How does OBOR threaten American strategy in Eurasia?

First, its naval dimension works in synergy with overland projects that span regions of critical geostrategic value, taking advantage of China’s central position along the Eurasian rimland. While U.S. leaders have focused on Beijing’s maritime buildup in East Asia, and while most analyses have derided its massive investments in poor and unstable parts of continental Eurasia, those initiatives are mutually reinforcing, part of the same grand design, which is to push the U.S. toward the periphery of the Eurasian rimland, thereby marginalizing its geostrategic influence.

 

Second, Beijing seeks to offset the United States’ military primacy. Its buildup in maritime East Asia and the South China sea is worthy of attention but it is also designed in response to the U.S. naval presence and to the alliances that American leaders have nurtured along China’s southern flank since the early years of the Cold War. Regardless, this specific challenge should not absorb the bulk of the United States’ resources. For all of its military initiatives, Beijing’s key priority is to make strategic gains by leveraging its superior geoeconomic assets: vast and fast-growing market, full state control over the economy, and massive financial reserves.

 

Third, to advance its interests, China exploits the cracks in U.S. post-Cold War hegemony. Washington’s interferences in Russia and Iran’s respective spheres of influence, and its military interventionism in the Middle East, triggered a nationalist and Islamist backlash that significantly diminished its resources and credibility. The unending global war on terror and misguided attempts at forceful democracy promotion only compounded this strategic overreach, while the militarization of Washington’s national security apparatus reduced its ability to tackle the deeper roots of those multi-dimensional challenges.

The title of the work is “What Does China’s Belt and Road Initiative Mean for US Grand Strategy?” and other interesting points made throughout.

The author Thomas P. Cavanna is and the rest can be read here.

Poland offers US up to $2B for permanent military base

Poland wants a permanent U.S. military presence — and is willing to pony up as much as $2 billion to get it, according to a defense ministry proposal obtained by Polish news portal Onet.

 

The Polish offer reflects a long-standing desire in Warsaw to build closer security relations with the U.S. and put American boots on the ground. The push dates back to Poland’s entry into NATO in 1999, but has taken on added urgency in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region four years ago and aggressive posture toward the alliance.

The rest can be read here.

The Iranian deal and US foreign policy.

As expected, President Trump has pulled out the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,and reactions ran the spectrum. Pulling out of JCPOA has be called an act of “vandalism,” a “disaster,” and according to Bernie Sanders, “has put America on the path to war.”

The goal of the deal was to halt the Iranian pursuit of a nuclear weapon. In exchange for stopping its program, as well as shipping its enriched uranium abroad and allowing inspections, Iran had 100 billion dollars unfrozen and would be given permission to engage with the world economy, sanction-free.

Trump objected to the deal because the more intrusive measures retarding Iranian nuclear progress expire after 10 years. He objected to Iranian behavior because that they were testing intercontinental ballistic missiles and building a military network in Syria. Apparently, both of these warranted a withdrawal.

For the record, I think it was a bad deal but not because of the reasons raised by Trump. The Iran deal was bad because it only addressed Iran’s nuclear program and not the source of their nuclear ambitions.

There are number of explanations for why states seek nuclear weapons, but the historical record of nuclear proliferation is clear. As of today, there are 9 nuclear states. What each state had in common when they initiated their program was their security environment. Each and every state that has successfully gone nuclear was at one time a threatened state which could not outsource its protection to a more powerful ally. Non-threatened states that can go nuclear, such as Norway or Mexico, do not need them. States without the material or knowhow, such as Tanzania or Laos, for obvious reasons never do either. Threatened states which can outsource its security to a reliable ally, such as West Germany, Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea, also do not acquire the bomb.

The conditions that convince a state to embark down the costly and controversial path towards nuclear weapons apply to Iran perfectly.

Since 1979, the state of Iran has had to exist in a highly unstable and hostile security environment. They have a Sunni regime to both the left (Saudi Arabia) and right (Pakistan), one of which is nuclear. Until 2002, they had a Baathist regime which they fought a bloody 8 year war against. And then there is the United States, which overthrew the democratically elected Mossadeq government, has upended three neighboring regimes in the last 15 years, supported Hussein in the Iran-Iraq war, and on a routine basis openly debates if it should attack Iran. Iran’s only benefactor, Russia, is viewed skeptically and considered unreliable. Frankly, when Iran looks beyond its borders, it sees a deeply hostile environment with itself in the center, largely alone.

This environment is rarely appreciated by the United States and is why the Iranian program makes perfect sense from a security perspective.

To note that there are structural reasons as to why Iran pursues nuclear weapons doesn’t excuse the government’s behavior. Iran is a terrible regime and routinely violates the basic human rights of its citizens, especially those already vulnerable, such as women and homosexuals. But that has nothing to do with their nuclear program. The issue is that American foreign policy is contradictory. America simultaneously pursues both regime change and denuclearization in Iran. The more the United States seeks to reform the domestic politics of Iran, the stronger the regime’s demand for nuclear weapons grows. Until this contradiction is sorted out, no treaty will be of any real value.

Deciphering Kim Jong Un’s Motives

Trump should take a cue from President Richard Nixon. In preparing for his historic meeting with the Chinese leader Mao Zedong in 1972, Nixon made sure he understood how to play the game by thinking about his opponent’s aims. On a piece of paper, he outlined what Mao wanted, laid them out against the goals of the United States, and then mapped out areas of potential agreement. Trump should do the same, thinking strategically about the motivations of all the summit’s key players: North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. So what is it, then, that they really want?

the author then notes..

The other key item on Kim’s agenda is a relaxation of economic pressure. The Trump administration’s sweeping sanctions played a role in bringing the North Korean leader to the table, but it is also likely that Kim knew he would be sanctioned after he threatened the United States with his Hwasong-15 ICBM test last December. Although North Korea’s ultimate goal is for the United States to end its unilateral sanctions, it’s not an absolute necessity since China is likely to soften its own pressure once the negotiation process is under way—no small gain for Kim given that China accounts for 90 percent of North Korean external trade. Tactically, Kim will look for dramatic gestures and a slow-rolling “action-for-action” approach to negotiations that will drag things out until he is ready to escalate again (a well-established pattern that senior regime defectors like Hwang Jang Yop once predicted will continue into the future).

This will be very interesting to see how this drama unfolds. I don’t read too much into the recent threat of NK threatening to cancel the summit. Trump is, after all, just as erratic in the foreign policy realm. Just ask Tillerson.

Frankly, I can’t ever imagine that NK will denuclearize. I assume this most likely an attempt to weaken the economic coalition (mostly China and South Korea) which is clearly starting to bite into the North’s economy.

The author is  and you can read the rest here.

Don’t let Israel and Saudi Arabia drag the U.S. into another war.

Here is the editor’s note.

We have listened to the siren call of war in the Middle East too often in the past. A “New Middle East!” we are told. But the results have been disastrous.

Here is one bit,

In 1982 it was Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon who was the self-proclaimed prophet. Israel would invade Lebanon, destroy the Palestinian movement, drive Syria out of the country, impose a pliant Maronite Christian government in Beirut, and then Lebanon together with Jordan would make peace with Israel. A New Middle East would follow. The United States would provide diplomatic cover and peacekeepers to facilitate the transformation. Washington signed up.

The author is Bruce Riedel and you can read the rest here.

Balancing in the Pacific

The NYT has a piece titled “How China is Challenging American Dominance in Asia” which discusses the current state of Pacific politics.

You can’t really pull from it so I’ll just provide the link. Highly recommended.

George Will on Afghanistan

Quoting from the much discussed Steve Coll’s book, “Directorate S: The CIA and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pak­istan,” Will writes,

…when Gen. Stanley McChrystal went to Afghanistan in May 2002, “A senior Army officer in Washington told him, ‘Don’t build [Bondsteels],’ referring to the NATO base in [Kosovo] that Rumsfeld saw as a symbol of peacekeeping mission creep. The officer warned McChrystal against ‘anything here that looks permanent. . . . We are not staying long.’ As McChrystal took the lay of the land, ‘I felt like we were high-school students who had wandered into a Mafia-owned bar.’ ” It has been a learning experience. After blowing up tunnels — some almost as long as a football field — thought to be created by and for terrorists, U.S. officials learned they were actually an ancient irrigation system.

You can read the rest here.

Trump versus Xi’s worldview.

Xi’s worldview is as follows.

In the world according to Xi, authoritarian rule has trumped democracy as a superior model. He wants to export it to willing countries as an alternative to democracy. He is shrewdly wooing them by dazzling leaders with roads and railways paid for with cash China earned from the West. At home, he has whipped up nationalism and pride among the population by distributing rice and cooking oil in villages, raising living standards, supersizing the country’s infrastructure, and masking his toppling of political foes as a fight against corruption. Aside from opposing factions and some in the intelligentsia, every mainlander I have met worships Xi.

Trump, however, offers the following.

In the world according to Trump, exporting American goods supersedes exporting democracy. Instead of showering countries with American largesse, he has spooked them and allies alike with threats that the US will no longer be a sucker by policing the world at its own expense. He wants allies and others fearful of an authoritarian state becoming the dominant global power to pay their share for security. He wants the world to acquiesce to his demand to make America great again. Patriotism is an inborn American trait. But, instead of uniting the people through nationalism, he has divided them through politics.

The author then asks

So, which gives you the jitters, Trump’s world or Xi’s? Before you answer, think cold war, not trade wars. A cold war is already in the making. Those who don’t see it are in a state of denial.

You can read the rest here.

China’s continual creep into Latin America

Two recent articles on the deepening ties of China and the Western Hemisphere.

Defense One has a piece on Chinese courting Latin American generals with lavish gifts and military training, building strategic ties with those who control the military in Latin America. Here is how the article opens

China has started to woo America’s nearest allies by funding “lavish” trips for Latin American military officers to live and study across the Pacific. Beijing is courting officers from the region, offering to cover the cost of military education and travel, Adm. Kurt Tidd, the commander of U.S. Southern Command, told lawmakers Thursday.

In a separate piece, Briebeart reports that “Adm. Kurt Tidd, the commander of SOUTHCOM, testified that Beijing has already pledged $500 billion in trade funds with various Latin American countries and $250 billion in Chinese direct investment over the next decade, adding:

American grand strategy is almost entirely designed to prevent a regional hegemonic power from being able to roam in America’s back yard. It has long been suspected that  the OBOR was the economic groundwork for a later security architecture. As well, Latin America has a history of military coups. According to research done by Marsteintredet & Berntzen (2008), 8 since 1991 alone. Both articles indicate China is laying the groundwork to act more aggressively in the West. It is not unreasonable to be concerned with this as there is probably a huge demand for their model among certain generals. That is, grow rich but retain political control.

What does it mean to have a libertarian foreign policy?

This essay will present the basics of what a libertarian foreign policy is and how it fits into the wider discussion of American grand strategy.

In the broadest sense, libertarianism is a political doctrine that defends personal liberty at the expense of collective goals, such as equality or order. The libertarian ideology addresses the relationship between the individual and his government and it’s assumed that if rights are symmetrical, decisions should be voluntary and free from government coercion. The obvious conclusion is that libertarians prefer a government with a limited number of responsibilities. Exceptions for government intervention usually include market failure such as public goods.

There are two main strands of libertarianism and both share the described outlook. One is a rights based libertarianism which argues that individuals have a moral right to freedom which exists prior to society. Rights include self-ownership and ownership of property and the purpose of erecting government is to protect these rights. Any initiation of force that goes beyond this is considered illegitimate.

The other type of libertarianism is consequence based and is known as consequentialism. This style of libertarian thought shares many of the conclusions of a right based libertarianism but arrives at policy positions by focusing on the unintended consequences of policy. Consequentialist argue that the unintended consequences of public policy are usually perverse, often harming those it was intended to help. These libertarians usually refrain from using moral language to frame policy issues and argue against intrusive policy due to its inefficiency.

In my opinion, it is the consequentialist strand of libertarianism that is more convincing and it is usually the strand of thinking that influences the more respectable arguments for a libertarian foreign policy. I therefore present the basics of a libertarian foreign policy by using the framework of the consequentialists.

So how does a consequentialist outlook translate into foreign policy? A consequentialist foreign policy argues for a limited number of objectives which mostly pertain to the physical security of the state. The two dominant themes of a libertarian foreign policy are non-intervention and non-entanglement. Non-intervention means that the United States should refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other states. Non-entanglement means that the United States should avoid permanent security alliances and the indefinite stationing of its military abroad. Non-intervention and non-entanglement are referred to as a strategy of restraint and are at odds with the current US grand strategy of liberal hegemony. In place since the end of the Cold War, current grand strategy is hegemonic because America seeks to retain its dominant position in the international system. It is liberal because it seeks to spread liberal values and its associated institutions, most notably democracy. It seeks these two goals through both selective engagement (intervention) and extended deterrence (entanglement). Those who own a libertarian outlook consider the unintended consequences associated with such an active foreign policy to be self-defeating.

Intervention can take a variety of forms, from “smart sanctions” to outright regime change and those who favor intervention often argue for humanitarian goals, such as protecting unarmed civilians or spreading democracy. While such goals are laudable, consequentialists are usually reluctant to support intervention because of how historically divorced intentions are from outcomes. Consequentialist assume that social orders are spontaneous which means that they are the result of human action but not human design. Interveners often fail to appreciate the wide range of local and historical factors which give shape to a foreign culture and to try to reengineer a society from the outside will often backfire. This is especially true when using such a blunt instrument as military force. An informative example is the 2011 humanitarian intervention in Libya. The NATO directed military strikes were designed to protect civilians during the Libyan uprising yet the intervention lead to regime change which eventually lead to a humanitarian crisis. Under Gaddafi, Libya was comprised of a loose collection of clans which were kept in order by his dictatorial style of rule. The military strikes lead to the unraveling of this arrangement, turning Libya into a failed state. It is today composed of competing tribes, including ISIS, all of which have committed gross human rights violations. The intervention also had repercussions outside of Libya as the military strikes produced a refugee crisis, instability in Mali, complicated a diplomatic solution to North Korea’s nuclear program, and alienated rival powers who considered it disingenuous of the west to use the authorization to protect civilians to engage in regime change. Gaddafi was clearly an unsavory leader yet his removal lead to a series of events that arguably add up to something worse.

The other theme of a consequentialist foreign policy is non-entanglement which means to avoid permanent security alliances and the stationing of military troops overseas. As of 2016, the United States has approximately 800 military bases abroad and has signed security treaties with nearly 70 countries. Despite most of these security commitments being relics of the Cold War, there is a pervasive logic to retaining them as they are thought to provide the public good of security. The two main mechanisms at work are deterrence and assurance. The United States security commitments deters third party attacks on its allies. American assurance prevents American allies from preparing for such an attack, thus avoiding a spiral into conflict and in certain situations, nuclear proliferation. Yet, the extensive network of alliances is not cost free and has unintended consequences which include shirking, moral hazard, and the power problem. Shirking describes the tendency of American allies to not provide for their own defense and free ride on the American tax payer. This is an obvious problem in Western Europe as all but a small handful of NATO members meet their contractually obligated defense outlays. As described by MIT’s Barry Posen, NATO today is essentially “welfare for the rich.” The moral hazard of America’s security architecture describes a situation in which an American ally becomes more risk tolerant knowing that it can pass the costs onto the United States if their gamble backfires. Such a situation was displayed by Saudi Arabia’s escalation of the Yemen conflict. One reason why Saudi Arabia was so inclined to pursue a military solution in Yemen was because of the tacit insurance given by the United States if its adventurism failed. As many have pointed out, this is exactly what happened as the United States was dragged into cleaning up a humanitarian catastrophe it did not create. The last unintended consequence of the American alliance system is the most serious and is referred to as the power problem. Coined by CATO’s Christopher Preble, this is the irony that a stronger military often results in its promiscuous use, usually producing a less secure environment. The United States wide network of alliances and far reaching military presence creates a temptation to use it, often for non-strategic reasons. This attitude was expressed by Madeline Albright when she asked Colin Powell “What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”  Such hubris was demonstrated in Iraq. The Iraq War had several causes, but at the heart of the American motivation to invade Iraq was an overconfidence in what the worlds most powerful military could actually achieve. The leadership that lead the United States into the Iraq War genuinely assumed that it would be easy for the world’s sole superpower to introduce liberal institutions to a society with no prior experience with them. The two dominant cultural themes of Iraq, tribalism and Islam, generally retard democracy, but encouraged by its abundance of hard power, the United States proceeded anyway. The unintended consequences are legion. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein turned Iraq into a chaotic mess, gave birth to ISIS, extended the influence of Iran, produced a mental health crisis among returning veterans, and strained American relations with other democracies.

Not all consequences are negative and those that are not should be considered when weighing foreign policy options. The United State may have failed in installing democratic institutions in Iraq but its demonstration of military power may have possibly deterred others from testing its capabilities. Yet, the evidence produced by 30 years of liberal hegemony indicates the United States needs to become more libertarian and scale back its foreign policy objectives. All attempts to export democracy have failed. America’s large coalition of security dependents at best free ride and at worst drag the United States into messy situations of little strategic value. And the liberal hegemony policies of intervention and extended deterrence have resulted in the sloppy use of force which has destabilized the international environment. Using data produced by the Congressional Research Service, the United States used its military approximately 40 times during the Cold War (1945-1991). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it has used its military almost 200 times. Without an opposing force, the United States has used its armed forces in every non-strategic way possible. As a police force in Somalia to democratic reformer in Iraq, the United States is best described as a liberal hegemon on the march. The unintended result of such an overreaching foreign policy is that the United States has created humanitarian crises, turned manageable situations into unstable ones, and incentivized its rivals to set up rival alternatives to the liberal world order.