Monday, December 31, 2012

American Strategy in Afghanistan after 2014

The War on Terror has begun from Afghanistan, and 2014 is a strategic turning point as security responsibility will be transferred completely from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces. Terrorist activities get intensified, in view of coalition withdrawal. Afghanistan is not just a battle ground against terrorism. It is surrounded by critical strategic areas: resource rich Central Asia to the north, Iran to the west, and Indo-Pakistani nuclear rivalry to the east. Though President Barack Obama was skeptic to the Iraq War, he asserted that Afghanistan was the frontline of the War on Terror. In the lecture on US army strategy at Chatham House on June 6, General Raymond Odierno included Afghanistan into the Asia Pacific region as it is closely related to security in the Indian subcontinent. Obama’s rebalance to Asia shall not lower strategic implication of Afghanistan in US national security. Given such a unique geopolitical position that Afghanistan holds, counterterrorism operations in this country is a critical test to assess the validity of Obama’s strategic shift from the Middle East to Asia. Therefore, I would like to explore American strategy in Afghanistan after 2014.


Despite critical importance as I mentioned above, Afghanistan was not a key agenda during the presidential election. Ahmad Majidyar, Senior Research Associate at the American Enterprise Institute, points out the following reasons. The election focused on the economy, and this is reflected in current congressional conflict on the fiscal cliff. In addition, American voters were fed up with costs and casualties associated with the long war. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may not have talked on Afghan issue for such reasons, but that does not erode US security interests in the Af-Pak region. In face of massive withdrawal of coalition troops in 2014, Taliban and Al Qaeda are reinvigorated. In order to curb the threats of insurgents, Barack Obama and Hamid Karzai reached the security partnership agreement in May to keep some military presence along the Af-Pak border and train counterterrorism troops of Afghanistan (“Reasons behind Obama and Romney's silence over Afghanistan”; BBC Persian; 6November, 2012). NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said that 2014 Afghan presidential election will be a turning point for Afghan security (“OpeningRemarks”; NATO Speeches and Transcripts; 12 November, 2012).

The war in Afghanistan is winnable, and the United States needs to overcome domestic annoyance. However, strategic adjustment is necessary. Let me talk about current situation in Afghanistan. Ahmed Rashid, author of a famous book “Taliban”, comments that pessimism prevails among Afghan watchers around the world, but troops on the ground do not necessarily agree with them. One example is a comment by US Marine Major General Mark Gurganus, the regional commander for southwestern Afghanistan, saying, "We are still a province at war, but look at the progress that has been made in Helmand Province over the past three years." The Times editorial argues furthermore, "The Taliban has not retaken territory lost to coalition forces" (“We're Winning in Afghanistan”;Foreign Policy; October 24, 2012). However, drastic reduction of the troops will ruin such achievements. Afghan warlords like Ismail Khan of Herat are arming up for self defense, for fear of security vacuum after Western troop pull out (“AfghanWarlord’s Call to Arms Rattles Officials”; New York Times; November 12, 2012).

Two questions need to be answered to manage Afghanistan after 2014. First, how many troops should stay there continually? Second, what kind of qualitative changes are required in American approaches to Afghanistan? But to answer the above questions, it is essential to understand why the US troops should remain there, despite domestic annoyance with the long war and Obama’s interest in Asia rather tan the Middle East. American strategists recommend a recent article by Kimberly and Frederick Kagan that articulates the reason for continual US military presence in Afghanistan.

The Kagans argue that sufficient troop level must be maintained in order to avoid terrorist attacks like what happened in Benghazi, Libya. Also, it is US presence in Afghanistan that facilitates counterterrorism operations in Pakistan. Terrorist bases in South Asia are concentrated along the Af-Pak border area such as the Federally Administered Tribal Area in Pakistan, and Konar and Nuristan provinces in Afghanistan. If the United States were to fight against terrorists in such remote areas without ground bases, the following three would be considered: armed drone planes, parachute airborne, and manned aircrafts. The former two have problems with outreach and safe return. The third option of jet planes flies too fast to identify the target. Advanced technologies are no substitute for frontline ground bases. Furthermore, ground bases must be protected from unexpected attacks. Therefore, the Kagans insist that the United States maintain 30,000 soldiers for there objectives. They argue that defeatism and “light footprint” strategy will embolden terrorists, which will lead to more serious catastrophes for US national security (“Why U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan”; Washington Post;November 24, 2012). Furthermore, Max Boot, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, points out that helicopter operations will require aerial refueling without sufficient ground bases. That poses considerable constraints on the mission (“Steep U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan brings substantialrisks”; Washington Post; December 24, 2012).

The Kagans' opinion wins trans-ideological support, and Washington Post editorial board questions why US troop level under Obama’s plan falls short of the Kagan recommendation (“A U.S. future inAfghanistan?”; Washington Post: December 2, 2012). We must consider political aspects, in addition to military strategy. The United States plans to expand diplomatic missions to Kandahar, Jalalabad and Mazar-i-Sharif. Obama’s plan to cut troop level in Afghanistan drastically is contradictory to such policy objectives. Also, Obama’s troop cut makes it increasingly difficult to persuade European allies to keep sufficient presence. The problem is, Karzai wants less foreign armed forces to stay in Afghanistan, despite fragile security (“U.S. force in Afghanistan may be smaller thanexpected after 2014”; Los Angels Times; December 11, 2012).

Mutual distrust between Karzai and the West must be resolved. While the coalition forces attacked innocent civilians by mistake, the Karzai administration fails to improve governance in Afghanistan. Ransom imprisonment happens frequently, drug and natural resource trafficking prevails, and government officials monopolize development business through nepotism. As a result, people discredit the government. In view of these problems, Sarah Chayes and Frederic Grare of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues that the quality of the Afghan National Security Forces counts much more than the quantity. In addition, they raise critical concerns with Pakistan’s dark connections with Afghan terrorists. For fear of encirclement by India, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) helps Afghan insurgents to prevent the Indo-Afghan partnership. Considering deleterious impacts of ISI activities, Chayes and Grare even insists on imposing sanctions on Pakistan for terrorist sponsorship (“AvoidingCatastrophic Failure in Afghanistan”; Global Ten Challenges and Opportunitiesfor the President 2013—Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; November 29,2012). Quite ironically, ISI’s ties with terrorists harm Pakistani security. The Taliban in Pakistan frequently kill Shiites, and 90 people were wounded and 5 were murdered by their bomb attack in Dera Ismail Khan on the Ashura holiday, which is a crucial ceremony for Shiites (“Pakistani Taliban claim responsibility for bomb attackon Shia procession”; Guardian; 25 November 2012).

As security responsibility will be handed over to Kabul completely in 2014, the global community needs to refocus on Afghanistan. In addition to political and military involvement as mentioned above, much broader regional framework expanding to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent must be found. Mishandling of Afghan security after 2014 will ruin achievements that America and European allies have made. Furthermore, it will shatter American strategy both in Asia and the Middle East


Further link: NATO and Afghanistan

Thursday, December 13, 2012

How should Japan Persuade Strategic Value of Senkakus to Americans?

The Senkaku clash between Japan and China draws worldwide attention. This is not just a disagreement on territorial sovereignty but an issue of sea lane security and offshore resource. American ambiguity on Senkakus is a problem. In view of Chinese maritime expansionism, the Senkaku Islands is a Rhineland against Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Remember British Prime Minister-then Margaret Thatcher warned of Saddam Hussein’s megalomaniac ambition to President-then George H. W. Bush, when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Therefore, it is compellingly crucial to explore how Japan should persuade strategic value of the Senkaku Islands to the American public and policymakers successfully.


Actually some Americans are reluctant to get involved deeply in the Senkaku clash, though understanding the threat of Chinese expansionism. James Holmes, Associate Professor at US Naval War College, compares such psychology with Athenian position when the Peloponnesian War broke out (Thucydides, Japan and America”; Diplomat; November 27, 2012). Referring to “The History of the Peloponnesian War” by Thucydides, Holmes points out perception gaps between a stronger partner and a weaker partner within the alliance. While a weaker ally wants to make use of 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. In the case of the Peloponnesian War, Corcyra asked Athens for help in their conflict with Corinth. As the hegemon of the Delian League, Athens sent warships to accompany the Corcyraean navy, but forbade them to fight against Corinthians unless they face imminent danger. Athenians were afraid of direct confrontation with Sparta, the archrival and the head of the Peloponnesian League. If American attitude is so ambiguous like that of Athens, Japan may be tempted to act independently, even though the United States is dragged into the Sino-Japanese clash unwillingly. The result of it simply undermines mutual trust between Japan and the United States. Ancient pundits show insightful lessons to present day strategists, but their policy implications depend on how we interpret them.

In view of fatal consequence of such halfway commitment, some American media urge the Obama administration to articulate the position to support Japan. Japan has not resort to violence in any territorial disputes with its neighbors like Russia and South Korea, in addition to China. The Christian Science Monitor argues furthermore that nuanced restraint of the Obama administration’s neutrality on Senkaku sovereignty while admitting Japanese administrative authority there, can trigger Chinese adventurism as in the case of Saddam Hussein’s invasion to Kuwait (“US must clearly back Japan in islands dispute with China”;Christian Science Monitor; October 25, 2012). Also, the Washington Free Beacon criticizes the Obama administration’s impartial approach to the Sino-Japanese territorial disputes, while General Xu Caiho, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, remarked that China be ready for possible war with Japan on September 14. This online newspaper blames that Obama fails to support key allies in East Asia in view of China’s aggressive maritime expansionism (“The Great Pacific Panic”; Washington FreeBeacon; December 6, 2012). There is no wonder that the Senate passed a resolution to back Japan about Senkakus on November 30.

However, some Americans are still reluctant to confront China for the sake of “tiny dots" on the map. How should the Japanese side persuade strategic implications of the Senkaku clash to Americans and the global community successfully? Japanese policymakers need to think of effective media campaign to appeal legitimacy of Japanese territorial claim, the thereat of Chinese expansionism, and strategic value of the Senkaku Islands. For this purpose, Japan must choose the right media and stress right focal points. Let me mention two cases. When Hitoshi Tanaka, Former Deputy Minister of Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave a lecture entitled “Japan: Bridging East Asia with the Rest of the World” at Chatham House on September 12, he did not mention navy build up by China, sea lane security for East Asian nations, and natural resource disputes involved in the East and the South China Sea Though he raised critical concerns with Chinese nationalism, his emphasis on Sino-Japanese mutual economic interdependence may have obscured the danger of Chinese hegemonic instinct as remarked by Xu Caiho. It is a pity that Tanaka failed to harness such a good opportunity to send Japanese messages from a venerable and prestigious medium. See the text and the video below.




On the other hand, Yasuhisa Kawamura, Deputy Chief of Mission at New York Consulate of Japan, articulated Japanese position on Senkakus when he appeared a local TV program of New YorkInside City Hall” on October 11 this year. Kawamura explained Japan’s legitimacy from legal and historical points. Legally, Japan conducted the first research of these islands in 1885 ahead of any other nations. Those islands were uninhabited without administrative control of the Qing China. China did not object to Japanese sovereignty until oil reserve was found. In reply to a question to belittle importance of “tiny” islands, Kawamura asserted that territory is a key component of the state. I am in full respect of clear and persuasive arguments by Kawamura. However, it is questionable whether Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs chose the right medium. It seems that Errol Louis, Anchorman of this program, does not understand territorial issue, as he mentioned Senkakus, remote islands, and the size of a room or even a double bed. The tone he spoke in the program sounded so easy going as if he were talking about entertainment news. He even called Kawamura by the wrong title “Ambassador”. See the video below.




In addition to successful media strategy, I have to mention concerns with the rise of nationalism among the Japanese public that could worsen Japan’s impression in the global community. This will ruin any kind of efforts that Japan has ever made. In view of growing military pressure from China and defense cuts of the United States, Japan is exploring multilateral strategic partnership with Asia Pacific nations. The United States welcomes Japan’s active role in defense to prevent Chinese expansionism (“Japan Is Flexing Its MilitaryMuscle to Counter a Rising China”; New York Times; November 26, 2012). However, Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University shows concerns with growing clash of nationalism between Japan and China stemming from mutual hatred. Nye does not see any danger of Japanese return to past militarism as current Self Defense Force is under tight civilian control, despite provocative remarks by rightwing populists like Shintaro Ishihara and Toru Hashimoto. What makes him worried is the rise of overconfidence among the Chinese public which makes increasingly inward looking Japanese people more anxious of Japanese decline (“Japan’snationalism is a sign of weakness”; Financial Times; November 27, 2012). Such a spiral of self-interested mutual hatred with China can move the United States away from Japan, and lead it to an Athenian ambiguity at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War.

In order to persuade the United States and its allies in Asia and Europe, Japan should not talk from narrow sighted national interest, but from global public interest. Also, Japan should tell the United States that an Athenian ambiguity on Senkakus is a superpower suicide. Japan needs to learn lessons from Margaret Thatcher’s successful approach to persuade George H. W. Bush over Saddam Hussein’s invasion to Kuwait. Furthermore, Japanese policymakers must shed the Edwin Reischauer complex. He must have been a great ambassador to bridge Japan and America, but fluency in Japanese and deep understanding of Japanese culture are not necessarily vital. Rather, Japanese leaders should explore ties with American strategists who are critically concerned with Chinese expansionism, like the military, neoconservatives, and freedom advocates.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Brief Review of US Defense and the Budget

In view of the forthcoming conflict over the fiscal cliff, the budget and defense issue is a critical problem for the United States to fulfill the role of world policeman. Numerous nations around the globe live in a liberal world order under American hegemony. I would like to discuss the problem of defense and the budget later on, but let me mention some useful references.


Does the United States overspend on the military? Defending Defense Project, jointly run by the American Enterprise Institute, the Foreign Policy Initiative, and the Heritage Foundation, released a basic guidebook entitled “Defense Spending 101”. America has not overstretched because defense spending in terms of GDP percentage has declined since the Cold War era. In addition, the United States faces multiple security challenges today, and the American economy can prosper in a stable liberal world order. Therefore, American defense capability should be maintained. Quite importantly, off shore balance is no substitute for forward presence, due to weaker deterrence in the region and lower trust from allies.

Regarding fiscal cliff, Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute  comments “A common denominator in all these scenarios is that averting the fiscal cliff does not mean that things would automatically improve. The only silver bullet remains a comprehensive debt reduction deal” (“The fiscal cliff's threat to nationalsecurity”; US News and World Report; November 1, 2012).

The budget conflict is not the only reason for defense cut. Danielle Pletka, President of the AEI, concludes “There are others who hide behind fiscal responsibility in order to further their isolationist ideals. Plenty on the left. Plenty on the Ron Paul right (“Beefjerky and the nation’s defense”; American Enterprise Institute; November 15;2012).

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Forgotten War in Iraq

In the presidential election this year, foreign policy was not a primary agenda, and both Obama and Romney hardly talked about Iraq and Afghanistan. However, stability in Iraq has direct influences on Iran and Syria. Also, it is necessary to keep an eye on resurgence of Al Qaeda, in view of the Benghazi attack in Libya. Not only those security challenges that matter. The regime change in Iraq has inspired youngsters in the Middle East, which led to the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Iraq was expected to turn into a show window of democracy as Japan and Germany are. America has not forgotten both allies. Why was Iraq such a small issue in the presidential election? Although the Obama administration has withdrawn troops from there, the War on Terror and security management in this country will have significant influence on the Middle East and even Sahel Africa. Fragile security in the Middle East will ruin Obama’s strategy of the pivot to Asia. Therefore, we must not dismiss what happens in Iraq after the pull out of the Western coalition.


To begin with, I would like to talk about current security environment around Iraq. Unlike President Barack Obama’s declaration as “sovereign, stable, and self reliant Iraq” when US forces withdrew from this country last December, things go the opposite. Frederick Kagan, Director at the American Enterprise Institute, and Kimberly Kagan, President at the Institute of the Study of War, point out that the Obama administration fails to make Iraq a reliable security partner (“Losing Iraq”; National Review; October 15, 2012). After the withdrawal, only 150 US military personnel stay in Iraq, but they are not engaged neither in training nor combat missions with Iraqi forces. As a result, US-Iraqi counterterrorism cooperation dwindled precipitously, and Al Qaeda revives. Violence increased since the withdrawal, particularly by the Islamic State of Iraq which is a frontline organization of Al Qaeda Iraq. Since they are Sunni, sectarian battles against Shiite militia led by Moqtada al-Sadr are being intensified.

In addition, Iranian influence is growing. Iran uses Iraqi air space to supply military equipments for the Assad regime in Syria. Iraqi air force is too weak to expel Iranian air intrusion without staunch security partnership with the United States. Iranian influence penetrates into the Iraqi authority. After the United States handed over Shiite extremists to the Maliki administration, Iraqi court decided to release them without disbanding their militias required by Iraqi law.

Strong US military presence in Iraq could have checked Al Qaeda and Iran as envisioned in the Strategic Partnership Agreement of 2008. However, the Obama administration refused the Maliki administration’s request for US deterrence in Iraq. It is a common security interest for both the United States and Iraq to stop Al Qaeda from building their bases in this country. Obama’s reluctance for defense involvement in Iraq is utterly strange, and it appears to me that he does not learn the lesson of 9-11, that is, America’s low attention to terrorist heaven in Afghanistan led to the attacks. Remember the Benghazi attack was done by Al Qaeda. The success in killing Osama bin Laden does not guarantee the end of the War on Terror.

If the Obama administration is so reluctant to deepen military commitment in Iraq, and wants to shift resource and manpower to Asia, then, the United States needs to use more diplomatic measures to keep Iraq close. Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, mentions communication gaps in US-Iraqi diplomatic channels. On the American side, few diplomats sent to Baghdad speak Arabic fluently.  It appears to me that things are somewhat similar to the case of the Iranian revolution. Just before the fall of the shah, there were not sufficient Farsi speaking US diplomats and CIA agents in Iran. Consequently, the Carter administration failed to act adequately. Will the Obama administration make the same mistake?

On the Iraqi side, they have not founded reliable diplomatic channels in Washington. America is a typical country of pluralistic democracy. Therefore, diplomacy with the United States needs informal gateways through the media, think tank, and the Congress, in addition to formal ones through the State Department, Pentagon, and the White House. Since Iraq has not founded such gateways, Washington policymakers pay little attention to Iraqi voices in dealing with Syria, Iran, and Al Qaeda (“Iraqidiplomacy has no voice in Washington”;Al Aalem; November 1, 2012). Rubin argues this just a problem on the Iraqi side, but I think that the American side needs to help Iraq found informal diplomacy network in the United States. That is because every communication is mutual.

As the only senator voted against the Iraq War, President Obama may want to this war swept way into oblivion. However, foreign policy needs national consistency, regardless of power rotation. Drastic contraction of US commitment to Iraq will undermine long awaited vision of Middle East democratization, while aspiration for freedom is rising in this region. Historically, Bagdad had been a center of the Arab world, from the era of the Abbassid caliphate to British rule after the Ottoman Empire. Considering regional impacts,         the Obama administration must reconsider the Iraq policy. No Middle East stability, no pivot to Asia.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Japanese Conservatives Must Affirm the Postwar Regime Change

As the Noda administration appears increasingly lame duck, LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) leader Shinzo Abe is likely to become the next prime minister in Japan. Along with Abe and other LDP politicians, conservative voices are rising in the “third pole” led by ultra-nationalist Shintaro Ishihara and populist Toru Hashimoto. Quite a large portion of the above conservative politicians advocate a “reconsideration of the postwar regime”, and many of them openly criticize “imposed” democratization by the United States. It is critically concerned that such a remark will send a wrong message to the global community that Japan is moving toward prewar nationalism.


Rather, I would propose that Japan affirm the postwar regime change for much more active role in the Western alliance. Remember that all LDP leaders since the Koizumi administration supported regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan led by the United States, both of which are modeled after postwar Japan and Germany. Logically, it does not make sense to support Middle East democratization, while denouncing “imposed” reforms in the postwar era by US led occupational forces. Ever since Junnichiro Koizumi, LDP prime ministers endorsed regime changes to win the War on Terror and stop nuclear proliferation, particularly to terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda. I have no doubt in their sincerity to stand with American forces to overthrow Saddam Hussein and Taliban. Koizumi’s successors were in his cabinet when both wars broke out. Taro Aso advocated the Arch of Freedom and Prosperity, which was in line with the Bush administration’s initiatives. Though the Obama administration decided to withdraw troops from both countries while terrorism is still strong, the global community explores to help their reconstruction and train their security forces, including Iraq war opponents like France and Germany. Japan has hosted the International Conference on the Reconstruction of Afghanistan.

Therefore, instead of quibbling over US occupational rule in the past, Japan should act as a role model of model of regime change from the Middle East to China, including Tibet, East Turkistan. That is, Japan can show the successful step toward democracy, and persuade citizens in those countries to follow the same path. This will bolster Japan’s position on the global stage. Remember that there is nothing wring with Japan’s support for regime changes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Japanese leaders should be more confident of it.

I have no objection to changing obsolete and dysfunctional systems, regardless of ideology. DPJ (Democratic Party Japan) liberals like Yukio Hatoyama, Naoto Kan, and Katsuya Okada also insisted on reviewing postwar Japanese politics with regard to the US-Japanese alliance and Kasumigaseki bureaucracy, which simply resulted in paralyzing Japanese domestic politics and worsening relations with the United StatesWhoever the next prime minister is, such horrible mistake should not be repeated.It is quite worrisome that the global public will misinterpret the “Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime” as a complete denial of regime changes and democratization in both Japan and Germany. Furthermore, Japan would be isolated from both Asia and the West if such misinterpretation prevails.

Let me talk about US-Japanese relations. Japan handlers in Washington political corridor may be generous to Japanese conservative aspiration to “independence” as long as they are sincere to develop security partnership against threats in East Asia like China and North Korea, and those on the global stage like Al Qaeda, Iran, and so forth. However, not all Americans share such mindsets. Some media may cast doubt on inconsistency to advocate close US-Japanese alliance and collective security against autocracies while denouncing an "imposed" regime change by Douglas McArthur. In other words, a "Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime" can be interpreted immature anti-Americanism, if it does not mean clearly. This can lead Japan to be isolated from democratic partners both in Asia and the West. The core of postwar regime change is the pacifist constitution. It has already accomplished a historical role to impress Japanese regime change to the global community, and that role is over as global security environment has changed. Therefore, I am in full support of changing the constitution.

It is understandable that not everything of postwar occupational rule was good. Also, not everything of prewar Japan was bad. The Taisho democracy was a marvelous achievement. While Meiji reforms are heavily dependent on Western thoughts introduced by elites, Taisho movements are initiated entirely by Japanese grassroots. It was beyond universal suffrage. Women and burakumin (social outcastes) stood up to improve their social position. People’s demand for freedom and equality spread nation wide. Had the Taisho democracy been successful, Japan could have democratized Prussian styled Meiji constitution without any foreign intervention. Regretfully, the Taisho democracy was destroyed by itself, just as the Weimar democracy in Germany did, which gave way to militarism. That is why we have to review the prewar political culture critically.

Currently, Shinzo Abe is most likely to succeed Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. In view of the lost 20 years, obsolete and dysfunctional systems should be dismantled. But whoever the next prime minister is, or whatever the leader’s ideological standpoint is, it is necessary to clarify the meaning of a “Reconsideration of the Postwar Regime”, in order to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings both globally and domestically. Along with Germany, Japan is a role model to prevail democracy throughout the world, and this is the vital point to for Japan to deepen the alliance with the United States, develop strategic partnership with free nations of the West and Asia, and enhance its presence on the global stage. Remember Japan’s contribution to Iraq and Afghanistan! Historical revisionism simply ruins what Japan has achieved on the global stage.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Pivot to Asia Is No Excuse to Lower Middle East Involvement


President Barack Obama declared the pivot to Asia as he decided to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the Middle East needs further attention and involvement by the United States. In the final debate on foreign policy for the forthcoming presidential election on October 22, both candidates focused extensively on the Middle East. It is true that the rise of China is growing increasingly critical issue in national security, and more resources are required in the Asia Pacific region. But that does not mean that the United States should lessen its presence in the Middle East. The War on Terror has not ended, and defense balance of eastern and western Eurasia must be reconsidered in view of the Arab Spring, nuclear ambition of Iran, civil war in Syria, and the US embassy attack in Libya.

Let me examine inescapable role of the United States in the Middle East. The underlying idea of the pivot to Asia is to stop overstretch in the Middle East and Central Asia by the Bush administration, and thereby, to shift personnel and resources to the Asia Pacific region. However, the assassination of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya has revealed that Al Qaeda has found another base there after severely beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan. Though weakened, terrorists still murders people in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fred Hiatt, Editorial Page Editor of the Washington Post, points out that Obama dismisses the vital implication of 9-11 beyond Al Qaeda, that is, the Middle East stability cannot be achieved unless Muslims adapt themselves to globalization and universal human rights. He says “This isn’t America’s struggle, but it is a struggle America can’t ignore.” Also, as he insists, the United States must be ready to intervene to support freedom fighters in the Middle East when necessary. However, as seen in Afghanistan, Obama is obsessed with the timetable rather than completing the mission (“No escape from the Middle East”; Washington Post; October 7, 2012).


How was the presidential debate of foreign policy on October 22? The final debate focused on the Middle East, and spent little time on China. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were careful to avoid mentioning something provocative that would raise doubts to their supreme commander credentials among voters. As a result, the gap had been narrowed in the debate. However, focal differences were found on the Middle East. Martin Indyk, Vice President of the Brookings Institution, mentions the following points. Obama wants to shift attention to Asia as he sees that the US economy will be less dependent oil import from the Middle East while more dependent on rising markets in Asia. Unlike his predecessor, Middle East democracy is not the primary issue for Obama. On the other hand, Romney explores more interventionist policy in view of widespread unrest in the region, and he does not accept the viewpoint that less dependence on Middle East oil means less importance of this region to US national security. See the video below.




In support of continual US presence in the Middle East, Senator John McCain criticized that the Obama administration has ruined the achievements in Iraq due to reckless withdrawal. Also, he warned of the spread of Al Qaeda terrorism in North Africa from Libya to Mali. See the video below.




The rise of China and growing interstate rivalries necessitate steady US presence in the Asia Pacific region. But that does not mean that the United States should curtail involvement in the Middle East. Senator McCain repeatedly argues that it America’s indifference to the Middle East that left the region terrorist home ground, and ultimately, led to 9-11 attacks. The problem is beyond oil. Leaving extremism, terrorism, autocracy, and nuclear proliferation in this region will inflict tremendous costs to global security. “It is a struggle that America can’t ignore” to fight against those challenges.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Freedom House Trend Review: Improvements and Declines in Democracy


This is a post script of the last post, and let me tell briefly about the Freedom House report. The Arab Spring is moving democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya forward. Also, it is noteworthy that Myanmar, one of the most terrible Asian autocracies, eased restrictions in public discussion and media reports of politics. Thailand made progress, too, due to free and fair election in July last year.

However, counteractions to the Arab Spring were witnessed in many courtiers of the Middle East. Civil movements face violent repression by the government in Bahrain, Lebanon, Syria, UAE, and Yemen. In Saudi Arabia, restrictions on public speeches and media reports were tightened. In Asia, China strengthened online censorship and innumerable number of freedom activists.

There are some unexpected cases that need more attention. In Africa, the Ethiopian government abused antiterrorism legislation to repress political oppositions. Since the Assad administration of Syria adopts the same logic to murder freedom fighters there, this case cannot be dismissed. In Latin America, Puerto Rico lowered the grade though it is under US sovereignty, because of police brutality. Surprisingly enough, civil liberty recedes in post-communist Europe like Hungary, though this country was regarded as the role model in the shift toward democracy and the market economy.

The trend mentioned in the report will be a guideline for foreign policy of leading democracies such as the United States, Europe, and Japan. See which countries gain and lose their credits in democracy from this link

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Western Alliance Must Reunite to Overturn Democracy Decline


The Facebook Revolution in Tunisia and Egypt triggered the Arab Spring last year, which has overthrown autocrats to pave the way for long pursued democracy in the Middle East. However, the Freedom House has released a warning report that democracy is in decline worldwide, particularly in Asia, Latin America, and Southern Africa (“Democracy declined worldwide in 2011, Arab Spring nationsat risk: report”; Reuters; September 17, 2012).

In view of the rise of autocratic powers, this is a critical problem. China shows no hesitation for expansionism in the East Asian sphere. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin denounced American “manipulation” to sponsor against Kremlin votes in the presidential election this year (“Russiasays U.S.aid mission sought to sway elections”; Reuters; September 19, 2012). And also, Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons.

Let me review the report briefly. “Freedomin the World 2012” states that despite progress in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, repressive responses against civic movements are rampant in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen. Therefore, Middle East democratization, which is a key global security agenda since the out break of the War on Terror, is seriously challenged. Also, governmental propaganda in China and Russia agitates fears against civic protests, in order to prevent the spread of the Jasmine Revolution in their countries. China boasts their most sophisticated system of media repression to control news reports and censor information. Other authoritarian regimes like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela develop various techniques to control the media and blogs.

Currently, the Western alliance just sits still and watches such gloomy trends. But it is established democracies, notably the United States, Europe, and Japan, that can take leadership to overturn global trend of moving back toward autocracy. Freedom activists against authoritarian regimes are disappointed with the Western alliance for petty realism and appeasement policies at the expense of their hope. They are right, in view of the trend stated in the Freedom House report.

For advancing democracy, the Middle East is a key area. While the Freedom House evaluates the transition in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya positively, democracy in those countries are still fragile. Also, some conservatives in the United States and Europe are afraid of the rise of Islamism as typically shown in the enforcement of Sharia law. However, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki comments that the Arab Spring is neither anti-West nor pro-West. Nor is it a matter of religion or Sharia Law, but of social justice. Marzouki admits that democratization allowed some extremists to free ride liberal political system. However, he stresses that the real objective of religious extremists is not political participation, but creating chaos. They attacked Tunisian symbols like national flag and anthem, before attacking American symbols, according to Marzouki (“The Arab SpringStill Blooms”; New York Times; September 27, 2012).

We have to watch carefully how much Islamists respect universal value of modern enlightenment. But President Marzouki’s article is noteworthy, because social justice in one country poses significant influences to its behavior on the global stage. This is the vital reason why the Western alliance needs to be re-invigorated to manage the resurgence of autocracies. We must remember that democracy promotion for good governance is one of vital objectives in the War on Terror, in order to wipe out the root causes of violence and extremism.

Currently, the Atlantic alliance is centrifuged as seen in the Chicago NATO Summit. Also, the US-Japanese alliance faces a critical test on Okinawa. Autocracies and extremists seize opportunities like this. In order to bounce back from democracy decline and endorse Middle East freedom, major democracies need to redesign strategic partnership to launch initiatives to promote liberal values throughout the world. These initiatives are beyond the United States, Europe, and Japan. Once the strategic partnership is found, then, we can enlarge this to include emerging democracies like India, Australia, Israel, South Korea, and so forth. Freedom House report is a reminder to tell us how seriously unsecured our liberal society is in the world today.

Monday, September 03, 2012

911 Event: Chinese Repression in East Turkistan


In collaboration with Masaaki Mezaki, an international culture analyst, we will hold an event on Red China’s repression to Uighur and other ethnic minorities in East Turkistan or Xingjian. We invite Tur Muhammet, a Uighur independence activist who lives in exile in Japan. Muhammet interpreted for Rebiya Kadeer, President of the World Uigur Congress, at the General Assembly of Tokyo on May 14 this year.

For detail of this event, see this link. The event is conducted in Japanese. If you are interested, please contact Mr. Mezaki or me.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Obama’s Pivot to Asia is against Japanese National Interests

When the Obama administration announced the shift of foreign policy focus from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Asia Pacific region, the Japanese public welcomed it as they were critically concerned with rapid growth of Chinese military power. However, it appears too naïve for me. Contrary to widespread understandings among Japanese people including politicians and opinion leaders, I believe Obama’s pivot to Asia will ruin Japan’s vital national interest from the following three points. The pivot to Asia is not the shift of military presence, but it disguises massive shrinkage of US armed forces. Also, this is not just a shift of geographical focus of US foreign policy, but a shift of partnership priority from mature liberal democracies to emerging economies regardless of the regime. Finally, an Asianized America will pose more unpredictable stresses to Japanese policymakers than an Anglo Saxon based America.


Let me begin with military shrinkage. In a previous blog post, I mentioned strategic emptiness of the pivot to Asia from military perspectives through quoting articles by McKenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Despite rhetorical willingness for strong involvement in Asia, drastic cuts in defense spending lead to precipitous downsizing of US armed forces, particularly the Navy and the Air Force. Obama’s emphasis on upgrading military software is meaningless without sufficient size of military hardware to face off against rapid growth of Chinese armed forces. Obama's strategy is appallingly contradictory to an analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies that the pivot to Asia simultaneously means the emergence of the ASBC (Air-Sea Battle Concept) (“NewUSmilitary concept marks pivot to sea and air”; IISS Strategic Comment; May2012).

Certainly, it is the rise of Chinese naval and air power that led the US armed forces to shift their resources to Asia. However, a scaled down defense budget makes it difficult for the United States to counter China’s A2AD capabilities. In response to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s TV interview admitting that the defense sequester will pose disastrous constraints to US defense (“Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and ABC News Jake Tapper”; DefenseDepartment News; May 27, 2012), Robert Zarate, Director of the Foreign Policy Initiatives, raises a critical concern that it will hollow America’s strategic “rebalance” to Asia. Furthermore, he denounces Democrat Senator Harry Reid for his remark, “Sequester’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a balanced approach to reduce the deficit that shares the pain as well as the responsibility.” More problematically, the rise of China is perceived when both allies and adversaries cast doubt on America’s capability and willingness to stay power in Asia (“An Off-Balance Pivot to Asia?”; FPI Bulletin; June 4, 2012).

The final point that Zarate mentions is related to inherent nature of Obama foreign policy. Emerged in protest to Republican unilateralism and American exceptionalism, Barack Obama gave apologetic and appeasing speeches in Prague and Cairo shortly after his inauguration. It seems that he does not necessarily desire to maintain the superpower position for America. From this perspective, we need to explore the real implication of the pivot to Asia, since it does not make sense as a military strategy.

People in the Asia Pacific region tend to be so naïve as to focus on the shift of geographical emphasis in US strategy. However, we must not dismiss recent article by a British Labour foreign policy strategist Mark Leonard (“The End of Affair”; Foreign Policy; July 24, 2012) to note the other aspect which is the shift of partnership emphasis from liberal democracies to emerging economies. To understand the fundamental idea of the pivot, we need to review a landmark essay by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (“America’sPacific Century”; Foreign Policy; October-November 2011). Certainly, Secretary Clinton says that the United States needs to shift foreign policy focus from Iraq and Afghanistan to Asia. But the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not for the market but for defeating terrorists and rogue states that brandish nuclear threats. I firmly would like to emphasize this, because her article on the pivot to Asia is extremely “market oriented”.

The premise of Secretary Clinton’s essay is, “Harnessing Asia's growth and dynamism is central to American economic and strategic interests and a key priority for President Obama.” On the other hand, her commentary sounds very cool to traditional allies as she states “We are proud of our European partnerships and all that they deliver. Our challenge now is to build a web of partnerships and institutions across the Pacific that is as durable and as consistent with American interests and values as the web we have built across the Atlantic.” Though she says America is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power, the entire tone leans toward Pacific, or more straightforwardly, toward emerging economies. More critically, she gives a “farewell message” to America’s role as the superpower and the War on Terror, as she mentions “In the last decade, our foreign policy has transitioned from dealing with the post-Cold War peace dividend to demanding commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. As those wars wind down, we will need to accelerate efforts to pivot to new global realities.” Has global realities changed so much? The New Cold War with Russia and China emerges, and Iraq and Afghanistan still need Western involvement to fight against terrorists and radicals.

While Secretary Clinton talks extensively on economic opportunities in Asia, the focal point of security is how to manage the rise of Chinese military power. Rather than containing China’s regional and global ambition, the Secretary focuses on engagement with Beijing and market opportunities there, despite political risks associated with extremely repressive nature of the regime. Though the Secretary calls the alliance with Japan the cornerstone of peace and stability in the region, she hardly mentions strategies to curb regional threats posed by China and North Korea. This is also the case with other Asia Pacific allies, including South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, and so forth.

The above points will be the clue to understand fundamental contradictions in Obama’s Asia strategy: expressing increased regional involvement while downsizing necessary military power. The Obama administration may think of geopolitical rivalry with China and other strategic challengers, but they are willing to make compromise with or even appease them in some cases. The Senkaku Islands clash is a typical case. At first, the State Department said China’s pressure can be regarded as an attack against Japan under the US-Japanese Security treaty (“U.S.says Senkaku Islands fall within scope of Japan-U.S.security treaty”; Kyodo News; July 10, 2012). However, Assistant Press Secretary Phillip Crowley said that though the security treaty would be applied to Senkaku as long as it is under Japanese authority, the United States would stay neutral on the issue of sovereignty (“Daily Press Briefings”; Department of State; August16, 2012). Furthermore, State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged bilateral talks on sovereignty of these Islands between Japan and China (“U.S. asks Japan, China to solve island dispute”;Daily Yomiuri; August 22, 2012). This is a substantial retreat from 2010 position when Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage even proposed a joint US-Japanese military exercise to stop China’s ambition to dominate the Asian sea lanes.

As to the background of the pivot to Asia, we should not dismiss Asianization of America which is mentioned in the above article by Mark Leonard. As opposed to widespread understandings, this will hurt Japanese national interest. I am not endorsing any kind of racism and ethnocentrism, but it is necessary to talk of this issue from politically incorrect and cold blooded realist viewpoints. As Asian voices grow bigger in American politics, “ant-Japanese” movements will become more influential. The typical case is the comfort women resolution in the Houseproposed by Congressman Mike Honda. As widely known, wartime history is a sensitive issue for Japan in relations with China and South Korea. An Asianized America will invigorate Chinese and Korean lobbies.





Recent studies show that the share of Asian population rises in the United States. As shown in the above table, Chinese and other Asian subgroups are far more populous than Japanese Americans (“The Rise ofAsian Americans”; Pew Social & Demographic Trends; June 19, 2012). More importantly, while Japanese descendants are reluctant to unite with Japan due to wartime experience of quarantine camp, Chinese and other Asian subgroups are willing to lobby for their home countries. Actually, Congressman Honda acts for Asian American interests rather than Japanese Americans’. He represents the 15th congressional district of California which is the only minority-majority district among top 10 richest districts in the United States. Asians account for 29.2% of voters there. According to Wikipedia in Japanese, some journalists like Yoshihisa Komori of the Sankei Simbun reports that his fundraising is heavily dependent on Chinese and Korean lobbies. In view of recent territorial clash with China and South Korea, and comfort women dispute with South Korea (“InNew Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity”; New York Times;May 18, 2012), further rise of Asian lobbies in the United States will jeopardize Japan’s national interests furthermore.

Some Japanese who are obsessed with Sinophobe viewpoints tend to welcome the pivot to Asia so naïvely, without considering the background deep inside. However, we, Japanese are in a position to share European concerns presented by Mark Leonard. A shift to emerging economies and Asianization of America are critical problem for Japan. Also, it is not regional priority in rhetoric but America’s real strength and the will for the superpower that can stop dangerous ambitions of challengers and adversaries. Remember how good it was for Japan when US global strategy was based on the Anglo Saxon alliance under the Kennedy-Macmillan and the Reagan-Thatcher duo. Therefore I regard Mitt Romney much more favorable for Japanese national interests over Barack Obama, even though he made an inappropriate remark on Japan. As a Japanese who strongly agrees to European unease, I shall never bow down and praise poorly armed and empty pivot to Asia that the Obama administration launches.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Revitalizing the Alliance of America and Europe in an Era of Global Power Shift

The advent of the Obama administration was expected to heal the bitter split between America and Europe since the Iraq War. Europeans were dismayed with the Bush administration’s cow boy diplomacy, and Barack Obama was their long awaited savior. The Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee made a decision to award the prize to Obama long before he was elected. But has he improved the relationship between America and Europe, and strengthened the trans-Atlantic alliance? Ironically, Obama is not so enthusiastic to deepen the Atlantic partnership. He is more focused on emerging powers rather than traditional allies. For Obama, the US-European alliance as the anchor of world peace and liberal democracy is of not so much importance to manage global issues in the era of power shift.


How much are Europeans disillusioned with Obama diplomacy? Let me mention an article by Mark Leonard who was a policy advisor to the Blair administration, as he explains the paradox of Obama’s trans-Atlantic diplomacy (“The End of Affair”; Foreign Policy; July 24, 2012). When he visited Berlin during his election campaign in 2008, overwhelming majority of Europeans were pleased with the appearance of multilateralist, peace minded, welfare oriented, and eloquent leader in America. George W. Bush’s cowboy diplomacy and American exceptionalism annoyed European leaders and citizens. At a mere glance, America and Europe coordinate well on Iran and Syria. It appears that the split over the Iraq War has been healed. However, contrary to superficial impression, trans-Atlantic alliance is fading under the Obama administration due to his perceived power shift and personality.

Seen from the American side, the Obama administration is more interested in exploring partnership with emerging powers like China, India, and Brazil rather than solidifying the Western alliance. Obama sees European nations are overrepresented in international organizations, and he believes this will jeopardize US interests in multilateral diplomacy. This is well illustrated in Leonard’s quote of Walter Russell Mead, “Increasingly it will be in the American interest to help Asian powers rebalance the world power structure in ways that redistribute power from the former great powers of Europe to the rising great powers of Asia today." From the Obama administration's viewpoint, shared value does not count so much for America, and Europe does not enjoy overwhelming advantage over China, Russia, and emerging economies in Asia.

It is not just political aspects that matters. Leonard mentions Obama’s personal history is more oriented toward Asia and Africa than Europe. Certainly, he is a son of Kenyan father, and spent his boyhood in Indonesia. However, I believe that it is a sheer blunder for a state leader to give an impression that his or her policies are biased with racial, ethnic, class, and other personal backgrounds. Also, his business like attitude is a hurdle to make personal friendship with European leaders that his predecessors did. Leonard is not the only one who points it out. Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State, comments that Barack Obama lacks personal charm that George W. Bush has, which deters him from making humane relationship with foreign leaders.

There are some problems on the European side as well. Europe has been reluctant to share global responsibility with the United States. This is noticeable in defense. European military spending accounts for 21% of the world, far more than those of China, Russia, and other emerging powers. However, Europe does not use their political, economic, and military power resources for active roles on the global stage. Europeans leave security responsibility to the American sheriff. Quite importantly, a British Labour Mark Leonard argues almost the same point as an American neoconservative Robert Kagan. Current Europe is becoming increasingly inward-looking as most leaders are preoccupied with the Eurozone crisis. NATO Chicago Summit this summer has impressed such a downbeat of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

This is not just a problem in the Euro-Atlantic sphere. For example, Japanese leaders are so naïve as to welcome Obama’s pivot to Asia for fear of China. They hardly think of the real meaning beyond geographical power shift from West to East. The pivot also implies that Obama’s partnership priority is shifting from traditional democratic allies to emerging powers regardless of the regime. Therefore, cooling US-European relations can ruin Japan’s national interest.

The underlying problem is that Obama’s foreign policy assumption is based on inevitable American decline, and that leads to strategic errors like embracing China in a “G2” partnership, talking to Medvedev over Putin in the reset with Russia, abstaining from helping the Green Movement in Iran, and so forth (“The 'Obamians' and the truth about Americandecline”; Shadow Government; July 24, 2012). The pivot to Asia is also a serious problem. Under Obama’s plan, America is shifting to Asia with smaller forces, particularly, cutting the size of the Navy and the Air Force (“Obama’s defense ‘pivot’masks shrinkage”; Politico; July 22, 2012).

From the above perspective, Mitt Romney’s visit to Britain, Israel, and Poland deserves attention because the Obama administration has cooled strategic ties with these key allies. Prior to the trip, conservative media argued that it was a good chance to demonstrate Romney’s involvement in foreign policy to discuss global and Middle East security with Prime Minister David Cameron and Tony Blair in Britain, and to overturn Obama’s stances to the Palestine issue in Israel and missile defense in Poland (“Romney uses trip to stressforeign policy”; Washington Times; July 25, 2012). Successful visit to three countries could have revitalized the anchor of Western democracies that Obama has weakened. Just before visiting Britain, Romney criticized Obama’s left-wing coolness to the Anglo-American special relationship and his appeasement to America’s enemies and rivals (“Mitt Romney would restore 'Anglo-Saxon' relations between Britain and America”; Daily Telegraph; 24 July,2012).

However, Romney’s lack of foreign policy experience and knowledge was revealed shortly afterwards. On his visit to Britain, he annoyed the home audience as he casted doubt on Britain’s readiness to the London Olympics. Furthermore, Romney failed to recall the name of Labour leader Ed Miliband (“Romney in Britain: Diplomatic Offensive”;Economist blog --- Blighty; July 27, 2012). Also, Romney’s questionable remark, “We are not Japan“, raised concerns among the Japanese public and Japan watchers who advocate a strong alliance (“Romney'sJapanremark raises eyebrows”; Cable; August 10, 2012).

Despite such awkward behavior, Mitt Romney chose Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate instead of heavy weights like Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and General David Petraeus. As a budget expert, Ryan may be much smarter Sarah Palin, but like Romney, he does not have sufficient foreign policy backgrounds. Historically, presidential candidates without strong backgrounds in foreign policy chose running mates to make up for their weakness. Romney’s pick for Ryan can be interpreted that he does not regard foreign policy as a key issue in this election (“With Ryan pick, Romneywould send a message: This is not a foreign-policy election”; Passport; August11, 2012).

Obama is shifting policy focus to forging partnership with emerging powers regardless of regime, rather than deepening ties with liberal democracies. The fading of the trans-Atlantic alliance is counterproductive to global security. Romney showed willingness to reinvigorate the anchor of world peace and liberal democracy, but just revealed his insufficient foreign policy background with awkward remarks. The alliance of America and Europe has played the foremost role in making the world more liberal, prosperous, and civilized. In view of the rise of autocratic regimes, America and Europe need to reunite. At present, neither incumbent Democrat nor opposition Republican is well aware of this. Who can revitalize the trans-Atlantic alliance from the apathy of Chicago?