BBC interview with North Korean Diplomat

They are not Iran. They have no ideology they want to export.

They want the regime to survive.

As Vice-Foreign Minister Han made clear to me, North Korea has learned the lessons from recent history, in particular the US-led attempts at regime change in Iraq and Libya.

 

“If the balance of power is not there, then the outbreak of war is imminent and unavoidable.”

 

“If one side has nukes and the other side doesn’t, and they’re on bad terms, war will inevitably break out,” he said.

 

“This is the lesson shown by the reality of the countries in the Middle East, including Libya and Syria where people are suffering from great misfortune.”

I’m not defending the regime (they aren’t the sort of government I want to be ruled by) yet if America does want to fix this issue it should address it’s post-cold war foreign policy first, NK foreign policy second.

From a third party view, NK foreign policy appears to be rational.

You can read the rest here.

Background on Policy Options for a Nuclear North Korea.

With the end of “strategic patience,” I wanted to direct attention to Doug Bandow’s recent work on the North Korea problem. Nothing about the paper is libertarian (I think the stock libertarian response would be that a nuclear North Korea is either 1) rational NK policy to preserve the regime or 2) none of America’s business) but the paper is the one of the best introductions to how complicated the situation is.

Below is the introduction. A longer read but it is so well written you can get through it within one sitting.

Northeast Asia is perhaps the world’s most dangerous flashpoint, with three neighboring nuclear powers, one the highly unpredictable and confrontational North Korea. For nearly a quarter century the United States has alternated between engagement and containment in attempting to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons.

 

Unfortunately, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has accelerated its nuclear and missile programs since Kim Jong-un took power in December 2011. Washington has responded with both bilateral and multilateral sanctions, but they appear to have only strengthened the Kim regime’s determination to develop a sizeable nuclear arsenal. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has grown increasingly frustrated with its nominal ally, but the PRC continues to provide the DPRK with regime-sustaining energy and food aid.

 

The United States and South Korea, in turn, have grown frustrated with Beijing, which is widely seen as the solution to the North Korea problem. However, the Obama administration’s approach has generally been to lecture the PRC, insisting that it follow American priorities. Unsurprisingly, successive Chinese leaders have balked.

 

China does possess an unusual degree of influence in Pyongyang, but Beijing fears an unstable DPRK more than a nuclear DPRK. From China’s standpoint, the possible consequences of a North Korean collapse—loose nukes, mass refugee flows, conflict spilling over its border— could be high. The Chinese leadership also blames Washington for creating a threatening security environment that discourages North Korean denuclearization.

 

Thus, the United States should change tactics. Instead of attempting to dictate, the United States must persuade the Chinese leadership that it is in the PRC’s interest to assist America and U.S. allies. That requires addressing China’s concerns by, for instance, more effectively engaging the North with a peace offer, offering to ameliorate the costs of a North Korean collapse to Beijing, and providing credible assurances that Washington would not turn a united Korea into another U.S. military outpost directed at the PRC’s containment.

 

Such a diplomatic initiative still would face strong resistance in Beijing. But it may be the best alternative available.

 

Recreating China’s Imagined Empire

That is the title of Ian Johnson’s review of Howard W. French’s Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China’s Push for Global Power. 

 

Regarding Chinese policy of cliaming owndership of South China Sea, Johnson writes

China’s leaders have not directly discussed theses actions, but broadly say that their claims are based on history. The argument is simple: because Chinese ships once sailed here, the reefs and shoals are Chinese. but as French puts it:

 

“These historical claims are not worth exploring because of any legal power they might possess. Almost all non-Chinese experts agree that claiming distant waters are one’s own “historic waterway” is not something that international law or conventions governing the sea either contemplate or permit…

 

The merit our attention instead because of how they speak to China’s ambivalence about the international system itself, and to the continuing resonance of a certain imperial perspective – tian xia.”

My view is that Chinese behavior in the SCS is mostly a form of balancing American military policy, but Johnson’s review is an interesting exploration of how China’s behavior is shaped by its history.

It is gated, but you can read the review here.

What Trump Calls Strength, China Calls Stupidity

That is the title of James Palmer’s recent FP piece.

Here is one bit

Trump might have thought he was signaling a bold willingness to use force to his visitor, but China regards U.S. military might as early U.S. statesman Elbridge Gerry once did the prospect of standing army: “Like a standing member; an excellent assurance of domestic tranquillity, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.” China’s happy to gradually extend power elsewhere, especially in its own neighborhood. But it hasn’t gone to war for 38 years, since the last spasms of the Maoist era produced a blundering invasion of Vietnam in 1979. (In that time frame, the United States has gone to war in well over a dozen countries, and Russia in close to a dozen.) Beijing views Washington’s scatter-shot, flip-flop approach to foreign policy — especially in the post-Cold War era — as destabilizing, foolish … and useful.

 

As with all of American blundering in the Middle East, China is the biggest beneficiary of the recent airstrikes in Syria. Not only does it divert attention away from the “region of the future,” it also heightens the suspicions of potential regional rivals, Russia and China. If you want to know why geopolitics has returned, the American use of force in nonstrategic areas is a start.

You can read the rest here.

 

 

China and the World. Dealing With a Reluctant Power

Very good read at FA on the American behavior towards the Chinese attempts at charting its own path to great power status.

Here is one bit.

Most important, China is a disruptive power but not a revolutionary one. Its size, wealth, and assertive foreign policy lead it to demand significant changes to existing institutions, but it does not seek to overturn the current international order wholesale. Just half a century ago, Mao Zedong’s China did indeed offer a distinctly revolutionary vision of world politics and China’s role in it. Today, in contrast, Beijing doggedly pursues its national interests and territorial claims yet lacks a coherent alternative to the prevailing system and is actually a member of nearly every one of the existing major institutions. Yet China is a reluctant stakeholder—inside the tent, but still ambivalent and often dissatisfied.

Interesting throughout and highly recommended.

My takeaway (although not the main point of the paper) was that China doesn’t want to remake the world in it’s image. The parallel international architecture that China is building is to hedge against the American mission to liberalize the world. Whereas the United States has a “civilizing” dimension to its foreign policy, China just wants to do business.

The author is Evan A. Feigenbaum

 

 

 

What planet does Michael Flynn live on?

The NYT reports some of his more crazy positions and comments which include…

“…The war is on. We face a working coalition that extends from North Korea and China to Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua. We are under attack, not only from nation-states directly, but also from Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, ISIS and countless other terrorist groups.”

In another, he said, “No surprise that we are facing an alliance between radical Islamists and regimes in Havana, Pyongyang, Moscow and Beijing. Both believe that history, and/or Allah, blesses their efforts, and so both want to ensure that this glorious story is carefully told.”

The actual article is titled “China Pushes Back on Michael Flynn’s ‘Radical Islamist’ Remarks.”

I’m not even sure how to answer this as it is so far removed from reality. He write as if “everyone is out to get us” which is a sign of insanity.

All this conspiracy theory nonsense is something you expect to find in the hinterlands of the internet yet this is someone actually advising our next President.

Abe to visit Pearl Habor

Very good news from Japan. As reported in the NYT,

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he would visit Pearl Harbor, becoming the first sitting Japanese leader to go to the site of Japan’s attack 75 years ago that pulled a stunned United States into World War II.”

Japan has always been an odd country in regards to its post WWII history. Unlike Germany, it has stubbornly refused to fully and remorsefully acknowledge its past war crimes. As well, unlike any other “normal” country, it has never really demonstrated any real interest of returning to a position of regional leadership commensurate with its economic ability. Most international relations scholars assume that economic growth is soon followed with some attempt by the state at reasserting itself on the world stage. This is the historical norm, but Japan doesn’t seem interested in shaping the far east in its image.

This is opposite of Germany which cannot apologize enough for its Nazi past and is the regional leader for economic and political integration.

So whereas Europe looks to Germany to lead, Asia looks to Japan with suspicion. This is one of the reasons why I don’t think the United States should withdrawal its troops from Asia but can from Europe.

I’m speculating but I think a lot of the contrast between regional perceptions of Germany and Japan has to do with how Germany has made great efforts to address its past behaviour while Japan has not. Although the situation is much more nuanced, I think a good amount of tension in the region could be reduced if Japan were to attempt to more genuinely apologize for its past. In fact, as a way to put pressure on Japan towards this direction, I’ve often thought it would be good American policy to apologize for using atomic weapons on Japan. Obviously President Obama is not the best person to do this. Too much of my country doesn’t even think he is an American citizen for him to be the one who offers the apology. Even more obviously, President Trump is not the one either. He is more likely to demand the U.S. get reimbursed for the materials used in making the bomb then apologize for dropping them. But either way, the trip to Pearl Harbour is good news as it is the first step in the direction of Japan reconciling with its past and helping reduce the burden of America maintaining regional peace.

Our new Secretary of Defense will be James Mattis

It is official. President Elect Trump has confirmed that former General James Mattis will be his Secretary of Defense.

As a libertarian, I’m pretty skeptical of stocking any administration with so many former generals. I prefer civilian control of the government and some of these picks, like Mattis, are not very far removed from their military service.

Who knows what Trump is up to. He campaigned on disparaging our military leadership so I’m not sure what to make of all these reports of him courting so much former brass. But Mattis isn undoubtably a hawk.

See his suggested “blue print” for America.

He claims that the instability of the world is a consequence “…of 20 years of the United States operating unguided by strategy.” He also adds “The international system as we know it — and as we created it — is under assault from the forces of entropy that fill vacuums and corrode order when the United States is not actively engaged.”

Nothing can be further from the truth. The American strategy of the past 20 years has been some version of “engagement and expansion” which was the Clinton Doctrine of actively engaging the world and expanding democracy and markets. All three post cold war presidents had some version of this.

Mattis notes that a lack of American strategy has resulted in world where “Russia invades Ukraine, shaking the post-World War II European order. China chips away at others’ sovereignty in Asia.” I have no idea what he is talking about. In the far east we have the pivot. In eastern Europe NATO has grown, not shrunk. The recent revanchism of China and Russia are not desirable but the west has done something similar by invading Somalia (91), the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan and engaging in military operations in Yemen, Somalia (2016), Pakistan, and Syria, among others.

As well, the west proudly chips away at others sovereignty with the defense of Responsibility to Protect and such institutions such as the ICC.

All of this western preoccupation with the internal politics of other countries represents a direct threat such illiberal regimes survival. I’m not defending these systems, and I certainly think that they are inferior to what we in the west offer, but exerting pressure on these regimes to liberalize results in a less stable world and a less secure America. If all this instability is the cost of making an omelet, where is the omelet?

I disagree with most of the next Secretary of Defense policy stances. He wants to tear up the Iran deal and bomb ISIS, among other hawkish policies. But the more I read about his personal narrative, the more impressed I become. The “warrior monk” apparently owns 6,000 books and doesn’t deploy without them. Despite his erudition, he still connects with his troops at a personal level. Yet, he will do more damage to American security if he continues to frame China and Russia as a threat to the American “way of life”. Instead, the biggest threat to American democracy was just elected.

 

Trump, China, and the WTO

It looks like a trade war is taking shape. As reported in the Guardian,

China will defend its rights under World Trade Organisation tariff rules if US president-elect Donald Trump moves toward executing his campaign threats to levy punitive duties on goods made in China, a senior trade official has said.

 

China’s state-run Global Times newspaper last week warned that a 45% Trump tariff would paralyse US-China bilateral trade.

 

“China will take a tit-for-tat approach then. A batch of Boeing orders will be replaced by Airbus. US auto and [Apple] iPhone sales in China will suffer a setback, and US soybean and maize imports will be halted,” the newspaper warned.

The irony about all this is that there is no one who doesn’t enjoy free trade; who doesn’t like cheaper products? It’s just that those who complain about China and the market economy are not aware of how much extra wealth they consume because of free trade, only the costs.

Elites took Trump literally but not seriously. Trump supporters did just the opposite. For the benefit of his voters, lets hope that Trump is not serious about 45 percent tariffs.

What to do in Afghanistan?

At the Daily Caller (the Heritage Foundation), Lisa Curtis calls on President-elect Trump to “fight for Afghanistan.”

She states

Shortly after the Trump administration takes office in January 2017, it will need to consider its strategy in Afghanistan, the country from which al-Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks and where U.S. and NATO-backed Afghan forces continue to battle the Taliban 15 years after the Islamist extremist group was ousted from power.

And if we don’t then this..

would allow the Taliban to re-take large swathes of territory and facilitate the revival of al-Qaeda in the region, not to mention boosting the moral of Islamist extremists across the globe.

Before recommitting American blood and treasure to Afghanistan, two questions have to be answered.

For one, is there any real and persuasive evidence that the Taliban have global ambitions of waging jihad? If they were to reclaim power, to what extent would they help rehabilitate Al-Qaeda and pursue terrorism against the “far enemy?” Or, would the Taliban only have regional aims of implementing their austere form of Islam?

It wasn’t the Taliban that attacked us on 9/11 but Al-Qaeda. That doesn’t excuse the aid offered by the Taliban while pursuing their terrorism goal, but why get sucked into a rabbit hole if the Taliban doesn’t have any future aims of providing a safe haven for Al-Qaeda?

And two, who are we fighting the Taliban for? After 16 years of war, the United States attempt of state building has produced…what? I’m not sure how to describe the situation in Afghanistan but you couldn’t accurately describe it without mentioning the rampant corruption and persistent tribal tensions that undermine effective governing from Kabal.