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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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Flight 370: or the search for a landing strip

Monday, March 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- whose own quest is for a long-enough strip of reliable mental silence to land an original thought on ]
.

Here is Foreign Policy‘s map of landing strips that Flight 370 might have used, offered with the caveat that as with a wiki, individuals may add or have akready have added spurious information or uninformed speculations at this point:

You may of course prefer the greater density and spread of James Fallows‘ offering from The Atlantic — both are interactive, but Fallows’ version as formulated by Atlantic reader David Strip doesn’t allow you to add landing strips if your own devising, though “if you click on any of the individual dots on this map, you’ll see popup information about the site — runway length, location, elevation, etc.”

Thankfully, someone at NASA was not satisfied by the “in the box” thinking for which Google is renowned, raised their scopes to the heavens and looked “outside the planet”:

**

Conclusion?

In the memorable words of Alan Watts: Cloud-hidden, Whereabouts Unknown

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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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Pavers of Roads with Good Intentions: R2P Debate Rising Part II.

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

As I mentioned previously, I needed to make a more substantive reply to Victor Allen’s claims for R2P.  I am very tardy in doing so, for which I apologize to Mr. Allen but better late than not at all. While addressing some of Victor’s specific points, I want to be very clear that in my view:

1. R2P’s status in international law, despite grandiose claims by advocates, is weakly grounded, highly controversial and conflicts with accepted norms of state sovereignty

2.  The concept of R2P is a covert revival of the pre-WWI sovereign right to  wage aggressive war, albeit (usually) under some kind of collective imprimatur

3,  If regarded as a serious legal moral principle entailing an obligation to act, R2P is inherently anti-strategic, injurious to national interest and anti-democratic in nature

I will tackle point #1 today and points # 2 and #3 in successive posts.

In Victor’s original piece he argued that R2P is part and parcel of a (theoretical) “new sovereignty”:

That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations. 

“Sovereignty as responsibility”  is a theory put forth by a Sudanese diplomat and minor UN bureaucrat and an American academic that proclaimed:

The authors assert that sovereignty can no longer be seen as a protection against interference, but as a charge of responsibility where the state is accountable to both domestic and external constituencies.

The “…and external constituencies” clause is an Orwellian negation of the traditional meaning of sovereignty where the state has sole de jure authority over such matters as their internal affairs, including the political character of their regime,  with very narrow exceptions mandated by treaty or customary international law ( ex. diplomatic immunity of heads of state).  The latter, is based on consent and derives from the history of the diplomatic norms adhered to, interpreted and practiced by sovereigns and such rulings of IGO to whose authority sovereigns have voluntarily submitted themselves through a binding covenant ( ex. World Court via the UN charter).

Of course, being sovereign, states differ on how such rulings are to be interpreted or even whether they will accept jurisdiction of bodies  like the World Court, the ICC or special international  tribunals of justice in specific cases. Furthermore, in signing covenants, states often, quite legally, make reservations or exceptions to specific treaty clauses as part of their agreement to adhere to the rest of the treaty and consider it legally binding.  The United States in fact, does this regularly as do most other states having major interests at stake in negotiating an international agreement. Unless you have a granular knowledge of what country “x” formally agreed to accept as a signatory, or are willing to do your homework in this regard, you do not actually know what the law really is in many diplomatic disputes – especially when the conflict is complex and multilateral.  Broad and bombastic assertions by activists in the media that novel restrictions or obligations on states that they support are “international law” or that some act they condemn is “illegal” are almost invariably factually incorrect, at least to some degree ( barring obvious and clear violations of jus cogens, such as mass atrocities).

Beyond international law based on formal covenants, custom and legal precedents generally accepted by sovereigns, other sources of authority in international law would include resolutions of the UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, regional bodies like the OAS or EU, some institutions like the ICRC and even the opinions of scholars learned in international law. Unlike positive law within a state, international law in its various manifestations lacks a legitimate, overarching, coercive authority that could function as a global sovereign and impartial enforcer of consistently interpreted law and justice. Sovereign states are thus not subject to international law in the same relationship that their citizens are subject to sovereign authority; sovereign states are, at least legally, a community of equals able to draw upon and interpret overlapping and at times competing sources of legal authority in making claims – including precedents they intentionally created themselves!  This makes a quick redress of violations of international law difficult when the UN Security Council is empowered to make use of military force only in cases of ” international peace and security” (i.e. aggression) and the UN Charter also assures sovereigns of their “right to self defense”.

“New Sovereignty”, in the title of Victor’s first piece, is a concept propagated by the late Harvard theorist and State Department official Abram Chayes and his wife, scholar Antonia Handler Chayes, that repudiates much of traditional sovereignty in order to aggressively re-define it as “ the capacity to participate in international institutions of all types“.  In other words, sovereignty in their view would mean a state’s membership in good standing in  a mutually interdependent ” international community” and not control over national territory free from external interference by other sovereigns. Under “New Sovereignty”, such external interference is assumed as “normal” and is a point of constant, cooperative, negotiation toward consensus on emerging and evolving legal norms. As such, if accepted, “New Sovereignty” would be a massive transfer of political power and legal authority from legitimate national governments to a transnational and international class of legal technocrats and bureaucrats, who would assume by default a managerial role over the substance of international affairs. In many ways this erosion of traditional state sovereignty would be analogous to the transfer of real power from the hands of crowned sovereigns in the early modern period to their embryonic state bureaucracies that in time rendered most monarchs mere ceremonial figureheads.

In my view, while  Chayes had many laudable goals in mind,  ”New Sovereignty” would be unworkable in practice and inherently is extremely reactionary in its anti-democratic repudiation of popular sovereignty as the basis for a state’s legitimacy. Citizens of states are effectively reduced to the position of wards under the protection of the international community as national leaders become responsive primarily to “external constituencies” in control of the eternal process of negotiation of international norms. While the problem is somewhat moot for repressive regimes whose citizens enjoy few freedoms anyway, in liberal states the “democratic deficit” produced by such a scheme runs contrary to the very foundations of their political legitimacy and independence.

In this context, we have the claim put forth for the legal basis of R2P by Victor:

 ….Indeed, the UN Security Council, having enshrined R2P in UNSCR 1674, did not subsequently authorize action under the R2P banner in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Burma, with the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General stating in his report that

[i]t would be a misapplication of responsibility to protect principles to apply them at this point to the unfolding tragedy in Myanmar…the Outcome Document of the 2005 [World] Summit limited their application to four crimes and violations: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.

and in his second post:

Here Safranski and I agree on the proper role of theorists, but it wasn’t theorists that adopted R2P as a norm; it was the UN Security Council, as set forth in UNSCR 1674 in 2005, which was later utilized in the Libya intervention authorization (UNSCR 1973). Currently there are no higher authorities on interventions, peacemaking, and peacekeeping than the Security Council, which is surely not composed of academic theorists, but rather high-level diplomats that make moves, and yes, establish law, only on the explicit authorization of their countries. That the Security Council adopted the principles of R2P speaks more to the usefulness and applicability of the concepts than to any academic theorizing thereof.

First, while we should acknowledge that the UNSC resolutions that R2P advocates crow about are not nothing, their importance should not be exaggerated either. They are a precedent, but a very limited one that does not abrogate everything that has come before.

Since the inception of the UN the Security Council has passed over 2200 resolutions, which would put those devoted to R2P at a whopping .0009 %.  Moreover, of the UNSC resolutions passed, many merely take note of an event, express concern or urge restraint; other, more forcefully worded resolutions, dealing with conflict were dead letters from the moment of adoption, being ignored by warring parties exercising their sovereign rights of self-defense. The number of UNSC resolutions that led to effective action of any kind, much less decisive humanitarian military intervention envisioned by more muscular interpretations of R2P, have been few with a mixed track record of success.  Resolutions 1674 and 1973 by the Security Council exist within the much larger context of international law precedents going back centuries, most of which directly contradict the operative assumptions of “New Sovereignty”.

Furthermore, much of the text of Resolution 1674 itself is devoted to caveats reiterating traditional sovereign prerogatives and that protection for civilians occur under established conventions for the law of armed conflict before gingerly endorsing R2P provisions from the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document  of the World Health Organization. The legality of these qualifications and reservations are taken seriously by the member states of the Security Council because without them, 1674 would have never passed, nor 1973 after it ( likely to be the last of its kind for a long while in light of Russian and Chinese vetoes on Syria resolutions, which after Libya are certain to continue).  At best, in international law R2P has managed to secure only a toehold and its definition and application lack agreement (and even acceptance) among the world’s great powers.

R2P is not a secure legal scaffold on which to construct a foreign policy or decide on matters of peace and war.

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