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NBR Special Report 90

With Prof Wade Turvold (USN Ret), NBR Special Report, 25 May, 2021

The U.S. and Japan produced the New Defense Guidelines in 2015 that created the alliance coordination mechanism (ACM) to enable the allies to better manage crises. The ACM has proved useful but is showing some limitations in handling the challenges of complex gray-zone activity posed by China. This is in part due to the differing definitions of “gray zone” in Japan and the U.S., which could lead to confusion over appropriate response mechanisms. This uncertainty may have the unintended effect of giving China the power to set the tempo of activities in and around the Senkaku Islands to incrementally wrest control from the Japan Coast Guard. There are also growing concerns that the ACM is insufficient for dealing with kinetic operations above the threshold of gray-zone operations. Therefore, the U.S. and Japan should consider reforming the ACM, reorganizing U.S. Forces Japan, and developing a command and control (C2) structure for crises just below and above the gray-zone threshold.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
  • Japan and the U.S. must find a common definition of gray zone that will enable them to agree on the threshold where gray-zone activity ends and conflict begins.
  • Japan and the U.S. must strengthen the ACM by constant usage and rehearsal in order to allow it to function properly during a fait accompli gray-zone operation by China.
  • The disjointedness of U.S. C2 in the vicinity of Japan could be a significant challenge in a fast-paced crisis above the gray-zone threshold. The allies should consider creating a unified command structure for the alliance, given that the current “coalition-style” approach to C2 could prove insufficient for dealing with a peer competitor with a unified command in a crisis scenario.

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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.


With James Rogers, Journal for Indo-Pacific Affairs, December 2020

The assumptions made about British involvement in the Indo-Pacific and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (the “Quad”) tend to rely on the constraints of geography rather than on interests in a rules-based system. This article argues that not only does Britain share interests with the Quad members in a free trading order—something that is threatened by Chinese and Russian policies —but it has also developed a set of capabilities and facilities across the region that give it reach. From the Persian Gulf and Oman, from Diego Garcia to Singapore, Brit- ain’s role in the Five Power Defence Arrangements and strategic relationships with regional powers mean that it is already an Indo-Pacific maritime power. Questions as to Britain’s inclusion in the still-evolving Quad are therefore entirely political in our opinion. Given the openness of Japan and the United States to external members, Britain could make for an interesting and useful addition to the Quad in the years ahead.

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Asia Pacific Bulletin, 21 October, 2020

Last month’s news that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was stepping down came like a thunderbolt from the blue. Once again, a health condition that had compelled him to step down in 2007, resurfaced. Whatever else one might say about Abe ‘the politician’ or Abe ‘the nationalist’, one cannot refute the fact that Abe the ‘grand strategist’ has had the most impact on Japan’s security posture since the Second World War. Of course, the question will be how Yoshihide Suga – his successor – adjusts Japan’s grand strategy  in coming months before he calls an election. One thing is already obvious, Suga – and, indeed, the next generation of future prime ministers – will have to live with Abe’s legacy in one form or another.

This is all a long way from 2007, when Abe’s one-year premiership was already in the rear-view mirror.  Even as he recovered his health, there were whispers in the corridors of Kasumigaseki that he intended to make a comeback and become prime minister again. At the time, many Japan-watchers were skeptical about his chances. His first year had not been particularly successful or popular. Indeed, the loss of the Upper House to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan had paved the way for their electoral in in 2009. Despite this inauspicious beginning, not only did Abe challenge his doubters by successfully running for LDP leadership in September 2012 but he campaigned on a slogan of “take back Japan” in November and won the premiership back in 2012.

In terms of domestic policies, Abe’s ambitions were grand, though the results were mixed. However, one felt spirits lift when he announced “Japan is back!” in a series of speeches deigned to launch “Abenomics”. Using three arrows of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform, the new basket of policies intended to get Japan out of the two-decade slump that had followed the 1992 bursting of the asset price bubble that characterized Japanese growth in the 1980s. For a conservative politician, he was deeply pragmatic and was willing to challenge traditional Japanese social and business structures in order to empower Japan.

Despite a mixed record in domestic policy, it is in the arena of foreign and security policy that Abe has had the most impact and the area where Suga – and other Prime Ministers – will benefit the most. During this period, he oversaw a strengthening of the office of the Prime Minister, giving it a national security council (modelled closely on the UK NSC) and supportive secretariat to effect good security policy. Abe also encouraged intelligence community reforms, creating the equivalent of Britain’s Official Secrets Act, readying the ground for other necessary intelligence reforms across Japan’s bureaucracies. In 2013, Japan passed a state secrets act, which was a badly-needed effort to criminalize espionage. Given the continued need for democratic societies to share intelligence on Chinese and Russian interference operations, foreign policy, and maritime expansionism, this legislation was badly needed. It still remains for Japan to create a classification system and clearance system that allows it to work more closely with the United States and its Five Eyes partners. This was followed in 2015, by the passage of controversial legislation allowing for Japan’s armed forces to take part in conflicts overseas.

For example, he took a concept floating around after the 2005 Indian Ocean Tsunami of turning the four countries that aided the region into a quasi-security partnership. This “Quadrilateral” included the US, Japan, Australia and India and has developed into a functional strategic alignment.  As we enter an era of increased strategic competition, an era where a revitalized and expanded Chinese navy has begun to dominate and control vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, this group serves as a check on Chinese ambitions. While it lacks formal institutionalization or even the simple ability of collective defense inherent in traditional alliances, its ad hoc nature remains a strength, allowing for New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to join the original Quad members in a “plus” format. Though it’s unclear as to whether this ambiguity of the group will remain a strength – after all, defense guarantees are necessary for the deterrent of collective defense – it’s unclear as to whether member states are ready for formalization. Abe’s role in promoting the Quad was pivotal and its hybrid nature is a little reflective of Japan’s restrictions under the pacifist constitution.

Perhaps of even more significance is Abe’s role in promoting the “Indo-Pacific” over the historic “Asia-Pacific” framework. Recognizing India’s importance as a democratic balancer to future Chinese hegemony in the future of the region’s integration efforts, he promoted the concept of the Indo-Pacific in his 2007 “Confluence of the Two Seas” speech in the Indian parliament and began systematically wooing Indian leaders to the framing.  Including a democratic India in the future of Asia was not only good geopolitics, it was good geo-economics, as India’s population and democratic system balanced out China’s equally large population and authoritarian system. Not only did the idea go down well in New Delhi, it was eagerly taken up by other like-minded states in-region over subsequent years, with Australia, ASEAN, France, the UK and the US adopting either the framing or creating their own versions. In 2016, Tokyo put more flesh on the concept, unveiling the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Vision”, which acted as a foil for Beijing’s increasingly China-centric vision of Asia’s future, while promoting openness and values to attract regional hedgers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been an incredibly influential figure on the world stage and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will have his work cut out for him. Not only must he uphold and continue the shift in Japan’s grand strategy, he must manage Japan’s famously difficult bureaucracy to do so. One of Abe’s greatest strengths was his team that brought together big thinkers – such as Nobukatsu Kanehara – with backroom operators – such as Shotaro Yachi, and Suga himself. Suga, the son of a farmer was well-known and well-feared by senior bureaucrats as someone who was dangerous to cross and who was deeply loyal to the Prime Minister. Mandarins who opposed the Prime Minister often found their promotions held up or relegated to less senior positions. According to rumor, when Abe heard that Suga was going to run for office in December last year, he said to Suga, “Yes, I can see you as prime minister, but who will be your ‘Suga’”? This puts much pressure upon Suga’s new chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato to manage the bureaucracy as efficiently as he once did. Whether or not Suga can succeed in the public nature of his new position – and not be tempted back into facilitation  – will ultimately be a critical issue for him.

Looking back at the premiership of Shinzo Abe, it is clear that a complicated leader has left the stage. While his views on Japan’s militaristic past were less-than-ideal, his Indo-Pacific conceptualization and support for the Quad were instrumental in shaping a balancing coalition toward the PRC. It was also a highly liberal vision of regional order, replete with norms of openness, rules, and human rights – something no Japanese post-war leader had previously emphasized. While he has struggled with Japan’s historic issue – notably with South Korea – he has reached “across the aisle” multiple times. The breakdown in the relationship with South Korea must be seen in the context of his speeches in front of both houses of Australia’s Parliament and the US Congress on Japan’s wartime history. The speeches were full of regret and sorrow and were accordingly well-received. As Yoshihide Suga assumes the levers of Japanese power, he comes to a situation in which Tokyo’s grand strategy is well-stated and its influence at an all-high. He will have to manage the relationship with the United States, Japan’s close ally, a hegemonic China, and a cautious region in a world rocked by the pandemic and economic slowdown. One hopes he will do well.


South China Morning Post, Wendy Wu, 19 March 2019

Dr John Hemmings, director of the Asia Studies Centre and deputy director of the Henry Jackson Society, a Britain-based think tank, said at the same event in Washington that Britain was considering formalising a policy of sharing intelligence with Japan.

He said about US$124 billion worth of trade – 12 per cent of Britain’s total – went through the South China Sea each year, “quite a significant amount of our revenue, so we would be concerned about anyone – China or whichever regional country – trying to control that waterway”.

“[Britain] will not lead, but certainly it will follow and will join and become a responsible partner of the community of the states that are interested in an Indo-Pacific concept,” Hemmings added.

The Netherlands said in October that it would send a warship to join British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth on its first operation deployment in Indo-Pacific waters in 2021.

“We’ll see more of that,” Hemmings said, adding that Britain, Canada, Australia and various European countries would be “banding together and operating in groups like this”.


United Kingdom’s “Global Britain” Posture Facilitates Forward-leaning Indo-Pacific Policy

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CogitAsia-CSIS, 30 January, 2019

This year has been marked by the return of British naval power to the Indo-Pacific. For the first time since 2013, the United Kingdom (UK) deployed warships to the region, not only consecutively deploying three vessels to the area, but also increasing its cross-service defense engagement with regional partners. First, HMS Albion carried out a freedom of navigation maneuver near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea, making the UK the only non-claimant state – other than the United States – to  openly challenge China’s excessive maritime claims; second, it took part in marine exercises with Japanese Self Defense Forces in Japan; and third, it expanded its trilateral relationship with Japan and the United States in an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercise off the coast of the Philippines in early 2019. However, the relative success of these operations has not stopped questions being asked both inside the UK and in the region around their long-term sustainability – particularly in the wake of Russia’s 2014 take-over of the Crimea, its hybrid war in Eastern Ukraine, and with the 2018 Skripal poisonings. All of this has produced an intense domestic debate over the future of Britain’s global posture, ranging from the government forward-leaning, Mahanian “Global Britain” position, to an “honest-broker” approach that attempts to sail precariously between the U.S.-China trade rift.

Global Britain

While it is true that Brexit has propelled a core part of the Conservative Party toward the notion of Global Britain, it should also be noted that a major shift took place in UK strategic thinking from 2014, which saw neo-authoritarian military revanchism in the Crimea and the South China Sea. China’s island-building in international waters had a profound impact on Britain, given its long history of safeguarding the principle of the freedom of the seas. The 2014 National Strategy for Maritime Security, for example, noted, “The UK has significant political and economic interests in the Asia Pacific…it is important that all nations in the region resolve any maritime disputes peacefully and within the rule of law, while protecting and promoting freedom of navigation and trade.” At the Shangri-la Dialogue in 2015, Secretary of State for Defence Sir Michael Fallon raised Britain’s concern about “the scale and speed of current land reclamation activities and the risk that these actions may pose to maritime freedom of navigation and to the stability of the South China Sea.”

So what?

Aside from the Royal Navy deployments, the UK has infused new urgency into what were steadily-growing political and security bilaterals with major regional players. Previously, many of these relationships puttered along, but lacked an overarching strategic logic. Now it would appear that Britain’s foreign and military policy establishment has linked the Global Britain vision with the “free-and-open” Indo-Pacific strategies of the region. In its Joint Ministerial 2+2 with Australia in July 2018, the UK foreign secretary and defence secretary agreed to “protect and promote the rules-based system,” while increasing cooperation and coordination over the South China Sea, within the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA), seeking “opportunities for deeper maritime security cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.” The agreement was marked by Australia’s decision to purchase a British design for its Hunter Class frigates. At $26 billion, the deal is a highly-promising indicator for sustained defense collaboration, given the strong political pull of maintaining Britain’s impressive defense industrial capability (British shipbuilding, aerospace, and defense industries bring in revenues of $40 billion, exceeding even Russia’s $31 billion).

That defense industrial pull has also helped fuel UK-Japan collaboration – on the Meteor missile, for example – with both states promoting what some have called, “the closest security ties since the 1902 Anglo-Japanese Alliance.” In addition to defense collaboration, a regular cyber dialogue, and increasing intelligence-sharing, there has been a seismic shift in strategic dialogue. On January 10, 2019, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe visited London, welcoming the UK’s increased presence in the Indo-Pacific, and reiterating his support for the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The two sides pledged to collaborate further on infrastructure, 5G telecoms, cyber security, and maritime security.

In addition, London has also begun re-investing in its relations with South and Southeast Asia. UK officials made it a diplomatic priority last May to get Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India to attend the Commonwealth summit. His appearance and red-carpet treatment seemed to indicate a “reset” in ties. More recently, Britain has begun delinking its ASEAN policy from the European Union, welcoming Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi to London this past month. As with Modi, the British policy class rolled out the red carpet, with Minister of State for Asia Mark Field, Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, and a number of prime ministerial trade envoys meeting with the SG. As Field pointed out at during the gala dinner banquet, UK investment in ASEAN exceeds its investment in China and India combined, with ASEAN ranking as the third largest investor in the UK, with UK exports surging by 19 percent in 2017 alone.

Sustaining the momentum

China’s rise has seen it using that newfound power to implement shifts to the global order that favor its own strategic interests. It is no surprise that many regional states – allies and partners like Japan, Australia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam – have emphasized the rules-based system in their pleas for a UK return to Asia. Given Russian revanchism closer to home, UK policymakers have framed the China’s behavior as a wider struggle. There are real questions about how sustainable all of this is, given the volatile nature of Britain’s domestic situation. However, Global Britain is in many ways an adroit repurposing of the UK’s strategic direction after 2014. These drivers have economic as well as strategic weight, something that should make them “Brexit-proof” in the long term.

In terms of how the UK engages with regional partners, the fact is there are a number of directions that British power could go in Asia. As a recent Henry Jackson Society report recommended, Britain could create a policy of collective freedom of navigation maneuvers by using a “ship-rider” program, with NATO or ASEAN flag officers aboard British hulls. It could also suggest a “plane-rider” program, putting British officers aboard U.S. and Japanese surveillance aircraft. Most of all, it could help internationalize and multilateralize the issue so that it is not obscured by U.S.-China strategic competition. The South China Sea, after all, accounts for transit of nearly one-third of total global maritime trade. And that is just as much a UK issue as it is an American one.


Global Britain and Global Japan: A New Alliance in the Indo-Pacific?

With James Rogers, Asia Pacific Bulletin, 31 January, 2019

In January 2019, amidst all the Brexit-related commotion and confusion, British Prime Minister Theresa May took time out to welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to London. Although the media focused on the timing of the visit – not least because of his warning over the consequences of a “no-deal” Brexit and follow-on visit to the Netherlands, where a handful of Japanese companies may relocate or establish satellite offices – this was much more than just a shoring up of one political leader by another. The fact is that Japan and the UK have been moving closer together for over a decade, and not only in the diplomatic-economic sphere. For some time,
the two have been deepening their strategic and military cooperation.

In 2012, for example, the UK and Japan signed a defense cooperation memorandum, making Britain the first country other than the United States that Japan was willing to cooperate with militarily. A 2017 agreement saw an uptick in the willingness to play up the public profile of the growing relationship, whereby the two countries asserted that they were each other’s “closest security partners respectively in Asia and Europe.” Japan’s latest National Defence Programme Guidelines also highlight cooperation with the UK. Given that Japan’s other main partners in the Indo-Pacific – the United States, Australia, and India – also have deep historic and institutional linkages to the UK, a deeper strategic logic is likely at play and could be further leveraged. As China seeks to
revise the rules-based system in both maritime law and trade, powers that depend heavily on the system are beginning to band together in quasi-alliances.

Military cooperation and defense-industrial collaboration between the UK and Japan have continued to grow. A recent Henry Jackson Society report examining geopolitical rankings showed that, despite their geographical distance, the UK and Japan complement one another well. Japan has a significantly larger degree of “economic clout”, with greater net wealth and national income. Where the UK stands out is in terms of its “diplomatic leverage” and “military might”, particularly its naval strength, which is larger than France, Italy, and Germany combined. So Japan may be able to assist the UK as it withdraws from the European Union, just as the UK supports Japan’s strategic “normalisation”.

There are other attributes which the two island nations share. Both have an “offshore” approach in relation to their respective continents, Asia and Europe, fostering in each a “maritime” strategic culture. Both are liberal democracies with a strong support for human rights and global governance. Both are strong supporters – financially and diplomatically – of the rules-based system, including the United Nations, the World Trade
Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations. Both are also good “international citizens”, spending money on international development across the world.

However, closer strategic cooperation depends on more than just national similarity. Here, too, there are three drivers: China, Russia and the US. Japan has sought to “normalize” its post-Second World War strategic posture to hedge against China’s rise and revisionist inclinations. Tokyo’s decision late last year to procure the F35B and transform its two large new “helicopter carrying destroyers” into small aircraft carriers is evidence of the speed of the change. The UK, meanwhile, is keen to shore up the rules-based system – which it has done much to generate and underpin – particularly in light of China’s revisionism in the South China Sea, a major trade route upon which it relies. Brexit, disenchantment with Europe, and the wider “Global Britain” agenda add to this renewed focus.

Second, just as Britain has become more aware of China’s behavior, Japan appears more ready to react to Russian revanchism – having implemented bilateral sanctions in 2014 after the invasion of Ukraine – and continues to press for negotiations with Moscow over the Kuril Islands. While it would be a stretch to say that Russia is perceived as a threat by both island nations equally, both countries are increasingly alarmed by Russia’s “nonlinear” attacks on weaker powers and information offensives inside the West more generally.

The third factor is the evolving strategic posture and politics of the United States. As President Donald Trump secures bipartisan support from foreign policy elites for his push-back against the People’s Republic of China – one of the few areas where the president has support from both the Republicans and Democrats – Tokyo and London have begun to reorient themselves around America’s new strategic imperatives. The government review of telecommunications vendors in the UK and Japan’s decision to block Huawei from government contracts, is one example. Support for America’s World Trade Organization action against China is another.

So what is in store? In a recent edition of The Economist an unnamed British official went so far as to suggest that London and Tokyo may be heading towards a formal alliance with one another. This would have been unthinkable only a few years ago, similar to the British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s recent proposal to re-establish naval bases in Southeast Asia. However, the tenuous state of the international system, not least in the Indo-Pacific, is rapidly bringing such propositions into the realm of policy.

In such circumstances, a UK-Japan alliance does not sound so unreasonable. Both nations are global leaders. Both flank either side of Eurasia, which is gradually emerging as an integrated space. And both nations are backed by –and in turn reinforce – US global power. Indeed, as China’s rise and revisionist inclinations develop further, it is not unthinkable that security alignments like the Quad could develop into broader NATO-like defense organizations, drawing together like-minded states and allies in East and Southeast Asia, as well as Australasia.

As two of the world’s leading powers, the UK and Japan have the power to lay the path towards a more secure and prosperous future. This requires their closer alignment to generate a center of gravity from which to attract other countries into a wider project to re-stabilize the rules-based system to the extent that the Indo-Pacific remains free and open. This should help to ensure that the People’s Republic of China rises in a more peaceable fashion, while providing a counter to temper its authoritarian appetites. We are in a new age of geopolitics. Japan and the UK are thinking and acting geostrategically and globally once again.


Explaining the Japan–Australia security relationship: it’s complicated…

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International Affairs Blog, with Tomohiko Satake, 13 July, 2018

During the Cold War, Japan defined its security policy by the Yoshida Doctrine — maintaining a low profile security posture while relying on the United States for protection based on the US–Japan Security Treaty. There was little appetite within Japan’s government or military for military-to-military relationships with other regional states. Yet the past three decades have seen a steady diversification of Japanese security partnerships, including with South Korea, Australia and India as well as with some ASEAN and European countries. Notably, these relationships were not meant to replace the still-dominant security reliance on the US–Japan alliance, but instead were part of a strategy — carried out in tandem with the US — which saw the two states moving away from its strict bilateralism to what Michael J. Green calls ‘federated capabilities’.

The case of Japan and Australia — a ‘quasi-alliance’?

In our recent article for International Affairs, we looked specifically at this rapid diversification of Japanese security partnerships from the perspective of Japan–Australia security cooperation in both the bilateral and multilateral contexts, including the US and China. First of all, it was apparent that while some referred to Japan–Australia relations as ‘quasi-alliances’, they were not, in fact, alliances at all, but merely examples of what Thomas Wilkins called‘alignment’. While these groupings have systematically set about developing ‘alliance-like’ characteristics — such as military interoperability, strategic consultations and institutionalized intelligence-sharing — they have carefully avoided the primary ingredient of alliances: defence guarantees.

We asked why political leaders in Tokyo and Canberra went to the trouble of developing such complex security relationships — one need only look at the general security of information agreement (GSOMIA) and the acquisition and cross-servicing agreement (ACSA), for example — while simultaneously avoiding the primary benefit of a formal alliance commitment to each other? Neo-realist theory would have us believe that as authoritarian China rose in the region and expanded its military hard power capabilities across the maritime space and trade routes of both states, Australia and Japan would either balance Beijing’s ambitions or bandwagon behind them. However, the actual record is more complex and sees political leaders adopting elements of both strategies. At times, Australia and Japan developed very close ties and seemed on the verge of committing to the relationship — as when Prime Minister John Howard offered Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a security treaty in 2007 or when, in 2015, both Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Abe began promoting a submarine deal in strategic terms, labelling theirs a ‘special relationship’. Subsequently, however, caution seemed to reassert itself in both cases and domestic factors inside both countries halted further progress.

Drawing from Tomohiko Satake’s 2011 article on the origins of the trilateral relationship between the US, Japan and Australia and from John Hemmings’ doctoral research, we developed a model for explaining this apparent discrepancy. Faced, for example, with a triple security dilemma, that pits them between (1) a security dilemma with China, (2) an abandonment/entrapment dilemma with each other and (3) a quite separate abandonment/entrapment dilemma with their mutual ally, the United States, Japanese and Australian foreign policy elites simply cannot tell what the optimum policy choice is. What we found, through interviews and by analysing government policy documents, was how bureaucratic coalitions within Canberra or Tokyo would push for given policies, prioritizing one or another of these three drivers. This meant that in some cases the two would align more closely — such as when a pro-alliance group prioritizing the danger of abandonment was in control of the tools of foreign policy — only to pull back after new bureaucratic coalitions, which promoted policies that engage with China and emphasized the dangers of entrapment, took power. This was apparent, for example, after the 2008 election in Australia which saw Kevin Rudd replace John Howard as prime minister, as Australia unilaterally withdrew from the US–India–Japan–Australia Quadrilateral (QUAD) and warned against closer defence engagement with Japan.

What does this mean for the future?

This model explains both the specific pattern of Japan–Australia security ties as well as the historically atypical alignment policies that are rising across the region, in which states begin implementing multipronged strategies to pair balancing with engagement. We see these states building evermore institutionalized security relations, while continuing to closely monitor their relations with Beijing. In academia, this dual-approach has become known as ‘hedging’. As we look to the future, instability and threats to the rules-based order are discussed not only in terms of Chinese assertive behaviour, but also in terms of the Trump administration’s challenge to the liberal international order. Given these circumstances, we must also ask whether our model will see even more non-committal alignments — particularly between medium-sized regional states — or whether China will be able to successfully restrain states from forming balancing alliances. Examples of these alignment patterns are to be found in the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue, created in 2002; in the creation of an Australia–India–Japan trilateral in 2015; and in the revival of the QUAD in 2017.

One interesting implication of our research is that, while abandonment concerns regarding the US engagement in Asia significantly encouraged Tokyo to seek closer ties with India, India itself has been less motivated by abandonment issues. Instead, internal debates in Delhi are more concerned with the risk of becoming entrapped between the United States and a rising China. This, combined with a fear of provoking a security dilemma and India’s longstanding ‘non-alignment’ foreign policy approach, has compelled some factions inside the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to eschew strong commitment to the QUAD. As we can see, this ‘commitment dilemma’ explains why all of these groupings see an ebb and flow of defence institutionalization, despite the fact that all share concerns about China’s intentions and growing military capabilities.

Should the US–China rivalry intensify, we might expect to see bureaucratic coalitions inside all four countries debate the prioritization of alliance commitments versus the prioritization of their relationship with China. Much of this has a mercurial dynamic, meaning that if any player decreases its security commitment to the QUAD, one will see a reaction from the others. If the Trump administration cannot sustain strong and consistent commitment to regional security, one might see a worrying shift in balancing behaviours by other QUAD members, with some reaching out to Beijing. The future of the QUAD therefore not only depends on Chinese assertiveness, but also on the appearance of US resolve to the defence of its smaller allies and partners. No doubt, this debate is occurring now at the domestic level.


Lessons from the America-Japan Trade War of the 1980s

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The National Interest, with James Amedeo, 2 July, 2018

The current wisdom is that there are no winners in trade wars. This message is inherent in nearly all coverage on the United States President Trump administration’s tariffs campaign on China, the European Union, and Japan. However, is this really true? History tells us that sometimes, there are winners in trade wars—all it takes is for one side to blink first.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the White House was faced with a powerful Asian economic power that manipulated its currency, subsidised its companies, and erected stiff non-tariff barriers to imports. Washington’s response was to put 100% tariffs on electronics, force voluntary restrictions on the aggressor’s auto, steel, and machine industries, and adopt laws that restricted the country’s steel, lumber, and sugar industries. But this wasn’t a nascent People’s Republic of China (PRC), it was the U.S. treaty-ally, Japan.

For approximately a decade, Japan and the United States engaged in a small-scale trade war. The United States achieved a tactical victory in the war with the 1985 Plaza Accord when the U.S. argued that it and Japan should abandon the fixed exchange rates that had prevailed after the Second World War. The result was that U.S. imports dropped in price as the dollar fell and Japan entered the bubble economy, which was ultimately to lead to the Lost Decade.

While there are many differences between the PRC now and Japan in the 1980s—the PRC is an authoritarian power and a peer competitor, rather than a U.S. ally—there does seem to be similar structural features in how the two approached trade, and how they approached access to their home market.

Thus far, the PRC’s strategy has been to respond to U.S. measures in kind. This reciprocity is somewhat ironic, given widespread complaints about Beijing’s lack of market access reciprocity. President Xi’s economic adviser, Liu He, has been the central player behind this approach. Shortly after Trump gave the green light on tariffs worth $50 billion of Chinese products Beijing retaliated with tariffs of their own that totalled up to $34 billion. Liu He even went so far as to pick the same date to enact their tariffs, July 6.

The difference between the two sets of tariffs lies in the contents. The Trump tariffs focus on parts and components used in high-technology manufacturing, machinery, automobiles, and transportation, while Xi’s tariffs focus mainly on agriculture exports like soybeans. This latter strategy seems odd until one realizes the Chinese dependency on U.S. high-tech. These items are unlikely to be targeted by Lieu He as long as Made in China: 2025 is a crucial part of Xi’s platform. Under that plan, China aims to improve its domestic production of high-end technology.

The Trump team has, of course, realized this, and therefore focused primarily on this area, both to stop the loss of valuable American intellectual property and to put pressure on the PRC through the threat of urban job losses. The example of the Chinese company ZTE is telling. With 74,000 workers jobs risked by its expulsion from the U.S. economy, Beijing focused the entirety of its next move on attempting to remedy this. While the PRC’s attack on farmers—who are a part of Trump’s voter base—threatens success in the Midterms, the White House’s attack on ZTE was much quicker, and some would say, more effective at moving Beijing.

There is a lot of noise around Trump’s tactics, saying that he represents chaos or anarchy. However, if one looks at the U.S.-China relationship since he came into office, one can discern a pattern.

First, communicate with the other side that you are unhappy and want to negotiate. One could argue that this occurred during the Presidential campaign when Trump consistently repeated the trope that China was “killing the American economy.” Second, develop a personal relationship with your opponent and give him time to make an offer. This occurred when President Xi was invited to the President’s estate at Mar-a-Lago. Filled with personal bonhomie, the president also joked during the Press Conference that Xi had not given him anything yet.

Second, if you are ignored, give the other guy something to think about. Cause him pain. This is not meant to be punitive, but to prod the opponent into really engaging with you. Famously, Beijing has promised structural reforms to previous U.S. administrations, only to renege. The first round of steel tariffs was a sign that Trump’s patience had finally run out. Perhaps symbolically, the replacement of Gary Cohn by Peter Navarro at that time as Trump’s key economic advisor was a message the U.S. would now be taking a more hard-handed approach.

Whatever the drivers are for the tariffs the end goal should remain the same for the Trump administration—Washington needs to focus on structural reform in China rather than on the reduction of the trade deficit. The trade deficit of $375.57 billion has become a useful political tool in Washington and, while it may be powerful, it is also dangerous. This is because it focuses on the symptoms, rather than the cause. In the words of former U.S Under Secretary of Commerce Frank Lavin, “If they give you a check, watch out. They’re sort of buying you off and getting you just to go away for that money.”

Trump could ‘win’ this trade war by getting Beijing to blink by seriously addressing the structural and intellectual property concerns raised in the March U.S. Trade Representative report. Whether Xi can make these changes and continue his China Dream, on the other hand, is debatable.

Jeremy S. Maxie

Energy & Political Risk Consultant

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