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Not China’s Choice but Ours

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen”]

China’s Blue Water “Coast Guard”

T. Greer of Scholar’s Stage has an outstanding post on the strategic reality of China and American foreign policy. It is a must read:

“China Does Not Want Your Rules Based Order”

…..McCain’s words echo those spoken by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter last week to the graduating midshipman at Annapolis. Read them both. Compare what they say. Behold the quickly crystallizing American narrative on China. This is a bipartisan message. It will be the starting point of a President Clinton’s policy. Whether a President Trump will endorse it is hard to say. In either case, it is a narrative whose momentum is building.

There is much that is good in this narrative. McCain proclaims that “no nation has done as much to contribute to what China calls its “peaceful rise” as the United States of America.” He is right to do so. No nation has done more to enable China’s rise than America has. No country’s citizens have done more for the general prosperity of the Chinese people than the Americans have. This is true in ways that are not widely known or immediately obvious. For example, the role American financiers and investment banks played in creating the architecture of modern Chinese financial markets and corporate structures is little realized, despite the size and importance of their interventions. Behind every great titan of Chinese industryChina Mobile, the world’s largest mobile phone operator, China State Construction Engineering, whose IPO was valued at $7.3 billion, PetroChina, the most profitable company in Asia (well, before last year), to name a few of hundreds–lies an American investment banker. I do not exaggerate when I say Goldman Sachs created modern China. [2] China has much to thank America for.

However, I cannot endorse all that is included in this emerging narrative, for part of it is deeply flawed. The flaw may be by design; if the purpose is to stir cold hearts and gain moral admiration of others, such flaws can be excused–that is how politics works. But this sort of things can only be excused if those delivering the speeches do not take the implications of their own words seriously when it is time to make policy. 

I speak of  China’s “choice.” The thread that runs through all of these talks is that the Chinese have yet to choose whether they aim for order or disruption, the existing regime or the chaos beyond it. The truth is that the Chinese have already chosen their path and no number of speeches on our part will convince them to abandon it. They do not want our rules based order. They have rejected it. They will continue to reject it unless compelled by overwhelming crisis to sleep on sticks and swallow gall and accept the rules we force upon them. 

China has made its choice. The real decision that will determine the contours of the 21st century will not be made in Beijing, but in Washington.

T. Greer, in my opinion is correct but this is not a message Beltway insiders are wont to harken – making strategic choices is for lesser nations. America is so rich, powerful, unipolar, indispensable, exceptional that we can pursue all objectives, in every corner of the globe, without choosing between the vital and the trivial. We can do this even if our goals are contradictory and ill-considered or serve manly as a prop for domestic political disputes, the business interests of political donors or career advancement of apparatchiks and politicians. We can safely delay and indulge in fantasy.

If this was true once, it is less so today and will be still less twenty years hence.

Greer sharpens his argument:

….Last spring it finally sunk in. Chinese illiberalism not only can endure, it is enduring. The old consensus cracked apart. No new consensus on how to deal with China has yet formed to take its place.

But old habits die hard. We see this at the highest levels of policy, as in the McCain speech, where American policy is justified in terms of giving China a chance to choose the right. The same spirit is invoked further down the line. Ash Carter, for example, recently described American tactics in the South China Sea as a “long campaign of firmness, and gentle but strong pushback… [until] The internal logic of China and its society will eventually dictate a change.” [3] In other words, American policy is a holding action until China sees the light.

What if they never do?

The Chinese believe that our international order is a rigged system set up by the imperial victors of the last round of bloodshed to perpetuate the power of its winners. They use the system, quite cynically, but at its base they find it and its symbols hypocritical, embarrassing, outrageous, and (according to the most strident among them), evil. In their minds it is a system of lies and half-truths. In some cases they have a point. Most of their actions in the East or South China Seas are designed to show just how large a gap exists between the grim realities of great power politics and soaring rhetoric Americans use to describe our role in the region

….In simpler terms, the Chinese equate “rising within a rules based order” with “halting China’s rise to power.” To live by Washington’s rules is to live under its power, and the Chinese have been telling themselves for three decades now that—after two centuries of hardship—they will not live by the dictates of outsiders ever again.

The Chinese will never choose our rules based order. That does not necessarily mean they want to dethrone America and throw down all that she has built. The Chinese do not have global ambitions. What they want is a seat at the table—and they want this seat to be recognized, not earned. That’s the gist of it. Beijing is not willing to accept an order it did not have a hand in creating. Thus all that G-2 talk we heard a few years back. The Chinese would love to found a new order balancing their honor and their interests with the Americans. It is a flattering idea. What they do not want is for the Americans to give them a list of hoops to jump through to gain entry into some pre-determined good-boys club. They feel like their power, wealth, and heritage should be more than enough to qualify for  automatic entrance to any club.

Read the rest here.

Richard Nixon, who was the external strategic architect of China’s rise in order to use China as a counterweight against an increasingly aggressive Soviet Union, faced a similar situation that Greer described above with the Soviets. Nixon’s détente summits with the Russians were diplomatic triumphs where LBJ’s summit at Glassboro with Kosygin had been a failure because Nixon shrewdly understood Soviet psychological insecurity, a deep sense of paranoid inferiority and the hunger for respect as a superpower equal of the United States. Leonid Brezhnev, Kosygin’s ascendant rival was desperate for this American political recognition and Nixon and Kissinger played this card (along with the geostrategic shock of the China opening) to wrest concessions in arms control and restraint (for a time) in Soviet behavior from Brezhnev.

Playing this card is not possible with China.

While there seems some emergent rivalry between China’s prime minister Li Keqiang and China’s President Xi Jinping that loosely mirrors the Kosygin-Brezhnev dynamic, the analogy is otherwise a poor one. Despite sharing Marxist-Leninist DNA in their institutional structure, China is not at all like the Soviet Union in terms of culture, history or ambitions. The Chinese not only lack the national inferiority complex that drives the Russian psyche, they suffer from the opposite condition of a superiority complex that outstrips their actual capacity to project military or even economic power. This has given rise to popular frustration and manic nationalism in China, with bitter recriminations about “small countries” and “hegemonic powers”. It also has created a strategic lacunae where China has in a short span of time gone from enjoying good relations with most of the world to a state of habitually irritating almost all of its neighbors and periodically threatening two great powers – rising India and Japan – and one superpower, the United States.

In short, China already is as T. Greer argued, a committed revisionist power.

We cannot buy off or bribe China. Unlike Brezhnev who needed American credits for his domestic economic program to cement his place as supreme leader, Xi Jinping has carried out a ruthless purge of the party and government under the pretext of an anti-corruption drive. Xi does not need or want our help in his domestic squabbles. Nor would he or another Chinese leader be content with symbolic gestures of Beijing’s “parity” with Washington. “Parity” will not satisfy Chinese leaders unless it comes with attendant symbolic humiliations for America and an American retreat from Asia. Forever.

If American leaders do not wake up to this reality and do so quickly then it is time for a new leadership class with less sentimentality and clearer vision.

Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.


Monday, November 18th, 2013

[by Lynn Rees]

One of the daily gripes the Norman Conquest (or perhaps Marcus Furius Camillius) inflicts on me is how Latinite words in English have higher status than English’s own native proto-Germanic words. This often leaves English with one proto-Germanic word with a viscerally concrete meaning rooted in the core words native English-speakers learn as small children and one vaguer but fancier Latin word learned later in life and used to signal high falutiness.

One example of this fashion-induced duplication that annoys me is these two pairs:

  • power in place of strength
  • control in place of grip

Consider Rear Admiral Joseph Caldwell  (J.C.) Wylie, Jr., United States Navy (if you don’t know who J. C. Wylie is, Carl von Clausewitz was the Prussian Wylie). Wylie writes in his criminally neglected Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control:

The primary aim of the strategist in the conduct of war is some selected degree of control of the enemy for the strategist’s own purpose; this is achieved by control of the pattern of war; and this control of the pattern of war is had by manipulation of the center of gravity of war to the advantage of the strategist and the disadvantage of the opponent.

From this insight, I’ve come to think of the heart of strategy (an even hazier Greek word revived and latinized by the French) as a three-way interplay between:

  • purpose: a sentiment about how conditions should change
  • power: a possibility for how conditions could change
  • control: a certainty that conditions will change

But the many meanings of power and control can be bent to serve hide how easily this three way interplay can be grasped. One possible rework uses more bedrock English:

  • goal: how things should be
  • strength: how things could be
  • grip: how things will be

This lets strategy be physically grasped:

  1. The mind thinks of a goal.
  2. It tells its muscles to act to reach that goal.
  3. The muscles try to grip some thing.
  4. Depending on what the muscles grasp, their grip is tightened or loosened in the shape needed to grasp it.
  5. The strength of the muscles may be too little or too much to first get and then keep the needed grip.
  6. If the mind’s need to reach a goal is strong enough, it may have its muscles keep trying to get a grip despite lacking the needed strength.
  7. If the mind’s need to reach a goal is weak enough, it may release its grip even if its muscles have enough strength to hold on.

History is packed with those with enough power strength to reach their goals but who could never get control a grip strong enough to reach them. Reach exceeded grasp.

New Book: America 3.0 is Now Launched!

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century – why America’s Best Days are Yet to Come by James C. Bennett and Michael Lotus

I am confident that this deeply researched and thoughtfully argued book  is going to make a big political splash, especially in conservative circles – and has already garnered a strong endorsement from Michael Barone, Jonah Goldberg, John O’Sullivan and this review from  Glenn Reynolds in USA Today :

Future’s so bright we have to wear shades: Column 

….But serious as these problems are, they’re all short-term things. So while at the moment a lot of our political leaders may be wearing sunglasses so as not to be recognized, there’s a pretty good argument that, over the longer time, our future’s so bright that we have to wear shades.

That’s the thesis of a new book, America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity In The 21st Century.The book’s authors, James Bennett and Michael Lotus, argue that things seem rough because we’re in a period of transition, like those after the Civil War and during the New Deal era. Such transitions are necessarily bumpy, but once they’re navigated the country comes back stronger than ever.

America 1.0, in their analysis, was the America of small farmers, Yankee ingenuity, and almost nonexistent national government that prevailed for the first hundred years or so of our nation’s existence. The hallmarks were self-reliance, localism, and free markets.

At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, people were getting unhappy. The country was in its fastest-ever period of economic growth, but the wealth was unevenly distributed and the economy was volatile. This led to calls for what became America 2.0: an America based on centralization, technocratic/bureaucratic oversight, and economies of scale. This took off in the Depression and hit its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, when people saw Big Government and Big Corporations as promising safety and stability. You didn’t have to be afraid: There were Top Men on the job, and there were Big Institutions like the FHA, General Motors, and Social Security to serve as shock absorbers against the vicissitudes of fate.

It worked for a while. But in time, the Top Men looked more like those bureaucrats at the end of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, and the Big Institutions . . . well, they’re mostly bankrupt, or close to it. “Bigger is better” doesn’t seem so true anymore.

To me, the leitmotif for the current decade is supplied by Stein’s Law, coined by economist Herb Stein: “Something that can’t go on forever, won’t.” There are a lot of things that can’t go on forever, and, soon enough, they won’t. Chief among them are too-big-to-fail businesses and too-big-to-succeed government.

But as Bennett and Lotus note, the problems of America 2.0 are all soluble, and, in what they call America 3.0, they will be solved. The solutions will be as different from America 2.0 as America 2.0 was from America 1.0. We’ll see a focus on smaller government, nimbler organization, and living within our means — because, frankly, we’ll have no choice. Something that can’t go on forever, won’t. If America 2.0 was a fit for the world of giant steel mills and monolithic corporations, America 3.0 will be fit for the world of consumer choice and Internet speed.

Every so often, a “political” book comes around that has the potential to be a “game changer” in public debate. Bennett and Lotus have not limited themselves to describing or diagnosing America’s ills – instead, they present solutions in a historical framework that stresses the continuity and adaptive resilience of the American idea. If America”s “City on a Hill” today looks too much like post-industrial Detroit they point to the coming renewal; if the Hand of the State is heavy and it’s Eye lately is dangerously creepy, they point to a reinvigorated private sector and robust civil society; if the future for the young looks bleak,  Bennett and Lotus explain why this generation and the next will conquer the world.

Bennett and Lotus bring to the table something Americans have not heard nearly enough from the Right – a positive vision of an American future that works for everyone and a strategy to make it happen.

But don’t take my word for it.

The authors will be guests Tuesday evening on Lou Dobb’s Tonight and you can hear them firsthand and find out why they believe “America’s best days are yet to come

The Russians are Not Coming….Nor are they Going Away

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Now that Vladimir Putin has resumed the Presidency of Russia, it merits looking at the defense discussion that appeared under his name in Rossiiskaya Gazeta. Virtually everyone agrees that the condition of the Russian Army is parlous and that Putin’s program of difficult military reform to transform the Russian military from a conscripted army to a modernized professional force has not borne fruit. Therefore it is interesting to look at how Putin’s regime articulates it’s defense challenges with a mixture of bravado and brutal strategic realism we would never hear from an American politician.

Excerpts of the article are in bold while my commentary is in normal text.

 Being Strong 

…..The world is changing, and the transformations underway could hide various risks, often unpredictable risks. In a world of economic and other upheaval, there is always the temptation to resolve one’s problems at another’s expense, through pressure and force. It is no surprise that some are calling for resources of global significance to be freed from the exclusive sovereignty of a single nation, and that this issue will soon be raised as a “matter-of-course.”

There will be no possibility of this, even a hypothetical one, with respect to Russia. In other words, we should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak. 

While some of this is boilerplate, it does demonstrate Putin’s astute view of Western elite noises about “global governance” as an effort to erode historic Westphalian legal norms of sovereignty for a self-aggrandizing reasons.

I am including paragraphs here from different parts of the paper where President Putin deals with nuclear weapons, though the first one continues from where the last excerpt left off.:

It is for this reason that we will under no circumstances surrender our strategic deterrent capability, and indeed, will in fact strengthen it. It was this strength that enabled us to maintain our national sovereignty during the extremely difficult 1990s, when, lets’ be frank, we did not have anything else to argue with.

….I remember in 2002 when the Chief of the General Staff proposed liquidating a base for strategic ballistic missile submarines on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Understandably, this proposal was motivated by dire circumstances. This would have deprived Russia of its naval presence in the Pacific Ocean. I decided against this. Due to the lack of the required budgetary funding, we had to ask private companies for help. I would like to thank them for that. Both Surgutneftegaz and TNK stepped up to provide the required funding for the base’s initial reconstruction. Budgetary allocations were later disbursed. Today, we have a modern base in Vilyuchinsk where next-generation Borei class submarines will soon be deployed.

….We have greatly increased the capabilities of our early missile warning system. Tracking stations have been launched in the Leningrad and Kaliningrad Regions and in Armavir, and a similar facility is undergoing tests in Irkutsk. All aerospace defence brigades have been equipped with the Universal-1S automation systems, and the Glonass satellite group has been deployed.

The land, sea and air components of our Strategic Nuclear Forces are reliable and sufficient. The proportion of modern land-based missile systems has grown from 13% to 25% over the past four years. The rearmament of 10 missile regiments with the Topol-M and Yars strategic missile systems will be continued.  Long-range aviation will maintain the fleet of strategic Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers; work is underway to modernise them. They will be equipped with a new long-range cruise missile system. Russia’s strategic aviation resumed combat patrols in their zone of responsibility in 2007. A new aircraft is being designed for strategic long-range aviation.

New-generation Borei class strategic submarines are being put on combat duty. These include the Yury Dolgoruky and Alexander Nevsky which are undergoing state trials.

….In the coming decade, Russian armed forces will be provided with over 400 modern land and sea-based inter-continental ballistic missiles, 8 strategic ballistic missile submarines…. 

This does not sound  like Putin puts much stock in his predecessor’s endorsement of Global Zero or President Obama’s goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. Or that a drastic unilateral American cut in nuclear weapons proposed by Global Zero to “break the triad” contemplated by the Obama administration would be reciprocated by Russia. Or any other nuclear power state.

Given that Pakistan, India, North Korea, Israel and China are reportedly increasing and improving their nuclear arsenals, it begs the question of whether the Obama or the Putin administrations have the most realistic view about nuclear weapons and their currency in international relations. Or what the Obama administration would use as bargaining chips to negotiate reductions in foreign nuclear arsenals after making gratuitously slashing unilateral cuts. And if the paper was not clear enough, Putin was more blunt about the strategic situation two days ago:

“With regard to further steps in the sphere of nuclear weapons, these further steps should be of a complex character, and this time all the nuclear powers should be involved in this process. We cannot disarm indefinitely while some other nuclear powers are building up their arsenal. It is out of the question!” 

On the subject of Russia’s land forces:

….There are no undermanned units in the Russian armed forces any more. The Army has over 100 combined and special brigades. These are full-scale military units with the requisite personnel and equipment. Their alert reaction time is one hour and they can be deployed to a potential theatre of war within 24 hours.

In the past, it took up to five days to prepare for combat readiness. The deployment and equipment of all the armed forces to wartime conditions could take nearly a year, even though most armed conflicts now last from a few hours to several days.

Why have we chosen the brigade as the main tactical unit? First of all, we have relied on our own experience in the Afghan and other wars, where mobile combat and assault groups reinforced with air and other support units have proved  more efficient than regiments and divisions.

The new brigades are smaller than divisions in the number of personnel but have a bigger strike capability, better firepower and support, including artillery, air defence, reconnaissance, communications, and so on. Brigades can operate both autonomously and jointly with other units. I admit that the quality is not perfect in all instances. We need to achieve the required standards in the near future. 

A Russian Army brigade numbers slightly over 4000 soldiers (vs. 3000-5000 in American and NATO militaries) and moving to a brigade structure is intended to make the Russian Army more versatile, flexible, deployable and mobile. The US essentially did the same thing with the “modularity” reforms for a brigade team force structure. However, I find it dubious that the Russian version is anything other than an aspirational work in progress or that Russia today could muster a force remotely approaching 100 combat brigades on short notice or keep them in the field for more than thirty days.

The old Soviet Red Army in the 80’s at the peak of it’s power was a military long on officers and critically deficient in NCOs  and the 90’s cratered the main force quality of what remained of the Soviet armies. Russia will not have a deployable fighting army for anything other than brief Georgia type raids and SPETSNAZ operations until it builds a proportionate NCO corps and modernized logistical support system.

On future war and it’s strategic context:

….The probability of a global war between nuclear powers is not high, because that would mean the end of civilisation. As long as the “powder” of our strategic nuclear forces created by the tremendous efforts of our fathers and grandfathers remains dry, nobody will dare launch a large-scale aggression against us.

However, it should be borne in mind that technological progress in many varied areas, from new models of weaponry and military hardware to information and communications technology, has dramatically changed the nature of armed conflicts. Thus, as high-precision long-range conventional weapons become increasingly common, they will tend to become the means of achieving a decisive victory over an opponent, including in a global conflict.

The military capability of a country in space or information countermeasures, especially in cyberspace, will play a great, if not decisive, role in determining the nature of an armed conflict. In the more distant future, weapons systems based on new principles (beam, geophysical, wave, genetic, psychophysical and other technology) will be developed. All this will, in addition to nuclear weapons, provide entirely new instruments for achieving political and strategic goals. Such hi-tech weapons systems will be comparable in effect to nuclear weapons but will be more “acceptable” in terms of political and military ideology. In this sense, the strategic balance of nuclear forces will play a gradually diminishing role in deterring aggression and chaos.

We see ever new regional and local wars breaking out in the world. We continue to see new areas of instability and deliberately managed chaos. There also are purposeful attempts to provoke such conflicts even within the direct proximity of Russia’s and its allies’ borders.

The basic principles of international law are being degraded and eroded, especially in terms of international security. 

Here we see much of the same keen interest Western military experts have had in RMA/”transformation” but more as new domains in which to fight or weapons to fight with, but Putin’s assumptions about the roots of international conflict remain exceedingly traditional in Clausewitzian and Machiavellian realpolitik senses. There’s no idea here that war’s political nature is being transformed by technological advances or even that breakdowns in order in other nations flow primarily from indigenous social forces  than from strategic conspiracies and manipulations of foreign powers hell-bent on humiliating Russia.

This is a worldview of cynical realism salted with nationalism and a paranoia induced by the lessons of centuries of Russian history. International relations, it follows, hinge primarily on power in all it’s manifestations, a few rules that separate the law of nations from the law of the jungle and that states exert power to accomplish rational strategic objectives. Furthermore, in an echo of Tsarist Russia’s last modernizer, Petr Stolypin, what Putin has put forth as a political program for his domestic audience (sincere or not) is “a great Russia”.

The good news is that President Putin is, unlike his Soviet predecessors, is uninterested in grand ideological crusades that would destabilize the world order and that Russia currently would be incapable of carrying any out. The bad news is that Putin is a shrewd strategic thinker, one who views the US as a long-term adversary of Russia and one who is likely to be highly antagonized and partially misread (and thus miscalculate)  the tactical geopolitics of intervention pursued by America’s R2P moralizers.

From Putin’s perspective, we are currently crusaders rather than deal-cutters grounded in reality. America does not need to appease other power,s but we’d further our own interests faster if we spent a little time looking at the world through the eyes of others

Hat tip to Lexington Green

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