Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Obama's Mishandling in Both Hard Power and Soft Power Diplomacy

The Obama administration is so reluctant to harness America’s hard power in foreign policy that even liberals and foreign leaders criticize his lack of leadership and superpower suicide. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is not enthusiastic to use America’s soft power to advance its national interest and global public interest. We tend to focus on Obama’s inept handling of hard power diplomacy, as the world faces a resurgent of Cold War monsters like Russia and China, and also, the rise of religious fanaticism as typically seen in Islamic terrorists. But more balanced analysis is helpful to review Obama’s foreign policy critically, and explore better approaches for American and global security.

If Obama does not like hard power diplomacy so much, he must pursue more robust soft power diplomacy. However, in his 6 year presidency, he has achieved almost nothing. Normally, peace-oriented nations put heavy emphasis on soft power in their foreign policy. It is too well known that countries like Canada and Scandinavian nations give high priority to development aid and empowerment in their foreign policy, and that makes them vital civilian powers in the world. Such peace-oriented nations are military pigmy, compared with the United States, Britain, and France. Nor are they economic giants like Germany, which is an anchor to stabilize global and European monetary system. Soft power diplomacy is the only way for them to increase their presence in global politics.

Likewise, the Ohira administration of Japan launched a concept of comprehensive security in the late 1970s to fill the gap between increasing requirements for Japan’s contribution to global security and postwar pacifism. As Japan was unable to meet military requirements by the United States and its democratic allies, Prime Minister-then Masayoshi Ohira deepened development aid to ASEAN countries and policy dialogues with them. In a sense, it may be a precursor of current proactive pacifism of the Abe administration, as it was a turn over from unilateral pacifism. In those days, global security was in turmoil as it is today, since the Islamic Revolution took place in Iran and radical students occupied the US embassy, and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In view of the above examples, Obama’s awkward approaches in soft power diplomacy will erode American preeminence on the global stage furthermore. Here, I would like to call an attention to a column by Thomas Carothers, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In this article, Carothers points out that US aid to promote democracy has plunged 28% during the Obama era, and the US Agency for International Development spends 38% less expenditure today to foster democracy, human rights and accountable governance abroad than that of 2009. Particularly, such aid dropped sharply to the Middle East by 72% and Africa by 43%. It seems that the Obama administration prefers to live with stability under dictatorships however corrupt they may be, as they found it difficult to manage clashes between democracy activists and Islamists. Carothers comments that it is understandable, but he warns that autocracy foments corruption, and ultimately nurtures terrorism furthermore (“Why Is the United States Shortchanging Its Commitment to Democracy?”; Washington Post; December 22, 2014).

Criticism also comes from the Arab side. An Arab British journalist Sharif Nashashibi expresses his deep disappointment to American reconciliation with Arab autocrats at the expense of the quest for freedom among the grassroots (“A US resurgence in the Arab world?”; Middle East Eye; December 18, 2014). Obama has cut military presence in the Middle East which was initiated by Bush. Then, America must expand an alternative way of presence to suppress the spread of extremism there. Regretfully, Obama has cut both hard power presence and soft power presence! Is this a simple denial of Bush era foreign policy without showing the vision for the future?

One of the critical incidents to evaluate Obama’s soft power diplomacy is the response to Egypt’s refusal to the entry of Michele Dunne, Senior Associate in the Middle East program of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dunne is a primary advocate for democracy promotion among American policymakers. She was going to Cairo to attend a conference by the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs under auspices of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but the Egyptian government denied her entry in a telephone interview when she arrived in Frankfurt for transit. The Egyptian side gave no reason for this (“Egypt Denies Entry to American Scholar Critical of Its Government”; New York Times; December 13, 2014). Eliot Abrahams, former Special Assistant to the President in the Bush administration, comments that this incident implies that the Sisi administration is in a spiral of autocratic corruption and jihadist uprising as it was with the Mubarak administration. Therefore, he argues that this country no longer deserves a strategic partner to the United States (“What’s General Sisi So Scared Of?”; Council on Foreign Relations---Pressure Points; December 13, 2014). Quite strangely, the Obama administration did not pose meaningful pressure to Egypt, regarding this case.

The point is no longer the matter of budget. It is quite doubtful whether Obama is seriously committed to advance American soft power. Obama’s pivot to soft power diplomacy from hard power one is empty. Accordingly, the Pivot to Asia has not strengthened American presence in Asia. Obama was not enthusiastic to support the democratic rally in Hong Kong. At the APEC summit in Beijing, Obama shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping so happily, although China flexed its military muscle to seize this opportunity to demonstrate J-31 stealth fighter to Asia-Pacific leaders. If neither the world policeman nor the champion of democracy, what sort of America does Obama envision?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

How will the US Navy Cope with Enemy A2AD?

In face of rapid development of A2AD capabilities among America’s enemies, the US Navy needs countermeasures to secure freedom of international navigation and their maritime operations. Currently, the US Navy faces critical threats of advanced antiship missiles posed by challengers like China and Iran, but post Cold War defense spending cut has constrained America’s fleet defense capability. The United States must rebuild this capability so as not to allow any challengers to defy its maritime superiority.

The rise of enemy A2AD is nothing new. During the Cold War era, the Soviet Air Force challenged US naval supremacy with strategic bombers equipped with carrier killer missiles, notably Tu-22 Backfire and Tu-19 Badger. In order to defend carrier squadrons from Soviet saturation attack, the US Navy explored to make a fleet defense fighter for air superiority and interception. The Navy required a fighter equipped with powerful radar and long range missiles. That was F-14 Tomcat.

F-14 was not only capable of shooting down enemy attackers and missiles far away from the fleet. As a counter A2AD weaponry, its powerful radar enables the crews to find the enemy attackers before it was detected. Also, the fighter could hit multiple targets simultaneously with Phoenix long range air to air missiles to nullify saturation attacks of carrier killer missiles by the enemy. Tomcat was highly capable fleet defense fighter for “first look, first shot, first kill” missions. See the video below.

However, when the Soviet Union collapsed, air threats to American fleets were supposed to have expired for the time being. Therefore, the Congress demanded the Navy to replace F-14 fighter with F/A-18 which is less costly and more adaptable to multirole requirements. Americans were so unvigilant as to take Holidays from History, and China and Iran were preparing for their own Monroe Doctrine to claim dominance in their neighboring maritime sphere. In those days, Aegis combat system destroyers were supposed to assume fleet air defense, and F-14 squadrons were overcapable and too expensive to maintain. Even though, destroyers are vulnerable to enemy air attacks, however sophisticated, as seen in the HMS Shefield hit by an Argentine Exocet missile during the Falkland War.

F/A-18 Hornet and its advanced version Super Hornet are good fighters as they are multirole and cost effective. Some American allies like Canada, Australia, Spain, and so forth, deploy them instead of US Air Force F-15. However, they are not specialized for intercepting saturation attacks by the enemy. Also, F/A-18’s combat radius is shorter and flight speed is slower than F-14’s. During the Afghan War, F-14 flew farther beyond F/A 18’s flight range to attack Taliban and Al Qaeda. In view of rapid progress in enemy A2AD capability, the US Navy needs a reliable interceptor that can shoot down enemy missiles and attackers as far away as possible from the carrier squadron.

Currently, the Navy pushes for the Sixth Generation fighters such as F-X and F/A-XX projects, along with the Air Force. They are planned to be deployed by 2030 to replace Super Hornets. With more advanced engines, they will be able to fly farther, and boost performance. However, current budget constraints may force the Navy to give up new ideas presented by defense contractors. According to Dave Madjumdar, a freelance defense writer, the Navy may upgrade F-35C with new engine and missile system. However, Air Force pilots comment negatively to this idea. Even if advanced version, F-35 is no match for their F-22 in terms of air to air combat and SEAD/DEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses/destruction of enemy air defenses), says one pilot. Some even say a single engine fighter is underpowered, compared with a twin engine one, and thus, lower performance and less payload (“A New, "Super" F-35 to Rule the U.S. Military?”; National Interest; December 19, 2014). Remember F-14 had comparable capability and performance level to Air Force F-15.

The end of the Cold War has not resulted in the end of American enemy. They were honing their claws during a seemingly peaceful period. If the United States is too thrifty on defense, the price of it must be paid later. American enemies will be emboldened to see the US Navy balked by their A2AD capabilities. On the other hand, unnecessary rising costs and procurement delay must be curbed to proceed the project for fleet air defense smoothly. Senator John McCain is likely to chair the Armed services Committee next year, and he is a vocal critic to inefficient management of defense industries and bureaucracy at the Pentagon (“GOP Win Sets Stage for McCain to Put Pressure on Pentagon, Industry”; Military Times; November 5, 2014). In addition to technology, the US Navy must overcome so many challenges to defend the fleet from enemy A2AD.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

US Foreign Policy in an Increasingly Complicated Asia

I attended the Japan-Asia Pacific Dialogue, entitled “The Asia-Pacific in Global Power Transition: How Many Great Powers?”, which was hosted by Global Forum Japan and Meiji University on December 12. Panelists at the Dialogue, notably Professor John Mearsheimer of Chicago University, presented a lucid picture of Asia-Pacific power games based on realist perspectives.

Actually, I was rather astonished to hear Wall Street Journal’s editor Bret Stevens talk suspiciously at the Munk Debates on November 5 that Japan’s plutonium facilities could be used for nuclear weapons, if the threat of China grows more critical. Though I agree on his criticism to Obama’s superpower suicide, it was somewhat perplexing that an influential opinion leader like him spoke so alarmingly as if Japan were in the same league with North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan. I am well aware that nuclear nonproliferation is a high priority issue in US foreign policy, and therefore, it sounded like he saw Japan a potential “enemy” to the United States. The problem is not just proliferation itself, but the rise of regional tensions beyond America’s control as we saw exchanges of nuclear tests between India and Pakistan in 1998.

However, Stevens’s comment may not be so “unfriendly” to America’s foremost ally in the Asia Pacific as I worried, according to Professor Mearsheimer’s realist perspectives. The state explores to maximize its national power and prestige, and tries to establish a solid sphere of influence in its neighborhood, for better chances of survival and more freedom in policy options. Therefore, realists see it natural that Japan acquire nuclear weapons, if the United States appeared too weak and unreliable to check growing threats of China. That is because it is the most cost effective deterrence against Beijing.

Granted such arguments, do Japanese leaders dare to get involved in power games with both America and China in their quest for nuclear weapons? Historically, the United States did not accept any dominant power in Asia, as shown in Secretary of State-then John Hay’s Open Door Policy in 1899. Even if seemingly appeasing to China, it is quite unlikely that the United States throws away its grip on Asia, nor does it want unmanageable Far East like the Indo-Pakistani nuclear rivalry in 1998. Therefore, Japanese leaders should act and speak carefully on wartime history, as prominent opinion leaders like Mearsheimer and Stevens speak about the potential of a nuclearized Japan so openly.

The Dialogue was so impressive and insightful, and I would like to raise the following points to consider. The first one is the Pivot to Asia. Certainly, market opportunities in emerging economies in Asia are important. But does that mean that America should be less involved in Europe and the Middle East? Is the Ukrainian crisis simply a diversion from Asia? No, because Russia intrudes Japan’s northern airspace frequently. It is a threat to us both in Europe and Asia. In addition, China defies America globally. Remember China objected to the Iraq War along with Russia for fear of a unipolar world, though the PLA has no power projection capability in the Middle East. Also, China explores to expand influence in Africa through controversial aid. Therefore, I believe that the shift away from Europe and the Middle East is no guarantee of strengthening American presence in Asia. To my regret, this is the real consequence of Obama’s pivot to Asia as typically seen in the rise of ISIS, while China grows increasingly provocative in East Asia.

Regarding China’s global challenge to the United States, we should reconsider why this country frequently mentions itself “still a developing country”. This is not out of modesty, but megalomaniac ambition. I would rather interpret its implicit meaning, “Developing countries of the world, unite! Rise against Western (and also Japanese) imperialism!”. Remember China is a revolutionary state, and there is every reason for them to defy Pax Americana on a global scale. In order to check China’s expansionism, I would argue that the broken window theory be applied. That is, when American enemies find some weak spots, they will be emboldened like gangs who found broken windows on the street.

The second point is a presumed case of hegenomic transition. Should China take over the American world order, the gap with its precursor’s will be huge. Pax Americaca inherited liberal values, culture, and political systems from Pax Britannica. In face of rising rivals in early 20th century, Britain saw America preferable to Germany to share the burdens of a global superpower. This Greece and Rome relations shall never emerge, should China rise furthermore, because the hegemonic fault line between Pax Americana and Pax Sinica would be immense. If it were to happen, China would be Attla’s Hun that devastated Rome and left nothing for the following generations.

The third point is whether the nature of the regime does not matter in great power rivalries even from realist viewpoints. I would like to mention one example which is Iran, because this country has been in quest of the great power in the Gulf region, whether modernist or Islamic theocracy. During the Pahlavi era, Iran sought to rise as America’s guard of the Gulf. The shah was an enlightened despot, and pursued a nation building through Western styled modernization. The shah even appealed great history of the Persians and their superiority to Arabs by de-Islamification. That made Iran very pro-American and pro-Israeli both in terms of realpolitik and ideology. On the other hand, current theocracy wants to rise by defying American supremacy, and extremely anti-Israeli by nature. They advocate solidarity with Shiite mostazafins among their fellow Arabs. There is nothing strange that they sponsor terrorism, both in terms of realpolitik and ideology.

The dialogue was very helpful to understand an increasingly complicated picture of the Asia Pacific region, and sent a critical message to Japanese leaders to behave carefully regarding sensitive issues. Among three questions I mentioned, the most critical one is the real meaning of the Pivot to Asia. Is this just a rhetoric, or kow-tow to market opportunities in China, or real strategic commitment in this region? That is the problem.