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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indonesian stability

Sam Abrams at War is Boring has something up arguing that Indonesia is less stable than we think. I'll admit that I was shocked to hear anyone thought that Indonesia is stable at all. As part of the overall American problem of only tuning into news when it pops up, I always think of Indonesia as a place of terrorism and secession.

However, as the world's largest Muslim country and one situated right on one of the most used sea-lanes in the world, we should be worried about instability and violence in the country. I'm not sure if the US could do anything to help legitimize the governmental system (it's a democracy after all!), but it wouldn't hurt to do so.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Communist Club loses another member...

It was announced today that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is no longer a Communist country. The constitution has been amended, and Communism has been completely purged in deference to the "military-first" ideology of Kim Jong-il. Moreover, Kim's power has been increased, and he is now Supreme Leader (and not just "Dear Leader").

Does this actually mean anything? I'm not at all sure. It is hard to get any kind of objective analysis on what is going on inside North Korea--everything that is available is pure conjecture. My guess is that it is merely trying to prop up the overall image of Kim prior to his death, to insure more legitimacy for his third son, who is expected to succeed him.

In more substantive NORK news, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (probably China's #2 government official, after Hu Jintao) will be going to Pyongyang soon. It is thought that this meeting will include the announcement of progress on the nuclear talks. On the other hand, I think it's entirely possible that it will give Wen the chance to try to talk sense into Kim. I think we'll just have to see.

But I'm also curious as to how China feels about North Korea's renouncement of Communism. Not that China is really Communist anymore, but it is still technically Communist. I think China is pragmatic enough to ignore it, but it is still a touch vexing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Reading Post IV

This past week, I tackled the readings on Japan. I read the following:

Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes, Japanese Maritime Thought: If Not Mahan, Who? Naval War College Review, Summer 2006

“New Fighting Power!” Richard J. Samuels, Japan’s Growing Maritime Capabilities and East Asian Security International security [0162-2889] Samuels yr:2007 vol:32 iss:3 pg:84 -112

"Japan's security policy: from a peace state to an international state" Singh, Bhubhindar The Pacific Review, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 303-325, July 2008

Wu Xinbo, “The end of the Siler Lining: A Chinese View of the US-Japan Alliance,” Washington Quarterly 29:1 (119-130)

The first two were both about Japanese naval forces, and so I'll tackle them together.

Yoshihara, Holmes, Samuels: Yoshihara and Holmes seem particularly worried about a lack of strategic focus for the Maritime Self-Defense Force, the name for the modern Japanese navy. They write that the Japanese seem to have decided to focus on ways to complement the US Navy, rather than field their own, independent naval force. They point out that China is building a Navy along Mahanian lines, and cites this as a reason for Japan to go back to thinking about grand strategy and the build-up of its own navy. They also state (without much support) that relying on the American security guarantee is dangerous, and that Japan needs a naval force capable of defending the country's interests on its own.

I do not understand this line of thinking, either for Japan or for Western Europe. (In South Korea's case, with a presumably implacable enemy across a very short DMZ, it makes much more sense.) There is more to security and prosperity than the military, and relying on the US (and possibly even free-loading on the US) provides so many benefits, it makes sense to tailor your force to what can boost the US rather than duplicate its efforts. If the US tried to make its force a mini-USN, it will not contribute much to any hypothetical war, since the US has much more of any given piece of equipment. Making instead the things that the US needs (like minesweepers) strikes me as a perfectly intelligent strategic move.

I'm also skeptical of the near idolatry of "grand theorists" at work in this piece. Why do the Japanese need to find one person and apply his theory to the overall structure of naval composition? Why is a pragmatic, ad hoc process not acceptable? (And, if you did decide to use one theorist as the backbone for your force structure, would you want to announce that fact? Would it give up too much information about likely responses?)

I find the Samuels piece much more interesting. It shows how the Japanese have managed to beef up their military without breaking their own Constitution or self-imposed limits, by instead creating what may be the world's greatest Coast Guard. The Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) has taken on many of the missions of normal navies, such as reinforcing claims of sovereignty to dispute islands. It has also become a large part of Japan's soft power, being deployed in emergencies and natural disasters.

I found it particularly interesting that the JCG was explicitly modeled on the USCG. They are both technically civilian agencies, despite having uniformed personnel and military missions. The USCG is, in fact, a stronger navy than many state navies, including Canada's. The JCG is seeking the same kind of strength, without actually raising the military budget and upsetting Japan's neighbors.

Most importantly, though, it shows that (even if Japan lacks a "central thinker") it is obvious that the Japanese leaders are paying careful attention to maritime issues while still trying to avoid ruffling feathers. This is a much better approach than that put forward by Yoshihara and Holmes, who are focusing too much on grand strategic theories and not enough on the actual position that Japan is in. Japan is a small island chain with a history that leads to distrust. Announcing the creation of a giant, fully independent navy would hurt its economics; having a niche military attached to the world's strongest, along with a Coast Guard able to do what is necessary to defend the country is a better idea.

Wu: This thinking leads naturally to the Wu Xinbo piece. Unfortunately, Japan may be running into trouble with China anyway. According to Wu, China is increasingly worried about a resurgent Japanese military, and sees the US as the one instigating this increase in Japanese power. China has long viewed the US alliance as the major factor keeping Japanese military power low, but now the US has started pushing Japan to increase its military power instead. From the US perspective, this is just to end the Japanese "free-ride" on the US, but it is incredibly nerve-wracking for the Chinese. Besides the historical issues (like World War 2), there is a fear that Japan and the US are trying to encircle China and keep it from taking its "rightful place" on the world stage.

Interestingly, the former Japanese colony of Taiwan has been included in the overall defense planning of Japan, with some vague ideas about defending the island from a mainland attack. This obviously infuriates China (which has long maintained that Taiwan is an essential part of China that has long been the target of various other powers). That the overall security system in East Asia is basically made up of various American bilateral security guarantees (to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, etc.) that explicitly leaves China out (rather than the preferred multilateral one with China as a major player) continues to imply all sorts of maneuvering against China.

The overall suggestion of the article is, in short, for Japan and the US to be more inclusive of China, and to not make threatening statements about Chinese capabilities and intentions. While it is hard to disagree with this notion, it overlooks the various reasons why people are distrustful of China. It is interesting that this writer made the same mistakes that so many American writers do. It assumes that the international readers will automatically assume the benevolent intentions of the large power with all the military hardware.

The last piece, by Singh, is a very constructivist take on the overall strengthening of the Japanese military. Singh traces a few different strains in Japanese "identity", particularly the ideas of Japan as a "peace state", a "normal state", and an "international state". It provided a fascinating history of Japanese efforts to rearm, and made a good case that today's Japan is doing so at least in part to live up to its responsibilities as an "international state", since important states do things like respond to tragedies and help with peacekeeping.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Korean Reunification

Matthew Yglesias posted yesterday about how difficult reunification was for Germany, and why it will be even worse for Korea should it occur.

What this makes me think of most of all is the dilemmas that will be facing the government of South Korea if the DPRK ever collapses. The DPRK is much poorer and more backwards than the GDR ever was. They’ve been separated for longer. South Korea is smaller relative to North Korea than West Germany was to East Germany. And South Korea is also poorer than West Germany. All told, I think there’s ample reason to believe that the South couldn’t really manage a reunification process. Which is something their government seems to realize without quite admitting—their official policy is reunification, but in practice they fear a DPRK collapse. And they’re right to fear it. But political debates about North Korea policy aside, the fact of the matter is that that horrible regime can’t last forever. And I think it would make sense for a broader international community to start thinking about what we can do to support a transition process that’s going to be too big a task for South Korea to shoulder on its own.
This is obviously correct (or at least the conventional wisdom). But this leads to further questions about the North Korean regime and their goals. Do they plan on reunifying the country by force? It has long been said to be the case, and some of the evidence from the '90s would suggest they were still planning that even then.

However, it's impossible to tell the overall plans of the North Korean government. They occasionally "turn up the crazy" with regards to South Korea (such as abducting the fishermen who accidentally crossed the border) but there has not been any real incursion in some time.

Any remotely sane observer in North Korea would have to notice that the utter failure of their experiment in Stalinism is much more likely than any reunification on the North's terms. This then should lead to a "status quo" desire by the regime. So, what accounts for the various provocations that do erupt occasionally, such as the nuclear program or the kidnappings?

Some would just dismiss North Korea, or just Kim Jong-il, as crazy. It's easy to do, and doing so then justifies any possible militaristic posture, because "they're so crazy they could do anything!" However, this ends up being pretty absurd.

On the other hand, there is always the mirroring problem, where those studying the DPRK might be too ready to impart our own thinking on them. However, it really seems to me that there is some kind of overall method to the madness (much like there was a theory behind Nixon's "madman theory").

I wonder if American intelligence has an insight that those of us in the Open Source world are lacking. I hope so.


Most Americans snicker when they think of Thailand. Yes, there is a culture of complete abandon in some parts, and yes it may well be the most trans-friendly culture on the planet (which is AWESOME, not worthy of snickering.)

At the same time, close to Malaysia, you have this:

Thailand has been fighting an insurgency for a long time, but since 2004 it seems to be losing. I knew about this insurgency, but I had assumed that the people behind it had done the straight-forward thing of putting forth demands and offering an end to the violence if those demands were met.

Apparently not. Apparently experts have only been able to guess at what is causing the increase in fighting, and the guess is based on the fact that Buddhists and "Buddhist-collaborators" are the ones being bombed. This can make it extremely difficult to engage in any kind of negotiation.

At the same time, apparently the Thai military is not a legitimate partner for dialogue. They are, at the very least, not engaging in "population centric warfare". Extrajudicial killings, torture and "disappearances" have all been reported, and now the Muslim population refuses to come to the authorities with problems, even as a mosque was blown up.

This won't affect Thailand's reputation as a tourist hotspot. This insurgency is still confined to a small part of the long southern tail of the country. But it's still troubling.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Readings Post IIIb

Today, I'm tackling the rest of the readings for this week. Those are:

Michael A. Glosny, “Strangulation from the Sea? A PRC Submarine Blockade of Taiwan,” International Security, Vol. 28, No. 4 (Spring 2004), pp. 125-160

Andrew Erickson and Andrew Wilson, “China’s Aircraft Carrier Dilemma” Naval War College Review, Autumn 2006.

Xu Qi, Maritime Geostrategy and the Development of the Chinese Navy in the Early Twenty-First Century, Naval War College Review, Autumn 2006

Starting with Glosny: In analyzing a PRC blockade of Taiwan, I find it odd that he completely leaves the US out of the picture. It seems to be the most guaranteed way to get the US into the war, particularly if American shipping is attacked. However, I have to support his analysis of Taiwanese will. In fact, he may even understate the case--while he points out many factors that suggest that the Taiwanese would not be as willing to stand up to coercive punishment as past states, he 1) never gives even one state that has given in to coercive punishment and 2) I'm not certain of some of his analysis of "weaknesses" in Taiwanese will. In particular, I think he overstates the division within Taiwan today between those who see themselves as Chinese and those who see themselves as Taiwanese.

However, I found his restatement of the reason for "strategic ambiguity" interesting. He doesn't call it that, and again, he mostly ignores the role of the US, but he explicitly says that if Taiwan feels "safe" it might take actions that would provoke an attack by China, without being ready for it. He spends a great deal of time saying that Taiwan should be able to survive a blockade, just to add that it still shouldn't fee "safe." This leads me to a question: Is it better for Taiwan to feel safe, and possibly threaten independence, or is it better for Taiwan to feel vulnerable, and have them buy lots of extra weapons, causing the arms race to ratchet up more? (Of course, from the US perspective, the second also has the benefit of bringing money to the US.)

One other thing it shows, though, is the likely limit of a submarine-centric approach to naval power. I believe this is probably why the Chinese have spent so much money on upgrading their missile power as well, in order to have two legs to stand on. Submarines alone, while useful to Germany, were not enough. This leads to discussions on making a carrier.

Erickson: This paper focuses on Chinese plans for building/buying/retrofitting an air craft carrier of some form. The single thing I found most fascinating from this piece is the idea of an aircraft carrier as a means of building/projecting soft power. I was joking recently about a Northrop Grumman ad that billed an aircraft carrier as the "world's most effective diplomat," but apparently China has taken that to heart.

However, I still call bullshit on this being subtle or tactful.

However, I can't help but agree that, as a force projection tool, the massive aircraft carrier we usually think of still doesn't have the advantages for China that the submarine does. As the article states, they are big and easy to hit. I think it is far smarter for China to continue its quest to develop the anti-carrier missile.

On the other hand, I can see definite uses for a little helicopter carrier, if the Chinese can get their helicopter forces up to speed. Helicopters have proven very capable against pirates, something that is important for Chinese shipping through the Straits of Malacca. Also, somehow it seems that helicopters can actually benefit a submarine based Navy. I didn't quite follow how, but I'll accept it.

Moreover, as shown above, a submarine based navy will not accomplish everything the Chinese might want anyway. They need some balance to their force, which some kind of force-projection surface fleet would provide. If nothing else, since a submarine blockade of Taiwan isn't practical, and nor is an invasion, China must keep working to come up with some other way of handling a declaration of independence.

Xu Qi: This article is basically just calling for China to focus its attention and power on the maritime area. There is a repetition of old claims of American hegemonism (which are likely true) and American "encirclement" of China, at least navally. I have to agree, however, that without some care taken for protecting their naval power, they will become reliant on the US ability to police the high seas. Now, this has been a great deal for the European powers, but I know that China is not one to give up any sovereignty for any reason.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

North Korea vs Pirates!

I almost don't know who to root for here, but North Korean sailors managed to use Molotov cocktails to fight off a pirate ship. 10 pirates came up in speedboats with RPGs and automatic weapons, while the DPRK ship was stopped due to engine trouble. They got the engine up though, and fired back with molotovs.

While I dislike the DPRK, it's pretty damned cool that they used improvised weapons to fight off the pirates.

Seriously...would you use the first against the second?

Readings Post IIIa

I'm going to break up the readings post this week, because the RAND report is so long and important that I want to give it a post of its own. The report in question can be found here.

I should add that, while I'm always a little skeptical of these kinds of mathematical studies, I also love them. I'm skeptical that so much can be reduced to numbers like this; at the same time, I think that personal bias probably comes into it less. So, in the end, probably a wash.

This report is basically an update of one from 2000, where the RAND corporation looked at the likelihood of Chinese success in attacking Taiwan. In 2000, it looked like a cinch for Taiwan. The PLAN did not have the amphibious ships, and the PLAAF and PLANAF didn't have the planes.

Today, however, China still doesn't have the greatest planes, but it does have PLENTY of missiles. Enough, according to these authors, to at least destroy Taiwanese runways, and probably enough to destroy most of the SAMs. This would give China uncontested air superiority, even if the US were to get involved on Taiwan's side.

On the other hand, the real dread scenario of a Chinese amphibious invasion would, very likely, fail miserably, if the Taiwanese set up a proper defense. There are not many places to put ashore on Taiwan, and the Taiwanese military would be able to assemble great numbers of fighters and anti-ship missiles where needed. The authors suggest setting up a zone defense, with attacks starting on ships at sea with the modern version of Exocets, and moving up to pitched defenses at the end. It would not take too many missiles from Taiwan to degrade the Chinese sealift capacity sufficiently to stop any invasion.

Also, the authors are right to point out that, even if the Chinese achieve air superiority, they are still unlikely to be able to inflict the kind of air pounding that many other states have already suffered. And airpower alone is (despite what the worst-case scenario suggests to the authors) never enough to induce capitulation.

If it had been, this war would have ended a little differently...

There is a great deal of mathematical and game-theoretic jargon in the piece, most of which I can't follow. But the fact that the situation has gone from "easy Taiwan wins" to "probably Taiwan can keep China out, at great cost" is a major change in the system. Granted, it's not enough to make me worry that China will invade Taiwan, but it's enough to change the calculus involved.

A bigger issue is brought up at the very end of the entire analysis. The study disputes the American ability to maintain itself as the guarantor of Taiwanese security, and it does so by striking a parallel with Cuba and the USSR. They suggest that the only reason why Cuba was able to be protected by the USSR is because it was made part of the global, nuclear confrontation, and that without doing so, the US may not be able to continue to defend Taiwan. They do not go so far as to say the US should make the Taiwan issue the beginning of a ring around China, or that the US should threaten nuclear war over any kind of attack on China, but instead say this may be the only way for the US to preserve hegemony in East Asia in general.

This part is possibly the most troubling, particularly because they devote about two paragraphs to what seems a nightmare scenario, and then drop it entirely. They fully acknolwedge that China has been peaceful up until now, and has sought to expand within the liberal international order. The very idea of starting a Cold War and containment seems absolutely ludicrous. Fortunately, they don't go that far--they instead suggest that the US help Taiwan build up an ability to survive air assault and construct an anti-amphibious assault doctrine. This involves selling them anti-ship missiles (probably like the kind we are afraid China is developing).

It also involves building up "deterrent capability" in East Asia, by hardening bases in Japan and South Korea. Unfortunately, the authors ignore all security paradox problems with this. In the end, outside of the immediate sphere of Taiwanese defense (where their ideas seem pretty logical), they are calling for a strong build-up guaranteed to worry Chinese leaders and possibly push them away from all efforts to enmesh them in the international order.

In the end, while the analysis of likely outcomes of the actual war seem solid, their recomendations beyond that seem overly pessimistic.

China in Iraq

China is training mine sweepers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, yet more evidence of China being part of the international order. But, more interestingly, China also has an oil well in Iraq, run by CNPC. CNPC already has guards there, but sabotage and destruction have still been a problem.

The article doesn't go into details about why they are having such trouble, just noting a lack of infrastructure and development near the wells, but I think it is important to remember that China has an image problem in many parts of the Muslim world. While that image is better than the US has, it should be remembered that AQIM recently declared war on China for the rioting in Xinjiang, and has even attacked Chinese workers in North Africa.

China is starting to have its own "colonialism" problem, which I am certain puzzles the Chinese leadership to no end. They are used to being the anti-colonialists; to now be called colonialists themselves must be odd. But it's a fact in many parts of the world, including now Iraq.

Tire tariffs and Chinese WTO suit

I'm not attempting to be contrarian, but I see one major shining silver lining in this whole tire tariff thing. I'm not a fan of tariffs, and I haven't seen a single reason why the US is imposing this tariff.

However, China is responding, not with blistering denunciations and unilateral reprisal, but by instead taking us to court in the WTO.

This is a great thing. In the past, Chinese leaders has often acted like the US was betraying China by taking them to the WTO for trade disputes. This means that China may be instead internalizing the rules of the international order. It can be hoped that, if Chinese leaders are willing to act within the rules on trade, they may also do so in other fields. At the very least, it gives the China optimists more to go by.

Of course, the one thing no one wants is a return to "beggar-thy-neighbor"ism and (from what I can tell) I hope China succeeds in getting the tarriff overturned. In fact, getting the tariff overturned will help strengthen China's faith in the WTO. I think that will be a bigger win than whatever mixed effects the actual tariff will have.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today's date and what-not...

I think Matthew Yglesias said it best...

It still rankles—a lot—that Osama bin Laden is still out there. When the attacks happened, and in the days and weeks that followed, lots of notions flew through my mind, most of them wild and fanciful or flat-out insane. But it genuinely never occurred to me to that the main architect of the attacks would still be at large eight years later.

I was fortunate that I didn't lose anyone close to me in the attack. However, a close friend's father worked in the Pentagon, and while he was safe, I remember the dread and worry until I found out. (Obviously, this worry and dread were far worse for her than me, but I was still distinctly worried for her.) I was also an RA in my college dorm at the time, at a school with a high percentage of people from DC and NYC.

But we also heard tons of rumors, about bombs in the Cleveland Airport or warships in the Hudson/Potomac/Mississippi/Ohio river. None of these were true; most were probably crazy. But they were believable that day. Anything was.

Except, perhaps, what was to actually come. A war would come, certainly, even though many of those I went to school with reflexively opposed any use of American military. But that we would, while still fighting a war in Afghanistan go on to fight a country that had nothing to do with the attacks, diverting most of our attention, men, and material, was unthinkable. That we would spend 8 years attempting to put a state together in Afghanistan was also unthinkable.

And that Osama bin Laden would still be free was completely unthinkable.

Central Asia is not a focus of this blog. I'm not an Afghanistan expert, nor an expert on Islam. But, today, it bears thinking and writing about.

I'm sorry to see...

that former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian has been sentenced to life in prison. From a security standpoint, it probably makes the whole region far more secure (if only because it is certain to please and placate China), and from all the evidence it does appear that he is an utter crook.

But at the same time Chen and Chen's administration was one of the first willing to lay out the plain truth of Taiwan's situation, and acknowledge that Taiwan is not part of China. I found so many of his little steps (all of which, admittedly, tweaked China far more than was sensible) kind of endearing. Also, he was willing to publicly criticize Chiang Kai-shek, and even remove pictures of him. Chiang Kai-shek was a fascist, and does not deserve the good reputation he has in many parts of the world (including the US), and I can also think of many American politicians who have undeservedly heroic reputations.

Chen is appealing, and many international organizations say that his trial wasn't entirely fair. I'm hoping that justice gets served, especially because it is a good sign to broadcast to the world that even ex-President's can be held accountable for breaking the law. But my soft spot for Chen will continue.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Readings Post II

Today's readings all have to do with the growth of China's military and its meaning for the international system. Next week will focus specifically on China's relationship to Taiwan, but even though my readings today also touched on that issue, it's not the focus.

My readings today were: What China Will Want: The Future Intentions of a Rising Power Jeffrey W. Legro

China, Xinjiang, and the Transnational Security of Central Asia
Kerr, David; Swinton, Laura C Critical Asian Studies, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 89-112, Mar. 2008

Long Shot and Short Hit: China as a Military Power and Its Implications for the USA and Taiwan, Wei-chin Lee Journal of Asian and African Studies 2008; 43; 523

David M. Lampton, “The Faces of Chinese Power” Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007

Taking them one at a time:

1) Legro: I found this article a useful antidote to the too-common refrains of both "China just want to make money!" and "China wants to rule the world!". The basic thesis is simply that what China wants right now is less important than what China will want as it continues its growth, and that what China will want is going to be contingent on what kind of results they get from the actions they take. He points out that in just the last two hundred years the world has seen China go from "isolationist" to "intergrationist" to "revisionist" and back to "integrationist."

Four faces of Chinese leadership

Legro goes on to say that Chinese intentions are made by the same analytical and psychological processes that all states go by. Right now, China is strongly intergrating into the international system, supporting most of the world's institutions and even contributing to international peacekeeping forces.

Legro states that, fortunately, as long as things go well for China this is likely to continue. He is particularly clear that, contra realism, it is not power that is likely to change the intentions and preferences of Chinese leadership, but anythign that suggests that the current integrationist approach is not working. That is, anything that causes China to stop accumulating power could be seen as proof that the integrationist approach is fundamentally misguided. Even this will require some other factors as well, however.

On the other hand, he is clear that Chinese intentions could change anyway, and that the US (and Western powers in general) should support pro-integration forces within China and not take steps to alienate them. I was impressed to see Legro specifically mention the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I, that is seen by China has having rewarded Chinese participation in World War I by giving German concessions in Japan.

However, he is horribly vague on what this means. He points to US and UK efforts to promote internationalism, even in the aftermath of WWI, but he doesn't apply it to the Chinese context. In the end, this is a fascinating but frustrating theoretical look at preferences, without much actual help. The one exception to this is that he explicitly suggests not trying to "hedge" with China by building up military power in the area, at least without making sure that this would not just boost the ideological position of the hardliners.

Kerr and Swinton: I've long been fascinated with Muslim China, especially after a trip to Xi'an in my undergraduate years. I've not yet made it Xinjiang, but I try to read up on it as much as possible. I was therefore really looking forward to this piece, especially as China's relationship with Central Asia is often overlooked in favor of its relationships with the greater powers of East Asia and the US. While we often define "Central Asia" as just the former Soviet Muslim republics, it really extends well into China:

However, this reading was actually very dry and theoretical. There were still some interesting ideas. In particular, it is interesting to see how Chinese state identity plays deeply into the issues with Xinjiang and Chinese Central Asia. The players in China that want to play up that China is a multi-ethnic, multi-national modern state are deeply at odds with those that see China in a more nationalistic light as the home of the Han people and civilization. The interplay and tension between these concepts plays out over and over, with the government first sponsoring mosques and cultural events, and then in the name of Marxism sponsoring their destruction as relics of the "old thinking".

More important for security thinking is probably the way that West China (notably Xinjiang and Tibet) have not gained nearly as much from the liberalization of the last few decades as the rest of China. Most of China's extreme poverty is in this part of the country, and health problems are much greater. What development did exist there previously was deeply damaged by mismanagement during the "East Coast First" policy of the early years of liberalization. This has led to great mistrust, and accusations by Uyghur groups that China is trying to colonize the area, in ways similar to European colonization of Africa and Asia.

At the same time, the Islamic community in China is growing, and forming linkages with other Central Asian Islamic communities. Both Pan-Islamism and Pan-Turkism are starting to find roots in Xinjiang, and both of these ideologies directly butt against any kind of service to the state. China rails against both as corruptions of Islam or as founded on fantasies, but it does nothing to stop the appeal of them.

China has now made the fight against the forces of "separatism, religious extremism, and terrorism" a large part of its overall foreign policy, forging close links through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to deal with this very issue. It is important to note that the SCO is mostly important for this purpose, and not as some kind of "anti-US" alliance that some have suggested.

The short version is this: China is a growing power, with a large part of its territory and natural resources in a territory wracked by competing nationalisms and a non-Westphalian structure, and a large part of China's attention and worry will be devoted to keeping it from blowing up. (Which, incidentally, seems like it could happen at any minute.)

Lee: Lee does a great job talking about the different aspects of Chinese military strengthening, before just re-iterating all of the traditional neo-realist talking points. It includes such bits as "should the US decide to cut off China's overseas oil lifeline...China might feel that its legitimate right to energy security has been severely compromised by the US." Really? There is no discussion here of WHY the US might make such a move, or why China would expect such a move from the US, but it is from this little (bizarre) hypothetical that Lee goes on to discuss Chinese plans to expand its military relationship with the Southeast Asian countries.

The actual part of the piece that discusses US worries about a rising China are unfortunately nothing new, and the parts that discuss the actual modernization of China's military are too short and quick to gain much from.

Lastly, Lampton: One reason why I am grateful for the Lampton reading is that it emphasizes that Chinese power is quite a bit more multifaceted than it is often given credit for. Chinese soft power is very strong throughout much of the region and beyond, as a home for great philosophy and important world traditions. (Though I should re-emphasize that China's attacks on this man work to wreck some of that soft power.)

One of the most important parts of China's power is often remarked on but its significance is missed. China went from a very weak and poor country to a powerful and growing country in very little time, at a time when many countries in sub-Saharan Africa instead got poorer. While there can be many reasons for this, using the schematic created by Legro above, it provides many of those countries a reason to change course and adopt a Chinese-style system. Even if China doesn't suggest that, it at the very least gives China a certain air of awesomeness.

And China is building on this, opening educational and governmental exchanges throughout the "global south". While China is still not seen very well in the US, it's image is doing better and better throughout the rest of the world. It is building the very soft power that realists like Lee trivialize.

Fortunately, Lampton doesn't ignore the very real structural problems that China has. As Kerr and Swinton point out, a large part of China is very poor and increasingly looking towards Central Asia for answers. Other parts of the country still cling to the old Maoism, incuding a large part of the educated youth. There is a lot of potential for something unexpected to happen (as it too often does in international politics), and for the system to suffer shocks it is not equipped to handle.

And I think this might be why Lampton last point is even more true than he realizes. He writes that, due to China's growing power, the US needs to engage with China. But even the worst case scenario of a China that collapses under its own internal contradictions (a la the USSR) will require a strong record of engagement by the US to avoid catastrophe. This is something that I think both Legro and Lampton can agree on.

Monday, September 7, 2009

North Korean Dam Issues

Apparently, North Korea has built several dams near the DMZ, and yesterday an unannounced discharge from one of them swept into South Korea and now six South Koreans are missing. Some are accusing the North Koreans of using the dams as a weapon against the South, and it may be the first setback in the recent thaw.

I'm not sure how likely it is that the North Koreans would have intentionally used the discharge against the South Koreans. It would not shock me in the least if the dams were built where they are as a possible weapon for a later time, but at the same time, incompetence seems to be a common problem with all such projects within North Korea. It is known for certain that one North Korean child also died in the incident, as his body was found yesterday in South Korea.

At the same time, this could be a security threat that is even harder to defend against than the traditiona one. Does South Korea have the right to invade or else blow up the dams that are causing these problems, if repeated discharges cause more deaths? It seems kind of ridiculous, but I can't think of anything else South Korea could do about it, short of just taking out the North Korean regime (and all the hell that would come with THAT).

I'm open to ideas. Oh, and for those who want to see where the river that flooded was, it's the Imjin River:

I think this again shows how horrible it is that Seoul is so close to the border. Again, I have no recommendations, but it's very worrisome for South Korea.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Why we shouldn't worry about China as a global power...

>Once again, there are riots in Xinjiang, as this time to denounce "deteriorating law and order." Apparently someone or some group of people has been randomly attacking people by stabbing them with hypodermic needles. While the needle part is weird, the unrest is not. Riots happen all the time in China, and the numbers are growing. Remember:

Riots in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Guizhou.

Until China can get its domestic population less angry and more involved in the system, or at least pacified into submission, it will not be able to be the great threat to the international system many try to make it out to be. And with the transnational advocacy groups at work in (at least) Xinjiang and Xizang (East Turkestan and Tibet to the inhabitants), I see little ability to stop the unrest there.

Which brings us to the other China related news. Australia and the US have asked China to take part in war games. While (for the above reasons) I don't think we have to worry about China surpassing the US as the global power, it is still good to see the US (and Australia!) engage in this kind of cooperation and tension reduction. Even a minor power that feels isolated can cause trouble, even if not the world-shaking kind. This is the kind of gesture that costs little and rewards much, I think.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Readings Post I

This is my first post to discuss the readings I'm doing as part of this course. Today, I read two classic texts on security and it's relationship to culture/regimes. These were

Alistair Iain Johnston, "Thinking about Strategic Culture," International Security. Volume 19,Number 4, (Spring 1995) pp. 32-64.

Robert Jervis, "Security Regimes," International Organization, Volume 36, Number 2, Spring 1982, pp.357-378.

The original plan had also called for reading a piece by Stephen Peter Rosen from the Winter '01 Naval War College Review, but that seems to have been taken down from their website.

As overview pieces into the study of security, particularly culture and regimes, I found them interesting. I've always had a semi-conscious distrust of the very idea of "strategic culture," because it seems to often to lend itself to Orientalist statements about the "true nature" of another culture, often forcing our own pre-conceptions (and usually some degree of barbarity) onto them. At the same time, I know there is a great deal of concern about the possibility that the opposite tack, ascribing universal principles and ideals (a la game theory) is just as bad, because it tries to make everyone think like Westerners.

This came up for me during my thesis defense in '07, because I had used a traditional, game-theoretic view of deterrence and relationships to inform it, and my advisor (a Chinese political scientist) point blank told me that he wasn't sure you could really apply this kind of theoretical model to anything involving China, due to its cultural differences. I wish I could tell you that I had some masterful answer as to why deterrence was still applicable, but I honestly stumbled through that question. (He still gave me an A.)

And that is one thing I want to keep in mind as the semester progresses. It's really easy to get locked into thinking, "Oh, well, the Chinese/Japanese/etc. have this value system, and so we can expect them to do this." It's much more difficult to keep in mind the variations within each state, and that culture is important without necessarily being the dominant factor.

As for Jervis, I can admit to not thinking much about regimes previously. I had some trouble getting through it, but it should be obvious that the security regimes are not very strong in East Asia. The SCO was shown to be a bit of a joke last year with the Russian invasion of Georgia, largely seen to be in support of the kind of separatism that the SCO is supposed to help prevent. I know much less about ASEAN (which is why it's on my list of things to read about this year), but I've not heard too much positive about its security efforts.

At the same time, I don't know that there is much push for regime building in East Asia. The presence of a rogue state seemingly unwilling to play by most international rules (North Korea) along with a rising superpower (China) seems like it could make it difficult to get any kind of regime in place.

In short, it was interesting background, but I'm eager to get to the more concrete stuff.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Japanese revolution?

I'm not sure whether we are understating or overstating the importance of the Japanese elections. It is amazing to have a new government in Japan that is not LDP, and as this article makes clear, the new government isn't necessarily keen on keeping the kind of relationship the US has long been used to in Japan. There are some major things they want to change around.

At the same time, Japan is a stable liberal democracy, and normally they don't engage in sudden changes to long-standing relationships. That's why we prefer them; they're stable. Besides, the Democratic Party in Japan knows where the real threats in the region are, and where the friends are.

Seriously...which guy would you rather have at your back?

I am particularly heartened, though, by the idea that Japan and China can pursue better relations without it being seen as dangerous by anyone else. This is the kind of thinking that will help keep tensions low and relations productive in East Asia. China and Japan are the two main powers in the area, and improving relations between the two of them and with the US should be a no-brainer.