Friday, January 31, 2020

The Ambiguity of the Indo-Pacific Strategy



At the end of the last year, I had some opportunities to attend a couple of public forums on the Indo-Pacific strategy to defend the freedom of navigation and the rule of law in this huge region. Literally speaking, the Indo-Pacific region means the area beyond the east of Suez, but policy debates focus on managing Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea so much that it seems to me that this grand design is confused with, or even contract into the Asia-Pacific strategy. That may be why most of the debates sound rather reactive to Chinese expansion, than proactive to take an initiative for the new order in this region. Therefore, I would like to review the background of the Indo=Pacific strategy from the beginning.

The genesis of the Indo-Pacific strategy today was presented by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) Nairobi in 2016. Abe stressed importance of the sea lane that connects Asia and Africa, and stated that Japan would endorse freedom of navigation and the rule of law for African development and security. Abe’s idea is nothing new. Historically, there were some precursors. In the Middle Age, Arab-Muslim merchants dominated trade of goods and slaves from Africa to the Far East on the sea. In the colonial era, the British Empire defended the sea lane from Suez to Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Also, the Royal Navy enforced the rule of law to stop slave export from Africa. More recently, the Bush administration launched the Greater Middle East Initiative to fight the War on Terror against Islamic extremism, and to promote democracy throughout the region.

Compared with these historic precedences, it seems to me that current Indo-Pacific strategy lacks panoramic views and consistency. China is a critical challenge, but I would argue that it is necessary to manage threats in the Middle East and Africa like Iran and terrorism, in connection with Chinese geopolitical ambition. Also, we need to consider the multilateral framework for this objective. Actually, Professor Ken Jimbo of Keio University comments that America’s Pacific strategy had evolved virtually into the Indo-Pacific strategy, when the 7th fleet began to fill the vacuum in the Indian Ocean after British withdrawal from the east of Suez in the 1960s and 70s. Nevertheless, we witness how the Western strategy against Iran is poorly coordinated these days. In view of such multidimensional aspects, let me talk about the involvement by regional stakeholders beyond the Asia-Pacific.

Just as Asia-Pacific nations have different interests and priorities each other, so do the nations of the Indian Ocean. Most noticeably, India wants to maintain strategic autonomy from the United States, though she assumes China as the primary threat in her “Look East” defense strategy. Meanwhile, African nations wonder how much they can embrace China’s BRI. While they do not want the West to preach democracy and human rights, some countries like Kenya worries that China would dominate them through 5G telecommunication systems and tied aid, and even drag them into East Asian conflicts in which they are hardly interested (“Focus: the Potential of the Indo=Pacific Initiative”; JIIA International Affairs; December 2019). Also, we have to accommodate major powers outside the region into the Indo-Pacific strategy. From this point of view, US-European partnership is quite important. However, as President Donald Trump courts conservative base at home to prioritize his reelection to diplomacy, the transatlantic clash of values over new human rights, such as abortion rights and LGBTQ issues, grows further. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mocks them “unreliable rights”.

As policy coordination among allies stall, another challenger to the Indo-Pacific strategy emerges. Strobe Talbott of the Brookings Institution, comments that Russian influence in the Middle East is growing, while America and Europe split over Iran (“The only winner of the US-Iran showdown is Russia”; Brookings Institution; January 9, 2020). Abe has launched an ambitious initiative to show Japanese political presence in the absence of American leadership. But today, everything has become more complicated than in the days of Arab traders and British imperialists, to implement a grand design to connect Africa and Asia that Abe stated at the TICAD 6 in Nairobi. On one hand, we have to manage specific and imminent problem like Chinese expansionism, but on the other hand, we have to review the concept of the Indo-Pacific strategy in the whole region.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Further World Disorder by Trump’s Hazonian Nationalism



Quite paradoxically, nationalism can make the nation mediocre in the world. Currently, populist nationalism of US President Donald Trump turns out caustically divisive in domestic politics. On the global stage, it could invigorate micronationalism, and fragment the nation state and regional organizations. Eventually, that could enfeeble American allies and the United States itself. Earlier this year, former Deputy National Security Advisor Michael Anton explains Trump’s foreign policy criteria as an insider of the administration (“An insider explains the president’s foreign policy.”; Foreign Policy; April 20, 2019).

Apparently, Trump is not neoconservative, nor is he paleoconservative. According to Anton, his foreign policy viewpoints do not fit into any ideological categories, but his America First slogan comes from homing instinct, which is naturally embedded in human minds. It seems that Anton assumes properly on this point, because a populist like Trump do not express his ideas in sophisticated notions. For further understanding, this article describes Trump’s foreign policy thorough applying the argument of an Israeli political philosopher Yoram Hazony, who is the author of “The Virtue of Nationalism”. Hazony did not invent the Trump phenomenon, but he provides theoretical foundations for far right populism in the West.

Hazony contrasts the notion of polis and empire in accordance with Aristotle’s “Politics”. A polis consists of homogeneous ethne, which means “ethnic” in English. He argues that “polis” is founded on communitarian instinct, which he mentions “love of one’s own”, and that reinforced self-motivated patriotism among polis citizens such as Athenians and Spartans. Anton applies his theory to justify Trump’s America First foreign policy, “Make America Great Again”. On the other hand, an empire is a heterogeneous polity of universalism. He mentions historical fallacy of the Achaemenid Persia and Rome, through the work of Xenophon, Machiavelli, and Montesqieu. In his view, multi-ethnic empire is so huge that it needs an extensive scale of armed forces and secret police networks to maintain the order, which makes its polity repressive. Likewise, he says, current globalization and regional integration alienate the human nature to “love of one’s own” ethne.

The problem is ethne can be defined broadly or narrowly, depending on preference. Alexander the Great defined it broadly, when he started the war against Persia, and his Hellenes were the whole Greeks, including Macedonians. On the other hand, micronationalists today define it narrowly. We have to bear in mind that since the modern nation state is not so small and homogeneous as Greek polis, their interpretation of this word can provoke fragmentation of one country, and inflict negative impacts on national and global security.

Among such micronationalist movements, the most critical one is in Scotland. Regretfully, Brexit is accelerating the trend for Scottish independence. However, Scotland is a strategic zone for British national defense. The Royal Navy is critically concerned whether Faslane nuclear submarine base and shipyards in Glasgow and Rosyth will be continually available, if Scotland were to leave the United Kingdom (“Leasing Faslane could generate £1bn a year for an independent Scotland”; UK Defence Journal; August 19, 2019 : “First Minister claims independent Scotland still eligible for Royal Navy work”; UK Defence Journal; November 22, 2019 : “Would UK naval shipbuilding continue in Scotland if it left the UK?”; UK Defence Journal; December 16, 2019). Also, Scotland is the northern front line to stop Russian intrusion from the air and the sea. Tory rightists in England are so NIMBY minded that they are excessively obsessed with EU regulations and cheap labor immigrants.

Similarly, Okinawa may rise against Japan to shed the burden of accommodating US military bases. An independent Okinawa would be a huge hurdle to implement US strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. Moreover, America itself is not immune from the peril of fragmentation. If Trump were to be reelected, California could leave the United States. Also, if the Western far right were to pursue Hazonian nationalism so irresponsibly, it could weaken the whole of the Western alliance, and ultimately, ruin their national interest.

In view of this, we have to reexamine the real meaning of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s case for freedom in Hong Kong, Uyghur, and Tibet. Earlier this year, Robert Kagan of the Brookings Institution pointed out that his democracy is based on Hazonian nationalism, not Lockean liberalism, and that is not compatible with long-held Wilsonian universalism of US foreign policy (“The strongmen strike back”; Brookings Institution; March, 2019). From this point of view, we can surmise why Pompeo attacks China, while he is tolerant of human rights abuses in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. It is likely that he sponsors micronationalism in China to fragment America’s formidable industrial and geopolitical rival. Therefore, it is naïve to assume him reliable for Asian allies, simply because he is a China hawk. Remember, Europeans do not see him so favorably.

Quite interestingly, Anton complains in his article that multilateral frameworks in Europe like NATO and the EU deter America First foreign policy, while nothing does in Asia. Today, the clash between Hazonian nationalism of Trump and his populist followers, and universal liberalism of Western élites and worldwide globalists shakes international politics.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Trump Really Begins to Abandon American Hegemony from Syria



The global community was startled to hear that President Donald Trump would withdraw US troops from Syria, and abandon the Kurds, who have been a long time ally for the United States in the Middle East. This implies that Trump has begun to carry out his outrageous election pledge to scale down America’s security commitment on the global stage. Quite importantly, Trump’s America First actions go beyond Syria. Now, it has become clear that his corrosive words are not for a poker game, and he is really abandoning American hegemony, so irresponsibly.

To begin with, let me talk about geopolitical retreat from Syria. Bitter backlashes came from Democrats and even from Trump’s fellow Republicans, as they are critically concerned with the geostrategic advancement of Russia and Turkey, and the resurgence of ISIS, following the power vacuum. Also, that is partly because Syria is not an election issue (“Why did Trump betray the Kurds? The rationales make no sense.”; Washington Post; October 10, 2019). The most fundamental mistake is that Trump confuses “endless war” in the Middle East with open ended military presence to maintain the alliance network, according to Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations. In other words, Trump’s America First pledge is based on misguided assumptions (“The High Price of Trump’s Great Betrayal”; Project Syndicate; October 17, 2019). Ironically, Trump makes the same, or even worse mistake than his Democratic predecessor did. As to this, Max Boot comments the following. In 2011, President Barack Obama rejected to intervene to stop Syria from using chemical weapons against the opposition until Assad crosses the Red Line, though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Senator John McCain in those days argued for military aid to the rebels, and creation of safe zones and no-fly zones. That was simply for fear of another Iraq quagmire. But Obama failed to deter Assad from crossing the line, and reversed his Syria policy to support the Kurds, later. In view of this, Boot criticizes there is nothing legitimate, regarding Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds, as it simply invigorates Turkey and Russia (“Obama’s Syria policy was bad. Trump’s is worse.”; Washington Post; October 22, 2019).

In addition to geopolitical supremacy in the Middle East, Trump is damaging the universal legitimacy of American values. The Trump administration dismisses broadly shared understandings of Kurdish-Turkey relations among foreign policy communities. Syrian Kurds are closely tied with the PKK in Turkey. Despite communist backgrounds in the past, the PKK today is regarded as a freedom fighter group like the ANC in South Africa, among Middle East democratization experts, such as Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute (“It’s time to acknowledge the PKK’s evolution”; National Interest; January 25, 2019). On the other hand, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo agrees with Recep Erdoğan that the PKK is a terrorist group, and defends Turkey’s incursion, from his Hazony-styled nationalist point of view (“Turkey had ‘legitimate security concern’ in attacking Syrian Kurds, Pompeo says”; PBS News Hour; October 9, 2019). Therefore, the Trump administration treats Syrian Kurds bluntly, even though they helped America’s war on terror a lot, which faced bitter bipartisan criticism in the Congress.

Trump’s abdication of geopolitical responsibility and “quid pro quo” nationalism has led to an inevitable clash with American allies. In the Middle East, Israel realized that Trump was as reluctant as Obama to stand up against threats like Iran and so forth (“After Trump abandons Kurds, Israel knows it can’t rely on anyone”; Jerusalem Post; October 7, 2019). His Evangelical base is nothing reliable, when Israeli security is critically tested. More importantly, the trans-Atlantic rift is growing terribly. It is not just a resurgence of terrorism and the influx of refugees that terrifies Europeans, after American withdrawal from Syria. Garvan Walshe, former national and international security advisor of the British Conservative Party, comments that Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds is a notice to tell Europeans that those who depend on America’s security umbrella at present can choose either serve for Trump’s personal interests like Ukraine’s Zelensky, or act on their own, which chilled the spine of Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania (“Kobani Today, Krakow Tomorrow”; Foreign Policy ---- Argument; October 16, 2019).

The isolationist policy that arises from the Syrian fiasco inflicts tremendous damages beyond the Middle East and Europe. In Asia, Trump skipped the East Asian Summit, this November. He does not give consideration to strategic rivalries with China (Twitter: Ely Ratner; October 30). Furthermore, he even suggested withdrawal of US troops from South Korea, as defense cost talks did not make progress, which upset Defense department officials (“Pentagon denies report U.S. mulls pulling up to 4,000 troops from South Korea”; Reuters; November 21. 2019). Meanwhile, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report to assess that ISIS would rise again in Syria in the long term, even though the US troop killed the leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi successfully (“Trump's pullout from Syria allowed ISIS to gain strength, intel agency reports”; Politico; November 19, 2019). After all, Trump has fired the adults in the room, and hurdles against implementing his America First election pledge have been removed. If he were to be reelected, it would be catastrophic for the global community. In that case, American allies and foreign policy makers would have to work totgether to explore the damage control against his words and deeds.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The trans-Atlantic Chasm Undermines the US-Japanese Alliance

It is commonly assumed that the US-Japanese alliance is a security partnership in the Pacific region, but I would like to see this strategic linchpin from the Atlantic side. For this purpose, I would like to mention Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s address at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, when he attended NATO foreign Ministers Meeting last December. His Trumpian speech dismayed Europeans. He flatly denied world peace by multilateralism and regional cooperation, which saved Europe from antagonistic great power rivalries before World War II. Moreover, he stated that the EU was a polity of multinational bureaucracy, at the expense of sovereign nations and citizens (“Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo at the German Marshall Fund, Brussels, Belgium”; US Missions to International Organizations in Vienna; December 4, 2018). Pompeo’s remark is widening the trans-Atlantic chasm so critically that the foundation of the liberal world order is increasingly at risk today.

The Brussels speech is graded negatively among American foreign policy experts as well. Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution, comments that Pompeo’s speech resonates with Israeli far right scholar Yoram Hazony, as he said democracy was based on nationalism, not liberalism (“The strongmen strike back”; Brookings Institution; March 2019). Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations criticizes his “principled realism” more harshly. While Pompeo attacked multilateral organizations that the United States has endorsed or created, like the EU, the UN, the World Bank, and the IMF, he did not mention how much the Trump administration had eroded America’s reputation among allies. Contrary to Pompeo’s understanding that multilateralism has augmented excessive burden of bureaucratic procedures, and restricted sovereign actions of US diplomacy, Patrick argues that multilateral cooperation has been mutually beneficial, and helped American supremacy on the global stage. Regarding the EU, he refutes Pompeo’s poorly founded view about national sovereignty, because member states have the most powerful leverage in the decision making of the Union. Likewise, Pompeo is wrong about other international organizations. More importantly, unlike Pompeo defends, Trump shows no interest in defending the world order and US leadership, but he alienates America’s long standing allies (“Tilting at Straw Men: Secretary Pompeo’s Ridiculous Brussels Speech”; CFR Blog; December 4, 2018). This is typically shown in his scornful remark, “Our allies take advantage of us far greater than our enemies”, prior to the G7 Biarritz (“Trump heading to G-7 summit after insulting allied world leaders”; CBS News; August 23, 2019).

The EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, because of "the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation, and for democracy and human rights". Not only has it deepened multilateral cooperation in Western Europe, but also promoted freedom values in Eastern Europe in the post-communist era. Europe defends the common values of the trans-Atlantic community, while Trump’s America is shedding them. Seen from the Atlantic side, the US-Japanese alliance is growing increasingly fragile. In of view this, it is time to review a US-Japanese joint policy brief, “Stronger than Ever but More Challenged than ever: The US-Japan Alliance in the Trump-Abe era” by the JFIR (Japan Forum on International Relations), along with the National Defense University and the Atlantic Council. Since it was published in April last year, Trumpification of American foreign policy staff has advanced. Adults in the room, notably James Mattis and H. R. McMaster, were replaced by more nationalist and loyalist Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. Even Bolton was fired now, and American diplomacy has become more susceptible to Trump’s whimsical temperament.

Despite Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from the TPP, not so profound ideological discrepancies are shown between Japan and the United States, compared with Europe and America. As mentioned in the JFIR policy brief, both nations were forming a built-in-stabilizer to manage growing threats in the Indo-Pacific area, notably China and North Korea, and defend democratic values in this region. This was supposed to save the alliance from unpredictable populism in American domestic politics. But actually, as stated in the brief, it was the adults in the room like Secretary of State-then Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense-then James Mattis, who confirmed America's continual commitment to the liberal world order and multilateral cooperation in Asia. However, it is questionable whether Pompeo is committed to regional stability as much as they were. Though he addresses for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, Uyghur, and so forth, the meaning of these words and his intention seems to be more “principled realist” or even Hazonian nationalist, rather than Wilsonian idealist. His contemptuous views about multilateral diplomacy are starkly in contrast with those of Mattis, who emphasizes close policy coordinations with allies from the battlefield to UN corridors (“Jim Mattis: Duty, Democracy and the Threat of Tribalism”; Wall Street Journal; August 28, 2019). Unlike Mattis, Pompeo’s power bases are the Tea Party and evangelicals, not military élites, though he was a captain of the US army. Therefore, the US-Japanese alliance is turning weaker again, after the departure of the adults in the room.

It was revealed that Japan is in a difficult position between Europe and Trump’s America at the G7 Charlevoix and Biarritz. Since Europe and America bicker too much over the Paris Accord and Russian readmission to G7 membership, critical security problems in Asia, such as China and North Korea are sidelined (“Japan’s Disappointing G7 Summit”; Diplomat; August 28, 2019). Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had an ambition to act as a connecting bridge between Europe and America through his relatively good personal ties with Trump, to boost Japan’s global standings. But the trans-Atlantic chasm is too wide and deep. Currently, Iran is a critical issue between the United States and democratic allies. While Pompeo calls for allies to join the coalition of the willing to defend the Hormuz Strait, Europeans do not see imminent threats there, and Trump’s intention over Iran is unclear (”Trump’s coalition of one”; Politico; August 2, 2019). Regarding the Saudi Arabian oil field attack, François Heisbourg, Senior Advisor for the IISS, is cautious to accept Trump’s claim that Iran did it, and some American experts agree with him. Japan is also reluctant to join Trump’s coalition against Iran. The trans-Atlantic chasm in the Trump era is undermining Japan’s diplomacy that takes “a panoramic perspective of the world map”.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Corrosion of American Democracy and the World in Disorder

Robert Kagan


The gravest threat to the liberal world order is the growing challenges by autocratic nations, while Western democracies lose confidence in their systems and values. Particularly, the decline of American democracy inflicts terrible impacts on the world. We need to understand how democracy is declining today, and to think of the way of overturning this trend. Robert Kagan at the Brookings Institution gives analyses of the underlying challenges posed by authoritarian nations in the policy brief, “The strongmen strike back” which was released this March. Western experts underestimate that traditional autocracies lack universal and coherent ideals like socialism, but he argues that it is authoritarianism itself that poses both ideological and geopolitical challenges to liberal democracies. Meanwhile, the West faces internal challenges of populists, concurrently.

Kagan talks about ideological wars between liberal democracy and authoritarian autocracy throughout history. His historical review gives some clues to understand democracy decline today. In the world before classical liberalism, people were dominated by a rigid hierarchy of feudal society. Peasants were enslaved by landowners for generations, and freedom of thoughts and religion was nonexistent. It was enlightenment liberalism that emancipated individuals from traditional hierarchies and tribalism. In response to the French Revolution, autocratic monarchies like Russia, Prussia, and Austria backlashed liberalism through censorship and imprisonment, which posed a critical threat newly born America. The ideological war between liberalism and authoritarianism was alco geopolitical. Along with such external pressures, I would like to mention that liberal democracy in those days experienced internal challenges of irrationality, though it is based on rationality. In France, Bonapartism and the Bourbon monarchy rose and fell after the Revolution. Quite contradictory, Napoleon III intervened Mexico to enthrone Emperor Maximilian of the Hapsburg, the very symbol of authoritarianism, which ultimately ended in failure. Also, America was in domestic conflict over slavery. Diplomatic isolationism was incompatible with the universal value. This contradiction was resolved when Wilsonian internationalism had emerged.

Despite early day confusions, liberal democracy overcame both external and internal challenges. Kagan tells how autocracies fell by themselves. From the 19th century to early 20th century, authoritarian great powers, notably, the axis powers of both World Wars, were defeated in real wars, not ideological wars. After the fall of traditional authoritarianism, Soviet communism emerged as a formidable opponent. Like liberalism, communism is based on universality and rationality. With Soviet power and successful use of terror and oppression, communism appeared unbreakable. Therefore, Kagan highlights Jeane Kirkpatrick’s classical essay at the height of the Cold War, entitled “Dictatorships and Double Standards” (Commentary; November 1, 1979), in which she said that the West support traditional autocracies to contain totalitarian communism, because she thought that the former regime could be transformed into a liberal democracy, while the latter regime was irreversible. But actually, as Kagan argues, communism lost legitimacy when Soviet leaders failed to achieve material prosperity over the West. However, traditional authoritarianism has reemerged as the threat to liberalism in the post-Communist era. According to Kagan, Russia and China have invigorated authoritarian regimes successfully by the end of the 2000s, through the following way. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin successfully appeals for the “Asiatic” character of his country against the West, through restoring czarist tradition of the Orthodox Church and denying progressive ideas over LGBTQ and gender equality, while China has transformed from a Maoist into a state capitalist nation. That has strengthened the position of Third World autocracies against Western pressure over human rights and transparent governance. The global backlash of authoritarianism comes from the ambivalent nature of human beings. He says that we crave for freedom on one hand, but we depend on strongmen when we feel our families and nations are insecure. When external challenges are so formidable, can liberal democracies maintain supremacy?




Along with external challenges, Kagan mentions internal challenges that Western democracies face today. In the ideological war, this aspect is more critical than in hard power geopolitical rivalries. Under the name of illiberalism, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán advocates the supremacy of white Christian traditions over non-white, non-Christian, and urban cosmopolitan values. Far right populism has risen throughout Europe and North America, and in 2018, influential Israeli intellectual Yoram Hazony provided a theoretical platform in his book, “The Virtue of Nationalism,” to urge unified resistance against universal liberalism. The Trump phenomenon in the United States comes from such tribalism. Some conservatives even cast doubt on universal natural rights, and argue that America be exclusively founded on Anglo Saxon Protestant tradition. Quite importantly, Kagan comments that the ripple effect of Western nationalist spreads to non-white and non-Christian nations like Hindu nationalism in India and Islamism in Turkey. From this point of view, I think Vice Prime Minister Taro Aso’s comment, when Trump visited Japan to meet Emperor Naruhito and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, was extremely deplorable, because he boasted Japan’s close relationship with Trump’s America was an envy of the world (“Nations around the World envy Japan’s Rise of Global Standings”; Sankei Shimbun; May 26, 2019). It sounds arrogant, because he is too poorly aware of global concerns with democracy decline, and furthermore, his remark is a sheer insult to other free nations and bipartisan American foreign policy establishment. I do not know whether Aso regrets his arrogance after Trump stressed his election argument in 2016 that Japan exploits the alliance with the United States (“Abe says Trump has been dissatisfied with the US-Japanese alliance from the beginning”: Jiji Press; July 3, 2019).

Kagan presents further analyses of American democracy today. He articulates that debates on American foreign policy are correlated to American identity. The backlash of isolationism had blown up after the Wilson era. White nationalism, anti-immigration, and protectionism rose, as people increasingly grew obsessed with Anglo Saxon and Protestant heritage, and more antagonistic to the liberal enlightenment essence of the American national foundation. Today, such nationalist conservatives resonate with anti-American leaders, notably Vladimir Putin, who argues that the Euro-Atlantic nations restore the basis of Western civilization like their Christian values and moral traditions, and shed universal values of liberalism. Quite interestingly, Kagan mentions a conservative thinker Christopher Caldwell, who argues that the Russian leader is a “hero to populist conservatives around the world”, because he refuses to submit to the U.S.-dominated liberal world order. From this point of view, America First is too paradoxical. More problematically, mainstream center-right parties are overtaken by anti-liberal democracy extremists as Marc Plattner of the National Endowment for Democracy argues. No wonder why mainstream conservative legislators are yielding to the alt-right, one by one. We have to remember that Kagan was deeply associated with the Republican Party before he joined the Clinton team for the 2016 election. Therefore, his analyses of the transition of conservatism are a critical warning to us. Furthermore, I would like to mention the fallacy of conservative obsession with Christian identity. America has no Middle Age history, and assumes herself free from Old World feudalism. But an idea of a Christendom is completely pre-modern. Such devolutionary ideology shall never make the nation great, but simply less civilized and backward.

Along with devolutionary conservatives, Kagan points out that liberalism today is harshly hit by the left. Quite a few Conservatives today believe in Hazony’s argument that democracy comes from nationalism, not liberalism, as shown in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's address at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels last December ("Tilting at Straw Men: Secretary Pompeo's Ridiculous Brussels Speech"; Council on Foreign Affairs; December 4, 2018). Trump’s ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell even resonates with Putin to empower nationalists in Europe. Meanwhile, progressives attack liberal capitalism and American imperialism, rather than resisting anti-American autocracies. During the Cold War, conservatives and anti-communist liberals worked together to edge out such far left. But today, there is no coalition against authoritarianism, while autocracies are not so monolithic as the communist alliance was. However, Kagan argues that the distinction of liberal and illiberal nations is much clearer than commonly thought, as the former respects the natural right, but the latter does not. Meanwhile, it seems to me that liberal nations are preoccupied with geopolitics so much that their strategies against autocracies are not well coordinated. Europe focuses on Russia, Japan does on China, and the United States is falling into more fortress isolationism. Domestic politics and alliance disunity among liberal democracies can destabilize the world furthermore.

The liberal world order prevents provocative behavior by autocrats for fear of American pressure. The United States is expected to act beyond an offshore balancer. With the absence of American leadership today, I would like to mention problems that democratic allies like Europe and Japan are facing. Currently, Brexit is shaking Europe. Though the Franco-German axis is supposed to be the anchor of European integration, according to “Macron Diplomat: A New French Foreign Policy?” by the IFRI (Institut français des relations internationals) in April last year, France does not necessarily trust pacifist Germany, regarding European defense. An independent Europe is so difficult to accomplish. Meanwhile, Japan is supposed to be relatively on good terms with Trump’s America, through the channel of Vice President Mike Pence, who comes from Indiana that accommodates numerous Japanese businesses. However, Pence defended Trump’s America First at the meeting with Former Vice President Dick Cheney, which was hosted by the American Enterprise Institute (“Former vice president Cheney challenges Pence at private retreat, compares Trump’s foreign policy to Obama’s approach”; Washington Post; March 1, 2019). Symbolically, he did not stop Trump from blaming Japan over trade (“Trump takes dig at Japan for ‘substantial’ trade advantage and calls for more investment in US”; CNBC News; May 25, 2019) and the defense burden (“Trump muses privately about ending 'unfair' postwar U.S.-Japan defense pact”; Japan Times; June 25, 2019). Unlike Europe, Japan does not necessarily share national security priorities with Asian neighbors, particularly over China. Political turmoil in America makes the world increasingly destabilized.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Trump Puts American Democracy in Danger



Earlier this year, “Freedom in the World 2019” by Freedom House told that democracy was losing momentum worldwide, and particularly, the decline of democracy in America was critical. The total score of the 100 point Freedom House index has dropped sharply since Donald Trump took office. Founded by Wendell Willkie and First Lady-then Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941, Freedom House has been involved in reinforcing America’s value diplomacy. Wilkie was a Republican presidential rival against Democrat Franklin Roosevelt in the 1940 election, who edged out isolationist candidates in the primary of his party. Today, the bipartisan NGO for democracy promotion worldwide is shifting their focus to the domestic front. The decline of democracy at home is more critical to American hegemony than the 5G rivalry with China. Historically, Britain stood out as the world role model of parliamentary democracy, even though Germany emerged as a formidable rival in techno-hegemony during the Bismarck and the Kaiser era. The corrosion of American democracy is so devastating.

The Freedom House report narrates the general trend as follows. After the victory of Western democracies in the Cold War, authoritarian powers like China and Russia backlashed the liberal world order. Some Third World nations follow this trend, and their freedom score has dropped sharply. In addition, globalization has widened inequality in the Western society. It has benefitted the rich in developed nations and workers in emerging economies, while low skilled workers in developed economies are impoverished. This has led to the rise of anti-liberal movements in America and Europe, and they embrace authoritarian nationalism to deny multilateral rules, immigrants, and constitutional democracy. This report calls such loss of confidence in liberal democracy from 2005 to 2018 “the 13 year decline of global freedom”. Deplorably, the United States is not the leader of global freedom, but a battleground between democracy and autocracy, now.

The vital reason why I consider democracy decline in America so important is that this is an internal corrosion of the superpower. When experts talk about great power rivalries in this century, they tend to focus on external factors like global power shift, the rise of China, and the resurgence of Russia. But the supremacy of liberal democracies rests on internal strength, stability, and confidence, rather than external challenges by autocracies. American democracy was already in crisis before Trump. Partisan divide widened, economic mobility decreased, special interest groups grew uncontrollable, and people did not respect fact-based journalism. In the Trump era, things are deteriorating furthermore. The Freedom House report describes the state of American democracy as follows. Since Trump scorns fundamental norms of democracy, the United States is the worst among the G7 plus Australia in the Freedom House index. Though this country has managed to stay in the category of “free”, not falling to “partially free” or “not free” of the Freedom House grading, it suggests that the American political system of the Founding Fathers is no assurance to sustain sound democracy. The report raises examples like Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey, to argue how vulnerable democratic institutions are to autocrats.

The report gives a diagnosis of the Trump presidency from the following five points. First, Trump is too contemptuous of the rule of law. When the judge made decisions disadvantageous to him over immigrant issues, he attacked the credentials and impartiality of the judges, like “Obama’s judge” and “so-called judge”. He even demanded the Department of Justice to prosecute political opponents, notably James Comey and Hillary Clinton. His political manipulation of judicial system goes furthermore to use his pardon power to reward political allies. These are critical threats to the independence of justice. Second, Trump represses the press freedom. He easily labels some media unfavorable to him “fake news” or “the enemy of the people” to agitate popular distrust to fact-based journalism. He disdains legal and social protection of journalists, which could ruin the safety of news reporters, as it happens in some autocracies like Putin’s Russia. These two points raised by Freedom House show that Trump infringes on checks and balances. In my view, Trump exploits popular anger just for himself, at the expense of democratic governance. He does not care how many people he sidelines, in order to achieve his goals. He does his job just to satisfy his electoral base.

Such egoism leads to corruption, which is vital for the country-based assessment by Freedom House to determine the level of democracy. The third point of the report is transparency and public service norms. Trump has broken the ethical standards of modern democracy so frequently. Notably, his affiliates have received money from questionable foreign sources. The Trump Organization negotiated for investment from the Shanghai Municipal Investment Group, a Chinese state-owned company, for a construction project in Manhattan (“As tariffs near, Trump’s business empire retains ties to China”; Washington Post; July 5, 2018). Also, Saudi Arabian lobbyists reserved Trump’s hotel rooms, shortly after the presidential election. In addition to these foreign interferences, the appointment of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump is Third World nepotism. There are so many conflicts of interests. The fourth point is that Trump attacks the legitimacy of the election when the result is unfavorable. In the midterm election in 2018, he told his supporters that Democrats cheated voting, without evidence. On the other hand, his administration shows little interest in gerrymandering and foreign meddlings including Russia.

In addition to these four domestic issues, the fifth point is that Trump disdains democracy promotion and collective defense so much that allies and the global community trust America less and less. On the other hand, autocratic nations from Russia, Saudi Arabia, to Cambodia applaud Trump’s refusal to uphold American values. Even China, that faces a bitter trade war with the United States, welcomes this trend so that she can export her authoritarian development model to the Third World. Freedom House worries that this will provoke the breakdown of the liberal world order. All the five points that Freedom House raises are deeply intertwined in the Russia probe. It is questioned that Trump’s handpicked Attorney General William Barr distorts the recommendation of the Mueller Report, though Robert Mueller and his fellow prosecutors say Trump is indictable. The administration’s wrongful behavior hurts the rule of law and the legitimacy of election in particular.

The problem is Republican appeasement to Trump. This is typically seen in the closed door meeting between former Vice President Dick Cheney and Vice President Mike Pence, which was set by the American Enterprise Institute. While Cheney raised a concern with growing frictions with allies and “Obama-styled” noninterventionism, Pence justified it to say that it was voters who had chosen Trump, and the administration acted accordingly (“Former vice president Cheney challenges Pence at private retreat, compares Trump’s foreign policy to Obama’s approach”; Washington Post; March 11, 2019). Furthermore, Max Boot comments that leading Republicans such as Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham embrace Trump’s illegal and unethical conducts over the Russia Probe, though they denounced similar Democrat misbehaviors in the past (“Republicans are hall-of-fame hypocrites”; Washington Post: May 9, 2019). Democracy promotion is the core value of American hegemony. Currently ongoing trade war with China draws much attention, but whether to win or lose it is just a local skirmish in the world order. This is typically seen in the speech of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Western liberal model of the society is dying and the world no longer trust America (“The New New World Order and the Russian Care Bear”; New American; April 15, 2019). So many allies still prioritize the relationship with the United States, though Trump makes America less and less trustworthy. That is turning the world more and more destabilized.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Japan Needs to Reexamine Russia’s Geostrategy in Europe and the Middle East

President Vladimir Putin gave a strong reminder for the Japanese people to realize huge perception gaps lie ahead between both countries, as he said that Japan’s alliance with the United States was a hurdle for the peace treaty and territorial talks (“Putin says 'Tempo has been lost' on Japan-Russia peace treaty”; Nikkei Asian Review; March 16, 2019). Every time bilateral summit is held, Japanese people and media fall into wishful thinking that Russia would be willing to return the Northern Territories, become a reliable geopolitical counterbalance against China, and commit herself to deepen bilateral economic development cooperation in the Far East. Certainly, Putin is exploring the pivot to Asia. The Asia Pacific region will be increasingly important in the global power shift, and domestically, under populated and under developed Russian Far East needs foreign direct investments. But that does not make Russia so generous as Japanese people expect.



Abe meets Putin.


Before talking of Russo-Japanese interactions, it is necessary to reexamine fundamental principle of Russian geostrategy, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, as there are many lessons to be learned to foresee the Kremlin’s thoughts and behaviors in Russia’s front door regions. On the other hand, the Asia Pacific region is still the Kremlin’s strategic back door, and the Russian influence there has fallen so drastically after the collapse of the Soviet Union that some Chinese officials even caricatures that this country is their junior partner. Currently, Russian strategy in East Asia is not so clear as those in Europe and the Middle East. Therefore, I would like to mention how Russia acts in both regions, in order to explore her global strategy and Japan policy.

To begin with, let me talk of Europe. As shown in Putin’s well-known comment that the breakdown of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century (“Putin says he wishes the Soviet Union had not collapsed. Many Russians agree.; Washington Post; March 3, 2018), the Kremlin’s strategic priority is to restore Russian power and influence in the Former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact nations, and to weaken the Western alliance. Therefore, Russia annexed Crimea and sponsors proxy uprising in Donbass in Ukraine; intervened in ethno-religious conflicts in the Caucasus area like Georgia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh; and signed the Union State treaty with Belarus. In addition, Russia has been trying every means to dissolve the Western alliance. Since Russia was critically alarmed at post-Cold War expansion of NATO and the EU to the east, Putin sponsored far right rising in former Warsaw Pact nations, such as Hungary, Czech, Slovakia, and so forth. He went furthermore to intervene in the voting of Western Europe, notably in the Brexit referendum, and also national elections in the Netherlands, France, Germany, and Italy. These manipulations have brought chasms among European nations and rifts in the trans-Atlantic alliance.

From this point of view, I assume that Putin told seriously to divide the security ties between Japan and the United States. Just as Donald Trump’s controversial election pledges were, Putin’s message to Japan is not a poker game. Actually, Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, had told Japanese people to split from the US-Japanese alliance, again and again. In practice, the Kremlin may not force Japan to abolish the alliance with the United States, but they are shaking security partnership of the two countries. In Europe, where Putin has been intervening for years, pro-Russian right wing regimes do not seek exit from the EU and NATO, but they destabilize multilateral institutions of Western democracies. Through bilateral negotiations on the Northern Territories and the Peace Treaty, Japan could fall into another target of Putin’s alliance breaking. Japanese politicians may argue whether to negotiate for a two-island or a four-island return of the Northern Territories among themselves, but that is meaningless in view of Putin’s solid will to dissolve the solidarity of liberal democracies in Europe and Asia.

Also, Japan can learn lessons from Russian geopolitical strategy in the Middle East. The Kremlin is neither interested in the War on Terror, nor any kind of regional order. The priority for Putin is to maximize Russian power and influence in a savage power game. Therefore, he supports the Assad regime in Syria, to secure the naval base since the Soviet era. Also, Russia dares to take contradictory measures. Though Iran is one of the closest partners in the Middle East, Russia has sold S-400 surface to air missiles to Iran’s strategic rival Saudi Arabia, and major regional powers like Turkey and Qatar (“RUSSIA MAY SELL MISSILE SYSTEM TO QATAR, SAUDI ARABIA, SYRIA AND TURKEY, FUELING ALL SIDES OF MIDDLE EAST CONFLICTS”; News Week; January 25, 2018). Actually, the Kremlin balances Iran and Saudi Arabia. Both regional arch rivals compete for their influence. In Syria, Russia endorses Assad with Iran, but that is not the case with Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, and the Kremlin even sponsors pro-Saudi ethnic or religious groups in these countries (“Balancing Act: Russia between Iran and Saudi Arabia”; LSE Middle East Centre Blog; 7 May, 2018). Japan should bear such cold-blooded geopolitics in mind. In East Asia, we can regard pro-American Japan as a Saudi Arabia, and anti-American China as an Iran. It is too wishful to expect Putin’s Russia to check China for Japan.

While Russia acts on savage reality of international politics, quite a few Japanese are preoccupied with “cultural romanticism”. They argue that Japan as an Asian nation explore proud and more independent diplomacy with Russia, rather than associating herself with the West. It sounds brave, but their nationalism is empty and poorly founded, because they hardly give consideration to the behavioral principle of Russia on a global scale. They may stress Japan’s geographical position, ethno-cultural Asianness, and politico-cultural uniqueness from the West, but such a simple-minded emotion coincides with that of the far right in Europe and America. Nationalist extremists in the Atlantic nations assume natural bonds with Putin, simply because they share a white Christian identity and socially traditionalist values, but anyone of common sense understands how ridiculous it is. From this point of view, it is necessary to exonerate Japanese people from wrong perceptions. Remember that Joseph Stalin broke the Neutrality Pact with Japan unilaterally at the end of World War II, just as he did in Europe and the Middle East. Japan is nothing exceptional for Russians, and “cultural romanticists” should not make the same mistake again.

Finally, Japanese policymakers need to reconsider the real meaning of the frequently mentioned Russian complaint that whenever they meet Japanese experts, they are forced to hear about the dispute over the Northern Territories, and they are fed up with it. In my understanding, that implies something deeper than what it literally says. Russians may want to tell the Japanese to “grow up” enough to discuss something else. They may see Japanese in the same perspective as the Japanese see South Korean nationalists who are still preoccupied with the dispute over historical issue. Of course, the territorial issue is vital for Japan, but we must impress the Russians with our global and regional blueprints for the future, in parallel with this. Also, it would be interesting if Japanese experts ask a question in return, what people other than Japanese talk about when they meet the Russians. What do Americans talk about? How about Europeans? How about Chinese? How about Indians, Arabs, and Iranians? All the nations I mentioned here are of high priorities for Russia’s global geopolitical and economic strategy. If the Russians were to reply to this question, it would be helpful to bilateral diplomacy for the future.