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?