Sunday, May 31, 2015

Lessons from Netanyahu and Cameron for American Allies

At the Japan-US Dialogue hosted by the Global Forum Japan on March 11, Professor Isao Miyaoka and Professor Yuichi Hosoya, both from Keio University, mentioned some theoretical concepts of the alliance. Particularly, the risk of being embroiled in partners’ affairs and being abandoned by others is critical. Usually, it is assumed that a stronger ally exploits a weaker ally when there are perception gaps about threats. However, James Holmes, Associate Professor at US Naval War College mentions that things completely the opposite can happen. While a weaker ally wants to make use of the power of the alliance hegemony as much as possible to maximize its national interests, a stronger ally does not want to run the risk of confronting the challenger. This is a dilemma that Athens faced when Corcyra urged them to fight against Sparta just before the Peloponesian War (“Thucydides, Japan and America”; Diplomat; November 27, 2012).

The above mentioned Thucydides quotation by Holmes presents quite helpful aspects to understand how to arrange the relationship between the United States and the allies. Particularly, recent disagreements on Iranian nuclear threats between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama give important lessons for policymakers around the world. Despite sore relations with Obama, Netanyahu shares common understanding of Middle East security with American policymakers who are strongly concerned with White House appeasement to adversaries. On the other hand, British Prime Minister David Cameron enjoys a very friendly relationship with Obama, and even called “bro” by him. However, serious policymakers are critical to his defense policy as it lowers Britain’s military capability. Stark differences between both leaders give lessons that we must learn.

To begin with, let me talk about Benjamin Netanyahu. In this case, problems are perception gaps with the Obama administration on Iran’s nuclear threats and partisan split in the United States. The following points are key focuses. The first one is the effectiveness of the nuclear deal itself, as it is temporary. The second one is the inherent nature of Iran’s threat beyond nuclear proliferation. Both issues are closely associated with perception gaps between the Obama administration and Middle Eastern allies that are directly menaced by Iran’s sponsorship for Shiite extremists, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf Arabs. In other words, Middle East allies suspect that Obama treats them like Corcyra. Meanwhile, Republicans and some Democrats share their worries as typically seen in Senator Tom Cotton’s open letter with 47 signatories to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to express their objection to the nuclear deal and its spill over effect on Middle East security. The final one makes things even more complicated as Russia and China are involved in Iran after the deal. For example, Russia sells S-300 anti-air missiles to Iran, which makes Israel, Arabs, and Capitol Hill raise eyebrows. Shortly after Netanyahu’s speech at the Congress, Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, commented that Netanyahu argued that Obama give more strategic priority to Iranian dominance in the Middle East than the battle against ISIS. As to the deal itself, he pointed out the intelligence gap between Israel and the West, and told that the United States must fill such a perception gap with Middle East allies including Israel to stop Iran from cheating. See the video below.


Netanyahu’s speech at the Congress on March 3, 2015


Robert Satloff interviewed on March 4, 2015


Regarding the nuclear deal, opponents are concerned with loose restrictions on enriched uranium and centrifuges, and also its temporary nature. Though enriched uranium in Iran will be reduced, but not necessarily shipped abroad. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities will be closed. Also, centrifuges are not dismantled. This is a great retreat from Obama's demand to Iran in 2012, and that makes Middle East allies critically concerned (“Obama’s Iran deal falls far short of his own goals”; Washington Post; April 2, 2015). Also, Michael Singh, Managing Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, comments that the deal is so unbinding as it is a temporary agreement without official documents. See the video below.




In view of criticism from opponents, Dennis Ross, Councilor at the Washington Institute, argues that the Obama administration show how to deal with concerns with the nuclear deal, notably, breakout time, verification, and punishment for violation. As an advisor to Obama, Ross himself admits that the current deal moved back from Obama’s first term objective to incapacitate Iran’s nuclear development. However, he says that the deal can turn Iran’s intention peaceful (“Deal or No, Iran Will Remain a Nuclear Threat”; Politico; March 31, 2015). Proponents of the deal say that Iran has been suffering from the sanction hit economy, and willing to comply with international nonproliferation norm. Therefore, they argue that we must reach a realistic agreement to achieve our vital objective to stop a nuclear armed Iran. However, that is hardly persuasive for opponents, as Iran and the United States disagree on the meaning of the deal each other. Though the Lausanne agreement on April 2 states that Iran is allowed to enrich uranium within 3.67% for 15 years, Ali Akbar Salehi, Director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said that his country could enrich uranium to 20% any time in an interview with Iran’s state owned Press TV (“Iran Nuclear Chief Threatens New Uranium Enrichment”; Washington Examiner; April 10. 2015).

Furthermore, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded that the United States remove the sanctions immediately to implement the deal. Some say that is due to language gaps between English and Farsi documents. According to Rob Litwak, Vice President of the Woodrow Wilson Center, the gap comes from domestic politics on both sides, as hardliners in Iran do not want the deal with the Great Satan while those in the United States see the agreement with a rogue state skeptically. US opponents and Israel see the nature of Iranian regime matters much more than the text of the deal, while proponents argue that we focus on the text technically. Despite that, it is policy emphasis that causes different interpretation. While the United States wants to limit Iran’s capability to make fissile materials, Iran wants to enrich uranium for energy purpose (“The Language of the Iran Deal”; WNYC Brian Lehrer Show; April 13, 2015). Former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz points out that Iran can cheat international inspectors easily as numerous facilities and fissile fuels remain intact. American allies in the Middle East see that Obama reached a temporary and weak agreement as recognition of Iran’s regional hegemony. Therefore, Saudi Arabia is exploring their own nuclear deterrence (“The Iran Deal and Its Consequences”; Wall Street Journal; April 7, 2015).

The perception gap between the Obama administration and Middle East allies is beyond technical interpretation of the deal. We must understand it from much more comprehensive security implication of the Middle East. While the Obama administration regards Iran as a some sort of partner to defeat ISIS, the opponents see Iran’s ambition for regional dominance and sponsorship to Shiite extremists the most critical threat in the region. Saudi Arabian former Director of General Intelligence Prince Turki bin Faisal presented an overview of the implication of this nuclear deal to Middle East security, at Chatham House on March 19. He said that the nuclear deal would provoke a nuclear arms race as regional stakeholders were concerned with the US-Iranian collusion to allow more Tehran’s influence in the Gulf area. Regarding Obama’s engagement in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia wants action, not rhetoric, for regional security, and they regard US help to the Free Syrian Army as the vital test. On the other hand, Prince Turki said that the Iraqi government worried too much about offending Iran, and therefore, Saudi Arabia can hardly exert influence there. See the video below.




As Prince Turki talked at Chatham House, Saudi Arabia now regards Obama so unreliable that the Sultan did not attend the Camp David meeting this May, and this country was even considering buying nuclear weapons from Pakistan (“Saudi Arabia vs. Iran”; Value Walk; May 21, 2015). Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon is similarly concerned with the loopholes of the deal, as Iran could obstruct inspectors, and acquire nuclear bomb in the end as North Korea did (“Current Iran framework will make war more likely”; Washington Post; April 8, 2015). Actually Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected international inspector accesses to their military facilities and interviews with Iranian scientists, as Saddam Hussein did (“Iran’s Supreme Leader Rules Out Broad Nuclear Inspections”; New York Times; May 20, 2015).

Obama wants a nuclear compromise with Iran just in order to defeat ISIS, and even helps their Shiite proxies (“Complex US-Iran ties at heart of complicated Mideast policy”; Rudaw; 27 March, 2015). Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations says furthermore, that the US Air Force has become the Iranian Air Force (“America’s New Role: As Iran’s Air Force”; Commentary; March 25, 2015). However, Michael Ledeen, Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, comments that the United States and Iran cannot work together simply because they have a common enemy in Iraq. Iran curses America every occasion since the Islamic Revolution. Moreover, Iranian terrorists killed Americans and even plotted to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. In view of such long and harsh hostility to America and its staunch ally Israel, it is unlikely that Iran quits their expansionist ambition (“The Iran Deal: Forget About Stability, Our Strategy Should Be Survival”; Forbes; April 15, 2015).There is nothing strange that Capitol Hill opponents, notably the 47 senators, demand strongly that Obama stop treating Israel like Corcyra.

Iran sponsors terrorists like Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Shiite militias in Iraq. Also, Iran recruits combatants in Afghanistan to support the Assad administration in Syria. In addition to these regional manipulation, Iran launches massive cyber attacks globally. It is geopolitics and international isolation that drives Iran to act so provocatively. Though Iran is located at the junction of Western Asia and Central Asia, it has no natural defensive borders. Historically, the Turkic invaded from the north, and Mesopotamia had been the disputed are against the Semitic nations, Rome, Arabs, and the Ottoman Empire. Also, Iran found itself completely isolated from both the West and Middle East neighbors during the Iran-Iraq War. Therefore, the Shiite regime in Tehran helps their proxies in the Middle East to overcome historical insecurity (“Why Iran Needs to Dominate the Middle East”; National Interest; April 10. 2015). In view of the above mentioned problems, Retired General David Petraeus supports Israel’s concern that Shiite militia could prevail throughout the Middle East, which would make the whole of this area vulnerable to Iranian influence. In addition, as the Obama administration withdrew troops from Iraq too soon, he said that Iran understood it as weakness of American power in the Middle East. The problem is, Iran wants to dominate the Middle East, annihilate Israel, and continue to develop nuclear bomb (“Former general splits with Obama; says Iran, not ISIS, is the real enemy.”; National Review; March 20, 2015). Furthermore, Iran still continues cooperation in nuclear project with North Korea (“State: We can't deny Iran nuclear cooperation with North Korea; it won't stop nuke deal”; Washington Examiner; May 28, 2015). Netanyahu fears that the nuclear talks proceed at an unfavorable time when Iran is sponsoring their proxies in Yemen. A weak agreement can embolden their expansionism furthermore, and Israel sees that the nuclear deal gives reward to Iran without pushing them (“Netanyahu accuses Iran of trying to 'conquer the entire Middle East' amid looming nuclear deal”; FOX News; March 29, 2015).

As mentioned above, the impacts of the current nuclear deal with Iran go not just the technical aspects, but the whole Middle East security structure. The perception gap between the Obama administration and Middle East allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia is so huge. In addition, Russia and China are exploring to deepen relations with Iran, including in the defense area, after the nuclear deal takes effect. As soon as the deal was declared, Russia reached an agreement with Iran to sell S-300 anti-air missiles, which makes Israel critically concerned (“Russia-Iran relationship is a marriage of opportunity”; Washington Post; April 18, 2015). The core interest of Russia’s Iran policy is weakening Western influence there. Also, the Russian nuclear industry has been keeping an eye on Iranian market, and this nuclear deal is a good opportunity for them (“How Russia Views The Iran Nuclear Talks”; Breaking Energy; March 18, 2015). However, Obama’s comment to defend Russia’s sales of these missiles to Iran startled Israeli media, despite Netanyahu’s fierce criticism to Russia (“Israel analysts shocked by Obama’s comments on sanctions, S-300 supply”; Times of Israel; April 17, 2015). Meanwhile, China sees the deal necessary to secure their oil import from Iran (“The Dragon and the Atom: How China Sees Iran and the Nuclear Negotiations”; National Interest; November 14, 2014).

The Iran nuclear deal led by the Obama administration is so dangerous that opponents in Washington, notably the 47 senators, resonate concerns raised by Israel and Saudi Arabia. When the hegemony of the alliance treats a weaker ally like Corcyra due to perception gaps, should the weaker one act with opponents in the hegemonic state, and get involved in its domestic political rivalry to overturn the decision of its government? Despite the above mentioned defects of the nuclear deal and dangers of Obama’s Middle East strategy, Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, comments critically to Netanyahu’s deep involvement in Washington politics. Remember that Kagan is no proponent of Obama’s foreign policy. Then, why does is he so critical of it? He says that Netanyahu’s involvement in Washington politics is a foreign intrusion, regardless of the strategic importance of Israel and his tense relations with Obama. Also, that would preclude America from shaping a national consensus on Iran policy. As Kagan mentions, partisan split is a serious problem for American foreign policymakers. Furthermore, Winston Churchill gave the Iron Curtain speech in Fulton of Missouri, instead of the Congress, because he did not receive an invitation from the president and already stepped down from public job (“Five reasons Netanyahu should not address Congress”; Washington Post; January 29, 2015). Kagan still continues that if House Speaker John Boehner can invite Netanyahu to the Congress, that will allow Democrats to do the same against the Republican administration (“At what price Netanyahu?”; Washington Post; February 27, 2015). The case of Netanyahu is a critical agenda for state leaders around the world to explore how to behave when America does not fulfill global expectation. Asian nations are so pleased to hear of Obama’s strategic rebalance, but that is no guarantee for his security commitment to them. What happens if he appeases to China as he does to Iran now?

On the other hand, in the case of David Cameron, the problem is military capability as an ally. Cameron enjoys good personal relationship with Obama. At Former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral in December 2013 in Pretoria, Cameron took selfies with Obama and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt so cheerfully (“David Cameron defends 'selfie' at Nelson Mandela memorial”; Daily Telegraph; 11 December 2013). However, that does not necessarily give him credit from American policymakers. Since the 2010 SDSR, Britain’s defense capability has been curtailed, which makes many Americans critically concerned. General Raymond Odierno, Chief of the Staff of the US army, commented that Britain’s defense cut might jeopardize the Anglo-American alliance as Britain has been the most reliable partner in US military operations across the globe in the postwar period. Particularly, the rise of Russian threat after the Ukraine crisis and the emergence of a self-called caliphate by ISIS necessitate NATO member states to re-strengthen their defense, and Britain leads this effort. But its army, navy, and air force were cut so drastically that the military capability scantily meets the requirement for global actions. Cuurrently, the Royal Navy's manpower and number of flight squadrons are too small to operate Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers (“US fears that Britain's defense cuts will diminish Army on the world stage”; Daily Telegraph; 1 March 2015). Despite that, British voters are too happy to see its defense spending plunge below its overseas development aid (“EXCLUSIVE: UK set to spend MORE on foreign aid than on Armed Forces”; Daily Express; March 1, 2015).

The problem with UK defense is excessive focus on NATO requirement of the GDP 2% line, but the real capability is not determined by the amount of the budget. Alexander Clarke, a naval historian, argues that Britain make it clear their defense needs and what they want for those objectives (“The Defence Debate – why the UK needs to change the subject”; USNI Blog; February 20, 2015). Actually, Britain faces challenges to defend even its own sovereign territory. In Scotland, Russian submarines navigate close to the UK Trident submarine base at Faslane. Britain needs help from its allies, including the United States, Canada, France, and so forth to counter Russian undersea fleet. In other words, Britain cannot protect its own independent nuclear by itself, because Cameron cut anti-submarine capability (“A Suspected Russian Submarine Is Lurking Off Of The Scottish Coast”; Business Insider; January 9, 2015). This is appalling, considering Britain’s leading contribution to NATO to counter Soviet submarine force during the Cold War with its rich experience to fight against German U-boats. Cameron’s fatal mistake was to scrap Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft (“Nimrod cuts 'have allowed Russian submarines to spy on Trident”; Daily Telegraph; 29 May, 2015). The rise of nationalism in Argentina poses another threat. While the Royal Navy decommissioned the Invincible class aircraft carriers before the Queen Elizabeth class are deployed, Argentina leases Su-24 bombers from Russia that are capable of attacking Falkland Islands (“Britain's military defences in the Falkland Islands”; Daily Telegraph; 24 March 2015).

It is quite unbelievable that a global naval power like Britain have a blank period in capital ships. The decline of Britain’s military capability is closely associated with lack of foreign policy visions. Maxine David, Lecturer at the University of Sussex, analyzes such a trend as the following. Prior to the general election, party leaders hardly talked about foreign policy in the debate on April 2. Antipathy to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the rise of local nationalism have made Britain more isolationist. Furthermore, the decline of public attention to global security turns UK foreign policy more trade oriented (“State of the Nation: Britain’s Role in the World Just Keeps Shrinking” The Conversation; 29 April 2015). This is typically seen in Britain’s bid for AIIB membership, which was the first among European nations. The problem is, Britain is not likely to assume global role when the world faces increasingly multiplied threats (“World crises may be multiplying, but campaign turns Britain further inward”; Washington Post; April 25, 2015). Britain’s engagement is declining from Europe, the Middle East, Africa, to Asia. The Cameron administration even did not protest strongly against China’s repression to student rallies in Hong Kong. France also worries a more isolationist Britain as military role is sensitive for Germany (“Britain’s Drift From the Global Stage Becomes an Election Issue”; New York Times; April 27, 2015). The problem of Britain’s defense capability is quite deep. Downing Street is so reluctant to use full potential of its national power for international security and global public interest. General Odierno’s comment represents concerns among Britain’s allies worldwide, even though Cameron is a nice bro for Obama.

As I talked about America’s primary allies in the Middle East and Europe, I would like to go on to the one in the Asia Pacific region, that is, Japan. Are there any lessons for Tokyo to learn from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom? Currently, the Abe administration tries hard to pass a new security bill at the Diet, in order to bolster proactive pacifism. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s speech at Capitol Hill was almost successful. How about security perception and military capability of Japan? In the Far East, China pursues regional hegemony as Iran does in the Middle East. In addition to its own armed forces, China sponsors fishermen proxies to expand the sphere of influence as Iran does Shiite proxies. Therefore, the attitude of Obama’s America to Israel and Saudi Arabia is a critical issue for Japan. So far as the new security bill and the constitutional reform are concerned, the Japanese public is excessively worried about "being embroiled", but the problem of "being abandoned" has far greater implications for Japan’s national survival. Even if Japan is willing to make a full commitment to the US-led allied forces over constitutional and other legal restrictions, who expects us to do something beyond the national capability? Those who argue against further contribution to the US-Japanese and multilateral alliance should focus much more on filling perception gaps with the American side to avoid "being deserted".The worst scenario for Japanese people is that Obama sees Japan another Corcyra like Israel and Saudi Arabia. That sends chills down my spine. Japan can act with sympathizers in Washington political corridors to avoid this, but it must be a smart and stealthy lobbying. That requires political finesse. Netanyahu provoked a partisan split in US foreign policy.

Regarding military capability, it is important to meet the expectation of the global community. Cameron’s Britain fails to maintain defense capability in accordance with her national power. We must bear in mind that this is the vital reason why General Odierno expressed worries about it. Japan has the capability to act beyond its neighborhood in an era of increasingly diversified threat. The Hormuz Strait that Abe mentioned in the new security bill debate is a vital route for Japanese oil demand, and it is Japan’s natural role to join the coalition to secure this route, in case of emergency. However, it is extremely regretful that Abe restricted Japanese involvement to mine sweeping which Japan already did after the Gulf War in 1991. Currently, the most serious maritime threat in the Gulf area is Iran’s anti-ship missiles. Iran has upgraded A2AD capability rapidly since then, both in terms of quality and quantity. Carrier killer missiles can attack any ship even those far away from the minefield. Without a fleet air defense, none of the missions to secure the energy supply sea lane will be carried out safely and successfully. The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force deploys the Aegis Combat System, and it is helpful in a multilateral operation to intercept North Korea’s ballistic missile, as frequently mentioned among Japanese opinion leaders. However, the primary objective to develop this system is fleet air defense, and Japan has the capability to defend multinational fleets from an Iranian missile attack, along with other coalition members. This is not an offensive role, such as nullifying enemy military bases like SEAD or DEAD, and landing in enemy territory, but entirely defensive one. Evidently, Japan has no capability to do those operations in the Middle East, and hardly anyone can imagine that foreign partners expect her to do those jobs. But when it comes to fleet air defense, Japan can do the job, and this is a real step toward proactive pacifism, from she has already accomplished in the past.

Nagatacho debates over new security bill focus excessively on war casualty risks to send troops overseas. But the vital point of this bill is to enable Japan to make full use of her defense capability for global public interest. This is the core concept of proactive pacifism. The security of the Persian Gulf is beyond Japan’s narrow self-interest, and the value of this is far greater than supposed “risks” of Japanese contribution to the global community. Regretfully, both the Abe administration and the opposition miss the imperative point. The quality of defense debates in current Japan is much worse than those in Cameron’s Britain. However, a full use of defense capability will be helpful for Japan to nurture common understanding of security with foreign partners.

Finally. I would like to mention personal relations between state leaders. Even in a state to state relation, there is no doubt that it is advantageous for leaders to have friendly mutual ties. However, I suspect that people of Japanese political corridors and pundits worry friendship between Abe and Obama so much that they see personal relations both leaders too emotionally. Though Cameron is very close and friendly with Obama, American political corridors and intellectuals do not necessarily evaluate him well. To the contrary. Netanyahu was able to mobilize 47 signatories to support him, even though his relationship with the White House is not necessarily good. Of course, it would be preferable that a foreign leader not get involved in domestic partisan split in the United States, as Robert Kagan mentioned even though he is critical to Obama’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, I would like to raise a question that the implications of Abe-Obama ties were overinterpreted emotionally among US-Japanese relation watchers. It seems that such trends are found among Japan experts on the American side as well. I have no intention of downplaying personal ties between national leaders, but I would rather suggest that opinion leaders both Japan and the United States focus on more important issues.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Does Putin Act Responsibly to Reduce World Nuclear Threats?

It is expected that the leader of permanent member of the UN Security Council act responsibly to defend the global public interest, as cited in the Atlantic Charter and the UN Charter. However, Russia’s new nuclear doctrine and provocative behavior in Europe since the Ukrainian crisis raise doubts that the Putin administration abuses great power status, rather than assuming burden and responsibility. Putin’s nuclear saber rattling simply destabilizes global security. Despite that, Russia is a member of both P5+1 on Iran and the Six Party on North Korea. Therefore, we must ask critically if President Vladimir Putin fulfills his responsibility to lower nuclear threats of the world.

Prior to the new strategic doctrine, Russia has been pursuing to build up nuclear arsenals. Bulava SLBMs were deployed to the Borei class submarines recently to go through the enemy missile defense system. More problematic one is Iskandar mobile theater ballistic missiles, which is accused of the violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty by the American side (“Russia’s deployed nuclear capacity overtakes US for first time since 2000»; End the Lie; October 6, 2014). As nuclear attack capability expands, Retired Army General Yuri Yakubov told Interfax News Agency that Russia revise military doctrine to declare preemptive nuclear strike against adversaries, and make it clear that the United States and NATO as the primary security threats ("Russian General: Bring Back Pre-emptive Nuclear Strike Option Against NATO”; Breitbart News” 3 September 2014). The doctrine raises widespread concerns in Europe, as Russia behaves aggressively these days (“Insight - Russia's nuclear strategy raises concerns in NATO”; Reuters News; February 5, 2015).

As the Ukrainian crisis deepens, Russian intrusion to the British airspace has become frequent. RAF Typhoon fighters intercept TU-95 bombers over Scotland almost routinely these days, and some of them even go southward to the English Channel and carry nuclear missiles. Former Ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Breton says that Putin wants to show his anger to Britain, regarding Western involvement in Ukraine (“Putin showing UK 'what we are taking on' with Russian bombers, former UK ambassador claims”; Independent; 7 March, 2015). Russian intrusion also comes from the sea. Royal Navy frigate Argyll tracked Russian frigate Yaroslav Mudryy and supporting tanker Kola through the English Channel (“UK Navy's HMS Argyll tracks Russian warship in English Channel”; Naval Technology; 18 February 2015). More dangerously, Russian military intelligence aircraft had a near miss with an SAS airliner from Denmark flying off Sweden. Both Denmark and Sweden summoned Russian Ambassadors for he safety of civilian flight (”Scandinavians warn Russia after air near-miss”; Financial Times; December 15, 2014).

It seems that Putin is augmenting nuclear threats just in order to demonstrate Russian power, rather than behaving as a responsible stakeholder in global security. Russia’s preemptive strike doctrine and air-sea intimidation in Europe make its credential as a member of the denuclearization talks with Iran and North Korea questionable. Actually, some Russian actions to Iran and North Korea appear more oriented to geopolitical power games, rather than nuclear nonproliferation. We must examine critically, whether Putin gives more priority to the rivalry against the West or great power responsibility for nuclear arms control.

While participating in the nuclear talks with Iran, Putin takes some controversial actions which are contradictory to the role of P5+1. In parallel with the Crimean crisis, Russia started bilateral economic cooperation talk with Iran last February, to propose assistance to build civilian nuclear power plant in return for oil and gas concession for Lukoil. Iranian ambassador to Russia Mehdi Sanai even said that Russia should have natural privileges in the Iranian market as a friend since the 16th century (“‘Friends from Russia should have advantage in the Iranian market’ - Iran’s ambassador”; RT; February 17, 2014). Actually, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Russia would take retaliatory measures against Western sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis (“Russia May Alter its Position on Iran in Standoff With West”; Global Security Newswire; March 20, 2014). Despite Western criticism, Russia reached an agreement to build two nuclear reactors in Iran. Critics argue any nuclear technology transfer to Iran is dangerous. Quite problematically, currently negotiated nuclear deal does not limit Iran’s uranium enrichment capability. But the Obama administration withdrew objection to this deal itself. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies demanded that Iran stop enrichment (“Russia Reaches Deal With Iran to Construct Nuclear Plants”; New York Times; November 11, 2014).

Regarding enriched uranium, Iran agreed to send declared low grade stockpiles for medical use to Russia and France to process them into nuclear fuel, in 2009. However, that did not cover undeclared ones (“Iran Agrees to Send Enriched Uranium to Russia”; New York Times; October 1, 2009). However, Iran declared that they did not reach such an agreement with the United States, earlier this year (“Iran says no deal with U.S. to ship enriched uranium to Russia”; Reuters News; January 3, 2015). The deal is so fragile that it is unlikely to bind Russia even lowly enriched uranium were sent there. When just the preliminary deal was struck, Putin decided to sell advanced Antey 2500 anti-air missile system to Iran. Russia’s high-tech weapon agreement can hollow international sanctions on Iran (“Putin Throws Wrench in Iran Nuke Talks”; Fiscal Times; February 23, 2015).



Su-35 Super Flanker


Russia also takes action to deepen ties with North Korea, which could embolden another nuclear proliferator. Since last year, Russian politicians from Moscow and Far Eastern provinces visit North Korea frequently to boost trade and investments, and upgrade railway systems through North Korea to Siberia. Though North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said to expand political and military ties with Russia earlier this year, along with economic ties, Russia has not resumed military aid due to international sanctions against North Korea. However, North Korea expressed strong interest to buy Su-35, which is the most advanced fighter of the Russian air force, in order to replace aging Soviet made fighters like MiG 17, MiG 21, and so forth. Currently, Russia abides by international sanctions, but we need to watch North Korea’s bid closely, because they will acquire nuclear delivery vehicle once they buy Su-35. North Korea has developed ballistic missiles, but they have not made nuclear warheads small enough to be loaded. But with Su-35, North Korea could launch nuclear attacks throughout North East Asia. Of course, as Richard Weitz (Director of the Center for Political and Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute) argues, Russia is more likely to provide aeronautic spare parts for North Korea by labelling them as civilian aircraft use, rather than taking a risk of violating sanctions by selling super advanced fighters. In either case, we must watch very carefully whether Putin is hollowing nonproliferation sanctions against North Korea (“Moscow and Pyongyang: From Disdain to Partnership?”; Diplomat; February 19, 2015).

In view of Putin’s behavior regarding new strategic doctrine, Europe, Iran, and North Korea, I have to conclude that Russia is intensifying nuclear threats to global security, and does not fulfill the responsibility as a great power that was envisioned by Franklin Roosevelt for the postwar world order. We must send some strong messages to demand that Putin act more responsibly on global nuclear security issues. For one of them, I would suggest that the global community remove Russia from permanent members at the UN Security Council. In practice, this is quite hard as Russia has a veto. More realistically, I suggest that world leaders mention great power responsibility in the statement of the 70th anniversary since the end of World War II. It is already the 21st century, and behavior of major powers within this 70 years is far more important than past misconducts by Japan and Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel may not be interested in such an idea, judging from her softline policy to Russia. On the other hand, it will be helpful for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to mention irresponsible great powers in the 70th anniversary statement.

This February, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told that China and Russia would co-host the 70th anniversary ceremony of anti-fascism and victory against Japanese invasion, in order to suppress Japanese “right wingers”, and confirm their continual position as World War II victorious great powers (“Chinese Foreign Minister Told Not to Dstort Wartime History”; Mainichi Shimbun; February 24, 2015) . When Abe delivers a joint statement with the United States to stress postwar democratic and peaceful Japan, he should mention great power responsibility to counter the Russo-Chinese axis. Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, comments that both Russia and China behave provocatively not for their defense but restoring their wounded pride by Western supremacy (“The United States must resist a return to spheres of interest in the international system”; Brookings Institution blog --- Order from Chaos; February 19, 2015). This is typically seen in Putin’s brinkmanship diplomacy and geopolitical power game mentioned in this post. Therefore, nuclear security is a vital issue to question Russia’s credential as a responsible great power.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Still, Japan Should Proceed Proactive Pacifism to Suppress ISIS and Iran

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s trip to the Middle East spurred criticism from the opposition and some opinion leaders, as ISIS broadcasted videos of killing two Japanese hostages worldwide on the Internet (“ISIS Says It Has Killed 2nd Japanese Hostage”; New York Times; January 31, 2015), when Abe declared to donate a $200 million humanitarian aid to the Middle East, and stand against prevailing terrorism in this region ("The Best Way Is to Go in the Middle"; Speech by Prime Minister Abe; January 18, 2015). According to the poll by the Japan News Network, 55% of the Japanese public see the timing of Abe’s visit to the Middle East was inappropriate (“55% Say Abe’s Middle East Visit Inappropriate”; TBS News; February 9, 2015).

However, it is too superficial to relate the hostage killing and Abe’s $200 million aid speech in Egypt and his subsequent visit to Israel. The real objective of terrorists is to agitate fears among the public, and demonstrate their presence, according to a New York based writer Sawako Yasuda. I agree with her, because I believe that it was media criticism to George W Bush that drew anti-American terrorists to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Criticism to Abe blamers also comes from the Arab side. Palestinian Ambassador to Japan Waleed Siam, who is the Dean of the Council of Arab Ambassadors in Tokyo, condemned ISIS and defended Abe (“Rising Voices against Blaming Abe”; J-CAST News; February 2, 2015).

Though the murder of two hostages imperiled Japanese people, Japan needs to secure its own national interest by departing from postwar omnidirectional diplomacy. Japan is losing confidence in Obama’s America, as Obama himself remarked that the United States was no longer the world policeman. If that is the case, Japan has to do something more involved to stabilize the Middle East as a core member of democratic nations. Otherwise, Japan cannot sustain its economy, because it is so dependent on Middle East oil (“A tipping point for Japan’s foreign policy”; Financial Times; January 28, 2015 or here). The problem is beyond Japan’s self-restricted narrow national interest. The Japan Forum on International Relations, a leading think tank advocating proactive pacifism of the Abe administration, issues the 37th policy recommendation to endorse Japan’s departure from postwar “One Country Pacifism”, in order to get actively involved in buttressing the liberal world order.

The focal point of this recommendation is neither re-militalization nor the quest for great power status of Japan, but founding a real “global no-war regime” by suppressing threats to world peace (“Positive Pacifism and Japan's Course of Action”; Japan Forum on International Relations; August 2014). Abe’s initiative of civilian aid to displaced people around Iraq and Syria is an action to put the concept of positive or proactive pacifism into practice. The advent of ISIS is a grave challenge that could dissolve current Westphalian system as it strives for establishing a global caliphate of fanaticism and terrorism. That will endanger the vital foundation of Japan’s peace, prosperity, and national welfare. Regardless of the partisanship of Nagatacho politics, it is Japan’s interest to suppress threats in the Middle East.

Despite that, some Japanese blame the timing of Abe’s Middle East tour, as they firmly believe that his diplomatic schedule was so reckless as to provoke ISIS to kill Kenji Goto and Haruna Yukawa. It is extremely tragic that our fellow citizens were so brutally murdered. However, I would argue that Abe seized the opportunity to visit the Middle East and address Japan’s global engagement. That serves the public interest of the world, but those who denounce him give hardly any consideration to this. I am not hailing Shinzo Abe. I am critically concerned with Barack Obama’s horrible mismanagement in the Middle East, as I frequently and repeatedly argue on this blog. American allies, including Japan must take any action to make up for his blunder.

The foremost reason that allowed ISIS to vandalize and imperil the Middle East is the failure of Obama’s Iraq policy. This is typically indicated in frequent change of the Secretary of Defense in his administration. From Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, to Chuck Hagel, criticized Obama’s disengagement with Iraq. Even former Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy, who joined Obama’s team so early during the transition period, left the administration along with Panetta, and refused to accept the job offer after Hagel. The power vacuum by Obama’s premature pullout from Iraq has made the problem extremely complex. While most of the experts and opinion leaders focus on the axis of Sunni extremists and ex-Baathists in Syria and western Iraq, Shiite jihadists in southern Iraq and Levant are no less formidable as Iran sponsors them. Too many opinion leaders assume as if it were an equation of only one unknown x. They dismiss another unknown y in this equation, which is Iran’s influence.

How should we solve such a complicated equation? It is very risky to deploy Kurdish and Shiite militias in the same place, just to fight against ISIS, because sectarian killings by those militias are reported (“U.S.-backed Iraqi forces face risky urban warfare in battle against Islamic State”; Washington Post; February 8, 2015). In addition to local Shiites in southern Iraq, Iran sponsors Shiite proxies in Syria to defend the Assad administration. According to Phillip Smyth, Researcher of the University of Maryland, their influx into Syria is nothing to imply spontaneous Shiite unity, but to indicate highly organized geostrategic and ideological plots by Iran. There is already Hezbollah in Lebanon that Iran has been supporting since overthrowing the shah. In addition, Iraqi Shiite group Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas joins the civil war in Syria. Like ISIS, Iran recruits volunteers by Facebook. That is particularly targeted for Afghan Shiites living in Iran. The Revolutionary Guard of Iran makes such an extensive network to look for insurgents. The negative influence that Iran can exert is bigger than commonly thought (“The Shiite Jihad in Syria and Its Regional Effects”; Washington Institute for Near East Policy – Policy Focus 138; February 2015). Despite those so many concerns, Obama is extremely naïve as to believe that Iran would play a constructive role in Iraq and Syria, if the West admitted nuclear infrastructure and rightful position in the Middle East for them. Even Democrat Senator Bob Menendez and Obama’s long term ally Senator Tom Kaine oppose such a daydream about Iran (“Obama’s fight with his own party over foreign policy”; Washington Post; February 1, 2015). Smyth suggests that the West interdict online propagandas and recruitments of both ISIS and Shite jihadists in the Policy Focus, but that is just the beginning.

In order to explore how America should manage these dual enemies, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy held a panel discussion on February 11. Michael Knights, Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute, and Phillip Smyth, the University of Maryland, presented strategic overviews and suggested policy directions. Their debates were concluded by P. J. Dermer, retired Army Colonel. To begin with, Knights told that the war against ISIS is winnable in a few years, but the clash by Shiite proxies with the Kurds and the Iraqi central government can disunify Iraq. Also, Baghdad worries that Shiites would take over their country, if the coalition is too dependent on Iran. Therefore, he insisted that the United States and coalition members must outperform Iran in this war. Otherwise, Iraq will fall into Iran’s satellite state, and the United States will lose a vital regional partner. Iranian influence in the Levant region is another problem. As Shiite militias secure Assad’s rule in Syria, their presence will pose threats to Israel over Golan Heights, and to Iraq over the north western borders. Therefore, Smyth warns that Iran would expand its sphere of influence from the Levant to the Persian Gulf. In view of complexity to deal with ISIS and Iran at the same time, Dermmer concluded that the biggest challenge for the United States will be making Iraq as a stable and lasting partner after defeating ISIS. See the video below.




I am somewhat bewildered to hear their discussion, because it sounds as if they admitted Obama’s approach to ask Iran for help to defeat ISIS, while America faces tough negotiations on nuclear disarmament with Tehran. I am critically afraid that Obama’s appeasement will make Iran overconfident as America appears weak for them. Remember that Retired Army General Jack Keane told that Iran was not interested in stability in Iraq as long as their influence was solidified by Shiite militias at the conversation with Senator John McCain at the American Enterprise Institute on June 18 last year.

Considering the points raised thus far, I believe that Abe’s $200 million aid plan was addressed exactly at the right time to dwarf the shadow of Iran, while the coalition fights against ISIS. Japanese media failed to mention this. Abe himself or Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida should have told this boldly in public, to promote awareness and understanding of the threat of Islamic extremism among the Japanese public and intellectuals. Japan took absolutely necessary action to relieve both Israel and Arab nations from the threat of Iran and make up for Obama’s fatal error to allow their involvement in this war. This is exactly a response to put proactive pacifism into practice. Why so many quibbles in Nagatacho and among the media?

In view of such security threats, Abe seized the best opportunity to visit the Middle East. The beheadings of Goto and Yukawa were horrible, and I would like to give my heartfelt condolences to them. But in my impression, those who blame Abe for their death are excessively emotional, and simply make use of this occasion to attack him. The problem is not whether to like Abe or not. We need an overview to think of Japan’s contribution to Middle East stability. America and Europe have been engaged to sweep out terrorists in the region for a long time, and Japan is the last major democracy to have additional leverage to suppress socioeconomic instability that nurtures ISIS and Shiite jihadists. Abe visited Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority, and all the four arrange tight diplomatic schedules to meet the Japanese Prime Minister, regardless of the regime, state recognition, ethnicity, religion, and so forth. Even the god cannot stop anyone from disliking Abe, and do as they like. But to my regret, most of those who blame Abe’s visit spoke from old passive pacifism that Japan be detached from US-led coalition without showing the vision of the Middle East, which is so isolationist and outmoded in this century.

In addition, I would like to express my anger to widespread anti-Semitism among Japanese opinion leaders. They argued that Abe was too reckless to trigger Arab anger to visit Israel when Japanese hostages were killed. That is utterly wrong. The Palestinian Authority welcomed Abe’s visit to Israel, along with themselves. More importantly, Israel is a de facto ally to Gulf Arabs against Iran’s threat of nuclear weapons and Shiite proxies. From these perspectives, I wonder why so many intellectuals and citizens in Japan lapse so easily into anti-Israeli views, although both countries share common values and interests in global security. The joint press conference by Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Shinzo Abe on January 21 was nothing anti-Arab nor anti-Islam. Netanyahu stressed the global peril of nuclear proliferation to Iran and North Korea, and subsequent leak to terrorists. Meanwhile, Abe talked about terrorism and bilateral relations, and also stressed that Japan would endorse the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as a friend to both actors. See the video below.




While opponents regard Abe’s visit to Israel as further blind followership to the United States, he is more realist to pursue Japan’s independent interest and presence in the Middle East. By deepening relations with Israel while maintaining ties with Palestine, Abe seeks more Japanese influence there (“Shinzo Abe Raising Japan's Profile by Engaging the Middle East”; Economy Watch; 11 February, 2015). Many Japanese people were so shocked to hear the murder news that they reacted hastily to relate the tragedy to Israel, and some of them even talked as if this country was the root of all evils. But we are the nation of humanist Sempo Sugihara, not racist murder Adolph Hitler. Hopefully, the Special Government Assessment Committee headed by Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Kazuhiro Sugita (“EDITORIAL: Review of Middle East policies best way to assess handling of hostage crisis”; Asahi Shimbun;February 12, 2015) wipe out such poorly grounded anti-Semitism instead of Israel, when they review the hostage crisis.

Also, we must understand the nature of Islamic extremism. Even if Japan had appeased, ISIS would have killed them. Extremists kill even their fellow Muslims. Why bother to kill kafirs? There is a widespread misunderstanding that Japan not be involved in the Islam-West clash of civilizations. That is utterly wrong. Christians and Jews are not the only people whom Islamic extremists antagonize throughout the history. They wiped out Buddhism in India, and destroyed Gautama Siddhartha’s sacred birth place. Remember, how Taliban treated the Japanese delegation scornfully when they made a plea to stop bombing the Buddhas of Bamyan. Nor is it right for Japan to stay away from the US-led coalition, because they even killed Russians (“ISIS video claims to show boy executing two men accused of being Russian spies”; CNN News; January 15, 2015). The foremost points we must bear in mind are their bigoted ideology and lunacy. As historical evidence indicates, Islamic extremists are intolerant of moderate Muslims and people of other religion. Today, they are more radicalized and violent due to their devotion to Salafism, the most doctrinaire sect of Sunni that legitimizes killing of innocent people.

We must understand complicated security interactions in the Middle East and the nature of Islamic extremism. Finally, I would suggest that the global community make an international protocol to defend the life of journalists and aid workers from terrorists in combat areas. They may not be willing to follow instructions by the government, because they value independence from the authority. However, terrorists use their courageous devotion to the job, by kidnapping and killing them to horrify the world. Therefore, the government of each sovereign state must show the guideline to journalists and aid workers how to avoid getting involved in dangers in the War on Terror area. It is more important to prevent the crisis, rather than saving hostages captured by terrorists. Once captured, there are virtually no ways to liberate hostages from terrorists.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Is This a Male Oriented blog?

The Japanese language version of this blog, which is provided by Nifty, is equipped with a detailed access counter system. According to the counter, 95.4% of the visitors of this month are male, at 20:24, January 31. Other months are more or less the same.

It was 97.4% last November, 96.1% last October, 98.0% last September, 93.6% last August, and 85.2% last July. Statistics for last December is not available. It is difficult to identify the gender of some visitors for the provider.

But why so male oriented? There are numerous female bloggers keenly interested in political and social issues, but security agendas may not draw their attention. I wish my Google blog were equipped with more detailed access counter so that I could compare trends of Japan and the English speaking world. Are Japanese women too “feminine”, or Anglophone women more “masculine”? That would be an interesting question.

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?