The Trump u-turn on China and Russia is welcomed policy: Why the United States should be wary of Russia, and not China.

During the presidential race, political commentators were equally dismayed and puzzled by the developing relationship between then candidate Trump and President Putin. All sorts of explanations were offered to explain the apparent goodwill, from naked business interests to an alleged sex tape. But whatever the reason, Trump complimented Putin on a regular basis, referring to Russia’s president as a “strong leader” and “smart,” and stated that he intended to have a good working relationship with Russia’s president.

China, however, would be the center of a Trump administration’s ire. Trump accused China of “raping” the United States and promised that on day one he would label China as a currency manipulator and erect steep trade barriers. During his confirmation hearing, his nomination for Secretary of State suggested denying Beijing access to their artificial islands in the South China Sea.

That was then but this is now. After 100 days of Trump, the expected rapprochement with Russia has cooled and Chinese-American relations have apparently warmed. President Trump has directed 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Russia’s ally Syria, accused Russia of complicity in Syrian war crimes, has made no attempt of removing the sanctions imposed after Crimea, and has publicly stated he expects the peninsula to be returned to Ukraine.

Trump, however, has failed to label China as a currency manipulator, reneged on trade barriers, and restricted Navy patrols in the South China Sea. Xi Jinping, apparently, is even President Trump’s friend.

This u-turn is highly welcomed news for the simple fact that Russia is the troublemaker, and China, not so much.

Russia is the bigger problem for American foreign policy primarily because Russia is seeking to undermine 50 plus years of European economic integration and political liberalism. As articulated in a 2013 Center for Strategic Communications policy paper titled “Putin: The New World Leader of Conservatism,” Putin’s strategy of gaining influence in Europe is by assuming the leadership role of a transnational movement that defends and renews traditional social values, both in side Russia in Europe. This means supporting positions that are anti-immigrant, homophobic, and Eurosceptic, among other anti-liberal policies. This essentially makes Russia a proselytizing power as Putin seeks to export these policies to Europe by hacking elections, funding far right parties, and spreading fake news. The French presidential election offers ample evidence of this strategy in motion.

Compare this to China which has no designs on the political makeup of foreign states, doesn’t seek to export any particular culture to its neighbors and, despite lifting 800 million people out of poverty, doesn’t pressure others to adopt its version of state sponsored capitalism. They do hack, but not to influence election outcomes, and the fake news it produces is mainly for Chinese consumption and not to influence foreign elections.

The Chinese and Russian objectives for their respected neighborhoods are in contrast to one another. Russia’s objective is to sow political and economic uncertainty throughout their neighborhood, as a Europe divided by nationalism and economic populism is a plus for Moscow. But where Russia is deliberately stirring up tensions throughout Europe, China’s number one regional goal is stability. From their policy towards North Korea to their relationship with the United States, China’s number one goal is to avoid destabilizing the region. This is because unlike Russia, China has experienced legitimate economic gains and political consolidation over the past 30 years and would prefer not to upset this trend.

When one also considers that Putin’s Russia has also invaded two countries, committed war crimes in Syria, has sold arms to the Taliban, and violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, it is rather clear that Russia, and not China, should be considered the bigger problem for American. American priorities and rhetoric should reflect that.

 

 

Russia and social conservatism.

Many have discussed Russia’s pursuit of a new identify following its disastrous experiment with communism. Would Russia have a purpose on the world stage, or would it merely be an ad-hoc pragmatic power, largely selling the world natural resources on its way towards a full blown kleptocracy?

It turns out Russia does have a purpose and it is the restoration of social conservatism.

Putin is the movements leader.

This effort is obviously strategic. Consider the following from Alina Polyakova’s brilliant piece, Putinism and the European Far Right.

“Europe’s far-right parties and the Putin doctrine frame their respective nations and people as being in the middle of a culture war between Western liberal plurality and traditional Christian values. In 2013, the Center for Strategic Communications—a Russian based think-tank— published a report entitled “Putin: The New World Leader of Conservatism.” Putin, according to this report, stands for traditional values in a world fraught with instability: law and order, family, and the Christian heritage. The FN’s Marine Le Pen has praised Putin for standing up for Christian civilization and traditional values, hailing him as a “natural ally to Europe.”

You can read the report in its entirety here.

The roots of populism

Subtitle is “The phenomenon is a wholesale suspicion of the principle of representation itself.”

Here is the most informative line,

Populisms represent what we could call the “democracy of suspicion” whereby the apparatuses of representation (the parliamentary system, the parliamentary “class,” the elite, their pet experts and so on) are subject to hostility, precisely for not being representative enough or, more significantly, for being mere “representatives” in the first place.

Excellent read and a refreshing break from the populism = racism work you see so often.

All populism, regardless of time or geographical context, is a confidence in the “people” and a skepticism in experts. This sentiment is always there yet it needs some sort of social or economic issue to get it up off the ground. In Latin America it has been economic. In America it has been demographics. In Europe, both.

You can read the entire thing here.

PS, this article won the Hennessy prize for essay writing on British politics. It’s author is Thomas Osborne.

Trump and Russia: The Right Way to Manage Relations

That is the name of an essay from the March/April edition of the Foreign Affairs.

Here is it’s opening

 

Relations between the United States and Russia are broken,and each side has a vastly different assessment of what went wrong. U.S. officials point to the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea and the bloody covert war Russian forces are waging in eastern Ukraine. They note the Kremlin’s suppression of civil society at home, its reckless brandishing of nuclear weapons, and its military provocations toward U.S. allies and partners in Europe. They highlight Russia’s military intervention in Syria aimed at propping up Bashar al-Assad’s brutal dictatorship. And they call attention to an unprecedented attempt through a Kremlin-backed hacking and disinformation campaign to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last November.

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his circle view things differently. In Ukraine, Moscow sees itself as merely pushing back against the relentless geopolitical expansion of the United States, NATO, and the EU. They point out that Washington and its allies have deployed troops right up to the Russian border. They claim that the United States has repeatedly intervened in Russian domestic politics and contend, falsely, that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even incited antigovernment protests in Moscow in December 2011. And they maintain that the United States is meddling in Syria to overthrow a legitimate government, in just the latest example of its unilateral attempts to topple regimes it doesn’t like.

Informative and objective throughout. Highly recommended.

President Obama’s biggest failures.

At the National Interest, Daniel R. DePetris has a piece where he discusses “…the five biggest failures that will at least partially color President Obama’s two terms..”

The list includes

  1. Guantanamo Remains Open
  2. No Mideast Peace Deal
  3. The Syria Red Line
  4. Partisanship Got Worse
  5. A Nation that Remains At War

It is a curious list as you hear very little about Guantanamo, all Presidents fail at the peace process, Republicans decided on day 1 to oppose every aspect of his agenda, and most civilians don’t feel as if they are at war (I’m not convinced that the average voter is aware or even cares about Obama’s light footprint strategy).

Syria is expected, as during the Obama administration over 11 percent of their population were killed and the refugee problem was the biggest threat to the EU project of the past 20 years. But I think his association with Syria will be the tragedy of what happened there and not the “red line” as argued by Daniel. I think the future way we frame Syria will be that Obama was callous and allowed it to happen which is not fair to him but that isn’t the point of Daniel’s list.

Oddly left off the list is the return to geopolitics in Ukraine and the South China Sea, ISIL, the failure of TPP, and what I consider his biggest foreign policy blunder, Libya.

In Libya, it was one policy mistake after another. If 9/11 meant domestic institutions replaced power distributions as America’s biggest security concern, why create a failed state? Why overturn a regime which actually cooperated with the United States on its various weapons program, complicating our credibility with nuclear powers or aspiring nuclear powers. It seems obvious to me that Libya damaged our credibility more than the “red line” ever did. Lastly, if the list is to correctly identify what failures will color the legacy of the Obama administration once he leaves office, Benghazi will also play a role in cementing “all things Libya” as his biggest policy debacle aboard.

 

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.

 

Who are “key allies?”

Over at Duck of Minevera Phil Arena has a piece discussing information failure and the possible outbreak of war under a Trump presidency.

 

He writes…

…Trump’s electoral victory is so alarming. Trump has famously questioned what the US is getting out of its military presence in South Korea and Japan and indicated that the US should no longer serve as the world’s policeman (source). He has expressed admiration for Putin and indicated that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are legitimate – when he’s acknowledged that they’re even occurring (source). One could hardly blame Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong-un for thinking that the United States would not respond if they chose to attack traditional US allies in the Baltics or South Korea.

 

The bold text is original.

he concludes with…

As horrifying as the prospect of a return to warfare on a scale not seen in decades is, I cannot hope for the abandonment of key allies. That is why I am so troubled; if Putin and Kim respond to Trump’s comments the way leaders have often responded when the US signaled that it was unwilling to check aggression, there is no best case scenario.

My issue with his post is that he doesn’t want to “abandon key allies.”

We have almost 30k troops in South Korea so I don’t expect the scenario described to occur in Asia. And either way, I actually lean towards supporting the American hub and spoke alliance system of the Far East as it dampens the security dilemma. There are probably too many historical grievances in Asia to allow for multipolarity to emerge.

But what about Europe?

What exactly is a “key ally” in this region? Like everyone else, I’ve written about the lack of military spending by those the United States is obligated to protect. It’s a standard post and you can read it here. But look at this lineup of “key allies” I pulled from wikipieda. You can sort them into basically three different groups. (1) Most are utterly meaningless for American security. Does anyone think that if Russia annexed Slovenia and Slovakia that this means anything for the defense of American sovereignty? (2) Some are actually not just meaningless but pose a serious threat to American interests and, in a rare but worst case scenario, could drag us into conflict. Turkey is an obvious example. The last group (3) can actually defend themselves and are free riding. This includes states such as Germany, and France.

Military personnel[edit]

Country Active personnel Reserve personnel Total
 Albania 100,500 5,000 105,500
 Belgium 24,500 100,500 125,000
 Bulgaria 46,712 302,500 349,212
 Canada 68,000 27,000 95,000
 Croatia 18,000 180,000 198,000
 Czech Republic 21,057 2,359 23,416
 Denmark 20,003 63,000 78,000
 Estonia 3,209 60,000 63,209
 France 222,215 100,000 322,215
 Germany 180,676 145,000 325,676
 Greece 180,000 280,000 460,000
 Hungary 29,700 8400 38,100
 Iceland 210 170 380
 Italy 180,000 41,867 220,867
 Latvia 6,000 11,000 17,000
 Lithuania 15,839 4,550 20,389
 Luxembourg 1,057 278 1,335
 Netherlands 47,660 57,200 104,860
 Norway 26,200 56,200 82,400
 Poland 120,000 515,000 635,000
 Portugal 44,900 210,930 255,830
 Romania 73,350 79,900 153,250
 Slovakia 16,000 16,000
 Slovenia 7,300 1,500 8,801
 Spain 123,000 16,200 139,200
 Turkey 620,473 429,000 1,041,900
 United Kingdom 205,851 181,720 387,571
 United States 1,369,532 850,880 2,220,412
 NATO 3,585,000 3,745,000 7,330,000

The United States has far too much “free security” offered by two oceans to consider NATO essential to its security. My suspicion is that the US insists on maintaining NATO because being the “leader of the free world” is a public good. NATO doesn’t have any real meaning for America outside of generating pride for the uninformed. Either way, we shouldn’t refer to any of these countries as allies but dependents. An ally helps pursue the national interests and I’m not sure what interests any of these “allies” help us pursue.

It’s Nato that’s empire-building, not Putin

That is the headline of a piece written by Peter Hitchens.

Here is one bit here.

Just for once, let us try this argument with an open mind, employing arithmetic and geography and going easy on the adjectives. Two great land powers face each other. One of these powers, Russia, has given up control over 700,000 square miles of valuable territory. The other, the European Union, has gained control over 400,000 of those square miles. Which of these powers is expanding?

Obviously there is a difference between annexing territory through hybrid wars and joining a common market via some sort of democratic process, but the zero-sum description above is how Russia interprets EU and NATO enlargement.

He then goes on to point out the contradictions of the Western alliance patterns and liberal morals.

…we have a noisy pseudo-moral crusade, which would not withstand five minutes of serious consideration. Mr Putin’s state is, beyond doubt, a sinister tyranny. But so is Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, which locks up far more journalists than does Russia. Turkey is an officially respectable Nato member, 40 years after seizing northern Cyprus, which it still occupies, in an almost exact precedent for Russia’s seizure of Crimea. If Putin disgusts us so much, then why are we and the USA happy to do business with Erdogan, and also to fawn upon Saudi Arabia and China?

This article is dated, by the way. It was written in March of 2015, prior to the authoritarian backlash following the failed coup.

Do read the entire article.

Nato Secretary General warns Donald Trump against going it alone

“Going it alone is not an option, either for Europe or for the United States.”

That is the advice of Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

See the article written in the U.K.’s observer here.

This is most ironic as this is essentially what the United States has been doing for quite some time. There are 28 members of Nato yet but according to the Secretary General Stoltenberg, the United States contribution accounts for 70% of its budget. It’s not just total budget but also how much each state spends on their own defenses.

Here are 2014 and 2015 percentages of GDP that each NATO member spent on their defenses.

nato-expenditures-2

 

Okay, so maybe it’s not all that telling that Canada doesn’t reach the 2 percent threshold which all member states are bound to meet but why aren’t states that are most likely to be annexed by Russia (Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania) doing so? Why should the United States take their security more seriously then they do? The aim of Nato was to ensure that no hegemonic power (most likely Russia) could emerge in Europe and take control of its industrial base. What industrial base do these countries have? As a matter of strategy these countries are virtually meaningless to the United States; perhaps the morality of defending these countries from Russia is more debatable but that is for a different post.

Trump may not articulate his strategy in a polite or consistent way, but he is correct for demanding that the costs for maintaing security of Europe be shifted to those who principally benefit. Otherwise we have what Barry Posen calls “Welfare for the rich.”