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 communiqu├ęs 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.