Friday, January 23, 2015

Historical Lessons, if America Really Were to Step down from the World Police

When President Barack Obama’s made a remark that the United Staes was no longer the world policeman, hardly any people around the world welcomed that. Even those who vehemently opposed the “arrogance” of the Iraq War were puzzled to hear his so abrupt announcement. The vital problem is, if the United States really were to step down from the world policeman, it needs to nominate some partners to share some portions of responsibility. In history, once America expressed withdrawal from global commitment after the Vietnam War. Like today, Americans were annoyed with a long war. But the post Vietnam America under Richard Nixon acted more responsibly than Barack Obama does today.

To begin with, let me review the Nixon doctrine, which was announced in 1969 when President Nixon to Vietnamize the war. In those days, opinion leaders around the world talked about American decline, and even cast doubts whether the United States would continue to be the anchor of global stability. As Obama does today, Nixon delivered a message to placate anxiety of the post-American world among the allies that the United States would keep treaty commitments and help allies when vital its security interests were threatened. On the other hand, Nixon stressed that the United States simply helps countries facing enemy threats from behind, and they assume the primary responsibility of defense. These points are somewhat similar to Obama’s foreign policy directions. However, when the superpower steps down or cedes responsibility to others, it is necessary to help the partner grow capable of sharing burdens. So far as this aspect is concerned, Obama is far poorer than Nixon. Stark differences are shown in their Middle East policies.

Shortly after Nixon announced his doctrine, he assisted the Shah’s Iran to ascend to the Guard of the Gulf. This is typically illustrated in his generous and prompt support to build up the Imperial Iranian Air Force. In the early 1970s, Iran was plagued by the Soviet invasion to its airspace. Particularly, MiG-25s flew so fast that even IIAF F-4s were unable to intercept them, and Iran was at the mercy of Soviet air reconnaissance those days. Iran was desperately in need of advanced fighters to shut out the Soviet Air Force from its sovereign territory. Therefore Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi met President Nixon at Andrews Air Force base near Washington DC in July 1973. Nixon invited the Shah to see the flight demonstration there to select either F-14 or F-15 for Iranian air defense, whichever he preferred. The Shah chose F-14 without hesitation, as soon as the show ended (Thirty minutes to choose your fighter jet: how the Shah of Iranchose the F-14 Tomcat over the F-15 Eagle”; Aviationist; February 11, 2013).

After returning home, the Shah ordered 30 F-14s in January next year, and subsequent 50 of them in June, along with AIM-54 Phoenix missiles. The Nixon administration acted so promptly that Iran received the first F-14s in January 1976, while the United States provided intensive trainings for Iranian pilots (“Grumman F-14 Tomcat#Iran”; Wikipedia). The result of this was spectacular. IIAF F-14 shot down a drone in a test firing of Phoenix missile in August 1977 to demonstrate Iran’s air defense capability against Soviet intrusion. Since then, formidable MiG-25s stopped flying over Iranian territory (“Aircraft/Jet fighters/F-14”; IIAF.net). Nixon kept his words as he succeeded in helping the Shah build up military power, capable enough to defend his own homeland, and even act on behalf of America as the Guard of the Gulf. We must learn a critical lesson from this story that the United States can cut back its military commitment only when there is a staunch and reliable strategic partner in the region.

In view of the above historical comparison, Obama’s remark to step down from the world policeman is extremely imprudent. Unlike Nixon, Obama has no reliable partner in the Middle East to cede America’s responsibility for regional security. Particularly, his poorly devised policy on Iraq deepens regional instability furthermore, as typically seen in the rise of ISIS. While Nixon helped the Shah’s Iran grow strong enough to police the region, Obama withdrew from Iraq without reconstructing its security forces. The Iraqi Air Force was virtually nonexistent as Saddam Hussein let his flight squadrons fled to Iran when the Gulf War broke out to avoid war damages, and the rest of them were destroyed in the Iraq War. Therefore, it was a prerequisite to rebuild Iraq’s air strike capability to conclude the security agreementbetween Iraq and the United States, and thereby driving out terrorists on the ground (“Iraq to Have Some Air Strike Capability, U.S. Says”; AssyrianInternational News Agency; December 6, 2007).

For this objective, Iraq decided to purchase F-16 fighters and Apache attack helicopters. The Maliki administration began to consider purchasing F-16s at the end of the Bush era (“Iraq Seeks F-16 Fighters”;Wall Street Journal; September 5, 2008). They made a decision a few months after the Obama administration started (“Procurement: Iraqis Put Up The BucksFor F-16s”; Strategy Page; April 9, 2009). Iraq finally reached an agreement with the United States to order first 36 of them in 2011, but according to UPI, that is still far from sufficient to cover the whole area (“Iraq F-16 Order Finally Confirmed”;Iraq Business News; December 7, 2011). The problem was that Iraq had not had jet fighters since the fall of Saddam Hussein, and few pilots were skilled enough to fly such advanced machines (“Iraq Has Brand New F-16s, But Can't UseThem Against ISIS Yet”; International Business Times; June 12, 2014). Moreover, for the safety of instructors and Iraqi pilots from ISIS attacks, the F-16 training site was changed from Balad air base in northern Iraq to Tucson Arizona.  In addition, Iraqi pilots need long and intensive training. Therefore, F-16 fighters will be handed to Iraq in 2017 (Islamic State threatdelays delivery of F-16s to Iraq”; Military Times; November 10, 2014 & “IraqiF-16 pilots need years more training in U.S.”; Military Times; December 11,2014). The Iraqi parliament is infuriated with further delay in F-16 delivery (“Iraq urges US to explain delay in F-16 jets delivery”; IslamTimes; 25 December, 2014).

AH-64 Apache helicopter is another air strike arsenal that Iraq asked the United States to sell. However, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, led by Democratic Senator Bob Menendez raised critical concerns with human rights that Shiite Maliki administration might use them to repress Sunni minorities rather than to fight against ISIS and other insurgents, when the Obama administration reached the agreement with Iraq (Agreement Reached toSell Apache Helicopters to Iraq”; Defense News; January 27, 2014). Though the deal was made, the Iraqi government demanded a lease of further 6 Apaches in addition to mutually agreed 24. Finally, Iraq cancelled the deal (Iraq passes on Apache buy”; Jane Defence Weekly; 25 September, 2014). As in the case of F-16, the Obama administration failed to meet the demand of the Iraqi government to deliver the requested quantity quickly.

Those failures have made Iraq vulnerable not only against ISIS, but also against Iran. The Obama administration solicits Iran to work together to fight against ISIS, while holding tough negotiations on nuclear disarmament. Moreover, Iran has been a troublesome actor in Iraq as its influence penetrates there through Shiites in the south.   Now, the Iraqi government is increasingly dependent on Shiite militia. Obama may think anti-ISIS partnership with Iran temporary, but that poses long term negative effect to Iraqi security. Iran still supports the Assad administration in Syria. Also, Shiite militias want to displace Sunni people. The only way to overcome such sectarian chasm is founding a solid security force of the central government incorporating all ethnic and religious backgrounds (“The U.S. and Iran arealigned in Iraq against the Islamic State — for now”; Washington Post; December27, 2014).

As a key ally to the United States in Iraq, the Kurdish Regional Government sees ISIS threats were relatively contained as a result of coalition air raid, but critically alarmed with Iranian penetration through Shiite militias. Among those militias, Asaib Ahl Haq and the Badr militias are vital threats to the Kurds as they are closely connected with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Shias are most active in Diyala Governorate that borders the Kurdish region and Iran, and they are moving further north to Kirkuk (“Forget ISIS: Shia Militias Are the RealThreat to Kurdistan”; National Interest; January 7, 2015). Despite such a problem, the Obama administration is easing sanctions on Iran for nuclear talk. That provoked anger on the Hill at his State of the Union Speech, and legislators cast doubt whether Obama understands the threat of Iran (Unanimity at last: Obama isdelusional on foreign policy”; Washington Post; January 21, 2015). I agree to their vehement criticism, and it seems as if Obama were consigning Middle East security to Iran. I wonder if Obama really has long term visions to stabilize Iraq and manage Iran.

Ever since America took over the hegemony from Britain, its preeminence repeats upturns and downturns. Historical backgrounds of Nixon and Obama are quite similar, but policy responses are so starkly different. Obama is throwing away the responsibility of the world policeman and pivoting to Asia without any preparation. So many commentators talk about a superficial decline of the United States, but what really matters is the quality of leadership. Unlike Nixon, Obama has no vision of foreign policy. While the Shah had mutual trust with Nixon and Ford, neither Maliki nor Abadi trusts Obama so much. Nixon had Henry Kissinger, but Obama has no reliable foreign policy advisors. I believe that historical comparison between both presidents will be of much implication to American foreign policy today.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy New Year



I wish everyone happy new year. Good luck for all of you. And good luck for Global American Discourse. For this year of sheep!



 Photo: Bighorn sheep of North America

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Obama's Mishandling in Both Hard Power and Soft Power Diplomacy

The Obama administration is so reluctant to harness America’s hard power in foreign policy that even liberals and foreign leaders criticize his lack of leadership and superpower suicide. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is not enthusiastic to use America’s soft power to advance its national interest and global public interest. We tend to focus on Obama’s inept handling of hard power diplomacy, as the world faces a resurgent of Cold War monsters like Russia and China, and also, the rise of religious fanaticism as typically seen in Islamic terrorists. But more balanced analysis is helpful to review Obama’s foreign policy critically, and explore better approaches for American and global security.

If Obama does not like hard power diplomacy so much, he must pursue more robust soft power diplomacy. However, in his 6 year presidency, he has achieved almost nothing. Normally, peace-oriented nations put heavy emphasis on soft power in their foreign policy. It is too well known that countries like Canada and Scandinavian nations give high priority to development aid and empowerment in their foreign policy, and that makes them vital civilian powers in the world. Such peace-oriented nations are military pigmy, compared with the United States, Britain, and France. Nor are they economic giants like Germany, which is an anchor to stabilize global and European monetary system. Soft power diplomacy is the only way for them to increase their presence in global politics.

Likewise, the Ohira administration of Japan launched a concept of comprehensive security in the late 1970s to fill the gap between increasing requirements for Japan’s contribution to global security and postwar pacifism. As Japan was unable to meet military requirements by the United States and its democratic allies, Prime Minister-then Masayoshi Ohira deepened development aid to ASEAN countries and policy dialogues with them. In a sense, it may be a precursor of current proactive pacifism of the Abe administration, as it was a turn over from unilateral pacifism. In those days, global security was in turmoil as it is today, since the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran and radical students occupied the US embassy, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In view of the above examples, Obama’s awkward approaches in soft power diplomacy will erode American preeminence on the global stage furthermore. Here, I would like to call an attention to a column by Thomas Carothers, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In this article, Carothers points out that US aid to promote democracy has plunged 28% during the Obama era, and the US Agency for International Development spends 38% less expenditure today to foster democracy, human rights and accountable governance abroad than that of 2009. Particularly, such aid dropped sharply to the Middle East by 72% and Africa by 43%. It seems that the Obama administration prefers to live with stability under dictatorships however corrupt they may be, as they found it difficult to manage clashes between democracy activists and Islamists. Carothers comments that it is understandable, but he warns that autocracy foments corruption, and ultimately nurtures terrorism furthermore (“Why Is the United States Shortchanging Its Commitment to Democracy?”; Washington Post; December 22, 2014).

Criticism also comes from the Arab side. An Arab British journalist Sharif Nashashibi expresses his deep disappointment to American reconciliation with Arab autocrats at the expense of the quest for freedom among the grassroots (“A US resurgence in the Arab world?”; Middle East Eye; December 18, 2014). Obama has cut military presence in the Middle East which was initiated by Bush. Then, America must expand an alternative way of presence to suppress the spread of extremism there. Regretfully, Obama has cut both hard power presence and soft power presence! Is this a simple denial of Bush era foreign policy without showing the vision for the future?

One of the critical incidents to evaluate Obama’s soft power diplomacy is the response to Egypt’s refusal to the entry of Michele Dunne, Senior Associate in the Middle East program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dunne is a primary advocate for democracy promotion among American policymakers. She was going to Cairo to attend a conference by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs under auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Egyptian government denied her entry in a telephone interview when she arrived in Frankfurt for transit. The Egyptian side gave no reason for this (“Egypt Denies Entry to American Scholar Critical of Its Government”; New York Times; December 13, 2014). Eliot Abrahams, former Special Assistant to the President in the Bush administration, comments that this incident implies that the Sisi administration is in a spiral of autocratic corruption and jihadist uprising as it was with the Mubarak administration. Therefore, he argues that this country no longer deserves a strategic partner to the United States (“What’s General Sisi So Scared Of?”; Council on Foreign Relations---Pressure Points; December 13, 2014). Quite strangely, the Obama administration did not pose meaningful pressure to Egypt, regarding this case.

The point is no longer the matter of budget. It is quite doubtful whether Obama is seriously committed to advance American soft power. Obama’s pivot to soft power diplomacy from hard power one is empty. Accordingly, the Pivot to Asia has not strengthened American presence in Asia. Obama was not enthusiastic to support the democratic rally in Hong Kong. At the APEC summit in Beijing, Obama shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping so happily, although China flexed its military muscle to seize this opportunity to demonstrate J-31 stealth fighter to Asia-Pacific leaders. If neither the world policeman nor the champion of democracy, what sort of America does Obama envision?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How will the US Navy Cope with Enemy A2AD?

In face of rapid development of A2AD capabilities among America’s enemies, the US Navy needs countermeasures to secure freedom of international navigation and their maritime operations. Currently, the US Navy faces critical threats of advanced antiship missiles posed by challengers like China and Iran, but post Cold War defense spending cut has constrained America’s fleet defense capability. The United States must rebuild this capability so as not to allow any challengers to defy its maritime superiority.

The rise of enemy A2AD is nothing new. During the Cold War era, the Soviet Air Force challenged US naval supremacy with strategic bombers equipped with carrier killer missiles, notably Tu-22 Backfire and Tu-19 Badger. In order to defend carrier squadrons from Soviet saturation attack, the US Navy explored to make a fleet defense fighter for air superiority and interception. The Navy required a fighter equipped with powerful radar and long range missiles. That was F-14 Tomcat.

F-14 was not only capable of shooting down enemy attackers and missiles far away from the fleet. As a counter A2AD weaponry, its powerful radar enables the crews to find the enemy attackers before it was detected. Also, the fighter could hit multiple targets simultaneously with Phoenix long range air to air missiles to nullify saturation attacks of carrier killer missiles by the enemy. Tomcat was highly capable fleet defense fighter for “first look, first shot, first kill” missions. See the video below.




However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, air threats to American fleets were supposed to have expired for the time being. Therefore, the Congress demanded the Navy to replace F-14 fighter with F/A-18 which is less costly and more adaptable to multirole requirements. Americans were so unvigilant as to take Holidays from History, and China and Iran were preparing for their own Monroe Doctrine to claim dominance in their neighboring maritime sphere. In those days, Aegis combat system destroyers were supposed to assume fleet air defense, and F-14 squadrons were overcapable and too expensive to maintain. Even though, destroyers are vulnerable to enemy air attacks, however sophisticated, as seen in the HMS Shefield hit by an Argentine Exocet missile during the Falkland War.

F/A-18 Hornet and its advanced version Super Hornet are good fighters as they are multirole and cost effective. Some American allies like Canada, Australia, Spain, and so forth, deploy them instead of US Air Force F-15. However, they are not specialized for intercepting saturation attacks by the enemy. Also, F/A-18’s combat radius is shorter and flight speed is slower than F-14’s. During the Afghan War, F-14 flew farther beyond F/A 18’s flight range to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda. In view of rapid progress in enemy A2AD capability, the US Navy needs a reliable interceptor that can shoot down enemy missiles and attackers as far away as possible from the carrier squadron.

Currently, the Navy pushes for the Sixth Generation fighters such as F-X and F/A-XX projects, along with the Air Force. They are planned to be deployed by 2030 to replace Super Hornets. With more advanced engines, they will be able to fly farther, and boost performance. However, current budget constraints may force the Navy to give up new ideas presented by defense contractors. According to Dave Madjumdar, a freelance defense writer, the Navy may upgrade F-35C with new engine and missile system. However, Air Force pilots comment negatively to this idea. Even if advanced version, F-35 is no match for their F-22 in terms of air to air combat and SEAD/DEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses/destruction of enemy air defenses), says one pilot. Some even say a single engine fighter is underpowered, compared with a twin engine one, and thus, lower performance and less payload (“A New, "Super" F-35 to Rule the U.S. Military?”; National Interest; December 19, 2014). Remember F-14 had comparable capability and performance level to Air Force F-15.

The end of the Cold War has not resulted in the end of American enemy. They were honing their claws during a seemingly peaceful period. If the United States is too thrifty on defense, the price of it must be paid later. American enemies will be emboldened to see the US Navy balked by their A2AD capabilities. On the other hand, unnecessary rising costs and procurement delay must be curbed to proceed the project for fleet air defense smoothly. Senator John McCain is likely to chair the Armed services Committee next year, and he is a vocal critic to inefficient management of defense industries and bureaucracy at the Pentagon (“GOP Win Sets Stage for McCain to Put Pressure on Pentagon, Industry”; Military Times; November 5, 2014). In addition to technology, the US Navy must overcome so many challenges to defend the fleet from enemy A2AD.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

US Foreign Policy in an Increasingly Complicated Asia

I attended the Japan-Asia Pacific Dialogue, entitled “The Asia-Pacific in Global Power Transition: How Many Great Powers?”, which was hosted by Global Forum Japan and Meiji University on December 12. Panelists at the Dialogue, notably Professor John Mearsheimer of Chicago University, presented a lucid picture of Asia-Pacific power games based on realist perspectives.

Actually, I was rather astonished to hear Wall Street Journal’s editor Bret Stevens talk suspiciously at the Munk Debates on November 5 that Japan’s plutonium facilities could be used for nuclear weapons, if the threat of China grows more critical. Though I agree on his criticism to Obama’s superpower suicide, it was somewhat perplexing that an influential opinion leader like him spoke so alarmingly as if Japan were in the same league with North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan. I am well aware that nuclear nonproliferation is a high priority issue in US foreign policy, and therefore, it sounded like he saw Japan a potential “enemy” to the United States. The problem is not just proliferation itself, but the rise of regional tensions beyond America’s control as we saw exchanges of nuclear tests between India and Pakistan in 1998.

However, Stevens’s comment may not be so “unfriendly” to America’s foremost ally in the Asia Pacific as I worried, according to Professor Mearsheimer’s realist perspectives. The state explores to maximize its national power and prestige, and tries to establish a solid sphere of influence in its neighborhood, for better chances of survival and more freedom in policy options. Therefore, realists see it natural that Japan acquire nuclear weapons, if the United States appeared too weak and unreliable to check growing threats of China. That is because it is the most cost effective deterrence against Beijing.

Granted such arguments, do Japanese leaders dare to get involved in power games with both America and China in their quest for nuclear weapons? Historically, the United States did not accept any dominant power in Asia, as shown in Secretary of State-then John Hay’s Open Door Policy in 1899. Even if seemingly appeasing to China, it is quite unlikely that the United States throws away its grip on Asia, nor does it want unmanageable Far East like the Indo-Pakistani nuclear rivalry in 1998. Therefore, Japanese leaders should act and speak carefully on wartime history, as prominent opinion leaders like Mearsheimer and Stevens speak about the potential of a nuclearized Japan so openly.

The Dialogue was so impressive and insightful, and I would like to raise the following points to consider. The first one is the Pivot to Asia. Certainly, market opportunities in emerging economies in Asia are important. But does that mean that America should be less involved in Europe and the Middle East? Is the Ukrainian crisis simply a diversion from Asia? No, because Russia intrudes Japan’s northern airspace frequently. It is a threat to us both in Europe and Asia. In addition, China defies America globally. Remember China objected to the Iraq War along with Russia for fear of a unipolar world, though the PLA has no power projection capability in the Middle East. Also, China explores to expand influence in Africa through controversial aid. Therefore, I believe that the shift away from Europe and the Middle East is no guarantee of strengthening American presence in Asia. To my regret, this is the real consequence of Obama’s pivot to Asia as typically seen in the rise of ISIS, while China grows increasingly provocative in East Asia.

Regarding China’s global challenge to the United States, we should reconsider why this country frequently mentions itself “still a developing country”. This is not out of modesty, but megalomaniac ambition. I would rather interpret its implicit meaning, “Developing countries of the world, unite! Rise against Western (and also Japanese) imperialism!”. Remember China is a revolutionary state, and there is every reason for them to defy Pax Americana on a global scale. In order to check China’s expansionism, I would argue that the broken window theory be applied. That is, when American enemies find some weak spots, they will be emboldened like gangs who found broken windows on the street.

The second point is a presumed case of hegenomic transition. Should China take over the American world order, the gap with its precursor’s will be huge. Pax Americaca inherited liberal values, culture, and political systems from Pax Britannica. In face of rising rivals in early 20th century, Britain saw America preferable to Germany to share the burdens of a global superpower. This Greece and Rome relations shall never emerge, should China rise furthermore, because the hegemonic fault line between Pax Americana and Pax Sinica would be immense. If it were to happen, China would be Attla’s Hun that devastated Rome and left nothing for the following generations.

The third point is whether the nature of the regime does not matter in great power rivalries even from realist viewpoints. I would like to mention one example which is Iran, because this country has been in quest of the great power in the Gulf region, whether modernist or Islamic theocracy. During the Pahlavi era, Iran sought to rise as America’s guard of the Gulf. The shah was an enlightened despot, and pursued a nation building through Western styled modernization. The shah even appealed great history of the Persians and their superiority to Arabs by de-Islamification. That made Iran very pro-American and pro-Israeli both in terms of realpolitik and ideology. On the other hand, current theocracy wants to rise by defying American supremacy, and extremely anti-Israeli by nature. They advocate solidarity with Shiite mostazafins among their fellow Arabs. There is nothing strange that they sponsor terrorism, both in terms of realpolitik and ideology.

The dialogue was very helpful to understand an increasingly complicated picture of the Asia Pacific region, and sent a critical message to Japanese leaders to behave carefully regarding sensitive issues. Among three questions I mentioned, the most critical one is the real meaning of the Pivot to Asia. Is this just a rhetoric, or kow-tow to market opportunities in China, or real strategic commitment in this region? That is the problem.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Obama's Foreign Policy Makes America and the World More Dangerous

Shortly after the Midterm election, an event called the Munk Debates was held on November 5 to discuss the theme, “Has Obama’s foreign policy emboldened US enemy and made the world more dangerous?”. The Munk Debates are semiannual panel discussions on public policy issues, which are held in Tronto under auspices of a Canadian philanthropist Peter Munk who owns a mining company Barrick Gold. This event draws extensive attention in the English-speaking world, and broadcasted by Caple Public Affairs Channel (CPAC) and CBC of Canada, C-SPAN of the United States, and BBC of the United Kingdom. See the video below.




This event invited four panelists to discuss negative impacts of Obama’s foreign policy on world peace. Pro discussants to this theme were Rober Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Bret Stevens, Editor of the Wall Street Journal. Con discussants were Anne Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of the New America Foundation, and Fareed Zakaria, Host of International Affairs Program of CNN. In these past 6 years, America’s enemies are more multiplied, and behaving more provocatively than ever. Russia’s aggressive policy to Ukraine horrified Europe, as Putin’s behavior to change national borders by force is unprecedented since the end of World War II. The number of Jihadists is rising sharply, and they even found a state-like realm ruled by Sharia law.

Despite the growing global insecurity, perception gaps between Americans and non-Americans are considerable. While Americans disapprove of Obama’s foreign policy far more than they do of domestic policy, it seems that people outside the Unites States still see Obama positively, as if he were the savior to overturn Bush’s unilateralism and overcome domestic racism, as surveys in Germany, Indonesia, and China show people see him favorably. However, Barak Obama’s performance on the global stage is extremely poor. As Bret Stevens said at the event, Obama has not achieved his election promise in foreign policy from curbing terrorism in the Middle East and withdrawing US Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, resetting relations with Russia, to improving ties with Europe and the Islamic world. To the contrary, America’s enemies are growing more active. Jihadists are rampant even though Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. Russia has reset the reset, and become more adversarial.

Slaughter and Zakaria defend Obama that it is the change of global politics like the rise of non-state actors and emerging nations that matters, which makes the world more complicated. Certainly, Obama is not necessarily responsible for every challenge that America faces today. However, we must doubt his credential as a leader of the state, in view of his precarious and fatal remark to call ISIS a JV team (“What Obama said about Islamic State as a 'JV' team”; PolitiFact.com; September 7, 2014). That startled his own senior officials like Leon Panetta and Michèle Flournoy, and military staff (“Obama ignores Panetta’s warning”; Washington Post; October 6, 2014). History tells us that great empires were often defeated by minor tribes. It is dangerous to belittle the enemy, however weak they are.

In a global security environment as mentioned above, the focal point was the impact of Obama’s failure to meet the red line to stop chemical weapon abuse in Syria, because it was regarded as America’s weakness to manage crisis around the world. Russia’s aggression to Ukraine is a typical case. Furthermore, Kagan stressed that allies from Japan to Gulf nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are increasingly concerned with Obama’s appeasement to their enemies in their neighborhood such as China, North Korea, Iran, and ISIS. Rising doubts to American leadership brings about further damages to world peace. Democracy is declining, and rule based world order is defied by autocrats. These points are the core of Kagan’s argument in this event and his publications. Apparently, Obama’s lack of confidence in American leadership makes the world more and more dangerous. For a rebuttal, Slaughter repeatedly asked pro-panelists to prove that global security environment would be much better off, without Obama. But her comment is meaningless, because there is no way of seeing a virtual world. Politics is neither mathematics nor philosophy. However, his fatal error of ignoring national security experts allowed jihadist vandalism in Iraq and Syria. His reset with Russia invigorated Putin. There is no way of denying their ripple effects around the globe.

However, Slaughter raised a critical issue of the post Cold War world, which is the rise of non-state actors, including private corporations, civil societies, individuals, and so forth. She insisted that in an increasingly complicated world like this, American leadership needs to be based on multilateral organizations like the United Nations and its affiliations, rather than exerted through military measures. Also, Slaughter stressed that trade and investment agreements, notably the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), are more important to bolster US preeminence in this century than military actions around the globe. Zakaria said furthermore, that military interventions resulted in catastrophic failure without advancing American values and national interests as typically seen in Vietnam, while the UN and the Bretton Woods systems make much contribution to facilitate American leadership and abate anti-Americanism.

However, it is a complete mistake to under-evaluate military dimensions in US leadership in the world. Though con debaters commented so negatively regarding US military action as the world policeman, Kagan pointed out that Slaughter herself endorsed military intervention in Syria for R2P against Assad, and agreed to fight against Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraq War. In addition, I would argue that Kantian diplomacy advocated by Slaughter and Zakaria is reinforced by Hobbesian diplomacy of Kagan and Stevens. Let me mention some cases. To begin with, I would mention the Iran crisis in 1946, which was the first incident, brought to the UN Security Council. As widely known, Josef Stalin’s Red Army continued to stay in northern Iran, even after World War II. It was not just UN resolution, but the potential of a military clash with America and Britain that moved Soviet troops out. Remember Stalin seized opportunities to expand influence and take over neighboring areas in Eastern Europe and Japan’s Northern Territories, without military challengers to fill the power vacuum. Today, Vladimir Putin behaves so similar to him. Shortly after the Iran crisis, the United States led a multinational coalition for airlift against the Berlin blockade in 1948. Subsequently, the United States sent armed forces to fight the Korean War to defend South Korea from North Korean and Chinese invasion, under the name of UN authority. These visible and invisible military interventions boosted the American world order, and Kantian approaches like UN or multilateral initiatives.

While Obama’s premature withdrawal from Iraq and poor handling of Syria has made American allies in the Middle East and around the globe nervous about their national security, Zakaria argued that the pivot to Asia deserves credit as an adaptation to 21st century world, in which Asian economies like China, India, and Indonesia would be increasingly important in world trade and investment. However, Kagan pointed out that Obama’s pivot was simply rhetoric, because the TPP which is the core of his Asian policy was deadlocked, and it is just making power vacuum in the Middle East as bitterly criticized by his former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. Under the name of strategic rebalance to Asia, Obama failed to manage challenges in Asia itself and the rest of the world. China and Russia are increasingly overconfident, and nuclear weapons are proliferating to North Korea and Iran. Furthermore, Kagan said that Obama’s pivot to Asia lacks strategic consideration and so “market-oriented” about the emerging economies. This is the vital point why I am strongly skeptic to Obama’s Asia Pacific policy. I regard America’s strong will to stay as the sole superpower far more important than strategic balance.

In the face of growing Chinese threat, Japan’s response is a vital focus among American policymakers. Kagan said the Japan was so worried of Obama’s appeasement for China, which provoked increasingly nationalist, self-reliant and independent moves among Japanese leaders. In addition, Stevens raised an alarm that Japan’s plutonium facility would be used for nuclear weapons if America appeared unreliable for Nagatacho. I agree with them that Obama’s superpower suicide erodes trust to the United States among Japanese policymakers. However, I do not share with their concerns that current Japan is shifting away from the United States. Certainly, Yokio Hatoyama’s first DPJ administration was so independent and orientalist as to push for the East Asian Community without America. He was an odd man out among postwar Japanese prime ministers, like President Recep Tayyp Erdoğan of Turkey and President Park Geunhye of South Korea are. However, that was rectified under the same DPJ prime minister Yoshihiko Noda. Current prime minister Shinzo Abe may be very nationalist deep in his heart, but as the top leader of the cabinet, he advocates a strong alliance of democracies in his global-oriented diplomacy. Moreover, Abe persuaded Erdoğan to cancel the anti-air missile deal with China to save the Western alliance from autocracy. That may have drove South Korea to reconsider the similar deal with China (“Official: THAAD missile defense system being considered for South Korea”; Stars and Stripes; October 1, 2014).

On the other hand, Japanese leaders must be cautious on wartime history for a staunch and stable alliance with the United States. That is not because Caroline Kennedy was “disappointed” with Abe’s tribute at the Yasukuni shrine last year. She is just Obama’s ambassador, and will go home when her terms ends. No one expects so much on her knowledge of foreign policy. We must see global implication of the alliance from long term perspectives. Kagan and Stevens are well-aware of critical threats of China, while liberals and the business community are more interested in trade and investment opportunities there. But even they worry nationalist and revisionist symptoms in Japan, however small they are. Therefore, Japanese leaders must be cautious enough so as not to help the axis of autocracies led by China.

Finally, I would argue that US leadership cannot be maximized under a president who has little confidence in American values and ideals. Since the inauguration, Barak Obama has been making controversial and apologetic remarks to US foreign policy (“Barack Obama should stop apologising for America”; Daily Telegraph; 2 June, 2009). The same line of thought is expressed in his notorious utterance that America is no longer the world policeman (“Team America no longer wants to be the World’s Police”; Washington Post; September 13, 2013). Such self effacing attitudes have not improved the image of the United States in the world. Simply, autocratic major powers like China and Russia regard Obama’s foreign policy reflects weakening America, and they act accordingly and over confidently, as seen in changing national border by force in Crimea and endangering free navigation of the sea in the South China and the East China seas. Those who hate America hate America, whether Washington is dove or hawk. Long term allies are increasingly worried. Recently reported Iran’s airstrike on ISIS is a critical incident (“Iran Denies it Flew ISIS Airstrikes in Iraq, Pentagon Says Different”; USNI News; December 3, 2014 and “Iran confirms it carried out air strikes in Iraq”; Al Arabiya; December 6, 2014), if Obama permitted their penetration into Shiite areas in Iraq while processing the nuclear talk. Obama’s fundamental view of the world is the key to the question of the last Munk Debates.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Russia encircles Europe from the Air

As tensions between Russia and NATO intensifies since the Ukraine crisis, the Russian Air Force is encircling Europe, not just from the Baltic and the Black seas, but from the North Atlantic airspace off Norway and Scotland. This implies that Russia can cut the supply lines of both eastern and western front lines of Europe. This news draws my attention, because I frequently see information that Typhoon fighters scramble against Russian bombers flying over Scotland on the official Facebook page of the Royal Air force. Particularly, Russian provocation to NATO airspace on October 29 was subsequent and outrageous. Lieutenant Colonel Jay Janzen, Spokesman for NATO’s military command in Mons, Belgium, said “The flights we’ve seen in the last 24 hours, the size of those flights and some of the flight plans are definitely unusual”(“NATO says Russian jets, bombers circle Europe in unusual incidents”; Washington Post; October 29, 2014). It was coincided with annually held Global Thunder exercise by the US Strategic Command. Richard Cliff, Reader of the Aviationist points out that Russia launched similar long range bombers that joined US exercise (“Spike in Russian Air Force activity in Europe may be a reaction to large US Strategic Command bombers exercise”; Aviationist; October 30, 2014).

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has to be more well aware of considerable tension in the air. Scotland definitely needs UK defense umbrella from Russian air intrusion, and things are beyond Trident strategic missile submarines at Faslane naval base. Russia’s encirclement line on the western front stretches further to Portugal. Scottish airspace is vital to stop it. Interestingly, western front nations like Britain and Norway face direct threat Russia as New Europe nations in the Baltic and Black Sea regions do, while Old Europe nations do not. This may be one of the reasons why Old Europe, notably Germany, is more soft liner to Russia than Britain and New Europe. When we talk of Russian threat in Europe, we tend to focus on the eastern front line, since we are accustomed to see standardized world maps like the Mercator projection. The Russian navy and air force can move aggressively into the Scottish air-sea sphere from the Murmansk area via the Barents Sea.




Historically, the air-sea sphere from Norway to Scotland has been a dispute filed of great powers. In both World Wars, Britain and Germany fought hard. During the Cold War, this area was NATO's defense line to stop the Soviet surface and undersea fleets. Today, this is a zone of the Anglo-Russian clash. I would like to argue that a Russian dominance of the Norwegian-Scottish air-sea sphere can cut off the sea lane from Asia to Europe. These days, the potential of the Northern Sea Route draws much attention among policymakers of both Asia and Europe. But even if taking the route off Canada, international trade fleets would face critical threats of Russia when they go into the great power rivaling air-sea sphere.

From this perspective, we must also pay attention to Russian naval aggressivism. US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told that Russian submarines were increasingly active since the Ukrainian crisis while the surface fleets were aging (“CNO Greenert: Russian Navy ‘Very Busy in the Undersea Domain’”; USNI News; November 4, 2014). Nuclear attack submarines or hunter killers are one of the effective ways to counter undersea threats. The Faslane naval base also accommodates the Astute class submarines, which is one of the best hunter killers of the world. They are equipped with the most effective sonar system (“Astute Class Submarines”; BAE Systems Products), which is a vital advantage to conduct “first look, first shot, first kill” for stealthy arsenals. The air and the sea around Scotland is so strategically important to stop Russia.

Remember Russia acts similarly in East Asia. The Japanese Air Self Defense Force scrambled 533 times against Russian intrusion in the past 6 months, which is more frequently than 308 times in the same period last year (“Russian Jets Invading Japan Airspace In Record Numbers Over Past Year, Japan Wants To Know Why”; Inquisitr; October 19, 2014). Whatever President Vladimir Putin says, this is what Russia does to Japan. Our nation faces the same threat as NATO does. Nationalists and left wingers argue that Japan act self reliant and independently of the West regarding the Ukrainian issue. Definite fact tells us that is absolutely not! I wonder whether they have any proof that the Kremlin is generous to Japan deep in their heart.

Europe and Asia face common threats of Russia. Therefore, both sides need to deepen strategic coordination. Among European nations, Britain is the most willing to seek closer ties with East Asia, as indicated in the word of “re-prioritisation” (“Does Britain Matter in East Asia?”; Chatham House Research Paper; September 2014). Security conditions in the air-sea spheres around Scotland and Hokkaido are so similar.