Thursday, December 10, 2009

Final Readings Post

This will be the final post on this blog. I am not giving up blogging, however, as I and some friends have founded a group blog where I can continue many of these themes. (In fact, I've post many things over there that would have worked here as well, dealing with Taiwan and North Korea.)

Today's readings focus on the region as a whole.

David Kang. “Getting Asia Wrong,” International Security Vol. 27, No. 4, Spring 2003, pp.57-85
Adelphi Papers: no. 400-401 Asian Security Issue

Pax Asiatica versus Bella Levantina: The Foundations of War and Peace in East Asia and the Middle East ETEL SOLINGEN University of California Irvine

As usual, we'll take these one at a time.

Kang: This piece is a mostly theoretical piece, talking about how the most common IR theories do not really apply to East Asia, and how East Asia is a great opportunity for revising and universalizing theories created in the shadow of European experience. He focuses mostly on realism, which I find somewhat problematic because realism is so easy to pick on. Kang is quite frank about how none of realism's predictions for East Asia came true, but realism's predictions never come true anywhere. Even in Europe, NATO still exists, Germany does not yet have the bomb, and there has been no massive war between the European powers. (And no, the Yugoslav war doesn't count, because the component parts of Yugoslavia do not count as great powers. Besides, the fact that the internal dynamics of a country could so heavily affect the other states destroys the very ideas of realism as well.)

I also take issue with a few minor points (such as the idea that a nationalistic South Korea would rather balance with China, which has historically oppressed Korea, against the US, which has played a part but not as heavy handed), but overall, I think there is a lot to be said for the main ideas. East Asia offers a state system and history vastly different from that of Europe, and thus could be useful for refining our ideas of "how IR works."

Adelphi: I was not aware when I first put this on the syllabus that it was, in fact, a large number of different speeches at a conference. Therefore, it is hard to categorize in this way. Most of these involved policy makers from around the region pledging greater cooperation, with US SecDef Robert Gates also pledging greater attention from the US. The Korean representative talked a lot about how Korea has grown and is a model for the world, while the Chinese representative talked about multipolarity.

Solingen: This piece tried to draw out why, despite very similar starting points, the Middle East and East Asia have diverged so sharply, mostly in terms of conflict but also economically. The article says that it is due to "competing domestic models of political survival," or simply that most of the major Middle Eastern states were able to rely on oil rents and thus could pursue disastrous but popular policies, or else were able to be militaristic and conflictual in ways that were absolutely disastrous for East Asian states. In other words, the resource curse killed any chance at developing normal relations in the Middle East. There were other things at work (Nasser's consistent meddling in other states, etc.), but the resource curse has to be the greatest cause of it.

There is another point that Solingen does not get to for quite awhile that I think may have as much to do with it. At least in Northeast Asia, the states in question had far more legitimacy than the states of the Middle East. No one either within the states or without doubted the right of the states of Japan, Korea, and China to exist. The same applies to some of the states of Southeast Asia, such as Vietnam and Thailand. Questions could be raised as to exact borders, and they did not hold the exact same level of legitimacy as Westphalian states, but the basic right for the Koreans, the Japanese, the Thai, etc., to have states was never in question. This is not the case in the Middle East, where not only was Israel surrounded by countries that did not believe in its right to exist, but the Arab states (being largely artificial lines drawn on a map) never held the internal legitimacy of (for example) Japan. No one in East Asia was seeking to impose a united East Asian state, like Nasser was seeking in his United Arab Republic. This probably helped tamp down quite a bit on conflict as well.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


This week's readings unfortunately retread ground covered before, because they are about terrorism in parts of the world I've already covered. But, here they are regardless:

Chien-peng Chung, “China's "War on Terror”: September 11 and Uighur Separatism.” Foreign Affairs. 81(4) (July-August 2002), pp. 8-12,

David Capie, “Between a Hegemon and a Hard Place: the ‘War on Terror’ and Southeast Asian-US Relations,” The Pacific Review, Vol. 17, No. 2 (June 2004), pp. 223-248

Chung's piece very helpfully rehashes arguments made before about Uighur separatism, especially that hard fighting is not going to do much to solve it. Instead, China needs to focus on meeting Uighur needs and forming some kind of peace. The major problem with the piece is that Chung completely ignores the fact that Han nationalism is one of the constitutive parts of Chinese legitimacy these days, and so it cannot go too far in appeasing the Uighurs without losing legitimacy among the Han. (This can be seen in the riots that happened after the police did not start locking up all the Uighurs during the panic over hypodermic jabbings in Xinjiang.) So, while I can certainly hope that China will do something, I'm not optimistic.

Capie's piece is an interesting, if rather academic, look at how Malaysia, Indonesia, and Philippines have all responded to the post 9/11 American foreign policy. I am not at all surprised that the realist predictions all fall through (none of them are balancing against the US! Yet, none are fully bandwagoning either!) nor that Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" theory doesn't offer much help. (Weirdly, Capie consistently misspells Huntington's name as "Huntingdon".) Instead, it is domestic factors along with external factors that determine the overall policies.

One interesting thing I'd never seen before was the idea of the "Rumsfeld Principle," in which the mission defines the coalition (rather than vice versa). Perhaps it's my inherent love for middle ground rather than extremes, but it seems that this is another way of saying "We're doing it our way, come with us or not." This is never a good way to make policy or decisions; you need to accept input from all around before "defining the mission."

In general, personally, I'd like to see terrorism become less of a priority, with perhaps "instability" taking it's place, at least as far as Pacific Asia is concerned. Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and Thailand are all fairly representative governments, and further democratization and economic development would likely make them even more stable, thus decreasing the range of motion for terrorists and reducing the chances of overall war in the region. They could also make good examples for a certain more northern behemoth. Just narrowly targeting "terrorism" on the other hand does nothing to solve the greater problems.

Institutionalism and Philippines

The Philippines and MILF have created a forum in which to discuss their grievances, known (blandly enough) as the International Contact Group. But, as bland as it is, it's definitely a step towards resolving the issues, especially as they are bringing in many more powerful states and IGOs to make sure a resolution is found.

I'm optimistic, because it truly seems that both the government and the rebels want peace. Let's see if Arroyo can make this her legacy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Not dead yet!

It says something about North Korea that we all wait until South Korea announces that Kim is still alive.

That the financial markets panicked over it is scary. I'll admit that I'm terrified of what will happen when Kim kicks it. I expect a certain amount of chaos, personally. We'll have to see.

He is not yet dead
That's what the geezer said
No, he's not yet dead
That man is off his head

Apologies to Eric Idle, et al.

Australia Readings

It was difficult to find many readings on Australian security, and I had to settle for one about the new semi-alliance between Australia and Japan. However, it helps to fix some thoughts I've been having about the future of security in Asia.

Bisley, Nick "The Japan-Australia security declaration and the changing regional security setting: wheels, webs and beyond?" Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 38-52, Mar. 2008

This security declaration is a great step in moving towards a network of alliances in East Asia, linking together two of our strongest allies in the region. (The author is somewhat upset that South Korea has been left out of all of this, but hopefully that can be fixed with stronger bilateral ties to each of them.) It is particularly useful because it is very explicitly not intended to contain or balance against China, but instead to help with humanitarian problems. This has been a much larger problem for East Asia than interstate war for the last two decades, and can be a real step forward for overall peace in the region.

Importantly, Bisley states that it is important to remember that this is probably the limit of possible cooperation between Australia and Japan, rather than a beginning. This is fine, however. This is the greatest strength of a network-centered approach, rather than attempting and failing to make a formal multilateral alliance. Each state is able to make the connections it can, and hopefully this can be expanded.

I think Bisley may poo-poo the idea too much, but is overall rather supportive. I'm even more supportive, particularly as a guide for going forward to help the whole region maintain stability.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Search and Rescue Cooperation

China and Japan are two of the most important powers in East Asia (with South Korea right behind), and so it's very heartening to see these two working on military cooperation, even if only on maritime search and rescue.

There are still worries about budgets and misrepresentations, but all efforts to increase cooperation between US allies and China will help keep the region stable, particularly if it can help keep China happy and not paranoid about the intentions of the US and its allies.

Recurring theme

One of the recurring ideas I've been struggling with recently is the idea that concessions and respect earn dividends. I won't claim that its something new or unusual, at least for middle powers, but it seems that much of the American pundit class is having trouble with it.

Fortunately, there are some who are showing how it can work, including Barack Obama. This can be seen in concessions made by China after Barack Obama left. Andrew Sullivan (commenting on reporting done by Jim Fallows) helps to show that. On three of the four major issues that most people have been pushing Obama to push China on (the fourth being human rights), China shows progress after the President went home. That suggests (though does not prove; I don't want to be accused of post hoc/propter hoc issues) that the President had some effect while he was there.

And this is the essence of diplomacy. Loudly demanding things from countries gets you nowhere, even if you are the unipower. Perhaps, actually, especially if you are the unipower.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Readings Post

This is what I think of when the Russian military comes to mind. This is a MiG that basically fell out of the sky during an air show. That's what the entire Russian military is like right now. All of the machinery is left over from the USSR. Therefore, I don't tend to worry too much about Russian military supremacy.

This week's readings all had to do with Russian power in the Far East. Even if the Russian military has become a joke, they are still a great power. Between nuclear weapons and enough energy to really affect the world energy market, the world has to content with Russia. With that, I read the following:

Paradorn Rangsimaporn, Russia’s Debate on Military-Technological Cooperation with China: From Yeltsin to Putin”, Asian Survey, May/June 2006.

Elizabeth Wishnick, “Russia and the CIS in 2005: Promoting East Asian Oil Diplomacy, Containing Change in Central Asia”, Asian Survey, January/February 2006.

The Brookings Institute: The Future of Russian Energy Policy, November 2006

The overall thrust of the first two deals with Sino-Russian relations. They both basically say the same things. China and Russia are trying hard to work together, but suspicion of each other (and desires to maintain good relations with the US, while theoretically balancing against the US by helping each other) make it difficult.

In particular, the first article is about Russia's arm sales to China, and the conflict within Russia about it. I find it interesting that Russia sends more arms and equipment to China in sales than it buys for its own troops. (Again, the actual Russian military is ridiculous.) I find the argument that the items being sold are only good for fighting in the South China Sea, and thus Russia has nothing to worry about, patently ridiculous. The money China saves by buying these weapons is fungible, and could be redirected (easily!) to the kind of land-based systems that Russia fears. Even if China hasn't yet, there is the possibility.

The second article is all about Sino-Russian cooperation in Central Asia, mostly in attempting to keep the US out. Other than that, however, China and Russia actually have such divergent goals in Central Asia that I doubt they'll be able to cooperate for too long. Russia wants to keep Central Asian energy supplies going through Russia or Russian proxies, in order to maintain its grip on the energy markets. China wants to control that energy in order to maintain its own self-sufficiency. The two will be competing for some time.

The last article perhaps gives some of the most important points about Russia that should be kept in mind. Vladimir Milov, the former Deputy Minister of Energy in Russia, reminds us that the double-headed eagle is the long-standing symbol of Russia.
This means that Russia is always looking in two different directions. This fits with everything I've heard about Russia from people who know the country well (which I'll admit I do not). It is too easy to pretend that Russia is a monolith, or that Russia never really changes, or that Russia is implacably against democracy or incapable of modernization, etc. Russian history is full of time periods when Russia was in the lead in modernizing, and plenty of time periods when it was far behind.

Opportunities to cooperate with Russia need to be pursued for this reason. Russia does best when it feels brought into the international system, and most often retreats from it when it feels abused or derided. In particular, we are starting to see possible splits within the Russian leadership (particularly Putin and Medvedev), and we need to be aware that it is not yet the autocracy we think.


This is one of the most asinine things I've seen in awhile.

The author (Daniel Blumenthal) tries to take two fairly empty statements about the US cooperating with China and turn it into some kind of monstrous concession to Chinese dominance of the world.

The first passage that Blumenthal has a problem with:

The two countries reiterated that the fundamental principle of respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity is at the core of the three U.S.-China joint communiqués which guide U.S.-China relations. Neither side supports any attempts by any force to undermine this principle. The two sides agreed that respecting each other's core interests is extremely important to ensure steady progress in U.S.-China relations.
Blumenthal says this "comes closer to officially accepting the Chinese claim of sovereignty" over Taiwan. Even if Taiwan was the subject of this part, it in now way says that we accept that Taiwan is part of China's territory. I agree with him that this respect was not the core of the original agreements (kicking Soviet butt, geopolitically, was), but at this point without a bare minimum recognition of this we do nothing but play into Chinese paranoia.

He also complains that Obama hasn't sold any weapons to Taiwan, despite "being bound by law." He ignores that, by international law (aka the treaties communiques we signed with China) we have been bound to reduce those sales over time. Hasn't happened. Also, as of right now, Taiwan is fine. It will need more military ales later, but hopefully that will be at a time when our economy has recovered and we are no longer so reliant on China.

However, this is not as bizarre as his statements on China and India. Responding to this bit of text:

The two sides welcomed all efforts conducive to peace, stability and development in South Asia. They support the efforts of Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development, and support the improvement and growth of relations between India and Pakistan. The two sides are ready to strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia and work together to promote peace, stability and development in that region.
Somehow, this is a horrible capitulation to China and an attempt to force India to deal with Pakistan, rather than helping India do what it wants by confronting China. Somehow, this is attempting to keep India down as a regional, rather than world power.

And, even if somehow, some way, having India help in dealing with Pakistani and Afghani problems really does boost Chinese doesn't change the fact that right now, in the world of today (and not 10 years or 20 years away, when China might actually be able to rival the US), we have troops in Afghanistan and we are fighting in Pakistan. Right now, we need Indian help there, not in containing the China of twenty years from now.

Blumenthal is also upset that this "elevates" China while "demeaning" India, making it a "regional" power rather than a "global" one. It ignores the realities on the ground in South Asia, including that there are continuing issues between the two nuclear armed powers in the region. It also ignores that, right now, that's what India is. I'll be the first to say that we need to work with India, and make it a key partner and support its bid to greatness. But to ignore reality in order to make accusations at Obama and China is patently ridiculous.

Obama's Trip

Overall, I'm really happy with Obama's trip abroad. Despite some cranks, Obama presented an America comfortable with its roles and comfortable with its relations to its allies.

Now, Obama is in South Korea for a fairly routine visit. It's weird that now the US-South Korean relationship is so strong and trouble-free again. "Anti-Americanism" in South Korea was one of the biggest topics just a few years ago, when I first started paying attention to the politics of the area. Now, the US and South Korea stand firm on almost everything again.

I'm hoping then that the small concessions to Japan (particularly on the Okinawa issue) can lead to keeping that alliance just as firm. I would love to see a ROK-Japan alliance in the future (I know, there are so many historical issues, but once upon a time so did the US and British). That kind of three-sided, democratic alliance could do a lot of good in stabilizing the region. We'll have to see.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

North Korean special forces

Kyle Mizokami at War is Boring has an interesting post up describing the new enlarged North Korean special forces as (possibly) an insurance policy for the regime, rather than forces designed to attack South Korea. The basic idea is that the spec ops forces are to be a ready-made insurgency just in case the US or ROK forces conquer the country. This would be a sensible idea, as there is no way for the DPRK forces to prevent a US/ROK combined takeover, assuming of course China does not intervene again.

The only problem with the thesis is that we have no evidence that the special forces are trained for that. All of the evidence points to them being trained for surreptitious crossing of the border and from there conduct traditional guerrilla warfare. On the other hand, Kyle reports them being trained in IEDs.

If nothing else, this should help to persuade US policy makers that force is not going to be very successful against the Kim regime.

Makes me happy

This is the right way to go about it. Prudent cooperation, minor concessions to allies who have felt neglected or slighted, and a push for human rights that carries no threats. Contrary to some, this is not a position of weakness. The US does not need to be fighting with either its own allies or China, even though it has the military might to probably do so just fine. Instead, it is a pragmatic way to make the country more safe now, and into the future.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Indian/Japanese Relations

Galrahn at Information Dissemination has a post up about new ties between India and Japan. The two moving together, possibly forming an axis with the US and South Korea, could be a strong force for stability in East Asia. This would also fit in well with the "network" approach brought up in some of the ASEAN readings. A network of bilateral ties could help strengthen into a web of cooperation and support.

The fear, of course, is in establishing a system like that prior to WWI ,when the overlapping alliances led people to be pulled into war. However, with the off-shore balancer always on the horizon now (rather than conceivably remaining aloof, as it was prior to WWI), it should be less likely. At the very least, the US should try to encourage these kinds of ties between US allies and the states the US is trying to bring on as allies.

Preparing for any eventuality

Armchair Generalist links to a Defense News piece about US-ROK plans for dealing with DPRK nukes after the regime falls apart. I'm glad that the Pentagon has realized how much more dangerous North Korean instability can be than North Korean attack. In particular, nobody wants rogue elements within the North Korean state (or starving scientists in the worst-case post-Soviet scenario) getting those bombs or even the nuclear material. While I'm not saying that this should be the center of planning, it is important.

One thing that the original article notes that I think Armchair Generalist neglects is the China angle. I believe that these are the kind of plans that can and should be shared with China, to the degree consistent with national security. Any intervention in North Korea will be politically perilous, and surprising China with it would only make that worse. If we can even get Chinese support in a post-collapse intervention, so much the better. Obviously, capabilities, yada yada yada should be protected, but if there was ever a moment to show trust and hopefully build some in return, this could be it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Still going to have bilateral talks with North Korea

This is despite the skirmish with South Korea a few days ago. Since this is not a new idea in the wake of the skirmish, I can't really see how this can be spun as "giving in" to North Korean pressure or as a "reward" for bad behavior, but I'm sure someone will try to. Nothing about the skirmish negates the usefulness of bilateral negotiations. Fortunately, South Korea agrees.

Relatedly, why does North Korea bother lying about what happened? The DPRK is claiming to have driven the South Korean vessel off, a lie that can be easily disproven. It makes no sense.
It is sad to see some talking about an end to the "special relationship" with Japan. As the strongest, longest democracy in East Asia, this relationship has helped to maintain stability and prosperity for both sides for 50 years now. In particular, I hope that Obama can get things back on track, particularly after some impolitic moves by SecDef Gates.

I believe this is a good moment for some strategic appeasement on the US's side. While shuttering the Okinawa base would be overkill, some concessions to show that the US accepts the full equality of the partnership. (One can make a case that the US-Japanese alliance is in no way equal, but even if one accepts that, it is no way to keep an alliance.) Honestly, Japan is a stronger ally than many of the newer NATO allies, and deserves a position that recognizes that, and the current institutions in place don't seem to do that. Some small moves that way will go a long way toward fixing the current rift.

Readings Post

This week, I read about India and its place in the East Asian security sphere. In particular, I read:

Ashton Carter, “America’s New Strategic Partner?” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006
C. Raja Mohan, “India and the Balance of Power” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006

Both were particularly pleased with new American plans to make a semi-ally out of India. I cannot argue; it's a great idea. A very large country expected to build up a large economy and already possessing one of the larger militaries in the region makes for a strong partner. Add in the importance of the region and the ideological and cultural connections, and it becomes a wonder that the US had not reached out to India previously. Even the Cold War really is no excuse, since the US had already made countries like Poland or China allies at different points.

These two articles really overlap, with the Carter article spending more time on the nuclear deal, and the Mohan coming at the idea more from an Indian perspective and looking at the overall picture.

One thing I think both articles understate is the extent to which India and China are competitors. Both countries have gone out of their way to downplay this idea, and have set up some very good cooperative ventures. However, they still have some VERY strong disagreements on borders. They also have a potential flashpoint in Tibet, with India supporting the Dalai Lama and giving him sanctuary. Add in to this the normal rising power tension, and the competition for influence in southeast Asia, and it becomes obvious how much it is in India's interest to have the US on its side.

This opens up interesting possibilities for US diplomacy, if the US is willing to really play the diplomatic game. In a strategic triangle like this, the strongest position is to be the pivot between two rivals, as long as you are willing to use that to your advantage. Right now, a pro-India tilt makes sense, as India is the weaker party. However, the US (if nimble enough), could use the position and threats of tilting in different directions to attempt some concessions from both China and India.Align Right

Of course, US diplomacy is seldom that nimble. Instead, the US could end up in a position closer to the one it holds between the PRC and ROC. That probably wouldn't help anyone at all. But, there are interesting possibilities to be considered in preserving the power of the region, and maintaining its own relevance.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thai/Cambodian Rift

I doubt this will boil over into war or anything, but the near soap opera of the fight between Cambodia and Thailand over the appointment of former Thai prime minister Thaksin is intriguing. I don't even claim to understand what Cambodia was thinking in appointing Thaksin to an advisory post on economics (I know, he was a successful businessman and had some limited success in alleviating poverty, but only limited success). They had to know that it would piss Thailand off, though I didn't expect an extradition request.

Will this go to war? I doubt it. I don't even know if Cambodia has a functioning military, but Thailand has enough to deal with in its own south. But it's something to keep an eye on.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Korean Firefight

Once again, the two Korean militaries are firing on each other again. Of course, this happens all the time, and no one should get too excited. However, this time supposedly ended in North Korean deaths, which is the first time in a while.

Here's hoping it's just the same-old, same-old.


I often wonder about the usefulness of any given military base. One good example of this is the massive base in Okinawa. It is tremendously unpopular with the people of Okinawa, who have fairly consistently asked for the US to leave. (At the same time, it seems pretty clear that the Okinawans want the Japanese out, despite being legally part of Japan.) From any kind of liberal democratic standpoint, maintaining the base there against the wishes of the inhabitants screams colonialism, even if it is abetted by the "national" government (that many Okinawans also do not recognize).

This seems like one of the most controversial ones, though, because Okinawa occupies a particularly useful position in the area. It's halfway between Japan proper and Taiwan, and helps to solidify the first "band" of islands around the Chinese waters. If one was at all worried about trouble with China, it would be the most logical place to have a base. Japan knows this as well, and wants to keep the US troops where they are.

I do not really have an answer to this, except to keep in mind that these are actual competing claims on the national interest, and probably should not be swept under the rug. However, due to the assorted other bases this would have implications for (including Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean), I don't see any real accounting for this happening any time in the near future.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This week, we continue on with readings about ASEAN, but this time focusing squarely on the military challenges facing the grouping. The readings:

Joshua H. Ho, The Security of Sea Lanes in Southeast Asia, Asian Survey August 2006.
John F. Bradford, The Growing Prospects for Maritime Security Cooperation in Southeast Asia,
Naval War College Review, Summer 2005
Richard A. Bitzinger, “Come the Revolution”, Naval War College Review, Autumn 2005
Eric A. McVadon, China’s Maturing Navy, Naval War College Review, Spring 2006

Ho: This piece starts off on an odd note, as it compares the economies of China, Japan, and India (combined) to that of the US and EU. This seems to me to be a rather large mistake; Japan is already the second largest economy in the world and both Japan and India have long-standing tensions with China. To just lump them together, and say that combined they have half of the GDP of the US right now and that by 2015 they will (again, combined) surpass the US and EU (not combined) seems kind of silly and pointless, except as a possible scare tactic.

But, all of that is pretty secondary, as Ho is just trying to make the point that "the sea lanes along Southeast Asia are vital to the transportation of goods, energy, and raw materials to the dynamic economies of Northeast Asia". One does not need to resort to hyperbole or geostrategically meaningless claims to make this point.

The actual meat of the article gives a good account of all the ways the countries in the region (and beyond) are working together to combat piracy. I was unaware of the sheer number of different multilateral groupings in Southeast Asia, and will need to do some research later into the Western Pacific Naval Symposium, as it strikes me as a potentially very useful group for peace in the general area. There really isn't a conclusion to the piece however, other than "maritime crime is bad for everyone".

Bradford: This piece takes some of that logic, and takes it a step further, giving recommendations on the kinds of cooperation are necessary. Of course, this piece is a little dated now (because piracy in the region has decreased dramatically). In many ways, this week's readings are merely reiterating those from several weeks ago about piracy in Southeast Asia. I expected more ASEAN this week, and less general "piracy bad" stuff.

Of most importance in this reading is Bradford's defense of bilateral cooperation, and in particular his push to make that the main kind of cooperation in the region. The general idea is that, while multilateral grouping have more theoretical power, any grouping can only do as much as the "least keen" member wants. In a bilateral situation, you can reach the level that both want, but dragging in additional members would lower the amount that can actually be done. Even more interesting is his push for a "network" of such alliances, where the countries involved establish these bilateral ties to the extent they can with each country of importance. I think there is an interesting idea here for US strategy to the region as a whole (something I have been thinking on recently), as a way to move away from the "hub and spokes".

Bitzinger: This pieces if focusing on the possibility of modernizing the militaries of the states in the "Asian Pacific." In essence, the many governments of the area (including potential rivals like China and strong allies like South Korea, Japan, and Australia) have been paying a lot of lip service to creating their own "Revolution in Military Affairs" much like the vaunted US one, but none of the countries have really gone beyond buying new equipment. This should be seen as good news for the US, since preserving the status quo in the region is great for the unipolar power. Of course, the problem is that the one country that has gone the furthest on this is the one that is the most likely rival, China. Also problematic is that China may be seeking to counter the US advantage, rather than imitating the US's form of RMA. On the other hand, so far, China's "modernization" of their Navy and Air Force have been rather lacking, and much of the increase in spending has been instead on "legacy" and high-visibility items. While we have many of the same problems (F-22 anyone?), there has been more push for the command-and-control, intelligence, etc., items needed for the real high-tech revolution.

As an aside, I'm not sure that China has the internal conditions necessary to fight according to Biddle's ideas of "modern warfare", due to the large class and ethnic problems within the country. It would be interesting to see an analysis of that.

McVadon: This is a piece explicitly about the Chinese navy, which poses the largest threat to American interests in the entire world, and especially in the Pacific. He describes it as not a mature navy, but instead "adolescent." In effect, it has a nearly-mature body (platforms and weapons) but the mind is still very adolescent (command/control, doctrine, etc.) Also, the ability to coordinate the different forces is still very weak; supposedly, many PLA generals still treat the PLAN as an adjunct, rather than a co-equal force.

His overall conclusion is one that slightly contradicts the RAND report I read earlier this year about a Chinese attack on Taiwan. The RAND report states that Taiwan could most likely fend off a Chinese invasion; McVadon believes that Taiwan would succumb. However, that is only an incidental point to him; his main point is that the US could still defeat the PLAN if the US got involved. Mostly, this is due to the lack of experience with new forms of warfare in the PLAN.

To sum up the readings: The maritime is one area where the US maintains a clear superiority, but there is ample concern about non-state threats that will require the cooperation of the whole region. The US obviously cannot force this, but offering to assist in ways specified by the governments in the area could be invaluable. The fight against piracy has already shown what that kind of cooperation can do, and hopefully it can be a model for the future and thus keep conflict and war low in the region.
So, just as North Korea announces that it is producing more nuclear material, one of the other rock-star heads of state is taking a stab at dealing with, though not in person.

Sarko has a history of this, and it has often paid off. Also, it's possible the North Koreans might accept bilateral negotiations with the French as a substitute for bilateral negotiations with the Americans.

The biggest difference is that Sarko is not the one going, but instead the Socialist and former Culture Minister, Jack Lang. It makes a lot of sense for Sarko not to go himself, but I wonder how much the North Koreans will care about a former Culture Minister. We had to send Bill Clinton to get our journalists back, though in this case the French are considering concessions that we weren't.

Good luck Land and Sarko. Anything that can break this impasse right now, no matter how improbable, should probably be commended.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Definition of Insanity

China is launching a brand new "strike hard" campaign in Xinjiang. This is the second time that China has done this. The first time, it temporarily put down the uprising (in an extremely brutal fashion), but also radicalized the entire generation. Perhaps, this time, they think they can't radicalize the Uyghurs anymore than they have.

Actually, from a nationalist perspective, it makes great sense. Right now, they are more worried about the Han in Xinjiang revolting, and right now the Han are scared enough that they are also questioning the ability of the government to maintain order. However, I still don't see a good ending to all of this.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dalai Lama and China, round 5,256

China recently executed two people for their parts in the riots last year in Lhasa, and now is prosecuting a movie maker. The movie showed regular Tibetan people expressing their love of the Dalai Lama and heaping scorn on the Chinese authorities and the large number of Han moving into their lands. The man who made it, Dhondup Wangchen, knew that it was likely he'd get arrested (and so sent all of his family away to India for protection). Supposedly, he has been tortured, but the Chinese government has not allowed anyone to have access to him.

Why does this matter for East Asian security? Every outrage like this gives more credence to China's greatest boogeyman, the Dalai Lama. How can China dispute the words of the Dalai Lama if they constantly do exactly what he accuses them of? Moreover, though the Tibetans have long been more pacifistic than the Uyghurs (and, despite what the PRC government says, the Dalai Lama is more pacifistic than most), there is probably a limit to the amount of pushing and repression.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the biggest sticking points between India and China is Tibet. India shelters the Dalai Lama and his entire government-in-exile. The other big sticking point is the exact boundaries of Tibet vs. India. The more tension there is between the Dalai Lama and China, the more tension there will be between India and China. It really is in China's best interest to reach SOME kind of accommodation with a guy seen as one of the holiest men in the world.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Reading Post IX

This week, the readings were all about ASEAN and Southeast Asia (I know, again). This time, however, I (thought) I was focusing on the organization, rather than the individual countries. Some of the readings did that, one didn't. But first, the readings:

Manea, Maria-Gabriela, "How and Why Interaction Matters: ASEAN's Regional Identity and Human Rights" Cooperation and Conflict, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 27-49, Mar 2009

Christopher Hemmer and Peter J. Katzenstein, “Why is There No NATO in Asia? Collective Identity, Regionalism, and the Origins of Multilateralism,” International Organization, Vol. 56, No. 3 (Summer 2002), pp. 575 - 607

Nishikawa, Yukiko, "The "ASEAN Way" and Asian Regional Security," Politics & policy 2007 35, 1 42 -56

Ruukan Katanyuu, "Beyond Non-Interference in ASEAN: The Association’s Role in Myanmar’s National Reconciliation and Democratization," Asian Survey December 2006

I should probably add that I was utterly unaware of which countries are in ASEAN. I knew Malaysia and Indonesia, and kind of assumed that some of the other nearby ones (Brunei, Singapore) were in it, but I did not know that the Philippines were a founding member, nor that ASEAN had expanded to include what used to be known as Indochina. (Does the peninsula itself have a name?) I feel really dumb for not knowing that, and I know the internet is not the place to admit ignorance on things that basic, but there you go.

On to the readings:

Hemmer and Katzenstein: There was little here that was all the surprising to me. Really, the US treated SEATO and NATO differently because of (basically) racism? Not really a shock. They do a good job putting together all of the data to show that the US treated multilateralism differently in Southeast Asia and the "Atlantic Community" simply because the US saw itself as a descendant of Europe, and saw Asians as savages, but I think the general idea should be pretty obvious. I did find the idea of creating these regions basically out of linguistic cloth interesting, as well.

Nishikawa: I knew little of ASEAN's general work in the region, so this was useful for understanding how ASEAN deals with problems among its constituent states. I find it really interesting (and will come back to this with a different reading) that states who feel such a need to create a supranational organization also feel so jealous of their sovereignty. I also think that more emphasis on "management" of issues, rather than "resolution," could be useful around the world. If our goal is to stop people from dying, it would probably help to start with that as our base, rather than a comprehensive solution that ends the dispute once and for all.

Manea: This one was extremely theoretical, and it was difficult for me to wade through. However, it really helped to set some of the stage for me with Nishikawa. I am, of course, ecstatic to see these rising powers (and yes, obviously Indonesia and Malaysia are rising powers, and I dare say Singapore is already a middle power, at least economically) take such a keen interest in human rights. More than that, though, is the way that the democratization impulse has changed the nature of the organization. The democratizing powers (Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines) have left behind the legacy of colonialism, to a large degree, and are now willing to stand up and require more of others. This changes the organization from a way to avoid colonial interference to instead do real good. I like that.

Katanyuu: This is really just a case study of how ASEAN has interacted with Burma since inviting Burma to join, and in particular how it has come to allow itself to push Burma on what had previously been seen as "internal affairs". This was by far the clearest expression of how ASEAN used to work, and how it has changed. Of the four, it is by far the one I'd recommend most for someone interested in this subject.

Next week will be ASEAN's actual military affairs, which I think I will have more comments on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good thinking!

More evidence for why Gates is the best SecDef I can ever remember. Pushing for military cooperation with the second greatest military force in the world should be a no-brainer, and yet I'm sure it will be controversial for some.

Additionally, it was a nice gesture for Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission of China to lay a wreath at a memorial for those who died in 9/11.

Regionalism and Transnationalism

I tend to be a big fan of the power of institutions to achieve good effects in the world, if only in making it easier for states to cooperate and share information. However, while the EU makes a great case for how this can work, I'm skeptical of the ability of any other region, particularly ASEAN+, to do the same.

This is a region with a dizzying difference in incomes (far more than the original EEC, I believe, with Singapore having 150x the per capita GDP of Burma), with very diverse political structures (from democracies in the Philippines, South Korea, and Japan, to autocratic one-party systems like China and Vietnam, to family autocracies like Singapore, and even a military junta in Burma), and with very different identities (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucian, and atheist, not to mention the extremely large number of ethnicities and nationalities). This project will have every single problem the EU had, and then some. Some of the players even want to include the US and other non-Asian countries. I expect this to be a nice idea, floated around, but then quietly set aside.

The Economist on North Korea

The Economist this week points out once again the utter horror that is living in North Korea. Those reading this blog know that this is an issue dear to my heart. No one should be shocked to learn about work camps, forced starvation, or mass executions. The state is collecting most of its revenues from giant extortion rackets, threatening people with any of the above unless they pay for protection.

Unfortunately, the recommendations of the Economist are laughable. The article suggests that the West should beam "radio broadcasts that offer another reality to the state-manufactured one". This neglects the fact that the US is already beaming in VOA and Radio Free North Korea. It also neglects the fact that North Korea jams most stations, and also fixes all radios to only pick up state approved stations. Owning a radio that could even pick up these illicit radio broadcasts would be a massive risk for anyone willing to do so.

The second option given was to offer "apparatchiks and the elite education abroad". However, that is already happening, if only illicitly or in China. Kim's youngest son went to school in Switzerland; most of the rest of the high officials went to school in China. There is no love lost for the DPRK system within the Chinese university system (especially by the real Communists who dislike the monarchical style of the North Koreans). Moreover, those let out of the country will only be those with the utmost loyalty to the regime. While there may be some overall softening and socializing of leaders, I am unsure how much it would do to change the regime. On top of that, I can't imagine it would do anything to help the people on the ground. (Never mind all the work that would have to be done first, including restoring diplomatic relations.)

My heart bleeds as much as anyone's for those trapped in the evils of the North Korean regime. However, there needs to be some recognition that there is a strong limit on what the outside world can do. North Korea is not a country that's likely to change just because the outside world engages in a little propaganda or tries to push it.

Beyond that...there is a little worry in the back of my mind. I am still worried about the possible aftereffects of the utter collapse of the North Korean state. I'm not saying that American/Western pressure will bring the state down, but I think it may be more likely right now than the kinds of reforms we would like.

UPDATE: Ha! Looks like at least one actual important pundit (Michael Crowley) has come to the same conclusion, if only a few days later.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Interesting scuttlebutt

There are changes afoot on the Korean peninsula, but it doesn't seem like any grand change in the overall situation.

On the Southern side, the US has once again pledged to defend South Korea, going so far as to say that South Korea is under the US nuclear umbrella. I'm not sure anyone really doubted that fact, but having the SecDef say it definitely gives it more oomph. More important was the side-by-side agreement Gates and ROK Defence Minister Kim Tae-Yong showed. At the same time, the timetable for full ROK command of its own forces in wartime is still on track for 2012. This is great news for the Korean state, which has long felt slighted by the provisions of previous agreements that put ROK forces under the command of the US, but I have to admit to some slight worry over C&C issues should war break out at that point. I'm hoping that the US and ROK forces are strongly putting together all the joint-planning systems they will need to coordinate.

More importantly, however, in that same article SecDef Gates says that the US and ROK forces are planning for what is probably the likeliest scenario, a full break-down in internal order in DPRK. There were no details, but I'm glad to know that our leaders have realized how likely that is, and how deleterious.

This is especially important now that the succession plans in DPRK are apparently becoming more dicey. Apparently Kim Jong-Il is not happy with how his son, Kim Jong Eun has been handling his responsibility over the military. Moreover, North Korean officials who visited South Korea several months ago to attend the late President Kim Dae Jung's funeral were exceptionally solicitous, and took a harangue by President Lee Myung-bak very courteously, promising to try to stop northern provocations.

This worries me, in some ways. A strong North Korea could be disastrous, particularly if it decided it was strong enough to attack South Korea. On the other hand, a very weak North Korea could collapse entirely. Moreover, North Korea is not East Germany; I don't think it will meekly accept merger with South Korea on its own terms, at least not with the Kim family in charge. This is a monarchy, not a Communist country, and so the preservation of the monarchy becomes vastly more important. There is no way for a "new generation" of leaders to come in except through a literal dynastic change, and then that leader will have more interest in the preservation of that system than a man who worked his way up from the ground floor. (Yes, this is an argument based on constructed identity, not raw power. So sue me.) While there have been kings who have liberalized, I'm not sure it will be possible in North Korea without unleashing a tidal wave, ending in the dissolution of the DPRK and the rest of the world picking up the pieces.

This is what will be unleashed on the region. I know that merely being polite does not mean that North Korea is weak, but along with rumors of succession issues on top, it makes me worry. It also makes me doubly glad that Gates and Kim Tae-yong are working on that issue now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Reading Post VIII

Today, I read about the Straits of Malacca, and the piracy problems there.

Bradford, John F., "Shifting the Tides Against Piracy in Southeast Asian Waters," Asian Survey Vol. 48 Issue 3

Prior to the last couple of years, if anyone in the know talked about piracy, they were talking about the area around the Straits of Malacca. The piracy in the region was a growing problem until 2004, when it started to decline again. I knew a little about this, because I had done some research into Somali piracy last year, and a friend helped me with some knowledge he'd picked up about what had worked in this area. But, I didn't know much overall.

I remembered him telling me about the "tsunami thesis," which basically said that the tsunami of '04 had so damaged the pirates that they couldn't pirate anymore. This article pretty well demolishes that, by showing that they've had plenty of time to get back together, and still haven't. Instead, it looks like honest governance improvement and better naval cooperation have done the trick.

It is particularly interesting how hard it is to get security cooperation among the affected states, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore. I know that there have been long-standing rivalries and even conflicts (with Malaysia once supporting terrorists in Indonesia, as I recall, and Singapore had been part of Malaysia until Malaysia kicked it out).

Also of interest to me is the extensive foreign support for anti-piracy operations, with Japan, US, India, and even China working together with the countries in the region. (The most notable exception is apparently Thailand, due in part to their own problems with their southern insurgency.)

Most importantly, though, I think it shows (once again) how non-state actors can have very detrimental effects on security, to the point that cooperating with states that have been traditional threats can be a good, good idea. Moreover, it suggests that we are on the right strategy for Somalia with the extensive, multilateral naval cooperation in the region, though there is some worry about the lack of governance within Somalia as well.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reading Post VII

This week, I attempted to do readings on security in Southeast Asia, specifically the peninsula south of China. However, I found very little about any country other than Thailand. I did read one article about the theoretical institutional balancing of some ASEAN countries, which was not really pertinent.

However, one reading was great:
Aurel Croussaint, "Unrest in Southern Thailand: Contours, Causes, and Consequences," Strategic Insights Vol 4 Issue 2 (Feb 25th).

I knew of the insurgency, and have eaten written some (mostly uninformed) things here about it. What I was unaware of was the degree that Thaksin, the deposed President, was responsible for this insurgency. The actions he took to destroy the power of an opposing political party in the south destroyed all the links between the Malay population there and the government, and he substituted the military (which had productive links) with the national police, who were apparently rather brutal and corrupt.

Of course, this article was written before the coup, which had more to do with economic policies and royalist support. But I get the feeling that the confusion and uproar of the coup has made it more difficult to reverse Thaksin's southern policies.

Also of interest is the further confirmation of David Kilcullen's work. He mentions this insurgency in his book, but we can actually see where the policies of Thailand have pushed people into a more radical identity. In particular, the traditional Islam of this region has been moderate and Sufi, but Salafi, reformist, "extreme" Islam seems to be taking hold. While AQ and JI don't seem to have a toehold yet, many are worried that Thailand (and others) are acting like it is. Here's hoping that AQ and JI don't, but it's a possibility if some kind of solution isn't found.

I was also completely unaware of the fact that these Malay provinces used to be far richer than the country as a whole, and now is quite a bit poorer. Maintaining overall development thus seems to be far more important than often realized.

I still don't understand the overall point of trying so hard to maintain 3 underdeveloped provinces that are not a major part of the economy of the country, have such a radically different ethnic/religious/national make-up, and is willing to fight to be out. But I feel I understand the overall conflict better.

China might yet get a carrier!

It looks like China is finally working on getting the Varyag up and running, at least according to the New York Times. Though it seemed, at first, to be a silly notion for China to spend so much time and money developing an aircraft carrier, it makes more sense to me now. The country feels the need to project power into (at least) the Straits of Malacca, and preferably out to the "American defense belts".

What I worry about now is American/Western over-reaction. America has 11 carriers, all of which more than match this one. No other state has more than one carrier, and we also have more "mini-carriers" (VSTOLs) than all other states combined. One little carrier, particularly for a country without much of a navy otherwise, won't change that much.

More importantly, it won't really affect our security issues with China. A carrier is impractical for threatening its immediate neighbors, like Taiwan or Japan. Chinese missiles and planes can reach them already. If anything, it is merely a show of force. It's not something to worry overmuch about.

Reading Post Issues

The readings post for last week was delayed due to schoolwork and a conference, and has now been delayed again due to the fact that the readings I picked out had nothing to do with security in Southeast Asia, despite being about the Thai coup and about "Southeast Asian balancing". Sorry for the delay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

SCO Meeting results in nothing in particular

It should be obvious by now, but the SCO seems increasingly like a big show, rather than an actual threatening anti-American alliance.

China and Russia are actually suffering in recent months from the scourges the SCO was set up to deal with (extremism, separatism, and terrorism). Was the Uyghur situation discussed? Not at all. The North Caucasus problem? Nope.

The only concrete result of this meeting is that the Central Asian countries will get $10b in credit from China, to help combat the downturn. While I'm sure there is some kind of security aspect to that, it's very weak work from a hyped security summit.

Guys--if you want to balance against "hegemonism," you'll need something stronger than that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Unpopular view

But, really, at what point does it become not worthwhile to fight an insurgency anymore?

I'm not talking about Afghanistan here. Thailand has been fighting (off and on) an insurgency in its extreme southern provinces (which are Muslim and Malay, instead of Buddhist and Thai) for about a century now. Today, the security forces raided a school due to concerns about indoctrination into insurgency there.

And it seems they came up with something. There were in fact books on how to be suicide bombers, and they are interrogating 60 students. It could represent a real breakthrough, but I'm very skeptical.

It is said that insurgency is a long slog and very difficult to do. What does Thailand gain by keeping these three provinces? It is not like the separatism would spread to the rest of Thailand; these provinces are unique in many ways in Thailand. These are the only places that are majority Muslim or majority Malay. In fact, this is a former independent country that then-Siam annexed in the early 20th century. It is not like other provinces would be encouraged to do the same thing (unlike China).

I do not know what, other than pride, Thailand gets out of continuing to hold these provinces. However, no one ever wants to give up and accept that losing sometimes is less costly than winning.

Ho hum.

North Korea is upping the temperature again. Nothing to see here.

Hearts and Minds in Xinjiang

There is a reason why the rule of law is so precious in any country, even China. Sometime yesterday, 6 men were convicted and sentenced to death for their parts in the riots in Xinjiang in July. Of course, there are many people (particularly in the Muslim community in China) that are convinced it is a sham.

If the Chinese (and particularly the Chinese Uyghurs) had a real belief in the fairness of the justice system, it is likely that these riots never would have happened. But, because no one does, it is likely that the riots will resurface again, particularly after a quite likely flawed trial condemns more Uyghurs to death. If the people believed it was a fair trial, then they would be more likely to accept the outcome. Because they do not, more violence could result.

This is the problem with the Chinese approach on so many fronts. They have been trying to build up soft power in many parts of the world (especially with the Confucian centers that have been opened around the world), they still ignore many of the actual roots of soft power, even with their own citizens. This is not a way to build legitimacy; it merely erodes it further. (The same happens when they lash out against the Dalai Lama for going to give religious care to Taiwanese.)

Without fixing these problems of legitimacy, the Chinese will never end the general violence and distrust in Xinjiang.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reading Post VI

This week, the topic is Indonesia. I will confess, I know a lot less about Indonesia than I do the other countries surveyed so far. My academic focus has long been Northeast Asia (specifically the Chinas and the Koreas), and so the rest of the course will involve a lot more eye-opening for me.

The readings this week are:

The discussion papers focused squarely on the Indonesian military reformation that has taken place in the last decade as Indonesia moved from authoritarianism to democracy. In the authoritarian period, the military was used primarily as a means of social control and regime legitimacy. Moreover, military officers held most of the commanding positions in the government (including for most of the period the Presidency, after General Suharto overthrew Sukarno in a coup.)

Because of the size and its designation as the world's "largest Muslim country," I assumed that Indonesia had a military commensurate with its status. However, apparently at this point Indonesia spends less than 1% of GDP on its military, and many military leaders consider it far too small to defend the country (and particularly all of the important waterways in the country). The military in total has less than 400,000 troops, the vast majority of which are ground troops. This boggles my mind, as an island chain would seem to need a navy far more.

However, when looking into the internal workings of Indonesia, it begins to make more sense. The overriding threat to Indonesian sovereignty does not lie in the pirates in the waters, or even in naval attack by neighboring states. Instead, it is insurgency, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism that concerns the defense department of Indonesia, though it seems that this does not worry the policy makers as much as the possibility of the military attempting to take back its old role as political masters.

There is a good chance that overall defense spending will increase, if only to increase professionalism and to decrease the military's reliance on military-owned companies. These companies are largely seen as an obstacle to a truly professional military and a potential for extreme corruption. The very idea boggled my mind when I first saw it, for that very reason.

The last major topic of the discussion papers was the war on terrorism within Indonesia, with strong disagreement about how that war should be prosecuted. Two writers (Adrianus Harsawaskita and Evan A. Laksmana) expressed strong skepticism that the military was fighting terrorism for any reason other than as a pretext for re-establishing some of the power it had given up in the last decade. Robert Eryanto Tumanggor instead pushes for more democratization and more respect for legal rights as a partial method toward resolving the grievances that lead to terrorism. Lastly, Sapto Waluyo echoes Tumanggor, but stresses that the problems are systemic to the government, and require diligent reform.

The other piece (from Small Wars Journal) was much more focused on the problem of guerrilla warfare in Indonesia, a country that was both founded on guerrilla warfare and has fought more COIN campaigns than most. I was impressed that one of the founders of the Indonesian state wrote not only a handbook to guerrilla warfare (like Mao and Giap both have), but also within that same book a COIN manual. I believe that may better show the difference between Indonesia and other countries in the region. Because Indonesia is an amalgamation of many cultures and ethnic groups, the legitimacy of the regime is always in much more danger than the regimes in Japan, Korea, China, or Vietnam. Indonesia is a modern invention, born (mostly) out of colonialism, and as such faces dangers quite different from its neighbors. Moreover, these dangers compound each other; a lack of legitimacy fuels terrorism, which fuels military overreach, which lowers legitimacy further. With all of this in mind, it is remarkable that Indonesia has managed to achieve the degree of stability that it has.

Oh, and speaking of Taiwan...

Just for the coolness factor:

I do believe this would be the ultimate deterrent against any action across the Strait.

(h/t War is Boring)

China/Taiwan News

Apparently, Taiwan is working on an littoral warship of its own. I find it interesting that so many countries are recognizing the importance of the "near coast" waters. Once upon a time, those were the only ones every contested; the ability to fight in blue-water is a fairly new development. And yet almost all of our tech is devoted to fighting in the blue-water. Moreover, for a country like Taiwan, all of the fighting it has to worry about will be in the Taiwan Strait. It needs something small and fast that can disrupt amphibious assault ships, and this (which is stealthy) could fit that bill.

On the other hand, Taiwan may not have to worry about China as much as previously thought. China looks like it may have its hands full with AQ soon. It is almost heartening to see that AQ is starting to realize that the US is not, in fact, the greatest oppressor of Muslims world-wide. I would suggest that the US help China in this fight, but first China needs to actually reform its treatment of the Uyghurs and its rule of Xinjiang in general. (I find it fascinating that Tibet is constantly labeled a "non-self-ruled territory" or such by groups like Freedom House, but Xinjiang/Turkestan is always ignored.) It is interesting to me the way that globalization is causing imperial difficulties for a mere rising power like China, but between attacks by AQIM in Algeria, perennial trouble across the strait, and now the threat of pan-Islamism in its northwest corner, it seems to be happening.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

More substantive posts to come...

But with the announcement of two more quakes in the Pacific (one near Vanuatu and one near the Philippines) my heart and thoughts are going out to the people of the Pacific Rim. I know it's called the "Ring of Fire" for a reason, but this is a lot even for that region. The typhoons this year have been particularly damaging as well (particularly in Taiwan and the Philippines). I am glad that the US Navy has made "soft power" a priority, because it will mean quicker relief for many hurt by the earthquakes and any who will be hurt by the tsunamis, but I hope that the damage is light and that most of the people will be ok.

Monday, October 5, 2009

China and North Korea

There has been a lot of activity in Northeast Asia this past weekend, and I've been trying to process it all.

1) 60th anniversary PRC military parade: As I think the pictures here show, it is definitely the missile age. Every land picture is of some kind of mobile missile system. I've seen a few other pictures with military men and women marching, and even one of tanks, but all of the new equipment being shown off is missile-related. Even many of the Naval shots are of PLAN vessels firing missiles.

2) I agree with the general consensus that Wen Jiabao's visit to North Korea shows how serious China is about maintaining relations with North Korea, come what may. However, it must be kept in mind that China (even more so than South Korea) is in no position to handle the flood of migrants who will end up in China should the DPRK collapse. I am still not convinced of the strength of the regime there. I do hope, however, that something productive can come from the talks there.

3) I'm fascinated by the idea of "forced repatriation," particularly as it was the sticking point in the negotiations at the end of the Korean War. We're seeing it again in Korea. Recently, 11 people managed to take a boat and sail to South Korea, and the North is demanding that South Korea return them. South Korea has refused to force them back to North Korea, and I support that refusal. In fact, all developed countries who believe (even in theory) in freedom of movement should support that move. Even while many countries have strict anti-immigration laws, they all agree that no one should be forced to live in a country they hate. This is codified in US law (the Jackson-Vanik amendment), and respected by most countries. If I may be all constructivist for a second, this is not a norm that should be undermined. More interesting, however, if why North Korea would want them back. Obviously, they broke DPRK law by leaving, and would not be allowed with the rest of the population. (I am certain that telling the other North Koreans about what the South is really like is not something Kim and co. want.) I'm assuming the point it to deter anyone else from leaving as well, or to coerce other countries into making it harder for people to leave. However, it's much likelier just to further inflame opinion against the DPRK. Perhaps the strategic thinking is that world opinion cannot really go any lower, but it still seems a waste of international power and attention to try to force the return of these defectors.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Linked, tangentially, to the last post

Apparently, the US is going to be engaging in talks with Burma/Myanmar as well as Iran. If North Korea is the worst, most evil regime on the planet today (and the evidence, based on deaths and malnutrition today is pretty good), Burma might well be the second. The response to both the protesting monks two years ago and the cyclone last year show that the regime has no care for the lives of its citizens. (I am willing to grant that Sudan should also be in the competition up here.)

And yet, again, isolation of the country has done no good, and instead made the people poorer. Moreover, it's fed into a paranoia that prevents any real progress in Burma. I am not for an instant pretending that engagement with Burma will cause it to become a democratic wonderland. It won't. I'm not pretending that it will cause the release of Kyi. It won't.

But neither will continued sanctions and isolation. It hasn't worked, and it won't work. (I hesitate to say that it never works, but I've yet to see an example of utterly isolating a country from the international community causing the regime there to do anything other than double down.) Sanctions are most effective against a country that doesn't think it will have future conflict with you. That does not sound like the US-Burmese relationship.

At the very least, opening up dialogue allows for some movement towards making the lives of the Burmese people better in some objective way. Nothing needs to be given away to open up discussion.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Makes the heart bleed

I am willing to accept the fact that I am, in fact, a bleeding heart liberal. There are limits to this (including famous people who get away with heinous crimes and live in "exile" more comfortable than the majority of people's lives...), but a story like this about reunions between North and South Koreans really tugs at the heart strings.

In short, South Koreans going to reunions with siblings in the North are regretting having done so. These are people who haven't seen their siblings since prior to the Korean War, but what they saw and heard was so shocking that it has basically traumatized them. We read about the North Korean famine, but there are seldom visuals, which are so necessary in today's instant world. These South Koreans, many of whom are quite prosperous, are hurt to see their family members, the people they grew up with, literally starving.

It doesn't end there. The South Koreans bring gifts of food and money for their northern family members, only to have a large percentage of it taken by the DPRK, the very state responsible for the horrible condition of those family members. On top of that...they here nothing but praise for that state from their family members. We talk of North Korean brainwashing, but when a starving person praises the very people who have made them starve, it is truly mind-boggling.

And yet. And yet. Though my heart bleeds, and I want to cry for them, I know there is nothing to be done. There is nothing that the international community can do, which is a hard lesson for many to take. The US is often said to be guilty of making conflicts worse and ignoring the ones that could be helped, but, despite the rather horrific nature of the violence and human rights abuses inherent in the North Korean regime, it has wisely avoided attempts to change things there. Because the only outside change would be worse.

I know this is old news. I know that nothing I am writing has not been written a thousand times before. But there is little as galling as seeing something so monstrously evil and not have any way to deal with it. And even worse, the only ways to alleviate the pain at all involve making things easier for the horrendous regime that has caused it all.

Reading Post V

This week: Korea.

More readings than most this week, as I read an entire journal issue devoted to the North Korean issue as well as several posts on "Arms Control Today" about the same thing. As always:

Asian Perspective - Volume 32 - Number 4 - 2008 Special issue on North Korea and Regional Security Guest Editor: Mark J. Valencia

Gilbert Rozman and Shin-Wha Lee, Unraveling the Japan-South Korea ‘Virtual Alliance’: Populism and Historical Revisionism in the Face of Conflicting Regional Strategies, Asian Survey, September/October 2006.

Arms Control Today, North Korea Nuclear Test Focus , November 2006.

Because the Rozman and Lee piece does not focus on the North Korean nuclearization issue directly, but instead is concerned with the ROK-Japan relationship, I will start with it. I found it very helpful, because all too often we in the US focus on our own bilateral relationships at the expense of the relationships between our allies. It does not shock me that rising nationalism in both countries led to difficulties between the two, but it essential for the US to do what it can to build up the ties between South Korea and Japan.

At the same time, things have changed dramatically from the time of this article. The article came out at roughly the same time as the nuclear test by North Korea, which is not referenced, and there is a more conservative government in South Korea now along with a brand new government in Japan as well. The new government has made some sounds about being less reliant on the US and reaching out to the governments in the region, and this would be a great opportunity. While (apparently) the Japanese Constitution prevents Japan from having any official allies other than the US, the recent uptick in aggressive action by North Korea shows the need for coordination and cooperation between Japan and South Korea. Both have a history of being hit by small scale North Korean aggression (and in particular abductions of their citizens).

The Arms Control Association readings were very technical and gave a good overview of the problems with the North Korean tests, along with a timeline and technical analysis. As a collection of mostly factual pieces, it is difficult to really give a reaction However, much of what was in it were things I already knew, except for the number of warning given by North Korea and China prior to the test. However, the fact that all of this was written 3 years ago again demonstrates the fact that it is pretty unlikely that North Korea will denuclearize at this point. It's been very rare for any country to give up nukes, and no country that has developed nukes of their own have given them up. (Many states have given up nuclear programs, but only FSUs have actually given up nuclear weapons, and those were old Soviet weapons.)

The issue of Asian Perspective helps to put the nuclear weapons issue into more context, with great info on the Six Party Talks. While many of the writers see great potential for the expansion of the Six Party Talks into a forum for regional issues, I find myself rather skeptical. The Six Party Talks have not accomplished any of its original goals, such as ending the North Korean nuclear issue.

I agree, however, with several of the writers who suggest that the US make some unilateral concessions to North Korea, in order to build confidence and trust. Of course, by "concessions" we mean be willing to make a real peace treaty and agree that we won't invade them for no good reason. These are things that just about every other country can take for granted, and Americans like to think that everyone should just know about us anyway. If we can't agree to not invade North Korea, then of course they are going to be paranoid and want every weapon possible to fight us off. Maybe they wouldn't believe us if we made the commitment, but they're not going to believe anything from us if we DON'T make that commitment.

I think it's become obvious that a strict militaristic, bombastic approach to foreign policy is pretty much bankrupt. Moreover, I don't want to make the case that the US should forswear the right to use military power abroad; that would never fly, and there are cases where it is necessary. But a limited security agreement, in which the US will not seek to overthrow the DPRK regime and that the US will not use force against the DPRK without some kind of threat or international consensus, would at least be a start. It will go further than additional sanctions, esp. as a typical Drezner analysis would show only small concessions.