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War on the Rocks: A New Nixon Doctrine – Strategy for a Polycentric World

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

I have a new piece up at the excellent War on the Rocks site that is oriented towards both history and contemporary policy Some Excerpts:

A New Nixon Doctrine: Strategy for a Polycentric World

….Asia was only the starting point; the Nixon doctrine continued to evolve in subsequent years into a paradigm for the administration to globally leverage American power, one that, as Chad Pillai explained in his recent War on the Rocks article, still remains very relevant today. Avoiding future Vietnams remained the first priority when President Nixon elaborated on the Nixon Doctrine to the American public in a televised address about the war the following October, but the Nixon Doctrine was rooted in Nixon’s assumptions about larger, fundamental, geopolitical shifts underway that he had begun to explore in print and private talks before running for president. In a secret speech at Bohemian Grove in 1967 that greatly bolstered his presidential prospects, Nixon warned America’s political and business elite that the postwar world as they knew it was irrevocably coming to an end [....]

….China was a strategic lodestone for Richard Nixon’s vision of a reordered world under American leadership, which culminated in Nixon’s historic visit to Peking and toasts with Mao ZeDong and Zhou En-lai. In the aftermath of this diplomatic triumph, a town hall meeting on national security policy was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute that featured the Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird squaring off with future Nobel-laureate, strategist and administration critic Thomas Schelling over the Nixon Doctrine and the meaning of “polycentrism” in American foreign policy. Laird was concerned with enunciating the implications of the Nixon doctrine as an operative principle for American foreign policy, taking advantage of the glow of a major success for the administration. Schelling, by contrast, was eager to turn the discussion away from China to the unresolved problem of the Vietnam war, even when he elucidated on the Nixon doctrine’s strategic importance. [....]

….What lessons can we draw from the rise of the Nixon Doctrine?

First, as in Nixon’s time, America is again painfully extricating itself from badly managed wars that neither the public nor the leaders in two administrations who are responsible for our defeat are keen to admit were lost. Nixon accepted defeat strategically, but continued to try to conceal it politically (“Vietnamization,” “Peace with Honor,” etc). What happened in Indochina in 1975 with the fall of Saigon is being repeated in Iraq right now, after a fashion. It will also be repeated in Afghanistan, and there it might be worse than present-day Iraq. [....]

Read the article in its entirety here.

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Guest Post: Stephanie Chenault Reviews Saving South Sudan

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Zen here – we would like to give a warm welcome to Stephanie Chenault, with her first guest post at ZP! :

[ by Stephanie Chenault]

“Violence and bloodshed can never have morally good results” – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Saving South Sudan is an ambitious, multimedia event from “World’s Most Dangerous Places,” author Robert Young Pelton and master photographer/filmmaker Tim Freccia. VICE went big on Pelton’s quixotic journey with Nuer Lost Boy Machot Lap Thiep to “fix” South Sudan. The three enter the world’s newest nation, at a time of extreme crisis and bloodshed, creating a grand yarn with bold characters and high adventure set against sweeping, brutal savagery.

The story of South Sudan as viewed through a Western lens is unbelievably complex, but Pelton gives us an African perspective where the current crisis is demystified by those closest to it. South Sudan has plunged into another round of playground rivalry where the contested sandbox is the world’s newest country and the opponent’s bloody noses, busted lips and black eyes are dwarfed by the physical and emotional damage inflicted on its spectators.

Saving South Sudan gives us an intelligent summary of the history, religion, cultural anthropological aspects, militarism, oil economy and “baksheesh-ocracy” that makes South Sudan tick. Serious students of the subject are encouraged to consider all of these facets while reading / viewing this oeuvre: No actions are promoted, no outcomes are predicted- and this is how it should be. This is Africa.

Pelton’s 130 page print piece and 40 min documentary grants the viewer unparalleled access into an Africa where there are no orange sunsets framed by acacia trees. A place where war is irregular, ferocious and unpredictable. In THIS Africa even the “rebel leader” bristles at being identified as such. In an earnest conversation, ousted Vice President Dr Riek Machar relays his desire isn’t to incite violence but to have a seat at the table in order to discuss options and opportunities to end the conflict. Pelton takes the filter off: behind the rhetoric, the violence continues in real time and we know that securing a seat at the table and successful negotiations (see recent media reports) bear little impact on the battle for oil on the ground. If fighting has indeed ceased, most roving bands have yet to receive the memo.

I can’t exit this review without mentioning the main reason to take the time to get briefed on the region through Pelton’s Saving South Sudan. The human touch interviews with the rulers, rebels and raconteurs would be reason enough. So would Freccia’s breathtaking portraits of the people, landscape and conflict. But taking you along this expedition is Machot- an affable, handsome (still) young man and former lost boy. His story is one of sorrow, success, and optimism. His is perhaps the best lens of them all.

Finding the print issue of the magazine can be a challenge but distribution sites are posted at the Vice website. The entire article can be found here.

The “Saving South Sudan” world premiere documentary can be found on-demand here:

http://www.vice.com/en_us

Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business which focus on plans, policy, architectures and problem-solving across the Department of Defense for multiple clients.

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Dealing with the China we Have Rather than the China we Wish to Have

Monday, March 24th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. "zen"]

A Sinocentric view of the maritime world courtesy of  The Policy Tensor (hat tip Historyguy 99)

An amigo who is an expert on China pointed me toward a couple of links last weekend. Here is the first:

Japan-China COLD WAR 8 / CPC decisions made under layers of veiled obscurity 

….Whenever a crisis occurs, diplomatic authorities typically attempt to assess the situation by contacting their counterpart of the country concerned to investigate, if any, what their intentions are. For example, the incident could merely have been an accident or a calculated act sanctioned by those at the center of the administration. But when the Chinese become involved, such diplomatic approaches may no longer be a possibility.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which is supposed to be the equivalent of the U.S. State Department or Japan’s Foreign Ministry, is “merely an organization which carries out policies decided by the Communist Party of China (CPC),”a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi is just one of 205 members of the Central Committee of the CPC, and is not even included in the 25-member Politburo, which is regarded as the party’s leadership organ.

Indeed, when the Chinese National Defense Ministry announced the establishment of the air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, including the Senkaku Islands, on Nov. 23, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing approached the Chinese Foreign Ministry. However, an official in charge at the ministry said, “We don’t know about it [ADIZ], as it’s outside our jurisdiction,” which left the embassy nonplussed.

If the Chinese Foreign Ministry is of so little use, then where are the country’s diplomatic policies worked out? Important decisions are made by the Central Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs, while decisions on military affairs are carried out at the Central Military Commission.

The two organizations are central organs within the CPC, erecting a barrier for diplomatic and defense authorities of the United States or Japan. Discussions in these organizations are kept secret from the outside. Diplomatic relations in China are complicated further by individual diplomatic issues sometimes being used as ammunition to attack rivals in power struggles within the Communist Party.

….Between the United States and China, there is the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA), signed in January 1998. However, the accord was no use on occasions such as a collision between a U.S. Navy plane and a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea in April 2001.

Former Defense Undersecretary for Policy Michele Flournoy, who was the chief negotiator in vice ministerial-level defense talks with China under the first administration of Barack Obama, said during an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun on Feb. 4, that the United States tried to have the MMCA function, but the Chinese side took a backward-looking stance. Although there is a mechanism there, China had almost no intention of complying with the mechanism properly, she added.

Our problem here is not China or the Chinese government, but our own credulity in the face of empirical evidence. The Chinese are simply playing their cards well for as long as we are going to allow them to do so. In their shoes, I would suggest doing exactly the same so long as it keeps working.

Getting your adversary to negotiate with powerless and ill- informed  representatives while the real decision makers sit at a remove is a time- tested tactic in bargaining.

The side that uses this approach gets at least two bites at every apple which means the other side increasingly has to give further concessions to secure what they thought had already been agreed to. It is a classic example of negotiating in bad faith. Furthermore, the side using it is the one interested in winning or at best, in buying time, not in reaching an agreement.

When presented with this dynamic the smart move is to walk away and immediately implement whatever the other side would rather you not do or give up the game and move on to something else. Agreements and treaties have no intrinsic value unless they advance, or at least preserve, interest. If the other party has no intention of abiding by the terms at all then they are less than worthless, being actively harmful.

China’s decision-making is both opaque and riven by factions about which Americans are poorly informed, even those who have real academic expertise and language fluency are forced periodically to read tea leaves about high level decisions within the CCP.  The following link represents a certain attitude among more nationalistic Chinese elites:

China Should Coordinate the Gradual Fall of the U.S.

When a giant is about to fall, you should give him certain support to help him to fall down slowly instead of his falling down all of a sudden, or you would be the one who suffers. That’s why I said “China should coordinate the gradual fall of the U.S.” instead of allowing her to collapse all at once.

….In the long term, the U.S. is heading towards decline and will become weaker and weaker. However, the so-called “weak” is a comparative word. In comparison with China, the U.S. is still very strong. The U.S. is going down from the summit, whereas China’s is climbing up from below. 

Sohu Business: That is to say, we do not need to worry about the overall safety of China’s foreign exchange reserve over a period of time?

Sheng Hong: Yes, but we still need to be constantly alert. In the long run, the U.S. dollar will gradually weaken and a crash of the currency is possible when it weakens to a certain extent. This is because, one way to solve the U.S. debt problem is to borrow, and another important way is to increase the supply of dollars, which will further weaken the U.S. dollar. 

If people lose faith in the U.S. dollar and anticipate the U.S. government to continue the inflation policy, they will sell dollars and aggravate the crash of the currency. This, however, will not happen at once. Moreover, the U.S. government is rather cautious at present. Although it is inclined to a loose monetary policy, including the quantitative easing monetary policy, thus increasing the amount of U.S. dollars, which made up the U.S. fiscal deficit, fiscal problems will soon be reflected in its currency. Therefore, in terms of interests, China must be very careful though this problem will not happen right now and that the U.S. dollar is still stronger than the RMB now; in terms of strategies, China should pay more attention to and begin to make preparations for it. Or it would be too late to prepare when that day comes.

…. In fact, the turning point came out long ago. Moreover, I have mentioned in my articles published previously that the turning out was actually the financial crisis which occurred at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008. Now, it’s just that some people attached labels to current events, before which many people did not even know about the situation. Nevertheless, economists should start their analysis from the financial crisis. I mentioned in my article titled Who Would Let Obama Stand Alone? that Americans could not blame others for questioning the safety of the U.S. assets since they caused the financial crisis by themselves. I won’t buy your financial assets if I do not trust their safety. If you want me to buy your financial assets, you must offer higher returns. When you lose others’ trust in you, you are already going down from the peak. 

The 9/11 Attacks struck the U.S. seriously, but not as seriously as the Financial Crisis did. The Financial Crisis was inherent rather than extrinsic. I have been following this issue ever since the financial crisis. I said at that time that the U.S. would gradually head towards decline. The debt crisis happened because not so much seigniorage could be collected any more. The U.S. has inertia in foreign military contacts which prevents it from withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan and Iraq at once, and it had to cope with the financial crisis. Therefore, the debt crisis is inevitable. It is not a turning point but a label attached by S & P. 

….The military contraction. This is very important. After Obama came to power, he clearly sensed that the military existence by the U.S. throughout the world could not remain the same as before because the U.S. has less and less money. The reality of the U.S. faced by Obama is an inevitable continuous contraction, which is actually a strategic turning point of great significance for the U.S. I mentioned just now that when trade deficits are reduced, less reflux of dollars will be attracted, resources of military expenditure will be reduced, and then military forces should be contracted. 

It is human nature to not want to accept the reality that some people genuinely intend us harm. Sure, in the abstract yes but when eye to eye people tend to bend themselves into pretzels giving the other person the benefit of the doubt when the empirical record indicates otherwise. This willing gullibility is why con games have such staying power when the first instance of bad faith is usually a foreshadowing of the nature of who you are really dealing with. It is so much easier psychologically to ignore rather than to confront and embrace conflict (even when it is only rhetorical).

The elephant in the room is that there’s an influential faction within China’s elite that has unrealistic to grandiosely hegemonic ambitions regarding China’s role in Asia and the world. They are not the entirety of China or even China’s leadership, but given China’s aggressive bullying behavior of the past three to five years, they appear to be ascendant. That is a strategic dilemma for the US and its allies.

Our job is to interrupt their momentum so that their hopes come to grief and our that moves that strengthen the faction in China’s leadership that prefers peaceful and harmonious relations over conflict with all of China’s neighbors and the United States.

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A Brief Comment on Ukraine vs. Russia

Friday, March 14th, 2014

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a "zen"]

Russia, borrowing a tactic used by the Soviets with unruly satellites, has massed a fair amount of troops on the eastern border of Ukraine under the guise of “military exercises”

This has spurred much commentary and articles, hawkish and dovish, about what America or NATO can do or not do, as in the Carlo Davis article in The New Republic magazine or Condoleeza Rice writing in WaPo.

In my view, neither America or NATO or even Russia are not the crucial in this moment. The major variable here in deciding what the US should do or not do in terms of policy and strategy are the Ukrainians.

The overriding question is political: Are the Ukrainians willing to fight and kill Russians to preserve their national independence? That’s the key. Are the security services and Ukrainian military loyal, not just to the government but to the idea of an independent Ukraine? Arguably, the behavior of the chief of Ukraine’s Black Sea fleet makes this questionable – is he indicative of his generational cohort’s attitude or not? All the military and IC capacity in the world on paper matters little if the Ukrainian military and security agencies opt for “neutrality” between Moscow and Kiev. And if they are indeed loyal then Putin’s saber rattling will require a tenfold increase in troops to move into Eastern Ukraine and he can expect that his pipelines will be destroyed, buildings in Moscow and St. Petersburg blown up and his officials at risk for assassination as Ukrainian infiltrators are about as easy to distinguish from native Russians as Canadians are from Americans.

If Ukraine is serious about fighting then the US and its Western allies can have a rational planning session about what concrete measures will make their fighting capacity more effective and make Russia’s secondary costs high enough to give Putin pause without triggering a direct military clash between NATO and Russia (why we are surprised and chagrined that NATO is not a good for preventing problems which *by design* it was not created to prevent or solve escapes me).

The best options until we have some clarity on Ukraine’s real intentions are to strengthen Ukraine’s new government by helping it take measures that increase its stability and legitimacy in the eyes of wary eastern Ukrainians and the world community while making it clear through a united western front that Russia’s economy will suffer if it invades Ukraine – this means the EU and states like Britain and Germany will share in the pain and not off-load the crisis onto America alone while cutting lucrative side deals with Putin ( the Europeans initial preferred course of action and one doomed to be as fruitless as Putin leading the diplomatic charge to reverse an American seizure of Baja California from Mexico).

Europeans allegedly wanted Ukraine in the EU, now they need to roll up their sleeves and accept significant costs of engaging in counter-pressure. Rhetoric is not enough.

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New Article at War on the Rocks

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

I have a new op-ed up this morning on the Crimean crisis over at War on the Rocks:

Let’s Slow Roll Any Move Toward Crimean War II:

One of the more curious implicit assumptions about the crisis in Ukraine is that the subsequent occupation of the Crimea by Russia represents some kind of triumph for President Vladimir Putin and a defeat for the United States. It is a weird, strategic myopia that comes from an unrealistic belief that the United States should be expected to have a granular level of political control over and responsibility for events on the entire planet. We don’t and never can but this kind of political megalomania leads first to poor analysis and then worse policies.

Far from being entitled to do a victory lap, Putin’s mishandling of Ukraine has dealt Moscow a strategic defeat. With artful bullying and a $15 billion bribe, Putin had pulled off a diplomatic coup by getting President Victor Yanukovych to reverse Ukraine’s nearly finalized deal with the European Union and align itself vaguely with Russia and Putin’s shabby League of Eurasian Dictators. This would have been a tremendous strategic win for Russia to have Ukraine with its rich resources and key geographic location not only well-disposed to Moscow, but as a compliant satellite. Much like Belarus, Ukraine would have been isolated from the West and dependent upon Russia.

….While Russia’s occupation of Crimea merits condemnation and pressure from the world community, including the EU and the United States, the rush in some quarters to make this crisis into a military standoff between Russia and NATO instead of focusing on measures to quickly stabilize the new pro-Western government in Kiev is ill-advised and strategically unwise….

Read the rest here

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