A benign hegemon?

The defining feature of the post-Cold War order has been American hegemony. Nearly every aspect of this order, from the international economy to all major security relationships, has been defined by the unprecedented concentration of power in the United States. This is largely celebrated in America, as both Democrats (liberal internationalists) and Republicans (neoconservatives) regularly tout how the world benefits from an abundance of American power. This is the “missing debate” in Washington. While they have large disagreements on economic and social issues, it is a widely shared assumption of the American political elite that the United States is a hegemonic power and that it should exploit its power to better the world.

There are two defining features of a hegemonic power. One is how powerful it is. The other is its character. The general description of American hegemony is that it is a benign superpower. It is thought to be benign because it isn’t imperial and employs its force in pursuit of noble ends, like spreading democracy. It is considered to be a superpower because of how dominate its military is.

Both descriptions are erroneous and misleading.

It is true that the American military is the most powerful in recorded history. As both supporters and critics regularly point out, the United States spends more per year on its military than the next dozen (or so) countries combined. Spending nearly 600 billion every year has purchased clear advantages in nearly every military metric available, whether nuclear or conventional. Supporting this advantage is a network of military bases and an assortment of semi-permanent alliances with formable military powers including the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. Undergirding this military is the largest and most dynamic economy in the world.

The problem isn’t the strength of the American military, which is indeed a second to none. The problem is that those who describe American hegemony in these terms fail to respect the limits of military power. The irony of American hard power is that it is so abundant it ends up begin used in counterproductive ways. The United States has used its military in at least 8 high profile exercises since 1989.[1] Each episode had two things in common. Not a single one addressed American security and each mission sought to introduce liberal values by way of military force. In this matter, each effort has failed as not a single country is today democratic. In places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, American armed intervention has been disastrous. The undisciplined use of the American military is a result of mischaracterizing how powerful American hegemony actually is. The American military is designed to be destructive. At this there is no institution on Earth that is more capable. But the power to destroy does not easily translate into the power to build. What the enthusiasts misunderstand is that while America does own a military that can be described as a superpower, it is not the correct instrument for reengineering the politics of foreign countries.

The other narrative used to describe American hegemony is in regard to its character, which most of America’s political elite consider to be benign. There is a serious argument to be made that the United States fits such a description. When the United States does use force in the post-Cold War era, it has done so for arguably noble reasons, such as protecting the Kurds of northern Iraq or the Kosovar Albanians.Yet, what is considered benign will depend on a number of factors, and there is a lot of evidence that the United States uses its power in both illegitimate and gratuitous ways. The era of benevolent hegemony has often been one of American unilateralism. A glaring contradiction of the “benevolent America” description is that the United States claims the right to use force illegally. The invasion of Iraq was illegal. So was the overthrow of Gadhafi’s Regime. The United States justifies this double standard by claiming that it is exempt to the rules that regulate other state behavior. As Madeline Albright claimed, “If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.” While this attitude may be convenient for those who wield American power, to those outside it reeks of hypocrisy and arrogance and what seems benign to America is often considered malicious to others.

A more realistic and less self-aggrandizing understanding of American hegemony is in order. For one, the United States is not nearly as powerful as it thinks it is. American politicians are so intoxicated with American hard power that not only do they assume responsibility for solving the world’s problems, but that it also owns the tools to do so. The United States military has robust stopping power but is not the correct tool for most international problems. Bombs stop advancing armies but they do not build democracies. A more sober understanding of the limits of hard power will temper the hubristic use of the American military. The second point is that, fair or unfair, perceptions matter, and the routine use of force will expose America to accusations of hypocrisy that ironically reduce its influence in a “smart power” world. Why Libya but not Myanmar? Why the Balkans and not Rwanda? The inconsistent use of force serves to delegitimize America. Instead of a benign superpower, the United States should begin to view itself as first among equals. The United States is first owing to its phenomenally capable military. Despite it being misused in the past, the United States is still the dominant military power today. But the United States is also among equals and therefore must abide by the same rules it expects other countries to follow.

[1]I count Iraq (1991 and 2003) Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Libya.

The long term view of North Korean nuclear program.

The Singapore summit was theatrical, unprecedented, and largely symbolic. Theatrical because the world witnessed a former reality TV star greet the world’s most reclusive leader. Unprecedented because it was the first time a sitting American president has meet a member from the Kim dynasty. And symbolic because the agreement was vaguer than those of the past.

It’s hard to imagine that if Hilary Clinton had produced a similar agreement that Trump wouldn’t have called it “fake nuclearization.”

What the historic meeting did produce was a de-escalation in tensions, which is a good thing. But no real breakthrough on the regimes nuclear weapons should be expected and it is not because of the threat posed by American hegemony. No, the writing is on the wall in Asia and while the United States will always be the worlds most powerful country, America’s days as the principal military power of Asia are numbered. It is, rather, China which worries North Korea.

The most overstated alliance is not NATO or the U.S.-Japan security alliance, but the Chinese-North Korean alliance. It is a cliché to argue that the road towards North Korean nuclearization is through Beijing. China does appear to have some leverage over North Korea. Almost 90 percent of North Korean trade is with China, and it is China who has used its veto to shield North Korea from international sanctions.

As well, North Korea is the only country China is technically obligated to defend in the event it is attacked.

Yet, this alliance is not a result of a shared ideology or some cultural affinity but from a Chinese desire to ensure regime stability at home. Like most of the middle powers of Asia, China’s rise is viewed skeptically by North Korea. While it is true that China may prefer a nuclear North Korea to a collapsed regime, its long-term aim for the peninsula is not clear. The uncertainty of China’s long term plans is exacerbated by the complicated history of the two countries. It was China, after all, that normalized relations with the United States at the expense of North Korea’s main benefactor, the USSR. It was also China that recognized South Korea as an independent state, despite North Korean claims that it was part of its own territory. And it is China that uses its trade leverage and UN veto in an attempt to manipulate DPRK politics.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Kim trusts China less than he does America. After all, Kim’s first set of policies were to purge his regime of Chinese influence. This included executing his uncle, Jang Song-Thaek, recalling North Korean business elites living in China, and assassinating his half brother who, until his death, was protected by Beijing.

An unintended consequence of hegemony (whether global or regional) is the incentive for rouge states to pursue nuclear weapons. China has designs to replace America as the hegemonic power of the region and part of their grand strategy includes geopolitics. Considering that the current leadership of China has made historic claims of ownership to the peninsula, it should be no surprise that North Korea bristles when China attempts to control its public policy. From an American perspective, this makes negotiations for the dismantling of the DPRK nuclear weapons complicated. Unless America can control Chinese foreign policy, it is not likely that DPRK will denuclearize regardless of Chinese policy.

Understanding North Korea’s nuclear program as a deterrent of China presents the United States with an ideal opportunity to quietly withdrawal from the issue of DPRK nuclear program. The United States spends a great deal of its resources in an attempt to denuclearize the peninsula, yet with little return. America does all of this despite China being the biggest beneficiary of a dismantled nuclear program. Furthermore, American policy is arguably counterproductive. It is American power that creates the Chinese-North Korean alliance. Once that power recedes, a new front will open between China and North Korea which is arguably in America interests to see happen. If American grand strategy is to ensure no regional hegemon emerges in Asia, the United States should quietly welcome a nuclear Korea as it would mostly serve as an obstacle to Chinese hegemon.

The paramount question of international relations today is how to handle China’s rise. The middle powers of Asia have all made it clear that they are wary of how a future China will behave, North Korea included. North Korea’s strategy for handling a future China will be to direct their nuclear weapons at Beijing, not Washington DC. The United States should therefore slowly disengage from the region and allow Pyongyang to be Beijing’s headache.

The left and open borders…

If you wanted to ensure the eventual triumph of immigration restrictionism in the United States, you couldn’t devise a surer path to that goal than getting the Democratic Party to explicitly embrace a policy of de facto open borders.

 

Unfortunately, this is precisely where the liberal reaction to President Trump’s viciously harsh immigration policies is headed.

Many interesting observations by Damon Linker can be read throughout the piece published in The Week.

Police apologise after viral picture shows victim being ‘dragged’ in cops’ presence.

A picture of the incident, wherein a mob lynched a Muslim man and injured another in Bajhera village of Pilakhua area in Hapur district on Monday evening, has triggered a fresh controversy.

 

The picture, which was widely circulated on social media, shows villagers dragging injured Kasim (who died later) in the presence of three cops.

This is from the worlds largest democracy. You can read more at the Hindustan Times.

Germany set to increase military spending by 80 percent.

Germany announced earlier this month that it will increase its defense spending to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2024, but will fail to meet its NATO spending obligation of 2 percent of GDP.

Of course, the devil is in the details. This increase could go to all sorts of insincere projects that are not intended to defend continental Europe but create domestic jobs.

And a lot can happen in German domestic politics before 2024.

Yet this is “a step in the right direction.”

The article can be read here.

Spanish immigration.

Between 2002 and 2014, Spain received an accumulated immigration inflow of 7.3 million and a net flow of 4.1 million, making it the second-largest recipient of immigrants in absolute terms among OECD countries, following the United States.

And yet no populism.

The rest can be read here.

India looks west….

To start with, India’s maritime strategic orientation is toward the rimlands of Eurasia, which is reflected in it giving greater strategic importance to the littoral areas in the greater Indo-Pacific region (such as the Bay of Bengal, Arabian Sea, and South China Sea). Therefore, the region of the Pacific Islands in Oceania had long been neglected in India’s maritime strategic thinking.

 

However, this is about to change. India’s maritime disposition seems to envisage having command of the sea in the Indo-Pacific, apart from securing its interests in the coastal areas.

 

Geostrategically, the Pacific Islands are getting increased attention from India as it connects Australasia to the Latin American subcontinent. Further, the region will face increased maritime traffic once the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is finalized.

Here is another piece.

As China is contemplating a naval base in Vanuatu, India’s maritime presence in the Pacific Islands may be welcomed by countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Indonesia, and even France.

Most of the article is speculation, but it is expected considering the behavior of China post financial crisis.

The details of this expansion can be read at the Diplomat, here.

The perils of arming local forces

In 2014, the Islamic State captured weapons from Syrian rebels armed by the United States. In 2015, the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia Kataib Hezbollah acquired several M1 Abrams tanks sold to the Iraqi Security Forces by the U.S. This problem has spread as far as Afghanistan, where much of the Taliban’s armory comes from American equipment given to the Afghan military and police.

How do the transfers occur?

“The Taliban gets its hands on most of the equipment, particularly vehicles, through raids, but there are quite a few reports of the Afghan military selling weapons,” said Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and editor of The Long War Journal. “The insurgents use this equipment tactically — to impersonate Afghan and Western soldiers. Considering how often they’re deploying it, they must have figured out a way to maintain the vehicles and weapons too.”

The title of the article is “How the US Is Indirectly Arming the Taliban” and the rest can be read at the Diplomat, here.

Obstacles of unifying the Korean peninsula.

Once they are relocated they have to do everything themselves. It’s up to their ability to stand alone — that’s life in a democratic society. But in North Korea with their culture of a communist society, they’re used to their basic needs coming from the government. They’re not used to a competitive society.

 

We have programs that provide them with benefits and jobs and some educational programs. NGOs help take care of their family and children. But it’s like they dropped from heaven.

 

There is also discrimination — I have to acknowledge this. They have North Korean accents, so we know immediately that they are either from North Korea or from the Chinese border.

That is from Nikki Asian Review and the rest can be read here.