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.

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.

“Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories.”

That is the conclusion of 2015 research conducted by Michael J. Hicks and Srikant Devaraj.

Here is the summary

Manufacturing has continued to grow, and the sector itself remains a large, important, and growing sector of the U.S. economy. Employment in manufacturing has stagnated for some time, primarily due to growth in productivity of manufacturing production processes.

 

Three factors have contributed to changes in manufacturing employment in recent years: Productivity, trade, and domestic demand. Overwhelmingly, the largest impact is productivity. Almost 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years can be attributable to productivity growth, and the long-term changes to manufacturing employment are mostly linked to the productivity of American factories. Growing demand for manufacturing goods in the U.S. has offset some of those job losses, but the effect is modest, accounting for a 1.2 percent increase in jobs beyond what we would expect if consumer demand for domestically manufactured goods was flat.

 

Exports lead to higher levels of domestic production and employment, while imports reduce domestic production and employment. The difference between these, or net exports, has been negative since 1980, and has contributed to roughly 13.4 percent of job losses in the U.S. in the last decade. Our estimate is almost exactly that reported by the more respected research centers in the nation.

 

Manufacturing production remains robust. Productivity growth is the largest contributor to job displacement over the past several decades. This leads to a domestic policy consideration.

Short reading with plenty of data. You can read the entire thing 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

 

 

 

Trump, China, and Russia

Should we be as concerned as most have been regarding the ongoing love affair between Trump and Putin? Jennifer Rubin at the WaPo has been especially active on how dire we should be over the expected thaw in US-Russian relations. See here, here and here.

I’m not as alarmed.

Russian aggression offends my western sensibilities, but not my perception of American strategic interests. The atrocities committed by Russia in Syria are truly tragic, and the there should be serious consequences for their recent cyber crimes, but you ally not based on values, but interests…otherwise, how would WW2 have ended if we refused to work with Stalin?

It seems clear to me that Trump has identified China as the biggest threat to the United States and from the phone call to Taiwan to nominating Peter Navarro as the director of the National Trade Council, you can read Trump’s early maneuvering as building leverage for when he has to deal with China.

How does Russia fit into this? From his outlook on Syria, nominating Tillerson to Secretary of State, and to his dismissal of Russia’s interference in the election, Trump seems to be courting Russia to help balance against the future country which will be the most important player in what is expected to be the most important region. I disagree with this approach., but it isn’t crazy. If your international outlook emphasizes a focus on power, which I presume Trump’s does, on nearly every metric China should be the more concerning country. Just look at a very crude metric of power, GDP. Assuming both states are illiberal and that one is the recognized potential hegemon of their region, who should the United States ally with?

Perhaps I’m giving too much credit to Trump to assume this is the framework that guides his thinking (as opposed to his suspected need to be adored by powerful men), but either way, an improvement in relations with Russia will be a welcomed change of pace.

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.

A peace of “trumphalia”

Stephen Walt has a persuasive piece at FP that the most politically possible and the most beneficial foreign policy would be the same thing. He calls it “Westphalian sovereignty” which he describes as

If Trump is looking for a unifying concept for his approach to foreign policy, it is the idea that states are responsible for their own territory and citizens and that other states shouldn’t interfere with either. This notion is consistent with Trump’s own “America First” mentality, and it resonates with the sentiment of populist nationalism that has driven everything from the Brexit vote to the assorted European xenophobes who are so jazzed by Trump’s success. And it is hardly a controversial concept; indeed, it still forms much of the basis for existing international law.

China would be pleased by such an organizing principle to America’s foreign policy. Remember that their distaste for Hilary started in 1995 when she delivered a speech on women’s rights in Beijing.

My concern with Trump is that he has no clear and firm record of a foreign policy ideology and he may be reacting to the previous administration overreaches. President Obama also had no foreign policy record outside of opposing the Iraq War and also campaigned on restraint. But before long he was hosting the Dali Lama and authorizing weapon sales to Taiwan.