Conference held prior to the official summit, policy-makers and academics struggled to understand how the pivot would affect America’s ability to defend Europe. More than once, the US commitment to allocate more military resources to the Asia-Pacific was questioned. Some even wondered if the pivot was still in place, given the amount of traction that the Ukraine crisis and rise of ISIL were getting in Washington. This was despite US efforts to allay such fears at a press conference held on the 14th of August, where Admiral John Kirby stated that, despite instability on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks, the US remained very committed to the pivot, as illustrated by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s recent trip to Asia (his sixth as Secretary).

At the August 14th press conference, Admiral Kirby pointed out that five out of seven US treaty allies were located in the Asia-Pacific region, in addition to 350,000 troops and 200 ships. He might also have pointed out that the region is home to some of the world’s largest militaries and now outspends Europe collectively on defense. In addition, as powers like China and India rise, fissures and tensions along their peripheries have begun to threaten the stability of a region that already dominates global trade and is predicted to represent 51% of global GDP by 2050. If the US continues to turn towards the Asia-Pacific, it is out of long-term strategic necessity. Its European allies must recognize this.

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NATO Wales and the Future of Western Grand Strategy

Mistral Projection and Command Vessel
Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons - Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

International Relations Security Network, 7 August, 2014

By John Hemmings for ISN

By all accounts, the upcoming NATO Summit in Wales is likely to be one of the most important since the end of the Cold War. Originally cast as a post-Afghanistan ‘lessons-learned’ and maritime security summit, events in Ukraine and Crimea have dramatically shifted the agenda since February and highlighted the need to redevelop NATO’s core mission of collective defense and deterrence. The sudden massing of Russian armor and more than 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border in February at the height of the crisis, reminded Western leaders – particularly those in Poland and the Baltic states – of their vulnerability to old-fashioned conventional forces. However, it has already become clear that these threat-perceptions of Russia are not held equally by all 28 member states in the Alliance, as Germany and Italy balance their security concerns with dependence on Moscow’s energy imports.

These differences may emerge as a serious problem during the summit, stymying a collective path forward. Worse still, European policy elites continue to worry about shifts in US global strategy, particularly the US Pivot strategy and how the shift of US attention away from the European theatre to the Asian one will affect force posture in-region. These fears are likely to run into US frustration over NATO members’ under-spending, a common feature of every NATO summit since the 1990s, and one that will have real – rather than symbolic – meaning this year. Of course, despite all of these challenges, NATO remains the most powerful global defensive alliance, in terms of its combined GDP, military spending, and military technology. As with all collective efforts, its real weaknesses lie in coordination. With the US Pivot to Asia likely to become a permanent feature of its global strategy, the NATO Wales Summit must find a strategic posture for the West that accepts and complements that reality.

What does the Pivot mean to Europe?

The US Pivot to Asia is still poorly understood in Europe. Some believe that the policy is merely rhetorical in nature, while others see it as a misjudged containment attempt towards China, one that – as Australian academic Hugh White contends –fans the flames of great power rivalry. Primarily, European elites view the Pivot in terms of its effect on European security.

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Europe and China: A New Tack?

International Relations and Security Network, 26 June, 2014

At a recent state dinner in London for visiting People’s Republic of China (PRC) Premier Li Keqiang,David+Cameron+in+China+2+December+2013 British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg made a number of undiplomatic comments, saying that the people of China were “politically shackled” to a communist one-party state guilty of human rights abuses. Unsurprisingly, given this government’s economic drive, Downing Street distanced itself from the statement, with Michael Fallon, the business minister, saying that human rights should not “get in the way” of trade links. Instead, UK Inc. reported that BP and Shell were due to announce multi-billion dollar deals with PRC oil companies. Indeed, investment from the entire visit by the PRC delegation was said to be worth more than 18 billion pounds.  That, it seemed, was that.

 Until recently, the policy approach of many Western nations towards the PRC has been based on a singular assumption. This assumption was that the West would do business with an authoritarian regime because it was thought that engagement would change the nature of that regime. In simple terms, trade would change the PRC from within, by building a middle class. The Clinton White House was the first to translate this assumption into policy – in 1994, Clinton delinked trade from advances in human rights and political reform, and, in addition to giving China most favored nation (MFN) status, signed a trade deal in 1999, which helped China accede to the World Trade Organization. The Americans were not alone. Japan, Taiwan, ROK and many EU states like Germany, the UK, and France encouraged trade ties with the seemingly reform-minded authoritarian regime. Many billions of dollars were injected into the country.

So far, business has been good…

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EU-China relations: Disappointment after Copenhagen

East Asia Forum

March 7, 2010

One thing is apparent: the great love affair between Europe and China is over.

Here in London and throughout the other major capitals of Europe, Copenhagen was the final straw for European policy-makers who advocated engagement with China, with their ideal of building China into the global order on ice. As Francois Gotement of the European Council on Foreign Relations notes, before Copenhagen, European thinkers still believed that they could use soft power to influence China on a host of issues that Europe believed were mutual to both. After Copenhagen, European attitudes have hardened and governments are reconsidering their approach to China.

Were European expectations of China too high? After all, China has never really followed US or European policy leads. Consider the value-based foreign policy put forward by post-Cold War Europe in the 1990s, ‘the responsibility to protect’ which sought to proscribe state behaviour, compared with China’s position on Kosovo. By emphasising Serbian sovereignty over its treatment of the Kosovars, China appeared to be the conservative power, defending a traditional order of state rights, whereas Europeans seemed to be trying to reshape the international order, making the concept of sovereignty conditional on good governance. The depth of the Chinese victory was not realised at the time, but in essence, China denied proponents of good governance the authority and legitimacy of the UN Security Council.

Over the last ten years, China has deliberately countered European efforts to promote good governance. In Darfur in 2003-9, and in Burma in 2007, China put itself squarely on the side of states who were violently suppressing their citizens, while critics say that its record in sub-Saharan Africa has broadly followed this trend. Europe was ready to embrace the future it seemed, while China was only too happy to wave the old Westphalian banner.

By 2007, European policy-makers appeared to wake up this reality and changed tact. If China would not cooperate on value-based issues, surely it would be willing to work with Europe on more core security issues, like sea lane security, climate change, and nuclear non-proliferation. Indeed, Iran and North Korea appeared to provide examples where China was willing to cooperate, but often as not, China has proven to be the stumbling block over efforts to impose sanctions on Tehran. Similarly, China appeared earnest about dealing with North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, and actually did approve UN sanctions of North Korea after the nuclear test of 2006. But as of writing, there are rumours that China is considering a US$10billion financial package to Pyongyang which would completely undermine the sanctions regime.

The tension for the US and Europe has always been between binding China into the current framework while ensuring that China does not use this new leverage to undermine the order. There is another interpretation, which says that China may simply not be ready to act according to its size. Andrew Small, a China expert from German Marshall Fund has said that in many ways China is behaving like a ‘global free rider’, using the international system to maximise its freedom of action, and backing policies which stem from very narrow domestic concerns or national strategy considerations.

Whatever the case, Copenhagen has been a resounding, and disappointing, lesson: Europe will have to learn to work around China.

This is not impossible. The EU can do this in a number of small but vital ways: by developing and maintaining common positions vis-à-vis China. While this is easier said than done, it should become an aim of foreign ministries in Brussels. European states can also continue to develop strong trade ties with other rising powers. Brazil and India are two members of the BRIC with which Europeans have historical links and values. That is not to say that China should npt be important to Europe, but that it should not become the mainstay of EU policy on Asia. Indeed, the EU has almost no political presence in Japan or South Korea, two major players in Asia with similar political values. This is lamentable since in Japan’s case, it remains the world’s largest creditor nation and has a GDP equivalent to China’s. The EU would do well to cultivate relations with these states, as well as with ASEAN, the regional body in South Asia.

In a policy brief for German Marshall Fund, Michael Green recently suggested that US-China relations would improve when the US re-energised its relationship with Japan. Similarly, it is highly likely that EU-China relations would also improve significantly if the EU developed strong ties with other major players in the region. Indeed, Brussels would find many doors in the region already open.


Shinzo Abe: Between Yasukuni and a Hard Place

RUSI Analysis, 9 Jul 2007

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Domestic Worries

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is looking shaky, to say the least. Although initially riding strong on his policy of rapprochement with China last Fall, the Abe administration has been hit by a number of scandals since December. Abe’s popularity has plummeted to 28% (July ‘07) from a high of 60% (Sept ‘06). The most damaging scandal has been the government loss of pension records, meaning that some 50 million people may lose out on their pensions. Although this scandal pre-dates Abe’s administration, his government has been criticized in the domestic press for not handling the affair well. Indeed, Abe’s cabinet has been weakened by a wave of scandals that have erupted one after the other. In January, Health Minister Hakuo Yanagisawa called women “birthing machines” in a speech about Japan’s plummeting birth rate. The comments caused outrage amongst women’s groups in Japan as well as abroad. Then Defence Minister Fumio Kyuma was forced to resign over an ill-thought-out remark in a speech on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, saying that the bombing brought about an earlier conclusion to the war. That fact that Kyuma also represents the city of Nagasaki only added irony to the situation.

Finally, the government has been riding a storm within the agriculture department. Abe’s initial appointment to the post, Minister Toshikatsu Matsuoka killed himself this May after being accused of financial impropriety, and now Toshikatsu’s replacement Norihiko Agaki is on equally precarious ground. He has been accused by the Japanese media of claiming millions of yen in expenses for an office that has never been used. Last month, Prime Minister Abe succeeded in passing legislation  extending the Upper House Elections from July 20th to July 29th. This was in the face of strong opposition from Abe’s own party, meaning that the LDP leader is facing a potential split from within the ranks of his party. The real danger now is that Abe might attempt to appease the nationalist grassroots within the LDP by visiting the Yasukuni Shrine. August 15th is the anniversary of Japan’s surrender during Second World War, so a visit before the election would have significance for Japan’s right.

Foreign Policy: Between a Rock…

The fact that Abe’s domestic troubles might cause him to visit Yasukuni is more worrisome than it appears. Abe came to office with a commitment to repair Japan’s relations with its neighbours, particularly China, and so far he has done well in achieving this. Those ties suffered terribly under Prime Minister Koizumi due to sensitivities over visits to Yasukuni, which includes eleven War Criminals. A visit to the shrine before the elections would be good for Abe’s domestic position but terrible for his foreign policy platform. At this stage, it is unclear which way he will jump. In other areas, Abe’s foreign policy has had mixed results. Maintaining its strong relationship with the US, Japan has also begun to build links with NATO and the EU. In dealing with North Korea, unfortunately Abe’s commitment to solving the abduction issue over all else has meant that diplomacy with the Hermit Kingdom has come to a standstill.

In fact relations are worse between the two countries than during the Cold War. Abe first came to Japanese national attention during the Koizumi government when he took an understandably hard line on the issue while visiting Pyongyang. He handled this year’s October crisis well, taking North Korea’s nuclear test to the United Nations, but since then he has been unable to build on that success. Furthermore, while the 6-Party Talks have begun to solve North Korea’s nuclear situation, Japan has cut off all talks with Pyongyang until the Abductees’ issue is satisfactorily resolved. While this is a reasonable emotional response to that huge transgression on Japan’s sovereignty and citizen’s rights, it is actually a diplomatic dead-end and works against the complete stabilisation of the region. As one Japanese journalist put it “It’s as if Japan put a few of its citizens over the issue of nuclear disarmament.” There has been growing criticism within Japan that Abe’s policies regarding North Korea have effectively isolated Japan from the US and ROK.

New Directions

In addition to growing links with NATO, Abe has also pushed for a more assertive foreign policy based on values. This value-based diplomacy and forging of strong links with other democratic states from the Pacific to the English Channel has been called the “Arc of Freedom and Prosperity” and is part of Foreign Minister Taro Aso’s policy to make Japan a bigger player on the international scene, while also enabling Japan to develop stronger defence links. While building friendlier relations with China, Abe has also worked hard to further “normalise” Japan’s military capabilities, including closer security ties with Australia, complementing its alliance with the US.

Some Asian newspapers have accused Japan prompting an arms race, but if one considers the exponentially increasing military budget of China’s People’s Liberation Army over the last decade (an increase by 10% every year), and its naval build-up, then Japan’s efforts can be seen in more perspective. It is not so much that Japan is starting an arms race, but that China is already running full-speed in one, and in order for stability in the region to be maintained, Japan must keep up. Allegations of re-emerging Japanese militarism are misplaced and counter-productive. The Japan of today does not resemble the Japan of the 1930’s, and it should not be continually emasculated every time it behaves as its neighbours do. On the one hand, it would be more dangerous for the region if a security vacuum was to develop, and on the other, it is high time that Japan took on the roles and responsibilities of a stake-holder in the region. The question on everyone’s mind now is will Abe’s government survive long enough to implement this strategy.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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