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.