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.